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Analysis

All Becomes Well

Claire

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Presented by “Harry Potter and the Reread Project

So. There it is then. The Harry Potter and the Reread Project post where I’ll be discussing the final chapters of the final book of the series – though this might not be the last post, as some of the overall impressions and conclusions this project has left me with will probably necessitate at least one more.

Harry Potter has been part of my life for essentially all of said life: I think it was one of the first books I actually enjoyed reading, and it’s the first movie I actually remember seeing at the cinema. I’ve reread the books countless times since then, though never as slowly and diligently as I’ve done over the last two years. Of course, I don’t react as emotionally to many of the scenes as I did the first few times I read the books, but especially the chapters during which the Battle of Hogwarts took place got under my skin. I had goosebumps – during a 30 degrees Celsius summer day.

The final chapters of Deathly Hallows are some of the most well-written ones of the entire series. They’re atmospheric and action-packed, they bring together many of the well-known characters and tie up the open plot points in a neat bow without feeling overstuffed or rushed. The fact that it’s not entirely clear what happened to some of the characters, like Firenze or Lavender Brown, is simultaneously nicely realistic and frustrating. And it becomes clear, once again, that action scenes are one of JKR’s particular strengths: the Battle of Hogwarts seems disorienting and confusing and scary, but it’s actually fairly easily possible to reconstruct what happened without plot holes being left open.

Full Circles with Disappointing Endings

Another thing that I really liked about the Battle of Hogwarts chapters is the symbolism of Hogwarts being attacked and partially destroyed. Hogwarts – and by extension, the Wizarding World – was Harry’s safe place, his home, where he was liked, admired and supported. The fact that it wasn’t perfect became obvious pretty quickly, but in Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort and pureblood supremacy are a thing of the past that is trying to return.

However, over the course of the series, it becomes clear that the problems with Wizarding society go far deeper. Chamber of Secrets sets this up by placing a threat inside Hogwarts, but making clear that it springs from an ideology that is deeply rooted in Wizarding society and that hasn’t been eradicated with Voldemort being defeated by Harry. The cracks in the facade of the Wizarding World as a safe, happy place only become wider and wider over the course of ther series, as the malevolence of the Ministry takes centre stage in Prisoner of Azkaban and Voldemort returns in Goblet of Fire. The fact that the Ministry and the majority of Wizarding society turn a blind eye to this in Order of the Phoenix is the logical consequence of the flaws of the Wizarding World, and the high point of JKR’s deconstruction of it. In Half-Blood Prince, when the Ministry actually starts to act on the fact that Voldemort has returned, it is essentially too late to stop the construction of what is the fictionalised equivalent of a fascist state that Harry, Ron and Hermione fight in the final book. Ultimately, British Wizarding society is shown as not a safe place but a breeding ground for fictionalised fascism and thus also incapable of stopping that fascism from coming into power.

Hogwarts, over the course of the series, has either had to contend with an external threat trying to get into the school, as in Prisoner of Azkaban, or, more frequently, with a threat or sinister plot that was taking place inside the school and needed to be uncovered, like in Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire, and Half-Blood Prince. In both Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire, that sinister plot was something that was controlled or brought into the school by outsiders, by people who were neither school staff nor students. In Half-Blood Prince, the threat came from Draco, who Harry suspected, and Snape, who everyone trusted – two people who belonged to the school, something that made it clear that the threat that Voldemort represented had arrived in the middle of the Wizarding community. Hogwarts then first being turned into an authoritarian hellhole where students are forced to torture each other and then being partially destroyed is essentially mirroring what is happening to Wizarding society at large.

The interesting thing is that it’s the Great Hall, the place where the last moments of the battle and Harry’s great triumph take place. Said Great Hall has always been portrayed as the heart of Hogwarts, essentially the centre of the physical representation of Wizarding society, where students become a part of said society. It’s also the Great Hall that is the least damaged part of the castle, where the wounded and the dead are collected during the break in the fighting. The reading that the centre of Wizarding society isn’t destroyed, just like the centre of Hogwarts isn’t damaged or destroyed is almost painfully obvious, especially considering the epilogue – and it’s essentially what makes the end of Deathly Hallows so disappointing.

Flaws in the Plan

Another aspect of the final book that I found disappointing were the eponymous Hallows. The criticism of them as a deux ex machina plot device is pretty well-known, and it’s a criticism that I share. Ultimately, the problem with the Hallows is a similar one as with the Horcruxes: while the objects are there from almost the beginning and their existence is hinted at from early on in the books, the actual introduction and explanation of them is rushed and too close to each other while simultaneously being too late in the actual book they’re introduced in. The hunt for the first Horcrux, Slytherin’s locket, takes up a large part of the first half of the seventh book and multiple months, but both finding the other Horcruxes and discovering the Hallows happens over what seems like weeks.

Additionally, Dumbledore’s entire plan – to reveal the Hallows to Harry and just hope that he will be a better person than he was and continue to hunt the Horcruxes – is plain weird. Dumbledore trusts that Harry will be selfless enough not to desire and search for the Hallows for their immense power, but he doesn’t trust that Harry would have been selfless enough to try and defeat Voldemort knowing that it would mean that he head to sacrifice himself?

The fact that the plan doesn’t actually work is made even more frustrating by the fact that JKR doesn’t even seem to realise that. Dumbledore tells Harry that he was worried that Harry’s hot head would dominate his good heart, that he counted on Hermione to slow Harry up so that Harry would one day be able to possess the Hallows safely, and that he’s glad that Harry proved himself worthy of the Hallows. But as I pointed out already, Harry does get obsessed with the Hallows, to the point where he values it over looking for the Horcruxes, and only stops after the Trio is discovered and Hermione tortured.

What I originally also disliked about the Hallows was that in my opinion, Harry didn’t defeat Voldemort because of his own skill but because of some mysterious magical power that he got his hands on thanks to others’ planning. Rereading the books, I realised that that’s not entirely true: Harry defeats Voldemort because he is the true master of the Elder Wand, a fact that only he realised because only he wasn’t taken in by the legends of the Elder Wand needing to pass by murder. Dumbledore thought Voldemort wouldn’t be able to get to the Elder Wand because he had agreed to Snape killing him, meaning that he thought that it was necessary for Snape to kill him to be owner of the wand. He didn’t consider that Snape disarming him might be enough and thus didn’t consider that Draco could become owner of the Elder Wand.

However, there are two problems with this. For one, Dumbledore should have realised this. After all, he didn’t kill Grindelwald; he only beat him in a magical duel, and then owned and used the wand for years. Additionally, Dumbledore should have expected that Voldemort would realise that the wand wasn’t working properly for him because it was Snape who killed Dumbledore, and would then kill Snape in turn. It’s an obvious line of thought, and Dumbledore should have warned Snape of that possibility and planned around it.

Ultimately, Dumbledore’s entire plan only worked because the Trio got lucky, and both a plan and a plot that rely on the right characters being lucky could and should have been done better. JKR essentially wrote herself in a corner with the Hallows, especially the Elder Wand, and had to dumb Dumbledore down for plot reasons do that he wouldn’t predict both of these things.

Moral Judgements

Rereading the final chapters of Deathly Hallows also brought back the big moral questions: Does using the Imperius curse because it seems like the only option to reach a goal that you need to reach in the moment make you just as bad as the Death Eaters you are trying to defeat? Is it morally acceptable to raise a boy into sacrificing himself for the safety of the society he lives in? Does the fact that Dumbledore essentially acts like a chess grandmaster, moving around the allies he supposedly cares about like chess figures make him a terrible person or simply a person who sees what needs to be done to defeat Wizarding Hitler and does is?

Or, in short, do ends justify the means?

It’s a question that’s essentially been endlessly discussed among Harry Potter fans, including in my previous piece and the comment sections of some of my previous pieces, so I won’t repeat myself, at least with regards to the question of Harry and the Unforgivable Curses.

I’ve often said that I understand why Dumbledore raises Harry like a pig for slaughter, why he does think that protecting all of Wizarding society from Voldemort is worth manipulating a boy into sacrificing his life. After all, Dumbledore has intimate knowledge of what people like Voldemort plan to do: he’s planned something similar with Grindelwald himself, and after it essentially ruined his family, he’s dedicated his life to stopping it.

But understanding why Dumbledore acted the way he did and finding it morally acceptable are two different things. The problem with it is that it turns it turns human lives from an end – from something that has to be protected – into a means to a supposedly bigger end. It is, quite literally, dehumanising. And once you make it acceptable to dehumanise and use people for one bigger purpose, who’s to say that the justification won’t be used again and again?

At the same time, what would have been the alternative? Not sacrificing Harry and thus keeping Voldemort alive, allowing him to continue to rule Wizarding society and, ultimately, Muggle society as well? The entire “Harry Potter” series is essentially an Utilitarian argument on how to fight fascism. Within the internal logic of the series, it does then absolutely make sense that JKR absolves Dumbledore and names Harry’s child after him.

In terms of the Doylist, moral discussion, I’m still torn on Dumbledore’s actions, both as they pertain to Harry sacrificing himself and Dumbledore’s general treatment of his supposed allies, like Snape, Remus and Hagrid. Like I said, I understand why he acted the way he did, and I also see why the way he acted can be seen as morally wrong. JKR herself makes a perfect argument for why it didn’t have to be the way it was, at least with regards to Harry’s sacrifice when she lets Aberforth talk about his brother’s love for secrecy. The books make it seem like Harry wouldn’t have been willing to sacrifice himself if he had known that it was necessary, like Harry couldn’t have decided to die for the sake of his friends and the greater good if he’d found out about it, in book five, for example. But the answer to the question whether it was both really necessary and morally justifiable to instrumentalise and use him rather than just Dumbledore’s need for control and secrecy is what, in my opinion, makes or breaks how you judge Dumbledore.

art by kassillus

Funnily enough, I have a lot less trouble judging Snape, who – as especially those who’ve read this Harry Potter Reread Project from the beginning – I used to hate with a fiery passion. Rereading the books, especially his pretty gruesome death and “The Prince’s Tale” has sort of softened me towards him: I’ve come to both understand more why he turned out the way he did and see the sacrifices he made to bring down Voldemort as heroic sacrifices that at least makes up for his decision to join the Death Eaters in the first place.

That being said, I still wish JKR had made it more clear that he ultimately turned away from Voldemort’s ideology instead of just hinting at it by making him tell off Phineas Nigellus for calling Hermione a mudblood. And, more importantly, I still think that Snape was not a good person, but primarily a selfish person who cared about bringing Voldemort down because it would alleviate his guilt over getting Lily killed and not because it was the right thing to do. When he finds out that Harry has to die and that the sacrifices he made to keep Harry safe, he is enraged not because he sees Dumbledore lying to and manipulating Harry as wrong, but because Dumbledore used him by making him give a promise he knew Snape wouldn’t be able to keep. It’s the fact that he won’t be able to fulfill his purpose in life – to protect Lily Evans’ son – and thus make up for Lily’s death that leads to his emotional break-down in Dumbledore’s office, and while that breakdown is understandable, it suggests that if Dumbledore hadn’t framed protecting Harry and bringing down Voldemort as making up for Snape sort of getting Lily killed, Snape wouldn’t have ever done it. The fact that that is supposedly the best thing he ever did really tells you everything you need to know about Snape.

At the same time, it fits with JKR’s ultimate message: that it’s love for one another that saves us. That has never been as pronounced as it is in the last part of Deathly Hallows, where Lupin and Tonks die to make a better world for the child they love, Narcissa lies to Voldemort because she’s afraid for the son she loves, wanting to protect her daughter enrages Molly Weasley so much that she can beat Bellatrix Lestrange, Lily sacrificing herself for Harry ties him to live not just once, but twice, and the love he feels for his friends motivates Harry to sacrifice himself and in turn protects them from Voldemort.

That message, kitschy as it may seem on the surface, is one of the things that makes me love Harry Potter so much. The other thing is that as a series, Harry Potter believes in redemption, in realising that you have made a wrong choice, even if you realise it out of selfishness, as with the Malfoys and Snape, and coming back from those wrong choices. And it’s a series that portrays humans as being more than the circumstances they are born into, as people being made who they are not just by their families and their circumstances, though they are undoubtly important, but by their choices as well.

Harry Potter is unashamedly optimistic. It doesn’t shy away from portraying the terrible aspects of the world, of selfishness and bigotry and war and death, but it also knows that people can be good and that, as hard as choosing to be good can be, it is worth it. In a world where selfishness has become a state policy and cynicism and violence seem to dominate the stories being told, that is not just refreshing but a valuable lesson to remember.


 

Claire is a student with a focus on English literature and a bit of Linguistics and Anthropology on the side. Harry Potter remains her first and probably most intense obsession, followed by cute animals and caffeine.

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Angelina
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Snape’s problem is, his story kinda undermines the whole “love saves the day” idea, because…like, his love surely lead him to Dumbledore, but in the end it was not about any love, but about cynical/pragmatical manipulation that made him do all the nice things he did. And some gaslighting. And a touch of emotional blackmail.
Sweet man, Dumbledore. Made sure Snape was as unfree under him as he was as branded death eater.

Not that it absolves Snape. Just undermines the idea.

Maidens and Mules
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Maidens and Mules

The business with the wand ownership wasn’t just confusing, it was unnecessary. We know that Voldemort couldn’t kill Harry because Lily willingly sacrificed herself out of love. It would have been far more meaningful if Harry had realized that if he loves the people in the castle, he must be willing to die to save them. Keep the twist where Voldemort’s killing curse only kills the part of his own soul that lives in Harry, keep Harry’s conversation in the afterlife with Dumbledore, and have Voldemort attempt to Avada Kedavra someone (Neville right after he kills Nagini and destroys the… Read more »

Mytly
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Mytly

I think that JKR’s own success worked against her in case of HBP and DH. She clearly had difficulty coming up with fresh new ideas for them – or at least, interesting ones – but was under enormous pressure to write these books, and in case of DH, to wrap up the series once and for all. It can’t be easy to do your job effectively when the whole world is watching – and judging. It’s also quite likely that, given her enormous success, she had acquired more clout over her editors, and was able to get away with ignoring… Read more »

Mytly
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Mytly

“Ultimately, the problem with the Hallows is a similar one as with the Horcruxes: while the objects are there from almost the beginning and their existence is hinted at from early on in the books…” Are you talking about only the Horcruxes or both the Hallows and Horcruxes in this sentence? Because the Hallows are most certainly not there from the beginning, nor is their existence hinted at in the slightest. The Elder Wand is not mentioned or seen in any shape or form before DH; the Resurrection Stone is technically seen in HBP, but not in a context that… Read more »

Mytly
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Mytly

The alternative to sacrificing Harry doesn’t have to mean allowing Voldemort to roam free and continue his reign of terror. For one thing, there are plenty of ways to neutralize Voldemort that don’t involve killing him. As a matter of fact, he was neutralized at the beginning of the series, for more than a decade. When he ‘died’ after trying to kill Baby!Harry, he was effectively helpless until he came across Quirrell. And even then, he was unable to directly do anything, except through the means of followers such as Quirrell, Barty Crouch Jr., Pettigrew, and Lucius Malfoy. It wasn’t… Read more »

WanderingUndine
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WanderingUndine

I enjoyed the Epilogue, but “All was well” marred it for me. *All* is never well in the real world, and this bit of un-realism was harder to accept than the countless magical things that preceded it. No wonder there’s so much Harry Potter fanfiction — roughly 792,000 stories on fanfiction.net alone. We want to put ourselves in that world, and we want to give it a less-than-perfect future. At least I do, though I never bothered to write any because it would have soon vanished in the sea of stories and I couldn’t write a self-insert more wonderful than… Read more »

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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