Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Interlude: We Pause for Pure Analysis



Wee paws?


 Geoffrey requested a bit more elaboration and analysis on my comments in the rewatches that Benioff and Weiss moving away from the books or past the books and how the show turns into a complete mess in seasons five and six (especially six), so here’s a bonus Game of Thrones post for your midweek enjoyment.

Martin described the changes that had to happen in order to move the story from the book to the screen as “butterflies.” Small changes that lead inevitably to bigger changes, until the “butterflies grow into dragons.” This is a very zen way of looking at it (though the overall tone of the post in question indicates that behind that zen is some deep disappointment in how the show is turning out), but it does skate over the fact that while some changes may have been absolutely necessary due to budget constraints and the differences in the way TV and books are able to show character development, there have been lots of changes that were completely unnecessary and even antithetical to the themes Martin conveys in the books. For the most part, Martin spends his time working against traditional tropes, whether those tropes are from medieval romance, Victorian medievalist romance, or fantasy; Benioff and Weiss have a really bad habit of going right back to those tropes instead of complicating or undermining them the way Martin does. I’ve talked about some of these themes in bits and pieces throughout the last 50 posts (phew!) on this blog, but let me pull a couple of them together here.

Toxic Masculinity
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros is a land dominated by a patriarchal social structure with a thin veneer of chivalry painted over it to try to make it pretty. While a lot of attention is paid to how patriarchy is bad for women, Martin also explores how patriarchy is bad for men—they’re not allowed to be emotional, or kind, or gentle, or anything less than domineering and violent at all times. Yet they’re expected to act out chivalric values—protecting women and children, standing up for family, etc. Jaime really says it best in his “so many vows” speech—it’s truly impossible for men to live up to these expectations. And this leads to some serious trauma and emotional disturbances in the men, which of course they’re not allowed to express to anyone lest they be thought “weak.” Martin doesn’t shy away from that trauma, and it doesn’t go away by magic. Tyrion and Jaime are easily the clearest examples of this, coming at it from two different directions—Tyrion’s been abused his whole life and sees the system for what it is, while Jaime was (mostly) a paragon of the system, only to lose everything and be sent into a philosophical tailspin after losing his hand. Many other characters also exemplify the problems with this society—Sandor “the Hound” Clegane. Sam Tarly. Every member of the Kingsguard—which creates a clear tapestry of how awful a society that valorizes “typically male” attributes and looks down on “typically female” ones—especially when expressed by a man—is for the men.

Benioff and Weiss seem to have missed this point entirely. Instead, they treat the upper layer of the society—valorizing violence and “manly” behavior—entirely at face-value, missing the deeper layers of how damaging this is for the men. They do sort of hit how bad it is for the women, but they tend to boil that down to rape and sexual assault, ignoring the emotional toll it takes on women. This means they’ve completely failed to successfully adapt Martin’s thematic content with regard to men and patriarchy, instead going right back to portrayals of successful masculinity as violent and sexual. In order to be a Man in “Westeros,” you have to fight and have sex—however you need to. Hence the radical changes to Jaime’s storyline that ignore his trauma and massive introspection and remaking of his Self after losing his hand. Instead of trying to become a new person who can survive in this world without the combat and sexual prowess that he had before leaving for the Riverlands, Benioff and Weiss have him attempt to go back to being the exact same person he was, even if that means raping Cersei and having slapstick hijinks with the gold hand. They completely miss the fact that Jaime’s inability to take anything seriously through the first 2-3 books was due to his disillusionment and trauma after having to murder his king to save his father and the people of King’s Landing, and being vilified for doing the exact right thing.




This might even be worse with Sam, who’s one of the most damaged-by-the-patriarchy characters out there. Sure, his story hits the beats from the books more reliably, but the context for all of it is pushing Sam closer to the “ideal” man—Sam the Slayer, who killed a White Walker and a Thenn, who fights his own Night’s Watch brothers over a woman, who gets rewarded with sex, who steals his father’s family sword.

This attitude also spills over into the portrayal of women. Martin shows that women can wield power even in a patriarchy through politics. Not as visible politics as the men, of course—part of why Cersei spends so much time being frustrated, because she can’t be her father—but the more subtle politics of social gatherings, marriages, even sewing. In Game of Thrones, all of this is dismissed as girly and women are reduced to sex and violence just like the men; either they get what they want through having sex with or promising sex to men, or they kill people. Sansa kills Ramsay. Arya kills Meryn and Walder Frey. Brienne kills so many people. Cersei kills everyone else. Dany murders the entire upper power structure of the Dothraki. Those women who stay within the political framework—like Margaery—wind up dead, regardless of how good they are at the politicking, because someone else will just kill them to gain power (even if that makes no sense).

Which brings us to…

Not Like Other Girls
The rejection of female power and insistence that in order to be Strong™ women must act just like men is a major point of contention in my analysis of Game of Thrones. It’s not just that women are attempting to find any means to power and/or survival in a world that’s overtly hostile to them, it’s that there are only two ways for women to take power—and they’re intensely shamed for one of them. Benioff and Weiss restructure entire swaths of the story around this idea that “girly” things are less worthy, less important, and overall worthless.

Exhibit A: Talisa Stark, née Maegr. Talisa is every single thing Martin claimed was wrong with fantasy, the type of anachronism that annoyed him so much he purposefully wrote ASOIAF in such a way as to avoid said trope.

“Westeros isn’t medieval England but, from my readings in history, one of the things that impresses you is that the medieval mindset was very different and I’m trying to convey that. I think that is lost in modern fantasy. While they may be riding horses and living in castles, it is a very modern setting. You see peasants sassing princesses, religion being disregarded and lots of things that happen.”


In this case, Talisa sasses Robb, tells him all about how bad of a leader he is, stomps around battlefields without an escort (in a world that established early on that women are prey and at constant risk of rape), and declares that she didn’t want to plan parties or masquerades like the other Volantene noble girls, or to “play the harp, and dance the latest steps, and recite Valyrian poetry,” clearly dismissing these activities as lesser, just as Arya does throughout the series. As I mentioned while writing about this arc way back in seasons two and three, these things are important social glue, and part of the reason Westeros is unraveling is that the violence-oriented people are in charge and not listening to the not-violence-oriented people. This is a bug, not a feature.


Jeyne Westerling unfortunately doesn’t have a whole lot of personality in the books—she’s sweet, she’s desperately in love with Robb, her family is power-hungry—so apparently Benioff and Weiss decided she wasn’t good enough for show-Robb and instead gave him an anachronism who doesn’t know where the seat of her own new power is.

While Talisa is the most egregious example, like the Real Man problem, this crops up again and again in small but consistent ways that undermines the characterization of Sansa, Arya, Gilly, Margaery, etc. Arya, who thinks “most girls are stupid.” Sansa, whose slinky black dress is a sign that she “doesn’t want to sew anymore.” Gilly, who thinks her skills in cooking, cleaning, and sewing are “worthless.” Margaery, who seduces a something-year-old at least five, possibly ten, years younger than her instead of politicking her way into his good graces.

And this last one is partially because . . .

Politics are Hard
I have said (many many times) before, and I’ll say again, Benioff and Weiss are bad at writing politics. Even when the politics are handed to them on a silver platter, as they are for the first five seasons, they don’t seem to understand the intricacies of them and how they drive the overall narrative of ASOIAF. So instead, they water them down, thin them out, make the greatest political minds of the books into either ultimately ineffective schemers (Olenna Tyrell, Margaery Tyrell, Catelyn Stark), moustache-twirling villains (Petyr Baelish), or flailing idiots whose plans work because they’re lucky (Daenerys Targaryen, Petyr Baelish). The complications of running a city or a country are reduced to a few people being cranky and making really stupid decisions. This leads either to decisions that make no sense either narratively or thematically, or to massive shifts from the books either narratively or thematically (or both).


Not only are politics hard, they’re apparently not cinematic enough. Remember, this is a show for which a critic coined the term “sexposition” because they felt like they had to “spice up” the “boring” history and character exposition by including boobs. They abandoned Bran for an entire season because his training “wasn’t cinematic enough”—after declaring that they did Theon’s torture on screen because they didn’t want to just not have Theon on screen for a season the way he disappears in the books. They hauled Sansa out of the Vale and put her in a travesty of a borrowed storyline because her learning to be a political player and preparing to use the Vale forces to retake the North wasn’t cinematic enough. They reworked Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and didn’t send Jaime out to handle the Riverlands in season five because him dealing with his trauma, talking at Ilyn Payne while relearning how to fight, and putting the country back together wasn’t cinematic enough. Neither, apparently, was Adrianne Martell. Or the rest of the Sand Snakes. Or Doran’s plan to help restore the Targaryen dynasty. Or 75% of what’s happening in Meereen and Slavers Bay.

They’re Not Good Writers
As will become painfully obvious through season six, Benioff and Weiss are not good writers. When they leaned heavily on Martin’s dialogue and plot, the show shone. It had its problems, but they were the problems you’d expect from moving from one medium to another. When they decided that they knew better than Martin how to tell this story and ventured out into, essentially, fan-fiction, everything faltered. The storylines that aren’t Martin originals—Jaime in Dorne, Sansa in Winterfell—are just downright awful. The storylines that are watered-down Martin ones are nonsense—Jon’s entire arc past season three, Dany up through season five, Arya in Braavos. When they move entirely past the books, which they do in the next season, everything falls apart in a spectacular mess. The one good spot of writing they have in season six is borrowed from the first book.


And yet they clearly think they’re doing a wonderful job and staying true to the “spirit” of the books, if not the letter. Considering how purposefully they’ve shielded themselves from the public outcry about most of their changes—especially the more problematic ones—and how they keep getting showered with awards for some reason, I can see why they’d think that. But despite their claims that they loved the books and just want to do them justice, I strongly doubt their commitment to Sparkle Motion (okay, that one might be obscure. Go watch Donnie Darko. You’re welcome). A proverb I’ve seen on the Internet a lot lately is “grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man,” and I think that’s what we’ve got going here. They’re absolutely confident in their own abilities, despite the fact that they had never run a show before this and have a handful of other writing credits—movies and books—to their respective names. The popularity of the show has apparently murdered any humility they might otherwise have had, and it’s made the show the worse for it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 5.10: "Mother's Mercy"



5.10 “Mother’s Mercy”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Dave Nutter
Commentary by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, David Nutter, and Lena Headey

Gather round, children, for this season finale begins the random wild flailing that characterizes all of season six. Benioff and Weiss have just about run out of book material, and now they’re just making stuff up, though they’re still not above claiming that their more shocking moments are totally going to be in the books because Martin told them so.

Stannis is generally unhappy with Melisandre, despite her claims of victory over the elements and upcoming victory at Winterfell. Then her optimism is dashed as messengers begin running up to Stannis. Every remaining sellsword they hired has deserted, taking all the remaining horses. Another messenger arrives, and Stannis tells him to spit out whatever the news is: “It can’t be worse than mutiny.” And that, my dears, is how Benioff and Weiss turned Selyse’s suicide into a punchline. Tres hilarious! By the time they get Selyse cut down, Melisandre has abandoned them ’cause she sees which way the wind is blowing, and it ain’t pro-Stannis.


Stannis marches on Winterfell anyway, because he’s apparently lost all hope and reason to live along with all of his strategic prowess. The march is intercut with Sansa escaping her room and hiking up to the tower, where she lights her candle just after Brienne has learned that Stannis is here and abandons her post because who needs to keep their oaths, amirite? Revenge totally takes precedence over a sworn oath to a dead woman, especially one that you’ve been insisting on keeping even though the new recipients of that oath have told you to go away multiple times. Stannis tells the men to start digging in for the siege, but there isn’t going to be a siege because ain’t nobody got time for that; the Boltons’ army is descending on him right now.

Then we skip a bit, Brother Maynard, because we spent all our money on Hardhome and Dany’s miraculous dragon escape. Instead we go straight to the aftermath, where all of Stannis’ men are dead and he’s nearly dead, too, but not so nearly dead he can’t fight off two Bolton soldiers. When Brienne shows up, though, he gives up. He admits to killing Renly with blood magic, and when she sentences him to death and asks for his last words, he simply says, “Do your duty.” The actual killing blow isn’t shown, because apparently that would have been gratuitous.


Back at Winterfell, Sansa tries to sneak back into her room, but Theon and Myranda catch her. Myranda is super gross about wanting to torture Sansa because Ramsay only really needs her reproductive system intact, and then Theon shoves her off the walkway. (Somehow showing her fall, hit the ground and bounce once, then the red smear under her, wasn’t gratuitous like showing Stannis taking a sword would have been.) Now that Theon has switched sides, he and Sansa run away and jump off the wall of Winterfell apparently into a snowbank, though it’s not as clear as it could be, so a lot of people were wondering whether Sansa and Theon were dead over the hiatus.


So, Sansa’s pretty much rescued now, and despite all the protests that her situation would make her stronger and better and not a victim anymore, she (surprise!) got rescued by a dude. The most she managed to do in her own rescue was plant a “come help me!” signal that wasn’t even seen. So much for not being shoved into Theon’s storyline and rescuing herself. (It only gets worse next season.)

Over in Braavos, Meryn is being absolutely disgusting because we have to further establish that he’s a Bad Guy who Deserves to Die. He apparently not only likes raping little girls, he likes to hit them first. He decides which one of the girls the madam brought him he wants to play with by smacking them with a whip; the one that makes no noise even when being hit three times is the one he picks. Unfortunately for him, it’s Arya wearing another girl’s face and she proceeds to stab the unholy hell out of him before bragging about getting to be the one to kill him and cutting his throat. She then goes back to the Hall of Faces and puts the girl’s face back; Jaqen is less than pleased and the Waif gloats about Arya not being cut out to be No One. To make his point, Jaqen says that killing Meryn was theft from the Many-Faced God and now that death has to be repaid—with more death, apparently? Because he poisons himself, and when Arya starts crying and tells the Waif he was her friend, she says he was no one, and now her face is Jaqen’s, too, and Arya pulls faces off the body on the floor until she gets to her own. She freaks out and suddenly goes blind.

 
So, just like in Jon’s story, they’re telling the whole thing out of order and minus a whole lot of context. In the books, Arya’s blinding is part of her training. She alternately loses all her senses to give her experience navigating deaf and blind. It’s not a punishment, because book-Arya is legitimately trying really hard to do everything the Kindly Man wants her to do. Book-Arya doesn’t go off-mission when tasked with killing the Thin Man; she strategizes and thinks hard and figures out a really clever way of doing it that can’t be tied back to anyone in particular. She does get to kill one of the men on her list (Raff the Sweetling) while in Braavos, and it does burn the identity she’s using at the time, but what longer-reaching repercussions it has remain to be seen (this happens in the sample chapter from The Winds of Winter). But this is after she’s done most of her training, not in the early stages of it. Again, they’re turning Arya into a little killing machine rather than really examining her character and her psyche. (It only gets worse next season.)

Jaime is finally leaving Dorne, but Dorne—more specifically, Ellaria—isn’t going to let it be that easy. Bronn bids Tyene farewell and she says maybe she’ll come visit him; he says she’d better hurry because he has a noblewoman to marry back home. She nuzzles up to his ear and tells him he “want[s] the good girl, but [he] need[s] the bad pussy” because of course she does. Ellaria bids Myrcella farewell by kissing her on the lips. On the boat, Jaime and Myrcella get to have one kind of sweet moment where she reveals that she knows he’s her father and then her nose starts bleeding and she keels over. Back on the docks, Ellaria’s nose also starts bleeding before she downs the antidote which apparently can stop the poisoning process when it’s already far enough along to start tissue damage.

There’s so many problems here and they all deal with the way women of color are hypersexualized. Exhibit A: Tyene. If any of the women exemplify Bronn’s “fight and fuck, fuck and fight” comment, it’s her. So of course he kind of likes her, despite her embodying the “crazy” he claimed to want nothing to do with on the way to Dorne. Exhibit B: Ellaria. This is where the problems get really tangled up with each other. First, you’ve got the young white woman who spends a whole lot of time around people of color and gets all “corrupted”—look at Myrcella’s clothes and the way Jaime reacts to them. Look at her acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a poised princess. Then you take that same POC-corrupting-our-white-girls motif and throw in some gay panic—Myrcella is literally killed by a same-sex kiss. So they’ve hit just about every offensive stereotype possible here: POC women are hypersexual. Gays are dangerous. White girls can be corrupted by POC. White girls can be assaulted/seduced by POC and killed because of said assault/seduction. Women, especially women of color, are irrational, uncontrollable, and treacherous. Not to mention the whole thing about how Ellaria’s sexual orientation is used for titillation until it’s used to murder an innocent white girl. Like, seriously, did they pick up a bingo card for this? (It only gets worse next season.)


Over in Meereen, Dany’s advisors discuss what to do now. Jorah and Daario decide to go find Dany and rescue her, but they refuse to allow Tyrion to come along. Instead he gets to stay and govern the city because the people will totally accept a foreigner they don’t know who didn’t even conquer the city with dragons and freedom. Also he’s going to have help: Varys swans in and offers to act as the Spider for him.

Off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Dany tries to get Drogon to take her back to Meereen, but he’s having none of it. He’s actually acting a lot like a spoiled puppy and it’s adorable. So she starts walking, but a few hours later a Dothraki outrider finds her, and the rest of the khalasar isn’t too far behind. She takes off her ring and drops it in the grass, I guess trying to leave a trail? As if the thousands of horses currently trampling every inch of grass aren’t enough of a marker that something happened here. Also the riders of those thousands of horses are war whooping like a Native American horde out of an old Western and could this be any more problematic?! (Guess what? It only gets worse next season!)


In King’s Landing, Cersei finally breaks, or pretends to break enough to be released from her cell to negotiate her own release, since nobody’s doing it for her. She confesses to adultery with Lancel (since they already know that), but nobody else. She rejects the idea that she committed incest with Jaime, claiming that was Stannis’ lie to claim the throne for himself. The Sparrow says she’ll be put on trial, and she asks if she can go home. He says sure! After her atonement. Which involves being completely shorn and shaved, scrubbed down, and awkwardly stared at by Septa Unella. Then she’s hauled out to the Sept steps, the High Sparrow says a few words, and Cersei begins her walk from the Sept to the Red Keep, naked, through the streets, practically in real time.

This is another place where not being in Cersei’s head is actively detrimental to the scene. Without the clear decline in her mental state—from “I am the queen and I am beautiful” to “I’m a withered old woman and the people will never respect me again”—to give this whole thing a reason for existing, all it is is a voyeuristic, deeply cringeworthy scene that gives us just about every conceivable angle on Lena Headey’s naked body double. Especially when contrasted with the old High Septon’s abbreviated, non-full-frontal walk, it’s just gross. Maybe if the show didn’t use female nudity as casually as it does, this would be more impactful. Instead, the camera turns into yet another member of the screaming, leering crowd, forcing the viewer to become that, as well, instead of allowing the viewer to see it from Cersei’s point of view and understand her character development through this scene. And, no, the three seconds of full-frontal male nudity when a dude jumps out of the crowd to taunt her does not balance this out.


When Cersei finally reaches the Red Keep, she’s smeared with filth and her feet are bleeding. Qyburn covers her with a cloak and introduces the newest member of the Kingsguard, Ser Robert the Strong (who they’re not even pretending isn’t the Mountain, so I’m not sure why they bothered with the name change). Qyburn says it like this is super important, but they haven’t set up that the reason it’s important is that, as queen, Cersei must be defended in her trial by combat by a member of the Kingsguard. Jaime’s away, and missing a hand, so Cersei needs a champion, and Qyburn makes her one out of Gregor’s poisoned (in the books also headless) corpse. The look on Cersei’s face promises fire and blood, and next season will deliver on both those promises.

Up on the Wall, Sam declares that he needs to go to the Citadel to get training to become a maester since Aemon is dead. Also, he wants to get Gilly away from here. On the one hand, I kind of like that this Sam isn’t a wet noodle, but on the other hand, the whole point of Sam being a wet noodle (except when it really matters) in the books is the toxic masculinity of this hyper patriarchal society and the abuse his father piled on him as a child. It’s a wholly realistic response to his upbringing, which has caused serious psychological damage from which he’s still recovering. Also, there’s a difference between giving the character a bit more spine and turning him into I Killed a White Walker and a Thenn, Everybody! Jon reluctantly gives him permission to go (unlike in the book, where he has to force Sam to go with his authority as Lord Commander).

Later, Davos reaches the Wall and he and Jon argue about Jon’s inability to give Stannis any more than he already has. Davos wants the Wildlings to come help fight, but their argument is ended by Melisandre’s arrival. She looks super bummed about having been wrong about Stannis, and oh yeah also having murdered a kid for no reason. Jon asks what happened to Stannis; Melisandre looks bummed. Davos asks about Shireen; Melisandre looks bummed. I have zero sympathy for her.

Later, Jon’s reading letters from the lords of the north, all of whom have refused to send men to help defend the Wall. Olly busts in and says one of the Wildlings has seen Benjen! And he’s still alive! Jon completely doesn’t see through this obvious ruse and follows Olly down to the courtyard, where he gets cornered near a post that says “traitor” and stabbed by no less than four men before Olly steps forward and puts the last knife in his chest. Jon’s last word is “Olly?” because of course this whole thing is about how Olly doesn’t like Wildlings, not about the layers of politics they stripped out of the show, or Jon’s decision to abandon his vows to go South to fight Ramsay Bolton (which they stripped out of the show), or any number of other things. I have absolutely no idea why they chose to center the whole treachery-and-murder storyline on this kid who doesn’t even exist in the books.


So that’s season five! It was pretty much a hot mess, but season six is even worse, so stay tuned!

RIP:
Selyse Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon
Myranda
Jon Snow
Lots of soldiers

Screencaps from screencapped.net. Gif from giphy.com


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kalamazoo 2017: Report

The Tales after Tolkien Society continued its work at the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One formal and one semi-formal event were on offer: a panel of papers and an off-program Annual General Meeting. Records of both appear below.

The Panel

The Society sponsored Session 190 at the Congress, Growing Up Medieval: The Middle Ages in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The session featured three papers: William Racicot's "The Dream Frame of Baum’s Wizard of Oz," Rachel Cooper's "Women Piercing through the Medieval Fantasy Genre: A Look at Tamora Pierce’s Influence on Women in Medieval Fantasy," and Carrie Pagels's "Heralds of the Queen: Upholding and Subverting the Medieval Ideal through Girl Power, Sexuality, and le Merveilleux in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Series." Geoffrey B. Elliott presided over the session.

Racicot holds a PhD from Duquesne and specializes in dream visions; he is also at work on a book for McFarland that assesses Victorian and Edwardian fiction as succeeding medieval dream visions. His paper reads Baum's Wizard of Oz in that light, presenting it as a recapitulation of the traditional dream-vision narrative arc and connecting it in detail to Chaucer and the Pearl-poet. Racicot also highlights the allegorical nature of Oz and its inhabitants, ultimately offering a satisfying argument about the early work.

Cooper is a student at the University of Saskatchewan, focusing in medieval literature. A young scholar, she examines Pierce's influence on readers and writers of medievalist fantasy. Her project surveyed a number of readers, noting a gender-biased response; no self-identified men answered her emails, something she posits may be due to the presence of other models for masculine readers to follow--and a relative dearth of such models for feminine readers. The project is promising, and future treatments are hoped for.

Pagels has been a member of the Society and works in French at Saint Mary's College. After offering abundant context for a less-familiar cycle of works, her paper interrogates Lackey's appropriation of the medieval and the merveilleux in her Valdemar novels, noting that the author works against popular but not scholarly conceptions of the Middle Ages in the corpus. A number of common archetypes find themselves subverted in the texts, and many in attendance found themselves desiring to read Lackey's work.

Discussion following the papers was lively and engaging, marking another successful performance by the Society at the Congress.

The AGM

Per §5.1 of the Society Constitution, an Annual General Meeting of the Tales after Tolkien Society was held during the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies; in the event, it occurred in the same room as had hosted the Tales after Tolkien panel, beginning at approximately 1130 on 12 May 2017. Geoffrey B. Elliott, Vice-President (USA), presided; Stephanie Amsel, Secretary, recorded minutes. Present (by signature) were Rachel Cooper, Sarah Jenkins, Julia Nephew, Carrie Pagels, Bill Racicot, and Stavros Stavroulias.

Initial agenda items were proposals for session topics for the 2018 Congress, the possibility of a new Society volume (and its topic, if desired), and collaboration with other organizations such as the Lone Medievalist.

It was determined that the Society will propose two sessions for the 2018 Congress. One, Reclaiming the Dead and the Undead, will focus on appropriations of medieval concepts of un/death in contemporary media, attending to how the medieval corporeal/spiritual divide is reinscribed and transgressed thereby. The second, Medievalism in Metal, will examine medievalism in contemporary music, both in songs and in groups' iconography.

It was also determined that the Society will pursue another volume, since the first two (The Middle Ages in Popular Culture: Medievalism and Genre and Fantasy and Science Fiction Medievalisms: From Isaac Asimov to A Game of Thrones, both edited by Helen Young, and both Cambria P, 2015) were well received and informed the Society being a finalist for the 2016 World Fantasy Awards. After discussion, it was determined that the volume will be an edited collection focusing on religion in medievalist fiction.

Calls for papers are forthcoming.

Collaboration with other groups was noted as desirable, the principle generally agreed upon. Coordination will be determined on an individual basis, but it is encouraged as a matter of policy by the Society.

Agenda items concluded, the floor was opened to the discussion of other business. Upcoming elections were treated; four of the five offices in the Society (President, Vice President [At-large], Vice President [USA], and Secretary) will be open. Proposed was an amendment to the Society constitution to stagger officers' positions to promote overlap and continuity. A draft amendment will be sent out to Society members for a brief commentary period, after which a meeting on ratification (required by §7 of the Society Constitution) will be conducted--likely online, as permitted by §5 of the Society Constitution).

Also noted was the possibility that the next AGM be held in similar circumstances to that conduced in 2017. Ease of access was cited as a cause.

The AGM adjourned at approximately 1230 on 12 May 2017.

This information also appears on the Society webpage, www.talesaftertolkien.org.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 5.9: "The Dance of Dragons"



5.9 “The Dance of Dragons”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter
Commentary by David Nutter, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), and Ian Glen (Jorah)

Once again, there are two or three completely awful moments (adaptationally and narratively) in this episode with a bunch of “meh” moments in between them.

Let’s just get right to it. This was another episode that set the Internet on fire by going off-page and brutally murdering a young girl. Benioff and Weiss, of course, claim that Martin told them this would happen in The Winds of Winter, but obviously the context is going to be completely different, since Shireen, Selyse, and Melisandre aren’t even with Stannis’ army in the books.

Having refused Melisandre’s suggestion that they burn Shireen once already, Stannis is now dealing with the sabotage Ramsay set up, which caused complete devastation to their supplies and a good chunk of their horses. Davos suggests immediately going back to Castle Black, which Stannis rejects, and Davos notices Selyse and Melisandre staring at them in the creepiest way possible. Stannis orders the remaining horses butchered for their meat and leaves, Melisandre with him. Later, Stannis sends Davos back to the Wall to get more supplies with the promise that Jon will have enough men to guard all nineteen castles once he’s taken the throne. Davos is understandably nervous about being sent away and offers to take Shireen back with him, but Stannis refuses.


So Davos goes to see Shireen before he leaves because we needed one more bit of foreshadowing before they actually kill her. He gives her a present—a hand-carved stag—to thank her for teaching him to read, which his son tried to do before he died. Insert heavy-handed foreshadowing here. Is there a stronger word than foreshadowing? What do you call it when it’s not a shadow anymore but a giant flashing arrow screaming she’s gonna die? Davos leaves, and Shireen’s fate is sealed.

Stannis comes to visit Shireen and she tells him about “The Dance of Dragons,” which she’s been reading about. They talk about making choices and how it’s hard, and she understands that he’s upset and offers to help. So he leads her out of the tent and hands her over to Melisandre, who has her tied to the pyre and burns her alive. In a small mercy, they don’t show it happening like they did with Mance, instead focusing on Stannis and Selyse, who changes her mind about halfway through but it’s too late. Selyse loses her mind when Shireen finally dies, apparently just now realizing that she actually loved her daughter. Dave Nutter says the reason they didn’t show Shireen’s death was to “not get too gratuitous with it,” because lord knows they worry about gratuitous violence on this show.


Here’s the thing, though—the sacrifice was gratuitous by definition because it changed nothing. If anything, it made everything worse. We’ll get into that more next week.

Speaking of big gestures that change nothing, Dany’s opening Daznak’s Pit over in Meereen. Tyrion and Hizdahr disagree about philosophy and violence as entertainment, with Hizdahr claiming that nothing great was ever accomplished without violence and Tyrion saying “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor.” While these philosophies do make sense for these two men, it’s interesting that Tyrion—author-, showrunner-, and fan-favorite) is speaking out against violence as entertainment on a show that has commodified violence as entertainment, while Hizdahr—the foreign, nonwhite Other who represents the world of slavery and violence—speaks up for it. I’d wonder if this was done on purpose, but I don’t think Benioff and Weiss are that self-aware. Hizdahr says that these fights are an essential part of Meereen, part of her legacy, if you will, and Tyrion remarks that Tywin would have liked Hizdahr.

In order to start the fights, Dany has to clap her hands, which forces her to be not only complicit in the ensuing violence and bloodshed, but an actual instigator of it. She can no longer sit on the sidelines and pretend that she’s not an active part of a tradition that glorifies violence; it is ultimately her word that begins the massacre. And it is a massacre; the second fight is a melee involving six fighters, including Jorah, who can’t take a hint.


Then the whole arena turns into a massacre as the Sons of the Harpy attack, slaughtering people left and right, including Hizdahr. So he had absolutely no ties to the Sons, then? He had no influence on the violence in the streets? So why did Dany marry him? What purpose did it serve? Also, how ironic is it that the vocal supporter of violence-as-entertainment dies violently for our entertainment? The odd thing is that, again, the Sons are just murdering everyone. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it seems very much like they’re just there to cause mayhem, not to make a political statement.

Dany, Daario, Missandei, and Tyrion are driven down into the pit itself, where they’re surrounded by Sons. Things do not look good for our heroes until Drogon descends from the heavens and begins a massacre of his own. Dany yells at him, and he calms just enough for her to climb up on his back and completely abandon her companions in the pit to fly off.


This is, again, really bad adaptational work that suffers from a complete loss of context. They’ve shifted the entire meaning and purpose of Drogon’s arrival from Dany finally getting so uncomfortable with being the person she needs to be to rule Meereen that she literally sheds the trappings of Meereenese society—taking off her toqar—and preparing to leave the pit before Drogon shows up. She rescues Drogon from the fighters who attack him, not the other way around, and while she abandons her people, she doesn’t abandon them in immediate mortal danger. Hizdahr survives to take control of the city and immediately start undoing a lot of Dany’s decrees, sidelining her non-Meereenese advisors (like Barristan). Tyrion and Jorah haven’t even made it into the city yet. (Tyrion’s actually been in the pit with Penny, doing their dwarf jousting routine.) Instead, we have Dany as a damsel in distress being rescued by her dragon and continuing to be a terrible leader and friend by abandoning her people in their time of greatest need. And this is framed as a triumphant moment for her.

There's a really brief moment with Jon and the Watch when they return from Hardhome, where it looks for a moment like Alliser isn't going to let them in. He does, of course, and Olly gets super pissed off about the Wildlings coming through the gate, especially Wun Wun. Alliser tells Jon he has a good heart, and that it'll get all of them killed. But not if Alliser, Olly, and company kill him first.


Over in Dorne, Jaime, Doran, Myrcella, Trystane, and Ellaria have a big meeting in which we find out that Jaime’s whole sneaking in plan was completely unnecessary because someone stole Myrcella’s necklace and Doran would have let Jaime come by to visit without being sneaky and murdering people if he’d just asked first. D’oh! Diplomacy might have actually worked! Who’d have thought? Doran has no intention of starting a war with Westeros proper, much to Ellaria’s disgust, and actually wants to continue the engagement and send Trystane to King’s Landing to serve on the Small Council in Oberyn’s place. He also agrees to release Bronn, despite having struck a prince, on one condition.

Down in the dungeons, Nym and Tyene are playing some sort of hand-slappy game and taunting each other because these girls have such a healthy relationship. Aero takes Bronn out of the cell and Tyene gets him to tell her she’s pretty again before he leaves, prompting Obara to call her a slut. Totally healthy relationship.


The condition turns out to be Bronn taking an elbow to the face.

Doran tells Ellaria she can get in line or face the executioner; she kneels and takes his hands, sobbing, while the Sand Snakes look on, aghast. Ellaria then goes to try to make up with Jaime, admitting that Myrcella and Jaime didn’t have anything to do with what happened to Oberyn. Of course, it’s all a big fake-out, because women can’t be reasonable about anything, especially hot spicy southern foreign women, amirite? (Gag.)

Over in Braavos, Arya’s headed out to do her very first sanctioned job but she gets distracted by Lannister sails in the harbor and even more distracted when she spots Ser Meryn, who murdered (we’re supposed to believe) Syrio Forel (still refusing to believe he’s dead). She stalks Mace Tyrell and his entourage for most of the day, then follows Meryn into a brothel, where Meryn rejects girl after girl until the madame brings him a very young one. Arya has a plan. She goes back to the House of Black and White and lies to Jaqen about failing to kill the Thin Man, then goes about her duties. Jaqen, of course, isn’t fooled.


These last couple of sections are setup for the great big slaughter of major characters that starts in the season finale and continues on into season six. Apparently, when they’re completely set loose from following an established storyline, Benioff and Weiss really go nuts and just start hacking people out of the story (often literally).

RIP:
Shireen Baratheon
Hizdahr zo Loraq
Pit fighters
Meereenese spectators
Sons of the Harpy

Next week: Death. Murder. Mayhem. A jump off a wall. The return of the Dothraki. Cersei goes for a walk.