Monday, August 14, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.2: "Stormborn"



7.2 Stormborn
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Mark Mylod

The tone of this episode is kind of all over the place, and I think it’s a function of some seriously uneven writing. There are several major flaws in characterization, some seriously irritating deification of Tyrion, a bit of just plain bad writing, and then a couple of actually kind of nice scenes.

The issues with Daenerys not being the actual person in charge, but rather taking on whatever personality the men around her tell her she has, continues in this episode. The problem is that “the men around her” is now Tyrion, and it’s making Dany feel very much like a puppet-queen rather than an actual leader. Her own impulses, when not directed or controlled by Tyrion, still tend to be fire and blood, which doesn’t bode well for her reign at all. And either the way Emilia Clarke is playing the character or the way she’s being directed has her so incredibly emotionless that it makes her seem even more insane.

So we open on Dragonstone, which is in the grip of a furious storm, giving Tyrion and Varys an excuse to remember why one of Dany’s nicknames is “Stormborn” (and letting them give a reason for this episode’s title, because there isn’t another one anywhere else in the episode). Dany is less than impressed with the storm or how Dragonstone doesn’t feel like home. Forget the whole epic nostalgia scene from last week; she’s sick of Dragonstone and wants to get off of it ASAP. She remarks that in her position, Viserys would have taken King’s Landing already, and Tyrion yanks her leash to remind her that utter destruction is bad, and she’s “not here to be queen of the ashes.” But Dany’s not done being a Targaryen, and turns on Varys to demand to know what exactly he’s up to. After all, he was instrumental in getting Aerys off the throne, then Robert, and what if he doesn’t like Dany? What kind of a servant just up and goes on the hunt for a better ruler when the current one doesn’t suit him? (It’s kind of a fair question.)


Varys replies that he feels for the smallfolk because he spent time as a beggar, a thief, a prostitute, and a slave, and he will always serve that side of the realm. This would have been a really good place for Dany to point out that Viserys was called the Beggar King and she also has known serious, crushing poverty in her life, but we’ve apparently decided to forget that part of Dany’s background. We’ve also chosen to forget that she regards her marriage to Drogo as a form of slavery; she was sold to him in exchange for his horde. Instead, Dany orders him to promise that he’ll come straight to her first if he thinks she’s failing the smallfolk (fair), and that if he betrays her, “I’ll burn you alive.” Yep, she’s gonna be a great queen. Just like her daddy. For some reason, though, Varys finds this admirable and says he’d “expect nothing less from the Mother of Dragons.”

Speaking of fire, Melisandre has arrived to attach herself to yet another power figure who may or may not be the Prince Who Was Promised. Missandei assures Dany that the word in Valyrian is gender-neutral and thus can refer to a prince or a princess. Melisandre has learned her lesson about prophecies, it seems, and demurs when asked if she thinks Dany is said Prince, but suggests that an alliance between Dany and Jon Snow would be a good idea. Tyrion’s startled at the mention of Jon Snow, but tells Dany Jon’s a good man (he knew him for like four days when he was still an idealistic little boy) and she should talk to him. Dany does what she’s told and has him send a raven “inviting” Jon to Dragonstone, where he’ll swear fealty to Dany.

A few days later, the women of Dany’s alliance gather to discuss strategy and it would be a much more powerful feminist message if three of the four women weren’t pushing for utter destruction and a campaign of terror and the fourth wasn’t parroting what her single male advisor told her. Yara and Ellaria want Dany to unleash the dragons on King’s Landing immediately. Olenna says being loved is all well and good, but everyone loved Margaery and now she’s dead, so now she’s come around to Cersei’s way of thinking apparently and insists that fear is the only way to rule. Ellaria yells at Tyrion about Oberyn’s death, and Dany shuts all of them up, demanding that they show Tyrion some respect, and says she’s not here to be queen of the ashes. Does this woman have an original thought that isn’t fire blood burning kill kill kill?

Dany starts to lay out their plan to lay siege to King’s Landing, and Tyrion interrupts her when she stops to take a breath, and she literally takes a step back to give him the floor. Their plan is to not put the Unsullied and the Dothraki (where are they, by the way? How are they dealing with having sailed across an entire ocean? Is Dragonstone big enough for all of them?) within sight of King’s Landing, because that would give Cersei political leverage to yell about foreigners invading their soil. Instead, the Dornish and the Ironborn are going to lay siege to King’s Landing (because it’s not like anyone sees the Dornish as barely Westerosi or the Ironborn as ravening pirates) while the Unsullied and Dothraki take Casterly Rock. Tyrion tries to sell it as Casterly Rock being an important symbolic target because it’s the seat of House Lannister, but none of the remaining Lannisters seem to care about Casterly Rock anymore, and it’s not a strategic spot that would help with taking the rest of Westeros in particular, so it felt to me very much like this was Tyrion’s idea because he wants Casterly Rock. He’s wanted it since Jaime became a Kingsguard, he demanded it of Tywin, and now he has the opportunity to take it by force and become Warden of the West, or at least Lord of Casterly Rock while he serves as Hand of the Queen.


The rest of the plan is needlessly complicated: Yara and the fleet will take Ellaria back to Sunspear, where they’ll pick up the Dornish armies and shuttle them back up to King’s Landing. There’s no explanation as to how the Unsullied and Dothraki will get to Casterly Rock (which is on the complete opposite side of the continent). The other women seem to think this is all a perfectly good idea, though, except Olenna, who tells Dany that listening to clever men is all well and good, but she needs to be a dragon. Because, yeah, let’s ignore the advice of people who know what they’re talking about (I don’t necessarily think that includes Tyrion, but clearly they do, so) and go on sheer instinct instead. Because that never ends badly.

One thing the Dragonstone plot does give us this week is a really sweet scene between Missandei and Grey Worm that only has a couple of minor missteps that probably wouldn’t even have been noticeable if it weren’t for this show’s terrible track record with nudity and sex. Missandei comes to see Grey Worm because he’s going to be leaving to attack Casterly Rock and they don’t know when they might see each other again. They’ve been adorably awkward around each other up to now due to the obvious limitations on their relationship. Grey Worm tells her that she’s his weakness, that as an Unsullied warrior, he had all fear, doubt, and pain conditioned out of him, but now that he’s no longer a slave and he’s been allowed to have a relationship with Missandei, he knows fear. The scene that follows is one of the healthiest and sweetest sex scenes ever done on this show, but it suffers a bit for being primarily focused on Grey Worm and his response to Missandei seeing him for the first time. There’s several intense close-ups on his face during the disrobing process, and he’s clearly confused and afraid. Meanwhile, Missandei (who apparently doesn’t wear any underwear under her dress), doesn’t get the same emotional exploration. Instead, the camera spends a lot of time looking at her breasts. Her one reaction shot (as opposed to at least three for Grey Worm) isn’t shot at the same close-up as his is; instead, it’s from this overhead angle that looks over Grey Worm’s shoulder and down her naked body. Then, of course, the camera’s focused pretty exclusively on her as they find ways to be intimate that don’t involve penetration. It could have been much, much worse, and by the standards of this show, it’s really tame, but it continues the issues with sex, women, and nudity the show has had since the get-go.

The Tyrion-worship continues up at Winterfell, where Jon shares the note with Sansa and Davos. Interestingly, Tyrion has left out the whole thing about swearing fealty and seems to instead be offering an equal alliance. That’s probably going to come back to bite someone. Jon asks Sansa what she thinks, since she knows Tyrion better than any of them, and she says he’s actually pretty okay for a Lannister, and at least he was nice to her. Davos isn’t thrilled about the implied threat in the mention of the Unsullied, Dothraki, and dragons, but he does point out that dragons breathe fire and fire kills wights (which apparently Jon needed to be reminded of), so an alliance shouldn’t be off the table.


A few days later, Jon receives Sam’s raven from the Citadel telling him about the dragonglass, and that makes up Jon’s mind. This time, he doesn’t ask Sansa her advice beforehand, because why should he do that when he’s about to make an enormous decision? He tells his court about the summons from Dragonstone, emphasizing that he trusts Tyrion because he’s a good man (again, they knew each other for like four days), then about the dragonglass, then that he himself will be traveling to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys. Sansa yells at him in front of everyone again, and for once even Lyanna thinks that Jon’s had a bad idea. Jon says he has to go because only a king can treat with a queen (what?), and that he’s leaving Sansa in charge of the North as the last Stark in Winterfell (let’s see how long this lasts when Bran finally shows up).

Before he leaves, though, Jon goes to visit Ned’s grave in the crypts. Petyr saunters down like he totally belongs here and tries to sweet-talk Jon, who’s having none of it. Petyr mentions that he loves Sansa “as I loved her mother” (gag), and Jon puts him up against the wall like Ned did back in season one, threatening to kill him if he so much as touches Sansa.

In King’s Landing, Cersei’s trying to get more of the kingdoms under her control by playing the “foreign invader” card, as well as the “insane Targaryen” card. The problem is that she’s not wrong; Dany did bring foreign armies to Westeros, she did crucify hundreds of Meereenese masters, and she did feed one of them to her dragons. Cersei’s not even really exaggerating; she doesn’t need to. Dany hasn’t shown that she can be a stable or sane leader. Randyll Tarly is concerned about the dragons, and Qyburn assures him they’re working on something (that something, we see later, is a ballista). Then Jaime works on Randyll, offering him the position of Warden of the South if he abandons his allegiance to the Tyrells and backs Cersei instead. Randyll says he’ll think about it.


Down in Oldtown, Ebrose and Sam are discussing Jorah’s greyscale infection, and Ebrose says it’s too far advanced to cure by this point. He gives Jorah one more day before he has him removed and shipped off to Valyria to live out his days with the stone men, and what he does with that day—meaningful look at Jorah’s sword—is up to him. Sam argues for a couple more options, but Ebrose shuts him down. Sam offers to notify Jorah’s family, which is when he learns Jorah’s a Mormont. Sam’s not giving up, though; he keeps pestering Ebrose about possible treatments, and Ebrose points out all the reasons why those treatments won’t work. The whole Citadel storyline again denigrates intellectuals and “clever men” in favor of instinct and blind luck; it doesn’t matter that Ebrose has all this experience and all these books, he’s just wrong because Sam needs him to be. Granted, Martin wrote the maesters as a bit myopic about some things and a lot hidebound about other things, but as usual, the show takes that to the nth degree.

Sam takes the exact remedy Ebrose told him would not work (which of course means it will) and was expressly forbidden by the Citadel and gets to Jorah before he can do more than write a letter to Dany (addressed “khaleesi” because of course it is) and look vaguely in the direction of his sword. Sam explains that a) he’s a member of the Night’s Watch, knew Jeor Mormont, and was there when he died (Jorah has surprisingly little reaction to this); b) he’s not letting Jorah die on his watch; c) this might actually not work, but will hurt and Jorah should try to keep from screaming. To help with that, Sam hands him rum like he’s doing battlefield surgery and doesn’t have access to milk of the poppy or something, then starts literally slicing the affected tissue off Jorah’s chest.

They cut from pus pouring out of Jorah’s chest to a couple of guys at the Inn at the Crossroads stabbing into a gravy-filled pie because that’s not disgusting and it’s not like pot pie is one of my favorite foods or anything, so thanks Mylod. Arya’s at one of the tables, and Hot Pie comes in. Arya seems surprisingly uninterested in seeing him and just steals some food off his tray and starts gobbling. He asks if Brienne found her and she says yeah but doesn’t elaborate. He asks what she’s doing here and why she’s not back in Winterfell. Apparently the miraculous psychic powers everyone else has to know what’s happening elsewhere in the kingdom haven’t kicked in for her yet and she didn’t know about Jon and “the battle of the bastards” (which, can we not call it that in-universe, please? It’s just ridiculous). She perks up and becomes a lot more personable when she finds this out, actually treats Hot Pie like a friend for a second, then goes out to the crossroads and turns north instead of south.
 
Out in the countryside, she builds a fire and tries to get warm. Her horse is super antsy, and she hears wolves. Soon, she’s surrounded, and from behind her appears a massive grey-and-white wolf, who she recognizes as Nymeria, who we last saw in season one. Arya tells her she’s headed north and invites Nymeria to come with her, but the wolf turns and leaves because that’s as much wolf footage as we could fit into the CGI budget. Arya’s devastated for a second, but then smiles and says “that’s not you,” echoing her comment to Ned in season one that being a wife and mother and managing a castle is “not me.” In the “Inside the Episode” featurette, Weiss says that “Arya’s not domesticated, and it makes sense that her wolf wouldn’t be, either.” The choice of words (you don’t domesticate a person, and it’s even more problematic when applied to a woman) bugs me, but the sentiment makes sense. If only we’d spent more time on the wolves=Stark connection to the north theme, or with Arya’s wolf dreams, or anything that would have made Nymeria’s appearance less out-of-nowhere.


The final sequence in the episode left a really bad taste in my mouth for a lot of reasons. Yara’s fleet is on its way south, and in one of the bunks, Nymeria, Obara, and Tyene are arguing about who gets to kill who when they take King’s Landing. Nym and Obara twit at Tyene for constantly quoting Ellaria, and Tyene yells that maybe she’ll kill both of them and then she won’t have to share kills. Super healthy dynamic between these young ladies. Over in another area of the ship (I don’t know ship terminology well enough to be more specific than that), Ellaria, Yara, and Theon are drinking. Through some small talk, Ellaria discovers that Yara is bisexual, and since they’re two women interested in women in the same room, of course sexytimes have to occur. Ellaria asks what Theon, as Yara’s protector, would do if someone got too close, proceeding to get too close and note that Theon’s doing a bad job because there’s “a foreign invasion” happening right now, which is gross on so many levels. It again goes with the oversexed woman of color thing, as well as playing female sexual interaction to the male gaze, and falling into the oversexed bisexual thing. Not to mention it’s just terrible writing.

Thankfully, consummation is halted by Euron’s fleet attacking, pulling a Black Pearl appearing out of the mist. The ensuing fight is a mess, lit only by the ships on fire from the fireballs coming out of . . . somewhere, with no clear leadership from anyone. This would have been a good time to showcase Yara’s leadership skills and make Euron actually frightening by showing how his chaotic approach overwhelms Yara’s more organized approach, but instead it’s just a free-for-all mess. Obara and Nym attack Euron and he kills them both in ways that show just how ridiculous their choices of weapon are (and thus makes Jaime and Bronn look even more incompetent in retrospect).


Yara and Euron finally face off, and he ultimately overpowers her, then taunts Theon to try to save her. Theon, completely triggered by all the blood and violence around him, instead jumps into the water while Euron cackles. Silence sails off with Yara, Ellaria, and probably Tyene prisoner on board, leaving Yara’s ship with Nym hanged from the prow with her own whip and Obara staked to it with her spear; the camera work gives us a good long look at them, then Theon’s reaction, then them again. This show loves nothing more than gratuitous female nudity, but dead women are a close second. In the “Inside the Episode” bit, Weiss admits that while they were writing this episode, they “realized” that trauma isn’t just something you “get over,” and so Theon would understandably be having trouble here. If only they’d figured that out before giving us Yara’s completely disgusting pep-talk last season. Meanwhile, according to Benioff, Yara feels betrayed by Theon failing to save her, because it’s not like Theon was weaponless and Euron had his axe to Yara’s throat and thus there was nothing he could do but get killed or get her killed.

This show is trying so hard to be better and fix some of its mistakes, but there are a lot of clear blind spots that they don’t even seem to realize are problems.

RIP:
Nymeria Sand
Obara Sand

Next week: Fire meets Ice. Cersei gets revenge. Olenna tells Jaime a secret.

Images from winteriscoming.net

Friday, August 11, 2017

Voltron: Legendary Defender Watch 2.1: "Across the Universe"

The second season of Voltron: Legendary Defender opens just as the first season closes, making more of science fiction tropes than of the medieval--but there is still something medievalist to be found.

2.1. "Across the Universe"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Steve In Chang Ahn

Synopsis

Beginning in the moments before the previous episode ends, "Across the Universe" shows Zarkon looking out over the end of the Voltron Paladins' raid on his main facility; they flee, and Haggar interdicts their escape, destabilizing the wormhole the Castle of Lions generated. Shiro, Keith and Pidge are lost; the Castle itself falls into a strange time-loop.

Shiro and Keith emerge onto a brightly lit world, with Shiro clutching a glowing wound as the two fall to ground on different trajectories and crash-land some distance apart. Keith revives to find his Red Lion out of power; he reconnoiters his area and begins to search for Shiro. The latter wakes a bit later, in pain from his wound, and does much the same as Keith. The two are able to make contact via their communications systems, and they confer about their situation--with Shiro noting the intrusion of local fauna.

Both find themselves struggling against their environment, with Shiro having to retreat to cover under attack b the local fauns--mimetic of dragons, interestingly--and Keith beset by geysers that seem to track his path. Keith notes his appreciation for Shiro's lessons as he proceeds and employs them to good effect to reach his senior colleague and, using the Black Lion, to deliver him from immediate peril as Shiro falters in his own defense.

Meanwhile, Pidge crash-lands in a space-borne debris field. After an encounter with local fauna and some evidence of suffering from isolation, she realizes that the debris field contains equipment that can be used to build a transmitter or beacon. She constructs that beacon atop her re-energizing Green Lion and, after an initial failure, successfully transmits her location.

That she does so is fortunate, as Allura and Coran in the Castle of Lions are trapped in a strange time-loop. Allura seems immune to its temporal effects, but the small creatures that accompany her mutate oddly with each pass through the loop, and Coran de-ages (although he retains his moustache, humorously enough). Attempts to break free fail repeatedly, and Coran soon finds himself an infant in Allura's arms, facing non-existence--at which point, the Castle receives Pidge's signal and is able to orient itself such that it can escape the wormhole and recover Pidge, as well as Shiro and Keith.

At the end of the episode, Galra internal politics manifest. The failure to capture Voltron is noted, and the commander who had been tasked with doing so is dragged off to torture and "a fate worse than death." A lieutenant, Thace, is promoted to command and given charge of the investigation into leaks in Galra security as the episode concludes.

Discussion

There is little overtly medievalist about the episode, to be sure, aside from the series commonplaces of paladins and druids, already discussed at length. Some things can be read as medievalist, however; the interleaved narratives are typical of such works as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and, although far from unique to it, do serve to situate an already-medievally-associated work with its antecedents a bit more fully.

Too, something in the brightly lit world on which Shiro and Keith land calls to mind depictions of Purgatory. The two warriors do experience some trial and privation before being allowed to ascend to the heavens, and they do emerge from their experiences on the world in what seems a stronger position because they emerge more unified, with something like a fraternal or filial relationship budding between the two. And there is something of the Fisher King or of Sir Urry in Shiro's lingering injury; whether a particular paladin or other force can heal his injury remains to be seen.

In the gap between this report and its predecessor, not only has the full second season of the series emerged, but a third has begun, as well, and the comics remain available. Matters have not conduced to much work on this series or on other, similar projects that might be pursued--but that appears to be changing. It is hoped, therefore, that there will be a bit more of this kind of thing to come in the days ahead.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.1: "Dragonstone"



7.1 “Dragonstone”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Here we are, so far past the text of the books, even the sample chapters, that they’re barely making any kind of impression on the show (not that they’ve been doing that much for the last season, maybe two). While the episode as a whole actually wasn’t . . . terrible? (I know!), there are some lingering and/or repeated issues from previous seasons that continue to pull down the quality of the storytelling.

The majority of the episode is a catching-up, where-are-they-now that does some really weird stuff to the timeline. How long has it been between seasons? Arya-as-Walder says it’s been two weeks since the last feast (when she killed Walder), but Dany has managed to sail all the way from Meereen (a trip that, in the books, takes several months and in the show so far can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of minutes, depending), Euron’s built several thousand ships, Sam’s been in training for what looks like several weeks, and Jon is just now getting started on ruling. So the only solid piece of timing we have is that two-weeks remark, but the rest of everything that’s happening looks like it’s anywhere from a day to two months later (with Euron as an outlier, because frankly that should have taken years). Now, the showrunners have repeatedly said that they’re not trying for consistency in the timing because that would mean some people’s scenes would be just traveling for half a season, but now that everyone’s on the same continent, shouldn’t we maybe settle on some kind of synchronicity?

The portrayal of the women also continues to be an issue. Arya murders the entire male Frey population, which, okay, vengeance. I think the little smile she has when she leaves the hall is meant to echo Sansa’s little smile after killing Ramsay, and that’s concerning. While Arya sees it as her duty to avenge family and friends by killing everyone who’s harmed them, I don’t get the sense from the books that she enjoys killing. She enjoys the setting-up, she enjoys a plan well-executed, but not necessarily the killing itself. While I can almost work with the idea that women need to become violent in order to survive in a violent world, the idea that every woman who does so enjoys doing so is disturbing and further reinforces the celebration of toxic masculinity we’ve seen in the show so far.


Similarly, Brienne is “training” Pod, and said training consists of him swinging at her and missing and her smacking him, knocking him down, and yelling “no,” while smirking at his ineptitude. We established in season one with Alliser’s training versus Jon’s training that this is not the way to teach people to fight. So why is one of our heroes doing it that way without being called on it? Why is humiliating Pod something Brienne finds so hilariously enjoyable? Not only that, but when he takes the opportunity to actually hit her when she’s distracted by Tormund, she gets angry and punches him. This prompts Tormund to tell Pod he’s a “lucky man” because being punched is foreplay for Tormund. (We apparently narrowly escaped Tormund telling Brienne about his sexual escapades with a bear. Darn.)

Over in King’s Landing, we have Cersei, who’s never exactly been a women’s libber, detailing the armies that surround them: in Dorne, Ellaria Sand “and her brood of bitches,” in Highgarden, “Olenna, the old cunt,” in the North, Jon and “that murdering whore Sansa.” Since Cersei’s never met Daenerys personally, it’s Tyrion who gets her ire on that front. Now, this perfectly fits Cersei’s character. She’s internalized the misogyny of Westeros to the point that she doesn’t think women are fit to rule—other women. Not her. She’s not like other women, you see. So her gendered invectives against the other “women on top” are perfectly consistent with her character. However, when every other woman is also buying into the patriarchy and following the rules of toxic masculinity, it makes her not that much of an outlier, but instead just another example of how sexist this show really is.

Just in case we needed a reminder that women are useless unless they’re willing to act like men, we have Lyanna Mormont declaring that she’s not going to “sit by the fire and knit” if the White Walkers show up. Because remember that “women’s work,” regardless of its function, is ultimately useless and silly. I mean, it’s not like knitting could produce socks and sweaters that could keep the fighters warm in the coming winter. Once again, the writers overlook the fact that work coded “female” is incredibly important to the continued functioning of society.


Meanwhile, it’s not like the men are doing a great job, either. Jon’s turning out to be a terrible leader, you guys. He introduces the idea that everyone will be trained to fight—boys and girls—which Lord Glover isn’t too keen on but causes Lyanna’s above outburst. He sends Tormund and the rest of the wildlings to man Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, completely ignoring the fact that he isn’t Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch anymore and therefore doesn’t have the authority to do any such thing. He puts Alys Karstark (hey, there she is! Entirely too young and not marrying a Thenn, but she exists!) and Ned Umber in charge of their respective family homes—the two castles closest to the Wall on the eastern front. Two children, from families that betrayed the Starks and served the Boltons. He puts the two most important castles, which barely have garrisons left and will need some serious leadership to prepare for war, in the hands of two kids not more than thirteen and nine years old. Not only that, but the kids are able to swear on their swords because for some reason, family members of men who turned traitor are allowed to bring weapons into the presence of the King in the North. The security here is a joke. He also manages to get into an argument with Sansa in front of everyone because she disagrees with returning control of Karhold and Last Hearth to the families that have proven disloyal.

Later, he tells her she needs to stop undercutting him in public, but it’s clear that he didn’t discuss this decision with anyone beforehand, so when was she supposed to disagree with him? And yet she assures him that he’s doing a great job; he just needs to be smarter than Ned and Robb, who made mistakes that got them killed (kind of a harsh verdict for Ned; fair-ish for Robb).

So, let’s look at Jon’s track record as a leader:

  • As Commander of the Night’s Watch, he failed to convince them that his ideas were valid and ended up murdered
  • Failed to convince Lyanna Mormont to back him against the Boltons; Davos did that
  • Failed to convince Lord Glover to back him against the Boltons
  • Refused to listen to Sansa regarding Ramsay
  • Refused to listen to Sansa regarding needing more men and possibly approaching more of the northern lords and/or waiting for backup
  • Nearly lost the battle for Winterfell; Sansa’s Vale army saved him
  • Named King in the North because Lyanna says he should be
  • Failed to convince the men that they should train their daughters to fight; again, Lyanna does that
  • Failed to solicit or accept advice from anyone (let alone Sansa) before meeting with his lords

So, no, Sansa, he’s not a good leader. He gets one or two loyalists who end up doing the work of leading for him. Not in a delegate-y way, either, but in a “this isn’t working so I’ll step in and yell about it until y’all agree with what Jon just said” way. There is absolutely no reason, either by strength of his name or strength of his leadership skills, that Jon should be King in the North.

Another weakness this episode has is in not explaining how people have some of the information they have. Arya knows details of the Red Wedding that it doesn’t quite make sense for her to have, even with two weeks masquerading as Walder Frey. Cersei knows that Tyrion’s been named Hand of the Queen despite Varys not reporting to her anymore (and I doubt Qyburn has the same contacts in Essos that Varys did, even if he has taken over the little birds). Daenerys somehow knows that Dragonstone has been completely abandoned and she won’t have to fight for it.

There are other unexplained details, as well. Why did Stannis, who’s supposed to be a military genius to rival Tywin, leave Dragonstone completely unmanned? Since he did, why did nobody else take it, particularly the Lannisters? Jaime points out how strategically important it is in this episode and yet they’ve let it sit empty for at least six months without putting a garrison of their own in there or giving it to a loyal Lannister bannerman. No wonder they have no allies. Why are books of history locked up in the Citadel’s restricted section? Who cares if the trainees learn about the history of the Long Night and where some dragonglass is located (on Dragonstone, surprise surprise, because Stannis told Sam it was there but for some reason he didn’t remember or didn’t believe him)? Why does a completely random Lannister soldier apparently compose “Hands of Gold,” a song written (in the books) by a minstrel aware of Tyrion’s relationship with Shae and used to blackmail Tyrion (only for said minstrel to end up murdered and presumably added to the mystery meat in Flea Bottom’s cookpots)? How does Sandor Clegane manage to see anything in the fire? Can any random person in the presence of a Red Priest/ess just see fire-visions now, regardless of their level of belief in R’hllor?

One other question I had throughout was, why is everyone wearing black? (And, more specifically, what in the world is Euron Greyjoy wearing?) Black has very specific symbolism and connotations, and they’re clearly not being used consistently in this episode. Is it for mourning? Then Cersei’s black makes sense, but Dany-and-company’s doesn’t, Euron’s doesn’t, and the entire Northern contingent’s doesn’t. Is it for evil? Then again, Cersei’s and Euron’s make sense, but nobody else’s does. Is it just to show how Serious™ everything has gotten? That’s way too meta of a reason for me to accept; there needs to be an in-show reason for it, and there doesn’t seem to be. That’s not even getting into the fact that there’s an entire faction in this show known for wearing black—the Night’s Watch—that would add another layer of in-universe symbolism to it, and nobody seems to care that “taking the Black” is a thing. I could almost see clear to giving the North a pass on this, cause maybe Jon’s just so comfortable in black that he doesn’t get out of it after leaving the Night’s Watch and everyone else imitates him, but that again doesn’t explain everyone else wearing black.


Whoops, did I say this episode wasn’t terrible and then proceed to point out lots of systemic problems? I must be grading on a curve. But seriously, there were several scenes that, standing alone, were actually really good.

Sandor with the Brotherhood in the Riverlands was poignant and an example of the kind of character development I’d like to see more of. He recognizes that he was an awful person and made a mistake in his treatment of the farmer whose homestead they use as a camp. He sees that his actions have consequences and feels bad about those consequences without the narrative or other characters laughing at him about it. He even gets a stint as a gravedigger when he buries their bodies, which is a nice callout to his book role in A Feast for Crows, which they completely skipped over in the show. It’s richly ironic that he’s fallen in with a group that worships fire (and there’s a very very brief passing acknowledgement of that irony), and I’d love to see that explored in more detail. He’s finally having some character moments that don’t require him to hit things (though he does still have a mouth on him). More of this, please.

Despite its flaws (convenient knowledge-having and Cersei’s outfit), the map scene with Jaime and Cersei is generally well-done. It sets up the conflicts for the season—everyone vs the Lannisters—establishes where Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is right now, and gives Cersei a moment to explain why she’s refusing to really process Tommen’s death (it’s a selfish reason, but very believably Cersei). Sure, they’re stomping all over a painstakingly-detailed, still-in-progress painting of Westeros on the floor, but when has consideration for the labor of others ever been a Lannister trait?


But then. Here come the Ironborn, and Cersei is aware that Euron’s going to want to marry her. It’s a given for an alliance of this size. Euron, who is still a pale shadow of his book antecedent and more laughable than frightening, whines about his niece and nephew running off with the entire fleet, but he’s managed to build a new one in mumble mumble amount of time, so whatever. His alliance proposal is similar to Yara’s with Dany; he wants to rule the Iron Islands independently of the Seven Kingdoms, and in return he’ll help her take the rest of the Kingdoms. He wants to marry Cersei, of course, as was established in the last scene, but Cersei turns him down. Instead of reacting in any way sensibly, he promises her a gift to woo her and leaves to go find said gift.

Then there’s the now-notorious Ed Sheeran scene. (For the record, I hate “Shape of You.” Hate. It.) There have been other musical-artist cameos on Game of Thrones before. Not once have they ever zoomed in on said artist’s face. This whole scene felt very much like it was written for Ed Sheeran to show up, not for any good plot- or character-development reason. It doesn’t help that his appearance in the show was hyped all to heck before the season aired, so there was no chance of treating him like just another character. This was the Ed Sheeran Cameo™ and there was no disguising it as anything else. And, again, it makes zero sense for him to be singing a “new” song called “Hands of Gold.”

Speaking of unnecessary scenes, Sam’s montage of shit-soup-books was just overly. We get it; training isn’t what he expected. That scene could have been half as long with zero as many close-ups of human poop. Heck, that scene could have not existed, because the scene with Archmaester Ebrose does the work of showing that maestering isn’t all Sam expected it to be and he’s not doing the duty he feels he owes Jon (finding ways to fight the White Walkers). Also, why does he need to reshelve books that are supposed to be chained to the shelves? Also also, you know why they’re chained to the shelves and/or locked up? To keep people like Sam from running off with them, that’s why. You had one job, Citadel librarians!


Finally, there’s the Dragonstone scene. On a surface level, it’s a lovely scene: Dany’s finally home. She’s getting to walk through the keep her family held for thousands of years, the keep where she was born. She’s finally in Westeros (marginally) and about to unleash all hell on the Lannisters. But there’s some emotional stuff here they’re reaching for that I don’t feel was quite earned, and that’s partially a side-effect of everything being so external; Dany’s feelings about “home” are conflicted in the books, and we don’t get much of that in the show. When she tells Viserys she wants to go home in the first book/season, she means the house with the red door where Ser Willem Darry took care of them for a chunk of her childhood. She doesn’t remember Westeros, let alone Dragonstone. She doesn’t have the emotional connection to the place, just the sense that she needs to take it back because it’s her birthright. So this very standard homecoming scene, with the touching the ground and the walking through the keep, doesn’t quite match the emotional timbre of what’s already been set up in the show or the books. Show-Dany’s sense of “home” has always been connected to her family—Viserys, Rhaegar, Aerys—instead of a place. Not to mention that everyone keeps stopping to let her explore rooms so there’s this weird stop-start-stop-start that makes sense the first time (let Dany go first and experience this alone) but after that just gets distracting.


It’s definitely not the worst season premiere Game of Thrones has ever had, and it starts us off with a definite sense of building momentum that will hopefully catapult us through the next two seasons. Also, no nudity!

RIP: House Frey

Next week: Nymeria! Hot Pie! Sand Snake snark! More random character-culling!

images from winteriscoming.net

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Voting Is Ended

The recent vote to amend the Society constitution noted earlier has ended.

Fourteen responses are recorded, all members, of whom three are current officers. Per section 7.1 of the Society constitution, a quorum for the vote was therefore achieved.

All fourteen votes were in favor of amendment. The Society constitution is thereby amended.

Thank you for your participation, those who voted. We look forward to seeing you at Kalamazoo, if not before!