Thursday, July 28, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.4: "Fall of the Castle of Lions"

Netflix's series, Votron: Legendary Defender, sees less medievalism in its fourth episode, "Fall of the Castle of Lions," than in earlier episodes.

1.4. "Fall of the Castle of Lions"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Steve In Cheng Ahn

Synopsis

Following the defeat of Robeast Myzax, the Alteans and Arusians celebrate. Allura announces that the Castle of Lions will soon depart and gives the Arusians a communications device. Shiro, though, is oddly suspicious of the quiet and moves to survey the surrounding area. Lance, Keith, and Hunk indulge in strange liquors and harmless antics, and Pidge's secret begins to emerge; Pidge also declares an intent to leave the others and search for the family captured alongside Shiro. Meanwhile, the Galra commander Sendak commences covert operations, setting up a trap and arranging for a bomb to infiltrate the Castle of Lions; it detonates, disabling castle systems and injuring Lance. Coran and Hunk venture out to secure a new power supply for the castle, finding a living planet occupied by Galra forces and making an emergency landing thereupon. Keith and Allura move to investigate reports that the Arusians have come under attack, finding the attack a distraction away from the castle. Shiro makes to take Lance to safety but is interdicted by the invading Sendak and taken prisoner. Pidge is left alone as an internal operative and sabotages the Galra's escape plans--but they remain in possession of the Castle of Lions.

Discussion

There is less overtly medieval in "Fall of the Castle of Lions" than in previous episodes of the series. One thing that does stand out as medievalist, though, is the association of sacredness with the Paladin station--although it reads as potentially more a reference to a reference than as a reference to the thing itself. In popular conception, Christian knighthood--of which the Carolingian paladins are exemplars--has a decidedly sacred aspect; knighting is a religious ceremony, and symbols of faith pervade formalized knighthood. The idea appears in Malory, notably in the Grail Quest and in Lancelot's healing of Urre. In one major means of medieval transmission, fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, there are often player classes that reflect the idea; Dungeons & Dragons even calls its idealized noble warrior the paladin, one combining priestly and martial functions. There is a clear current of making the paladin sacred, one stretching back into the medieval, and it presents itself in "Fall of the Castle of Lions" in the repeated assertion that the call to be a Paladin of Voltron is a sacred, holy duty, one not lightly set aside.

A less clear ideation of the medieval, one echoing older portions of the medieval than the chivalric evoked by the Paladins, appears in the repeated musings by many of the protagonist characters on their lost homes. Allura and Coran both express sadness at the loss of Altea; several of the Paladins express homesickness for people and places on now-faraway Earth. The Wanderer and The Seafarer come to mind as antecedents--although they may well do so as a result of my looking for connections rather than on the actual strength of those connections. Homesickness is hardly unique to the Anglo-Saxon world, after all, and there are deliberate efforts evident on the part of the show staff to be more inclusive than many more "traditional" medievalist pieces are. How that inclusiveness manifests deserves explication; I welcome comments that move towards that work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.3: "Return of the Gladiator"

The medievalism of the Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender does not end at the second episode, but continues into the third episode, "Return of the Gladiator."

1.3. "Return of the Gladiator"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

As the Robeast Haggar has designed speeds towards Arus and its fight with Voltron, Zarkon is empowered by Haggar's druids and confers with her about expectations. Meanwhile, the Paladins of Voltron continue their training, making progress and exchanging reports with Coran and Allura. After a humorous exchange about lunch, Shiro joins Pidge, who questions those rescued from the Galra ship in the first episode. The rescued prisoners note that Shiro had been known as a bloodthirsty warrior who had attacked Pidge's brother, Matt. The revelation stuns Shiro, and he and Pidge travel to the wrecked ship to retrieve information.

Whle the pilots of the Black and Green Lions are away, an indigenous Arusian approaches the castle. Keith is suspicious, but his suspicions are set aside by Allura, who goes with Coran and the remaining Paladins to the Arusian village. Friendly relations between the Altean forces and the locals begin but are interrupted by a call for help from Shiro; while he and Pidge are investigating the wrecked Galra ship, the Robeast falls to ground and begins to attack. A fight between the Robeast and Voltron soon ensues, and Shiro recalls more of his imprisonment--including details about his fights with the Robeast's antecedent, Myzax. With those details, and the sudden emergence of Voltron's sword from the Red Lion's mouth, the Robeast Myzax is defeated.

Afterwards, Haggar reports her failure to Zarkon and offers to resume her efforts. He notes having issued orders to Sendak, who survived the crash of his ship; he and his remaining forces begin covert operations on Arus. Additionally, Shiro informs Pidge of what happened between him and Matt; Shiro had inflicted a minor injury on Matt to prevent the latter from being forced into gladiatorial combat. Pidge thanks Shiro for the effort and apologizes for earlier anger; Shiro notes that both Matt and his father, Commander Sam Holt, would have been proud of Pidge. Shiro also calls Pidge by her birth name, Katie, and avers that he will maintain the pretense of "Pidge."

Discussion

That "Return of the Gladiator" is not as overt with its medievalism as previous episodes of the series does not mean there is none to be found in it. Standing medievalisms--such as the presence of the Paladins--remain in place. Indeed, the nobility of the Paladins is reinforced throughout the episode. Allura describes Voltron as protector of the innocent, and during the battle against Robeast Myzax, Shiro explicitly notes that the fight has to be taken away from the defenseless-against-the-combatants Arusians. Both seem in line with the kinds of things associated with knights in high fantasy (and, yes, I know Martin is the glaring exception), things that hearken back to the Pentecostal Oath of Malory's Round Table Knights and other places. They help to tie the Paladins to their depicted medieval forebears, affirming the medievalism of the series.

The druidism pointed out before also endures, and it also takes on additional resonance. At the beginning of the episode, Zarkon is empowered by the druids. Since they are at least evocative of religion, and they explicitly invoke supernatural energies in elevating Zarkon, they serve to do something like the papal coronation of Holy Roman Emperors--a distinctly medieval occurrence. Given the specific resonances of druidism, the event also invokes sacral Irish kingship such as Daniel Bray discusses in a contribution to This Immense Panorama: Studies in Honour of Eric J. Sharpe. So that much also helps to support the medievalism of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

The episode also displays other invocations of medieval belief in the supernatural. For one, the descent of Robeast Myzax to Arus seems very much in the spirit of the ill omens perceived as inhering in comets. For another, the indigenous Arusians explicitly note that sacrifice of themselves in fire is part of their accepted religious practice--something commonly associated with "savage" indigenous peoples in medieval and later minds. (Denethor's self-immolation in Lord of the Rings comes to mind as a prominent example of the medievalist approach to such things.) And I have to wonder if there is something Marianic in the veneration of Allura as divine--she is unwed, so far as the series has made known, and seems disinterested in romance or procreation (although how long that will last is uncertain, given that she is one of two known Alteans yet living--but if she is to be the mother of a race, it does not diminish her religious overtones), and she is presented in "maidenly" fashion, so the idea of her as virginal is not far-fetched (although it is not certain). The Arusian religion can thus read as something of a cult of Mary--particularly since it stands in opposition to the suggested-as-Saracen Galra--and therefore mixedly medievalist in thrust.

And on the topic of mixtures: Shiro is, in the series, something of a mixture himself. The chief Paladin of Voltron, he is a human in Altean service and equipped with a synthetic arm of Galra manufacture. He is foremost, and he is hybrid, and the question has to be raised of whether his hybridity is what makes him foremost. If it is, then some of my earlier comments will need revision. But whether it is or is not, there is more to plumb in the series of which he is part; I look forward to doing so.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.10: "Fire and Blood"

Curator's Note: The post below is the 100th for the Tales after Tolkien Society's blog. It is a fine piece with which to mark such an occasion. -GE

1.10 “Fire and Blood”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alan Taylor

About half of this episode focuses on the aftermath of Ned’s death and how various factions are handling it. The other half is about Daenerys dealing with the aftermath of her choices regarding Khal Drogo’s life and Mirri Maz Duur. In both cases, though, much of the action rests on younger people ignoring the advice of cooler heads.

The entire incident was instigated by a young person ignoring the advice of his council, after all—Joffrey was not supposed to execute Ned. Nobody’s plans included that—not Cersei’s, not Tywin’s, not Petyr or Varys’, and definitely not Ned’s. When Kevan suggests that—in light of Jaime’s capture and both Renly and Stannis claiming the throne—the Lannisters sue for peace, Tyrion points out that Joffrey ruined any chance of peace by killing Ned. Tywin agrees, saying that if Ned were still alive, they could have used him to broker peace, maybe ransom back Jaime. Joffrey killing Ned ruined everything, and now the realm is in chaos.

Joffrey continues to be a complete twerp by hauling Sansa out to the walls where they’ve stuck everyone’s head on spikes and forcing her to look at Ned’s and Mordane’s. This is where Sansa’s tempering begins; her inner strength is evident even here when her face is all blotchy and her eyes are dead. She back-talks Joffrey, which makes him angry, and he says that Cersei has taught him that a king should never hit his lady. So instead he has Ser Meryn do it for him (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the lesson). With her lip split and bleeding, Sansa notices that Joffrey stands over a pretty deep drop to the ground below and manages three or four purposeful steps toward him before Sandor stops her and cleans her lip for her. So Joffrey has learned nothing from anything that happened, and has no idea what mistreating Sansa (and the realm) is going to lead to. He thinks being king makes him all-powerful and untouchable because he’s young and a spoiled brat.



Jon is also ignoring advice—Aemon’s “love is the death of duty” advice from last episode. He mounts up, intending to ride South to help Robb, and only his new brothers chasing him down (and Sam getting knocked off his horse by a tree branch) stops him from becoming a deserter. Instead, Lord Commander Mormont convinces him that he needs to help fight a bigger, more important war—the one between the White Walkers, the Wildlings, and the rest of the kingdom. The last shot of Jon in this season has him heading north, beyond the Wall, with a couple of hundred Nights Watch, on the Great Ranging.

Dany’s failure to listen to wiser heads happened last episode, and now we have the aftermath: Drogo is essentially comatose, the khalasar has scattered, and Dany’s son Rhaego is dead. Instead of running away with Jorah, or at least not enlisting the help of a maegi whose entire clan was killed or enslaved, Dany completely wrecked the khalasar and all her hopes for the future. One could even argue that not listening to Jorah led to Drogo’s illness in the first place, since Drogo and Mago wouldn’t have fought over Dany if she hadn’t insisted on claiming all the women. Dany learns a strong lesson here, too, that helps to undercut the Great White Savior thing she’s started to have—Mirri asks what, exactly, Dany thinks she saved, since Mirri’s clan is dead or enslaved, her temple is burned, and Mirri herself was raped three times before Dany ever got to her. Dany insists that she saved Mirri’s life, but Mirri has an object lesson to hand of what life is worth if that’s all there is. Drogo is technically alive. So what? Dany fully expected Mirri to help her in good conscience and to the best of her abilities—to save the man who was the cause of all of Mirri’s recent suffering—because Dany rescued her.



The Stark camp is probably the only place where there aren’t cooler, wiser heads. Or at least, not many. Catelyn finds Robb ruining his sword on a tree and calms him down, replying to his vow that he’s going to “kill them all” with a reminder that Sansa and Arya are still in the Lannisters’ custody, but as soon as they get them back, “then we will kill them all.” At their war council that night, Jonos Bracken urges Robb to join up with Renly and swear fealty to him, combine the strength of their armies and sack King’s Landing. Robb makes the same mistake Ned did by insisting that Renly isn’t the king because he’s the younger brother. Technically, that’s true; tactically, Renly is a much better choice than Stannis, who hasn’t shown his face yet. His refusal to consider joining Renly leaves an opening for Greatjon Umber to declare that he doesn’t want any southern kings: “It was the dragons we bowed to, and now the dragons are dead. There sits the only king I mean to bend my knee to. The King in the North!” Everyone else quickly falls in line, and the schism in the kingdom grows bigger; now it’s not just about who gets to be king and who killed whose father, but a full-blown Brexit war of secession.



Even Tyrion’s rejecting a reasonable and wise order from his father: he plans to take Shae to court with him. This is stupid for a number of reasons. First of all, just as a matter of social etiquette, court is no place for a prostitute. Also, he seems to be forgetting that she’s paid to hang out with him; it seems he’s interpreting her temper tantrum at being left behind as honest fondness for him and not as a paid companion seeing the biggest mark she’s ever had about to slip through her fingers. Finally, he’s defying his father. He already shared the story of what happened with Tysha; why in the world would he think this would end any better? He’s not just defying his father, he’s defying the most powerful man in the kingdoms, the man whose punishment of a rebel sworn bannerman was so thorough that it destroyed the entire house and inspired “The Rains of Castamere,” which has become the Lannister theme song. Of all the bad ideas that happen in this episode, this is the epitome of bad ideas.

Speaking of bad ideas, let’s take a brief detour (before we get to the good part of this episode) to talk about sexposition. Again. This episode has two scenes of it, one pretty brief and one longer one. The first one—Cersei getting the news that Jaime has been taken captive while Lancel wanders naked around her room—is understandable. A lot of this episode is people getting news of things—Ned’s death, Jaime’s capture—and of course we should see Cersei getting this note. It also helps to establish that Cersei isn’t exactly faithful to Jaime and has a bad habit of sleeping with family. This becomes important in the books (I don’t recall just how important it is to the series), so I’ll allow it. The second one, however, falls right in line with many of Benioff & Weiss’ other sexposition scenes in that it tells us nothing we don’t know and does nothing but take up space and show us Ros’ naked body. (I think we’ve seen Esme Bianco dressed all of twice in the entire season.) What the scene does do is imply that there’s more to Maester Pycelle than a doddering old man, which, if I recall correctly, was on Julian Glover’s insistence that he not play “just” a doddering old man. And sure, book-Pycelle is a bit more than a doddering old man—he’s an informant for the Lannisters. So what? They couldn’t have given the audience that impression without Pycelle yammering about nothing in particular for five minutes while Ros cleans herself up from their tryst? Not to mention that this scene brings the action of the episode—the season finale—to a screeching halt. In the commentary, Benioff and Weiss claim that including this scene was either “ballsy” or “folly,” and I’m gonna go with “folly.”

If there’s one thing this episode did right, it was the end. This was the big payoff—the moment all book readers had been waiting for. Daenerys constructs Drogo’s funeral pyre, ties Mirri Maz Duur to it, has the dragon eggs placed on it, and lights the whole shebang. Dany doesn’t know much about magic, but she has a vague sense that this is the recipe needed to do something big, something important, and she walks into the fire in order to be part of it. And when everybody wakes up the next morning, she’s sitting in the ashes, naked, three teeny dragons clinging to her. The show has done a lot of work to set this up as a Big Deal, since dragons were the Targaryen’s shock troops, the whole reason the Valyrians had as much power as they did in the first place, and they’ve all been dead for centuries. Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne looked completely hopeless not ten minutes ago, but now she has dragons (and a brand new, I Am the Blood of the Dragon attitude).



So there we have it. A Game of Thrones, in full color and action, covered pretty well in the space of about ten hours. I have my quibbles with it (obviously), both as an adaptation and its own narrative, but season one did a really good job with the source material.

RIP: Drogo, Mirri Maz Duur, Rhaego


Next week: We take a break to visit with family, but season two starts the week after.

Images from screencapped.net

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.2: "Some Assembly Required"

In a discussion of "The Rise of Voltron", I note that there are more things to say about the medievalism in the Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender. Some of them begin to manifest more overtly in the series's second episode, "Some Assembly Required."

1.2. "Some Assembly Required"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, and Kihyun Ryu

Synopsis

In a standard-length episode (not much over twenty minutes, including opening and end credits), the five Paladins of Voltron work to hone their skills as individuals and as a team. For some time, the work fails; the Paladins are not successful in their exercises, either on their own or in the aggregate; Shiro is the lone exception. Pidge, particularly, fares poorly in group exercises, being unwilling to open up to the other Paladins. Their poor performance vexes Allura, who reminds them of the weight of expectation placed upon them; there is debate as to whether or not the Paladins will remain on Arus or return to Earth, with the former option winning out. Meanwhile, the Galra Emperor, Zarkon, commands Haggar, the chief Druid, to develop a plan to defeat Voltron; she complies, using arcane energies and mechanical insight to transform a creature with a grudge against Shiro into a colossal beast, one subsequently sent towards Arus to defeat the Paladins.

Discussion

Perhaps the principal bit of medievalism that emerges from "Some Assembly Required" is the identification of Haggar as leading druids, something confirmed by the official series website. Although there are numerous neo-Druidic groups and efforts to re-create ancient Druidic practice, the priesthood in question is one indelibly--if not wholly accurately, as the Druids were largely confined to the Classical--associated with the medieval. Like Alfor's armor in the first episode and the identification of the lions' pilots as Paladins (each of which has, or ought to have, a special weapon), the assertion that Haggar commands druids--that druids are present as a recognized group--lends a medievalist air to a carton series obviously set in the future.

A major implication of the druidism ties back to a comment made in the discussion of "The Rise of Voltron," namely that "the Galra [...] can be taken as reconceptions of the Saracens come into Catholic Europe once again." The identification of Haggar as a druid--indeed, the revelation that there is an organized group of druids--in service to the Galra Empire ascribes a dangerous, mystic religious perspective to the Galra, one evocative of views of Islam held by the Christian West (although the name itself would tend to dislocate the assertion). Colored differently and dominated by a strange faith, the invaders conquer all that stands before them, held off only by a small force of ennobled knights with special weapons--the description fits both the Saracens of medieval European legendry and the Galra Empire. The combination is particularly resonant in a period often described as encompassing a new Crusade and a war by Islam against the West--as witness no small number of newspaper and magazine articles, websites, television and radio commentaries, books, movies, and conversations overheard in entirely too many places. And it is problematic, as well; although, as a cartoon based on what is clearly a children's show from the 1980s, Voltron: Legendary Defender might be forgiven for taking a simplistic view of its evident primary conflict, much of the audience for the show is nostalgia-driven Millennials--who are old enough to know better and to want better. There was more at stake than "They're bad; kill 'em" on both sides of the Crusades and the Islamic expansions into Europe; there was wrong on both sides. A recapitulation of that conflict, even in fantasy cartoon form, should be more responsive to the more nuanced reality.

I will certainly be watching the series further, and not only so that I can write more of my rewatch reports; there is much the show does well, and it is worth watching. But there are problems with it, and I am sad to see them; there is so much more, and so much better, that the show could do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.1: "The Rise of Voltron"

Like many people of a certain age-range, I was delighted to hear that Netflix would be producing Voltron: Legendary Defender. Like many of those people, I was pleased to see it emerge onto the streaming service last month, and, like many, I watched it. I did not sit and binge-watch the whole series--I am not in a position that allows me to do so--but it was not long before I plowed through the all-too-few episodes of the first season. And now, because Shiloh does such a good job on rewatch reports (of which I am jealous), and because rewatch reports seem to be a thing, I will be working through my own series of them, beginning with the comments about the first episode of the series, "The Rise of Voltron," below.

1.1. "The Rise of Voltron"

Written by Tim Hedrick, Joshua Hamilton, and May Chan
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, Kihyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, and Steve In Chang Ahn

Synopsis

The triple-length premiere episode of the series begins with a manned scientific mission to Kerberos, a satellite of dwarf planet Pluto; staffing the mission are Commander Holt, his son, and Takashi "Shiro" Shirogane. An alien ship appears, attacking the mission; the crew are believed dead.

Approximately a year later, Shiro (now scarred, with a shock of white hair, and with a cybernetic right arm) returns to Earth, raving of an imminent attack; his return is observed by misfit military cadets Lance, Hunk, and Pidge, who are out of their quarters on adolescent mischief (and, in Pidge's case, surreptitious scanning for extraterrestrial transmissions). They move to investigate, only to see former cadet Keith intervening in the military's recovery of Shiro; the four escape pursuit, bringing Shiro with them to Keith's secluded residence.

While there, they confer, Keith indicating having sensed strange energies and deciphered ancient inscriptions that suggested a return from afar. Pidge's own investigative techniques come to light, as do Hunk's mechanical skills, and the five pursue the strange energies associated with the word "Voltron"--a word Pidge has heard repeated in transmissions from afar and that Shiro has heard on the lips of his captors. Following the energies, they come to find a massive mechanical lion, patterned in blue. Lance finds himself piloting the craft, and, after a few minutes of reckless abandon, the group comes under fire from the same alien craft that had taken Shiro a year earlier. Lance and the rest are able to lead the alien craft away from Earth at speeds Pidge finds incredible before they make their escape through a suddenly appearing wormhole.

On the other side of the wormhole, the group finds itself summoned to the reawakening of the Castle of Lions and the evident sole survivors of Altea: Princess Allura and Coran, her servitor. After a ragged introduction and an explication of the ongoing conflict into which the group has been dragged--a multi-millennial war of conquest that has seen Emperor Zarkon and the Galra consume much of the known universe, including Altea--the Alteans confirm Shiro, Keith, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk as the five "Paladins of Voltron," the designated pilots of the five lions (Black, Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow, respectively) that make up the eponymous titanic robot warrior.

Missions to retrieve two of the lions, Yellow and Green, follow, as Allura attempts to discern the location of the Red Lion (Lance already has the Blue Lion, and the Black Lion is in the castle, requiring the presence of the other four to operate). Lance and Hunk retrieve the Yellow Lion, displaying the divergent combat capabilities of the mechanical cats; Shiro and Pidge retrieve the Green, highlighting the more personable relationship between the two.

Upon returning from those missions, Allura identifies the location of the Red Lion; it is aboard an incoming Galra ship. The five Paladins make to retrieve the Red Lion and escape. As they do, they learn more about the combat capabilities of their respective craft, and Shiro begins to get glimpses of the year in captivity he has repressed in memory; he had evidently been a fighter of no small skill and renown, and his competence in that regard has not waned. Making their escape from the Galra vessel, they return with four lions to the Castle of Lions and activate the fifth, the Black Lion. Thus armed, they move to intercept the attacking Galra ship, forming Voltron in their exigency and stopping the assault on the Castle of Lions.

At the end of the episode, the day is saved--but only the one day. It is made clear that the Galra will return in force--and that the five Paladins of Voltron will have to stop them and repair the evil they have wrought over a hundred centuries.

Discussion

There are any number of things to pull out of the episode. For example, the color symbolism alone could stand a fair bit of treatment; although the official website for the series ascribes elemental resonances to the characters' and their lions' colors and situations, there is perhaps a more applicable set of associations with the lions and Feng Shui principles (the Black Lion is Metal; the Red Lion, Fire; the Green Lion, Wood; the Blue Lion, Water; and the Yellow Lion, Stone). The shift in female treatment from the original series to the contemporary reimagning could also stand investigating; whether Allura is more or less empowered now than before is an argument worth having. But, given the orientation of the Society, the medievalism on display in "The Rise of Voltron" is what will receive focus.

There are some obvious medievalist bits, of course. The armor that Allura's father, King Alfor, wears, both in person and in holographic representation, strikes the eye as decidedly medievalist--not medieval, but evoking the medieval in decided, and decidedly standardized, ways. The description of the lions' pilots as "paladins" does, as well; familiar as a character type in no few role-playing games, the figure derives from and calls back to the elite knighthood of the Carolingian courts--although the presentation often associated with the paladins now is hardly how they are described in the medieval source materials--although it is possible to read them as a reiteration of anxieties about invasive forces. Indeed, the Galra, being purple and giving the appearance of hairiness--as opposed to the multi-ethnic human paladins and their non-human but humane Altean associates--as they rapaciously invade formerly peaceful areas, can be taken as reconceptions of the Saracens come into Catholic Europe once again. (I think I will have more to say on this topic in later rewatch pieces; a relevant piece of information comes in a later episode, if I recall correctly.)

Perhaps less obvious but still evocative, and evocative in the same line as the title of "paladin," has to do with the iconography at work among the lions' pilots. In addition to the color symbolism noted above, the pilots in their assigned armor all display the same heraldic blazon, a chevron inverted that calls to mind the V with which "Voltron" (as well as "victory," tellingly) begins. The common device--a heraldic ordinary--helps to identify them as a unit and to suggest that they are, in their concept, in alignment with older concepts--something doubtlessly borne out by any number of discussions of types and tropes at work in the show. Although a small unit, the paladins are much in the mold of the kind of chivalric order their title evokes--and a medievalist concept of one, in which warriors of disparate non-combat skills work together to be more efficient in combat than any of them could be alone. (This is another thing to which I will be returning. First episodes often act...oddly.)

I have the sneaking feeling that there is more going on in the episode in terms of medievalism than presents itself to me. I know there is more going on in the series (so far; it is only one season in, and a second is hoped-for) than the first episode allows to show forth. I will be happy to return to it here in the coming days.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.9: "Baelor"

1.9 “Baelor”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor

Well, here it is. The episode that sent shockwaves through the part of the viewership that hadn’t already read the books and didn’t know this was coming. The turning point in the whole series that shows that Westeros is harsh and unforgiving and doesn’t play around, that George R.R. Martin is a cruel and capricious god.

It’s clear why the episode is titled “Baelor”—the execution occurs on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor, and it’s what Ned says to Yoren to alert him to Arya’s presence on the statue of Baelor so he’ll protect her, but there’s more going on beneath the surface for those who have read the books and are aware of the history of Westeros. Baelor I Targaryen, called “the Blessed,” was the most devout king of the Seven Kingdoms ever. In true Martin fashion, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. While he did pardon many prisoners, forge peace with Dorne, and build the Great Sept, he also kept his sisters cloistered, practiced book burning, and made it his mission to convert the entire nation to the Faith of the Seven—whether they wanted it or not. His death is a bit of a mystery; either he starved himself to death through his pious fasting or he was poisoned to prevent him from doing more damage to the kingdoms.



In short, Baelor put his love of the Seven and his own piety ahead of his duty to the realm, and he died for it (one way or another). The central theme of this episode is love vs. duty, as expressed by Maester Aemon, who tells Jon that “love is the death of duty.” When the choice comes to help your loved ones or do your duty, most often men will help their loved ones. In Aemon’s mind, this is a Bad Thing. He tells Jon that he stayed at the Wall and did his duty when his entire family was slaughtered during Robert’s Rebellion, which is how Jon finds out that Aemon is a Targaryen—with Viserys dead, he’s one of the last two in the world. Jon must decide whether to stay at the Wall and do his duty or run south to join Robb in his quest to free Ned from the Black Cells, and the episode gives several examples of what happens when one chooses love over duty.

Daenerys’ choice is between Drogo’s life and the trust and cohesion of the khalasar. The wound he took showing off in the fight with Mago has festered, and he’s at death’s door. He falls from his horse, which is a death-blow to his leadership, and the bloodriders, particulary Qotho, immediately begin jockeying for position. In order to save Drogo’s life, Dany calls on Mirri Maz Duur, the woman she saved from the bloodriders in the last episode, to use her magic—any magic, no matter how dark—to save Drogo. Qotho voices the concerns of the khalasar about trusting a maegi (witch), and even Rakharo, who has been a staunch Dany ally, resists the idea of using blood magic to save Drogo. Dany refuses to believe that Drogo is dying, refuses Jorah’s invitation to run before Drogo does die and the khalasar is no longer hers to command, and entrusts Drogo’s life to the hands of a woman who has suffered at the hands of the Dothraki. Needless to say, this is a Very Bad Idea. Mirri says that only death can pay for life and sacrifices Drogo’s horse, but Qotho also dies in service of this ritual (Jorah kills him to prevent him stopping it), and Dany goes into premature labor, causing Jorah to carry her into Drogo’s tent—where horrible noises have joined Mirri’s chanting—and darkness closes over the scene. While we don’t yet see the ultimate outcome of Dany’s decisions, the future does not look promising.



Robb is also beginning to see the price of duty. In order to go south, he has to cross the one bridge across the Trident, which is guarded by a cranky old lord of uncertain fealty (technically, he’s sworn to the Tullys, but he’s never been very faithful to his duty). In order to secure the right to cross the bridge between the Twins, Catelyn goes in to negotiate. She tries to remind Walder Frey (does David Bradley ever not play a completely awful character?) of his duty, but that’s not one of his motivations. His only motivation, really, is his own pride, so Cat has to agree to several conditions that will increase the status of House Frey, including betrothing two of her children, Robb and Arya, to Walder’s children (Robb at least gets to choose his bride). Robb is clearly unhappy with the terms, but knows it’s the only way to get south to rescue Ned without being harassed by Lannisters all the way.

Ned’s choice between love and duty bookends this episode. Varys brings him water again and tries to convince him that his duty to the realm demands that he give up his personal honor, confess to treason, join the Night’s Watch, and keep the peace. Ned is perfectly willing to sacrifice his life for his honor, but Varys reminds him that more lives than his are riding on this—Sansa’s is in an especially vulnerable position, as well. We don’t see Ned again until the end of the episode, leaving us to wonder what he will choose, love or duty, while the episode reminds us over and over that love is the death of duty. Yet Ned’s choice isn’t as black-and-white as everyone else’s. Love and duty appear to overlap, as saving Sansa’s life and keeping peace in the realm necessitate admitting to treason, while only his own ideas of honor (and his stubbornness) would prevent him from doing so. Earlier in the episode, Aemon asks Jon what Ned would do in this situation, and Jon says “he’d do the right thing. No matter what.” But the question is, what is the right thing?



Ned chooses to confess to treason, declare Joffrey Robert’s trueborn heir, and retire to the Wall. Technically, he’s lying, leaving the realm in the hands of one who has no true claim to the throne. However, as a few characters have pointed out this season, neither Aegon the Conqueror nor Robert Baratheon had a true claim to the throne, either; they took it by force. So which is more important, keeping peace in the realm, or maintaining a bloodline? With the promise that Sansa will be safe, Ned makes his choice, but it backfires. He doesn’t count on Joffrey being a monster who doesn’t have an ounce of honor in him. On some level, he probably expects being on sacred ground—the steps of the Sept of Baelor—to protect him, but again, Joffrey has no regard for the sacred. Joffrey hasn’t weighed the choice between his revenge on Ned and his own bloodthirstiness against keeping peace in the realm. Joffrey wants blood, and Joffrey orders Ned’s death. And once again:



So, to shamelessly steal a line from Mad Max: Fury Road, who broke the world? Was it Ned, for not being canny enough to recognize his allies and his moment and snatch the throne out from under Joffrey when he had the chance? Or for compromising his honor and lying (also on sacred ground)? Joffrey, for backing out on the deal Cersei had arranged with Ned through Varys? Littlefinger, for betraying Ned? Renly, for not staying to make sure Ned had faithful backup? All of the above? Things are never simple in Westeros, but this particular mess is as bad as the Wars of the Roses (oh, wait).

RIP: Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm
Qotho
Drogo’s horse

Lots and lots of Stark and Lannister soldiers

Next week: DRAGONS.

Images from screencapped.net

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Response to Michael Livingston's "Getting Medieval on George R.R. Martin"

A couple of days ago, after news broke of the Society's nomination for a World Fantasy Award (about which more here), Kris Swank directed some attention to Michael Livingston's 16 July 2015 Tor.com article, "Getting Medieval on George R.R. Martin," available here. In the piece, Livingston explores the question of the authenticity of Martin's medievalism (something that has been of substantial concern for the Society, as no small amount of its work makes clear). To do so, he offers a working definition of medieval and examples of what he regards as being authentically medieval--which is, for him, less a mater of historical factual accuracy than a matter of what might be described as accuracy of attitude. Armed with such a definition, deriving in part from the example of the 2001 Heath Ledger vehicle A Knight's Tale, he argues that Martin's work is authentically medieval, albeit with a decidedly anachronistic mixture of elements. In effect, Livingston argues that Martin's work does well at presenting the medieval specifically because it is medievalist (as scholars understand the term and as Livingston points out), rather than medieval.

Livingston presents a number of good points in the article. He is correct in noting that the refiguration of ideas from earlier periods is something authentically medieval; much of the extant literature is refigurations of earlier works, and the school of Robertsonian criticism works from the idea that medieval literature reads as interpretation and figuration of patristic writings. He is correct, too, in pointing out that what Martin presents helps his audiences to understand themselves--and, by extension, those who study Martin and his audiences to understand the audiences. And he does not do badly at all to move towards the idea that "medieval" is a fluid category--something else that has been noted in this webspace.

Where Livingston--"a Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel," per the article's author blurb--does do badly is in repeating the comment that the real medieval, insofar as we can know it, is dull and boring. The position seems inappropriate for one in the profession of professing the medieval to take; were it truly boring, none of us would study it who do, and from what I have seen of medievalists, we do not find it dull. Even by contemporary standards, there is much about which to be excited in the medieval, whether it be in the form of cat pictures taken from manuscript illuminations or in the Tarantino-prefiguring of Malory (how often are the Round Table knights so covered in gore that they cannot be identified?), or in the very Chaucer Livingston lauds (since fart jokes continue to play well for many audiences, and Mel Brooks's appropriation of red-hot pokers shoved into orifices draws laughs decades on). That such constructions as Martin's make use of the medieval and both borrow from and reinforce ideas about the medieval that are not as factually accurate as they might be--and that medieval scholars themselves indulge in such activities, largely because they often amuse--does not mean that those of us who are in the know ought to contribute to the misconceptions--and for a professor of medieval studies to claim that his own field of study is boring serves to reinforce the erroneous thought that our forebears were somehow less than we are. They were not, although there are matters about which we know far more than they--but they knew far more than most of us about more than a few things, as well. To write them off as dull and to imply that they need "enhancement" elides that, doing them and us a disservice.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts about Coverage of the Black Lives Matter Protest in Baton Rouge

The Black Lives Matter Network* and its activities have attracted much attention across the globe, particularly in the aftermath of events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota.** There is much being said about the events and reactions thereto, and there is much more to be said about them. One such thing, although little enough against the enormity of what has been going in, has to do with a photograph taken by Jonathan Bachman and discussed by the BBC here, among many others. I saw in an online discussion of the image comments about the equipment of the police forces displayed, with one commentator noting being "Fairly certain that these cops are wearing more gear than soldiers in Fallujah." The comment gave me pause, and I looked at the image more closely--and I was struck by the medievalism of the approach being taken by law enforcement to the event being policed.

There is, to my eye, something medieval about the line of armed and armored officers stretching across the road (and an irony in that they were there, ostensibly and in part, to clear the right-of-way--by blocking it far more fully than the woman, Ieshia Evans, against whom the image shows them moving), holding shields and clubs emblazoned with heraldic emblems. (I address similar heraldic devices here; even before the militarization of police forces in the United States, there was overlap between military and law-enforcement practice.) There is something medieval, as well, about the form of the armor itself. With visored helmet and cuirass, pauldron and rerebrace and vambrace, tasset and cuisse and poleyn and schynbald and sabaton, blackened despite the encroaching heat of a Baton Rouge summer, the officers approaching Evans and their counterparts standing behind seem very much in the mold of medievalist films such as Peter Jackson's Middle-earth movies or medievalist television such as Game of Thrones--and rarely among the protagonists in those works.

Somehow, the Peasants' Revolt comes to mind for me as I look at the police facing Evans and moving against her. I am minded that social and economic upheaval not entirely dissimilar in type--with the degree of similarity depending on credence to certain conspiracy theories about diseases of one sort or another--to what has pervaded recent years preceded the Great Rising; suppression of wages and destabilization of labor combined with concerns about immigration and about "lower-class" domestic support for foreign influences seem common between then and now. I have to wonder, given the similarities I see and the correspondences that suggest themselves to me, if there is not something in the past that we continue to study that offers some idea, if perhaps not of what to do, of what must be avoided in what protesters and many others see as the pursuit of a more just and equitable society in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world. I have to hope so.

*I was able to access the linked website briefly at around 1720 on 12 July 2016. My access to it seemed to have been cut within a couple of minutes. It may be nothing, but I have to note that it is somewhat suspicious.

**I am aware that "events" is a pallid term. I use it because the Society has not, as of this writing (12 July 2016), expressed an opinion about them, making more...descriptive terms not appropriate for this venue at this time.

Monday, July 11, 2016

About a Nomination

A report from Tor.com notes that the 2016 World Fantasy Award nominees have been announced. The Tales after Tolkien Society is one such nominee; represented by founder and President Helen Young, the Society is up for a Special Award- Nonprofessional (by which I guess is meant that the Society does not produce fantasy, but studies is). The announcement is here: http://www.tor.com/2016/07/11/world-fantasy-award-nominees-2016/, and it is good news for the Society, indeed!

Thanks to Helen Young for calling this to attention!

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.8: "The Pointy End"

1.8 “The Pointy End”
Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Commentary by George R.R.  Martin

Traditionally, the pacing of each season of Game of Thrones has had seven or eight episodes of build-up, then two or three explosive episodes that bring to a head all the planning and conniving and troop movement that the first ¾ of the season spent setting up. That tradition begins here, as the season moves quickly towards its ultimate climax.



“The Pointy End,” of course, refers to Jon’s instruction to Arya way back in episode two that the first rule of swordfighting is to “stick them with the pointy end.” But since Arya only appears in about the first five minutes of the episode—during which she does, indeed, stick someone with the pointy end—clearly there’s more to the phrase than just Arya using Needle. There’s a lot of sharpness going on in this episode, not all of it dealing with steel.

The episode opens immediately after the close of the last episode, with Lannister and Stark guardsmen fighting in the halls, Stark servants being slaughtered, and Arya and Sansa so far completely oblivious to the commotion. The fighting is intercut with Arya training with Syrio, which hearkens back to episode three, when Ned watched Arya’s first lesson and heard real steel clashing over it. He was aware of the dangers of King’s Landing, but probably had no idea he’d bring the danger on himself. Syrio protects Sansa from the Lannister guardsmen, giving her time to escape the city through the dungeons, and Mordane faces down another batch of Lannister guardsmen, giving Sansa time to run to her room and get grabbed by Sandor Clegane (less helpful, but still brave). On her way out, Arya grabs Needle, then makes her first kill, mostly by accident—she has the sword in her hand and turns around quickly and it ends up in the stableboy’s belly. (Like Martin, I miss the plaintive “Take it out” that the boy had in the book; he’s not sure why they removed it from his script.)



Similar sharpness is happening at the Wall, though it’s less effective than Arya’s. The bodies of two of Benjen’s rangers have been hauled in, and there’s something distinctly wrong with them—as Jon discovers when they get up and try to attack Mormont. Jon stabs one of them several times, including putting his sword clear through Othor’s belly, in the same place Arya stabbed the stableboy, but Othor doesn’t die. It takes Jon throwing a lantern at him and setting him on fire for him to die. Again.


Steel is also drawn in Winterfell, where Robb, upon hearing of Ned’s arrest, has called the northern bannermen and is preparing to march on King’s Landing to demand Ned’s release. Greatjon Umber doesn’t like that Robb’s the boss, and he really doesn’t like that Robb doesn’t intend to put him in charge of the vanguard. Greatjon draws his dagger in a rage, and Grey Wind takes off two of his fingers for him, leading to this wonderful exchange:

Robb: My lord father taught me it was death to bare steel against your liege lord. But doubtless the Greatjon only meant to cut my meat for me.
Greatjon: Your meat! . . .  Is bloody tough. (Video)

(One of my favorites in the books, as well.)

Finally, both steel and blood are in evidence in the Dothraki Sea, where Drogo has begun raiding villages to gather valuables and slaves so he can hire ships to sail to Westeros. Daenerys isn’t impressed with the conduct of the khalasar, and orders Rakharo to make the others stop abusing the women. (Interestingly, though rape is implied, it’s only implied; no actual rape is shown on screen here.) She claims all of the captured women as her own, which angers Mago, one of the bloodriders, who complains to Drogo. Drogo thinks it’s adorable that Dany’s standing up for herself and attributes her newfound inner strength to his son, “the Stallion who Mounts the World,” growing in her womb. When Mago decides Drogo’s affection for Dany is a sign of weakness and challenges him for leadership of the khalasar, we finally get to see why Drogo’s braid has never been cut. Martin points out that this fight wasn’t originally in the script; Mago was supposed to live through at least season five. But Jason Momoa pointed out that while we keep hearing about what a fearsome warrior Drogo is, we never get to see him in action, so they rewrote this section to include the fight. It also moves the wound that ultimately kills Drogo to the screen, rather than it being a random cut he picked up on the field, and makes it his own fault, as he intimidates Mago by flexing into the arakh then pushing him backward by walking into it. He then shows off by dropping his daggers and dancing around Mago for a bit before slicing his throat with his own arakh and ripping out the entirety of his vocal apparatus—tongue and all—with his bare hands.



Besides a sharpness of steel, this episode also shows quite a bit of sharpness of wit and brain. Robb’s above remark about cutting his meat is one; he also shows cunning by feeding a captured Lannister scout bad information and sending him back to Tywin. This level of canny thinking is exactly the sort of thing Tywin stated earlier that he didn’t expect from Robb, “a green boy.” Tyrion was less doubtful, but then Tyrion is generally an even more strategic thinker than Tywin (not by much, admittedly). Tyrion’s strategic thinking is also on full display in this episode, as he convinces a bunch of mountain tribesmen (and women) not to kill him and take all his things, but to work for him in exchange for the promise of ownership of the Vale of Arryn. As Martin explains in the commentary, the mountain clans are the remains of the First Men, shoved out of power by the Andals, who invaded a few thousand years after the First Men settled Westeros. They, of course, want their land back, and Tyrion’s promise to give it to them (along with the giant gold lion’s-head ring he hands over) seems to do the trick.



Joffrey’s Small Council is also honing their wit on Sansa, playing a game of good cop, bad cop (or good councilor, bad councilor, as Martin puts it) to manipulate her into sending a letter to Robb to convince him to swear fealty to Joffrey and keep the peace. Maester Pycelle plays “bad councilor,” insisting that Sansa will inevitably turn traitor since Ned’s a traitor; Varys and Petyr play “good councilor,” suggesting that Sansa is innocent and can be trusted if she’ll only prove her trustworthiness. Cersei acts as the focal point of these two sides, nudging Sansa to write the letter, indicating that her obedience here will be a major factor in Ned’s fate. They replay the entire mummery for the court when Sansa comes to beg for Ned’s life, with Pycelle bellowing “treason is treason!” and Varys pointing out how innocent she is, while Petyr looks like he smelled something bad and Cersei looks honestly concerned about how Joffrey’s going to handle this.

The scene closes with a slow pan-down behind the throne, the sharp blades rising up the screen, a literal pointy end to the episode. The visuals also remind the viewer of the power the king holds, and how that power is wielded at the end of a multitude of blades. Earlier in the scene, Ser Barristan Selmy is removed from the Kingsguard and throws his sword on the floor, telling Joffrey to “melt it down and add it to the others.” The Iron Throne itself is a reminder of conquest, without the double-edged reminder of the books that power is treacherous. The design of the throne for the show left out the sharp bits in the armrests and Joffrey cutting himself on them, making his position as king—and the position of the kings of Westeros in general—look a lot more secure than it really is.



RIP: a lot of guards and servants
Septa Mordane
The stableboy
Othor
Jafer Flowers
Mago
I’ll believe Syrio Forel is dead when they show me his body


Next week: Death. Destruction. Shock. Horror.

Gif from 10 Things I Hate About You, screencaps from screencapped.net

Monday, July 4, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch: 1.7 "You Win or You Die"

Episode 1.7 “You Win or You Die”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Minahan

The central theme of this episode is power—who has it, who doesn’t, what is it for, and why. This theme is primarily exemplified in two quotes, one from Cersei (that makes the title of the episode): “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground,” and one from Jorah Mormont, who explains to Daenerys that Aegon the Conqueror took Westeros because he could, not because he had any right to it. All of the characters in this episode struggle with power, how much they have, whether they want more, and how to get it if they do.

The episode opens with our first look at Tywin Lannister (the incomparable Charles Dance), lecturing Jaime for being rash and attacking Ned—but since he did attack him, for not killing him while he had the chance. Tywin explains that the whole point of gathering power is to “establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years.” In Tywin’s case, he wants power so that his family will survive beyond him. The show doesn’t deal much with Tywin’s backstory, but book readers will understand why it’s so important to Twyin that the family name is built up and respected, far more than his own personal power and respect. Starting the episode off with this declaration creates contrast for the rest of the episode; nobody else seems to worry too much about dynasties and lasting power. Instead, they’re all out for their own personal status and immediate power.



This contrast is set up immediately when the scene changes to Ned and Cersei discussing her treason in the gardens. It’s implied that if Robert had respected Cersei from the get-go, things would have been much different. She says she worshipped him and thought herself the luckiest woman in the world to marry him—until he called her “Lyanna” in bed on their wedding night. Every single spiteful thing Cersei has done since then has stemmed from that one drunken mistake. She claims Ned made a mistake, too, in not claiming the throne for himself after the rebellion rather than handing it over to Robert. Ned doesn’t think it was a mistake. Cersei then warns him of his impending death; if Ned’s going to get involved in the power struggle, he needs to play to win and be willing to put knives in backs if that’s what it takes. If he’s not, he should never have gotten involved in the first place.

The knives-in-backs theme continues with the very next scene, our sexposition/gratuitous female nudity scene for the episode (hi again, Benioff and Weiss). Again, this scene is frustrating because it gives us a bit more of Petyr’s history with Cat, which isn’t tremendously important to the story Benioff and Weiss are telling, and savvy watchers would have figured out everything he’s telling the two whores up to this point, anyway. The only really interesting/necessary part is his assessment of power and how to get it: he’s not skilled in force of arms, so instead he’ll “fuck them” to get what he wants (power) in other ways. This scene could have been half as long and included 100% less fake pleasure noises and prostitutes practicing on each other and still gotten all of this information across. This might be the most gratuitous scene they’ve pulled on us yet.

Theon is also contemplating the meaning of power, with Osha twitting him about wanting to be called “my lord.” How can he be a lord, she asks, if his father’s a lord? Even if he’s going to be lord of the Iron Islands after Balon, he’s not a lord now, so why should she call him lord? Alfie Allen does a magnificent job of appearing to struggle with this question while still clinging to Theon’s ego. In true Theon form, he deflects the question by trying to seduce Osha until Luwin stops him, again reminding him (in a much more sideways manner than Robb did last episode) that he’s not quite a guest here but has been treated much better than a prisoner.

The intrigues in King’s Landing reach a fever pitch in this episode as Robert is brought in with a nasty gore to the belly from a boar: “King Robert Baratheon, murdered by a pig,” he says. The power plays begin in earnest immediately. Ned refuses to acknowledge Joffrey as Robert’s heir in his will, writing “my heir” instead of “my son Joffrey.” Renly tries to convince Ned to seize power immediately in order to keep Cersei from consolidating her own power, and to then consider setting Renly on the throne instead of Stannis (Ned refuses). Ned then sends a letter to Stannis explaining the situation, just before asking Petyr (of all people) for help making sure Joffrey and Cersei don’t take power. Petyr suggests a similar plan to Renly’s—putting power in Ned’s hands, seeing how Joffrey grows up, then replacing him with Renly if he’s too much of a liability—which Ned rejects in favor of his own plan. Between Ned not liking Petyr’s plan and Ned’s inability to come right out and ask for Petyr’s help bribing the City Guard to back him instead of the Lannisters (because it’s not honorable), it’s clear Petyr isn’t particularly inclined to help him. And he doesn’t, though he makes it look like he is right up until the last second, when the Guard slaughters Ned’s men and Petyr himself puts a knife to Ned’s throat. Overall, Ned has played the game extremely poorly, making bad call after bad call, trying to keep his honor intact in the midst of political intrigue, which is pretty much impossible.



Over in Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki horde that Ned wasn’t too worried about invading Westeros is getting fired up. Drogo isn’t initially interested in invading now that Viserys is dead, but when the assassin Viserys sent after her tries to poison her in the marketplace, Drogo gets angry. Really angry. Again, kudos to the actor (Jason Momoa) for being able to go on a furious, full-throated, red-faced, spitting tirade in a language that doesn’t even exist and make it completely believable. Drogo will take his screamers and cross the water for Dany and for his son in order to teach “the men in their metal suits” what happens when they cross a khal. It’s a little hard to root for him, though, when part of his threats against Westeros include raping their wives and enslaving their children.



So when it comes to the power vacuum Robert left by being an idiot and hunting while drunk, I’m pretty solidly Team Nobody; nobody who’s up for the throne seems like a very good choice. Not that Robert was great, either. Westeros has a sad dearth of people who would be good leaders (but, then, doesn’t life have that same dearth, especially on the national level?).

Meanwhile, Jon is also starting to get initiated into the halls of power, though his are on a far smaller scale. He wants to be a ranger and go looking for his uncle, whose horse has come back without Benjen. Instead, he’s assigned to the stewards, who Jon angrily refers to as “glorified maids.” It takes Sam explaining to him that he’s been assigned to Lord Commander Mormont—at Mormont’s specific request—and besides all the fetching and carrying and cleaning will also be privy to all the inner workings of the administration of the Night’s Watch for Jon to realize that maybe this isn’t a bad thing.

The only real issue with this scene is that Benioff and Weiss skipped an instigating incident for it; in the books, Jon goes to bat for Sam swearing in with the rest of them rather than being held back, showing initiative, diplomatic skills, and care for those less fortunate and less able than him. He earns this position and Mormont’s choice to groom him for power; it’s not just handed to him, and it’s not part of Allister Thorne hating Jon personally. This is part of Jon’s overall character arc, moving from a sulky boy with a chip on his shoulder to a man who can command the Night’s Watch, and leaving it out does not bode well for Benioff and Weiss’ portrayal of that arc.

RIP: King Robert of House Baratheon, First of His Name, Lord of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm
A whole bunch of unnamed guardsman

That wineseller, probably

Next week: The realm shatters. Dead men walk. Dany asserts herself.