Monday, January 30, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.4: "Oathkeeper"



4.4 “Oathkeeper”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Michelle McLaren
Commentary by Michelle McLaren and Robb McLachlan (DP)

There’s a lot going on in this episode exploring how women rule or otherwise wield power, and not a bit of it isn’t somehow disturbing. There’s a tendency in this show to skim over the politics (which, for a show called Game of Thrones that’s ostensibly supposed to be all about the politics is kinda irritating) and boil everything down to archetype, stereotype, and otherwise lowest common denominator, and that’s especially evident in the way the show treats women. And I’m not just talking about the rape; the way women are written is just awful. The only ways women can obtain and maintain power are through sex and violence, and the show is really schizophrenic about whether it condones this behavior or not.

Daenerys, her army having convinced the slaves of Meereen to rebel and overthrow their masters, passes judgment on those masters by taking an eye-for-an-eye approach: she has 168 of them nailed up (alive) along the streets of the city, each pointing to the next as they did the slave children along the road to Meereen. Barristan tries to talk her out of it; after all, this is the kind of thing he saw while serving Aerys. Dany says something about answering injustice with justice, and Barristan clearly isn’t convinced. Now, while this incident did happen in the books, the context is vastly different, mostly because of how watered-down the politics are in the show. Daenerys is constantly trying to balance diplomacy with her sense of justice, and there are far more people vying for her attention and loyalty in the books than in the show. She also constantly second-guesses herself and has to struggle to make decisions; the show has her making snap decisions that are almost always violent ones. Late in A Storm of Swords she realizes that conquering is not the same as ruling and she’s been acting “more khal than queen” and needs to completely change her approach (Ch. 71, Daenerys VI). The show loses most of that balancing act, roughly three-quarters of the people who need things from her, and several advisors, along with adding several violent incidents that either don’t happen in the books or occur in an entirely different context.


In King’s Landing, Cersei’s freezing out Jaime. Now, this could be the emotional fallout I was talking about last week, but it could also be Jaime’s refusal to murder Tyrion for her. Graves said that the reason Cersei ultimately capitulated to having sex with Jaime was to try to manipulate him into killing Tyrion. That’s gross on a whole other level from the whole “accidental rape” thing, but also didn’t come across in the scene. Cersei totally uses sex as a weapon, but amazingly enough that got toned way down for the show, probably partially because, except for Lancel, all the guys she manipulated through sex were dropped—the Kettleblacks are nowhere to be seen, for example. So when it comes to sexual manipulation, so far Cersei’s been all talk. That means there’s no precedent for her actually using sex to manipulate Jaime, and the link between “kill Tyrion” and “okay fine let’s have sex” is nonexistent in that scene. Which means that the reason for the freezing-out is really unclear.


Meanwhile, Olenna is giving Margaery lessons in sexual manipulation. She admits to having done it herself back in her heyday, breaking up her sister’s relationship with Luthor by “accidentally” seducing him the night before he was to propose to Viola. She advises Margaery to do something similar to the very young Tommen. Tommen’s age is a whole other issue on its own; in the books, he starts out at seven and starts ruling at nine. They aged up most of the kids by about 2-3 years for the show, which still makes him nine in season one, and maybe 12 by the time he takes the throne. Obviously Dean-Charles Chapman is older than twelve, so maybe we could see fourteen, but not much older than fifteen if they want to keep the continuity they set up with ages in season one (that’s a big if). Margaery in the books is roughly sixteen when she marries Renly, which puts her at around seventeen when she marries Tommen. Her age isn’t established in the show, but Natalie Dormer is in her mid-thirties, and Margaery is probably meant to be in her mid-twenties.


The upshot of all of this is that Margaery seducing Tommen is super gross. Having already established that Tyrion won’t have sex with a fourteen-year-old girl because she’s a child, to then gleefully send Margaery out to use her wiles on Tommen without any discussion of the age difference is also super gross. And considering that when Margaery sneaks into Tommen’s bedroom to start the bonding process he clearly has no idea what sex even is, it all smacks of pedophilic grooming. Sure, it’s hard to believe that Margaery wouldn’t consummate the marriage if Tommen’s technically old enough, but they could have avoided the whole problem by not aging Tommen up as far as they apparently did and having Margaery manipulate him the way she did in the books—with kittens and assertions that as king, he has power that Cersei’s keeping away from him.


Not to mention that Olenna’s whole story undermines her as a deft political mind and turns her into someone who ultimately got where she is by using sexual manipulation—just like Cersei, who we’re not supposed to like for that exact reason. So, pick one, show. Is sexual manipulation smart, or bad, or does it depend on who’s doing it and how open they are about it? Because it seems like Cersei’s only mistake was saying out loud that tears and a vagina are a woman’s best weapons.

And then after all of this “sex gives women power” bullcrap, we get Craster’s Keep, where rape is just background noise to the actual action that’s happening in the scene. Karl has apparently taken a page from the Over-the-Top Villain Handbook™ and is drinking from Mormont’s skull and encouraging his men to “fuck [the women] til they’re dead.” Classy. He also plans to keep Craster’s deal with the White Walkers going once the women explain to him what it is, and has Rast take a newborn baby out into the woods.


This is how Bran finds Craster’s Keep; they hear the baby crying and go to investigate, then get themselves all captured, which of course means that Meera has to be threatened with rape, because that’s what happens in this show (and how you know the Bad Guys are Bad Guys except when they’re Good Guys with Tortured Pasts). It doesn’t take much of this treatment for Bran to up and tell Karl exactly who they are, and of course Karl immediately links him with Jon. My question about all of this has been—how in the world do people like Craster and Karl know all about Jon’s family? Mance, sure, he was a member of the Night’s Watch and snuck south of the Wall on at least one occasion. But who would tell Craster about the Stark family? When would anyone talk to Karl about Jon’s little half-brother (or cousin, considering his true parentage)? I’m not saying it’s 100% unbelievable that they’d know these things, but I’d love to see how they know them besides Plot Convenience.

Also appearing in this episode:
Everyone likes Jon more than Alliser and Alliser is Super Threatened by him, so he says sure, go kill the mutineers with way more volunteers than I thought you’d actually get, whoops. But also with Locke, who the Boltons sent up to get rid of Bran (priority one) and Jon (priority two).

Jaime sends Brienne out after Sansa and Arya with his Valyrian steel sword, a set of black enameled armor, and Pod. She names the sword Oathkeeper and they exchange looks, then she leaves. Which makes me wonder what they’re trying to do with this relationship. Obviously they love each other (whether that’s romantic or not isn’t relevant), but are they seriously trying to back Jaime’s development back up to the man he was becoming out in the Riverlands—you know, before he raped his sister? Are we supposed to be “shipping” this? Because no, sorry, I don’t ship Brienne with anyone with the kind of entitlement issues that would lead him to rape his sister. The narrative eye of the show clearly wants us to sympathize with Jaime, though, and this is also part of what I meant by emotional fallout. Jaime might not see what he did as wrong, but the overall narrative also doesn’t, and that’s a problem. If the writers claim that it’s rape, then they treat rape very lightly in this show (that’s pretty much been demonstrated) and that’s a bigger problem.


Jaime also visits Tyrion and they bond over not killing/having killed family members.

Petyr’s taking Sansa to the Eyrie and continuing to stand far too close to her and look at her in a way that makes me shudder. Sansa’s starting to get an eye for politics, which is great. Too bad they yoink that out from under her later.

The baby mentioned earlier gets scooped up by a White Walker, hauled way up north, stuck on an altar thing, and then poked on the cheek by the Night King, which apparently turns him into a baby White Walker. I have so many questions.


RIP:
Some Great Masters (only one on screen; the nailed-up ones aren’t dead yet)

Next week: Tommen becomes king. Pod is the worst squire. Lysa is the worst aunt. Bran’s mind-rape escalates.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Kalamazoo 2017: Updates

With a sneak preview of the schedule for the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies up (here), I'm happy to note that our panel, Growing up Medieval: The Middle Ages in Children's and Young Adult Literature, is Session 190, scheduled for Friday, 12 May 2017, at 10am in Schneider 1225. I'll be presiding, and I hope y'all'll all join us. We've got three excellent papers on deck for you.

Also, I need to see about scheduling the Annual General Meeting for the Society, per §5.1 of the Society Constitution (here). Since our session precedes lunch time, conducting the meeting immediately after the panel--and in the same room, which appears not to be hosting a lunchtime function--seems sensible enough. But I would welcome input on the matter; members, please leave comments below in support of the idea or with suggestions for alternate times/locations.

This post will be copied to the Society website. Notice of it is being emailed across the Society email list.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.3: "Breaker of Chains"



4.3 “Breaker of Chains”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves

This is a complicated episode, and not just in the fallout from the Purple Wedding. A lot of stuff happened (or didn’t happen) outside the episode, in post-episode interviews and criticism, and even on the DVD. So I’ll save the scene that caused all the kerfluffle for last. (Something to look forward to.)

The episode starts immediately after the last episode cut, with Cersei yelling for Tyrion’s arrest and demanding to know where “his wife” is. Tywin orders the capital locked down while Dontos and Sansa are running for it; they make it to a rowboat and head out to sea. Hours later (night has fallen and fog is rolling over the sea), they reach a ship, and (surprise!) it’s Petyr’s. Dontos having served his narrative purpose, Petyr has him killed, then explains to Sansa why he’s her only hope while standing uncomfortably close to her for a forty-something-year-old man talking to a fourteen-year-old girl. He explains the whole plot to her, which might actually have been easy to miss, considering how hard it is to spot the missing jewel on the necklace even when you’re looking for it. Also, I think the amethyst hairnet might have made more sense, because the jewels on the necklace are glass, so did they hide the poison inside them? Does that mean Olenna had to smash the jewel to get it out?


Olenna discusses what happened with Margaery, establishing that Margaery had nothing to do with it and her freaking out at the wedding was genuine. I kind of love the mentor relationship they’ve established here, with Olenna teaching Margaery to play the game of thrones and assuring her that she’s doing fine. Tommen should be easier to manipulate than Joffrey, she’s told. (Easier and way creepier.)


Arya and Sandor are still traveling, which gives the writers a chance to actually pay attention to the smallfolk for a minute and show what’s happening to them given all the wars and raiding and other chaos going on in the Riverlands. I guess some of this is better than none of this. When they shifted Brienne’s and Jaime’s respective storylines, we lost a lot of “look what war does to those who aren’t playing your stupid game of thrones.”

Further north, Jon is the Only Smart Person at the Wall™ and everyone else is Just Stubborn and Doesn’t Like Jon Snow’s Ideas™®. Jon says they need to go take care of the mutineers at Craster’s Keep in case Mance stops there and asks them about the defense of the Wall, a number that Jon wildly inflated. This whole plan doesn’t really make any sense to me, as what’s most likely to happen if Mance’s army comes upon the mutineers is they’ll just kill them all; and if they try to question them, the mutineers will tell them to fuck off and then they’ll kill them all; and if they torture them, they won’t be able to trust the information they get and they’ll kill them all. So, basically, Jon’s plan throws good money after bad and risks men they could be using to defend the Wall when Mance does get here. And considering that Olly’s village got attacked and they know that not only the group Jon crossed with but now also a whole bunch of Faux-Thenns are south of the Wall, they’re going to need every man they can get.


Oh, right, this episode also introduces us to Olly, who is a terrible character and should never have been introduced in the first place. I’ll definitely be telling you why in more detail as we get to know him better (as much as you can know a one-dimensional character).

Meanwhile, Sam is trying to protect Gilly from the men of the Watch by taking her to Mole’s Town, where the men of the Watch go to get their freak on, because that makes sense. Gilly’s super angry about this whole plan but goes along with it anyway because she loves Sam even when she doesn’t like him very much.


Davos is trying to put together an army for Stannis to go defend the Wall, and it’s not going well. Stannis is mad because Joffrey’s dead and he’s not in a position to take advantage of it. But he doesn’t want to hire sellswords because he’s Stubborn and Honorable (or something). The discussion makes Davos late for his reading lesson, and we get a super cute moment between Davos and Shireen ("you need to learn to read so you don't keep saying ka-niggit" "that was one time") during which Davos has an epiphany and asks Shireen for her help with a letter to the Iron Bank of Braavos.

Dany reaches Meereen, where the champion of the city rides out and challenges her; after some debate about who’s the most expendable, she sends Daario out to fight him. (I miss Strong Belwas.) Daario does some grandstanding and then kills the Meereenese champion’s horse with a thrown knife, then the champion when he skids to a halt at Daario’s feet. Dany then somehow magically projects her voice across several hundred yards of open space and up to the top of the city walls to tell the slaves that she’s here to help them be free, then pelts everyone with broken slave collars to prove that she’s already freed the slaves of Yunkai and Astapor. The slaves start to get ideas.


That leaves us with one of the more controversial scenes in the show to date, though it’s been overshadowed by what happens to Sansa next season. While Tommen is visiting his brother’s body, Tywin explains to him why Joffrey failed at being king and promises to teach him how to be a better one, then essentially takes him away from Cersei and leaves. Jaime passes them on his way in and kicks everyone out so he can have a private moment with Cersei and their son’s body. Cersei wants Jaime to kill Tyrion, which Jaime absolutely does not want to do, and she cries and kisses him, but then pulls away from his golden hand when he touches her with it.

This is where everything goes completely wrong.

Jaime grabs Cersei by the hair, yanks her head back, and kisses her again. She pushes him away and says “not here,” but he tears her underskirt while pulling at it. She says “not here” and “stop it”; he says “no” and pushes her to the floor. She says “it’s not right” and keeps saying “it’s not right” as Jaime penetrates her; he says “I don’t care” a couple of times and the scene cuts.


As it’s shot and presented, this is pretty unequivocally rape. Not everyone on the production team saw it that way. In the “Inside the Episode” featurette, Benioff refers to it as rape. Alex Graves, on the other hand, went on an interview tour saying it was not rape, that he hadn’t shot it as rape, that it “becomes consensual by the end,” and that there are clues in the scene that it wasn’t rape—Cersei kissing Jaime, wrapping her legs around him, and gripping the altar cloth. Unfortunately, the editing loses her wrapping her legs around him, the altar-cloth grip is ambiguous, and even though she does kiss him, she keeps saying no. Benioff and Weiss said nothing more about it—actively refusing interview requests regarding the scene—until nearly a year later, when asked about it in an open Q&A forum. Weiss sits there with a deer-in-the-headlights look while Benioff stumbles over himself admitting that it’s a disturbing scene and blaming viewers for thinking that Jaime was somehow in a redemptive arc that would make him incapable of acts like this. He reminds the audience member that in the first episode, he throws Bran out a window, as if protecting his secret relationship with his sister from a nosy kid he doesn’t even know and raping his sister are in any way equivalent acts.

So there’s a lot of problems here. A major one is, of course, that this scene utterly fails to faithfully adapt the antecedent scene from the books, wherein Cersei initially resists, but then verbally encourages Jaime and helps him open his pants and find his way into her. Martin’s response to the controversy was to wish that they’d kept his dialogue, as that would have made it a lot clearer that the scene was consensual and Cersei’s initial reluctance was due to the venue, not the sex itself. With the shift in timeline, Jaime’s been in King’s Landing for several weeks rather than a few hours, and Cersei’s been rebuffing his advances that whole time, which completely changes the tone of this encounter.

Secondly, Alex Graves has said that he didn’t read that scene in the books because he wasn’t shooting the book scene, he was shooting the scene Benioff and Weiss wrote for him. And apparently there wasn’t a lot of discussion about what they intended from it, since Benioff has said at least twice that it was rape and Graves did the interview gamut saying it wasn’t. So communication clearly broke down there. Benioff and Weiss’ utter refusal to deal with the issue is also a major problem; they left Graves out on his own without clarifying for a year, and there wasn’t even a commentary track on the DVD—this is the only episode on the DVD without a commentary track.

Third, while Benioff may yammer about Jaime being a “grey character” and not easily fitted into “D&D morality”—lawful good, chaotic evil, etc.—he does still have a character arc and character development, and this walks it back a great deal. Do real humans have difficulty making and keeping progress with their own personalities and lives and character quirks? Sure. Jaime is not a real person. Jaime is a character, and one of the things about good writing is that characters have arcs. Characters develop. And even if losing some of that development is necessary to the plot, Jaime (book-Jaime, anyway) is not a rapist. All this does is reinforce the toxic masculinity they’ve set up in the show wherein every woman is constantly at risk from every man, that given the opportunity to rape or sexually assault, no man will be able to resist (except Tyrion because he is perfect, apparently. We’ll get there). This is super problematic.

Finally, this never comes up again. If Benioff and Weiss intended it to be rape, there should be repercussions. There should be some sort of fallout—unless they think rape isn’t that big of a deal. Or that raping Cersei in particular, given what an awful person she is, isn’t that big of a deal. If it wasn’t supposed to be rape, then sure, it makes sense that nobody ever says anything, that Cersei and Jaime’s relationship doesn’t suffer, that everything goes on as normal. But the only person saying it wasn’t supposed to be rape was Graves. Even Nickolaj Coster-Waldeau and Lena Headey have given (uncomfortable) interviews talking about it as a rape scene. Graves isn’t in charge of the rest of the season; Benioff and Weiss are. And for them to ignore the emotional fallout of something like being raped by your own brother on the floor next to your dead son is just . . . bad.

RIP:
Dontos Hollard
Olly’s father and various other villagers
Meereen’s champion (and his horse)

Next week: Dany takes Meereen. Jaime visits Tyrion. Petyr continues to be a creeper. Margaery starts being a creeper. Brienne goes on a journey.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.2: "The Lion and the Rose"



4.2 “The Lion and the Rose”
Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Alex Graves
Commentary by Natalie Dormer (Margaery), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), George R.R. Martin, Alex Graves

As with “The Rains of Castamere,” it’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s other things happening in this episode besides the Purple Wedding. Martin actually wanted to do the whole thing as the wedding, like they did with “Blackwater” and “Watchers on the Wall,” but Benioff and Weiss told him they really needed to cover a few other storylines, as well. Graves was happy about that; he says if he’d had to do an entire episode with nothing but this wedding, he might have gone crazy. This is also the last episode Martin has written for the show to date, and since he doesn’t seem terrifically happy with the direction the show’s gone (and since the show will [thankfully] be over before he finishes A Dream of Spring), I don’t think he’ll write another one. I’ll miss his episodes for the rest of this rewatch, especially when we get to season six, where the writing is abysmal. But, again, we’ll get there.

So we’ll start with the stuff that isn’t the Purple Wedding and work in. There’s a lot going on at the Dreadfort; Roose has returned and is deeply unhappy with how Ramsay has been conducting himself. He’s angry about his mutilation of Theon, in particular. Ramsay shows him that his treatment of Theon has made him into a tool rather than a person, and Roose definitely sees the possible uses there.


Earlier, we “got” to see one of Ramsay’s infamous hunting trips; Myranda’s apparently gotten jealous of Tansy and demanded her death, and Ramsay’s delivering. Something about Ramsay having a willing play-toy rubs me the wrong way; his treatment of girls is in the books (to an extent), but for some reason, adding a just-as-sexually-sadistic partner seems extraneous. Later, of course, she fills out the “Shae” part of rehashing the Sansa-getting-married drama, but we’ll get there when we get there.


Over at Dragonstone, Melisandre’s burning people, and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it other than to burn people. She says he’s an infidel, blah, blah, but if they meant to conflate him with Alester Florent, who was burned for trying to negotiate a truce with the Lannisters, then “he wouldn’t stop worshipping the Seven” seems like a really lame reason to burn him. Especially since this is the only time he shows up; they only put him in the show so that they could burn him. Maybe it’s supposed to show that even being family won’t spare someone from burning (and thus foreshadow Shireen’s death)? If so, it’s still not set up well and just comes across as Melisandre burning people because she likes burning people.


Then follows the most awkward dinner ever, with Selyse trying to ride the high from burning her brother and Stannis and Melisandre not cooperating with her attempts at conversation. The important part of the conversation is that Selyse doesn’t really like her daughter that much, and especially resents that she refuses to convert. This leads to a scene anyone familiar with fairy tales will recognize: the witch visits the innocent princess. Melisandre tries to explain why they burned Axell, but since it’s a stupid reason, Shireen’s having none of it.

This episode also shows the first time Bran wargs into a tree, because it totally makes sense that that would even occur to him. This is how they figure out where they’re going, because apparently the showrunners are trying to use their secondary characters as little as possible, only bringing them in when there’s no other choice (Dontos, Coldhands, etc.). Unfortunately, this means they’re not at all set up and turn into plot convenience and/or deus ex machinae instead of, you know, characters.


The wedding takes up the biggest part of the episode. It’s a whole-day thing, starting with a small breakfast with the Lannisters, where Joffrey gets his presents for the day. Widow’s Wail makes its appearance and is dutifully named, then used to destroy Tyrion’s present—a book—just to show once again how awful Joffrey is. The whole day is clearly written to show Joffrey in the worst possible light leading up to his death. There’s also a brief moment where Cersei points out Shae to Tywin, who orders that she be brought to him after the wedding (dun dun dun).


Between the breakfast and the actual wedding, Tyrion breaks up with Shae and sends her away. Of course he does it in the worst possible way, trying to get her to hate him so she’ll leave. He calls her a whore, tells her she’s not fit to bear his children the way Sansa is, and sends her away with Bronn.


After the wedding comes the feast, which is a massive set piece that allows for all sorts of characters to have moments to show alliances, rivalries, and temperaments.

  • Olenna and Tywin argue over the cost of the wedding and Olenna points out that the Tyrells paid for half the wedding and will probably end up paying for half the war and half the debt to the Iron Bank. She tells Mace to piss off when he tries to get involved in the conversation. While this establishes her as undisputed matriarch of the family, it doesn’t quite jibe with how the patriarchy is set up to oppress Cersei and Sansa later.
  • Bronn tells Tyrion Shae got on the boat and she’s fine.
  • Oberyn drools over a contortionist to display half of his characterization (he likes sex).
  • Olenna greets Sansa and adjusts her hair and necklace, conveying her condolences for the Red Wedding and Sansa’s losses.
  • Oberyn flirts with Loras, and Loras backs into Jaime. Jaime tries to warn Loras against marrying Cersei for his own safety; Loras thinks Jaime’s just jealous.
  • Brienne pays her respects to Margaery and Joffrey; Cersei laughs at her for bowing like a man instead of curtseying. Joffrey congratulates her for killing “that deviant” and Margaery and Brienne look awkward.
  • Cersei corners Brienne and tries to stuff her back in the “lady” box, then drops the truth bomb on her that she’s in love with Jaime. Brienne flees. Jaime looks concerned.
  • Cersei saves a young woman from Pycelle’s lechery and then tells him to make sure the leftovers from the feast are fed to the dogs instead of the poor.
  • Dontos is juggling; Joffrey gets bored and has people pelt him with fruit.
  • Oberyn, Ellaria, Tywin, and Cersei encounter each other and Cersei nearly has vapors over Ellaria’s dress (and I’m sorry, any show that wants me to take this dress seriously does not get to claim to be historically accurate/authentic. That goes for a lot of the wardrobe choices, actually). They exchange subtle and not-so-subtle digs that show us the other half of Oberyn’s characterization (he hates Lannisters).


Then comes the dwarf show, during which every single noble at the feast gets insulted in some manner or another. Joffrey tries to get Tyrion out there to fight, too, and Tyrion manages to graciously decline, which is quite the talent under the circumstances. Joffrey stomps over and pours his wine on Tyrion’s head, then demands that Tyrion serve as his cupbearer, getting more angry when Tyrion says it’s an honor, because it wasn’t meant to be. Margaery tries to save everyone by announcing the arrival of the pie, and it works for a minute, but Joffrey isn’t easily distracted from tormenting people. He demands Tyrion bring him some wine to wash the pie down, drinks it, and starts coughing. And keeps coughing. And falls over. And starts oozing out the face. And dies.


For a poison that’s supposed to make it just look like you choked to death, it’s doing a terrible job not looking like poison. Which makes Cersei look much less psychotic when she screams that Tyrion killed him than she did in the books.

Meanwhile, Dontos ex machina spirits Sansa away, making Tyrion look even more guilty.

RIP:
Tansy
Axell Florent
Joffrey Baratheon, First of His Name

Next week: Yet another rape scene that wasn't supposed to be one. Petyr pervs on Sansa. Tyrion tries to build a case.