Monday, May 29, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.1: "The Red Woman"

Read the previous piece in this series here.
Read the next piece in this series here.

6.1 “The Red Woman”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Jeremy Podeswa, Greg Middleton (DP), and Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne)

Well, here we are. Well and truly beyond the books, in uncharted territory—for us. Benioff and Weiss had a long talk with Martin before they hit this point, so they know what’s supposed to happen in the books, but they clearly just don’t care. I remember reading at one point (and I can’t find it now) Benioff and Weiss remarking that they were relieved not to be “tied down” by the books anymore. They probably meant that fans couldn’t yell about them deviating from the canon plot (they have no idea), but it really came off as “yay, now we don’t have that Martin dude holding us back from being as completely insane as we really want to be!” It feels that by about season three they were seriously chafing under the restrictions of adaptation rather than doing original work, so they went haring off in their own direction, and now, without actual books as a blueprint, they’re free to do whatever they want. And then turn around and blame Martin anyway when people get angry about big shocker moments (like Shireen last season. And Hodor this season).

This episode picks up right where the last one left off, with Jon dead on the ground. Ghost is howling and trying to beat his way out of his cage, which gets Davos’ attention. With the help of Edd and a couple of other loyal men, they take Jon back to his office and lay him on a table—instead of burning him immediately, which is the smart thing to do on the Wall! Okay, yes, that would mean we don’t have Jon anymore, but seriously, they let him sit for days. A) gross; b) what if he got back up as a wight? The men discuss what to do now that only Davos, Edd, and a couple of random brothers are still loyal to the ideals of the Night’s Watch, and Edd goes out to get the Wildlings to help beef up their numbers. Melisandre mourns over Jon's body for some reason; if I didn't know better I'd think she had started to think that maybe he was the Prince That Was Promised but now he's dead, too.

Alliser explains to the rest of the Night’s Watch that yes, they killed Jon, but it was for his own good. Olly makes a determined face. The rest of the Night’s Watch gives in with a few grumbles. Alliser and his posse yell at Davos and his posse through the door, demanding they give up Jon’s body and come back into the fold—except Davos, who’s free to go and take Melisandre with him. Davos has no intention of opening the door and allowing the Night’s Watch to come in and kill all of them. He plans to instead get Melisandre’s help.

Melisandre, isn’t feeling very helpful. Instead, she’s sitting in her room staring blankly into the fire. She’s clearly lost all hope and I have absolutely no sympathy for her because she burned a little girl alive for no reason and then abandoned Stannis without any explanation. Apparently she stopped believing that he’s the Prince That Was Promised, but since we only see her from the outside (and we don’t get her trying to see Stannis in the fire and constantly getting either Jon or a snowstorm). She gets up and stands in front of her mirror, then takes her clothes off, then takes her necklace off and turns into a withered old woman. She heads over to the bed and climbs in, wrapping herself up in the furs.

Remember way back when I mentioned that the screenshot of Melisandre in the tub would be important? Here’s why. We’ve seen her without the necklace before. The implication here is that it’s the necklace holding the illusion magic that makes her look young and sexy. That implication would be a lot clearer if they’d kept the Rattleshirt-is-Really-Mance subplot with the ruby wrist-cuff that held the illusion on him, but whatever.

Normally I avoid nudity in these screenshots, but this is really the only way to see what I mean.

Additionally, this plays right into one of those women-in-horror tropes with women not being what they appear to be and tricking the man/men, especially into having sex with them. It’s the succubus thing, the vagina dentata thing, the vampire thing. Melisandre has been seducing or attempting to seduce every man in the show since she appeared, and you can’t tell me that this reveal—which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in its placement—doesn’t play into the “ew” factor. As often as she’s naked for no reason, it’s clear we’re supposed to see her as sexy and desirable, but surprise, she’s actually a withered old hag using magic to make herself look sexy and desirable, but really you were lusting after a withered old hag all this time. Reducing Melisandre’s power to sex magic—what is what they’ve done in the show—doesn’t allow this reveal to explain her backstory, or why she’s so skilled and wise, or any of the other little mysteries about her background and characterization.

In Winterfell, Ramsay is mourning the loss of Myranda, his partner in depraved crime, who understood him like nobody else did. Gross. The maester asks if he wants her body buried or burned; Ramsay says to feed her to the dogs because something something poetry something something double gross.

Roose has a Talk with Ramsay, complimenting him for winning the battle but scolding him for losing Sansa and Theon. He says if Ramsay had just managed to control himself and not play his stupid games with Sansa, this might not have happened. And oh, by the way, they’re probably about to have to face a Lannister army because technically marrying Sansa was treason.  And if Ramsay doesn’t find Sansa and get her pregnant, Winterfell will go to Walda’s son. Roose really doesn’t understand Ramsay at all, and is just courting his own death at this point. Also Walda’s and her son’s.

Sansa and Theon are running away through the frozen north. Theon gets them ready to cross a frozen river, and Sansa says there’s no way she’s going in the literally freezing river when the air temperature is also below freezing because that way lies certain death. Theon says it’s this or the dogs, and the tone I’m picking up is that Sansa is the one being unreasonable and girly, which is stupid. Theon shelters them in the roots of a fallen tree a few steps from the river, as if that’s going to hide them from the hunters. It doesn’t, so Theon tries to draw them off and tell them Sansa’s dead, but guess who gets discovered in a tree.

Brienne and Pod to the rescue! Pod’s fighting skills have improved; apparently, because he manages to stay on the horse and kill a man. Brienne takes out a few herself, as does Theon. Brienne then kneels in front of Sansa and again offers her service. Sansa, who loves nothing more than tales of knightly valor, whose armor is courtesy, who dreamed of a knight or a prince to protect her and love her, forgets the words accepting Brienne’s fealty. Podrick Payne, the worst squire in the world, has to prompt her.

I cannot express to you how angry I am about this moment. Every single thing Benioff and Weiss do with Sansa takes away everything about her character that is interesting and strong. At least Brienne is happy; she has a purpose again.

The “Dorne” storyline explodes spectacularly in this episode. Doran and Ellaria discuss how Oberyn would ultimately have been a bad ruler because he was more of the adventuring type, and he’s glad fate put them right where they’re supposed to be. Ellaria agrees that Doran would have made a terrible adventurer. Then the maester brings him a message announcing Myrcella’s death. Tyene stabs Aero in the back (Aero deserved so much more from this show), and Ellaria stabs Doran in the chest. Tyene throws a knife, taking out the maester. Ellaria tells Doran everyone in Dorne hates him for not doing something about Oberyn. Doran asks about Trystane; Ellaria says that, like Doran, he’s weak, “and weak men will never rule Dorne again.” She bears him to the ground and stabs him a couple more times just to be sure. And none of the other guards standing around do a damn thing about it, because that's totally believable.

Jaime has returned to King’s Landing with Myrcella’s body, and Trystane is painting the rocks for her eyes. He’s still on the boat, anchored in a small, private little bay, which is why I really want to know what kind of teleportation powers Obara and Nym have that let them go from the docks at Sunspear, where we last saw them, to the same boat as Trystane without any clear means of transport or boarding. Did they swim?

They give Trystane the option of which of them to fight, and he chooses Nym. So Obara puts her spear through the back of his head, prompting Nym (always the wordsmith) to call her a “greedy bitch.” Because not only are Benioff and Weiss horrible at writing politics, they are abysmal at writing women and women’s relationships.

The sheer number of deaths over the next several episodes leads me to believe that Benioff and Weiss were just cleaning house, that some of these characters—including the entire Dorne contingent—were just here because they were in the books. Set free of the books, the show murders the heck out of anyone not deemed absolutely necessary for the plot.

Meanwhile, in the Keep, Cersei tells Jaime about the prophecy, and he swears to protect her. He says they’re the only people in the whole world who matter: “fuck anyone who isn’t us.” Because who needs character development, right?

Over in the Sept of Baelor, Unella is now tormenting Margaery until the High Sparrow comes in and tells her that she really needs to be with Tommen because marriage is sacred, but he can’t let her go until she confesses to her sins. She says she has nothing to confess; he asks if she thinks she’s perfect, and she says nobody is. He thinks she’s on the right track now.

In Meereen, Tyrion’s doing a bang-up job of governing. Varys takes him for a walk, during which Tyrion makes the first of many eunuch jokes, scares a beggar woman by making her think he wants to eat her baby, and discovers that the entire fleet in the harbor is on fire. Great work, Tyrion. We got you to replace Hizdahr and Barristan why? Good thing you’ve got Varys here to roll his eyes and clean up your messes (for now).

Speaking of totally competent men, Jorah and Daario come upon an area with burned bones and, with their Sherlock-like powers of deduction, decide that Drogon’s been here. They keep riding, and Daario speculates that maybe Dany didn’t want to be queen and was actually running away from men like them. Jorah says everywhere has men like them (you’re damn straight). Daario then half-taunts, half-sympathizes with Jorah for being in love with Dany and her not reciprocating. Jorah checks on the progress of his greyscale, which is still spreading. Then they find the torn-up area of grass where Dany dropped her ring (and it somehow wasn’t picked up by a horse’s hoof or trampled deep in the grass).

Further along in the Dothraki Sea, Dany’s tied up and walking like a slave, but somehow still allowed to keep her dragon torque? The riders laugh amongst themselves about how pale and blonde she is, then haul her to the khal’s tent, where what is arguably the absolute worst piece of writing in the entire series occurs. The khal’s bloodriders want to rape her on the spot because the Dothraki are barbarians, remember. The khal’s wives want her killed as a witch because barbarians are superstitious like that. The khal can’t wait to rape Dany himself because apparently there’s nothing better than seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time, but the bloodriders chime in with three things that might maybe be better than seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time and it’s a mix of Conan the Barbarian’s “kill your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women” and Monty Python’s “amongst our various weapons are surprise, fear, alarm, nice red uniforms, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope” and oh my god just watch it because there’s nothing I can say that does it justice.


It’s at this point that Dany finally announces herself and all her titles, and somehow they don’t believe her although it’s not like the Dothraki spend all their time riding around the Dothraki Sea in circles. They capture slaves and trade them to the cities of Slavers Bay, and you’re telling me that nobody mentioned to them that they don’t have slaves anymore because of a white-haired crazy lady with dragons? Only when she invokes Drogo’s name do they back off, because it’s the equivalent of her saying “I have a boyfriend” to get the horny dude at the bar to leave you alone. She demands that they take her back to Meereen, but they’re like um, no, you go back to Vaes Dothrak to live with the Dosh Khaleen, because this has totally been mentioned before. The women are super smug about what should be an honor—the Dosh Khaleen are supposed to essentially be the rulers of the Dothraki, after all. Dany is, of course, less than thrilled.

Blind Arya is begging on a street corner until the Waif comes along, tosses her a quarterstaff, and proceeds to beat the crap out of her and saunter off. Nobody on the street seems to notice or care that this is happening. Maybe it’s normal enough for the training regimen at the House of Black and White.

So the first full season off-book is off to a great start! I can’t wait to write up the rest of it. (cries)

Doran Martell
Aero Hotah
Trystane Martell
Sunspear maester
Bolton soldiers

Next week: Brynden and Bran are back. Tyrion’s still a bad leader. Yara wants to be queen. Melisandre raises the dead.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Interlude: We Pause for Pure Analysis

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

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"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

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!

Selyse Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon
Jon Snow
Lots of soldiers

Screencaps from Gif from