We here at The Fandomentals are rather staunch Game of Thrones (GoT)…er…detractors. We know this might come as a shock.
However, we’re not disinterested in the genre, nor are we the types of people who object to the depiction of upsetting material, and therefore write off media that does so. Case and point, we are huge, huge fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (aSoIaF), the books this show is “based on.” Sadly for us, the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) seem to be bigger fans of their own, Bold™ ideas than the ones George R.R. Martin put on paper, to the point where we came to realize how the show has absolutely nothing to do with the books, so #StopTheConflation.
There’s many ways you can join in on this totally official campaign, such as yelling incoherently at social gatherings when GoT inevitably comes up, or wearing a t-shirt with the text of Septon Meribald’s “broken man speech” printed on the front in size 6 font. But we have another way to set the right tone for fandom dialogue—that is, a tone where aSoIaF could absolutely never be confused with its sorry excuse for an adaptation—and that’s by coining certain terms and character names.
“Jaime Lannister isn’t on the show,” you’ll tell your third cousins at your grandmother’s birthday party. “Jaime Lannister is a nuanced character whose plotline revolves around his struggle with identity and conception of internal vs. external honor as he adjusts to his new disability while subsequently realizing just how damaging his relationship with his sister had been.” (You speak very fast, of course.) “It’s Larry Lannister who’s on the show: the charmingly befuddled knight in an awesome and supportive relationship who gets the most adorably lost look on his face.”
See? It’s fool-proof. Or at least it will prevent us from crying onto our copies of A Dance with Dragons as we’re forced to call that creature Indira Varma plays, “Ellaria Sand.”So without further ado, Julia and Kylie give you the Book Snob Glossary and all the ironic trademarks money can buy.
D&D Logic: There are just so many twists and turns in GoT. And don’t forget the shocks! However, where many a viewer may spend time actually like, trying to “figure everything out,” we’re here to explain to you that D&D Logic doesn’t exactly conform to Earth Logic. Revenge your family’s murderers by killing the remaining part of your family that’s alive! Win over an entire culture by burning down their holy place! Parkour around a city with half your guts hanging out! All D&D Logic requires is the opening thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” It’s best just to embrace this.
Dramatic Satisfaction: Dramatic Satisfaction is the feeling we get
when we look to the west when watching GoT. D&D and their writers Bryan Cogman and Dave Hill work overtime to make sure of it, and boy do they know what the audience loves: gothic horrors! And rehashed chicken jokes. Thanks!
They Earned it Off-Screen: A special consequence of D&D Logic is that there’s no need to show a character’s development or growth at all. Just show the result and it will be fine! The audience isn’t dumb — they know the characters earned it off-screen. Remember when Brynden Pop-up Blackfish retook
Riverrun Riverroundabout off-screen, and Edmure’s wife had a full-term pregnancy and birth off-screen, and Brienne the Brute and Pod made it past the Twins off-screen, and Bronn learned about Larry’s relationship with said Brute off-screen, and Blackfish died off-screen, and Brienne the Brute and Pod then managed to sneak away from an entire army off-screen, and this was all needed to establish just one fucking subplot that was in the show for maybe twelve minutes? It’s all good. Don’t worry.
Honeypotting/The Honeypot Phenomenon: As we noted, D&D Logic doesn’t adhere to normal logic, and it is not uncommon for the show to seem entirely devoid of sense, or at least any sort of complexity. Luckily for D&D, their fans are far more intelligent and creative than they are, and willing to think up well thought-out theories in an attempt to make sense of the show for everyone else. In other words…they’re doing the writers’ jobs.
The most famous example of this, and the titular example for that reason, was that of the “Lannister Honeypot Theory,” where everyone figured that Talisa was such a stupid invention on the part of D&D, there had to be more to her than met the eye. Once she began writing letters in Volatine to her mommy, the theory was that she was really a Lannister spy sent to seduce Robb into breaking his vows; a honeypot trap set by Tywin to enable the Red Wedding to occur.
But no. Like Talisa, the Lannister Honeypot Theory was stabbed repeatedly in 03×09. She was exactly what she appeared: a noblewoman from Volantis who was such an awesome feminist that she would walk around battlefields without a chaperone, sass-talking a king.
It may be tempting to honeypot things along the way such as, “Lord Umber is secretly playing Ramsay, and that’s not really Shaggydog’s head.” Nope. It was the head. “It would make way more sense if that weren’t really Arya who got stabbed.” Yes, it would makes more sense. And yet it was Arya. Would that we had honeypotters actually writing the scripts instead, because then we’d probably have a good show.
Weisseroff’s Razor: Weisseroff’s razor is how we know that honeypots are never accurate — they’re far too clever by a half. On GoT, it’s always the most idiotic and straight-forward answer possible. Trust us. Weisseroff’s razor demands it.
Reverse Honeypotting: Honeypots can sort of be thought of as very intelligent stories or plot-points that D&D didn’t tell. However, a reverse honeypot is when there’s a story that is told, usually due to Unfortunate Implications, that D&D had no fucking clue was on our screens (else maybe some of these implications would have actually had follow-ups). Our favorite example of a Reverse Honeypot is the noble tale of Hizdahr zo Sansa (may he rest in peace), and his completely awesome, Sansa-in-A Clash of Kings-esque, resistance narrative. Our least favorite example of a Reverse Honeypot is where Tommen was a rape victim of Margaery Tyrell, and his suicide was a horrific exploration of why we have statutory laws. There’s many stories in between, too.
The Checklist Effect: Who cares about context, themes, or characterizations? The stuff that happens in a story can be viewed as a discrete set of plot-points to tick off. And those who do successfully tick them off are therefore great adaptors living at the spirit of the original author! So what the Jon’s death didn’t seem to have any impact on him, other than make him a bit hungrier for some soup? Who cares if Meli-sans-bra’s shockingly old tits were never mentioned again? And we can just call some dual-wielding dipshit the “Sword of the Morning” and that’s meaningful, right? Tick, tick, tick.
Plot Theory of Relativity: In any frame of reference, time will progress exactly as fast as plot demands. No more, no less.
Empowered™ Women: In Weisseroff, women are strong in the D&D way. They can, for example, become a Total Badass™, who is either an awesome warrior, or just a chick getting high off of violence. There’s nothing more empowering, and reasonable, than slaying all those awful dudes. That’s what feminism is. Bonus points for mocking the “feminine” traits of others. The other option is to be a super sexy manipulator. Bonus points if you use your wiles to manipulate a child. There are no other options, unless you are a very rare-breed of time-traveling feminist field nurse.
Real Men™: In Weisseroff, men are Strong™. They kill men. They have sex. They never show weakness, or fear. It’s almost as though all they do is fuck and fight, fight and fuck. Oh wait…
Womb Syndrome: Woman can and should be badass and/or sexual manipulators, but they do have one fatal weakness: motherhood. Once a woman has given birth, her children exist as a super convenient switch that can be flicked whenever a character 180° is required. Did a mother just spend the past thirty minutes being a total badass and fighting off hoards of undead? Well, sadly the sight of zombie children made her Womb Syndrome kick in, rendering her incapable of defending herself (ironically to the detriment of her real children).
Is a woman an “evil bitch” who likes to blow up buildings? If only she had some children left to be her redeeming quality. Kindly note, that simply having a child is not enough to contract Womb Syndrome; one must also be a woman. We all know Real Men™ don’t give a shit about their children.
Hot Potato: D&D’s favorite game! Let’s set up plotlines and forget about them! Who’s Gendry? What happened to half of Stannis’s army that just fucked off at the end of autumn in the heart of the North? Why is Arya’s list magically shorter? Hey, remember when the Boltons held Moat Cailin? No? Well, neither do they!
Ham Sandwich: D&D’s preferred lunch. Their favorite food is clearly ham, given the hamfisted way they provide us clues, exposition, and reveals. Might there be a plot involving WILDFIRE coming up? Best take further dumps on Larry’s characterization and have Tyrion magically mention the caches the episode before. Hey, is that dude who’s wearing Ned Stark’s clothes and hairstyle Ned Stark? Let’s be sure to have Bran point and declare “that’s my father.” And don’t forget about the Frey pies…
Shocking™ Moments: However, sometimes D&D don’t want the sneaky audience to see their big moments coming. Therefore, they keep everyone guessing by having characters pull random 180°’s that make us gasp! We did not see that coming! Because we could not see that coming. Because you literally presented the opposite situation to us and then just randomly flipped it. Wow. Give them all the Emmys.
The Key Jingling Effect: Hey guys, wouldn’t it be awesome if we had a giant battle that pushed the limits of fight cinematography on the TV medium? What about swoopy shots of THREE dragons at once? Or hows about creating an elaborate, Beauty and the Beast-esque library set for Sam to stand in for four seconds? A bonus to all this SUPER AWESOMENESS is that just like jingling keys in front of a baby, it will make the audience forget about all of the offensive or illogical bullshit you’ve pulled on them, and they will decide that you are the best writers ever.
The 600 Masks Effect/Shiny Shiny: News flash, Game of Thrones has a ginormous budget. Great things can be done with the amount of money they have at their disposal. Like the famous 600 unique masks in the Hall of Faces in Season 5. Unfortunately, some of the budget allocation decisions made are… questionable. When confronted with the choice to either spend money on: 1. Having Ghost fight beside Jonny, emphasising his connection to his Stark family and the Old Gods, or 2. Wun Wun, he’s so cool!!!1!! Well, we guess they made the decision that made the most sense creatively.
It’s the same line of reasoning that gave us a brand new castle for Horn
Hill Faire and immaculate CGI for Deadpan to have a cool mount on which she could deliver a speech to people already following her, but yet, again, Ghost didn’t fight by Jon’s side because budget. We’re sure this is comparing production apples and oranges, but where the creative energy goes is rather…telling.
Outside the Episodes: Because of all the characters who “earned it off-screen,” there are times that D&D must provide interviews that help explain what they just wrote. These “Outside the Episode” specials are particularly insightful. Did you know Arya is an instrument of revenge with an instrument of revenge? Or that it’s Cheryl’s fault that her rape-victim son committed suicide? Or that a young girl being competently in charge of stuff is hilarious? Neither did we, but thank the Seven we have the Outside the Episodes to tell us.
Steve the Intern: Poor Steve. After finding out that his doctorate in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on Folklore and Mythology was worth little to employers, he was thrilled to get an unpaid internship in the Game of Thrones writers’ room, because such is the state of our world. But things quickly went south for poor Steve. He was told to produce a three page summary of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, which he managed by using size 8 font, but he’s quite sure D&D didn’t even read that. He spends most of this time trying to explain to Dave Hill what a literary theme is, but he just gets blank looks in return.
Weisseroff: A magical place with size and population fluctuations according to the needs of the episode. Patriarchy doesn’t exist in Weisseroff, except when it does for a woman to be raped, or Poor Carol has to deal with it. Sometimes Weisseroff is a loose collection of feudal holdings, and sometimes it’s a Nation State that people can be citizens of and feel loyalty towards. There’s also a bullet train system or something that runs off the power of the Plot Relatively Field. Also everyone is terrible to each other and everything sucks.
Winterhell: Winterhell is a castle that once resembled Winterfell, except here, the only thing we are ever shown is rape, torture, flaying, and the casual death of characterizations. On occasion random Northern Lords will show up and declare fealty to the bastard son of the dude that murdered their king. Because he’s got moxie. We’re supes happy that Jonny Cardboard and Sandra Snark redecorated the place with the Stark banners, because maybe this means we’ll get plotlines that don’t involve inept apple-peeling, but we’re also a little confused how the “Lady of Winterhell” and “King in the North” have the same seat. WinterCartell?
The RiverBlands: Oh look, these exist again. Or perhaps they exist in a pocket dimension that you can warp in and out of from anywhere at will. That may explain a lot actually… Apparently, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Shire is situated in one small pocket of the RiverBlands, where winter is far away, and Septon Ray keeps us all safe with his lack of knowledge about the religion he practices.
Riverroundabout: The plot will make you out ‘n’ out. Riverroundabout doesn’t seem to matter all that much to the people of Weisseroff. The Freys didn’t bother to protect it, as Pop-up Blackfish took it back armed with nothing but his potty-break provisions. Then, Walder Frey didn’t say boo until after the heir’s wife had a full-term pregnancy. Weird. However, it is supes convenient to stick Larry there when you need him out of the way so that Carol can get down to some of her shenanigans.
Carol’s Landing: Carol’s Landing is where Carol lives.
Cheryl’s Landing: Cheryl’s Landing is where Cheryl lives. And rules.
Horn Faire: The Horn Faire is such fun to attend! Dress in your favorite Beauty and the Beast gown and dine with a bunch of sassy ladies who don’t take any shit from their men (*snappity snap*), no matter how much these dudes might be framed like terrifying abusers. There’s no patriarchy at The Horn Faire, but there might be Wildlings afoot, because boy are they hated. But it’s fine. A small tradeoff for good boar, forks, and Empowerment™.
Porne: Porne is a small area shaped like the birthmark on a man’s ass that consists of the Water Gardens and some desert. It was conceived when someone involved in the production asked their racist grandmother from 1880 what “the orient” was like. There are three things the Pornish do: have sex, kill and/or mutilate people with little or no reason (bonus points for family members), and talk with a goofy accent. There may be one or two good eggs in there, but they’ll probably get murdered by the now-ruling maybe-princess, her daughter, and her daughter’s half-sisters.
The House of Dark and Vague: This is a poorly lit building in Braavos that we think is full of people, or maybe just human shaped lumps, who say very vague things and like to hit each other. Stick hitting is the most important skill, in fact. They also trick people into killing themselves by lying to them. Don’t worry about leveling up in the House of Dark and Vague: anyone can apply a mask easy-peasy, and sometimes they’ll even apply multiple faces (including ones currently in use) to fuck with new recruits, only to have such a moment never be addressed again. Was blindness a punishment or part of the training? We haven’t the foggiest since it’s all so vague!
The Lady Crane School of Medicine: There’s really bad soup here, but that’s just because Lady Crane is so empowered with her violence, and remember…Empowered™ Women can’t have “feminine” skills. Here at the Lady Crane School of Medicine, students will learn how to sew stitches to immediately allow for light parkour, as well as how to keep lovers loyal through stabbing. And this is one of the only locations where “positive” female interaction occurs. What fun!
Simplified Bay: Simplified Bay is, like, okay. And so is everything there, apparently. The other Slaver Cities are a monolith who kindly delayed their attack until their preferred protagonist took over the place. There’s no unforeseen illnesses. There’s one mercenary group in the walls (and sometimes outside of the walls). Navies magically appear and disappear as the plot demands. Priests preaching for Deadpan reduce crime rates. Saint Tyrion does a great job ruling the place. Until he doesn’t… for reason. Plot reasons, you guys! But don’t worry, together, he and Deadpan sew it up so tight that even a mercenary with no qualifications whatsoever can run the place now.
GoT is rather known for its sprawling cast, so as a result, we have subdivided this section by character locations in Season 6. More or less. There was a lot of teleporting, but we did what we could.
Shogun: The Lord of the White Walkers. This guy can raise the dead, is great with babies, and looks damn stylin’ in his samurai armor. He’s also the King of Good Timing.
1000 Eyes and Two aka Max von Sydow: This raven with
three one two eyes has so much wisdom that it took him a thousand years to accumulate it. We guess he got bored. Which would explain why most of his attention seems to be directed entirely towards Stark home movies these days. But don’t ask too much of him…he’s in a very demanding and Emmy-worthy role.
Benjen Coldhands: OMG it’s Benjen! We’ve seen him before, you guys! He can kill skeletons and tell stories about himself! Why D&D opted to adapt the one fan-theory that Martin has staunchly rejected is beyond us, but I guess they just know about Dramatically Satisfying media more. Aaaand he’s gone. Thanks for the cup of blood anyway, Nuncle!
Ned Patrick Harris: When Bran and 1000 Eyes and Two pop in the Stark Wackiest Home Videos, they’re shocked to find a dishonorable braggin’ younger version of Ned Stark who may or may not have doubled as Doogie Howserr. Though he seems pretty great with babies too, at least.
Dawninator: Ned Patrick Harris’s nemesis, and also an unquestionable star of The Stark highlights reel. He has a good sword (but not great sword) with a lil’ sun emoji on it, but like a true Pornishman, he dual-wields. Which makes him the best fighter Ned Patrick Harris has ever seen.
Jonny Cardboard: Jonny Cardboard is our unproblematic Action Hero, but he’s so one-note, that he’s accidentally not the protagonist in his own story. Whoopsies! It’s okay though, when Jonny Cardboard comes onto your screen, you can feel free to seal clap and watch his growth from being a guy who can swing a sword really well, to a guy who can swing a sword really really well. He also excels at avoiding arrows, unlike his poor horsies. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t utter a single battle command, if he breaks his vows, or if he is responsible for thousands of men getting caught in a trap; so long as he keeps swinging that sword everyone around him will praise him. And give him a crown. But he used to sit *down there* so we guess it’s poetic. Oh yeah, he was also dead for half a second, though since he doesn’t seem to care about it, we’re not sure why we should either.
Beardy: We don’t know who this Icelandic fellow with an impressive beard is, or why people are calling him “Tormund.” As far as we can tell, he has no personality traits whatsoever, with the exception of intense homophobia. It’s okay Beardy, we get it. You’re not gay. You don’t have to beat anyone to death or creep on any women that are clearly disinterested in you to prove it. Calm it down.
Meli-sans-bra: This red priestess may wear all black on occasion, but she keeps one thing consistent about her wardrobe: a lack of undergarments! In fact, Meli-sans-bra can’t wait to expose her finely shaped breasts every chance she gets. Doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of winter and she’s at the Wall; she will take that naked nap. But wait!!! Her young, hot tits are an illusion, and she’s actually OLD. And apparently she’s clued into dramatic irony, because her desire to flash everyone may have disappeared entirely. No implications there. Oh. She also can bring people back from the dead, but no one seems to care.
Rover: This rarely spotted CGI beast is Showboating Sam’s dog or something. We’re not sure because he’s never really around. Though when he is, he loves noisily growling. Good job, Rover! Here’s a biscuit!
Sansa Stark: Sansa Stark, as a concept, is the eldest daughter of Ned Stark and Catelyn Tully. She has naturally red hair, and that is the totality of the Sansa Stark Construct. However, astute viewers know her as “She of Many Faces,” for we are treated to many delightful characters that fall under this monolith.
The Many Faces of Sansa:
Darth Sansa: Darth Sansa is an Empowered™ Woman who lies to Vale Lords and cosplays as a Tier 8 warlock.
Sonsa Stork: Sonsa Stork shares Darth Sansa’s love of feathery shoulder pads and dark hair, but this face of Sansa doesn’t seem to be able to ask a single question of Batfinger when he illogically suggests marrying her enemy for revenge. She’s also never had beer before. Lol!
Sansa Bolton: Sansa Bolton is stripped of all her agency, though smartly goads her abuser by threatening the security of his claim. Her look is based on cleavage baring nightgowns and tasteful bruises.
Fansa Fark: Fansa shows her Empowerment™ by saying she’s willing to die and being afraid to cross a river. She also forgets the words to oaths she must have heard performed a hundred times and needs reassurance from the closest man before making an obvious decision.
Brittany Stark: Brittany is a Boss-Ass Individual. We LOVE her. She knows how to get shit done. She will make her opinion known and demand to be taken seriously. She will call you on your bullshit. She even sews!
Field Marshall Sandra Snark: Sandra is a Boss-Ass Individual who mostly stands silently in the background. Even in situations where no one is silencing her, she often chooses not to say anything. Or, like, share vital information she may have. But who can blame her? When she does open her mouth, she kind of betrays the fact that she’s…. Not all that smart.
Asnas Krats: Asnas is not a timid little girl. She’s a player, you guys. And we all know that the only way to be a player is to kill people. Asnas will compare herself to her abuser by declaring that she would have tortured Theek too. Then she’ll REALLY compare herself to her abuser by… acting exactly like him.
Ramsay Sue: Gods is it ever good to be Ramsay Sue and have so much of the writers’ help. This protagonist of the Winterhell arc never fails, has superhuman abilities, and gets everything he wants. He gets a hot wife to rape AND a hot girlfriend who will stick with him even when he treated her like shit. He’s so badass that he and 20 Good Men can destroy the supplies of an entire army. He’s so charismatic that the Lords of the North will follow him, even after he kills his dad and turns his baby brother into Iams. He’s so EVHUL that we need to see him kill a woman with an apple-peeling knife, just in case his charisma confuses us and we forget. He’s so clever than he can manipulate the enemy commander into doing whatever he wants. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling Knights of the Vale!
Theek: Theek must never forget his name. Ramsay Sue was very clear on that. But it can all be solved by screaming at him. Whatever, it’s not as if it’s important thematically, or anything. The only thing Theek needs is some tough love, then everything will be better and he’ll be able to have action sequences with the best of them.
Batfinger: Batfinger is a mysterious man. He has a voice like the Marlboro Man and an accent that… morphs on a sliding scale between Lucky the Leprechaun and Captain Barbosa. He has the powers of teleportation and telepathy, as he knows about events three seconds after they happen and can magically appear wherever he’s needed. Unfortunately, what Batfinger gains in magic powers, he lacks in common sense. Batfinger’s plans are mysterious. And far too complex for simpletons like us to figure out. He plans on being king apparently, and to get there he will… randomly switch sides whenever the plot demands it. Chaos is a Ladda, bitches.
Larry Lannister: Larry Lannister is a charmingly befuddled knight. The second-oldest Lannister deserves our pity, because he seems to operate in a continual state of confusion. He’s lucky that he has his unproblematic long-term girlfriend, Carol, to patiently explain everything for him. Larry loves Carol. Larry loves Carol so much that he will declare revenge on her enemies over and over and over. Just in case we forgot. Larry will fling babies from
trebuchets catapults in the name of Carol. Sometimes he gets momentarily distracted by shiny things, like the rocks on his dead daughter’s eyes, or Brienne the Brute. But it’s only momentary. Larry loves Carol. We think Cheryl might scare him, though.
The Bro-nns: Larry goes nowhere without his best bud, Bronn, and together, they bro it up all over Weisseroff. Bronn knows his BFFs dirty deets immediately, and with no context, so these two can have all the heart-to-hearts before springing into action. It doesn’t matter whether they’re sneaking into the Water Gardens behind a donkey carrying bananas, or lifting a bro-tastic siege together …the Bro-nns are always a rip-roaring time for the audience. It’s extra fun when Bronn crackships Larry with Brienne the Brute (silly Bronn; Larry loves Carol).
Brienne the Brute: As we’ve explained, (see: Empowered™ Women) there are two kinds of women: the kind that needs a man to protect her and the kind that is a STONE COLD KILLER! Look at her just cut people down without blinking! And make dogs disappear. It is not actually physically possible for a woman to be capable in combat without being a killing machine. This fact is so obvious we don’t think we need to elaborate on it. The Brute may not be very good a keeping oaths, but there is one thing she excels at: failure. Poor thing can’t even deliver a message without failing at it. Very Empowering™.
Pod the Rod: Pod is a relatively nice man, as far as well can tell, even if he hilariously forgets how to ride horses on occasion. However, there’s one thing he doesn’t forget to ride… No seriously, he’s such a sex god that sex workers will forgo their wages just to be in bed with him. They’ve been waiting for a man like Pod to show up! Har-har. This development was so important that we need it continually mentioned, even three seasons later. And getting more and more congratulatory. He now has a magical penis! Oh well, at least he can remember the forms of courtesy.
Pop-Up Blackfish: One fish, red fish, Blackfish, dead fish. This poor belly-up guppy was so good at randomly appearing on sets to create false tension. We can’t decide when he was more badass, the time he retook Riverrun, or his fight to the death. No…we really can’t decide; neither was ever shown.
Septon Ray: This is not a fandom name. David Benioff and Dan Weiss asked each other, “hey, what should we name this Septon Meribald/Elder Brother knock-off” and came up with the name “Ray”. For obvious reasons, we felt we needed to include that fact in this glossary.
The Canine: We were slightly looking forward to Sandor Clegane returning to GoT, but boy were we surprised when all we got instead was some vicious, rabid canine. The Canine loves violence and chicken. Toss him a bone, or else he might randomly slay you to get one. He also likes boots and peeing. There’s not much more to his character, but somehow his entire worldview is always proven completely correct. Good boy!
Carol Lannister: Carol is a relatable, struggling super-mom. She is a devoted mother to her kids Chase, Madison, and TomTom. And a victim. She lost a baby and sympathizes with Cat Stark about it. But then she also lives her life believing a prophecy that her first baby should have negated. She almost had to poison her son to prevent him from being harmed more. And now… she tried to protect her kids and rule wisely and well, but the patriarchy was just too much for her. But being slut-shamed by fanatics won’t stop our Problematic Fave from trying her best to do her job. Even if the cool kids all leave the table when she sits down, or her uncle banishes her to the gallery, or her son changes the law to screw her over. 🙁 Poor Carol!
Cheryl Lannister: When you push a super-mom too far… She randomly morphs into a mass murderer in metal shoulder pads. Cheryl likes wine, blowing things up, torturing nuns, and not being overly concerned for her children. Her outfit does go great with the Iron Throne, though. What a classic…
Poor Dumb Tommen (TomTom): Poor Dumb Tommen went through quite the growth spurt recently, and is apparently old enough to be married and having sex with someone twice his age. Don’t worry, it’s not problematic; it’s funny because he enjoys it. Until of course, his abuser is killed and his emotional immaturity leaves him unable to deal, leading to his suicide. Wait no, that was Cheryl’s fault for not hugging him. TomTom is very easily manipulated by, well, everyone, and inherited his father’s need to have things explained to him slowly and carefully. It’s almost as if he was—we don’t know we’re just spitballing here—an 8-year old who was shoved into an older body so that he could have sex in what is a very important plot-point with no unfortunate implications.
High Grandpa: This religious extremist is so charming. He’s just like your elderly great uncle who always flirts with the waitress at the Denny’s. But then you get to actually talking to him and it turns out that he’s a homophobic loon who had very fixed opinions on four-point versus five-point Calvinism. And also, he’s friends with a scary biker gang and not afraid to use them. Don’t fear though; his only weapon is long, drawn-out monologues about how awful fun is and how rotten people are for participating in a social contract.
Septa Spoonella: Poor Septa Spoonella. This once terrifying septa who would rise with spoon-in-hand received the dull task of following around a perjurer while she doodled roses, only to end up getting kidnapped and slowly tortured for doing her job. We wish her the best, though don’t have high hopes.
Faith Taliban: Some of us are under the mistaken impression that religion and its role in public life is a complicated issue, but no, D&D have shown us the light, religion instantly turns dopey teenagers in funny hats into conveniently colour-coded strawmen who are into scarification and hamfisted social commentary. There doesn’t seem to be as many of these people as you would expect—maybe 20 or so. They’re very good at freehand carving, but easily distracted by small children.
Marg Bolelyn: This bi-curious twenty-something from the sexual liberation capital of Weisseroff,
Sunsnake Highgarden, really, really wants to be queen, for some reason. And not just any queen, THE queen, you guys. We think maybe the crown just goes really well with her outfit? Marg is great at negotiation. Whether it’s hammering out her own marriage treaty or talking her way out of jail, Marg will make the deal. Even if it means that her brother has to give up his claim and be a monk or something. And if her House’s army is standing *right there*, that still won’t cause her to reconsider anything. Hmm… maybe her negotiation skills aren’t so hot. But at least she had spider-sense. And a rockin’ potato sack to wear.
Knight of the Fabulous (Fabs): This man is gay. Isn’t that hilarious? Why aren’t you laughing? Are you a homophobe? Anyway, Loras is a very complex character…. he’s gay. Therefore he must suffer. Very Empowering™. D&D are true allies; they like to let the story of Fabs suffering for his gayness be about everyone else. Fabs just wants “it” to stop. We don’t blame him.
Dowager Sasstress: Poor Carol may have to deal with the patriarchy, but if you’re sassy, like our beloved Dowager Sasstress, then you get to be the official negotiator for your House, and no one will think this is an issue, ever! There’s no sexism or ageism for you! It also doesn’t matter if you can’t actually elicit change because you’re shoved into the middle of an Idiot Plot, just stay sassy, and the audience will think you have point. Bonus points if you make a joke about gays or poo! Bonus bonus points if you randomly insult other women, especially by saying that they look like *BOYS*.
Still, two can play at this game:
Now that’s sass!
Showboating Sam: Showboating Sam has killed a Thenn and a White Walker, don’t ya know? He’s a much better warrior than Randyll “Your Mother’s a Fine Woman” Tarly. Sure, he may shrink before his father’s abusive tirades, but deep down, he knows that he *deserves* that badass sword. Maybe now he’ll be just as cool as Jonny Cardboard. Showboating Sam’s one weakness is getting distracted by books, as he might ditch you in a hallway. With a baby. And no money or way to navigate the setting.
Assertive Gilly: Assertive Gilly may be a wildling who has only known the inside of her rapist father’s shack, but that won’t stop her from putting everyone in their place. She especially loves word-play, since every beginner reader can appreciate a good homophone. If she sees the bf failing to showboat for a fraction of a second, Assertive Gilly is there to remind him that he’s strong in the Real Man™ way.
Mama & Tiffany Tarly: These women do not. Take. Shit. Whether it’s teasing about their mystifying lack of hawking experience, or telling Randyll to his face that he “dishonors himself,” the Strong Women of Horn Faire never fail to bring the sass and the truth to the men. I Can’t Believe it’s Not Patriarchy! They also love bastards, wildlings, sex workers, and sharing clothing.
The Amazing Shrinking Baby: Madison Lannister has apparently been in Porne for years, Sam has been worrying about Jon’s foolish heroism for years, but Baby!Sam (who is not Aemon Steelsong ◕︵◕ ) is still not walking. It’s fine.
Prince Bashir: All the man wanted to do was share his soup with his honored guests and go back to staring out over the empty Water Gardens. Unfortunately for him, his brother hooked up with the biggest asshole in the world, who will gleefully murder him and his son for being “weak”. And all his guards agree. Why are culinary skills so underappreciated? We’re so sad. 🙁
Showberyn: This second son whose father apparently ruled Porne likes to have sex with anything that’s slightly warm and be rude to people at parties. He lived in a brothel. Disturbingly, he morphs into a character named Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell for two scenes several episodes apart before reverting back to his original form.
Princess Faullaria Sand (or maybe Uller?): Showberyn’s beloved paramour, Faullaria Sand hates timid sex and loves the torturing of small children in the name of revenge. In fact, her defining feature may be her love of revenge. She loves it so much that she will murder Showberyn’s whole family and name herself the Princess of Porne (maybe?), because that’s what he would have wanted. We hope that next season, she’ll give us a moving monologue on the awesomeness of revenge. That sounds right.
The Sand Fakes: Who are these three women? And which one is which? Whatever, they’ve been meditating about it a lot and decided that for a change of pace, they want revenge. Revenge on Larry, who they learn is in Porne? Of course not! Revenge on Madison, that punk. Revenge on their cousin Trystane Jonas for painting eyeballs onto stones. FOR SHOWBERYN! The Fakes have quirky, individualized weapons and the inability to be nice to one another. However, they do have the ability to teleport, so we should take them very seriously.
Snake-Fu: A unique style of fighting practiced only in Porne that includes futile spinning, futile spinning of weapons, and futile mincing steps. All weapons must be dipped with boner-activated poisons. Snake-Fu is dizzying, yet deadly, and can drop a dude twice your size with a single small blade to the back. If you reach an especially high level, then you get to learn the ultimate skill: double sword spinning!
Trystane Jonas: This boy band wannabe may not bear much resemblance to a 13-year-old who is content to play board games to cheer up his sick 11-year-old betrothed, but what he lacks in innocence he makes up for in chest heir. Yes, the heir of Dorne (fuck you) may be mourning the death of the love of his life, but he is committed to good governance, as his soup-cooking father would have wanted. He didn’t even make a stink when Larry insisted that he stay cooped up on a boat off-shore! Too bad his cousins couldn’t be as magnanimous as him.
The House of Dark and Vague
Your Sister of the Canals: When Arya Stark goes onto the streets of Braavos, she becomes Your Sister of the Canals. Your Sister is a fan of Princess Leia’s hamburger buns, Emmy-worthy revenge monologues, and potentially The Winds of Winter? At least, she said her name was “Mercy” once. She’s very good at parkour, but less good at not getting stabbed. All in all, Your Sister is a terrible assassin, opting to stare at her marks conspicuously, and then make friends with them.
Arya Todd: This is Arya’s true form, which we know because she always announces herself before slitting less honorable throats. Arya Todd serves a dark and a vengeful god, and bakes humans into pies fit for kings. This might seem incredibly disturbing, but fortunately it’s all so clear that everybody goes down well with beer.
The Meta Players Club: This theater troupe is very meta. Sure, behind the scenes they might be full of STIs and murderous inclinations, but to the people of Braavos, they are simply acting in a horribly paced, warped telling of the events of the War of Five Kings. Revengeful monologues get uproarious applause. And lest a poor actor suggest a mild change to the script, their asshole playwright will tell them how everything that happens makes sense creatively because he wants it to. We’re not sure why Lady Crane left the Tyrells to join the Meta Players Club, but we can only guess that maybe one of her lover-stabbings didn’t end so well.
The Kinky Man/Sexy Jesus/Tom: There may not be anything particularly kindly about Not!Jaqen, but this dude is one for his kinky smiles of vagueness. What is Sexy Jesus thinking? We never know! But isn’t his smirk endearing? If you get in tight with the Kinky Man, he might call you “No One,” which may or may not be his official title for his second-in-command. However, lately he’s just been standing there like some dude. Hi, Tom.
The Asshole: This antagonistic jerk runs around the House of Dark and Vague hitting people with sticks and laughing at them when they can’t answer questions that they have no capacity to answer. She hates whenever anyone advances in her…guild? Mortician’s club? Can’t see the stick-hitting session? That’s not her problem. She hates new guildies so much, that she will get special permission from the Kinky Man to fucking kill them if they step a toe out of line. The Asshole’s favorite movie is Terminator 2.
Deadpan Card-born: Technically, her full name is “Deadpan Card-born, the Unemotional, Queen of Simplified Bay, Queen of the Anachronisms and the Clichéd, Khaleesi of Faux-Empowerment, Breaker of Suspended Disbelief, and part-time Mother of Dragons.” And boy is she Empowered™! Look how dignified and confident she is! Watch as she delivers long monologues consisting of nothing but platitudes without once changing her facial expression! She doesn’t need to explain her logic to anyone, and if you imply that a development is unearned she will burn down your holy temple. Or marry you. Don’t question that logic either. Weirdly, Deadpan seems a little stoopid without the help of her menz, and finds herself in need of rescue quite a bit. But look, she wouldn’t be speaking in monotone if she wasn’t Empowered™, okay? Plus her dragon is always lurking right around the corner in case she needs to convince the people that are already following her to follow her more.
Saint Tyrion: Saint Tyrion is the unproblematic fave who can do no wrong. He’s the Abraham Lincoln of his time. He totally respects the personhood of sex workers and the contribution they make to the economy! Because #notallmen! He’s so likable that Deadpan’s dragons want to cuddle with him! He brings fun to Simplified Bay, in the form of drinking games! He’s also committed to teaching the inner city kids all about slavery based on his 3-day experience. It’s not his fault the slavers are nothing more than implacable strawmen. But don’t worry; in the end, Saint Tyrion is always proven right.
Hizdhar zo Sansa: Poor Hizdahr zo Sansa. He was so strong…just like a lady in a song. This poor guy tried to do all he could after his city was conquered, and his father was brutally murdered, to make the exchange of power as peaceful for everyone as possible. He even persuaded Yunkai to give Deadpan everything she wanted, though because Values Dissonance this was somehow framed as not a good thing. Then, he was forced into a marriage with a woman who clearly terrified him, only to ultimately be unceremoniously killed off by the people he was actually trying to help in the first place. He and his rather nuanced resistance narrative were simply too good for this cruel world.
Faabio Naharis: This tall, dark, and handsome fellow is so worldly that his accent can’t even decide what part of the world he’s from. Faabio has many skills: twirling his stiletto, threatening people in front of their wife, having a filmable ass, bludgeoning men to death without shedding blood, leading the Dothraki, and now ruling Meereen. He’s so qualified! Maybe he can get a consort who emotes this time around.
Varys Marx: Smallfolk of the World Unite! Varys Marx is some random eunuch from Lys who is REALLY into fiscal responsibility and kissing Saint Tyrion’s ass. He’s so committed to good governance that, after meeting Illyrio Mopatis in a “Robert Totes Sucks Club” meeting, he and his “colleague” decided that Viserys Targaryen was the way to go and that a plan to invade Westeros with an army of rapists who are afraid of water would totally work. And now Deadpan is the way to go, because she’s so good at compromising. His devotion to her is so strong that he has the power to teleport to her location in less time than it takes to change an outfit! Wait, didn’t Varys Marx provide information to Robert about Deadpan in Season 1 that almost got her killed? Awkward! Varys Marx is really glad he doesn’t have a libido or “debts of affection,” or a backstory or anything like that, to complicate matters.
However, we’re worried you might have forgotten that Varys Marx is a eunuch. He is a eunuch. We think Saint Tyrion might be on it to remind us every episode, but just in case you forgot: he has no balls. He is a eunuch.
Kuvira: This red priestess went to ComicCon, saw Meli-sans-bra, and thought she was the bees knees, so cosplayed as her. We’re not sure if she also has secretly old titties, but what she does have is personal information about Varys’s eunuch-ness. She also has power over all the red priests for some reason, and manages to convince them to do…exactly what they were already doing. But she helps solve crimes. We’re sure it’s for the stability of
the Earth Empire Simplified Bay.
Evil Sex Worker of False Tears: WHO IS THIS WOMAN? She’s a sex worker in Meereen who loves the Strawmen of the Harpy, but WHO IS SHE? She thinks Deadpan is a conqueror, which okay, but she also seems to hate her freeness, which…okay? We’re just confused by her, and also suspect that she has an awesome story that’s happening off-screen. A better story. We want to watch that story. Maybe she’s the Harpy.
MissWorm: It’s always heartwarming when a couple bonds over a shared interest. In this case the interest is becoming mouthpieces for Saint Tyrion and receptacles for his White Wisdom.
Ser Hilariously Friend-zoned/Greyscale Jorah: Jorah loves Deadpan, you guys. That’s his entire character, and it’s so funny. But he deserves her, truly. He is so devoted to her that he will risk bringing a deadly disease into her city because… um. It doesn’t matter. She’s so touched by the gesture that she’ll send him off on a love-quest to find a cure for this disease. We’re glad he was rewarded!
Strawmen of the Harpy: We think these guys are almost all former slavers, except of course for Evil Sex Worker of False Tears, who’s a harpy for her son. But whoever is behind those golden masks really have trouble focusing. Remember when they got so distracted by a dragon flying off that they forgot to capture all of Deadpan’s advisors? They’re also easily driven underground by red priests talking about Deadpan, but will burrow underneath the walls of the city and pop back outside of their gates once they hear that the Slavers of the Harpy are attacking.
Slavers of the Harpy: These slavers seem to be connected to the Strawmen of the Harpy, since the sails of their ships all have harpies on them. We’re not really sure what this means, but we’re quite sure it’s on-point for Simplified Bay. However, we’ll have to ask Evil Sex Worker about it to be sure, since she has all the information that Varys Marx could ever want.
Ironboor: The inhabitants of the Iron Islands have a deep and rich culture, which includes tending their lush forests and following the men who speak about their genitals.
Saltmoot: Can you find twenty dudes at the local tavern? Well then grab them and huddle together on a cliff-face, and you’ve got yourself a saltmoot. Just make sure no one emotes, even when one of the candidates for the Salt Throne admits to murdering your king.
Priesty McBeardFace: This dude is apparently Balon and Euron’s youngest brother, and wouldn’t you know it based on his meaningful contributions. His only consistent character trait is that he loves Euron. Seems legit!
Yara the Swashbucking Lesibian: We found out this year that while Asha Greyjoy might travel with her boyfriend Qarl, Yara Greyjoy loves the ladies. So much so, in fact, that she’s totally willing to pay the gold price for their fine, enslaved asses. Hooray at this positive representation we’ve been waiting for.
Euron the Cuddly Pooh Bear: D’awww, look at our big bad. Look at his lil’ dimples and his certifiably badass scar. He’s scared of storms, but very talented at self-administered CPR.
There you have it, the official Book Snob Glossary. May you be strong like our patron saint Book Snob Shireen, and never cease to evoke these terms in your quest to stop the conflation of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. If you’re lucky, you might even get to explain to someone what a literary theme is.
Images courtesy of HBO
Sith Inquisitor’s Journey to Freedom
Minor spoilers for the Sith Inquisitor class quest chain; minor spoilers for the Knights of the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne DLCs
It is a great part of RPG experience, and even a greater part of RPG enjoyment, to like your character. And by “RPG” I mean any RPG whatsoever, from LARP to tabletop to video game. Which is only natural, as you can’t really relate to the character you don’t like. And what is RPG if not relating to a character so that you can share its fictional experience?
Which, mind you, doesn’t mean that person should be likable. More like, they should be interesting. An interesting piece of shit, after all, has a much bigger chance to win over your emotions than a bland, shallow Stainless Hero. Like, when you watch The Thief and The Cobbler (the recobbled cut, of course, not that abomination), you sympathize with the first much more than the latter. What a perfect role model he is! But I digress.
When I first set out to play Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was highly unsure if I really wanted to do so. I’ve always had problems with video games in the sense that they don’t actually let you create your character. You get a not-so-wide variety of characters and must choose one to try to empathize with. This makes every game a hit-or-miss case for me: either it’s love at the first sight, or it’s “who are those people and why should I have anything to do with them.”
Meeting the Sith Inquisitor
I confess, I made my initial character choice based on my desire to shoot lightning. I thought it would compensate for the lack of emotional involvement I expected. Luckily, I was mistaken!
The story was captivating right from the start because it had questions to ask. And those questions were directed to me, a player. It was me who had to answer them for myself. It was me who had to choose for myself. Because my course of action depended not on what were my plot goals and neither on my gameplay preferences. It depended on my opinion on certain problems.
Basically, you start in a very unprivileged position, that of a slave. An alien slave, if you really want to experience this story in its full power. You finish in a rather privileged position, that of a Dark Council member. On the surface this seems like a typical rags-to-riches story. However, the action/adventure story is only a minor part of the experience. The main part is the inner path—looking back to your past to create your own future and, more importantly, your future self.
In a nutshell, it is a story exploring how you deal with the trauma from past abuse: do you internalize the point of view of the abuser or the abused? As a survivor myself, I can only praise the way this narrative was given and framed in-game.
Dealing with the Trauma
So, you are a slave. You spend half your Prologue experiencing constant verbal and physical abuse from your sort-of teacher. He wants to get rid of you so that a free, Sith Pureblood candidate will win the golden ticket. But justice is served, and the ticket is finally yours. You are no more a slave, but a Sith—a person in the position of power above all non-Sith. What do you do now? And more importantly, how do you do it?
The game has a Light/Dark Side system in it. Before it was totally remade (broken, I’d rather say) it worked like Paragon/Renegade system in Mass Effect games: you choose one of two alternatives, you get certain amount of Side points, you become more attuned with a certain side of the Force. Or sometimes there is a neutral way, that’s neither. It doesn’t give you any points, but still is important in this storyline.
Your first encounter with Dark vs. Light presents a very typical kill the baby/save the baby dilemma: you can torture a witness to extract the criminal’s name, or you can talk to him and exchange help for information. A very easy choice, is it not? The next encounter is the one that gets under your skin.
It is with the evil mentor who wanted to kill you, who humiliated you, who was your abuser. You can scorn him now that you are free and a Sith in service of a Lord far above your former teacher’s station. You have every reason to hate this man, you have to wish to humiliate him in return. The first option is to threaten him, and while taking it would be extremely understandable, it is not a neutral option–it’s Dark Side. It is still playing along the rules of the system: might is right; you now have both, he has neither.
The Light Side option is to thank him, to break those unholy rules. You may not forget it, and you may be quite bitter later on about your early experience. You may never actually forgive him. Yet you refuse petty revenge, you refuse the power play. Because evil can’t mend or undo another evil.
I swear, something in my heart trembled when that rat of a man smiled to my character in return and thanked him. Because at last I saw the real Dark vs Light narrative, where Light begets more light–and Dark begets more dark.
Thus I understood that I really want to experience that story up to the end.
While both versions of the Sith Inquisitor’s class story present him dealing with his trauma, I could never get myself to try the Dark one. It was really, really dark; the story of a person broken and driven to the edges of sanity, who would never let anyone have anything that person was once denied. I really couldn’t help pity the creature that person would eventually become. It’s not that this story is exactly bad, but I think it is somewhat toxic and too much in line with “being tortured makes you evil” narrative. Not exactly the trope that is in any way helpful for abuse survivors.
The Neutral path—what you tread if you don’t follow any consistent course of action—was less devastating on the personal level. It is more of a quest for identit-y than anything else. Your character does eventually give in to the darker side of their nature, but also eventually does something truly and genuinely good and selfless. In the end they receive the name Occulus, for being a mystery to everyone , including themselves. Because they really don’t know themselves. After all, the Sith Inquisitor is presumed to be very young; somewhere in their early twenties.
I really loved the third option, the Light Side. It is a path of empathy, a path of true freedom. It is also the path most difficult both for your character and for you as a player, for it consciously sets you against certain old tropes and easy decisions.
Good Is Not Easy
Many games try to “convince” you to do right thing by making good choices less hard than bad ones. In general, this game is no exception; if you were to take the Dark route as a Jedi Knight, it would require more time and work from you than the opposite. But on this route it’s the other way around. Being a good person here is not—just as in real life—easy. It is hard.
I can’t describe Light!Sith Inquisitor as anything but a Suffering Empath. Having experienced much trauma in the past, this Sith Inquisitor struggles their best to shield others from the same trauma, even when it doesn’t benefit themselves. Even when it means direct harm to themselves.
For example, their power is based on that of the restless spirits they’ve bound to their soul. Letting those spirits go means the Sith Inquisitor goes back to the start, where they are fairly ordinary a Sith and no match for the truly mighty ones. It means a real threat to their life or, at the very least, their well-being. But because it is right, they fulfill their promise and let the spirits go and find peace.
In another instance, they encounter a racist, foul-mouthed, self-infatuated prick, and they don’t kill him. They choose this because that abominable creature is someone else’s loved person. and your own (both player’s and character’s) desire to punish him cannot be given a higher priority than someone else’s love and anxiety.
This route is hard, because it requires additional quests and lines of dialogue. It is hard, because sometimes you really want to teach someone the hard way, to vent your own (player’s) disgust and rage, to punish the bad guys. But as long as you remember the “two wrongs don’t make right” rule, you can really enjoy that story.
Well, “enjoy” is not exactly the right word, but you get it.
This story is about real freedom; that is, spiritual freedom.
One of the easiest paths to achieve your goals in Star Wars universe is by using Mind Trick. You simply make the other person do and think what you wish them to. It is often used as, well, an easy and harmless workaround. It is often marked as a Light Side option in the Jedi class stories (the Dark option being to fight).
But on this route it is never a offer as a good option—usually neutral, but sometimes even bad. Because, y’know, it’s about freedom. What is more abusive, after all, than to deny a person that person’s free will?
I cannot fathom an action more free of will, of an agency more openly expressed, than denying a whole system of oppression while being raised as a part of it. But the Sith Inquisitor does just that.
Every time they eschew their own in favor of someone else’s, they deny that system. Every time they refuse to acquire more power because it would others more dearly, they deny that system. Every time they choose to respect the free will of the others, even if it means problems for themselves, they deny that system.
What I really wanted to do, right from the beginning, was to thank the author.
Rebecca Harwick created a fascinating story that works perfectly for a genre that requires deep emotional connection with your character. RPG is about living other lives, those we can never experience IRL but those still having an impact on us and our life. We all know that stories matter, and I think we need more stories like that.
And it is a highly satisfying story. You really feel it by the end, that peace and glory that come with being righteous.
Personally, it helped me deal with my own trauma and helped me sort out things and realize that some options are not really an option—that giving in to the abuser’s point of view would really keep me stuck in that trauma forever.
That, while trying to be a good person is often hard, it’s worth it.
P.S.: And Then They Ruined It…
When you experience something that great, you want more of it, do you? Well, I wanted. So I went on to playing DLCs that are supposed to cover the later life of the same hero.
Sadly, the story-line there was clearly written as a continuation of the Jedi Knight’s class story, and any difference in dialogue was purely cosmetic. This actually came out bad for many classes, but the Sith Inquisitor suffers not only plot-and-logic-wise, but also thematically and, I daresay, problematically.
You see, it is generally okay if a privileged golden boy of a Jedi, who was always treated as someone special and a Chosen One, gets a lecture from those still above him about him not being special and his real role being a mere gear in a much greater machine. It serves him right and it even has some thematic significance. I am, of course, referring to the Jedi Knight—the supposed Anakin-done-right hero, the most obviously coded as male and most irritatingly problematic in and of himself.
This kind of lecture is certainly not okay when delivered by two uber-privileged guys (a Jedi Grandmaster and a Head of the Dark Council) to a former slave. They tell this slave to be nothing more than a cogwheel, that freedom is overrated and that they need to subjugate themselves to someone or something greater. They directly say, “you are weak because you fight for your freedom, become a willing slave (to the Force, but still) and you’ll be strong.”
It is problematic, isn’t it?
It really ruined the thing for me. The narrative that was centered around freedom, around acquiring it, understanding it and using it right…it was thrown away in favor of a rather lazy “we all are slaves of the Fate” plot device. And that’s only when we talk themes and not slavery per se, and the narrative completely forgetting about it.
My only solace is, it was written by another person.
Images courtesy EA Entertainment
Will Has a Women Problem
Love him or hate him, you have to admit William Shakespeare wrote some of literature’s most iconic women. Queens such as Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, and Titania; tragic heroines like Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia; the outspoken self-advocates Beatrice, Katherina and Paulina. While only some of Shakespeare’s women wield legitimate, authoritative power, all of them are powerful figures on stage: women of devastating conviction, integrity, and passion At a time in history where women had few legal rights—and couldn’t legally appear on a stage—Shakespeare’s women stood as monuments to women’s potential and women’s reality.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Will, TNT’s ten-episode period drama, does its women a disservice. This is not to say that Will’s women are bad characters. On the contrary, Alice Burbage, Anne Hathaway/Shakespeare, Emilia Bassano and Apelina are powerful, bringing some of the most poignant emotional experiences to the show. Unfortunately, those performances don’t happen for the sake of their own characters’ individual growth. Frustratingly, Will’s women instead end up as tried-and-true tools shaping men’s destinies.
As Will’s love interest, Alice Burbage is the woman most affected by Will’s underlying misogyny (although she’s not the most insidious example). From her first appearance in “The Play’s the Thing,” when she leans out of her window, breasts just short of dropping out of her bodice, Alice is set up as a sexual object for Will’s attention. But it is her brilliance and dedication to the theater that draw Will to her as a lover and intellectual soulmate.
Alice is an “educated woman,” her learning much more advanced than the supposed average early modern daughter or housewife (who actually had to have a decent bit of learning in order to maintain the household, but suspension of disbelief and all that). She can read and write well enough to provide clean copies of scripts for the actors of her father’s theater, and has enough business savvy to help her family with the theater business.
Alice’s intelligence doesn’t exist for herself, though. Rather, it exists for Will. A blossoming-playwright with no experience, Will is a really terrible addition to the Theatre. He has talent with words but little else; he barely understands how theaters and theater-going works. For Will, there is only “the art,” which finally bites him in episode 3, “The Two Gentlemen.” No one will buy Will’s newest play, a complicated piece of poetry with nothing to appeal to an audience. Once he admits Alice is right and he needs her help, though, Alice gives Will access to all the plays in her father’s repertoire and then helps him hit upon the then-not-so-novel idea of stealing the overarching idea.
Once that’s in hand—with Alice guiding him in the selection and the theft—Alice helps him write.
“To him she must be like day, like night, like light. Like light.”
Even when Alice is asleep, her presence is the thing that spurs Will to continue to write, his eyes fixated on her as he writes passionate speeches for Sylvia. When James discovers them in the morning, it’s Alice’s fury and insistent on its quality—quality she oversaw—that gets it performed.
Alice does the same for Henry VI pt 2. After encouraging Will to write the histories out of order, she gives Will the title for the play:
“Henry VI: The Rise of the Dauphin Menace. When I was reading the histories, I discovered the Dauphin, Charles II, joined forces with Joan of Arc.” (Episode 6)
The pair of them function like this for most of the season: Will comes to Alice with the seeds of a play, the words that are his signature, and Alice provides the necessary structure to see the play succeed and Will’s star rise. She coins the term“prequel” for Henry VI pt 2, decides on the overall plot of that same play, and, perhaps most importantly, suggests Will humanize Richard in Richard III, making his actions more horrific by highlighting the humanity still lurking in the monster. Without that crucial character change, the endgame against Topcliffe would have failed.
Alice, however, never receives recognition for her significant, life-altering contributions. Will, of course, praises her genius and recognizes that without her, his writing stagnates. But he makes no effort to inform her father, mother, brother or any of the company about her crucial contributions to the plays that have made them and him, so popular. Instead, he sits proud and preening over the work she improved, enjoying her labors and her love until he is forced to end their relationship.
This is perhaps why Alice switches intellectual loyalties—Father Southwell gives her credit. The more entwined Alice becomes in his Catholic plot, the more Southwell praises her devotion and willingness to endanger herself. Southwell, however, is no better than Will, using Alice’s brilliance, grief, and determination to further his cause. As his newest convert, Alice is best suited for smuggling messages since she is thus far unknown to any of Topcliffe’s informants; moreover, her connections to the theater, frequented by one of the Queen’s advisers, give Southwell noble connections he needs to deliver his manifesto to the Queen. Alice, then, is Southwell’s newest and best instrument in his Catholic war. She’s also the one he loses most quickly.
In the end, everyone loses Alice; her destiny finally to leave the world she loved and desired in the hands of a man she can’t stop loving. Her suffering at Topcliffe’s hands encourages the company to perform Richard III (thus altering the torturer’s destiny) and cements Will’s undying love for her—none of which she can share. Instead, Alice must go, freeing herself and Shakespeare from a love she now knows could never be and no longer wants. It is only through that pain, apparently, that Will can go on to right the greatest love story: Romeo and Juliet, where his “bright angel” will shine again.
Alice is just one woman robbed of a life or dream for men’s sake. Another, set up against Alice, is Anne Hathaway. Never one to get a fair treatment in adaptations, Anne is everything Alice isn’t: an obstacle to his art and an intellectual inferior. From her opening line, Anne is portrayed as shrewish and incapable of seeing Will’s greatness: “Who will want a play by William Shakespeare?” (“The Play’s the Thing”). Anne is incapable of seeing Will’s art, and clouds his genius with mundane concerns like the survival of his family.
Is the sarcasm evident?
Anne’s demotion to a tool of Will’s destiny is briefer than Alice’s but just as unfair because she deserves better, from both Will and Will. However, her dire situation is never taken seriously. When Anne brings Will’s children to London to visit him, and learns about his affair with Alice, her hurt is shown as unjustified. Alice understands Will in a way Anne simply can’t; how dare Anne reject Will for something as simple as a connection with an intellectual equal?
Moreover, when Anne finally admits to Will her situation in Stratford, he cannot fully recognize or accept her pain or the fear that fuels her inability to believe in him. Living as a servant to his parents, with the threat of homelessness and beggardom, Anne physically can’t believe in his dream because a dream can’t help them now. It can’t provide them food or shelter. It can’t give them a livelihood and future. The money Will makes as a writer isn’t enough to ensure her and her children’s safety if they are forced out by his family and his father’s poor business practices. But Will sees her insistence that he take responsibility for them, that he look after them as he promised to, as manipulative and cruel.
All of this is heartbreaking because Anne loves, or at least loved, Will, and at some point, Will loved her. At the tavern, after she’s accepted by the company even after her fumbles, Anne and Will dance, smile and laugh. As they walk home and speak of the early days of their relationship, there is genuine warmth and affection in the shared memories. But domesticity chafes Will. It suffocates him in a way Anne is able to—and has to—endure, and he can no longer return the love she still extends to him. At his distress over Topcliffe’s threats against his family and Southwell’s inability to understand his situation, Anne reaches out to him,
“Yet you do not talk of your struggles with me. I am here to listen and to ease your burdens, as a wife should. If you would share with me.”
For her pains—for her labor, emotional and physical—all she gets in return is Will insistence he can’t, and won’t, share with her.
“I cannot speak of what’s inside of me. That is why I write.”
But Anne can’t read. Will’s writing—his plays, his dreams—is an impassable barrier between them, one which Will doesn’t bother to pull down and which Anne eventually accepts.
That’s Anne’s destiny: acceptance of being not even second best. “It’s not about the girl,” Anne tells him in episode 6, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” as she piles their children in a carriage bound for Stratford. Anne is Alice’s inferior, but more than that, Anne is not theater. She is not the escape, the support and the adoration Will craves and now enjoys in the London theater. Anne is just the mother of his children, a burden to his art. Although it clearly pains her to realize it, she has to step aside; her only purpose left in his life is, as she says, “to leave you free to be who you wish to be” and fade quietly into a lonely life, awaiting money and the occasional letter.
Anne’s grieved blessing and disappearance are required. No longer a figure in Will’s life or thoughts—she’s referenced not even a handful of times after her departure and is never seen again—Anne no longer obstructs his art or his destiny. With this freedom, Will is able to put his pen and his talent to bringing the Theatre up and tearing Topcliffe down with one of his most powerful plays. He can take the first steps into the fame that will follow him for centuries.
Alice and Anne’s roles as destiny-tools are specific: they shape Will, and to a lesser extent Topcliffe and Southwell, into who they are meant to be. Emilia Bassano and Apelina don’t operate in quite the same way. Although they also, indirectly, affect Will’s destiny, their characters exist as more generalized comments on the role of women in Will’s narrative world.
At her first appearance in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Emilia Bassano seems to be a noble woman. Alice, however, breaks that illusion. She reveals that Emilia is Lord Hunsdon’s newest mistress—replacing the one from episode one—and although she was once nobility, she’s fallen on hard times. The daughter of a Venetian musician and “impoverished Moroccan royalty,” Emilia has taken up residence with Lord Hunsdon as a companion skilled in conversation and poetry.
She has absolutely no illusions about her purpose and position. “Thou art sorely misguided,” she tells Will in episode seven, “What Dreams May Come,” “None of this is mine. It belongs to Lord Hunsdon, just as I do.” Emilia is property, dressed up in the finest the Queen’s advisor and cousin can offer but with the knowledge that she is no longer her own. Emilia is a thing now, a thing as pretty as her dresses and jewelry, but expected to perform certain duties and services or suffer unspoken consequences.
Her status as high-class property affords Emilia some freedom, but nearly all of it is used to serve others, most often as facilitator. She puts Will in touch with Lord Fortuscue, whose commission for A Midsummer Night’s Dream saves the Theatre from closing. She overhears Lord Hunsdon’s conversations and then shares important details about Topcliffe’s promotion and Alice’s increasing role in Southwell’s plot with Will. But Emilia also provides what she can, especially when Will rescues Alice from Topcliffe’s clutches. She opens Lord Hunsdon’s house to them and gives them access to her own personal physician, even knowing the danger it puts her in.
As Emilia said, nothing she owns is hers. If Lord Hunsdon, cousin of the Queen cousin and–until the last episode–Topcliffe supporter, learns of her aiding and harboring Catholics plotting against him, her life could be in danger. But no one ever addresses or acknowledges this. Emilia is not important enough for fear. Convenient when she is needed, shelved when she is not, the precariousness of her situation—a situation Will brings her into with a well-written sonnet—is never given serious consideration by anyone.
Nor is Apelina’s, although she is confronted with the danger of her choices almost daily. Her situation, in many ways, mimics Emilia’s: they’re both owned, although by different classes of people. Emilia is a nobleman’s mistress, Apelina a peasant sex worker. Apelina has a nearby brother to consider while Emilia is separated from apparently all she’s ever known (but never seems bothered by that fact). However, the most important difference between these two women is that Apelina is given no identity within the narrative.
From her first appearance in “The Play’s the Thing” to her death in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Apelina has no personal identity or discernible history apart from “motherless whore,” “dirt-some punk,” and Presto’s sister. Her name is never even mentioned in the show; it only ever appears in the ending credits, a brief half-second flash near the end of the cast list. Without an identity, Apelina occupies the lowest space for women in Will: a complete and total object, to be used, cast aside, and then briefly mourned, if she’s lucky.
She is somewhat “lucky,” in that regard. Her brother Presto is clearly devoted to her, or at least to the idea of her being free. He takes up thieving to pay for her freedom and tortures himself with every day she suffers under Doll’s thumb. Apelina shares that love, and fully verbalizes it when Doll tries to sell Presto to Topcliffe. She helps him escape and undergoes torture to keep him safe. When Presto is caught and agrees to prostitution, she tries to make it as easy as she can for him, giving him alcohol to ease the pain and offering him a compartmentalization technique that has always helped her.
None of this, though, is for her.
Everything Apelina does is as Presto’s sister; everything she does, and says, and is, is for Presto’s growth. Presto needs to suffer, needs to steal from the Theatre and then feel the intense grief and pain to move him into position for Will’s final endgame. But unlike Alice’s case, it is a private grief. No one apart from Presto and Will ever know about Apelina and her role, and even they speak of it only in passing.
In a way, it makes sense that the women in this period drama are so suppressed. Will focuses on the downside of pursuing dreams: the things lost when dreams become obsessions and are followed without any sort of consideration for the lives affected. Yet, Will never took the opportunity to explore the women’s dreams. Alice could have been shown learning that she would never inherit the Theatre and then working to change that reality. Anne could have turned her attention to a different destiny than the happy, stable marriage she once desired. Emilia could have looked for ways to restore her status, or to bring unmentioned family to her side. We could have seen Apelina dreaming of a life of freedom, a home for herself and her brother.
But Will doesn’t care about women’s dreams and women’s destinies; there are dozens of women in Will, named and unnamed alike, and none of them exceed Alice’s crucial instrumentality or Apelina’s limited use. Even Queen Elizabeth I is only referenced, never seen. Will’s world is a man’s world, and male destinies, desires, and hopes are the only ones that matter. Women—their needs, their livelihood, their lives, their bodies—are considered only so far as they work to further or hinder men’s destinies. They are tools, sharpened for use and discarded when no longer needed.
Instead of characters, they are caricatures.
Images courtesy of TNT Productions
The Source deals with Feminism and Intersectionality
A common criticism of feminism is that, as it exists today, it tends to forget the most vulnerable of women, i.e., those that are not wealthy, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical, or straight. The response to this has been to draw increasing attention to the principle of intersectionality, that is how one oppression interacts with and complicates others (if you are non-white, neurodivergent, and also LGBTQ+, for example). Similarly, intersectionality seeks to investigate how privilege might interact with oppression (if you are a woman but also white, or if you are a POC but also rich, etc).
Despite the fact that intersectionality has become a common tools of analysis in the social sciences, cultural productions haven’t kept up. Sure, we talk more and more about oppressed demographics, but typically one at the time. We don’t want to strain a muscle, I guess.
And it’s true that even if lately we’ve saw an increase in feminist productions, they tend to primarily cater to one, maybe two demographics (when they actually manage to be feminist at all and not just an exercise in faux-feminism, but that’s another problem). And those demographics aren’t always intersectional.
That maybe why The Source, a feminist movie focused on poor Arab women in a country who suffered colonization, strikes me as special in today’s cultural landscape.
The Source or The Women’s Source
The Source is a 2011 French movie (original title La Source des Femmes literally The Women’s Source) that presented at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. Radu Mihaileanu wrote and directed it, taking inspiration from the classical play Lysistrata and from an actual women’s revolt in Turkey.
The story follows a community of women in a tiny village, nowadays in an unnamed muslim country that used to be a colony. In this village, it is the tradition that women bring the water to their family. The source is, and has always been, at the top of a mountain.
One day, one woman falls while coming down and miscarries. For Leila, who has herself miscarried under such conditions, it is too much. She organizes a strike to persuade the men to do something to bring the water directly to the village. This strike is of a special kind, though; it is a love strike. With time the strike unleashes a debate way larger than the access to water, namely, on the condition of women vis-a-vis traditions.
The movie is supposed to be a dramatic-comedy, and you will laugh yes, but way less than you might have anticipated. And, if you plan a light evening of good fun, I recommend you postpone watching this movie.
So before we move on to the themes, it’s worth summarizing the main characters:
- Leila– clearly the main protagonist, she didn’t grow in the village but came to live there when she married. She is not completely accepted there.
- Vieux Fusils– (literally Old Riffle), among the elders of the village, she supports Leila in her idea immediately. Married when she was a child to a violent man, now that she is a widow recognized for her wisdom.
- Loubna/Esmeralda– teenage sister-in-law of Leila. Madly in love with a boy from another village and has decided to marry only for love. Fan of a telenovelas and therefore nicknamed Esmeralda by the other women.
- Rachida– Leila’s mother-in-law. Hostile to Leila and her strike.
- Sami– Leila’s husband and teacher at the local school. In favor of the strike, but maybe more in favor of a peaceful village.
There are of course a lot of other characters, in favor of or against the strike, but these are the most important to the story.
A Feminine Feminist Revolution
The way Leila and the other women decide to lead their ‘revolution’ might at first appear artificial and even a tad insulting. Is a woman’s only influence on the world through her sexuality? But the fact is that this women don’t have the choice. To have water in the village the government must pay for important construction works, and for this to happen you have to face the AdministrationTM. And the administration has a directive to do nothing if not absolutely necessary, which typically means having time, connections, money, and education.
No woman in this village has all of that. Not even the entire group of women can gather all of those things. To tell the truth, the men don’t have them either. Their lot is better than that of women, but in front of a disinterested government they are as powerless as the women are. To gain what they want, the entire village must work together.
The women don’t want to penalize the village. The want the men to realize that they are suffering for nothing, and that if they love and value them they should help them do something about the condition of the water supply.
They do not reject femininity for the sake of it. But they reject thousand-year-old traditions that are outdated or were wrong to begin with. For example, going up the mountain to carry back water when running water could be installed. But as I previously said, the debate about water brings other questions, like that of the relation between men and women. The husbands think it is their right to sleep with their wife, so due to the strike, eventually practices such as marital rape and child marriage are also denounced.
There is something that grabbed my attention about The Source. In Lysistrata, one of the inspirations behind the movie, the title character (whose name literally means ‘Army Disbander’) wants to stop a war by not sleeping with men and making the other women do the same.
And there is this conversation in The Source:
Hussein (Leila’s father-in-law): Don’t belittle men. My grand-father and my father waged war on the colons and on our neighbors. In order to defend our tribe, our village, our family, and to defend our source of water. During those times women and children stayed at home, sheltered. A lot of us died. Men hunted (…). You realized it was never easy
Leila: They were all warriors.
Hussein: Valiant warriors of great courage (…). We never asked you to do our work in our place. It is for your protection and it is the tradition. The cycle of life. (…) But with the drought there is no more work.
Leila: And no more war.
The Source talks about changes in the society. How the men fell out of employment and how, if they could, they would follow the traditional role they were assigned but they can’t. And the answer given is that maybe it is for the best. Maybe we are best without the violence that exist in the traditional roles of men.
When men have it bad women have it worse
Now on to other subjects tackled by the movie that fit into the idea of intersectionality. Women suffer in this village because they are women, but also because the majority of the village suffers too. If girls barely go to school, boys don’t have a possibility to achieve their dreams either. Women don’t have it bad, per se, they have it worse.
The village is isolated. The climate has changed and agriculture has became impossible. The people in the village as a whole are stuck in there, without a chance to access a better life. The women in the village are stuck in homes they didn’t choose without a chance to access a better life. Worse, the little they have—food, respect, a roof above their head, their children—can be taken from them at any moment if they step out of line
And they are people who don’t want things to change. Some men abuse their wives at their will and use the bad situation to do virtually nothing with their lives. The government doesn’t want change either. It is shown as corrupt and not in any hurry to do anything to better the lives of its citizens. That’s why it doesn’t want to help this village. Because if it does listen to the demand of the women, the most fragile demographic of their country, they might have to listen to other oppressed voices.
A parenthesis on western ‘humanitarian’ tourists
The Source is nearly free of western, white characters. The only ones in it are humanitarian tourists, and oh boy is it glorious! If you are not aware there is currently a backlash against a certain type of humanitarian work. The one that is way more performative than effective and reeks of neo-colonialism. When rich young people pay to have ‘humanitarian’ trips and do to work they are untrained for (but I guess are naturally experts at through the sheer power of whiteness), in order to discover the Real Meaning of LifeTM and add a line to their CV. Just a new rebranding of the good old White Savior.
Well our westerners are those humanitarians. Well I guess they are not that bad because they bring money and don’t receive or offer life lessons. But seeing clueless Europeans watching a show made for them (to show gratitude) while the tensions of the village unfold in front of them is so nice. They can’t understand it, since they don’t speak Arabic, but long story short, The Source makes a point explaining that you can’t be the hero of people you don’t understand.
Of Hope and Love
Gloriously, the movie never becomes nihilistic. Sure, there is despair in our world. There is apathy, oppression, violence, and people who will stand for it. But it doesn’t mean that all hope in mankind must be forsaken. There is love in this world, and love conquers all.
That’s what Loubna’s story represents. Everything is possible when you believe in love, even when the object of your love is proven to be disappointing. Because as long as you believe in the idea of love you can muster the courage to move forward, and maybe find someone more worthy of your love. Like Leila did.
To truly love and be loved you must be worthy of this love, and eventually both Sami and Leila are.
It is also important to love your neighbor, as Vieux Fussil does. She might not have children of her own but she takes care of every young women in the village because they need love and support. Because to turn into the best version of yourself, you need love. Love is like water, it brings life.
And that’s what the women ultimately bring to the village: Love and Life.
The Source isn’t a perfect movie; it has its flaws. It is probably a bit too theatrical, but it is inspired by a play after all. It’s a bit Manichean too, though while not stigmatizing Islam. (The fact that the imam refuses to move against the women because he has been convinced by them is touching.) But it is important to remember that the movie is a fable. It was never intended to be a realistic social movie.
It’s a tale about women and their emancipation. It’s a tale about change and its benefits, and it’s a tale about love. It’s different, and in the end, it’s enjoyable to watch. So I would say that The Source did its job fairly well.