Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kalamazoo 2018!

The sneak peek of the CFP for the 2018 International Congress on Medieval Studies is up, and it shows this:
Tales after Tolkien Society (2): Reclaiming the Dead and the Undead; Medievalism in Metal (A Roundtable)
Contact: Geoffrey Elliott
P.O. Box 293970
Kerrville, TX 78029
Phone: 830-329-5602
Email: geoffrey.b.elliott@gmail.com
Since it's up, I figure I ought to note what all we put out about it, so that the CFP can get answered appropriately. The following text emerges from what I sent to the Congress for consideration--and, it seems, tentative approval!

I. Reclaiming the Dead and the Undead
A paper session, the panel seeks to interrogate appropriations of medieval concepts of un/death in contemporary media, attending to how the medieval corporeal/spiritual divide is reinscribed and transgressed by the appropriations. In brief, it means to look at how recent ideas of un/death correspond with medieval antecedents and what that correspondence suggests.

II. Medievalism in Metal
A roundtable, the panel seeks to investigate medieval referentiality--acoustic, iconographic, thematic, and otherwise--in metal music and among metal bands. (The session will likely need to make use of a/v equipment.)

Send in abstracts and contact information; I'll be glad to have them!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.5: "The Door"

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

6.5 “The Door”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jack Bender

This episode is all over the place, plotting-wise and characterization-wise. The writers clearly have no idea what to do with Sansa, the Kingsmoot is a hot mess, Arya’s conscience comes and goes as necessary, Jorah’s inability to take no for an answer finally pays off, and Bran’s complete self-centeredness gets a lot of people killed.

Up at the Wall, Sansa is sewing. But, wait, I thought the Feathered Black Dress of Sexual Manipulation was the last time she wanted to sew? I thought she was a Strong Woman™ now, and everyone knows sewing is Weak and Girly! But apparently it’s important that her clothes not look exactly like the Night’s Watch uniform, and Jon needs a new outfit now, too, so Sansa’s taking care of it. Here’s the thing: this is perfectly reasonable. Sansa’s not a member of the Night’s Watch, so she can’t wear their clothes, because what you wear in this society is important. But since all she left Winterfell with was the dress she was wearing, she does need new clothes—something warmer, at least—so she’s modifying what she can find at the Wall so she’s clothed but not dressing up like Night’s Watch. She also makes a new outfit for Jon, reflecting his change in status. Good! This episode also sees her using her political savvy to try to get help from the Tullys, which is a good move, too. She rejects Petyr’s help/manipulation, primarily because of his role in her marriage to Ramsay. This is all great, except that in the overall development of Sansa’s character, it’s wildly inconsistent. The inconsistency continues with Sansa’s decision not to trust Jon fully with all the information she has and how she has it. Also, when they discuss how to get the remaining families of the North to join their army, she forcefully points out that while Jon’s not a Stark, she is . . . and Jon’s just as much Ned’s son as Ramsay is Roose’s. So she’s the one Stark left (as far as everyone knows), but Jon’s going to be the one in charge? This makes even less sense when they run across Lyanna Mormont, because her role shows that the North will accept a girl in charge, so Sansa handing control over to a bastard-born man makes no sense. To lead the armies? Sure, maybe; Jon has experience. But it’s wicked obvious that Sansa intends Jon to be in charge of the North when this is all over. They’re not trying to reconquer Winterfell to make her Queen in the North.

Meanwhile, Tormund can’t stop ogling Brienne, and I’m not really sure how I feel about this. It’s clearly supposed to be funny, but why? Just because of Tormund’s face? Because Brienne isn’t traditionally attractive, so of course it’s hilarious that this wildling giant (who brags about having had sex with a bear) drools over her? Because she’s so clearly uncomfortable with his drooling? All of the above? Also considering that they don’t see each other for the rest of the season, what purpose does this really serve other than to get the audience laughing at the discomfort of a woman faced with the lustful stare of a man she barely knows?

Over in Braavos, Arya gets her second chance to prove that she can serve the Many-Faced God rather than haring off on her own agenda. Jaqen sends her out to kill Lady Crane, a wildly popular actress who’s currently playing Queen Cersei in the Free Cities’ version of the crazy wild politics happening in King’s Landing. The play apparently manages to cover the first three seasons plus a few episodes of the show (featuring the very funny Kevin Eldon as Camello as Ned Stark). Of course, they get everything wrong, but it’s wrong in a way that makes sense if you haven’t been privy to the inner workings of the people involved the way we have.

Arya manages to weasel her way backstage, where we’re treated to an up-close look at the Joffrey-actor examining his penis for warts. Thanks. This isn’t exactly what we meant when we asked for equal representation in nudity, guys (especially since it's quickly followed up by boobs to balance everything out). She observes the players for a bit, then goes back to Jaqen to try to figure out why Lady Crane deserves to die. Jaqen tells her it doesn’t matter; the Faceless Men are servants, and they have a contract.

Over in the Iron Islands, the Kingsmoot takes all of three minutes. Theon essentially abdicates in favor of Yara, then Euron shows up (again, looking way less intimidating than he’s described in the books) and promises to build a fleet, sail east, marry Daenerys, and take the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Despite also admitting that he killed Balon, this gets the support of the Ironborn and they declare him king. While the priests drown him and bless him, Theon and Yara run away with the entire fleet.

In Vaes Dothrak, Dany chides Jorah for not following her orders again, but one look at his greyscale-infected arm has her crying and not killing him like she promised to do. Instead, she orders him to go find a cure and come back to her. Because refusing to hear “no,” telling a woman you love her, and constantly throwing yourself in her path is obviously the way to get her to like you again.

In Meereen, Tyrion and Varys turn to propaganda by bringing in a red priestess to tell everyone how awesome Daenerys is. The priestess, Kinvara, is perfectly happy to do just that because Daenerys is the One Who Was Promised. Sure, she knows Melisandre named Stannis the Promised One, but anyone can make mistakes. She convinces Varys because she knows that he heard a voice in the flames when he was castrated, and she claims to know who the speaker is and what she/he/it said.

Finally, up beyond the Wall, Bran gets another revelation that’s just kind of tossed at us without any kind of analysis before all hell breaks loose. He and Brynden visit the Children of the Forest back before their near-extinction, and we see a heart tree surrounded by standing stones that spiral out in the same pattern the Walkers created with horse pieces at the Fist of the First Men. Bran watches a Child shove an obsidian dagger into the heart of a human man—all the way, so the whole thing goes into his chest—and leave it there. His eyes turn blue. When Bran comes to, Leaf explains that they were at war and they had to defend themselves. So we find out that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers as a defense against the First Men—and then we bounce right out of there and move on. I have so many questions.

Later, Bran’s acting like a spoiled toddler who doesn’t want to take a nap, throwing sticks at Brynden, then taking himself into the visions without Brynden’s help. He winds up alerting the Night King to his presence and giving away their position, not to mention managing to break the magic that blocks the Walkers and wights from coming into the cave. Way to go, Bran. Meera, Hodor, and Leaf start packing the sledge, but Brynden needs to pass the mantle of Greenseer on to Bran right now, which apparently means taking him back into vision-Winterfell. This is where Bran’s abysmal treatment of Hodor as less than human comes full circle (and it’s a very complicated circle). Bran won’t come out of the vision, despite Meera needing his help to calm Hodor and get himself into the sledge. Hodor starts panicking, Meera’s screaming at Bran, the Children are fighting, and Bran can kind of hear all of this in the vision so he wargs into Hodor—but Hodor from the past, Wylis before he’s Hodor—somehow managing to control present-Hodor this way. Meera, Bran, and Hodor escape the cave, leaving Summer, Brynden, and Leaf to die, then Meera orders Hodor to “hold the door” and leaves him behind with Bran still vision-warged into him, giving him no choice. In the past, Wylis collapses as he witnesses his own death and starts yelling “hold the door,” which mushes its way down to “hodor.” And faithful Hodor, who never did anything to deserve the way these awful people have treated him, dies holding that door.

White Walker #3
Brynden Rivers, the Three-Eyed Raven

Next week: Coldhands arrives. Margaery starts the long game. Sam and Gilly at Horn Hill. Arya makes a choice. Dany makes a speech.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.4: "Book of the Stranger"

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

6.4 “Book of the Stranger”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Sackheim

Reunions abound in this episode; nearly everyone gets to see someone they haven’t seen in a while (some longer than others). Martin referred to characters meeting back up as the plot “delta-ing back in,” contracting in preparation for the end game. Now, obviously, the people Benioff and Weiss have meeting up are not the same people Martin has meeting up toward the end of A Dance with Dragons or will have meeting up in The Winds of Winter, but that’s because Benioff and Weiss are so far off-page at this point there’s no salvaging the story.

Edd tries to talk Jon into staying, but Jon points out that his Night’s Watch vow holds until death, and he died, so he’s leaving. At that point, Sansa, Pod, and Brienne arrive at Castle Black and there’s a whole reunion scene that would be way more touching if Jon and Sansa had spoken at all in the first episode. Or mentioned each other at any point since then. Or anything other than completely ignoring the fact of each other’s existence. Sansa claims she often thought about how horrible she was to Jon (she did?) and he admits that he wasn’t a joy to be around, either (still isn’t) and they forgive each other. They make plans to go take back Winterfell, even though Jon’s tired of fighting.

Meanwhile, Davos tries to find out what happened to Stannis, and all Melisandre will tell him is that Stannis died in battle. Brienne chimes in that she saw that battle and it was a massacre, and by the way, she totally murdered Stannis and he admitted to using blood magic against Renly just before she took his head off. Davos looks shocked—shocked!—as though he didn’t already know about Mel’s shadow-babies. Also, Mel plans to go with Jon because now he’s the Prince That Was Promised.

I’m generally confused about show-Mel’s motivation. In the books, she’s fiercely loyal to Stannis, completely unable to admit that she might be wrong about his fate, and believes she’s helping him find his destiny to fight and win the upcoming war against the dark. Sure, her religious philosophy is a bit twisted and she’s willing to do anything to achieve her goals, but her main goal is getting Stannis as much power—political and metaphysical—as possible so he’s best positioned to fight the Dark. Show-Mel hangs out with Stannis until it looks like he’s losing and then jumps ship faster than a drowning rat. She told him that if she’d been with him at the Blackwater they could have won, and then, when faced with an actual battle where she could have proved her abilities were invaluable, she bolts. She seems to have generally forgotten the whole Ultimate Battle thing and just wants to find a man to serve/manipulate—Jon is the next most promising man after Stannis dies. Now, I’m certain that in the books Melisandre will realize that the reason the fire keeps showing her Jon or snowstorms when she asks to see “The Prince That Was Promised” is that Jon is The Prince That Was Promised and possibly switch allegiances, but I’m also certain that the context for this switch will be wildly different and more complex than what we see in the show.

Later, in the mess hall, everything is awkward. The food is bad enough that the visitors are having trouble eating it (Tormund is having no such problem), Tormund is staring at Brienne and making her visibly uncomfortable, and then a Bolton messenger comes in. Ramsay says he has Rickon and he wants Sansa back. This is the final impetus Jon needs to finally shake off this particular bout of brooding and agree to help retake Winterfell. And since he’s no longer bound by his Night’s Watch vows because he said so, it’s not treason like it was in the books! That’s convenient!

Ramsay has Rickon, of course, because the Umbers turned him over in the last episode. Now Osha’s brought before Ramsay. She tries to convince him that she had no real loyalty to the Starks and could be super useful to him—by sitting on his lap. Hey, it worked for Theon. But when she goes for a knife, he gets it first and puts it through her throat. Another casualty of Benioff and Weiss’ cast-trimming rampage. Also completely predictable; Osha (despite being an accomplished Wildling warrior) tries to manipulate Ramsay through sex and gets murdered for it because that’s what happens to women on this show.

Petyr goes back to the Vale, where Robin is also bad at archery. He manipulates Robin into not trusting Royce, who totally has Petyr’s number, and then into putting Petyr in charge of the Vale armies so he can march north and rescue Sansa, who’s been “kidnapped” by the Boltons through absolutely no fault of Petyr’s. (cough)

In King’s Landing, Margaery is finally allowed to see Loras, who’s completely broken. He’s been tortured half to death and is willing to agree to anything that will make the torture stop. This whole sequence continues the problematic way that the show handles homosexuality in general and Loras in particular. The entire imprisonment plot for Loras and Margaery hinges on Loras being gay and Margaery lying to cover that up. Yet we see what Margaery’s enduring several times before we ever see Loras. Despite being the central excuse of the plot, Loras isn’t given any screen time between his arrest and now—eight full episodes later. Benioff and Weiss have shifted Westerosi attitudes and the High Sparrow’s priorities in order to use Loras as the lynchpin in Cersei’s plan to get Margaery out of the way, and then they discard him as soon as that shift has taken place. So much of the portrayal of Loras’ sexuality is focused on the straight people in his life; it’s used to position people as bad/intolerant vs. good/tolerant, and he ends up used as a political football in the larger story. And Benioff and Weiss don’t do anything to examine what that looks like for Loras. As a character, he’s a convenient excuse to kind of keep following the plot of the books despite all the massive changes they’ve made, and the consequences of their changes are never explored at any depth.

Meanwhile, Cersei has to yoink Tommen out from under yet another person trying to influence him against her—this time Pycelle. She gets him to tell her what he and the High Sparrow talked about, and then storms the Small Council chamber to demand an alliance between Lannister and Tyrell to prevent Margaery from having to do a Walk of Atonement and to rescue Loras. Kevan doesn’t want to help, partly because Tommen ordered him not to use Lannister forces to attack the Sept and partly because there’s a real possibility for civil war, but Cersei asks if he wants to get Lancel out of that cult or not.

The problem here is that there’s no logical reason for Margaery to have to do a Walk of Atonement. There have been two walks like this in the story so far, three if Tytos Lannister’s mistress was ever mentioned (I don’t think she was), and all three were public humiliation and punishment for lewd sexual behavior—the High Septon for visiting a brothel and Cersei for adultery. Margaery’s accused of perjury. Why in the world would she have to do a walk of atonement? What purpose could that possibly serve beyond pulling down the nobility one brick at a time? And if that’s what the High Sparrow’s doing, then he’s not nearly as pious as he (and the show) wants us to think he is, because guess who would be the major power in the kingdom at that point?

Again, this is an attempt to correct for the changes made from the book, wherein Margaery is accused of many of the same sexual sins that Cersei is (minus incest), but released because there’s no evidence. Having her imprisoned for perjury—after she committed it on-screen—takes away that possibility, and I don’t think Benioff and Weiss considered the reasons for or implications of the walk of atonement; they just decided that that’s the price for being released from Sept custody before a formal trial has taken place.

Theon somehow manages to get to Pyke in the same amount of time it took Sansa et al to get to the Wall (they really aren’t even trying with geography and travel times anymore), and goes to find Yara. She’s irritated with him because good men died to rescue him and he betrayed her. He apologizes and says Ramsay broke him into pieces. She wants to know if he’s here to try to take the Driftwood Throne now that Balon’s dead, but he says no; he wants to help make her queen. This has the potential to be a really interesting, honestly feminist (not faux-feminist) storyline, but of course Benioff and Weiss muck it up beyond all reason.

In Meereen, Tyrion is being really bad at politics and making his allies angry because he’s a manipulative, conniving little turd. He firs tries to convince Grey Worm and Missandei that he’s totally the right person to negotiate with the masters because he was a slave for a couple of days. Missandei’s having none of it (good for her) but that doesn’t change anything; Tyrion still thinks he’s the smartest person in any room. He has a talk with the masters of Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis, trying to convince them that they don’t need slaves to be rich—just look at Westeros (missing entirely that the people of Essos see Westeros as barbaric)—and proposes a phase-out of slavery rather than immediate abolishment in exchange for them cutting off funding to the Sons of the Harpy. Grey Worm and Missandei are horrified. Tyrion gives the men some prostitutes to keep them busy and leaves.

In the throne room, a group of freed slaves yells at Tyrion for meeting with the slavers. He makes a big show of not talking to them from the top of the dais and gets Grey Worm and Missandei to vouch for him that he’s trying to bring peace. Once they’ve left, Grey Worm yells at Tyrion for seeing people as tools and reminds him that the masters have far more experience with politics than he does.

Not only has Tyrion replaced every other advisor Dany has, now it looks like Benioff and Weiss are trying to set him up as an even better ruler than Dany. He’s willing to compromise! He doesn’t talk down to people from the top of a mini-pyramid! He’s a man of the people! Of course his plans fall apart later, but then he’s still the only one with a plan beyond “burn them all” when a plan is needed.

Daario and Jorah have reached Vaes Dothrak, and they make nebulous plans to go in, find Dany, and get her out. Of course they get in a fight and of course Daario has to kill a man. But then they meet up with Dany, who’s gotten out of the temple of the Dosh Khaleen by telling them she has to pee. She tells them she has a plan to escape but she needs their help to do it (of course she does).

The khals gather—in the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, for some reason—and debate what to do with Dany. She asks if they want to know what she thinks, and they stare at her like one of their horses just started talking. They say they don’t care what she wants because she’s not Dosh Khaleen yet, but they clearly also don’t care what the Dosh Khaleen think because where are they? She insults them until they decide that she doesn’t get the “honor” of living with the Dosh Khaleen, and instead they’ll rape her to death. So she puts a hand on one of the braziers, shocking them with her unburned-ness, and shoves it over. Jorah and Daario have barred the doors, so the khals are trapped in the temple with a crazy pyromaniac who apparently can control fire because she pushes over the last brazier right at Khal Moro and the fire goes at him like a living thing. Her dress catches fire but of course she’s fine because something something fire cannot kill the dragon (despite Martin’s emphatic rejection of Dany’s fire-proofness). Then, as the entirety of the gathered Dothraki watch, the temple goes up in flames and Dany walks out, naked (of course) but completely unhurt. And everyone drops to their knees.

I have so many problems with this scene. First of all, the power structure of the Dothraki clearly is whatever Benioff and Weiss need it to be. The Dosh Khaleen are in charge of Vaes Dothrak until they’re not. Joining them is an honor until it’s a punishment. Rape is something done to slaves by men taking their rewards for fighting well until it’s a threat to terrorize a woman who by all rights is a member of the Dothraki. There’s no internal consistency at all. Then there’s the implications of Dany destroying the entire upper echelon of the Dothraki government (such as it is) and burning down one of their religious sites and being hailed as a “god” and the rightful new ruler of the Dothraki for it—complete with a sea of brown people dropping to their knees in front of the pretty white girl. (I’ll have even more to say about the treatment of destroying a temple and the nobility at the end of the season.)

This whole thing is just . . . so problematic. Benioff and Weiss clearly have learned nothing from the uproar about the ending of “Mhysa.”

Khal Moro
Khal Brozho
Khal Qorro
Khal Forzho
Khal Rhalko

Next week: Hodor.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.3: "Oathbreaker"

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

6.3 “Oathbreaker”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Sackheim

There are multiple oathbreakers in this episode, some more understandable than others. Jon breaks ties with the Night’s Watch. His murderers are punished. Sam twists the meaning of his promise to Gilly to stay with her. Bran finds out that Ned wasn’t nearly as honorable as he thought he was. The Umbers break any remaining oaths to protect the Starks.

So, Jon’s alive, but he remembers being murdered, and the evidence of that murder is still on his body, so he’s understandably freaked out. Melisandre wants to know what there is after death, but Jon says there’s nothing. She says she was wrong about Stannis but that R’hllor bringing Jon back means he’s Super Special. Davos kicks her out because Jon’s still getting his bearings, for goodness’ sake. He tells Jon that they may never know why Jon got murdered for doing the right thing, but he needs to get up and “go fail again.” (Huh?)

Jon goes outside and gets stared at. Tormund tells him that the other wildlings think he’s a god, but Tormund knows he’s not, because a god would have a bigger penis. Edd just remarks that at least his eyes are still brown so they don’t have to burn him as a wight.

Later, Jon executes the murderers—by hanging. I wonder if Benioff and Weiss decided that beheading each of them would take too much screen time, or if the fact that Jon, who passed the sentence, isn’t swinging a sword (remember that in the books, he almost hangs Janos but then remembers Ned’s advice and beheads him instead) says something about how broken he is. (Personally I doubt they put that much thought into it.) So Jon’s last act as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is getting his revenge on his murderers, then tossing the cloak at Edd and leaving Castle Black.

Technically, since Jon was dead, his oath to the Night’s Watch no longer holds. But keep in mind that this whole story has been told out of order, probably to make Jon look way better than he is in the books. (So much for “gray” heroes.) In the books, Jon is killed because he’s about to break his vows to the Night’s Watch, possibly taking several other brothers with him, and as Lord Commander, that can’t be allowed. Sure, the wildling thing and the way he’s been handling restaffing the castles were unpopular and built up some animosity, but the final straw is him deciding to march south and fight the Boltons. He’s already demonstrated a resistance to listening to the council of the other leaders of the Night’s Watch—the heads of the various factions—so it’s easily understandable why they thought they had no other choice but to kill him. The show boils everything down to intolerance and racism and has the conspirators murder Jon before he goes to fight the Ramsay, thus giving him a technical out on the oathbreaking thing. This is yet another way in which Benioff and Weiss fail to understand why Martin put the plot together the way he did and instead revert to the “clich├ęd” fantasy tropes that Martin was purposefully trying to avoid.

Meanwhile, Sam and Gilly are on a ship bound for Oldtown, and they’re completely skipping the whole Braavos storyline, which would have given them another oathbreaker if they had remotely followed the book story (not to mention that this oathbreaker’s actions indirectly led to Aemon’s death). Instead, Sam’s decided he’s going to “stop by” his family’s holdings and drop Gilly off there before continuing to Oldtown.

I have questions.

Here’s a detail of the map of Westeros (borrowed from this resource) that shows Oldtown and Horn Hill. On this particular map, major ports (Casterly Rock, King’s Landing, White Harbor) are marked with the same big stars that we see on Oldtown. These are places where lots of ships stop. In order to “stop by” Horn Hill to drop Gilly off, Sam would have to get the captain to sail up the Mander to Highgarden (note that it’s not a major port) and hike south. Also notice how far off the main road Horn Hill is; that’s not an insignificant trip. And the chances that the captain would be willing to do that are very low. Heck, the chances that Sam could have gotten on a ship going straight from the Wall to Oldtown are very low, which is why in the books they have to take a cart from Castle Black to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, take a small ship from there to Braavos, and then try to book passage on a ship going from Braavos around the southern tip of Dorne to Oldtown. I think Benioff and Weiss seriously underestimate just how big Westeros is, hence the super weird travel times and casual stops at places that would actually add weeks to the trip. Or, like so many other things, they just ignore it when it doesn’t fit the story they’re trying to tell.

Anyway, Sam tells Gilly he’s going to leave her with his family, because that’s a great idea. She says he promised to stay with her, and he claims that he promised that in order to keep her safe, and now keeping her safe means becoming a maester. I don’t understand what part of keeping her and baby Sam safe means leaving them with a man who abused Sam to the point that he hates himself, a man who hates Wildlings (despite never having met one). Even claiming baby Sam as his own isn’t going to help this at all. Not to mention that Sam didn’t promise to keep her safe, he promised to never leave her. No amount of weaseling is going to change the fact that he’s technically breaking his promise. Also notice how Gilly just accepts that rather than pushing back like she constantly did at the Wall. Apparently her personality—much like Sansa’s—can be changed to fit the current needs of a male character’s story.

Brynden is showing Bran the fight at the Tower of Joy for some reason, despite that making no sense, as I mentioned in the last post. The best I can figure with all of this is they’re aiming to make Bran one of Jon’s staunchest supporters for King in the North (if not king of Westeros as Dany’s husband) by making sure that he knows that Jon is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna and thus has both Stark and Targaryen blood. Since the only other people who knew that—Lyanna, Ned, and presumably Rhaegar—are all dead (Howland Reed likely does, too, but he’s been mentioned all of once in the show before these “flashbacks”), if they’re going to use this as leverage, somebody has to know it, and that somebody might as well be Bran, even if his method of discovering it is ridiculous.

Ostensibly, the reason Bran’s watching the fight at the Tower of Joy is to see how things “really” happened rather than the legend he’s been told his whole life (this according to Weiss in the “Inside the Episode” thing). And apparently how things “really” happened include Ned not being the bastion of honor that everyone always believed he was. The trouble here is that, once again, this is entirely Benioff and Weiss’ invention. The only thing we know about the Tower of Joy is what we get from Ned’s fever dream in A Game of Thrones, and his frequent quick flashbacks to Lyanna dying. Other than the outcome—eight men die at the Tower of Joy, including three Kingsguard and five of Ned’s companions; only Howland Reed and Ned survive and Ned buries the bodies—we know nothing about how that battle went down. I find it confounding that while they twisted Jon’s storyline into knots to make sure he looked better, they then throw this utterly non-canon fight into the mix to make Ned look bad—or, at least, not as good as we thought he was.

That’s leaving aside the utter ridiculousness of the fight itself. I mean, just look at this nonsense.

I just . . . I can’t even. They had a chance to do an actually really cool fight scene with a really cool sword—Dawn is supposed to be a legendary sword, after all, seeming to glow with its own internal light because, well, it’s Excalibur—but instead we get . . . this. (If you’re interested in a historian who specializes in medieval martial arts breaking down just how stupid this scene is, go here. It’s like 30 minutes long and he rambles a bit at the beginning, but it’s worth watching.)

Daenerys is still in the clutches of the Dothraki, and they’re still treating her like a slave (making her walk) despite knowing who she is. The leader—Weiss refers to her as the “high priestess”—of the Dosh Khaleen asks why Dany didn’t come back when Drogo died, like she’s supposed to, and Dany says she’s been kind of busy. The high priestess says that she’s not even sure Dany’s going to be allowed to stay with the Dosh Khaleen because she didn’t come back right away, and it’s going to be up to the Khalar Vehzven—the council of the khals. Which makes no sense, but whatever. Nothing that happens in the Dothraki storyline at this point makes any sense.

Meanwhile, the people Dany’s left behind are trying to keep a city from imploding. Or, rather, Varys is trying to keep the city from imploding by negotiating with the prostitute who’s been working with the Sons of the Harpy while Tyrion plays drinking games and tries to get Grey Worm and Missandei to loosen up instead of doing their jobs. Grey Worm says games are for children, while Missandei remembers the kind of “games” her former master used to make them play. She also says she doesn’t drink and doesn’t intend to start now. Tyrion, however, has no respect for anyone or their boundaries, and starts pushing. Grey Worm and Missandei are rescued by Varys coming in with the information he got from the prostitute, that the masters of Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis are the ones funding the Sons of the Harpy. Grey Worm wants to reconquer the cities, and Missandei agrees that they only understand violence, but Tyrion pish-poshes their experience and instead gets Varys to send a message to the various masters.

Over in King’s Landing, Qyburn has taken over Varys’ little birds, and the Small Council tries to put Cersei in her place by refusing to discuss anything with her. Tommen tries to negotiate with the High Sparrow to allow Cersei to visit Myrcella’s grave, but he won’t allow it and Tommen still won’t unleash the Kingsguard on the Militant. It’s interesting that a man who preaches humility so hard has no trouble claiming to speak for and serve the gods with ultimate authority, even over the secular leaders of the land.

In Braavos, Arya is still blind and still training, but she’s getting better, which seems to make the Waif angry, which makes absolutely no sense (as I’ve mentioned before). Finally, Jaqen sits her down at the well and again asks her name; she says no one. He offers her a drink from the well, telling her that if she truly is no one, she has nothing to fear from death. She drinks, and her eyesight returns.

Finally, in Winterfell, the Umbers meet with Ramsay. They refuse to swear fealty to him, but as a sign of good faith and in exchange for help fighting the Wildlings Jon let loose in the Gift, they bring him Osha and Rickon. To prove that he’s really Rickon, they also brought Shaggydog’s head, which makes it abundantly clear that Rickon’s not going to survive the season, either. After all, when it comes to the Starks, they are their wolves, and the wolves are their Stark-ness and their connection to the North. Of course, in the show, the direwolves are a CGI money-sink and since they can’t really get rid of the dragons, sidelining the wolves is one way to cut that budget.

Alliser Thorne
In flashback: Willam Dustin, Ethan Glover, Martyn Cassel, Theo Wull, Mark Ryswell, Arthur Dayne, Oswell Whent, and Gerold Hightower

Next week: Stark family reunion. Tyrion tries diplomacy (it is not very effective). Dany sets a fire.