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Acedia Revisited: GOT, The 100, and the Spring Slaughter

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Spring of 2016 has not been kind to television viewers. Between The 100, Game of Thrones, and the numerous deaths of LGBT women (dubbed the Spring Slaughter), we have a mountain of dead bodies to bury. Almost 90 named characters are dead, many of them minorities, children, and other vulnerable characters. The general atmosphere in many fandoms I’m a part of is one of exhaustion tinged with boredom. In other words, acedia.

A Brief Recap: What is Acedia?

In my previous essay, I mention that acedia is malaise generated when life seems to stretch out ahead with nothing to break the monotony of repetition. In society, the bombardment of global and local violence can lead one to feel that nothing matters beyond one’s personal sphere of influence. If it doesn’t affect me, it isn’t important enough to care about. This stems from overstimulation; there is simply too much to care about. Rather than exhaust ourselves, our very souls seem to shut down. We can’t care about everything, so it’s better to care about nothing, or only those things that affect “me”.

A similar numbing effect takes place when there is too much violence within a particular narrative, all delivered in the same tone. Call it darkness induced apathy if you will; I call it narrative acedia1. The Westeros of David Benioff and David Weiss and their team (henceforth ‘D&D’) is a Grimdark place, full of violence and brutality with little hope or light in it to break through the heavy doom clouds that ever hang on the horizon. This thick cloud of monotonous hopelessness seems to seep into the audience itself, making it difficult to invest or care in the story because it will never change for the better.

Also literally dark. Like, the sun never shines here.

The building up of characters only to hurt or kill them and inflict maximum pain on the audience, I labeled narrative sadism. D&D have created a world that on the one hand dulls the emotional impact of the atrocities they depict, and punishes you for caring on the other. And all of this was something I wrote before season 6 aired. As season 6 has progressed, these issues have only gotten worse.

The Spread of Narrative Acedia

But Game of Thrones is not alone in this particular combination of narrative acedia and sadism. I watched it play out on The 100. This season had more onscreen deaths of primary and secondary characters than every other season combined. The shoddy attempt at humanizing Charles Pike only to kill him off in the season finale smacks of narrative sadism, as does the poor retcon that was the ALIE (anti-) climax. Like D&D, Rothenberg attempted to manipulate the audience into feeling positive emotions about two characters (Pike and ALIE), only to kill them off soon afterward.

The Grounders as savage as the Mereenese!

The transformation of the Grounders from a complex, nuanced society that is more than just violence personified (season 2) into the caricature of brutal savages they became at the end of this season has the same impact. The audience invested in the Grounders as human beings only to be punished for caring about them. The two most prominent Grounder characters were killed on screen (Lexa and Lincoln) and a third tortured off screen (Indra).

The body count for both shows this past season is quite high (46+ for Game of Thrones, 24 for The 100). The season 6 Game of Thrones finale alone had 11 named character deaths; how do you even begin to process that much death in the span of an hour? How are any of those deaths supposed to be meaningful, dramatic, or moving when there are just so godddamn many?

A high body count wasn’t enough. Both shows gave us deaths that I call visually gratuitous. Take Lincoln and Rickon. While these two characters could not be more different from each other, the way their deaths were filmed struck me as similar. Both were given a prolonged death sequence that added little tension to the narrative. Lingering shots of the death and dead bodies contrast sharply with the lack of screen time given each of them this season while they were alive. It felt as if both of them were brought back into the narrative only to die brutally and lingeringly on screen.

He deserved better. RIP Lincoln.

As with Shireen, both Lincoln and Rickon’s deaths were deemed acceptable to show in this way despite the problematic implications. Lincoln was a black male, wrongfully imprisoned, chained, and forced to kneel in the mud. He was then shot execution style by another black male as the camera caressed his dead and broken body. While his killer looks on taunting, Rickon, a child of 11, ran for his life as arrows flew at him for over a minute. The chase ended with him shot in the back and the camera zooming in on his face as he bled out.

The way a death is filmed says as much as the death itself. With Lincoln, the prolonged death scene is humiliating. It is done to degrade his character as much as possible. The proud, skilled Grounder warrior the audience has grown to love dies chained amidst the mud and muck rather than on a battlefield. Rickon isn’t even given that much; his prolonged death is more about Jon than it is about Rickon, just as Shireen’s burning was more about Stannis, Selyse, Melisandre, and Davos. Long death scenes of children are used as a plot device to spur other characters into action.

But death is not meaningful just by existing. Nonsensical or pointless deaths do not have emotional resonance when there is so much violence already present in the story. Lincoln’s humiliating death moves the audience to anger at the writers for such a disservice to his character (and the actor). It actually takes the audience outside of the narrative instead of investing them in it. Likewise, Rickon and Shireen’s pointlessly prolonged death to service the main characters does not Shock™, it numbs.

The randomness of death cannot reinforce the fragility of life when shows like these are already steeped in death and brutality. Rickon, Tommen, Margaery, Loras, the Waif, Lady Crane—they’re just more bodies. By this point in Game of Thrones, the audience has already become inured to violence. More nonsensical deaths are apt to lead to more apathy (or straight to mockery of the poor writing that gave us the death) rather than existential questioning of the meaning or beauty of life.

When the random death occurs to a highly valued minority character like Lexa or Lincoln, the backlash has been rightly directed against the writers for their poor handling of sensitive issues. In that, the The 100 fandom has yet to be lulled into narrative acedia as fully as certain subsets of the Game of Thrones fandom has.

The reaction of LGBT fans over Lexa’s death reminds us that the violent death of children ought to raise outrage as well. But it seems children dying on Game of Thrones is just par for the course. Within only six seasons Game of Thrones has managed to inure its audience to violence to the point that a baby eaten alive by dogs raises not even a murmur of discontent.

“Feminism.”

Instead, Game of Thrones has been lauded this season as a feminist masterpiece for its avoidance of violence against women (an issue Kylie tackled yesterday). Fewer female bodies were violated on screen, yet it has merely replaced violence against women with violence against children and the disabled (i.e., Hodor). Hodor’s sacrifice is called Noble™ and Meaningful™, but is it? It might be noble to die protecting one’s friends, but since the wights catch up to Bran and Meera in the end, it’s everything but meaningful. The origins of a disabled man’s injury is treated as a Shocking Twist™ rather than with delicacy, and his death—like that of Shireen and Lincoln—amounts to nothing more than a plot point.

In a way, it’s not all that different from the overwhelming violence against minorities on The 100. Game of Thrones has not singled out women, people of color, and LGBT characters the way The 100 has, though there are characters that fit that description who have died on GoT this season (e.g. Loras, Doran, Hotah, Trystane, Walda, the Dothraki, and Margaery). What is true of both of these shows is that it is the most vulnerable people who are dying left and right. So much for ‘anyone can die’.

Acedia and Revenge

Whether it be Emerson’s quest for vengeance for Mt. Weather, Bellamy’s revenge-fueled massacre of hundreds of Grounders, Cersei’s desire for revenge against the patriarchy, Brienne’s revenge for Renly, or Sansa’s brutal revenge against Ramsay, we have not lacked for revenge driven plots this spring. It’s the Brave™ story to tell right now, apparently. But what does revenge have to do with acedia, you ask? Like violence, the more we see revenge on our screens, the more the audience is inured to it and the more it loses its storytelling power.

I’m not denying that revenge can be cathartic. There is something truly satisfying as a viewer when you see the villain get their comeuppance. When done well and in small doses, revenge can be a powerful emotional experience for the viewer. Who didn’t cheer when Inigo Montoya finally kills the man who murdered his father? I unabashedly love Gladiator and when Commodus finally dies at Maximus’ hand at the end? I feel the rush as much as anyone.

SO satisfying.

Even revenge against one’s rapist can be cathartic, just watch Jessica Jones. But when literally every single character’s motivation is revenge, it loses all narrative power to compel the audience to feel catharsis. Spending so much time on Ramsay’s own brutality in episodes 5-6 does not automatically make his death more cathartic, especially when the writers have attempted to humanize him via his troubled relationship with his father. His death is just more senseless brutality, more audience induced apathy from overexposure to revenge filled violence. The audience can no more feasibly care about everyone’s revenge than it can care about everyone’s death.

Revenge need not mean violence either. Revenge can be losing one’s station, friends, or wealth. Revenge can be mental or emotional suffering rather than physical pain and death. Justice, even a just death, can even be it’s own form of revenge. That revenge means brutal violence and suffering for writers like D&D and Jason Rothenberg is telling.

And what is the message of revenge-driven violence? Ramsay Bolton, a psychopath, enjoyed watching his stepmother and baby brother eaten alive by his dogs. This is undeniably Wrong. Ramsay is a villain after all. When Sansa Stark gets revenge by feeding him to his own dogs, we are supposed to cheer her on. But why? Objectively, she’s done the very thing that he has done. The act itself is no different, only the person performing it.

The message, then, is that brutality is acceptable as long as the ‘right’ person is doing it for the ‘right’ reasons, namely, a protagonist doing it for revenge. It’s remarkably akin to what we saw in The 100 this season. ALIE using violence to negate people’s choice is wrong, but Clarke doing it is okay since she’s trying to save everyone. Only ALIE was trying to do that too, so…who is in the wrong here? Lexa betraying her agreement with Skaikru to save her people is wrong, but Bellamy betraying the cease-fire with the Grounders to mass murder them is okay because he was angry and hurt.

I am uncomfortable with the implication that using a living human being as dog food is acceptable so long as one does it for the ‘right reasons’. This kind of moral relativism—where a protagonist committing an atrocity is Right but an antagonist committing the same atrocity is Wrong—is the result of poor writing. They simultaneously want a moral framework that determines Good Guys from Bad Guys but are unwilling to commit to the necessary implication that actions are also moral or immoral. Instead, The Right Thing To Do™ amounts to whatever the hero decides to do.

This isn’t to say that Martin’s books are not morally grey, they are. Jaime seems to genuinely love Cersei in the books. His relationship with Cersei is also all kinds of fucked up for both of them. Arya’s journey from frightened, angry girl to emotionless killer is meant to make us uncomfortable even as it fulfills a desire to see the Stark family avenged for its losses.

Very few of Martin’s characters (including the protagonists) are entirely black or white. At the same time, there are morally objectionable actions regardless of who is committing them. Gregor Clegane rapes an innkeeper’s daughter then gives her to his men. This is wrong. Tyrion rapes a sex slave. Tyrion’s rape of the slave is not magically made acceptable because Tyrion, one of the protagonists, is doing it. It’s still morally wrong.

Compare this to what D&D do with Sansa killing Ramsay. Her act of revenge is not condemned by the narrative, it is praised. This is the culmination of her empowerment arc for the past season and a half. It is not an attempt at moral ambiguity or a ‘turn to the dark side.’ It’s the opposite. By feeding her rapists to his own dogs and enjoying it, Sansa has proved herself to be a “woman on top” who is now worthy to play the game of thrones.

Another ‘woman on top’ who got there by killing a man.

The only difference between protagonists and villains, then, is that the narrative tells us whose actions are acceptable. We cheer for Sansa because the narrative tells us she’s a Good Guy and Ramsay a Bad Guy the same way we accept Clarke’s actions but not ALIE’s. Violence itself is not wrong or problematic, it’s the person doing it. This attitude contributes to acedia. When violence begets more violence without differentiation, moral relativism feels more like perversity.

Acedia and the Spring Slaughter

Everyone who comes to Fandom Following is undoubtedly familiar with the repeated deaths of LGBT women that has marked the spring of 2016, a.k.a. the Spring Slaughter. In span of 7 months, no less than 19 LGBT women have died onscreen(Spoilers): Zora (The Shannara Chronicles), Rose (Jane the Virgin), Carla (Code Black), Julie Mao (The Expanse), Ash (Janet King), Lexa (The 100), Kira (The Magicians), Denise (The Walking Dead), Nora and Mary Louise (The Vampire Diaries), Mimi Whiteman (Empire), Camilla (Empire), Cara Thomas (Marcella), Pamela Clayborne (Saints & Sinners), Felicity (The Catch), Bridey (The Familiy), Mayfair (Blindspot), Root (Person of Interest), and Poussey Washington (Orange is the New Black).

On top of the death of these women you have queerbaiting. The LGBT community is desperate for representation given the dearth of LGBT female characters on television. GLAAD reported 4% of regular characters on primetime television identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Producers use this lack of representation to garner viewers by teasing a LGBT romance that they may or may not follow through on. Jason Rothenberg’s manipulation of the LGBT fandom is a particularly egregious use of queerbaiting that ultimately ended in Lexa’s death.

Not that Game of Thrones has handled female LGBT issues well either. Sansa and Margaery were used for queerbating purposes in seasons 3-4, as were Dany/Yara this season. While Dany/Yara might look empowered because the wlw fandom lacks representation, how empowered can it really be when your current f/f ship (and a queerbait-y one at that) is made up of a woman who verbally abuses her brother out of his PTSD and another who is variously emotionless, brutal, and incompetent most of the time she’s on screen? Two savage women is not an empowered f/f storyline, especially when it is no more than queerbait. Is there anyone out there who believes that Dany/Yara is endgame or even that we’ll get a f/f sex scene?

What great ship-baiting potential rep.

Chances are, Yara will probably die, which will mean yet another dead lesbian on a show that killed off the only two canon gay characters (Loras and Renly) and a possibly/queerbaited bisexual woman (Margaery). They hyper-sexualized the canon bisexual characters (Oberyn and Ellaria), but neglected to include the actual canon f/f relationships and scenes (Cersei/Taena, Dany/Irri, and Lady Nym/the Fowler twins). The only f/f ships on Game of Thrones are non-canon and queerbait to boot. This is also the show where Brienne of Tarth must be a lesbian because she’s ‘manly’.

With the death of so many LGBT women, the blatant use of queerbaiting, and the under-representation of this minority group on TV, you would think that so much death would lead to the kind of violence induced malaise I’ve been discussing. It’s a reasonable reaction, to be honest. When you see so little of yourself on television, and most of it ends in death and tragedy, tuning out is not unreasonable. Only that isn’t what has happened.

Rather than apathy, the deaths of these women has sparked a revolution. Fueled by anger born out of underrepresentation and frustration with the Bury Your Gays trope , LGBT fans have donated money to the Trevor Project, funded the production of billboards decrying violence against LGBT characters, and started a con dedicated to LGBT women in media. While there is exhaustion because of so many dead female LGBT characters, there is also righteous indignation. Rather than Hypnos, the LGBT fandom has called upon Nike to come to their side and give them justice. They are tired of the injustice and violence, and they have turned it to productivity rather than malaise. They have steadfastly refused to go gentle into that good night.

Conclusion

In a world beset by acedia, it is easy to give into the numbing effects of violence coupled with consumerism and the distraction of busyness. There is too much in the world that presses us to care, and we can’t. So we watch shows that feed our acedia by numbing us further with Shock and Awe™ tactics, endless and meaningless deaths, and the brutalization of characters that belong to vulnerable and minority communities. These stories both numb us and punish us for caring. Is it small wonder then that so many fans are exhausted?

Yet there is light still. The Spring Slaughter has traumatized many young viewers, and it has mobilized them. They are a beacon of hope in this dark world, a refusal to give into acedia’s numbing lethargy. The Spring Slaughter has sparked a rebellion against the gross storytelling of LGBT characters in media. Though some might use it to guilt others for their lack of care, I choose to see it as a flagship of inspiration. We, the audience, need not accept violence with apathy. We can care, if we dare to, and we can use our anger to change media for the better. We need not slink back into our caves, we can rally our forces and face acedia head on. Narrative acedia need not be the end of the road, it can instead be a beginning.


Images courtesy of HBO and The CW.

1.Acedia as it is specifically discussed by the desert fathers of the Christian monastic tradition is individual, rather than societal. Norris discusses acedia as a societal failing in her book Acedia and Me, which I briefly discussed in my first essay. The kind of acedia I’m talking about here is linked to societal acedia, particularly the way that media inures us to violence and numbs us from caring due to oversaturation. It leads to an inability to emotionally invest in the characters or narrative and emotionally, a kind of malaise or boredom. I’d call it ‘media acedia’ but that seems a bit too rhyme-y to me, so I chose narrative acedia.

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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Emily Andras, Wynonna Earp, and the Unkillable Queer – The RaconteurGrimdark and the Daemon Ex Machina – The RaconteurTurf Wars Touts Korrasami, For Better Or... - The FandomentalsGretchen EllisJoshua Hayashida Recent comment authors
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[…] the same way, shows that focus on the grimdark shows that sow acedia also impacts us. They also normalize thought patterns and attitudes. These shows can lead to cynicism, distrust, […]

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Joshua Hayashida
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Joshua Hayashida

This concept of acedia intrigues me. I’m curious if there’s anything you’ve attempted to do to limit the amount of information or consumption of these numbing things, and if you have if you’ve had any success with it. Personally, after researching more into acedia I find that it describes my personal tempermant better than depression, and I’m looking into ways to combat it.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Thanks for your comment! Great question. One of the things I do is to limit the amount of media I consume with these themes, especially for personal ‘entertainment’. My only exception to that is reviewing a show, but even then I keep it to a minimum. I also try really hard to balance it out with intentionally hopeful and thoughful media. Shows like Steven Universe, for example. Or, right now I’m reading my way through the Star Wars comics. Acedia is also a major struggle of mine, and has been for years. I highly recommend reading Kathleen Norris’s “Acedia and… Read more »

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 2×04 Rewatch: Garden of Groans

Kylie

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Good fortune and tidings as we return to The Wars to Come! We can’t wait to dive into yet another chapter of our Game of Thrones rewatch series, seeking to explore the path that took the show from engaging and competent to…wormholing ravens and confusing trials. This week we’re in for a special treat: the only woman to ever grace this show’s writers’ room, Vanessa Taylor, is credited as penning “Garden of Bones.”

While Kylie, Julia, Danzie, and Griffin can’t wait to discuss what’s clearly going to be a jump in quality, we first need to go over the events for anyone who missed.

Episode Recap

Things are grim and grotesque in the riverlands! Robb earns himself a victory on the field against the Lannister forces, yet after the battle we see many injured. He helps a field-nurse from Volantis name Talisa amputate a man’s foot, and she points out to him that the smallfolk are the ones paying the price for his war.

Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie, and their fellow travelers arrive at Harrenhal as prisoners, only to discover that the guards have been selecting one a day to die. They witness the torture of an unlucky man, who has a barrel containing a hungry rat strapped to his chest. He is asked questions about “the brotherhood,” but cannot answer any. The Lannister guards hold a torch to one end of the barrel, giving the rat only one place to go… Gendry is selected the next day for this grisly fate, but is saved just in the nick of time by Tywin Lannister’s arrival. He immediately chastises his guards for wasting good men, and once recognizing Arya as a girl, selects her to be his next cupbearer.

Down in King’s Landing, Joffrey is not behaving a whole lot better. First, he reacts to Robb’s military victory by ordering Sansa to be beaten by his kingsguard. Tyrion intervenes and put a stop to it, even giving Sansa a chance to ask out of her situation. However, she tells him she is loyal to her “love.” Bronn and Tyrion discuss Joffrey’s disgusting behavior, and Bronn suggests getting him some sex workers to work frustration out on. Tyrion does that, but Joffrey instead commands one of the sex workers—Ros—to brutalize the other as a message to Tyrion.

Tyrion receives another message from Lancel, who asks him to release Pycelle on Cersei’s behalf. However, Tyrion quickly turns the tables when he corners Lancel about being in a sexual relationship with Cersei. He promises not to tell anyone so long as Lancel reports to him on the queen’s comings and goings.

Other royalty is busy over in the Reach. Littlefinger arrives in Renly’s camp, but the self-fashioned king holds no love for him. Yet if the time should come when Renly reaches King’s Landing, Littlefinger makes it clear he’s willing to flip sides. He then meets Margaery Tyrell, who he attempts to grill on the details of her marriage to Renly. This queen doesn’t reveal much. Littlefinger finally gets to speak with Cat, who is furious with him. He does manage to present her with Ned’s bones, and slips in a lie about the Lannisters holding both Sansa and Arya.

Renly and Stannis treat with each other, and despite Cat trying to encourage them to get along as brothers, neither will step aside to acknowledge the other as king. Stannis tells Renly that he has one night to reconsider. Later, Stannis asks Davos to smuggle Melisandre for him. Turns out it’s so she can give birth to a shadow in the caves below Renly’s camp.

Finally in Essos, one of Dany’s bloodriders returns with a gift from the Elders of Qarth, called “The Thirteen.” Her party turns to head there, understanding that outside the walls are referred to as the “garden of bones” thanks to all the skeletons from those who had been turned away. She meets the Thirteen, and when she refuses to show them her dragons, nearly gets refused from the city herself. However one of the Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, invokes “soumai,” vouching for her and taking legal responsibility for her party. The uncertain group head into the city.

What will greet them in Qarth? What is the shadow that Melisandre gave birth to? And is there gold hidden in the village? We’ll find out next week, but first…a discussion of what we saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I had to triple check that this was written by Vanessa Taylor and not D&D. And yes, I know that it’s a writers’ room, and individual credit only goes so far, though I’d argue that with GoT, we can usually tell notable differences and the process comes across as more siloed than it does for other shows.

Still. The first half hour of this was easily as bad as Season 5, with a small exception that the words spoken in between the gay/fart jokes, the torture, the abuse of sex workers, and the gore were mostly shaped by George R.R. Martin’s prose. The best I can say is that the second half of the episode became moderately passable, albeit still lacking in the tension as discussed last week.

Julia: Yeah, this episode felt like it had all the worst aspects of GoT all shoved together, especially in the first half hour, and I came away with the feeling that I was just watching trash. A few ‘fros and bell bottoms and it could have been a 70s exploitation movie.

Even this rewatch write-up is so painful because I feel like I had nothing to say beyond, “god that sucked.” And explaining in detail why things are bad is kinda my thing!

Danzie: Lordy, what a pile of crap that was. I had blocked everything but the Stormland’s scenes from my memory. You really get the full GoT dumpster fire potpourri here, though. Juvenile humour, sexual violence, torture porn, disappearing and reappearing medieval patriarchy, hammy acting… the list goes on. It’s a handy little episode to use as evidence to back up the claim “Yes, this show really is that bad. No, I’m not overreacting, Shannon!”

I am going to use this gem to win so many arguments.

Griffin: All of this. It was gratuitous. Gratuitous and bad. I kept waiting for it all to end. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say, or what was supposed to be appealing about this show after this.

Highlights/lowlights

Julia: Oh boy, oh boy. A highlight. The first thing that springs to mind is a little weird because it’s not usually me, but… I think I really liked Renly this episode? I’m a sucker for any time someone tells Littlefinger what a slimeball he is, and that ham line was genuinely clever and even a little funny. It’s painfully obvious how much more the writers like him compared to Stannis, but hey, maybe he’s not so bad?

As for a lowlight, um, everything else?

Griffin: I’d honestly have to go with the one singular moment that had me cracking up: cutting straight to the throne room with Joffrey aiming a crossbow down at Sansa. The framing of it was just so ridiculous and weird that it honestly looked like self-parody. The more they took it seriously in the scene, the funnier it got. What the hell was he going to do? Just start shooting people with a very slow to reload weapon and not expect to get gutted by, like, the third Kingsguard he cuts down?

As for lowlights, again, the crossbow. Really should have cut away from that “let’s mutilate some sex workers aren’t we trendy???” scene when he started screaming “harder”…and before he got the garden weasel looking thing out.

Kylie: My highlight was the burrito dress. I screamed and clapped. I wish I had a non-ironic highlight, but this is truly what warmed the cockles of my heart the most.

It’s so hard not to pick the Joffrey & sex workers scene as a lowlight, especially knowing what that “sets up” in Season 3. But there’s plenty to go around. The general levels of gore were really distressing for me, since I’m already not great with that. The Talisa cutting off a leg scene was one that I didn’t look at, but thank the gods her feminist candor was spoken clearly.

I don’t know—the protracted torture scene at Harrenhal? So glad we had a full five minutes of the guy we never met before getting eaten by a weasel. Do we think these Lannister folks are bad news, or something?

Julia: It was a rat, Kylie. God. Clearly all your criticisms are invalid now.

Danzie: One of my favorite chapters in the entire book series was (lucky for me) the only truly decent scene of the episode. Renly is at his best in the entire run of the show here. I’ve always said that I could watch Renly troll Stannis for hours and not get bored. It’s his social intelligence that I love about him. He understands exactly what it is that the masses love about him and hate about Stannis. I’d like to have seen the inclusion of the peach, and for him to have been unarmed, but other than that, yeah, this is peak Book!Renly.

However, my other Baratheon darling didn’t shine here like he does in the books, and that’s a shame. Loads of good personality things they lost out on here, like Stannis showing up to the parlay exactly on time and having to wait around for his self-centered little brother to finally feel like showing up. Also missing is Stannis promising Catelyn to try and reunite her with her daughters as soon as he is able. But most importantly what’s missing is Stannis’ guilt over killing his brother, an act that near mentally destroys him in the books. It’s minor stuff now, sure, but it’s things like this that go on to utterly destroy any chance at Stannis’ likability.

Lowlight: The shadow baby. Okay, I know there was loads of stuff that was worse in this episode, but I really feel like I need to point this out.


Davos rowing Mel ashore makes no goddamn sense under these circumstances.

The reason he does it in the books is because she is trying to kill Cortnay Penrose. However, because he’s inside Storm’s End (which has magical wards within its walls), Davos has to bring her in underneath the castle via his old smuggling run. It’s then that he puts two and two together about Renly’s death and she admits that Renly was much easier to kill because he was totally unprotected (from magic anyway) at his camp.

So why does she have to do this from shore? Why do we need to be in this tunnel? Where is this random tunnel? In fact, where even are we right now? The Reach? The Stormlands? Renly certainly isn’t in Storm’s End.

Julia: My random quibble: who were those 4 women following Sansa around and why do we never see them again?

Quality of writing

Kylie: I’m sorry, Vanessa, but the extended gay joke with a fart punchline is about as bad as it gets. Maybe I shouldn’t hyperfocus on it, but there was something about this episode that was so unrefined, that it comes across as utterly amateur.

Julia: Like I said in my initial reaction: it was just trashy this week. The “humor” was on par with the worst of seasons 5-7 and it revels in all the abuse and torture that’s going on.

Griffin: It kind of felt like an entirely different show to me. I mean, with the exception of that one episode Martin wrote, and to a lesser extent 2×01 (which was helped considerably by the fact that very little needed to be established, and they could just go) this show has never been written that well from my point of view. But still, this was a new level.

Danzie: There’s just not much that is salvagable here, and (all jokes aside) I’m someone that really tries to liberally give snaps to the stuff I like. In so many ways I think this was the first major warning sign of what was to come. I still prefer this to seasons 5-7, because at least at this point they still sort of care about telling a story, but damn. This is the first episode of this rewatch where I actually felt ashamed for liking this show once. It’s made me question my entire relationship with this show.

(This picture belongs in a museum, though.)

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Pass. Unless you count “everything sucks and aren’t we edgy.”

Griffin: How about, “Everything sucks and aren’t we edgy and also surprise feudal feminism!!!!”

Kylie: I love how those concepts seem like they shouldn’t go together at all, but they sort of represent the building blocks of this show.

Okay, I’m going to make an earnest attempt: everything comes with a cost. Talisa kind of delivers it to Robb in a neatly packaged thesis statement. Granted, this theme doesn’t really mean anything. The cost of Robb’s war was Sansa being brutalized, the cost of Tyrion sending sex workers to Joffrey were the sex workers being brutalized, the cost of the war in the riverlands were the brutalization of the prisoners…

Um. Typing that out, the theme was maybe just brutalization. And also the titular “garden of bones” didn’t really tie into this, because Dany didn’t get any sort of negative repercussions for violently threatening The Thirteen of ”Kwarth.” I guess the more central point of this episode is that…violence is a necessary part of this world? Which is more a feature, but damnit, Vanessa Taylor isn’t giving me much to work with.

Then we have the inserted ~feminism~ of Talisa, and I’m starting to suspect Ms. Taylor is not the world’s best sensitivity reader.

Julia: I think maybe the theme is “Damnit, Vanessa Taylor!”

Danzie: I want to somehow tie Renly’s line of “a man without friends is a man without power” to something. Robb makes a new friend in Talisa. Dany has trouble getting in to Qwarth (sic) because she doesn’t have a friend to vouch for her. Stannis’ power comes from his gal pal, Mel. Tyrion thinks Joffrey having some “adult friends” will help him chill out. LF wants to be friends with the cool kids, but they all tell him to fuck off.

The Garden of Bones is also a metaphor for friendship.

…okay, not really, but this episode broke me in a way I wasn’t expecting and quite honestly I’m just tired of trying.

Kylie: We are all bones in the garden now. The title fits!

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: The cracks are just the plaster coming off the wall in sheets in this episode. The scene with Joff and the two sex workers is as bad as anything in season 5, and that rat torture scene is as bad as Theon in season 3 so… congrats, you’ve reached peak GoT.

Kylie: Then there’s also the worldbuilding. We discussed the magically disappearing patriarchy (in so many terms) with the sexually liberated Margaery last week as a crack. Well, Talisa is the fucking Kool-Aid man busting through. Julia and I have joked so many times about the “unchaperoned field nurse sass-talking a king” that the phrase almost means nothing to me, but…yeah, it’s a fucking high-born (I think?) woman walking around alone on a battlefield, sass-talking a king. The patriarchy is truly destroyed here.

Of course, it will magically reappear when there needs to be a justification for violence against women, or random bullshit like making Lyanna Mormont’s stand against socks seem very Progressive™. In my mind, this hole in the wall is everything that becomes wrong with Game of Thrones, because it certainly connects to the brutalization Julia just mentioned too.

Julia: Just, like… let’s think about this character for half a second.

She’s from Volantis. (Show-only peeps have no idea what that is, but it’s a giant city in Essos that has slavery and thinks highly of itself.) For reasons of being so sassy and feminist and ahead of her time, she decides that slavery is bad and that healing people is good. Okay. So then she thinks her best plan is to go to this fairly barbaric and benighted part of the world and be a field nurse. Like, was she already a traveling healer type around the riverlands and just thought this war was an excellent opportunity for more service? Did she hear about the war and come running from Essos? Her mastery of the Common Tongue suggests she’s been chilling there a while. Where did she get her supplies of opium and silk bandages? Is that family money she’s using to buy them, or does she have a local benefactor? Where did she gain this medical expertise?

Why do I suspect this is more thought put into this character than the writers had?


Danzie: I like to think that it was all a mailing error. Talisa was supposed to be the sassy new resident doctor on a medical drama but the character pitches got mixed up and now Grey’s Anatomy has a mild-mannered girl from the westerlands.

Kylie: Another crack in the plaster is the torture porn, which only gets more and more drawn out as the series goes on. Edginess is a distant horizon they’re constantly chasing, I guess.

Remember adaptation?

Griffin: I remember Davos being a much, much more sympathetic and likeable character. Now he’s…just sort of there? I dunno, but he seems pretty one-note and flat to me so far. I’m pretty sure that Melisandre was supposed to be that in the books, so it works here (I guess?) but…that birthing scene. With the shadow.

I’ve seen some stupid things in my time, but I’ll admit that there was just no good way to shoot that. Seriously, I feel like that’s something that just was never going to translate well to the screen no matter what they did, since you can’t cut away from it or it doesn’t work. Maybe if they’d done the sequence more like a monster movie? That might work.

Kylie: The best I’ve ever seen a shadow of death translated was in the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I think it was watching the literal squeezing out of the shadow that made it so odd. And it kinda gets a face next week…

Alright, I have to bring up Tough but Fair Grandpappy Tywin. Because he’s apparently so awesomely awesome and Fair that he will reward a random peasant girl for disguising herself as a boy. Yes, Tywin of the books wouldn’t have wasted working bodies on senseless torture. But the idea that he’d give a shit about any one of them, let alone enough to call Arya “smart” and select her as a personal cupbearer, is ridiculous.

Julia: I mean, it was really dumb of them to kill blacksmiths. Tough but Fair Grandpappy needs to be frugal; I would say why, but that would spoil the cleverest twist D&D ever pulled off.

It’s almost weird saying this, but so far they’ve done alright with Renly. And Stannis is still perfectly salvageable. Obviously the gay punchline stuff was horrible and out of place, but PLOT wise, it’s all pretty here? Like, Stannis has the best claim, legally speaking, but no one likes him. Renly’s claim is bull, but he’s popular. That’s minimally sufficient at least, which is more than we get in later seasons.

What do we think of the direction they’re going with Qwarth so far? It’s a change from the parade they threw her in the books.

Danzie: I dunno, but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of whoever played the Spice King. He seemed to be the only actor who knew the ridiculousness of the show he was in. He was just having so much fun!

Julia: It’s a sense of awareness we won’t see on the screen until Ian McShane’s Ray in season 6.

Kylie: If I can seriously try to answer Julia’s question (though agreed about the Spice King), I think it’s part of D&D’s general misunderstanding that struggle is necessary in every facet of a journey to make any end triumph meaningful. Maybe this is thinking it through too much, but I’m just remembering the way the summarized Jon’s arc in Season 6 as, “well he began the season dead and now he’s king, so he’s doing well!” Keeping in mind they bend over backwards to aid Ramsay at every turn. It turns into “no one is nice to anyone anywhere,” and I honestly do think these are the beginning signs of it.

Or maybe they just didn’t want to spend money on a parade.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Cersei/Carol, she was only mentioned this week. Sending Lancel to Tyrion could have been a move by either of them. So, I say we skip this section for this week.

Julia: Joffery’s actions do suggest Cersei’s parenting, though.

Kylie: Sure, even if the more Carol comes out, the less that much tracks.

Danzie: Another question is was it Carol or Cersei who commanded the Lancel sexytime? I wanna say Cersei, because Carol, as we know, wouldn’t dare sleep around on Larry.

Julia: Yeah, but Larry’s in jail and she’s SAD.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: Jorah got to explain Qwarth and the Garden of Bones! He must have been so happy!

Griffin: Yeah, that was like, literally all he did in the episode. I remember saying something along the lines that his description of the Garden of Bones isn’t really different from any other city with walls and gates. If they only had graveyards surrounding a massive city, with no suburbs, okay, that would be pretty freaky and one hell of an image, but…nope. Just a desert. Why not make it a point to mention sandstorms? Maybe they kick out prisoners or beggars or something into the sandstorm when it goes so they can die in the desert.

I think the rest of it was mostly fine; nothing really stands out to me as particularly egregious, though everything with Littlefinger was kinda “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M DOING THINGS!!!!”. I don’t know if that’s just who he is in the show, or silly. Is it both?

Kylie: He overstates the case a ton on the show, and is also the official expositor, so it’s kind of hard to tell where the character ends and contrived writing begins. I think it read fairly organically considering some of his other scenes, and it helped that both Renly and Cat were not about to give him the time of day.

Julia: Speaking of overstating the case, Dany. God she likes to yell about all the people she’s going to kill. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wrote off this character as an annoying, entitled asshole.

Danzie: Yeah, she really does just yell and stomp her feet… which I guess Xaro found charming? Because it’s only after this that he decides to let her in.

Julia: Ah, arbitrary laws and oaths based on cutting your hand with a sword. I was wondering when the blatant Orientalism would show up.

How was the pacing?

Julia: I think it’s pretty safe to say there were a few scenes that dragged on too long.

Griffin: Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.

Kylie: Griffin is understating his reaction to this, I might want to point out. He was next to me yelling, “Why is this still going on?” in at least three different spots.

To say something vaguely nice (?) the second half of the episode moved a lot better. Or at least, I wasn’t viscerally uncomfortable and mentally begging the scenes to end in my mind.

Danzie: The actual script on paper was way shorter than other episodes. A big chunk of what made up the screen time was just people being beaten or tortured.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: The sexworker scene was so horrible that I feel as if we’re not even willing to talk about it. Yes, Bronn suggesting Joffrey needs sex workers was in the books. Actually making us watch a scene of him ordering Ros to beat up her coworker while he sits and grins for as long as we did was just plain gross. We get it. We would have gotten it had the scene ended three minutes beforehand, too. We don’t need this insight for Joffrey, and it pushed into gratuitous somewhere around the belt smacking.

Danzie: The scene just flat out wasn’t needed. Joffrey is a monster, and as you said, we get it. We have tons of examples of it already. We don’t need a scene of Cruella de Vil drowning a cat to know she’s evil when literally all she does is try to kill puppies all movie long.

The only thing I can think of is that now we are supposed to feel even more terrified for Sansa? “Be worried that Joffrey will brutally rape Sansa, audience!” Good thing she eventually gets out of King’s Landing so she is safe from that sort of thing.

Oh wait.

Kylie: Thank you, I’m mad all over again. Great analogy though.

The other sex was the off-screen Lancel and Cersei sex that Tyrion calls out. Lancel is like, clearly being coerced, right?

Griffin: Yeah, that sexworker scene, as I mentioned above—what even was that garden weasel thing? Half of a candle stick? Very disturbing and way, way, way too long

I’m pretty sure Lancel is supposed to be…are we supposed to sympathize with him for being coerced? I’m not totally sure that we are since Tyrion makes a point to explicate that Lancel clearly didn’t hate shtupping his sister. Doesn’t make it better, but it’s kind of hard to see the merit of that sequence aside from Tyrion being by far the most entertaining character on the show. Maybe it was just a showcase…?

Julia: I’m mean, it’s not rape if you enjoy it. Especially if you’re a teenager and she’s a hot 30-something.

What is there to say? I think the last time we saw sex between two people who liked each other and both wanted to be there was Ned and Cat cuddling in episode 1. Renly and Loras too, I suppose.

Kylie: Hey now, the ship captain’s daughter seemed to be fine fucking Theon. And his view on it was clearly free of issues…

In memoriam: 2 homophobic Lannister guards, 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours, random prisoner, and Stafford Lannister

Julia: Does Stafford Lannister count? He died off screen and we never even met him. I’m still not done mourning for those 2 homophobic guards, though. What a loss to the art of comedy.

Kylie: The site that has this list put him down, so he counts! But in terms of who we saw die, I guess the tortured prisoner eaten by a weasel was the most…effective? Which again, we did not need to see all of. We knew they were dying from the first scene with that old lady.

Talisa has sassy words to say about 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours. Death is bad! The smallfolk are the ones paying! I mean, she’s not wrong, but I’m kind of remembering when Weiss tried to get all deep after Shireen’s death, saying audiences were hypocritical for caring so much about that moment, but being okay with Stannis killing people in “Blackwater.” There’s a dang narrative, Talisa!

Honestly though, most of my annoyance there is that they’ll float the plight of the smallfolk as an edgy, messed up feature of the world, but then not bother to give their point of view any consideration.

Danzie: Silly Kylie. Sex workers and smallfolk are only there to get tortured and killed. Getting their perspective wouldn’t be dramatically satisfying.

Julia: That random old lady earned her SAG scale, though.

Wow, this is shorter than usual. We really hated this episode.

Kylie: No argument from me. But what about everyone in the comments? Was it really, truly this horrible? And what the hell, Vanessa Taylor? Let us know your thoughts, and next week we’ll get the good ol’ boys back as the writers, continuing The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

Tragedy in Lady Knight

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Image courtesy of Random House

The dedication to Lady Knight reads “To the people of New York City, I always knew the great sacrifice and kindness my neighbors are capable of, but now the rest of the country knows, too.” It’s a somber beginning to a book about the tragedy of war. Obviously, it talks about the events of 9/11, and the book was published in 2002, barely a year afterwards. It’s the grimmest of Pierce’s books so far, but like the dedication, it also shows the most kindness.

Spoilers for Pierces previous work. Warnings for mentions of abuse and the murder of children.

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Analysis

Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream

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Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, also known as the Cornetto trilogy, is a trio of movies that stand in a league of their own. Each movie is its own story and any of the three could stand on its own without the others. Yet they’re all linked by their craftsmanship, themes and, of course, Cornetto. They’re all top class comedies, while also being well-executed character-driven action movies. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End each focus on the friendship between their protagonist and deuteragonist (each time portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively). They delve into the deeps of friendship and the aspects, both negative and positive, that can exists in relationships.

It’s not you, it’s the Zombies

Before the zombie apocalypse, Shaun was living aimlessly, while Ed, his best friend, loafed around on his couch playing video games all day. Shaun had a serviceable job, a stable relationship with a girl he loves, good friends, and pub to go at the end of the day. He was hardly living a full life, but he was living. Sure, he had plans for the future—get a better job, commit more to his relationship, and get Ed off his couch—but he never acted on them. He made promises to his girlfriend that he’d do better, but had no follow through. When anyone pointed out that Ed was a hindrance to him, Shaun would always defend his friend.

Ed’s antipathy to development is even worse than Shaun’s. He doesn’t have many expectations for himself. Instead, he’s content to let Shaun defend him while he plays games and does a whole lot of nothing. Ed only helped keep Shaun stagnate.

It’s almost like a visual metaphor for something standing in-between their relationship.

Everything changed when they found zombies in their backyard. It takes the z-word to get Shaun to act on his plans. With the undead knocking at the doors, he firmly decides what’s important to him and sets out to protect it. He finds not only is he good with the follow through, he naturally assumes the leadership role, adjusting quickly on the fly to keep his friends and family safe when their lives are on the line. When disaster strikes, he makes decisions no one should ever have to make, zombie apocalypse or not.

And Ed, well, actually, Ed doesn’t change all that much. He’s more interested in getting to drive the cool car than he is about the zombies in the street. In the few minutes, Shaun takes to get his mom and stepdad he manages to crash the car. When they’re surrounded by a horde he nonchalantly takes a call (from a guy he occasionally sells drugs too).

Shaun’s willing to forgive and ignore Ed’s apathy until this moment. It takes the world ending and their lives at stake to Shaun to finally confront his friend. The apocalypse becomes the catalyst that pushes Shaun to making decisions. One of those decisions is letting go of a friendship that had been holding him back.

But it’s not all sad; Shaun gets the girl and still finds time to play games with Ed occasionally.

Nevermind Ed’s a zombie.

They’re not Bad Boys

Nicolas Angel is kind of cop who’s good at his job. Every part of his job, including the paperwork, but everything else in his life suffers. He breaks up with his girlfriend. The other officers are all too happy to get rid of him because he makes them look bad by comparison. The only constant in his life before moving to Sandford is his Japanese Peace Lily.

They even make the paperwork cool.

Danny, on the other hand, is the kind of cop who never had to be good at his job. He lived his whole life in a small village where the most work the cops had to do was deal with ‘accidents.’ His father is the inspector. Everything he learnt about his job was from action cop movies.

Friendship in Hot Fuzz goes in a different direction. Nicolas and Danny aren’t the lifelong friends Shaun and Ed were. In fact, a drunk Danny almost runs overs Nicolas when they first meet. Danny actually learns what it means to be a cop from Nicolas. Nicolas learns there’s more to life than the service and there’s more to service than enforcing every law. For Nicolas, Danny becomes the person he cares about more than the job.

By learning more about Sandford from Danny, Nicolas becomes more willing to let smaller infractions go when working to keep the greater peace. By the climax, he even enlists the help of some vandals he’d been suspicious of on his first night in the village. Danny, on the other hand, learns that being a cop isn’t about the big action shootouts, and even when the big action shootout happens, he and Nicolas fight their way out while only using non-lethal takedowns. In this view of friendship, each one makes each other a better cop and a better person.

The Crowning Glory of the End of the World

Gary King is the king in his mind and every king needs a court. For Gary, his court is made up of his friends or, to be more accurate, his enablers. Like so many, Gary found his adulthood paling in comparison to the glory of his youth and has been trying to regain that feeling. The height of his youth had been trying to conquer the Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl with four of his best friends. They never finished the Mile, but that night still left a mark on Gary. For him, it never got better and that’s where the problems start.

He keeps searching for that same high in the substance he linked with the first: alcohol. Never finding it, he makes one last ditch attempt to regain his crown by reclaiming the Golden Mile and finishing what they’d started all those years ago. He rounds up his old friends, who have all grown up and progressed in their own ways. Among them is Andy Knightley, who used to be Gary’s right hand but has been sober since the very night Gary is trying to reclaim.

Amidst the discovery that their hometown has become a hub of alien activity, Andy learns just how deep Gary’s addiction goes. Of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, Gary King is the most tragic protagonist. His addiction sends him on a dark spiral. Even as he tries to regain his youth with his friends, he keeps them at distance emotionally. He thinks he needs drinking buddies more than he needs true friends who will help him.

Gary’s inability to say no to a drink inevitably leads to the World’s End, both the name of a bar and the actual end of the world. But when he hits rock bottom and realizes Andy was willing to follow him there for his sake, that’s when he finds the strength to stop living in the past.

It’s another visual metaphor.

Be it the heartbreak of losing good friends, the surprise of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of persons or wanting to help a friend who’s not ready to help themselves, the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy portrays the complexities of platonic relationships. Best of all, it shows how they evolve as we grow and change.


Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

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