Monday, September 25, 2017

Martin Re-read: "Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark"

Read the next entry in this series here.

You didn't think just because Game of Thrones is over (for now) that you'd get rid of me, did you? Nope! George R.R. Martin has done a lot besides A Song of Ice and Fire, and I plan to go through the short stories in Dreamsongs volumes 1 and 2 with a fine-toothed comb.

The stories in Dreamsongs span Martin's career, from his earliest work writing for fanzines in the 1960s to just-pre-ASOIAF in the late 1980s. I can't promise that I'm going to discuss every short story (fantasy is more my jam than sci-fi, for example, and Tales After Tolkien is primarily a fantasy outlet), but I plan to do most of them.

By the time I'm done with that, maybe the show will be back on. And maybe I'll have to move on to his earlier novels, like The Armageddon Rag or Fevre Dream. DARN.

There's no reason to delay; let's get right to it!

“Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark”
Star Studded Comics #10, 1967

“Only Kids” is one of Martin’s earliest stories, and the earliest one we have available in Dreamsongs. In the commentary preceding the story itself, he invites the reader to “have a look at [his] apprentice work, if you dare,” and indeed, for a modern reader this can be quite jarring. The prose is very pulp-y (appropriately enough) and shows clear influences from comics, Howard, Lovecraft, and even Christian mythology.

In “Only Kids,” a demon rises from an accidental sacrifice born of greed and proceeds to take over the world for a short time, stopped only by Doctor Weird, a spectral hero. The morality is very black-and-white, which can be startling for readers only/mostly familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire. The demon is a literal demon—its name is Saagael—that wants to subjugate the entire human race to its will (and succeeds, albeit briefly). Doctor Weird, also (in grand comic book form) given the appellations the Astral Avenger, the Super Spirit, and the Golden Ghost, is an avenging angel standing between Saagael and the world. The fight between them is a battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil, and of course Doctor Weird wins, though it’s a tough fight.

Even leaving aside literal demons and something resembling an angel, the story has two types of people—evil and innocent. The first two people introduced, who start the whole thing, are Jasper and Willie, who are fleeing from vague “natives” from whom they’ve stolen “sacred rubies.” They take shelter in the ancient temple (like idiots), Willie falls asleep on the altar (like an idiot), and then Jasper gets greedy and murders Willie on the altar, which is all Saagael needed to bust out of his dark realm. When Saagael begins his reign, people from all over the world—“the hard ones, the brutal ones, the cruel ones, those who had long waited the coming of one like the Demon Prince and welcomed him now”—descend on the temple to worship him, ultimately bringing in a sacrifice (the one innocent human in all this) to entice him to return to the temple. We have two named evil/idiot characters, a horde of unnamed evil characters, and a single innocent (also unnamed) girl.

Doctor Weird attempts to stop Saagael as soon as he manifests, but the demon is too strong for him—and has power over the spirit, so he can manipulate Doctor Weird’s energies to defeat him—but human sacrifice is a bridge too far for Doctor Weird, so he fights again despite his handicap. Interestingly, Doctor Weird doesn’t overpower Saagael; he finds a loophole, using Jasper’s body (made up to look like Doctor Weird) to absorb Saagael’s attacks. Then, when it looks like Saagael hasn’t made a dent on Doctor Weird, he scares the demon off with a threat. He’s made himself look far more powerful than he actually is so he doesn’t have to actually fight.

Although the morality of the story is far more black-and-white than we see in later works, Martin’s penchant for mixing his genres is clear here. He’s often said that his father lumped science fiction, fantasy, and horror together as “the weird stuff,” and as is clear from this earliest offering we’re presented, he’s never respected the genre boundaries. (Genre boundaries are crap, anyway, but that’s a rant for another time.) This blends high superhero fantasy with dark horror of the Lovecraftian variety (hence my comparison to Howard, too, who had a tendency to do things like that). The dark parts are very very dark—oppressive, even—with a tendency toward purple prose in the descriptions:

Darkness. Everywhere there was darkness. Grim, foreboding, omnipresent; it hung over the plain like a great stifling mantle. No moonlight sifted down; no stars shone from above; only night, sinister and eternal, and the swirling, choking gray mists that shifted and stirred with every movement. Something screeched in the distance, but its form could not be seen. The mists and shadows cloaked all.

Doctor Weird, on the other hand, is the light in the darkness. He stands against Saagael, and the word choices in his sections focus on various intensities of light. When he tricks Saagael, he takes the demon’s power-bolts to the chest with his hands on his hips. Doctor Weird wins because he’s the hero, more than anything else; the victory is convenient more than earned, but that’s comic books and pulp fiction for you.

The dialogue is supremely comic-booky, as well, overwrought and overwritten. If it were adapted for the screen, it would require scenery-chewing actors of the highest caliber.

“Rash moral, you presume to challenge forces you cannot begin to comprehend! Yet, I shall fulfill [sic] your request—I shall reveal myself! [. . .] You shall soon rue your foolhardy words!”

“You were born of darkness and death and blood, Saagael. You stand for all that is evil and foul-made-flesh. But I was created by the Will of Powers that dwarf you, that could destroy you with but a mere thought. I stand in defiance of you, those like you, and the vermin who serve you!”

Now, in all fairness to Martin, he didn’t create Doctor Weird; the “Texas Trio” who ran Star Studded Comics did, and Martin is just playing in their world with their characters (which, considering his current hatred of fan-fiction, is interesting).

So, early work, at least this example of it, shows the seeds of what Martin’s work would later grow into, though this particular story was a bit hard for me to get through, mostly due to the prose.

Next week: The roots of Martin’s love of historical fiction.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.7: "The Dragon and the Wolf"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series when we return!

7.7 “The Dragon and the Wolf”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Warning: extreme amounts of snark ahead. Also lots of gifs. And nit-picking. Also a couple of book-only spoilers. You have been warned.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.6: "Beyond the Wall"

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

7.6 “Beyond the Wall”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor

I think no other episode yet this season makes it quite as obvious that Benioff & Weiss are working entirely on plot points and not on a fully developed world anymore. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where; I read a lot) that the show is no longer character-driven or even really plot-driven, but plot-point driven. That the first 4 seasons or so were clearly developed from books, while seasons 5-7 were obviously developed from notes. We’ve lost any sense of continuous and consistent characterization or character development; instead, plot points need to happen so characters do stuff to make them happen regardless of how dumb their actions are. Everything happens in service of big “shock” moments and set pieces, not because it makes any logical sense.

Nothing that happens in this episode makes any logical sense, but they wanted the Night King to end up with a dragon, so they had to create this ridiculous mess to get Daenerys and her dragons north so that could happen. And yet, they completely ignored so many possibilities that could have made that happen (or at least made what did happen more believable). Remember how I said I wasn’t going to talk about distance and geography anymore? This episode breaks physics so hard there really isn’t any way not to talk about it.

The men are clearly walking for a long time. The walking is intercut with them talking to each other, getting acquainted or reacquainted, airing old grievances, etc. Clearly this is supposed to show them bonding so when they help each other and risk their lives for each other in the battle to come, it’s coming from a place that makes something resembling sense. Unfortunately, it also lengthens the amount of time they spend walking, which makes the rest of the timing of the episode not work.

Jon, Gendry, and Tormund discuss the cold. Tormund finally feels free, like he can breathe again: “Down South the air smells like pig shit.” Jon reminds Tormund he’s never been south, that Winterfell is still the north, and Tormund pfffts that away. Gendry asks how you keep from “freezing your balls off” and Tormund says to keep moving—“Walking’s good, fighting’s better, fucking’s best.” Jon points out there are no women up here (how very heteronormative of you, Jon), and Tormund gives Gendry a pointed look and says they have to make do with what they have (how very rapey of you, Tormund).

Tormund wants to know about Dany, and Jon tells him she’ll only help if he swears fealty. Tormund thinks Jon should do it because Mance not kneeling really screwed over the Free Folk and I just . . . what?

 Thoros asks Gendry (who’s run away from Tormund to another cluster) whether he’s still mad at them and Gendry yells about them selling him to Melisandre like a slave. (Not quite, but whatever. The show really has issues with how serious slavery really is.) He tells them that she stripped him naked and tied him to a bed, which Sandor thinks isn’t all that bad, especially if she was naked, too, because men can’t be raped and sexual assault against men is hilarious. Gendry yells that then she put leeches on him, and Thoros shrugs and says she needed his blood, and Gendry is like thanks for that, captain obvious! Sandor tells him to quit whining and they keep walking.

Jon and Jorah pause to have a talk about Jeor. They discuss how honor doesn’t save you in the end, and how Ned wanted to kill Jorah for slaving. Jon’s glad he didn’t (because slavery, no big deal, whatever, pffft) and tries to give Jorah Longclaw back because it’s not like they’re headed into zombie territory and Valyrian steel has proven effective against the zombie overlords. And Jon’s the only one who’s fought them. Jorah refuses, and Jon puts his damn sword back on.

Tormund tries to bond with Sandor, who tells him to fuck off. When he doesn’t, but keeps trying to talk to him, Sandor asks if Tormund’s trying to get in Sandor’s pants, introducing Tormund to “dick” as slang, which apparently he never knew before. Tormund assures him he’s not gay and even has a woman waiting for him, who Sandor recognizes from her description and leads to this gold nugget of dialogue: “I’ve seen the way she looks at me.” “Like she wants to carve you up and eat your liver?” “You do know her!” Tormund wants to have Brienne’s babies and conquer the world, and Sandor thinks he’s completely insane.

Beric notes that Jon doesn’t look a lot like Ned and must take after his mother (which makes no actual sense because they were both Starks, though of course Beric doesn’t know that). They talk about Ned some more and how R’hllor was responsible for bringing them both back from death so they must have some purpose. Jon reflects on part of the Night’s Watch vow—“I am the shield that guards the realms of men”—though I would argue he forsook those vows and doesn’t get to invoke them anymore.

Then they come upon a pointy mountain that Sandor recognizes as the one from his vision so they head toward it. A storm blows up, reducing visibility to nothing, but one of the redshirts wildlings moves out way ahead of everyone else. This is clearly a dumb idea and a minute later a zombie polar bear charges out of the snow to show why it’s a dumb idea. (Somehow Gendry can see through all this snow that a) it’s a bear; and b) it has blue eyes, but that’s the least egregious stupidity that happens in this episode.) The bear kills the unnamed wildling scout, then mauls Thoros while Sandor watches, unable to do anything because Beric set the bear on fire with his sword. Jorah puts a dragonglass dagger in the bear’s head and they pull Thoros out from under him, then Beric cauterizes the wounds with his flamey sword. Since the bear came from that way, the dead are obviously that way, so the troop troops that way.

More bonding! Jorah and Thoros talk about the battle of Pyke during Balon’s Rebellion, and then the whole group manages to sneak up on a random group of wights led by a Walker. The group ambushes the wights, and Jon manages to kill the Walker, which makes all but one of the wights collapse (how convenient). They tie it up and it makes a horrifying shrieking noise that’s echoed from the distance. Uh-oh. Jon tells Gendry to run back to the Wall and send a raven to Dany for help, and this is where everything gets extra stupid. Jon says Gendry’s the fastest—how does he know that? They haven’t done any running yet and Gendry’s a blacksmith, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to speed. Also, he’s never been in the north before. Also also, they’ve been walking for at least a day, and he’s supposed to make it back to the Wall before everyone’s completely overwhelmed by the army of the dead?

The army comes out of the ravine, and the only thing that saves our heroes is that they’re on a lake. The ice breaks under the weight of all the dead, and apparently they can’t swim, so the men find shelter on a rocky island in the middle of the lake.

Maybe an hour later, Gendry makes it to within sight of the Wall.

Night falls and the men’s watch begins as they wait for rescue or for the ice to refreeze and the dead to come get them all. Gendry makes it to the Wall and falls over right at the gate; he’s awake enough to tell Davos they need to send a raven when the men come out and get him.

Sometime during the night Thoros dies; Sandor remarks that dying in your sleep is one of the best ways to go and steals his flask. So much for the character development we got earlier in the season; he’s not the least little bit guilty that his pyrophobia stopped him from helping Thoros? And now he’s dead? I don’t like this Sandor.

They try to figure out why all the wights fell down when the Walker died and theorize that it’s because he made those particular wights. Jorah suggests going after the Walkers, who are up on a hill watching the men slowly freeze to death, but Jon says it’s more important to get this one wight back to King’s Landing. He says there’s a raven headed for Dragonstone and Dany’s there only chance, to which Beric replies—I shit you not—“No. There is another.”

I can’t even with this show anymore.

Beric also wants to take out the Night King and says he and Jon were brought back for a reason and this is probably it. Sandor’s not convinced. Commence hard staring between the Walkers and the living.

Up at Dragonstone, Dany’s spent the last few days arguing with Tyrion. She complains that men keep haring off on grand heroic adventures and abandoning her—Drogo, Daario, Jorah, Jon. Tyrion points out that all those men were in love with her and Dany pfts the idea that Jon’s in love with her. Tyrion assures her he totally is because there’s so little chemistry between the actors that we need other characters to tell us how in love they are (see also Davos remarking on Jon’s tendency to stare at Dany’s boobs, a tendency I sure never noticed). Dany changes the subject to Cersei and the meeting, asking what Tyrion’s planning because apparently they haven’t been talking about it. Tyrion makes a last-ditch effort to get Dany back under his control but it’s so heavy-handed it backfires; he says she can’t act just like Aegon or the Lannisters if she wants to Break the Wheel, and that he’s promised to keep her on a short leash because she has a tendency to lose her temper. He wants to know who she plans to name her heir and she doesn’t want to talk about it. So when the raven comes and Tyrion tells her going to help is a very bad idea, she tells him to shut his damn mouth, mounts Drogon, and flies off with all three dragons. (Wearing a coat that makes her look like she’s cosplaying a White Walker. Apparently she's not worried about her ears freezing, though.)

Meanwhile, Sandor gets tired of waiting and starts throwing rocks at the wights. Unfortunately, when he misses, it reveals that the lake has refrozen and the army moves in. There’s complete chaos during which Jorah saves Jon, Jon saves the captured wight, and another nameless wildling is killed. Jon starts yelling “fall back” (to where, Jon? You’re surrounded!), Sandor saves Tormund, another wildling dies, and Jon looks over the incoming army and realizes that he is completely screwed. Again.

Then—dragons! Fire! Dany and Jon eye contact! Drogon lands and the men start piling aboard while Jon smacks wights away. Jon’s the last one on the ground and Jorah’s yelling at him to get in the damn car when the Night King picks up a spear and aims it—not at Drogon, who’s on the ground and has all his current enemies on his back—but at Viserion. He scores a direct hit and Viserion goes down bleeding fire and screaming, crashing through the ice and sinking. Dany stares with almost no expression (now would be a perfectly understandable time to lose control), and Jon yells at them to get going while he keeps swatting wights. The Night King grabs another spear and Jon turns to run back to the dragon but gets overwhelmed and goes in the water. Drogon takes off, dodging the second spear, and they fly away.

Luckily for Jon, Longclaw fell on the ice next to the hole, so he manages to haul himself out of the water using the quillions as an ice pick and then manages to not immediately die of hypothermia. Instead, Coldhands Benjen comes riding out of nowhere, heaves Jon up on his horse, and stays behind to die while the horse takes Jon to the Wall.

There’s been a lot of talk all over the place about the logistics, distance, and time in this episode, so I’ll hold off except to say that it might not have been quite so egregious if they hadn’t started the episode with a pan-over of the Dragonstone map table from Dragonstone to Beyond the Wall before dissolving into the northern landscape. They showed us just how far that is before breaking all the laws of physics.

At the Wall, Dany waits for Jon while Drogon and Rhaegal circle overhead, crying. Right as Dany gives up on Jon, he comes trotting out of the trees. They get him, bundle him onto the boat, cut his frozen clothes off of him, and I guess give him some kind of medical treatment besides throwing a blanket over him (at least I hope they do). Dany watches and sees all his wounds, which haven’t healed so much as they aren’t bleeding anymore (I have questions about just how alive Jon is right now). When Jon wakes up, Dany’s sitting right next to him, and his first words are a heartfelt apology for the loss of Viserion. This is when Dany finally breaks down crying (or almost-crying), and while I’ve seen some criticism that she has more reaction to Jon being awake than to Viserion dying, I can see the argument that Jon waking up was just the last huge emotion that broke the dam she’d been hiding everything behind. It’s not that she’s happier to see Jon alive than she was sad to see Viserion die, but that losing Viserion was huge and a shock and it took her a little while to come to an actual reaction. Grief does weird things to people and I’ll give actress and director a pass on this one.

Dany tells him that not only are the dragons her children, they’re the only children she’ll ever have. She says she’s going to fight with him, and Jon calls her Dany, only for her to say maybe don’t call her that since the last person to do so was Viserys, who was an abusive monster. He asks what if he calls her “my queen” instead and promises the North will understand. So they both get what they want, exchange actual longing looks and several hand-squeezes, and then she leaves him to his rest.

Back up north, the wights have learned how to swim and gotten several massive chains from somewhere, and they haul Viserion out of the water so the Night King can turn him into a zombie dragon. Dun dun!

Believe it or not, stuff was happening between all the walking and talking and fighting and dying! In Winterfell, the sister-intrigue has reached some seriously idiotic heights. Arya accuses Sansa of betraying Ned to the Lannisters because of the letter, rejecting her argument that she was just a child, surrounded by adults that told her this was what was necessary. Sansa says it wasn’t like Arya stopped Ned’s execution, either, but Arya says Sansa actively betrayed the whole family. Sansa says that Arya has no idea what she’s been through and what she did to save Winterfell; Arya also rejects that whole argument. Arya thinks that the lords—especially Lyanna—might turn on Sansa if they find out about this and proceeds to hold it over Sansa’s head.

Sansa talks to Petyr about it (who doesn’t admit his role in getting the scroll to Arya in the first place, of course), and he says that if Arya does try anything, Brienne will obviously have to protect Sansa. So Sansa sends Brienne away, naming her her emissary for the big meeting that’s supposed to happen in King’s Landing. Then she goes to search Arya’s room and things get really weird. Sansa finds Arya’s bag of faces (including Walder Frey’s), and Arya confronts her. Arya tries to get Sansa to play the Game of Faces, which Sansa obviously does not want to do, and talks about how the faces are how she gets to be anyone she wants. She could even be Sansa, she says, if she just murdered her and cut her face off. Then she hands Sansa the dagger and leaves.

Now, obviously the writers are setting up a big twist and obviously it involves Petyr. The difficulty is how much does each of the women know and when do they know it. Is Arya lying her face off in this scene and trying to clue Sansa in to that by talking about the Game of Faces? Is she honestly threatening Sansa? It’s pretty clear Sansa is honestly freaked out. If Arya is trying to counter-intrigue Petyr, how does this help?

I also have serious problems with the gendered attacks Arya keeps using because it’s yet more of that whole girl-stuff-is-bad bull the show keeps spouting. We’re shown/told that Sansa’s doing a good job of leading until Arya decides that she’s trying to replace Jon and then somehow planning for the future becomes a bad thing? Also, the digs against pretty and ladylike things are constant; Arya is snide about knitting, pretty handwriting, pretty dresses, pretty hairstyles, even being Lady of Winterfell. All of this, combined with how the show constantly tells us that women who don’t/can’t resort to physical violence are weak and deserve whatever happens to them, oh and also sewing and knitting and parties and poetry are stupid and useless, creates an attempt to align viewer sympathies with Arya—who just threatened to murder her sister and wear her face. The show cannot give us a healthy relationship between women—there’s nearly always some sort of catty and/or manipulative behavior happening—and this is just the latest example in a long line of them. The fact that it’s between the Stark sisters, who in the books spend time thinking about where each other might be and appreciating each other after they’re separated—is just . . . mean.

Next week: I completely run out of evens with this whole show.

Benjen Stark (for real this time)
White Walker #4
Wildling scouts

Monday, September 4, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.5: "Eastwatch"

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

7.5 “Eastwatch”
Written by Dave Hill
Directed by Matt Shakman

This episode is full of Very Bad Leadering (why are we supposed to want either Dany or Jon to rule anything again?), Very Bad Ideas, and Why Is This Even Here? So, you know, the show.

After the supply train battle (Battle of the Blackwater II: Electric Boogaloo? No?), Tyrion walks through the ashes and burnt bodies and seems to be reconsidering his allegiances, which, what did you think, Tyrion? That Dany would just threaten with the dragons but never unleash them? That’s not what you do when you have nukes weapons of mass destruction dragons. The Dothraki herd the surviving Lannister/Tarly forces before Dany and Drogon, and Dany gives her whole Destroy the Wheel speech, which I still don’t understand (what does she want? Anarchy? Communism? Occupy Wall Street?). She tells them she’s not like Cersei and she’s not here to murder their children and burn down their homes, but they can either kneel or die. A few immediately drop to their knees, and Drogon’s roar drives most of the rest of them down. Randyll and Dickon are still standing, so Dany calls them forward. There’s a whole discussion about loyalty (and how obviously fluid Randyll’s is, considering) and Randyll gets all racist and nationalist about how at least Cersei was born and raised in Westeros (I mean, if you have to choose between queens who are going to burn shit, at least pick the one who shares your Westerosi values, amirite?). Dany sees he isn’t going to budge and, despite Tyrion’s desperate attempts to talk her out of it, has Randyll and Dickon (who also won’t bend the knee) burned alive by Drogon.

So, Dany’s gone full Targaryen, and it’s somehow a shock to Tyrion. I guess because he wasn’t there for her feeding Meereenese nobles to her dragons, so all her burn kill murder talk has been just talk as far as he’s concerned, talk he’s always managed to convince her out of. Back at Dragonstone, he gets drunk and talks to Varys about how horrible it was, but his focus seems to be mostly on how he wasn’t able to talk her out of making the decision, not that she did something horrible that could be construed as a war crime. He says he’s her “hand, not her head” and that he can’t make decisions for her, and Varys says he used to say that all the time while watching Aerys murder people. Tyrion says Dany isn’t Aerys, and Varys says that with the right council, she’ll never become him. So, where did the Varys who would tell Dany to her face that she’s being awful go? And we’re just saying out loud that Tyrion and Varys are manipulating Dany? We’re not even pretending anymore?

The issue I (continue to) have is that the show’s portrayal of Daenerys is so far from the book portrayal that they’re not even the same person anymore. Book!Dany wants to be a good, kind leader. Does she occasionally make decisions that hint at the darker side of the Targaryen nature (crucifying 163 Meereenese lords, allowing the torture of young girls in front of their father to elicit a confession)? Sure. Does she constantly have to be reined back from nuking Westeros from orbit? No. She wants to be a good queen. She wants to be the ruler Rhaegar would have been if he’d survived. She has Barristan there to tell her stories about Aerys and Rhaegar to remind her who she could be and who she strives to be. Oh, right, the show killed Barristan for no good reason except to make Tyrion Dany’s sole advisor! Show!Dany is all fire and blood and is completely incapable of listening to more than one person at once, considering her options, and making her own decisions, at least past about season 4. Instead, she does whatever the last person to talk to her tells her to do, which since she left Meereen has been Tyrion. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tyrion’s been trying very hard to make her a good ruler, but then Olenna told her to “be a dragon” and that piece of advice stuck with her (probably because it goes along with her natural Targaryen inclinations anyway), so she hasn’t been listening to Tyrion as much. On the other hand, the fact that the show has made Dany into a stereotypical irrational woman who needs to be controlled by a man (and when she’s not, or refuses to listen to said man, she burns people alive) is really infuriating. For all the show’s meta-talk about “women on top” and “powerful women,” their women leaders sure are awful people (except for Sansa, but that has its own problems that we’ll get to in a minute).

Jon watches Dany fly in on Drogon and we get another Jon-Is-A-Targaryen moment where Jon pets the big scary toothy monster. Of course, they let Tyrion get close to the dragons last season, so the association of dragons with Targaryens has already been diluted (unless they’re going in that stupid Tyrion-is-a-Targaryen direction next season). Then again, I honestly don’t think the writers remember what happened from one season to the next, so whatever. Dany watches from Drogon’s back and seems surprised and interested in Jon’s and Drogon’s reactions to each other (it’s hard to tell because once again Emilia isn’t doing much with her face). She dismounts, Drogon flies off, and she and Jon discuss the battle and the necessity of being powerful in order to protect your people. She equates Jon killing lots of people in the battle for Winterfell with her burning an entire army alive and then executing two men via dragonfire, which is kind of a false equivalence. That’s when Ser Can’t Take No For An Answer shows up and is accepted back into Dany’s service as though he never betrayed her to the people who were trying to kill her.

While Dany was gone, a raven came for Jon telling him that Arya and Bran are back in Winterfell and Bran had a warg-vision of the Night King marching south (which everyone already knew was happening, so thanks, Bran the Omniscient). This is where the stupidest plan to date is hatched: a bunch of people will go North of the Wall, kidnap a wight, and bring it south to prove to everyone what they’re facing. Jorah volunteers, for some reason, and Jon declares he’s going, too. Dany has an expression and tries to order Jon not to go, which doesn’t work because she’s not the queen of him, so she’s forced to “allow” it.

Before they can go, though, they have to make sure they won’t be murdered as soon as they approach King’s Landing. Tyrion and Davos plan to make a run to King’s Landing to talk to Jaime so he can talk to Cersei. At some point off screen, Tyrion makes contact with Bronn (who hauled Jaime out of the incredibly deep water like it was nothing, so they're both fine), who brings Jaime down into the dragon skull dungeon to meet with Tyrion. They yell at each other a bit, with Tyrion still pathologically incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, but manages to convince Jaime. Meanwhile, Davos goes to Flea Bottom and finds Gendry right back where he started, making weapons and armor in the Street of Steel. Davos makes a joke about Gendry still rowing, and no, I’m sorry, Dave Hill/Benioff & Weiss, you don’t get to borrow fan-made memes and frustration about a character just disappearing for several seasons and joke about it in-universe. Gendry’s totally ready to blow this popsicle stand and go anywhere with Davos, and he even made a warhammer with the Baratheon sigil on it because that’s not going to get you discovered and murdered in Cersei Lannister’s Westeros.

Davos and Gendry head back to the boat and Davos manages to pay off a couple of Gold Cloaks (hi again, Kevin Eldon!) for thirty gold dragons (do the writers have any idea how much money that actually is? Or that Westeros has more currency than gold?) and a bite of fermented crab (eeeew). But when Tyrion shows up, no amount of bribe is going to work and Gendry’s forced to cave their heads in with the hammer. Back at Dragonstone, Gendry volunteers for wight duty and Davos is exasperated that nobody’s listening to him about how dangerous and stupid this is.

Jaime takes Tyrion’s proposal to Cersei, who of course already knew about it because Qyburn’s got Varys’ little birds (we see Qyburn muttering at her a couple of times this episode but I wish we saw more kids just lurking in the background of places). Cersei asks if he’s going to punish Bronn for setting up the meeting, then tells Jaime they have to be smart and protect their family because she’s pregnant and . . . um. . . .

You’ll be queen, for a time. Until comes another, younger and more beautiful to cast you down and take all you hold dear. [. . .] The king will have twenty children. You will have three. Gold will be their crowns, gold their shrouds. (Maggy, 5.1 “The Wars to Come”)

I mean, the show left out the whole valonquar part of the prophecy, but this was the prophecy. So either Cersei’s lying, or the showrunners decided the prophecy doesn’t matter anymore because Cersei blew up the Sept and rid herself of the “younger and more beautiful” queen (assuming you believe the queen of the prophecy is Margaery and not Daenerys).

Over in Oldtown, Sam’s having a massive crisis of conscience over the efficacy and priorities of the Citadel. Bran sent the warning about the Night King to them, too, and they of course don’t believe it. (They also haven’t told him that his father and brother were killed, which would make him the heir to Horn Hill if he hadn’t taken the black, but since they had him steal the family sword, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being lord of Horn Hill by the end of the series.) That evening (ish, again, the timing is all weird), Sam’s doing his homework while Gilly (who continues to be an adorable ray of sunshine in this dark show) flips through the journal of a long-dead High Septon and discovers that he issued an annulment and immediate remarriage to someone named “Prince Ragger.” Sam skips right over this bit of super important information (which you can’t really blame him for; he doesn’t know any of the drama surrounding Jon’s parentage) and yells at Gilly about how useless the maesters are. She gives him a verbal pat on the head, and then he goes and raids the restricted section of the library and they leave Oldtown entirely.

So, what exactly did Sam going down there accomplish? He healed Jorah—okay. He discovered the mountain of dragonglass under Dragonstone, oh wait no, he already knew about that. He completely ignored a massive piece of the Jon Snow puzzle. And then he left, having apparently failed to learn anything about the Long Night or how to completely destroy the Night King or recruit the maesters to help. It feels like Benioff & Weiss sent him down there because Martin sent him down there, then didn’t know what to do with him once he was there (we didn’t even get the reveal from the end of A Feast for Crows that the maesters are the ones who destroyed the dragons the first time around and they work to keep magic out of the world), so they had him take care of a couple of other people’s storylines and then come back.

Speaking of not knowing what to do with characters who aren’t Jon Snow or Daenerys, there’s a stupid amount of intrigue and cattiness going on at Winterfell because nobody knows what to do with Sansa and Arya. Arya has, for some reason, decided that Sansa’s working to overthrow Jon and set herself up as Queen in the North, despite Sansa smacking down even the rumble of that idea when the northern lords bring it up. She’s also mad at Sansa for taking Ned and Cat’s chamber, claiming that Sansa always liked nice things because they made her feel better than everyone else. She claims Sansa’s thinking about the possibility that Jon won’t come back and she’ll get to be Queen, which considering that Sansa apparently hasn’t heard from Jon since he left is a reasonable thing to be thinking about, not as evil as Arya’s making it out to be.

Arya then spends some time stalking Petyr, who leads her to Sansa’s season-one letter to Robb asking him to swear fealty to Joffrey. Dun dun duuuuuuun.

The end of the episode finally explains why it has the title it does as Jon, Davos, Jorah, and Gendry get to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Tormund is deeply unhappy with the whole plan (and that Brienne didn’t come along), but tells them they’re not the only stupid ones and takes them to the cells, where he’s got Beric, Thoros, and Sandor locked up. Gendry doesn’t want to trust them, but Jon says they’re all on the side of the living. So seven named characters and a handful of wildling redshirts head north on the stupidest mission to date. This is a worse idea than Craster’s Keep and Hardhome combined. Let’s see how it plays out.

Next week: I told you this idea was stupid. Arya gets incredibly creepy. Dragons and ravens can fly at supersonic speeds.

Randyll Tarly
Rickon Tarly
Unnamed Gold Cloaks