Monday, August 29, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.4: "Garden of Bones"

2.4 “Garden of Bones”
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Directed by David Petrarca
Commentary by Liam Cunningham (Davos) and Carice Van Houten (Melisandre)

Oh, look, it’s another episode of Game of Thrones where death is the major theme, but this time it’s not individual deaths or people doing things to cause their own deaths, but massive deaths inflicted on the common folk at the hands of the nobles. The title comes from Daenerys’ arrival at Qarth, where Jorah tells her that because of the location of the city, if the masters of Qarth decide not to admit travelers, they die outside the gates, where their bodies are just . . . left.

Daenerys and her khalasar come very close to suffering this fate; the Thirteen (the council that governs Qarth) ask to see her dragons before they’ll admit her, and Dany balks. The reason for her refusal to show them the dragons isn’t clear—stubbornness? Not like being told what to do? CGI budget too low?—but because of her refusal, the Thirteen are prepared to allow Dany and her people to die in the desert. Only the intervention of Xaro Xhoan Daxos prevents this fate; he swears a blood oath (cutting across his palm, of course, because people in TV shows and movies don’t need those tendons) to make Dany et al his responsibility while they’re in the city. It looks like altruism, but chances are it’s not. (Nobody on this show ever does anything just to be nice.) So Daenerys and her khalasar live for a bit longer, entering Qarth, the greatest city that ever was or ever shall be.



There’s some Lannister soldiers who aren’t so lucky. Robb ambushes Stafford Lannister’s camp, leaving bodies strewn across the battlefield. Roose mentions that they have too many prisoners and offers to torture a few (specifically by flaying them) to get information rather than feeding them. Robb tells him no, then dodges any further discussion by helping a pretty battlefield nurse hold down a wounded soldier who really doesn’t want his foot taken off. Roose insists that there are more important things to be doing than dealing with this one single Lannister soldier, and he’s right, for the most part, but Robb has to make goo-goo eyes at his new soon-to-be love interest (so much more on her later). Yet spending some time with the soldier and Talisa allows the show to bash home its message a bit; Talisa proceeds to chastise Robb (you know, just the king, nobody important who could have her head off for sass-talking him) about starting battles that cause no-name smallfolk to suffer. She does bring up a good point that he doesn’t exactly have plans for what to do after he’s sacked King’s Landing and killed Joffrey, then retreated north to be King in the North—who’s he going to leave on the Iron Throne?



Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie are in the thick of the expendable smallfolk, watching the Mountain’s torturer try to get information about the Brotherhood and what valuables might be left in the village. One of the women tells them that he picks one person every day and tortures them to death. (My husband pointed out that this is really stupid—why tell them anything if they’re just going to kill you anyway? Getting any information through torture-to-death, especially in front of people you plan to torture to death, is really inefficient.) Her time in the cage gives Arya an opportunity to build and refine her “prayers”—the list of people who have hurt her or her family and who she plans to kill one day. The torture goes on for several days, until Tywin arrives and tells them torturing perfectly able-bodied people to death—like Gendry, who’s in the chair when he shows up and tells Tywin he’s a smith—is really extraordinarily stupid and they need to stop it at once. Arya comes to Tywin’s attention because Polliver yells at her for not kneeling, and Tywin decides Arya needs to be his next cupbearer. This accelerates Arya’s timeline a bit, as the books have her working as a floor-scrubber for a while before becoming Roose Bolton’s cupbearer when the Starks retake Harrenhal, and completely shifts the power dynamic and implications for this relationship. I’ll have more to say on it in the next couple of episodes.



Joffrey’s abuse of the smallfolk is more intimate in this episode; in order to try to mellow him out (and get him to quit beating up on Sansa), Tyrion gives him a nameday present of two whores—Ros and Daisy, both of whom we’ve seen before. Joffrey doesn’t want to actually have sex with them (his avoidance of Ros’ groping is interesting, and I’ll have to keep an eye on his reaction to sexual situations from now on to see what the showrunners are doing with this). Instead, he wants them to hit each other. A lot. Hard. With a belt. And then with a stag-topped staff. At crossbow-point. Because he’s a sociopathic, sadistic little shit. (Every single commentary track that deals with Joffrey at all mentions what a nice kid Jack Gleeson is and what a shame it is that he’s the most hated man on television.)



The specter of dead smallfolk is less visible when Renly and Stannis have their parlay on the bluff overlooking the ocean, but it’s still there if you know where to look. These two men (and Catelyn) are discussing how to avert a battle between them, a battle that, like Robb’s attack on the Lannisters, would kill lots and lots of people. This isn’t their main concern, though, beyond the fact that killing lots and lots of people would mean their armies would be weakened when it came time to attack King’s Landing. Mostly, they’re worried about their pride. Stannis believes he’s the rightful heir to the throne, all other considerations be damned. Renly believes he’s the better choice for king because he’s more personable and has more support, because Stannis never bothered to make any friends. Catelyn thinks they’re both being idiots and need to kiss and make up. Of course neither of them can or will bend, so the peace talks are a failure and they ride off to get ready for war.



Or, in Stannis’ case, to cheat. Hard. For a man who prides himself on honor and justice, he sure doesn’t balk at using underhanded and magical means to get what he wants. He’s got an “ends justify the means when it benefits me” kind of outlook that makes him not nearly as honorable as he thinks he is. Of course, Ned Stark was as honorable as Stannis thinks he is, and look where that got him. So Stannis has Davos use his smuggling skills to sneak Melisandre ashore, where she once again shows us her boobs, then births a shadow monster that runs off to make sure there won’t be a fight between Renly and Stannis.

Bones once again play a part in the story when Petyr and a couple of Silent Sisters bring Ned’s bones to Catelyn. Tyrion has arranged it as a show of good will, hoping that Cat will agree to trade Jaime for Sansa and Arya (completely lying about having Arya), since they know Robb won’t do it. Petyr then makes a tactical mistake in trying to convince Catelyn that now that Ned is dead, they can finally be together, still believing that it was Cat he had sex with all those years ago (spoiler: it wasn’t. I don’t remember how much the show goes into this whole Cat-Lysa-Petyr mess, so I’ll deal with it when and if it comes up).

Any storyline in A Song of Ice and Fire that deals with the smallfolk (Arya’s and Brienne’s, primarily) emphasizes how the lords playing their “game of thrones” do so on the backs of the smallfolk, who for the most part couldn’t care less who’s in charge as long as they can live in peace and feed their families. In A Clash of Kings, Arya overhears some of the Harrenhal prisoners complaining: “It’s not just, it’s not. [. . .] We never did no treason, the others came in and took what they wanted, same as this bunch.” She then proceeds to curse the Tullys, Lannisters, and Starks equally (Clash 416). A lot of book-fans complain about Brienne’s story in A Feast for Crows, claiming that “nothing happens,” but what’s happening is Martin establishing how much the War of the Five Kings has decimated the countryside, uprooted families, and generally left chaos in its wake. So few medievalist fantasy novels deal with the plight of the smallfolk at all that it’s really refreshing to get it from Martin (even if he does exaggerate for effect).

On a side note, while Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten’s commentary didn’t add a lot to the analysis of this episode, it was a joy to listen to, because they’re clearly such good friends and spend a lot of time teasing each other. Also, Liam Cunningham’s accent is delightful.

RIP: Rennick
Lots of Lannister soldiers
Stafford Lannister, apparently (not on screen)

Next week: A girl must choose. A king dies. A man goes north.

All images from screencapped.net

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.7: "Return to the Balmera"

The Balmera arc of the series continues, as do commentaries on how the series recapitulates the medieval.

1.7. "Return to the Balmera"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Steve In-Chang Ahn

Synopsis

As the Castle approaches the Balmera, Allura, Coran, and the Paladins plan how they will liberate both it and its inhabitants from Galra control. As they begin to enact their plans, Lance voices a desire for glory, for which he is swiftly rebuked by Keith. Proceeding, the Paladins reconnoiter the Balmera and work to destroy Galra facilities; during the process, both Keith and Lance stumble onto new abilities in their Lions. Shiro recognizes that the Galra are enacting their own plans against the Paladins--plans which are explicated in a brief narrative focus on the Galra military as it moves to engage the Lions.

On the Balmera, the operation continues. Hunk, true to his word, works directly to free the Balmerans held captive; he learns that Shay has been taken into special captivity. Keith and Lance continue to coordinate well, and, at length, the five Paladins converge where Shay is held captive--at which point they are trapped away from their Lions, which the Galra military makes to steal as it engages with Allura and Coran. Shay and the other Balmerans work to clear the Paladins' paths back to the Lions, however, and the Paladins, Allura, and Coran make short work of the oncoming forces.

Meanwhile, Zarkon rebukes his military commander for interfering in his plans. What they are becomes clear when a Robeast crash-lands on the Balmera; the episode ends with the looming threat.

Discussion

Some of the ongoing medievalisms of the series continue in the episode. For example, the need to protect the innocent while fighting the less so, noted in "Return of the Gladiator" (here), presents itself again in comments throughout the episode that the Paladins have to limit their collateral damage as they fight the Galra on the Balmera. In such things, then, the episode breaks no new ground, although it does well to contiue to sift through such soils as the series has already dug up.

The association of Lance, the pilot of the Blue Lion, with Lancelot, his evident namesake, receives reinforcement, as well. Malory's Lancelot is repeatedly described as the knight of greatest worship--that is, the knight of greatest renown. He is also rebuked, during the Grail Quest and at other points, for seeking glory as he fights for his own elevation rather than the cause of right. Lance, in the episode, makes several comments about being fĂȘted by the Balmerans, for which he is rebuked verbally by Keith and silently by Shiro, his primus inter pares (since it is clear there is a sense of parity among the Paladins, although Shiro is clearly the seniormost--another reference to the Round Table, perhaps). It is a subtle connection, to be sure, but it is one that does help to link "Return to the Balmera" to major medieval currents and works, suggesting that what has been will contnue to influence what is and what will be.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.3 "What is Dead May Never Die"

2.3 “What is Dead May Never Die”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Alik Sakharov
Commentary by Bryan Cogman and Alik Sakharov

“What is dead may never die, but rises up harder and stronger” is the central tenet of the Ironborn worship of the Drowned God. The significance of the words might be lost on a show-only viewer, since Theon doesn’t go through the full “baptism” ritual in which he’s literally drowned, then resuscitated. In the books, pouring water on the face is really just a blessing, not a baptism. It’s enough to show that Theon has chosen his Greyjoy family over his Stark family, but not quite enough to drive home the title (and theme) of the episode, which is only loosely apparent through most of the episode, anyway.



Dead things being not quite dead, or being unable to die/be killed because people believe they’re already dead, is ostensibly the central idea of the episode. Besides the Drowned God moment, Cogman also has Luwin explain to Bran that magic has gone out of the world, that dragons, giants, and the Children of the Forest are all dead and gone. The viewer knows, of course, that dragons have come back, and that something is taking Craster’s boy babies, so it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that giants and the Children might still be kicking around—or about to return—as well. However, since nobody believes in any of these things, nobody’s agreeing to fight them, as seen in the last episode when the Small Council dismisses Lord Mormont’s request for more men to fight the White Walkers.

While the “may never die” part of the Craster’s baby subplot doesn’t show up for a bit (I don’t remember exactly which episode it’s in), the setup is here. We’re supposed to believe that he’s sacrificing the babies to whatever the dark shape is that took this one, and that they’re likely dead. Of course, we’ll find out later that that’s not exactly what’s happening, but the seeds are planted.

Yoren and Lommy’s deaths also obliquely contribute to this theme. Arya tells Ser Amory Lorch and the Gold Cloaks that Lommy, who Polliver stabbed through the throat rather than deal with the crossbow bolt in his leg, was Gendry. Putting forward that Gendry is dead protects him from continuing to be hunted, letting him continue to live (at least until Melisandre figures out who he is).

There’s a thin counterpoint to “what is dead may never die” in Renly’s camp, when Catelyn points out that Renly’s knights are “the knights of summer, and winter is coming.” These men are enjoying “playing at war” too much, and are unprepared for the true brutalities of warfare. Because they have never faced death and aren’t taking the possibility of death seriously, they’ll be much worse off than those who have when it comes to actual fighting.



Otherwise, the rest of the episode (which is about half of it once you take out Theon and those three scenes) has almost nothing to do with the theme. Most of the episode takes place in King’s Landing, and most of it deals with Tyrion trying to figure out who’s blabbing to Cersei. Bryan Cogman even says he considered titling the episode “The Queen Must Never Know.” And while these scenes are absolutely delightful, and Peter Dinklage is at the top of his game (as usual), the thematic unity of the episode kind of falls apart, at least if you consider “What is Dead May Never Die” to be the theme of the episode. A better title for this episode, to truly link its disparate parts, might have been “A Shadow on the Wall” or something similar; Varys tells Tyrion a riddle about where power resides and says that it resides where men believe it resides: “It is a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” A good bit of the episode is really about power, not about death or dying or not dying, and how people position themselves to get it, keep it, or be near those who have it.

Tyrion’s story in this episode is where the clearest idea of power comes in, and the initial scene has some really fantastic directing and editing. The setup for Tyrion’s plan—telling three different people three different plans he has for Myrcella and seeing which one gets back to Cersei—is very well done, with seamless transitions from one conversation to the next, allowing the audience to very easily follow Tyrion’s plan. And when Cersei accosts Tyrion, everyone knows exactly who the blabbermouth is. However, the scene they added at the end of last season showing that Pycelle is more than he appears to be becomes even further out of place, because Pycelle clearly isn’t smart enough to realize that Tyrion’s setting him up or to realize that if he does tell Cersei, it will immediately get back to Tyrion because Cersei is not subtle. If the show has been trying to imply that Pycelle is a bigger player than he appears, it drops the ball hard right here. Or, technically, it dropped the ball by implying it in the first place, since all the scenes that show he really is just a doddering old man who doesn’t do intrigue well are book-canon. I understand that Julian Glover didn’t like playing “just” a doddering old man, but giving him a bit more (especially without including the one scene that got deleted with him discussing his pretense with Tywin in the next season) was a mistake on the part of the showrunners and writers. Either they needed to add even more and use it to pump up Tyrion’s intrigue abilities or they needed to leave it out altogether.



The other part of the King’s Landing plot involves Shae and Sansa. Shae’s bored. So bored. She wants all the fun parts of being in King’s Landing—like leaving Tyrion’s rooms. Consider that she’s a courtesan and she’s landed the biggest whale possible short of the king himself (and she’s lucky she didn’t land the king, as we’ll see next season). But all the things that are supposed to go along with being the paid companion of a really really ridiculously rich person are being denied her. What’s she supposed to do, though—leave? Go out and try to find another lord who will treat her as more than just a prostitute? And to add insult to injury, Tyrion wants to hide her in the kitchens. Where she’ll get greasy, her hands will get calloused, and she’ll smell like a scullery all the time. As she tells Tyrion, “I am not a kitchen wench.” She probably became a prostitute to avoid being something so lowly as a kitchen wench, after all. Varys finds her a position as Sansa’s handmaiden, and it’s clear Shae even sees this as somewhat beneath her, though better than the alternative, so she puts up with Sansa’s near temper-tantrum with stoicism, if not good grace.

Because Sansa’s having an especially bad night. First she has to have dinner with Cersei, Tommen, and Myrcella, and all Myrcella wants to do is talk about the gowns she’ll get when Sansa marries Joffrey. Then Tommen asks if Joffrey’s going to kill Robb, because that would be awful (poor Tommen), and Cersei says that even if he does, Sansa will still marry him. So when Sansa gets back to her room, she’s already on the verge of tears. She has a moment with her mirror that shows how lost she feels—she’s trapped in a strange and hostile city with people who keep hurting her, she doesn’t have her wolf, and she has to keep saying that she hopes the rest of her family dies horribly at Joffrey’s hand. It’s no wonder she lashes out at Shae (who really is a rubbish handmaiden); she’s had all ability to control her own life taken away from her, and this is a tiny bit of her taking some of it back. Shae seems to pick up on that (she’s obviously good at reading people or she wouldn’t be Tyrion’s courtesan) and allows it without mouthing off at Sansa the way she mouths off at Tyrion.


Which brings us back to Renly’s camp in the Stormlands. This is our first introduction to Brienne and Margaery, two really great characters. Brienne is one of my favorites from the books, and while book-Margaery is a little bit of a wet noodle, the changes they made to her character for the show (aging her up, giving her a bigger role in Olenna’s machinations) made her really fun to watch (they also created a whole host of problems, but I’ll deal with those later). The real trouble in the two or three scenes we get with Renly is Loras. Again, his characterization completely ignores a lot of his book bravado and cockiness; instead, this Loras is defined by his relationship with Renly and his sexuality. When Brienne bests him in the melee and then Renly names her to his Kingsguard (I’m kind of glad they didn’t go with the whole Rainbow Guard thing; I think it would have been too campy on screen), Loras is angry because he feels like losing to Brienne was an affront to his honor and Renly honoring her for it further embarrassed him. He gets really nasty with Catelyn, taking one of Randyll Tarly’s incredibly misogynistic lines from the books, and generally acts like a sulky little boy. He’s still cranky later in the episode and punishes Renly by refusing to have sex with him and instead telling him he needs to start getting busy with Margaery.



On the one hand, having this discussion while they’re in an intimate position helps to underscore the weird position they find themselves in—Renly’s married to Loras’ sister and is obligated to try to act like a husband, which includes getting her pregnant (or at least sleeping with her so people will stop muttering about Renly and Loras’ relationship). On the other, now half of Loras’ scenes involve semi-naked times with Renly, and the other half have him being defeated by a better warrior. Book-Loras is cocky for a good reason—he’s a really good fighter. Never showing us Loras’ abilities (or even really discussing them) flips the script so that instead of Brienne being shown to be a really good fighter, as well, Loras is shown to have lost to a woman, and after already having lost the one other fight we see him in, it’s difficult to believe that he’s as great a warrior as the books paint him. There’s far more to him in the books, despite what a relatively minor character he is, than his relationship with Renly. Reducing him to his sexuality makes it feel token-y and kind of gross, and taking away his prowess—then having him make misogynistic comments—reduces him to a stereotype of a weak, woman-hating gay man. While I appreciate that the change of medium allows much more obvious representation, I think it could have been handled much better.

Renly’s follow-up scene with Margaery establishes her as a player in the game of thrones. She’s clearly willing to do whatever she needs to in order to cement Renly’s power, since that means cementing her own power. She keeps the focus on Renly, reminding him that the best way to keep their alliance together and thus keep him in power is for her to get pregnant, and that can happen however he needs it to, because he is the king. If it means having a threesome with her brother, so be it. Her attitude about Renly and Loras is refreshingly matter-of-fact, and she’s completely sincere in her offer to bring Loras in so Renly can reach arousal and consummate the marriage. She seems genuinely fond of Renly, and it’s nice to see a political marriage free of artifice and conniving (at least internally); it kind of reminds me of Cat and Ned. This also gives us a contrast to Margaery’s later engagement to Joffrey, in which she has to handle him, not just support him.



The talk of power as a shadow becomes much more ominous in a couple of episodes, but in this episode, it’s a shadow everyone is chasing, however small a shadow.

RIP: Yoren, Lommy Greenhands


Next week: Robb is stupid. Tywin is stupid. Joffrey and Meryn are sadistic bastards. Dany reaches Qarth.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.6: "Taking Flight"

After another break, during which a move and the preliminaries for a new instructional term took place, commentaries on Voltron: Legendary Defender continue.

1.6. "Taking Flight"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Lance emerges from medical treatment and is briefed on recent developments, namely that the Paladins have captured Galra commander Sendak--they hold him captive in the hopes of extracting information from him--and Hunk pushes to rescue Shay and her people. Pidge reveals being female, which surprises only Lance, and the Castle of Lions makes to launch, the Paladins participating in flight operations.

Meanwhile, the Galra continue to plot to take Voltron. Tensions emerge between Haggar and the conventional military; Zarkon endorses Haggar, and the military begins to plot against her.

As the Castle of Lions travels towards the Balmera, a distress call reaches it. The Castle stops to render aid to the senders, Rolo and Nyma; they claim to have suffered a systems failure in ther ship. Hunk expresses concern at events, and Shiro validates some of his concerns, but he is persuaded to help. Rolo and the others exchange information as Hunk works on the requested repairs; Rolo lays out some of the scope of the Galra Empire and its layout. Hunk continues to bespeak a need to fulfill his vow, and Nyma manipulates Lance through his obvious, adolescent infatuation with her.

Meanwhile, Haggar enacts a powerful ritual, draining a planet of its energy. Zarkon looks on approvingly and notes that it will allow for more focused pursuit of Voltron.

At length, Nyma turns on Lance, restraining him and summoning Rolo to assist her in taking the Blue Lion. They contact the Galra military and offer it in exchange for a payout and a full pardon. The Paladins pursue, belatedly informed by Lance of his quandary; they are able to recover the Blue Lion, and the strand Nyma and Rolo before continuing on their way. The episode ends, though, with the promise of another Robeast to come.

Discussion

Most of the points of medievalism presented in the episode reinforce medievalist threads already woven into the narrative tapestry. For example, part of the argument used to persuade Hunk to assist Rolo and Nyma is a reference to a Paladin Code, one that obliges helping all in need. While it is a commonplace of science fiction that the protagonists are required to answer all distress signals they receive, it is also a commonplace that knights--at least the "worthy" ones--also render aid to them who ask it. (It is an extrapolation of such things as the provision of Malory's Pentecostal Oath that the Round Table Knights must give mercy to those who ask it. And while neither all of Malory's examples nor those of more recent iterations follow through on the obligation, children's programming--and Voltron: Legendary Defender occupies that position at least partially--tends to play such tropes straighter than many other media.) Too, the overt display of magic in the episode--Haggar's ritual sucking the life from a planet--is linked directly with evil, something that lines up reasonably well with many depictions of magic in the medievalist and with what has happened in the series so far.

Other points emerge, as well, which expand upon but do not necessarily align with the earlier medievalisms in the series. There seems a bit more pointed bits of Arthuriana in the episode than I recall from before. Hunk's aversion to "proper" Paladin duties in favor of his personal vow seems somehow like the attitude displayed by Gawain in the wake of the Malorian Lancelot's killing of Gareth and Gaheris; although the Pope intercedes between Arthur and Guinevere, and Gawain accepts that, he remains hateful towards Lancelot--despite his king's preference and the often-demonstrated futility of personal combat against the man. Too, the Paladin Lance is misled into error through lust--and it is obvious that he lusts after Nyma--and ends up chained to a "tree," while his namesake is misled through his own lust and, after his lust is used against him, he also finds himself among the trees. It is perhaps overly subtle, but it still appears to be present.

One other thing calls attention to itself. As Rolo describes the Galra Empire, which has reigned with little hindrance for millennia, something of Imperial Rome seems to be evoked. And while there is a conception that Imperial Rome was held up as something of a golden era, it is also the case in Arthurian legendry that Imperial Rome was problematic. The Alliterative Morte Arthure and its recapitulation in Malory both point to Rome as an illicit, external, conquering force, one vanquished through the valiant efforts of worthy knighthood enabled by magic that works mostly off screen. It seems antecedent to what is suggested in "Taking Flight"; how far such parallels can be taken remains to be seen

Monday, August 15, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.2: "The Night Lands"

2.2 “The Night Lands”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by Alfie Allen and Gemma Whelan

Once again, we have an episode that the specter of death hangs over, and yet only one person dies. There’s more a constant memento mori happening than blood and guts and gore and treachery, which makes it a subtle but powerful undertone to an episode that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of thematic consistency.

The one actual death in the episode is Rakharo’s, and it’s what gives the episode its name. In “The North Remembers,” Daenerys sent three of her bloodriders out to see if there was anything beyond the Red Waste and try to figure out which way they should go. Here, Rakharo’s horse comes back, riderless, Rakharo’s head in a saddlebag. Irri doesn’t take it well, crying that whoever killed him defiled his body and didn’t burn it, meaning he won’t cross over into the afterlife—the Night Lands. Daenerys assures her that they’ll have their own (small) pyre for Rakharo and make sure that he’s not stranded here as a spirit. She also gets really, really angry, as this is yet one more injustice perpetrated against her people for which she’s going to burn the entire world down later.



The deaths of the babies and children from the last episode are having a ripple effect through this one, as well. (I’m very glad they didn’t just hit this plot point and move on; they actually added scenes that show that this isn’t something the city is just going to get over and forget about.) The Gold Cloaks are hunting Gendry on the Kingsroad, which leads Arya to tell him who she is, since he’s curious as to why she thinks they’re looking for her. (It also gives us the most adorable interaction between these two yet.)



Gendry, of course, still has no idea why the Gold Cloaks would be after him; his mother’s nobody, he never knew his father, and he didn’t commit any crimes. But at least Yoren has no intention of turning him over.

The shadow of the slaughter hangs over the Red Keep, as well. Tyrion fires Janos Slynt as Commander of the City Watch and replaces him with Bronn in yet another fun scene (one of my favorites from the books, as well). Later, Tyrion meets with Cersei to warn her that her antics are not going to end well. She hand-waves his concerns about the reactions of the populace to not only the slaughter but her decision to keep refugees out of the city, especially with winter coming. She’s so generally agitated, though, that Tyrion figures out that it wasn’t her idea to have the children killed—it was Joffrey’s. And worse, he didn’t tell her. (It’s that bit that’s really bothering her, not the wholesale slaughter of children.)




The death of Joanna Lannister at Tyrion’s birth also hangs over the entire family. Cersei blames Tyrion, specifically, for Joanna’s death, for robbing her of her mother. She calls him out on his tendency to make everything into a joke, saying that his first joke—ripping his way out of their mother and causing her to bleed to death—can’t be topped. This conversation brings in a layer of characterization that permeates a lot of the Lannisters’ relationships in the books, especially Tyrion’s relationship to everyone, that Tywin and Cersei feel that he wasn’t a fair trade for Joanna.

Back at the brothel, we get all kinds of unnecessary nudity as Petyr plays the peeping Tom while checking up on his prostitutes, until one of the customers comes storming out of his room complaining that his won’t stop crying. “His” turns out to be Ros, who’s still really upset about the baby’s death. On the one hand, I’m a teeny bit annoyed that this scene didn’t happen with the baby’s mother, who’s clearly going to be far more upset than a woman who just watched it happen, but on the other, I really like Ros and I’m glad we get to see her act with her clothes on. This scene not only continues to show how people are feeling about the slaughter, but also gives us a bit more Petyr sleaziness and touches on the consent thing I talked about way back in 1.5 “The Wolf and the Lion.” Petyr refers to Ros (obliquely; he tells a story about another whore who wasn’t happy and what he had to do to recoup his losses for hiring her) as an “investment” and warns her that he really dislikes investments that don’t pay off. He gives her the night off to pull herself together, but she’d better be ready to make his customers happy again in the morning. Or else. While the show has a real problem with making all its prostitutes giggly and bouncy and having so much fun with their jobs, occasionally it does pull back and look at the implications of prostitution.



Up north of the Wall, the Night’s Watch brothers are dealing with death another way—by laughing at it. Dolorous Edd complains that death’s not really dignified, given the way the body tends to release gas and such, and he, Sam, and Grenn giggle about death-farts. The idea of death is a bit less funny when Gilly comes to Sam for help because she’s pregnant and her father/husband, Craster, will do something undefined to the baby if it’s a boy. Sam really wants to help Gilly because she called him “brave” (and because he’s a nice kid), but Jon’s more practical and knows it’s a Really Bad Idea™. However, this does get his curiosity going a bit more—he already wondered what happens to the boys, and now he’s got a vague confirmation that it’s something sinister.



So he follows Craster. And all he gets for it is a shadowy figure off in the distance and a shovel to the face.

Whoops.

Meanwhile over on Dragonstone, Melisandre is planning Renly’s death and predicting Matthis Seaworthy’s. She tells Matthis that a death by fire is the purest death, and when Stannis asks why she said that, she says “because it’s true.” Also because (spoiler) Matthis will die at the Battle of the Blackwater when the entire river goes up in green flame. But that’s a bit away right now. The immediate thing is planning Renly’s death, which requires Melisandre to get naked while Stannis gets to stay completely clothed. Of course. There’s some interesting symbolism here with Stannis knocking the little ship markers all over the floor while having sex with Melisandre on the Westeros-map table. It reminds me of one of Daenerys’ (book) visions in the House of the Undying that represents Westeros being savaged and consumed by the five kings. As honorable as Stannis thinks he is, his willingness to kill his own brother (or have him killed. With witchcraft) brings that honorability into question, and his actions ultimately cause some pretty massive destruction.



Theon is also dealing with death, though in a slightly different way—by the laws of the Seven Kingdom’s, he’s his father’s heir as the oldest living male child. It took the deaths of at least two brothers during Balon’s Rebellion to put him there, though. And Theon’s been gone for the last ten years and might as well be dead as far as Balon’s concerned; unlike his sister, Yara, he doesn’t have the sea in his blood anymore. He didn’t even recognize Yara when he met her and put on all his “best” moves trying to get her into bed (somehow Benioff & Weiss managed to make the scene less cringeworthy than in the books). Now Theon has to decide what part of him needs to die—the Stark or the Greyjoy. Who has his loyalty, and why?



Although the words “valar morghulis” haven’t been introduced into the series at this point, that’s definitely the sense in this episode. All men must die, and most of the men (and women) in the series will die. Mostly pretty horribly, and a lot of them for no good reason.

RIP: Rakharo


Next Week: Tyrion is sneaky. Theon is confused. Arya says her prayers. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.5: "Tears of the Balmera"

After a short break, rewatch commentaries on Voltron: Legendary Defender continue. Unfortunately, there seems to be less of the medieval refigured in the treated episode than in the episodes preceding it.

1.5. "Tears of the Balmera"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

Pidge's work towards retaking the Castle of Lions from the small Galra force that holds it continues from the preceding episode. So do Galra machinations to take the castle--and its contents, the lion components of Voltron--to Zarkon. Meanwhile, Hunk and Coran encounter indigenous inhabitants of the Balmera, including Shay; after a brief debate, the indigenes decide to offer some aid to the Paladin and the Altean, although it stops short of assisting their crystal-recovery mission.

A flashback to the last Holt family meal before the Kerberos mission is presented as Pidge proceeds towards retaking the castle. Reports of the mission and its end spur Katie to infiltrate military facilities in search of truth. Pidge is interrupted by Galra forces, and Allura sends in the mice with which she has a psychic rapport.

Hunk and Coran confer with the Balmera's inhabitants, learning of Galra depredations and oppression. Whether the indigenes will help remains in question; Coran sends Hunk to make repairs to their spacecraft as he reconnoiters. Meanwhile, Pidge continues to experience a flashback--leading up to the presentation of Pidge as Pidge, a young male trainee--and reaffirms commitment to the Voltron mission. The mice, directed by Allura, proceed towards retaking the castle.

As Hunk repairs the craft he and Coran brought to the Balmera, he and Shay converse. Hunk encourages her to rise up, affirming that Voltron will defeat Zarkon. Her brother, approaching, rebukes what he describes as a "shadow-show" and pulls Shay away. At the same time or shortly thereafter, Pidge successfully interdicts Galra efforts to restore their control over the castle, defeating Sendak's second-in-command with aid--but Sendak coerces a surrender by threatening the captive Shiro and Lance.

Coran returns to Hunk and reports having a plan. It is a simple diguise plot, and although the pair are able to get to a Balmera crystal, they are taken captive by the Galra shortly afterwards. While Pidge overhears Sendak gloating, Shay frees Hunk and Coran. Her brother, however, has worked to interdict them, and Shay is taken captive. Hunk and Coran withdraw, Hunk vowing to return to free her.

On Arus, the mice successfully disable the Galra attempts to take the castle to Zarkon. The Paladins attack Sendak, capturing him. Lance is taken in for treatment, and Pidge affirms a decision to remain with the Paladins of Voltron.

Discussion

The standing medievalism of the series continues in part in "Tears of the Balmera." The Paladins remain in force and victorious over their ruthless, invasive foe, their communion enabling their defeat of individually superior foes. But not much new presents itself--unless it is in a kind of quiet conversion narrative taking place between Hunk and Shay. For in the episode, Hunk speaks of a particular kind of freedom to Shay, describing not only a heaven she has never seen and of which she can hardly conceive (itself something of a callback to early missionary work, although that was conducted less by the militant than the work of a paladin must be), but a freedom to relocate to other places. While the Galra are presented as being objectively evil--they are as rapacious of the Balmera as Tolkien's Orcs and forces of Saruman are of the lands they occupy, so that there is another bit of medievalist reference in the episode--there is a casual assumption by Hunk that his perspective is the better one. It is one backed by military might, and it is one that has decidedly religious--it reads in some ways as mimetic of any number of more forceful efforts to bring people to the "right" way of thinking. And that it is routed through a feminine agent--Hunk addresses the matter to Shay primarily, with her brother objecting strenuously--surely has some valence in that regard, as well.

To be fair, however, the series is not setting out to be explicitly medievalist in the way that Game of Thrones is. That an episode of it does not do as much as others to enact and present medieval tropes is therefore not to be chastised--although it does make it harder to discuss the episode here than it might otherwise be.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.1: "The North Remembers"

2.1 “The North Remembers”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Frequently, the titles of these episodes give a hint as to what the thematic content of the episode will be, as well as some help in interpreting the unifying idea of the episode. This isn’t always the case; the title “Lord Snow” didn’t add much to the episode, and “Baelor” required some deeper digging into the world of the books that the show didn’t have time to include to tease out some unifying ideas. Then there’s a title like “The North Remembers,” which seems like it should unify the episode but doesn’t do it in as obvious a manner as “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” or “Fire and Blood.”

“The North Remembers” refers to a saying in the books that promises vengeance on those who have wronged the people of the north, kind of like “A Lannister always pays his debts.” When used in the books, especially toward the end of A Game of Thrones and in A Clash of Kings, it is a warning that Ned’s death will not go unpunished, and that they wish to return to a time when the North was a free and independent kingdom, not subject to the Iron Throne. There’s some of that in this episode, but not, on first glance, enough to call the entire episode after it. Like “Baelor,” this requires some deeper digging and closer looking to figure out what, exactly, the North is remembering.

The obvious is Ned’s death. The episode provides three major scenes that deal with Robb and his entourage planning the war. First, Robb stops in at Jaime’s cage to taunt him; Jaime establishes that Robb has been visiting him fairly frequently. Robb tells him he knows about Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and how that led to Bran’s “accident.” Grey Wind, as Robb’s emotional projection, lets Jaime know exactly how Robb feels about that. A bit later, Robb sends one of his captives back to King’s Landing with peace terms that he knows the Lannisters won’t accept; he doesn’t seem to actually have any intention of making peace. Instead, he accepts Theon’s offer to get the Ironborn on his side and makes plans to send Catelyn to negotiate an alliance with Renly.



The trouble with the north remembering Ned’s death is Robb’s willingness to leave Sansa (and presumably Arya, since nobody knows what happened to her) with Cersei. He says it’s because he can’t trade Jaime for “girls” and keep the respect of his men; Cat demands, “What are we fighting for, if not for them?” Considering the whole thing started out as an attempt to free Ned from custody, that’s a damn good question. What is all of this for, if not to get the remaining Starks out of the clutches of the Lannisters?

Ironically, the very next scene has Joffrey claiming that he’s sure the Starks will trade Jaime for just Sansa, because they’re weak and “value their women too highly.”



However, if we expand the definition of “north” beyond the Starks, some other types of remembering become clear. Osha and Bran head out to the godswood and discuss the red comet that’s been hanging overhead. Everyone has an opinion on what it means—Robb will win a great victory, Ned’s blood, Lannister blood, Lannister victory—but Osha says a comet like that can only mean one thing: “Dragons.” (In the books, this is Old Nan’s interpretation, but giving it to Osha is fair, since hers is “blood and fire, boy, and nothing sweet.”) Osha’s belief is, of course, the correct one, although there’s an argument to be made that the Wildlings shouldn’t really have a memory of dragons, since they almost never went north of the Wall. However, it connects to the other thing the North (read: the Wildlings) remember, that’s only hinted about here: the White Walkers. The Night’s Watch’s Great Ranging has reached Craster’s Keep, and Jon asks a really good question about Craster’s cycle of incest: “What do they do with the boys?” While the answer isn’t forthcoming in this episode, it sets up the question to be answered later. The White Walkers are also the ultimate answer to the question of where all the Wildlings went, why they’re joining up with Mance Rayder, and what Mance plans to do with them. Mance (and the rest of the North) knows what happens when winter comes, and they don’t plan to be on the wrong side of the Wall when it does.



Finally, the North, as a region, is in a position to remember Robert’s legacy in the form of Gendry. Cersei and Joffrey send the Gold Cloaks out to slaughter all of Robert’s bastards (starting with the one in a brothel owned by Petyr and run by Ros, who we finally see with her clothes on through an entire scene) in a montage of child-slaying that’s pretty hard to watch. It’s pretty hard for the people of King’s Landing, too, and the threats of riot are already beginning. But Gendry has already left the city; he headed north with Arya and Yoren at the end of last season. Of course, book readers know he won’t make it past the Riverlands (and show-watchers know about his mysterious rowboat disappearance), but at this moment, he’s headed North, to the Wall, where things are remembered.



A few side things that should be addressed briefly:

This is the first time we hear “Rains of Castamere”; Tyrion’s whistling it as he saunters into the Small Council chamber.

Shout out to Peter Dinklage’s wonderful face-acting in this whole sequence (skip to 1:55 for the really good stuff):





We have an entirely new batch of characters on Dragonstone—Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre, Davos Seaworthy, Cressen (for a bit). While all of the casting on this show is particularly good, Carice van Houten as Melisandre is inspired.



More Joffrey slappage!



RIP: Maester Cressen, lots of dark-haired children, Daenerys’ horse


Next week: Jaqen H’ghar! Salador Saan! Gilly! Ice Zombies!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Some News and Some Updates

There are a few things of interest to the Society that have been pointed out on the Facebook feed. They bear repeating...

Calls for Papers

The Society tries to remain active in conferences across the globe, particularly at Kalamazoo and Leeds. Thanks go to Kris Swank for pointing these up.

International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA, 14-17 May 2017)


"Growing Up Medieval: The Middle Ages in Children's and Young Adult Literature"
The generation which 'grew up' with J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter are now young scholars going into doctoral training and embarking on academic careers. The session explores the visions and versions of the Middle Ages which, like Rowling's, can serve to spark interest in an era where students are increasingly unlikely to encounter the medieval period through their elementary and high school years. What kinds of medievalist texts are written for children and young people? How are decidedly adult Middle Ages-influenced texts like "Game of Thrones" impacting them? What ideas about the Middle Ages are taught to young people through popular fiction?

The session welcomes papers which engage in theoretically engaged readings of individual texts or author's oeuvres. Please send a 200 word abstract with a Participant Information Form (available via https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress/submissions) and short biography to talesaftertolkien@gmail.com by September 15th.

This is the formal announcement of the CFP mentioned here.


International Medieval Congress (Leeds, UK, 3-6 July 2017)


"Other Worlds: Speculative Medievalisms"
This session takes up this year’s conference theme "Others," seeking papers which explore the ways that medievalism shapes the (currently) impossible worlds of speculative fiction. What are the tensions between history and the imagination? How ‘medieval’ can a science-fiction text set in the future be? What is the significance of signs of the Middle Ages? The session is open to papers addressing any text/s where speculative fictions and medievalisms meet.

Please send an abstract of 200-250 words and a short biography to talesaftertolkien@gmail.com by 30th August. There is also the possibility of proposing the round table on "Unconventional Medievalisms" which has not been approved for Kalamazoo to the Leeds conference. [Information about a similar attempt is here.] The session would seek contributions which focus on either instances of medievalism which occur unexpectedly or unusually--such as in television advertising for the AirBnB accommodation service--or which do unconventional things in genres which are commonly medievalist. If you are interested in being part of this (you could do a full paper in the other session too in theory) drop us a few lines outlining what you’d like to talk about to let us know.

Other News

Pat Bracewell brings Medieval Science Fiction to the Society's attention. She writes of it
From the science and fictions of Beowulf to the medieval and post-medieval appearances of the Green Children of Woolpit; from time travel in the legend of the Seven Sleepers to the medievalism of Star Trek; from manmade marvels in medieval manuscripts to the blurring of medieval magic and futuristic technology in tales of the dying earth, the chapters repeatedly rethink the simplistic divides that have been set up between modern and pre-modern texts.
More contributions and member news are always welcome. Please send them along!

This report is also posted to the Society webpage.