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Cherry Bomb Part 1: Hello World

Kylie

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Bitches to south, cunts to the west,
Smallfolk say I blew up the sept;
But no one cares anymore about the blessed,
Or gives two shits about open incest!

Welcome readers, remain calm: this is your ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

If you have no idea what we’re talking about- we being “Julie,” the combination of Kylie and Julia– that means you’re probably making far healthier choices in media consumption than we are. And likely in life as well. You see, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to go back and rewatch Game of Thrones plotline by plotline. It’s just such a smart and complicated show that we truly want to focus on understanding it to the fullest. Master storytellers and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) probably have things to say. So let’s take a look at what they are!

But wait, who’s “Cherry”? And what’s this bomb? Well, because Julie is such an unrepentant book snob, she always tries to separate the show from A Song of Ice and Fire and the rich characters of George R.R. Martin. Therefore, she uses certain show-only nicknames, which can be fully explained in our Book Snob Glossary. They’re exceedingly clever. For this…we’re focused on the Good Queen Cheryl and her brother/lover Larry.

Be sure to click that glossary link if you’d like more detail about the roots of these nicknames. If you think this is very immature of us, then…we’re not going to argue with you.

Now, before we can analyze Cheryl and Larry’s story in Season 7, we need to take you back through what happened. Therefore, part 1 of this retrospective will be a satirical and not-at-all high level recap, while part 2 (due to be released in a couple of days) will be the actual analysis, complete with a serious tone. Basically, we have to get it out of our system here.

Floor Map

Cheryl’s first task after blowing up the sept and burying her son last season is to somehow survive the imminent invasion from the obviously stronger army belonging to Deadpan and her feminist alliance. And step one in that plan was apparently the commissioning of a giant floor map. A painter is in the corner looking extremely disgruntled with the task as he finishes the details on Bear Island.

Perhaps the reason for his peevishness is that Cheryl is stomping around the still-wet map while wearing one of her numerous, yet indistinguishable black “battle dresses.” Larry comes in, and despite his own peevishness in his final scene last year (how long ago was that?), is perfectly chill with Cheryl. She asks if he’s mad or scared of her, and he’s like, “why would I be?” Why would Jerry bring anything?

They both begin planning the hopeless war to come- not difficult, mind you… hopeless- and lobbing exposition at one another, with the floor map helpfully becoming a visual aid. You see, Deadpan and her Hand, Tyrion (my, word travels fast) are coming at the head of an armada, and will likely land on the unoccupied Dragonstone. We suppose they have so few men that they can’t even send a couple dozen there to guard it? But hey, why even try for it? It’s all the way over therrrre.

Cheryl quickly deduces that they’re screwed. There’s enemies to the North (*dramatic pointing*). Enemies to the west (*dramatic walking*). Enemies to the South (*dramatic sweeping gestures*). Also they’re all [insert misogynistic slur].

“Enemies to the east. Enemies to the south-Ellaria Sand and her brood of bitches. Enemies to the west-Olenna, the old cunt. Another traitor. Enemies to the north. Ned Stark’s bastard has been named King in the North and that murdering whore Sansa stands beside him. Enemies everywhere.”

Larry gets scared of this, and is like, “well the Reach Lords probably wouldn’t want to fight with our obviously losing side.” Especially after that whole sept incident, with all those poor, scantily clad Reach ladies getting blown up. Cheryl says not to worry, cause they’re racist. Also, she and Larry are going to build a dynasty for themselves, with no heirs to speak of. (OR AREN’T THERE?)

Larry then tries to broach the topic of Tommen, but it’s clear Cheryl is too stoic and put-upon to process her grief. She also says that Tommen betrayed her (??), so maybe that whole unattended king thing, or the “out with the old, in with the new” was intentional on her part. Yikes.

Larry mentions Walder Frey and all of House Frey dying (how much time has passed, seriously?), so Cheryl says that their only option is to ally with the Ironborn. Just like their father taught them.

Cheryl: I invited Euron Greyjoy, the new King of the Iron Islands. You said yourself we needed stronger, better allies. There you are.

Larry: How are they better allies? How are they different from the Freys? They both broke their promises and murdered their former friends as soon as it suited them.

Cheryl: So does everyone when it suits them. Unlike the Freys, they have ships. And they’re good at killing.

That sounds like Tough but Fair Tywin.

Then brings Larry outside, where lo and behold, the entire fucking Iron Fleet, which must have been produced from the Iron Islands’ lush forests, is there. Larry doesn’t like this idea. Maybe because he realizes there’s nothing stopping this giant armada from taking the city. Or Dragonstone. Though of course that never happens.

You see, Eurovision is a hooligan. Every morning he asks himself, “what would a hooligan do?” and then does that. So when we cut to the throne room where Eurovision is being a totally cool rocker in his leather jacket. He’s just standing his dumb ass alone in front of the throne, whining about how Yara and Theon stole his ships. We can’t really tell who this is supposed to be convincing, or of what.

Scary!

However, new motivation! Eurovision really, really wants to hop into bed with the most “beautiful woman” in the world. Who is Cheryl, this season! He’s very motivated to win her hand in marriage and we guess co-rule Weisseroff, with the Iron Islands being part of that.

Larry hates this idea, because of the Greyjoy rebellion. He takes the opportunity to exposit and steal Jorah Mormont’s backstory: he was the first through the breach at Pyke! Did he also win the tourney and marry that Hightower dame?

Eurovision is like, “whatever, I’m glad the rebellion happened because the islands were getting overcrowded.” However, then he continues on to try to persuade Cheryl to agree to a marriage. What’s very strange about this is that we know Cheryl invited him, and she even told Larry about the marriage idea as they saw the fleet arriving. Also the Lannisters- and we can’t stress this enough- are very, very, very screwed right now. So why Cheryl is acting like she has any leverage is beyond us. Unless the prestige of holding Cheryl’s Landing is just that significant.

Whatever the reason, Eurovision is convinced that when she rejects the proposal, he needs to win this no matter what. So he decides to cosplay as King David and go get Cheryl 200 Dornish foreskins. Or like, Faullaria and Tyene Fake…whatever. Have fun storming the castle! Or sailing to Dorne. Or whatever is actually happening, because we’re still not sure.

Racism is Thicker than Blood

In the next episode, we pick back up in the throne room again. Before we say another word of negativity about this show, we need to point out how there’s now minor decorative changes to this set to demonstrate that the Lannisters are in power.

Snaps for D&D, or more likely, whoever their far more competent set designers are.

Cheryl has decided that she needs to actually talk to the Reach Lords she didn’t blow up, even though their Warden[ess] has sided with Deadpan. There’s at least a good handful of them, but don’t worry, because you only ever need to learn two names.

Cheryl tries to scare them about Deadpan’s dragons and foreign forces. Those Dothraki are savages! Also Deadpan is the Mad King’s daughter, and she burns people just like he did! Not like Cheryl though; she only disposes of her enemies in humane controlled demolition projects. And the Lannisters have never ever done anything remotely bad, cause it’s not like there was a War of Five Kings in recent memory where they ransacked the entirety of the Riverlands.

Wait…was that even on the show? Nevermind.

Larry is there, kind of nodding along with this Larry Face.

We think he’s following everything.

This conversation ends, and Larry runs after the all important Randyll Tarly, and his son Rickon as they leave the throne room. We mean Dickon! Larry forgot, and it’s really funny. Funny enough to even repeat again later. And to have recast the actor that plays Sam’s younger brother. We’re now treated to 33-year-old Billy Bones as Dickon Tarly, with bulging biceps of justice, and the deepest voice imaginable. We promise this becomes important. We’re kidding; the reason for this casting change is the greatest mystery of the season.

Larry tries to figure out how Randyll is going to side. Randyll is not pleased with dragons, and even less with foreigners, but he’s confused. See, he’s sworn to Olenna (somehow), but then Cheryl called him, and she’s his queen, so he came. Dude…figure this out, because political prisoners are a thing that happens!

It all works out, since Larry leans on his xenophobia and ambition enough to be persuasive. He offers him the Warden of the Southship, which is apparently so enticing it’s worth signing up for the side that is obviously going to lose the war. Though he’s martial, so maybe the Tarly forces will be decisive. Even if the women are only allowed to knit by the fire (in their multiple bedrooms).

Meanwhile, Cheryl is also securing a sure-fire way to victory. Qyburn made a crossbow. But wait: it’s larger than average! That’s his anti-dragon solution. Cheryl rubs her hands together as if this is the most devious device ever devised. The guy is a fucking necromancer and this is what you’re going with?!

Also, #theDornishdiditfirst. #RememberMeraxes

Somewhere in between Dragonstone, Dorne, and the Reach (take your pick), Eurovision intercepts Yara’s fleet and kills everyone but Yara, Faullaria, and Tyene, whom he takes captive. Theon jumps overboard. We just saved you twenty minutes and a “foreign invasion.”

There’s really nothing to note, we promise, other than that in this scene, Eurovision is a good fighter. D&D say he’s “walking the walk.” Thanks guys, for that sparkling insight.

A Most Eventful Fortnight

The hooligan then returns to Cheryl’s Landing, where the smallfolk have decided they like the Lannisters now. Or the Ironborn. Or loud noises and a parade! That would at least explain their past positions.

Either way, Eurovision is definitely delivering as the bestest birthday party magician they’ve ever seen.

He also keeps taunting Yara about Theon and how DUMB he looked, which we’ll break down in our “odds and ends” retrospective.

This was so exciting to the denizens of Cheryl’s Landing that they’re all still clapping for him into the throne room. He’s like “yo Cheryl, here’s your gift,” and he shoves forward Tyene and Faullaria. Tyrion was a way better gift for Deadpan. Cheryl is mildly impressed and sort-of accepts the marriage agreement, but not before shifting goalposts: they’ll be wed after the war is won. Larry is still saddened by this, and Eurovision acts like it’s some great victory. Dude…you’re getting screwed.

Larry tells Eurovision not to get to cocky since the wind vane smallfolk clap for everyone. Eurovision responds by asking for sex advice with Cheryl. We lose at least a handful of brain cells.

So. You know what would be fun? A scene that takes up five full minutes of screentime with barely anything happening in it! It also makes us feel uncomfortable and sick. Dramatic satisfaction!

You see, Cheryl is led into the Black Cells (we guess) where Tyene and Faullaria are chained up. She monologues at Faullaria for three whole minutes, and we’re not even slightly exaggerating. Topics include: being sad Myrcella is dead, Oberyn looking hot during his fight with Gregor, Zombie!Gregor’s general existence, the fact Faullaria can’t speak with a gag on, the racialized sexualization of Tyene’s beauty, Cheryl being jealous of her baby’s wet nurse, Cheryl forgetting that her mother didn’t die until she was nine, the four other Sand Fakes who we’ve never seen, the concept of power, the concept of empathy, the pain of losing daughters, insomnia, poetry, the cycle of revenge, and how Cheryl once kissed a girl and liked it.

Yeah, us too, Tyene.

During this, we should note, she’s wearing the brightest fucking lipstick known to man. Well, turns out that was a deviously clever visual cue, since she’s wearing the same exact lipstick poison Faullaria had used when she killed Myrcella, not that we remember quite so neon a hue. Cheryl kisses Tyene. We’re sure D&D planned this all along. Cheryl then retcons the poisoning inconsistencies from the past by having Qyburn explain that it’s a variable amount of time before it kicks in, based on their personal constitution. Cheryl gently dabs it away with a tissue, drinks an antidote, and leaves Faullaria to watch Tyene die.

Then she immediately goes to her bedroom and puts her lips on Larry’s penis. Are you SURE you got it all? Do you want to maybe use a second tissue just in case?

It’s probably not worth mentioning that Larry was at first not into the sex, but then was. It amounts to nothing, ultimately, since the next morning they’re spooning in bed and Larry has this look on his face like he’s just the gosh-darn luckiest guy in Weisseroff. Then there’s a knock on the door. Cheryl decides her superstition has been blown up, so she just wings the door open even though Larry is clearly in bed still. Luckily, it’s just mini-Maid, in her own super trendy battle dress and pixie haircut, who takes the incest confirmation like a pro.

What did she want? Oh yeah, to tell her that Cheryl has to go to a meeting. And probably strip the sex sheets from the bed.

That meeting turns out to be with Tycho of the Iron Bank of Braavos. Out of all the things for D&D to have kept in this show, the fucking bank plotline was really not one we expected. We also didn’t expect the banker to be super happy that Cheryl blew everyone up, because he read his Richard Dawkins, and apparently blowing up the sept meant she freed the city from the yoke of superstition. Guys…

What even is the rule of law? Despite Cheryl’s destruction of both theocracy and patriarchy, she can’t escape those damn loan sharks. Tycho wants a payment, or else he’ll have to back Deadpan. Cheryl convinces him that it’s a bad idea; after all, if there’s one thing Braavosi bankers want, it’s to protect their shares in the slave trade. Also, Deadpan is a revolutionary, and revolutionaries are not good for banks. Unlike Cheryl, who is somehow working within the system with her destruction of both theocracy and patriarchy?

Tycho is convinced though. “Your father’s daughter indeed.” Cheryl decides what she then needs to do is impose an arbitrary timeline on herself for paying back the debt. How about two weeks? Sounds reasonable, because who can’t just pull huge sums of gold out of their ass in fourteen days? Especially when there was no indication he wouldn’t have accepted a payback period of, say, six months. The things we do to beat interest rates.

One to fourteen days later, Tyrion has Deadpan’s Unsullied capture Casterly Castle. But oh no, it was a trap (kinda), and Casterly Castle is empty! You see, one to fourteen days ago, Larry came and grabbed his army there, and marched it, along with all the provisions, south to Olenna’s cottage. So all the Unsullied found was a Lego castle, while Eurovision arrived to burn their ships. Time for the Great Schlep across Weisseroff to get home.

Then, in the timespan of one to fourteen days, Larry mounted a successful attack against Olenna’s cottage, despite its clear geographic advantage.

It makes sense though; the Lannisters have important generals including Larry, Bronn, Randyll, and Dickon, and absolutely no one else. On the other hand, the Redwynes Tyrells have a flower as a sigil. So they can’t fight.

Larry shows up in Olenna’s sitting room to exposit all of this to her. He came up with the idea to attack Highgarden after learning from Robb’s Whispering Wood attack! How is this remotely similar, Larry? It wasn’t even a feint. It was just moving an army. And abandoning your ancestral home, as useless as it apparently is.

Olenna thinks this all makes sense. (See: previous reference to flowers.) Why the Lannisters waited until now to attack Highgarden is beyond us, and also beyond Olenna, who says Tywin should have done just that the minute his mines ran out of gold. We’re sure that would have been great for the alliance he depended on to save their asses during the War of Five Kings.

Whatever, that’s not important. What’s important is that this is Diana Rigg’s last scene in the series. She’s practically giddy. It’s also apparently important that Larry “finally” gets to kill an enemy, because “we haven’t seen [it] that much throughout the series.” And we suppose Olenna is super significant to him. Remember that one time she told him he couldn’t sit with her?

Larry tells her that Cheryl wanted to murder her in gruesome ways, which apparently doesn’t bother him, though he wants to give Diana Rigg a dignified exit: poisoned wine. It’s thematic, right? She just gulps it the fuck down, and then exposits about how her own poison wine was not nearly as humane as this one. Wait…was it Manischewitz or something?

Take that Larry! She killed Joffrey, your son! Also she tells him that Cheryl “has done things I wasn’t capable of imagining.” Probably? We guess? Larry tells her that the ends justify the means, and honestly we have no clue who’s side we’re supposed to be on. D&D tell us that she “wins the scene” though, so. Okay. Score one for Team Deadpan. Minus fifty points for capturing a useless castle.

The Field of Fail

The next episodes brings us to the Long March of the Lannisters, which is actually on-screen unlike some other army movements. Unfortunately, it means we get to giggle at their bouncy double-steps, which they’ve somehow been doing across the entire continent.

That is endurance!

They’re also transporting these very, very subtle sacks of gold, which may or may not have a dollar sign on the bag. Remind us why the Tyrells just had sacks of gold lying around? Larry gives one to Bronn, which means he no longer needs to stick by his BFFL. Bronn begins complaining about how he’d rather a castle. We’re starting to suspect he’s looking for any excuse to stay with Larry.

Bronn: There is still the question of my prize.

Larry: That’s a lot of money I just gave you.

Bronn: It’s not a castle.

Yeah, sure guy. We’re onto you.

This love story is cut short when Randyll comes skipping up asking for help with grains from farmers. Apparently they’ve been looting– sorry, foraging– all the way from Olenna’s cottage, and shock of all shocks, a few farmers don’t want to give up their crops right before winter. These are…the good guys? Compared to the looting Dothraki that Cheryl was talking about while holding a flashlight under her chin? Or does this prove that Cheryl is unequivocally the bad guy and a hypocrite?

Tycho doesn’t seem to think so. He’s still in Cheryl’s Landing for some reason, and he’s super impressed that the giant sacks of gold are en route. As a result, he increases the limit on her credit card, all while comparing her favorably to Tywin. Seriously, this guy is into Cheryl. Maybe he should ask Larry for sex advice.

Cheryl immediately takes out another loan, but since she’s such a safe bet (clearly), he’s all about it. He’s also all about the Floor Map, which she shows him while explaining that she wants the Golden Company. “Oh, they’ve helped us collect loans before.” “Cool.” Why is this scene here? Oh right, to build up a false tension about the gold’s arrival.

Tycho: Rest assured, Your Grace, you can count on the Iron Bank’s support. …As soon as the gold arrives.

Well, turns out that’s literally nothing. When we pick back up with Larry and Bronn, they’re both standing and staring into the middle distance as the rest of the army double-steps by. Randyll lets them know that “all of the gold is safely through the gates” of Cheryl’s Landing. That was soooo tense! Thank the gods!

Randyll is tense though; he wants to whip the straggling soldiers, since they leave the “head of the line” vulnerable. But…wasn’t the gold the head of the line? How is it moving faster than everyone? Also, they’re literally right outside of Cheryl’s Landing. Why is he suddenly worried about an ambush? Did he read the script? IS HE THE THREE EYED RAVEN?

Randyll’s sonion then pops up, and Larry calls him “Rickon” again so that he can correct him. Larry’s a slow learner, it’s true, but he does learn. Bronn thinks the name Dickon is really funny.

Randyll rides off to go flog his troops or something, leaving Larry and Bronn to talk to Dickon. Apparently this burley 33-year-old man has never seen battle before. He was so shocked at all the smells! “War is hell, kid,” Bronn tells him. This seems like a good casting choice. We’re sure they’ll do lots with this character for the rest of the season.

But suddenly, Bronn’s elf ears hear an approaching Dothraki horde. What even are scouts, especially when Randyll was specifically worried about an ambush?

It turns out, everyone else might be partially deaf, because lo and behold the ENTIRETY of Deadpan’s Dothraki are suddenly there, galloping right over the hill and screaming. Man, do those horses have endurance. They just keep galloping. Yup, still going.

Anyway, the forces clash, and this fight is 10 fucking minutes long. Deadpan shows up on Drogon, and she targets every single provision, because it’s not like her army needs to eat, we guess.

There’s a shot where Billy Bones saves Larry, and we suppose that’s significant? Who’s the “boy” now? Oh, and Bronn has an arc where he literally looks back and forth between a sack of gold and the scorpion, and chooses to fire the scorpion because of his love for Larry Weisseroff. Or something.

He manages to hit Drogon and give Deadpan a bit of a scare, but it turns out the ~ultimate secret weapon~ scorpion didn’t do a whole hell of a lot. Drogon lands, and Deadpan goes to pull the bolt out, and he seems mostly fine. However, as Deadpan futzes around, Larry decides he wants an arc for the battle too. Or maybe just something to do. Which in this case, entails charging headfirst at Deadpan with a spear, because that will totally end well.

Hey, in case you were wondering how to feel about this, never fear! Tyrion’s here! Literally. He’s standing right on a hill watching everything. And he thinks Larry is a “fucking idiot” for charging Deadpan. Well, he’s not wrong…

Turns out when you charge with pointy things at dragons, they like to breath fire in defense. Who knew? But never fear once again! Because out of nowhere– and we mean absolutely off-frame-nowhere– Bronn appears, hurls himself off his horse, and knocks Larry into a suddenly deep pond that five seconds previously had been shallow enough for a horse’s charge.

The episode ends with Larry sinking further and further under the water with the weight of his armor pulling him down. We’re extremely worried. Truly anyone can die on this show. It’s so brilliant.

Oh Look, a Meeting Invitation!

Guys, we have good news: Dave Hill wrote this episode! And to be fair, he does what he can with what they give him.

In this case, it was a miraculous survival of Larry and Bronn, who emerge a good 500 meters (at least) away on the opposite side of the pond. How did they swim this long? How did Bronn possibly pull Larry in his full armor? Why didn’t Deadpan or Tyrion look for them? It’s not like they magically intuit Larry’s survival or anything.

But Carol Award winning plot armor aside, what’s really important is that Bronn is totally ready for his “you saved me” kiss.

Also his character arc goes away. Poof! He’s only here for money! Sure, Han Solo. Sure. He insists to Larry that dragons change things and he’s done. We’re positive this will come up again.

Some arbitrary amount of time later, Larry finds Cheryl, which is easy to do, because he was right outside Cheryl’s Landing. She probably watched the battle from her window. Larry passes Qyburn in the hallway for three seconds, and this was a very necessary interaction for us to see. Is it seeding that Cheryl has other confidentes? Isn’t it reasonable for the queen to talk to her Hand?

That aside, Cheryl’s all jazzed about her Golden Company plan. “We’ll find a way to deal.” Larry is less enthused. Deadpan kills for “sport” and they can’t win! Well, she did destroy provisions for sport, so maybe he a point? However, an even better point comes from Cheryl: “What other fucking choice to we have? It’s not like anyone is going to drop a truce into our laps! Especially not Tyrion, who hates us and totally killed our son!”

But wait! Cheryl, don’t you know that Olenna killed Joffrey and not Tyrion? This changes…something. We think. Cheryl’s skeptical it’s the truth, but then Larry mentions that her killing Joff would have in effect made Olenna the ruler of Weisseroff.

It’s just so devious. Also, what the hell is the point of rehashing Olenna’s motivations? The audience gets that she was trying to protect Margaery. Larry and Cheryl making sense of this now feels like…like there’s just not quite enough material to fill this episode. Weird.

Now let’s take a good two minutes to hear Larry whine to Bronn that he doesn’t want sparring practice right now. Wait! We thought Bronn was leaving because dragons? Well, turns out, he’s not leaving or sparring. He’s telepathically arranging meetings for Tyrion with men Tyrion has every reason to believe are dead!

Yeah, Tyrion’s just chilling there.

What wacky hijinks must have ensued to get him into Cheryl’s Landing! Errr, we mean, meticulously plotted intrigue.

Bronn fucks off, while Larry gives Tyrion his most angry face. Fans of the books cry into their A Dance with Dragons dust jackets. Tyrion has something very important to say…many things, in fact: “You made me look dumb with Casterly Castle. You’re holding a sparring sword. Dad knew I was innocent at my trial. He was ableist. Deadpan is going to win. Deadpan is not her father. Do you want a truce?”

We do think it’s more than a bit odd that D&D chose to retcon Tyrion’s motivations for killing Tywin here, just as a note. But we’ll cover that more when we get to the heart-pounding Dragonstone retrospective.

Anyway, the scene ends before Larry says anything in response to this random truce offer. Instead, he runs right to Cheryl, like a loyal little minion. But wait: Qyburn is there again! Is this some kind of conspiracy??

Once he leaves again (maybe it was just another pelvic exam), Larry spills the beans on everything that happened. Cheryl already knew about the meeting though. She knows everything. For some reason she asks if he’s going to punish Bronn for betraying them. By what? Setting up a meeting that bails both of their dumb asses out of this mess?

We’re then treated to a good two minutes of Larry expositing about the threat in the North, while Cheryl acts skeptical. However, don’t worry: there will be a meeting with proof–so much proof. Wise Cheryl knows that this is really their only chance of surviving, so she’s like, “Okay, cool. We’ll spin this to our advantage somehow.” She tells him it’s crucial they beat Deadpan.

“For ourselves, for our house, for this (dramatically touches her stomach)”

HELLO WORLD, IT’S A CHERRY BOMB!

Yup. Cheryl is gregnant with a Larryling. She’s gonna tell Weisseroff he’s the dad, too. Good thing she’s not slated to marry a young hooligan, we guess. Larry gets very, very, very sentimental, and they hug, so in love and happy. Oh, and “don’t betray me again,” she cautions. What?

No, what? He didn’t know about the meeting ahead of time, and went running right to you… We guess this is what makes her so villainous.

Possible Alliances and Implausible Breakups

After a horrible Cherry-less episode, we open the season 7 finale with the Unsullied! Where did they come from? Where did they go?

Apparently Cheryl’s Landing, because Bronn and Larry are standing and watching them march in. Hey, did you know that an army of eunuchs means their soldiers are eunuchs? And therefore don’t have penises? Larry and Bronn discuss the significance of this vis a vis the patriarchal setting. “Maybe it is all cocks in the end.” Maybe, dude.

Anyway, establishing shots of giant armies aside, inside Cheryl’s Landing, Cheryl and Qyburn are planning for the meeting while Larry watches with his Larry face.

It’s apparently worrying to him that she wants Deadpan killed first if things go wrong, because you shouldn’t target the head of the opposing forces or anything. We don’t know what his deal is.

Some ungodly amount of screentime later, we’re in the pit! Cheryl enters dramatically, flanked by her space nazis. She’s wearing a rockin’ Battle Cardigan from Neiman Marcus, while her queensguard keep their phallic helmets on.

Horrors! Cheryl’s dramatic entrance was slightly mistimed. Deadpan isn’t there yet, you see, so we spend at least thirty seconds (but maybe a full minute) with people exchanging glances and sitting in silence. Get used to that.

Finally, Deadpan shows up with two of her dragons. Not conspicuous at all, honey. Cheryl, of course, yells at her for being late. “Sorry,” she says. Okay.

At this point, even Cheryl is like, “Can we fucking get on with it?” Well, it seems like Tyrion is about to start things off, but he’s cut off by a WILD EUROVISION! He’s such a hooligan that he can’t let meetings follow an agenda. It’s not even worth getting into what he says though, since literally no one cares or reacts to it. Cheryl finally tells him to shut the fuck up.

Jonny mentions the dead army, and Cheryl gets mad, since this sounds like bullshit to her. She doesn’t want to “pull back her armies.” What armies, and where? Seriously? Aside from maybe a garrison at Olenna’s Cottage and her space nazis, who is around? Eurovision’s forces? What are they pulling back from? Casterly Castle? We thought the Lannisters lost that anyway. We’re just…

Ignore us, because for the next three minutes, Sandor slowly walks across the pit and opens up a wooden backpack containing ice zombie evidence. Finally the damn thing pops out and lunges at Cheryl, who looks scared. OR IS SHE?

Jonny then goes on to explain how you can kill them with fire or dragonglass. Cool science project! Eurovision decides to interrupt again, this time to fuck off. He’s really terrified, you see, and he wants to go hide on his islands because wights can’t swim.

OR DOES HE?

Also, we’re reminded of when his driving motivation had been to marry Deadpan. Good times, good times.

Cheryl does some world class acting (oops, spoiler) here, and says that she’ll absolutely pull her armies back, as long as afterwards, Jonny doesn’t–I don’t know, just spitballing here–side with Deadpan so that Cheryl is super fucked down the road. Jonny doesn’t take the obvious cue here, and tells her that he bent the knee to Deadpan.

Cheryl stomps out, space nazis following. When Larry goes to do the same, a wild Brienne (representing Sansa’s interests, obviously) tells him that he needs to, and we QUOTE, “fuck loyalty.” We suppose it’s fair that Brienne is more concerned about the zombie she just saw than feudal commitments. But you know what no one is concerned about there? Zombie!Gregor, who was there that whole time. Sandor even talks to him and junk. Just…forget it.

Anyway, Team Deadpan is super concerned, because they clearly needed Cheryl to pull all those troops of hers back from all those places, or else they can’t fight zombies. Tyrion decides he and he alone must talk to her. How brave.

He runs into Larry in the hall first, and they call themselves idiots. Again, we’re not going to argue with you…

Larry: She thinks I was an idiot to trust you.

Tyrion: A lot of people seem to think that, actually. I’m about to step into a room with the most murderous woman in the world who’s already tried to kill me twice, that I know of. Who’s an idiot? I suppose we should say goodbye, one idiot to another.

Remember when Deadpan locked people in a building and burned it down?

Tyrion finally goes to confront Cheryl, who’s just like…a little pissy. She comments that Tyrion’s into Deadpan because she’s, “A foreign whore who doesn’t know her place.” We assume this is a reference to Shae, who was retconned out of being a motivating factor for Tyrion in his patricide? Why did D&D even write this line?

Tyrion: A foreign whore you can’t abduct, beat, or intimidate. That must be difficult for you.

Wait…Ros?? Is the North foreign? Can D&D literally not tell their sex workers apart even if they invented them?

Fun times…

Tyrion mentions how he’s given Deadpan some shitty advice. We’re not going to argue with you! Apparently this means that he’s actually somewhat nice to Cheryl, because he doesn’t want her to get eaten by a dragon. But wait! He killed Tywin! Cheryl is upset about this!

Then we get a rehash of Tyrion’s conversation with Larry about how Tywin was ableist, and again, we’re not going to argue. But we are going to start to zone out, because this conversation goes in a loop-de-loop. Like, we’re very aware Peter Dinklage and Lena Heady have EMOTIONS and are saying THINGS, and we can’t blame Dinklage for putting it all out there now that he’s finally opposite someone other than Emilia Clarke. But we just can’t track what the actual substance is at all.

We wish we knew what they’re getting so worked up about.

See, Cheryl blames Tyrion for all her kids being dead, because of some kind of weird chain reaction he put into place when he killed Tywin. He tries to apologize, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Then she blames him for more things, then they talk about how their feelings don’t matter. Then Tyrion gets a drink of wine, but Cheryl abstains. Then Tyrion talks about Deadpan’s war for social justice. He says she’s a wonderful queen because she listens to him.

Meanwhile, Cheryl begins gently caressing her stomach, and pretends that she was compelled by Euron’s “I’m out of here” attitude. “You’re pregnant!” Tyrion gasps. ~End Scene~

Anyway, we cut back to the pit. Turns out Cheryl has been convinced to pull all her armies that exist back from the places they definitely occupy. Not only that, but she will fight with them! Wow, Tyrion must have been very persuasive off screen. OR WAS HE?

“And when the Great War is over, perhaps you’ll remember I chose to help with no promises or assurances from any of you.”

Well Cheryl, I’m sure they’ll remember that as long as you don’t suspiciously NOT show up. But who would promise to show up even when they’re in no way expected to make such a promise in the first place, and then bail? Who Cheryl, who?

Though in fairness, since there kind of is no Lannister army, maybe she just assumed they’d never notice.

Some amount of time, and one confusing trial later, we cut back to Floor Map, which Larry is using to help plan his massive army’s journey North. Cheryl comes in, and we guess those pregnancy hormones are really messing with her, because she’s suddenly completely antagonistic for no reason.

“I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister. The Starks and Targaryens have united against us, and you want to fight alongside them? Are you a traitor or an idiot?”

Cheryl, that’s your boyfriend and baby daddy. Where is this coming from?

Larry certainly doesn’t know

Also, where is this coming from? You PLEDGED YOUR TROOPS. You could have looked magnanimous just for agreeing to the dumbass truce of nothingness. Why wouldn’t Larry have thought this was earnest?

Now, here’s the thing: Cheryl is right that post a battle with the dead guys, the Lannisters would be screwed to face a Targaryen/Snow (?) alliance. Like, it’s perfectly reasonable for her to argue that they should consolidate power while those guys go up North, since how else are they going to survive?

At the same time, “remember my generosity” was also a valid strategy. Maybe Cheryl could have earned good will there and negotiated a survivable solution afterwards. That’s a conversation to be had, especially since the fate of humanity is on the line.

Yet that’s not the conversation we get. Also, there was still no reason for Cheryl to promise her troops unless she was going for Strategy B. But we know she didn’t suddenly change her mind since, as it turns out, she already planned with Eurovision!

Yup. That hooligan was just faking being scared, and he’s secretly going to ferry the Golden Company. Larry decides this is just TOO MUCH. “You planned with Euron before me?” Well yeah, dude. She thinks you’re an idiot. Which she then continues to express over and over.

So he dumps her; the end.

No really, he insists that he’s going to ride North, since his fighting prowess will make such a difference, and he storms out. There’s two seconds where D&D try to pretend she’s going to have zombie!Gregor cut him down, but nah. He just leaves, and significant snow falls on him in the final scene.

We hope you had tissues at the ready for that gut-wrenching breakup. It was hard on all of us, we know. You can take as much time as you need before moving on to part 2 of this retrospective, where we discuss the very deep significance.


Images courtesy of HBO

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Humor

How to Tell if You’re Reading Erotica

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I like sex as much as the next non-ace spectrum gal. I enjoy reading about it in my fiction, too, especially if it’s between two characters that I really, really want to bone each other. But I have a problem. See, I’m also very picky about my smut. Whether it’s word choice, tone, specificity (or lack thereof), there are a lot of things that can take me out of it when I’m reading scenes of an erotic nature. I don’t generally read a lot of erotica/erotic romance precisely for this reason; unless it’s recced to me from a reliable source who knows what I enjoy, I can’t muster up the energy to go sorting through thousands of options to find something I want. (Incidentally, it’s also why I don’t read a lot of fanfic.)

In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the genre that I apparently don’t even know when I’m reading it. The other day, I picked up a book someone had recommended, and it wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through that I paused to ask myself, “Wait, is this erotica?” (The answer is yes, it was.) So, if, like me, you look for very specific things in sex scenes—to the point where you can’t always tell if you’re reading erotica because it doesn’t appeal to your specific sensibilities—I’ve created a handy (and a bit cheeky) guide.

As you can imagine, this is going to be NSFW.

If Your Protagonist Thinks about Sex a Lot

You might be reading erotica. To be fair, like much in life and art that has to do with sex, there’s a spectrum. Some books contain little to no reference to sex in a character’s internal monologue. Others do. Because sex is a normal part of the human experience for those interested in it, a protagonist thinking about sex shouldn’t surprise us, and a character thinking about sex doesn’t make a book erotica. Katniss thinks about sex in the Hunger Games series and that is a far cry from erotica (kind of the opposite, actually, if you hold to the Katniss is ace headcanon).

However, if the protagonist’s internal monologue contains frequent and consistent references to sex, that’s another story (heh). Put another way, if removing thoughts of sex would depopulate a good chunk of the protagonist’s thought life or weaken their characterization, it’s erotica. Similarly…

If Sex and Sexual Fantasies are a Primary Feature of How the Protagonist Relates to Another Character

You might be reading erotica. This can be the hardest one to pin down sometimes because characters relate to each other in many ways, one of which may be sexually charged. The relationship between Jaime and Cersei of A Song of Ice and Fire includes erotic elements. Jaime thinks about having sex with—or other men having sex with—Cersei quite a lot, but their plotline isn’t fundamentally or even primarily, erotic. Even having explicit sex scenes between two characters doesn’t automatically make the book erotica. These days, explicit sex scenes and erotic undertones exist even in other genres (which is where my next criteria comes in, so I’ll have to delay fulfilling that desire for now).

At the same time, if sexual acts or fantasies dominate how the protagonist relates to one of the secondary characters, there’s a good bet the book is erotica. Sex drives their interactions. When the protagonist thinks about the other character, sex almost always comes up. Thinking about that person makes the protagonist aroused, and such reactions happen repeatedly and consistently and drives their actions. Basically, if every time they think about that person, they think of fucking them, it’s probably erotica. Though again, a lot depends on plot and prominence, but for that, you’ll have to wait just a bit longer.

I should also mention erotic romance here, a hybrid genre of erotica and romance. As the name implies, erotic romance enfolds explicit sex scenes/fantasies into a larger romantic arc with a happy ending. I mention this separately because the larger romance and happy ending come from the romance genre and not all erotica has these elements. Erotic romance is still erotica, though, just a specific kind. For erotic romance, think of erotica as the foreplay to a story that ends in a satisfying romantic climax.

If There are at Least Four Explicit Sex Scenes

You might be reading erotica. As I said, just having a sex scene or two does not erotica make. Not even if those scenes are explicit. More and more novels written for adult audiences feature explicit sex, even in genres like fantasy or scifi. But sometimes, quantity does matter. Because the more something features in a book, the more likely it is to be central to the storytelling. I picked four because in your average novel of 250 pages, four explicit sex scenes would take up a lot of space (as much as 10% or more of the page time). However, I could go as low as three if one occurs within the first quarter of the book.

I admit, these are arbitrary numbers. A lot of it has to do with placement and vibe. Do the scenes feel like they’re the ‘point’ of the book? Do they seem intended primarily to arouse the reader? If you took them out would it change anything about characterization or plot? How close to the beginning of the book they begin to appear?

But also, yeah, quantity matters. Four times in a year is one thing, but four times in a night means something different. (Also, good for you. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself.)

If the Protagonists Masturbates Within the First Ten Pages

You might be reading erotica. I feel like this one goes without saying, especially if paired with several explicit sex scenes. If your protagonist is getting off by their onesies that soon into the book, you can bet there’s more to follow. (Full confession, I include this because it happened in the book I mentioned at the outset and…yeah, this should have been my first clue.)

If Uncomfortable or Awkward Metaphors for Sexual Positions or Pleasure are Used

You might be reading erotica. This is one of those things about erotica that people mock a lot, and it’s worth noting that this is changing. The Ten Things I Hate About You “quivering member” style of writing erotica isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Still, I run into it. I recently reviewed a book that used the metaphor of someone’s balls turning inside out with pleasure. I may not have testicles, but that just sounds painful. To be fair, this wasn’t labeled as erotica, it was just a weirdly written explicit sex scene. But it’s not alone. I’ve seen descriptions of moving a male identified character’s cock ‘like a joystick’ (why?!) or a female identified characters’ breasts ‘heaving like ocean waves’ (NO. OW. THAT’S NOT ENJOYABLE).

This is one of those criteria that’s best coupled with other elements, because as I just noted, uncomfortable metaphors for sexual pleasure or body positions occur outside of erotica. Especially, though not exclusively, with young, inexperienced writers or older writers used to the older style of writing erotica. I’ve also found it more likely to occur when the author is writing about a character who is not of their own gender (women writing m/m, men writing a female character, etc).

If You See the Word ‘Sex’ as a Euphemism for Vagina

You might be reading erotica. Unfortunately for my reading pleasure, lots of euphemisms for body parts that I find unappealing make their way into erotica. Nub in particular makes me drier than the Sahara, but other offenders include: pussy, core, slit, rod, sword (and sheath), nether lips, bud (for nipples or clitoris), budding (for breasts, looking at you George R. R. Martin, breasts do not bud), button. I’m sure there are more but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Now, as with the previous criteria this is changing, especially as society becomes more comfortable with describing cis female pleasure. Most of the previous euphemisms referred to cis female body parts, and there’s a reason for that. (Hint: the word begins with s- and ends in -exism.) Historically, talking about vaginas and their pleasure experiences was taboo. Hence the multiplicity of—and at least to me unpleasant sounding—euphemisms.

Thankfully, it’s getting better. But, like a bad lover, such terms still turn up when we least want them to, even in works by female authors. Even works by queer female authors writing f/f erotica. And not just inexperienced authors or ones more used to writing in a more circumlocutory style. I see it everywhere, even in non-erotica, so as with some of the other criteria, this shouldn’t be used on its own.

To be perfectly honest, I’m probably not the best person to ask about word choice in erotica. It’s the single biggest offender for me going from totally into it to utterly unmoved. I’m very picky about word choice, and your mileage will likely vary. To each their own kink and their words to talk about them. (Just please, please, I’m begging you: never use the word nub again. I don’t have a nub, thank you very much.

If You Can’t Keep Track of Body Parts

You might be reading erotica. Yes, yes, books that aren’t erotica have this problem too. However, unlike the previous two, I do think losing track of body parts and what people are doing occurs more frequently in erotic literature. Why? Because of the explicit nature of the content. As readers tastes moves away from euphemisms and vague phrasing, more clarity and specificity means more opportunities to lose track of what people are doing. And unlike real life, you can’t see anything. And if you’re anything like me, I get anxious when I can’t tell what people’s bodies are doing.

Why is her arm there, wasn’t she just touching her leg? Wait, what is her hair doing again? And why does it sound like there are five legs when there should only be four? Arms don’t move like that do they? And wouldn’t that configuration be awkward since he’s less muscular?

If you, too, get confused and overwhelmed by the specificity of body placement and keeping track of what’s moving where, you are not alone! I don’t have any solutions other than watching erotica or only reading recs from friends, but at least you don’t have to suffer by yourself. And now, with my guide, you can be prepared for what’s coming.


Images Courtesy of Orion Pictures, NBC, and 20th Century Fox

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Inevitable Star Wars Movies to Come

Kylie

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Welp. Solo: A Star Wars Story sure exists now.

I’ve got no problem coming right out with it—I hated this movie. I think I can understand finding it to be mostly coherent and fine, or even somewhat fun. But in my case, I just saw the worst tendencies of the Star Wars fandom on the big screen to the extent where it bordered on self-parody. It’s that “let’s fill in every gap and take Han’s rogue-ish coolness at face value” that had me worried about when it was first announced. Then there was the absolutely cringe-worthy way the music would blast the Star Wars theme any time something we recognized from the original trilogy turned up coupled with amateurish, sledge-hammery dialogue. Oh and of course, it had a very literal straw feminist in it for laughs.

Most of all though, it just didn’t have a story to tell. The only discernible character arc was Han perfecting his sideways flying, and the very loose theme of “trust no one, not even this random criminal you met three seconds ago,” didn’t exactly come together or explain Han’s choice to double down on the smuggler life despite being won over by the plight of the “good guys.” (I promise these are exceedingly minor spoilers; we all know where Han ends up, right?)

In terms of a Star Wars film, the somewhat tepid critical reception and underwhelming box office performance suggests others were not quite so enchanted either. Though honestly? I wouldn’t read into it at all. It was the first Disney Star Wars film not to air in December, there were tons of stories about production SNAFUs that were off-putting already, and given the “creative differences” in production, that it was even a somewhat watchable movie was probably considered a success behind the scenes.

Instead, we’ve got the announcement that Disney is boldly continuing their trend of crafting Star Wars stories that cling to the original trilogy with no need to actually invent any story of its own. Next up? The Boba Fett lost years. What did happen in between him getting ice cream with Jango and then being a random bounty hunter who happened to catch Han. And why wouldn’t we want a story that delves into a character whose only actually appeal is being an unknown? I’m crossing my fingers for a buddy-cop with IG-88 (no…seriously), because anything even somewhat serious is going to follow in the uninspired, unnecessary footsteps of Solo.

Which…is almost definitely what we’re getting. It also shows us the way forward into what is undoubtedly in Disney’s pipeline for Star Wars.

Luke’s Elementary Adventures

Slated for December 2021, we finally get the Luke prequel we’ve been dying for! There’s all those plot holes that really need filling in, too. For instance, in A New Hope, Owen tells Luke that he can waste time with his friends later, while later Luke tells Obi-Wan there’s “nothing” for him on Tatooine without his aunt an uncle. So what about those friends of his? Well, get ready for a falling out that he keeps from Owen.

We also get to see him bull’s-eye-ing womp rats in his T-16. But don’t worry…there’s a very good explanation for why he does it! Also, why does Luke claim he “hates” the Empire? Frankly, I’m not sure how we’ve even been able to follow Episode IV without this addition to the canon.

Rogue Two: Bothan Boogaloo

Taking a break from an episodic movie every other year, Disney will instead offer the Rogue One sequel in 2022: Rogue Two, We Should Have Worn Our Seatbelts. We finally learn about the Bothan spies that died to bring the Rebels their information on the second Death Star. Like Rogue One, we get a rag-tag team of force-ish user, rogue-ish character, pilot, generic gunman, and smurfette. Of course, that last role gets filled by Mon Mothma, who becomes very textured when we learn that her parents didn’t approve of her joining the Rebellion.

Prepare yourself for a few CGI cameos with our favorite team of Rebels, and you might just get to see Darth Vader unleashed again!

Episode 3.5: The Rise of Vader

Speaking of which, the following year Disney will continue its success with a two hour movie featuring nothing but Darth Vader swinging his lightsaber around. It takes place in between the prequels and A New Hope, and is more or less the episode of Rebels where Vader is in charge of an oppressive campaign. Naturally, this occurs on Alderaan, and will be hailed as a “stunning war theater.” There’s not exactly a plot or character arc, because no one cares about plot or characters in war movies, we’re told. Vader unleashes force moves we never even thought possible!

Lobot, The Musical

By 2024, Disney is ready to take some serious risks in structure. This one is with a musical, where Donald Glover reprises his role as Lando. While his performance is solid once again, it’s Lobot that takes center stage in this drama. We learn exactly how he came to Cloud City, what his official job description is, and how he earned Lando’s trust.

We also learn in an off-hand comment by the director a week in advance of its airing that he’s gay. It really adds quite a bit of texture to the film.

The Mon Mothma Chronicles: Episodes IV, V, and VI

While Episode 3.5 is sure to have a decent box office performance, Disney finally made the decision to get back into proper numbered episodes by 2025. These numbers being, of course, the original trilogy. However, we finally get it told from Mon Mothma’s point of view.

Where was she during the attack on the first Death Star? Why, off on a mission of course. But don’t worry…she receives live radio updates so that you can relive classic moments like Porkins dying. During the evacuation from Hoth, Mon Mothma was put in charge of one of the transports. And naturally, she did all of this wearing the one outfit she owns.

There’s also plenty of fun winks and nods to Rogue One and Rogue Two, since that’s something we all recognize! Finally, the pieces are clicking together in this cinematic universe.

Solo Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ten years removed from Solo: A Star Wars Story, fans surely get hungry for all those unanswered details. Where does Chewie get his iconic crossbow? Does Han immediately begin smuggling for Jabba (and does he see a YOUNG LUKE in the process)? And let’s not forget the oversight of the white walls of the Falcon, which we know become their iconic yellow/brownish hue by Episode IV.

There’s also a cameo in it you can’t miss, since it sets up Disney’s big 2029 hit…

Kenobi: A Star Wars Story

Yes, mild spoilers, but in Solo Solo, Solo stumbles into Obi Wan on Tatooine. In fact, he even thinks up the name “Ben” for him! Kenobi takes place just after these events.

Now, going into this movie, a lot of fans were concerned of the potential plot hole of Obi Wan not remembering Han (Han being too self-absorbed to have remembered him tracks), but fortunately this movie is where we finally also get the plot hole filled in of why Obi Wan can’t remember R2-D2 and Threepio. It’s head trauma, but how he gets it is the interesting story.

We also get to see exactly why Obi Wan considers Anakin to be the best star pilot in the galaxy, since that was never explicated satisfactorily in the prequels. Since too much time has passed, we get a different young Luke than the one in Luke’s Elementary Adventures, but the new child actor does very well with the role.

And then…

By 2030 Star Wars finally takes a risk with a female director for the Qi’ra sequel, but I wouldn’t want to bore you. But you have to admit, it’s a solid lineup sure to titillate fans for years. And years. And YEARS.

Which one are you most excited for?


Images courtesy of LucasFilm and Disney

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Analysis

Investigating the Link Between Baldness and Toxic Masculinity

Bo

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toxic masculinity featured

Men often go to great lengths to battle hair loss. We use special shampoos, take pills, comb our hair in a multitude of ridiculous fashions to cover bald spots, and eventually plunk down money on awful toupees. In the end, we’re pretty vain creatures. Men battle to maintain whatever patches of hair we can atop our heads. We often fight knowing we fight in vain and the baldness wins in the end.

Is it any wonder so many bald guys end up being such toxically masculine jerks? So much effort and all for nothing. It makes you wonder. Think back on all the bad guys you’ve seen in your favorite stories in your life. I bet you could list at least five that are bald. Could the bane of toxic masculinity really be explained so simply?  We have to dig deeper. We have to find the truth. In pursuit of this crucial goal, let’s take a look at some famous bald men and analyze just how big an impact hair has on the jerks they become.

Walter White and Hank Schrader (Breaking Bad)

I know I’m not exactly blowing anyone’s minds by starting here. The hypocritical murderer who would rather sell drugs than seek help paying for his cancer treatment is toxically masculine? Who knew? Walter White is the poster boy for toxic masculinity. There’s a reason to start here, though. Walter White serves as a good example of how hair loss (and gain) affects toxic masculinity in a man.

When we first see him, Walt doesn’t exactly scream toxic masculinity. He’s a timid chemistry teacher married to a strong woman that runs their household, and he agonizes for multiple days over whether to commit his first murder or not. Afterwards, he gives up the drug game because he realizes he isn’t cut out for it. He’s not exactly Steven Universe though. After all, he makes the decision to sell drugs while he still has a full head of hair. Walt also hides his cancer diagnosis and turns down Gretchen and Elliot’s offer to pay for his treatment. Still, he’s a more middling example of someone insecure over his failures in traditional gender roles than a full-blown, toxically masculine man.

When does this change? When he shaves his head. That same day he’s blowing up office buildings and grunting like a caveman pumped fresh full of steroids.

The following 5+ seasons see Walt’s toxicity only increase. He constantly monologues about a man’s responsibility to provide for his family. He shows off his ill-gotten wealth to his newborn daughter so she’ll “see what he did for her.” Despite the fact they’re all but divorced, Walt still feels ownership over his house and wife, Skyler, to the point he breaks into the house and throws a hissy fit when his wife sleeps with another man. When the two of them reconcile and Skyler attempts to seek some agency in her husband’s illicit business, Walt resents her for it.

Funnily enough, when he grows some hair back at the end, the toxicity recedes a bit. He recognizes his mistakes, apologizes to his wife, and vomits emotional honesty on her. He doesn’t change quite enough, though. Maybe if his hair grew back sooner.

While Hank wasn’t nearly as bad a person as Walt, he still fell into familiar characteristics of toxic masculinity. You know how toxically masculine men will do just about anything to bury their feelings, even from their loved ones, rather than show weakness? Yeah, that’s Hank to a tee. He refuses to talk to anyone about his PTSD in the aftermath of two traumatic events early on. He also has that same “refuse all help” pride that Walt does. His wife, Marie, doesn’t tell him about Walt paying for Hank’s physical rehab because she knows Hank would refuse that help. Rather than admit he’s scared of a promotion, he forces personal and professional trouble to make himself less viable a candidate.

However, where Hank falls even more into toxic masculinity is his entire personality. Namely how fake it is. For those who have seen Breaking Bad, you know what I’m talking about. Numerous times we see Hank as a completely different person around people than he is by himself. Throw him in a crowd and suddenly he’s the loud, crude, boisterous guy telling stories about how cool a bloody body was and how hot that lady is. Then he goes in an elevator and has a panic attack.

It’s always obvious that he’s putting on a fake persona because he thinks it’s expected of him. Because that’s how a man “should” act.

I suppose you could say Hank is a typical cop character. You can look back in TV history and find angry, toxic cops everywhere. Look at Vic Mackey on The Shield, after all. Thing is, there are plenty of cops on Breaking Bad and none of them come across like Hank. His best pal Steve Gomez is always willing to talk through Hank’s feelings. Hank’s boss at the DEA tries to work through Hank’s issues as well and openly admits his feelings when he finds out a friend, Gus Fring, was a drug kingpin.

What makes them different? Hair, obviously. Both Gomie and Hank’s boss have full heads of hair and glorious mustaches. Hank’s so bald he barely grows stubble. Looks to me like that’s the source of his insecurity and fake persona around his fellow DEA agents. He even warms to Walt once Walt shaves his head. He always teased and looked down on full-head-of-hair Walt. Maybe it’s the baldness that makes Hank so insecure and uber-macho.

Looks like sound logic to me.

Kratos (God of War)

Again, this is a total no-brainer. If Walter White is the poster boy for bald, toxically masculine men, than Kratos is like the God the entire religion worships. He’s literally nothing but buried feelings, violence, and disrespect towards women. His original games are misogynistic male fantasies of the highest order. Fun ones, but still. Kratos prioritizes military conquest over his family, eventually murders them, and rather than own up to his sins, he decides to “repent” by murdering some more.

The man has absolutely zero ability to express his emotions besides anger. By the time God of War III rolls around and ends, Kratos has murdered most of the Greek gods and doomed the world to an apocalypse because of his inability to process his emotions or face his trauma. Lovely.

So what does he add to this discussion besides the most obvious example of how lack of hair represents toxic masculinity? Well, his newest entry shows how hair gain reduces toxic masculinity. Even if it’s face hair rather than head hair.

2018’s God of War is a change for the series in many ways, Kratos and his appearance included. His bro patch, standard for any 18-to-22-year old misogynistic frat boy, was replaced with a full-on Viking Dad Beard. His personality changed to about the same degree. Make no mistake; he’s still a gruff, macho, angry guy capable of significant violence. However, he is also a calmer, more thoughtful person. He makes decisions to avoid killing and even fighting at all, sometimes. He gradually opens up emotionally to his son as God of War moves along.

Kratos and his son end the game in a much healthier and more communicative place. Truths are laid bare and a closer bond results. Kratos feel comfortable grieving more openly in front of Atreus.

Now he certainly still has a long way to go. That doesn’t change that you add a big, fluffy beard and Kratos suddenly becomes that bit fluffier a person. It’s a good step forward for an angry man. I’m not sure if he can ever fully shed his toxic masculinity, though. Maybe if his beard grows down to his chest or stomach? Or is there a point where the beard grows too long and the affect reverses?

Maybe we’ll find out in a sequel.

Captain James Flint (Black Sails)

Now here lies an interesting case study.

Don’t confuse James Flint with James McGraw. McGraw certainly has his anger issues, but he’s also an adorably soft bisexual who will proudly remain loyal to his boyfriend and openly confess feelings of love at dinner to said boyfriend’s bigot father. When he reunites with Thomas Hamilton after years of repressed pain and hidden feelings, they shamelessly make out in the middle of a field for all to see.

The last thing you could ever say about James McGraw is that he represses less “masculine” tendencies to come across like a “real man.” His other persona, James Flint, well, he’s a different story.

The central story of Black Sails revolves around Flint’s violent, single-minded quest for revenge against England after the “death” of Thomas Hamilton. He becomes a completely different person in order to blend in with the violent pirates inhabiting Nassau. Violence and fear and anger rule his personality. Flint adopts the most toxic of masculine traits in order to rise through the pirate ranks and maintain control of his ship.

He shares his secrets with no one but the third member of his romantic life, Thomas’s totally consenting wife Miranda. Not even she can break past the wall of repressed anger and grief Flint puts up since embarking on his pirate journey. Eventually she does break through to a former piece of what used to be James McGraw. Then a trigger-happy moron shoots her in the head.

Up to this point, Flint still has a glorious man-bun. In fact, you could argue Miranda Hamilton represents this retaining of his hair, which represents the retaining of that small bit of James McGraw. Miranda’s death coincidentally occurs around the time Flint decides to go with a buzzcut instead, shedding the last vestiges of his former life. Such amazing symbolism. No wonder we love Black Sails so much.

Buzzcut Flint becomes an even greater toxic monster, as you’d expect with such sudden loss of hair. His grief process becomes one of indiscriminate murder of soldiers and innocents. Towns fall beneath his inability to process grief. He fully adopts the pirate persona he pretended at before.

Say what you want about Flint’s methods while he still had hair, but at least he had some higher, non-violent goal in mind behind said actions. Namely, an independent Nassau like Thomas dreamed of. Buzzcut Flint had no such greater purpose. He wanted painful revenge against anyone associated with the empire responsible for his losses.  He even stops putting effort into his style, because why would any real man care so much about his appearance? Especially if you don’t have a glorious head of hair to style.

In the end, of course, Thomas Hamilton is alive and James McGraw leaves Flint behind to reunite with his lost love. It just goes to show how you can shave the positive masculinity off your head, but you can’t shave the positive masculinity off your heart.

Red Forman (That 70s Show)

Not all toxic masculinity involves being a bad person. Here’s the perfect example of that. Red Foreman is a good man. He loves his wife, he loves his family, and in the end he tries to do right by them. Most of the people in Red’s life are better off for knowing him.

He also happens to be completely and irredeemably toxically masculine.

Red refuses emotional expression at all costs. Numerous times he spouts off about how real men don’t cry or admit feelings towards anyone, not even his wife. He punishes any attempt to voice feelings. Alcohol and yelling are the only acceptable forms of grief. His only role in raising his son is to yell at him and show him how to do manly things. All the actual emotional support falls to his wife. However, he dotes on his daughter since she’s just a girl. That is, until she reasonably moves in with a guy. Then all he has for her is the slut shaming.

At least he’s not homophobic? Though he’s not exactly comfortable with it, either, and views gay couples like a joke in one episode.

He’s the only character who acts so stringently toxic from beginning to end. He also happens to be the only main character without hair. His son, Eric, basically tells us the truth of it in an episode, when he theorizes that the gene for happiness is stored in hair. Eric isn’t like that. His friends can be sometimes, but nothing close to Red. Bob Pinciotti has his toxic moments, but he’s also a fountain of emotional expression.

The only thing common difference Red has with all these other characters is hair. Or rather, Red’s lack of it in comparison. He doesn’t even have the choice of cutting it like Walter White or James Flint. In an era of afros and long, luscious hairdos, Red’s stuck with the chrome dome. Does this mean his toxic masculinity is a result of insecurity in the face of so many pretty hairstyles? Or is Eric right, and there’s some genetic  component to the discussion.

The evidence certainly appears to be piling up, huh?

Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Woah, woah! Calm down! I’m not saying Aang is a toxically masculine person. Clearly he’s not. He was raised to avoid violence when possible, to the point that he can’t even bring himself to kill a horrific dictator responsible for  murdering thousands in an effort to conquer the world. Aang is kind, silly, emotionally open, and has no problem dressing up for a fun night dancing in the Fire Nation. I would never, ever accuse Aang of toxically masculine behavior.

Well, except in one case. That case being his evolving relationship with Katara throughout the course of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

This dynamic is the one place where even such a positively masculine kid like Aang displays toxic traits. The sense of ownership, the feeling of romantic competition, the hiding and/or shutting down of emotion, the feeling of having to conform to traditionally masculine roles…all of this shows up in Aang when it comes to his romantic pursuit of Katara. He becomes overprotective of her despite Katara’s obvious mastery of waterbending. When she faces serious danger, he responds with feelings of vengeance and anger.

Sounds like elements of a toxically masculine gumbo to me.

You can even argue the effect of his baldness on his parenting skills. A trait of toxic masculinity is the idea of leaving parenting to the mother. Anyone familiar with The Legend of Korra (if you aren’t, WHY! Go watch now. I’ll wait) knows  how Aang’s parenting affected Bumi and Kya. Or rather, Aang’s lack of parenting. He has two children who seemingly have no idea whether their father actually loved them or not.

Compare that to how they view their mother, Katara. None of those hard feelings exist. Seems to me like she was a much larger presence in their life.

Again, I would never, ever consider Aang a toxically masculine person. But even he couldn’t fully escape the toxicity that accompanies baldness.

Counterpoint One: Luke Cage (Luke Cage)

Of course, you can’t conduct an actual examination of any topic without discussing some counterpoints. First up is Luke Cage, a man with the chromest of domes and yet lacking the vast majority of the traits seen in toxically masculine men. Yes, he tends not to discuss his trauma. Yeah, he punches the hell out of people.

However, when we first meet Luke he’s a peaceful bartender. He tries not to fight unless forced to. Even after the revelation that Jessica Jones killed his wife, he walks away rather than respond with violence. Within his own show, he embraces vulnerability and tries to be a role model inspiring Harlem’s youths away from the violent paths of the toxically masculine influences in their lives. He wants to use his invulnerability to protect rather than destroy.

His lack of toxic masculinity shows not just in his mission or attitude towards violence, but in his personality. It’s easy to look at Luke, see the big, muscular, bulletproof black dude and assume he’s all kinds of awful stereotypes. He turns out to be anything but. Luke is a funny, vulnerable, honest man. He has nothing but respect for women and shows zero hesitation to acknowledge their strength, even if their strength arguably outranks his. He shows a healthy emotional vulnerability around those he trusts.

The man is a big, loveable teddy bear.

Luke Cage defies many of the stereotypes expected of his appearance and abilities. Chief among them is toxic masculinity. Maybe baldness doesn’t have to turn you into a toxic jerk.

Counterpoint Two: Jaime Lannister (the real, A Song of Ice and Fire version)

This is a bit of a trickier one. I can’t say Jaime has turned a corner totally away from toxic masculinity. He still feels a deep possessiveness over his sister. He’ll probably always display a certain level of toxic masculinity just because of Westerosi culture. Just because he lost his ability to fight doesn’t change how he reveres that ability over anything else.

Still, compared to who Jaime used to be? Current Jaime might as well be Luke Cage.

Pre-Brave Companions Jaime represented the toxic ideal of Westerosi culture. He was arguably the deadliest fighter in the Seven Kingdoms and fully defined his life by his fighting ability. Everyone revered said ability. He had three kids he didn’t give a shit about because that was the job of their mother. His possessiveness over Cersei was even greater, to the point Jaime constantly considered killing his king. Sex with her overrode everything besides his obsession with fighting. And emotion? What even are emotions besides anger and lust?

Then Jaime loses his hand, meets Brienne of Tarth, and comes out the other side a changed man. He also shaves his head. Presumably he does this to disguise himself, but maybe it served as a transformation of his masculinity as well? While so many of my other examples became more toxic after shaving their heads, Jaime does not. He begins placing emphasis and worth on intellectual skills. He also begins showing more emotional vulnerability, including opening up to Brienne about the pivotal moment in his life: when he murdered Aerys Targaryen to save King’s Landing.

Through Brienne, he even gains a greater respect for women outside of their sexual worth.

While his transformation is not complete, and may never fully shed all of his toxic masculinity, there’s no question Jaime Lannister changed. Does losing his hand deserve more credit, or losing his hair? It’s an interesting question. One we may never fully answer, just like we may never know for sure whether baldness is responsible for toxic masculinity.


Images Courtesy of AMC, Sony Entertainment, Starz, Fox, Nickelodeon, and Netflix

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