Previously, on Cherry Bomb…
That’s right, dear readers. Welcome to Part 2 of this retrospective, digging into the plotline of Cersei Lannister (Cheryl), Jaime Lannister (Larry), and their unborn child (Cherry Bomb). In part 1, Julie—the mythical joint persona of Julia and Kylie—recapped the events that took place between these sibling lovers in Season 7 of Game of Thrones, by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). It was 100% satirical and meant to amuse.
This section, however, is very serious. Serious enough where we’ll even use the proper show character names, as much as it pains us. Fiction matters, and however much fun we have with this show, there’s a value in analyzing its messaging. In this case, we need to talk about all the implications and logic of it.
There’s no logic
Here’s the thing. We’d love to ignore certain plotholes, and frankly we can forgive a teleportation or two. We’ll make fun of it and roll our eyes, but ultimately these things don’t usually break the story. The problem is, trying to analyze this specific plot is really, really difficult because its foundation is one contrivance after another.
The reason for that is simple: at the end of last year, Daenerys set sail for Westeros with an army of the Unsullied, Dothraki, Yara’s Iron Fleet, all the forces of two out of the seven kingdoms, and three fully-grown dragons. The Lannisters, meanwhile, had…a blown up sept, The Freys (vaguely), and whatever was left of their own army. And it needs mentioning that of the two kingdoms Dany had in her alliance, one was the Tyrells who we were told, repeatedly, had the second largest army in the land.
We hope we don’t need to explain why this is a ridiculously obvious military advantage for Dany, and why the Lannisters would be utterly screwed in this position. Hell, they didn’t even have troops to spare to claim the completely unoccupied Dragonstone, apparently!
Clearly, this extreme disparity was something of a problem for D&D (of their own making, no less), who wanted a more even playing field to foster more tension. That’s not a stupid aim necessarily, but to do that, it required 1) Daenerys not attacking King’s Landing for…reasons? Optics? Stray arrows? 2) Tyrion proposing the most illogical plan centered around the unnecessary division of their troops and 3) Completely random allegiances to the Lannisters from people like Euron, Randyll Tarly, the Iron Bank, and even the smallfolk who should have been at least fucking terrified of her.
We’re going to explore many of these problems in more detail within our Dragonstone/#boatsex retrospective, since it was the “decisions” of “Dany” and “Tyrion,” but like…we’re not idiots. We know it’s the writers who make things happen here, and we’ve said on more than one occasion that Watsonian analysis on this show is usually an exercise in futility.
For example, let’s try and see if we can understand the decisions of Tycho Nestoris and Randyll Tarly.
Randyll outright tells Jaime that he’s mad Cersei blew up the sept, he doesn’t trust someone this reckless and violent (no shit), and he’s still a Tyrell man through and through. Having said that, he still answered Cersei’s summons. He dutifully arrived at King’s Landing to hear out this woman who, by all standards, should have alienated every single Lord. She literally blew up Mace Tyrell and her own uncle to avoid a trial, and then crowned herself in a move that also destroyed one of the most important societal institutions.
In this situation, it’s not just reasonable that Randyll wouldn’t answer the summons—it’s logical and safer for him. Robert’s Rebellion began because the liege lords didn’t feel safe with Aerys simply because of his bad treatment of a few Lords. Especially that one Lord who answered the King’s summons and got roasted alive. Only Jaime knew about the wildfire thing and the threat everyone in the city…that was kind of the point. So to act as though Cersei is someone to be trusted to uphold her feudal obligations?
We also don’t get why this idiot would have been convinced to join Team Lannister because he was offered the Wardenship of the South. Even adding his troops, he’d still be going up against the most insanely horrible odds. Is he that confident in his sword swinging that he’ll survive this? He doesn’t even have Heartsbane anymore!
The show tries to convince us it’s because of his racism. Unfortunately for D&D, they forgot that Targaryens aren’t foreign. Like, at all. Daenerys was born on Dragonstone, and non-Targaryen rulers are still kinda considered “usurpers” in a lot of Westeros. In fairness, she has the Unsullied and Dothraki in her army, but would a Reach Lord really be that much more miffed by them than by the goddamn Iron Fleet pledged to Cersei? Or, you know, by the woman who blew up the sept?
In fact, can we go off about the sept for a little bit? Okay. Every single member of the clergy was eviscerated, and apparently this immediately blew up every single person’s loyalty to the religion as well. We have to pretend there’s no monks walking around yelling about it, or even very pious blacksmiths who were disgruntled that their place of worship no longer exists and that the septon he went to for advice about dealing with his mother-in-law was murdered. We’d say “everyone is too scared,” but…they’re not. They’re really not, because we see them gaily cheering at the Sand Snake parade. Cersei faces absolutely NO CONSEQUENCES for this act, other than Hot Pie gossiping about it.
Wait, that’s not true: Cersei actually profits from this. Because apparently blowing up a grounding societal institution makes her a really good investment in the eyes of the Iron Bank. Because she cast off the yoke of superstition, and isn’t a “revolutionary” like that asshole Daenerys. We’re sorry, but wasn’t there a religious oligarchy courtesy of Margaery and Tommen last season? Or even vaguely Cersei arming them in Season 5? Haven’t we been shown this whole time that the “rule of law,” which the Faith was apparently usurping, is heavily based on the concept of judgement from the gods.
“In the sight of gods and men, we gather to ascertain the guilt or innocence of this man Tyrion Lannister.” —Pycelle, 4×08 The Mountain and the Viper
How is BLOWING IT UP not a revolutionary act? Guys. GUYS. Daenerys wants to restore a dynasty that ruled for 300 years. Cersei destroyed the entire religious establishment and possibly the patriarchy. We understand that in-verse, we’re continually told Dany is going to “break the wheel” and Cersei somehow keeps it spinning, but we actually have no evidence of how Dany is going to do that or what it even means, since she 100% plans on ruling from the Iron Throne, and has already divied up the kingdom between her followers to a certain extent. She even has a Lannister Hand. So…what?
Also, can someone explain to us what it means to “cast of the yoke of superstition,” as Tycho credited Cersei with doing for her destruction of the sept. Granted, neither of us are particularly pious, but we imagine that even if a church blew up, that wouldn’t snap people out of their beliefs? Isn’t faith kind of deeply felt?
There’s no point in going down this rabbit role, really. We understand fully that the Iron Bank supporting Cersei makes about as much sense as the Iron Bank backing a Sansa coup in the North. It happened because D&D needed it to happen so that Cersei and Jaime would survive the season and the Lannisters could still pose a vague threat next season. We’re sure they enjoyed having someone continually tell Cersei how great and Tywin-like she was, because it goes to show what amazing villains they write.
The reason we spent the time breaking down the lack of motivation on the part of Tycho and Randyll is because things like that make it really difficult for us to talk about Cersei and Jaime’s actions this season. They’re so driven by the demands of the conflict D&D are trying to build that what they actually do doesn’t particularly matter. In fact, they’re both super passive this season. Jaime has an arc, which we’ll talk about, but it’s just…he breaks up with his girlfriend. However, politically, they kind of both do what they’re told and react to random meetings dropped into their laps.
The best example of this is the Fortnight of Extreme Action, where Jaime raced across Westeros twice and successfully captured a defensive stronghold in between. As a consequence, after an extremely clumsy attempt to generate false tension, he was able to get all the gold needed to King’s Landing, and earn the Lannisters enough clout with the Iron Bank to get an even better loan. We have to hand it to D&D: it was finally a cause and effect. But it’s baldly ridiculous.
We’re not going harp on the teleporting armies. Like…they didn’t need to say the word “fortnight,” and we’re unsure why they not only continue to be so lazy in their writing, but to lampshade that laziness. However, what can we even say about the Lannisters taking Highgarden because fighting isn’t the Tyrells’ “forte”? We watched last season, when we were told they were the second biggest army, and we know they weren’t all in the exploding sept because we saw interior shots. Also, a few seasons before that, they were clearly the decisive force in the Battle of the Blackwater, so how was their fighting subpar then?
To D&D, it was such a foregone conclusion they would lose that they didn’t even put thought into explaining it. There was no attempt at a clever tactic, there was no special battering ram…nothing. They just won it offscreen. They stormed a castle that seemed to have a nice defensive wall and good geographical position, and took it immediately, because the Tyrell army sucked so much. What can be said, really? Jaime tried to give it meaning by saying he learned from Whispering Wood, but…how? Actually, how? Other than it being slightly surprising troop movement, there is no similarity. There wasn’t even a split of the Lannister forces.
Are we supposed to think Jaime’s grown as a military commander? He “outsmarted” Tyrion, and that’s…meaningful? Even though he had never been thwarted by him before, and Tyrion has no beef with him?
It’s just dumb and lazy, and it’s so obviously that, that we don’t even feel lazy for leaving it there.
The Truce Excuse
That brings us to the contrivance of the season to end all contrivances: the stupid fucking truce. We think we called it “Wight Moot” during the season, and why not.
Daenerys suffered a severe setback with the (totally logical) loss of her fleet, loss of all the Tyrell army ‘cause they’re shitty fighters, and death of her one dragons. With the exception of Viserion (which had nothing to do with the Lannisters), those losses all seemed to have been immediately turned around in “Spoils of War” during ‘Loot Train attack’. It’s very heavily implied that close to all of the Lannister/Tarly army was destroyed, or now loyal to Daenerys, with Randyll and Dickon themselves being the only holdouts. It’s also heavily implied that it basically negated all of the Lannisters’ territorial gains in the region. Sure, they might still have a garrison at Highgarden, but what good does that do them without a supporting army? They don’t have control in the Crownlands anymore, the Unsullied were able to slowly march from Casterly Rock to King’s Landing unmolested, and Cersei outright says their only hope is to buy and ship an army from halfway across the world.
So given that the truce’s premise is that Cersei must “pull back” her troops, we ask: from where? If it really is Highgarden, what does Daenerys need it for? It’s already been looted. Ditto for Casterly Rock.
Plus, even if Cersei accepts this truce and agrees not to attack, but instead of fighting wights she spends all her time consolidating her power…what outcome are they somehow safeguarding against? How is this any different from them not having a truce? It’s a ceasefire during a monster hunt. No matter what, they’ll have to contend with her in some capacity afterwards. What does the truce enable them to do that they couldn’t otherwise accomplish?
The fact is, there’s nothing to prevent them offering this truce, Cersei accepting, and still shipping the damn army to Westeros. In fact, for her to survive, she probably would do that, and they should expect it. That’s not operating in bad faith; that’s buying soldiers. It would be completely naive of them to expect Cersei not to prepare for the inevitable confrontation at the end of the truce and just lie down and prepare to be killed. And again, they didn’t go into the meeting trying to get her troops to fight with them, only to get her troops to not fight against them. So offering the truce…not offering the truce…we fail to see how there’s a single difference for Daenerys and Jon. Unless they’re so incompetent they didn’t even notice how she has no army left. And controls no territory.
If they want words of assurance for whatever reason, okay, but everyone in-verse is acting like it is the END OF HUMANITY if Cersei doesn’t agree to these terms. If we’re supposed to think that Cersei is in anywhere of a comparable military position to Daenerys, they didn’t establish that. And even at the stupid meeting when she storms out, to their knowledge, Euron left Cersei’s forces. So, they weren’t especially “fucked” in any regard. In fact, they probably should have just gotten up when Euron did and went, “You know what? Nevermind. We got this.”
Honestly, at that point, the only measly scrap the Lannisters have to hold onto is the fact that Tycho Nestoris thinks Cersei is hot or something. They should have sent Tyrion to just go charm him and all their problems would be solved. Or get Davos to show him his missing fingers again. Or get Brienne to sing about austerity. This guy is canonically an easy sell.
Also, just to be those people: winter is coming. It’s kinda hard to raise a whole new army from the peasant population, train them, get them to fight, and keep them fed. Hell, how does she plan on keeping the Golden Company fed, anyway? From the Iron Islands’ abundant rice paddies that sit next to their lush forests?
(We could go off for an entire essay on why the Golden Company specifically, or any sellsword group in general, would never take this contract, but we suppose Euron was just that captivating to them.)
We’re hiding it well, but we just don’t find it especially convincing that Dany and Tyrion would be this concerned about Cersei attacking them from behind. (That’s what they’re afraid of, right?) Not to the extent where they move hell and highwater to offer a truce that shouldn’t be on the table.
So, it’s really very hard to analyze character actions within Wight Moot, since there’s no particular reason for it at all. It also makes aspects even dumber in reflection. Like…why did Cersei not simply agree to the truce with Tyrion and make him feel as though he won? Why did she go above and beyond and commit troops to this? Because it seems to us like her clever plan with the Golden Company hinges on Team Daenerys believing in her good faith with them for as long as possible. So surely, they would notice that she’s broken her promises a whole lot faster if they were expecting the Lannisters to show up.
Is it just because there’s really no army but Jaime left? He was orchestrating things with a few soldiers, so that’s something. But we don’t understand why she’d paint a target on her back, other than it was a convenient way to create false conflict between her and Jaime. Or to maybe prove to the audience that this is still such a twisty and deep show, because they totally faked us out! Nothing good can happen ever, silly viewers—don’t you know?!
We can seriously continue talking about how dumb this is for another 5,000 words, but unlike D&D, we think you’re smart enough to understand by this point. This conflict was fake and forced, and the truce resolution was even more absurd. Jaime and Cersei just kind of…were thrown into it, and okay! Here’s the result. But boy, is it an uphill battle to extract meaning.
Jaime the Protagonist
In past retrospectives, we’ve played the game “who is the protagonist?” many times, because it’s often not very obvious. Like…there was one time Olly was the closest choice that we had. However, in King’s Landing, it’s been clear as day since Season 5: it’s Cersei. She wasn’t even really a villain protagonist, even though that’s what we suspect they were trying to do.
However this year, that changed. Cersei had a lot of screentime, but she didn’t have an arc at all. She wasn’t particularly proactive in decision-making, and when she was, it was to be an obstacle for Jaime to deal with. In other words: she’s our antagonist. For real, this time.
Previously our problem with calling Cersei the antagonist, even in Season 6, was that we had trouble seeing her actions as unreasonable, or not coming from a place of defense. And we didn’t understand how the people she was apparently antagonizing were any less antagonistic than she was. Yes, even blowing up the sept had shades of this. Maybe this somewhat stopped with her costume-change and subsequent wine-boarding of a nun, but that was at the very, very tail end of her once again, being a victim in a situation beyond her control, and doing what she could do get out of that.
This year, it’s really hard to see her murder Tyene for 5 minutes, get sexually aroused by it, and think, “well, it’s really the same as Arya killing Walder.” Don’t get us wrong: that was disturbing. But there’s a difference here, and someone that chillingly cruel is an antagonist. Also Arya kind of was this year anyway! Parallels!
But no, seriously, Cersei is just downright an asshole to Jaime in that last break-up scene, for no particular reason we can think, other than that she’s an asshole. We can make jokes about pregnancy hormones, but at the end of the day, how she treats him is unacceptable for a partner. Like, even outside of the incest thing, which is still…not great. Just to be clear. Even if the narrative ignores it completely now. And Mini-Maid.
Plus, Cersei seems very not-well this season. It could be grief, but her remarks about betrayal when Jaime had a meeting sprung on him and then immediately told her about it suggests a fair bit of paranoia. Did she expect him to kill Tyrion on the spot? Even though she said the meeting helps them and she allowed it to happen?
During the season we talked about how Cersei made compelling points…and she did. Her arguments for survival were logically sound in most cases. She’s actually the most competent ruler of the main three we’ve seen this year, and we say that without a drop of irony. Unlike Dany and Jon, she doesn’t take a ton of military risks, and yes, though many people are loyal to her for NO REASON, she still weighs her options as she should and we’re privy to that. She is also apparently charismatic enough to convince bankers, as dumb and contrived as it was.
It’s hard to parse out, because we know characters are allying with her for Doylist reasons, but it makes in-character analysis favor her a lot. It’s a big deal she’s securing this stuff. It’s more than dumbass Jon ever managed.
Also, the Ironborn alliance…that’s huge. Seriously huge. She somehow convinced Euron that he needed her. We know it was D&D—we know that. But again, compared to how the narrative treats Jon and Dany’s leadership, we find very little to criticize in Cersei’s governance decisions. It’s just we can’t side with her the we’ve been able to before, because she’s chillingly violent in a way we didn’t really see before…not fully, anyway.
The thing is, for the past few years D&D have been telling us Cersei is this monstrous and bad, but we’re only now seeing it. So props; you finally have a somewhat nuanced, sympathetic villain.
At the same time, she came out of nowhere. We said that at the end of last season, which is why we made Carol/Cheryl jokes, but this year it’s even moreso. She’s never been particularly mean to Jaime. She’s been frustrated with him not catching on quickly to obvious stuff, like the snake-in-a-box, and she’s processed her grief over her father and children differently, but she was never cruel and snappish with him. At the least, she never repeatedly called him “stupid” while praising herself.
In fact even this year, her hostility towards him in their last scene together alone came out of nowhere. They were hugging, sucking face, and celebrating their child in the previous one-on-one scene. So unless she actually is suffering from bad pregnancy hormones, we don’t get it. We realize D&D needed the breakup to happen because it was the end of the season, but it wasn’t particularly seeded.
Also why is she pregnant?
The thing that bothers us is that there was plenty of possibly tension to explore in Jaime and Cersei’s relationship. Remember when she blew up the sept? Remember how he has very specific hangups about using wildfire against innocent city-dwellers? Remember how she went on and on in the opener about how their teenage son betrayed her by loving his abusive wife and listening to the spiritual leader of the city? We could see any of these things upsetting Jaime, but instead we’re just told it’s Cersei processing grief. Oh well.
“Jaime really wants her to engage with what’s happened to them both, and these are things she can’t afford to even entertain, really, cause if you start going there, it’s going to be a long, long fall.” —Dan Weiss
Then his only comment on the sept blowing up was to Olenna, where he sort of half-heartedly defended the ends justifying the means. Maybe she made him question it, but the scene also ended with her admitting to murdering his son, and he never brought up the sept again. So we guess he made his peace with it. And to be honest: that makes sense. For three years now, Jaime’s arcs have been about how much he loves Cersei, and how he’ll do anything to be with her, including murdering babies. So…sure. She blew up a sept. Meh.
So what’s his arc then this year then, because we promised you he had one. Well, honestly it’s just him figuring out that he’s putting a little more into the relationship than she is. And we mean that very literally: a little bit more.
See, we considered that maybe it was jealousy about her marriage with Euron, which is why her talking about plotting with him behind Jaime’s back was the final straw. But the jealousy angle doesn’t work so great when you factor in their touching bedtime cuddles followed by “I don’t care who sees us,” and then her plan to tell the world that he’s her baby’s daddy. It’s also not remotely ambiguous why Cersei is marrying Euron (politics only), and that she’s pretty clearly stringing him along and moving the goalposts when she can. Sure Jaime can be upset at Euron’s stupid, crass comments, but in terms of questioning his relationship on these grounds…there’s not much there.
And yet, it was the plotting that was the final straw.
This is furthered by his voiced suspicions about Qyburn in “Eastwatch.”
Jaime: Why was Qyburn here?
Cersei: He’s the Hand of the Queen. Why are you here?
We’re assuming he doesn’t think Qyburn is a sexual rival, so it has to be about trust.
Now, we are both in committed relationships, and yeah, it would really suck to learn our partners were withholding information from us. At the same time, our partners are not monarchs in a feudal society where decisions need to be made quickly, and where bluffs are sometimes useful. And we are not particularly prone to Larry-faces.
But okay. Trust. Political trust. He wants it, and we guess that’s not unreasonable. He is the general of her army, after all. Plus learning that he confides in her more than she confides in him is going to hurt. Breakups have happened over much less. So we guess we’re willing to accept that the breakup itself wasn’t unreasonable, even if the way it was written wasn’t exactly masterful.
The thing is, we can’t help but notice a really bizarre parallel to Tyrion and Dany, which is not aided by Peter Dinklage randomly telling us that Tyrion is in love with Dany.
Jaime gives a speech to Olenna, about how Cersei will help Westeros, that sounds very similar to what we’ve heard Tyrion express about Dany numerous times.
Olenna: She’s a monster, you do know that?
Jaime: To you, I’m sure. To others as well. But after we’ve won and there’s no one left to oppose us, when people are living peacefully in the world she built, do you really think they’ll wring their hands over the way she built it?
We love the idea of Cersei overseeing this orderly, peaceful utopia. Though again, we’ve kind of heard it elsewhere:
Cersei: But eventually, you want everyone to bend the knee to [Daenerys]… [Why?]
Tyrion: Because I think she will make the world a better place.
We suppose Cersei doesn’t have the same slave-trade busting cred that Dany has, but she did cast off the yoke of superstition and destroy people who were cartoonishly evil. The Faith really, really sucked and had a stranglehold on the city, don’t forget.
However, Tyrion goes a little bit further in explaining why he’s such a Daenerys advocate.
Cersei: You said she’d destroy King’s Landing.
Tyrion: She knows herself. She chose an advisor who would check her worst impulses instead of feeding them. That’s the difference between you.
This parallel is explicit. We are meant to juxtapose Cersei’s refusal to consult with Jaime (though she does consult with Qyburn…just sayin’) with Dany respecting Tyrion’s opinions. Add to this the fact that they’re both canonically into burning buildings and executing people in increasingly dramatic ways, the obvious implication is that Cersei is a villain for not listening to her man.
It’s just difficult to critique this, because of course it’s reasonable Jaime would want out in this scenario. It’s clearly not healthy, and it’s also reasonable that being with someone in such a political position is inherently hard anyway. It’s just that this implication is a big, stinking turd, and we don’t know how to get around it. It’s inescapable and rather poisons any good will we’re willing to give to this. Add to that Jaime ditching his pregnant girlfriend without even trying to talk this out.
Again, we said Jaime’s the protagonist because he has an arc. Well, that’s it. He got frustrated his girlfriend wouldn’t listen to him and confide in him above all else. And this came after three years in a row of him doubling down on his love for her. Wasn’t that worth the wait?
What bothers us the most is that even ignoring the Aerys parallels…even ignoring the contrivances of the Wight Moot…there legitimately was enough there to fuel a breakup between Cersei and Jaime just in their disagreement in how to approach the threat to the North alone. If his main objection was being politically irrelevant to her, then at least make their dumb breakup be about politics.
Cersei believes their best way to survive the Army of the Dead and Jon/Dany’s alliance is to build up an army, stay out of the fight in the North, and pick off the survivors of whichever side. If the zombies win, it will be a lot harder, but at the same time, if the zombies win…would their presence have really changed that much? They don’t have dragons, and they don’t have numbers. (Well…we think they don’t. We’re so confused.) We can’t say we’d make the same choice as Cersei, but we at least understand it, and don’t think she’s entirely wrong.
“If dragons can’t stop them, if Dothraki and Unsullied and Northmen can’t stop them, how will [the Lannister] armies make a difference?”
On the other hand, there’s the morality of fighting for humanity’s survival. Not to mention, something Cersei outright said to Dany during her bluff:
“And when the Great War is over, perhaps you’ll remember I chose to help with no promises or assurances from any of you.”
This is also a reasonable path towards survival, and it seems to be the one Jaime is most convinced by. Since Cersei clearly knows she’s militarily outmatched by Dany, it’s absolutely reasonable for her to try to earn some sort of good will with the woman who will conquer Westeros and divvy it up amongst her followers, so that at the end of all of this, Cersei will not only get to keep her head, but perhaps will even be given back Casterly Rock, or something. She could ride North, strategically braid Dany’s indestructible hair, and profit potentially more than she would shipping elephants across the Narrow Sea and hoping her the odds are better down the road.
Plus…humanity. It’s a higher mode of existence to fight for the collective good than the individual. Jaime wants to do the former, and Cersei wants to do the latter.
Only issue: this argument was never on the screen. They could have split up over it, but they didn’t voice it. Jaime was just kind of mad she plotted without him, and she thought he was an idiot for considering earning good will as a legitimate strategy, even though she more or less suggested it to Dany. So once again the story that’s reasonably there is one we can’t give D&D credit for, and one we suspect exists entirely by accident.
Instead, we have Cersei bait-and-switching Jaime of all people, because it created ~drama~. This is how they chose to break them up. This.
Just to close out the idiocy that was ‘Cherry’s’ relationship, can we talk about the bomb? We can’t figure out why they chose to make Cersei pregnant, other than to fool the audience into thinking that she’s a mother again, and therefore has redeeming qualities.
“What is Cersei without her children? What prevents her from being a monster? And the answer is nothing.” —David Benioff
The thing is, why was she compelled to be more compassionate for Joffrey and Tommen than she is for this new baby that’s coming? Once you get a taste for child-free evilness, forever will it dominate your destiny? It’s not like we’re bemoaning the loss of Idealized Motherhood, but if we’ve been told for this long that her kids are the reason she’s somewhat fine, why is that not the case now? Did D&D read Kylie’s essay and work to consciously correct it?
While this season was airing, we were convinced they would put an endcap on the Cherry breakup with a Cherry Bomb miscarriage. But [thankfully], that didn’t happen. So there wasn’t even a gross, exploitative reason for her to be pregnant. There just wasn’t any reason. At most, it gave them a cheap way to write a fake-out in her conversation with Tyrion, but was there any reason she couldn’t just bluff? Or argue that losing three kids in three years maybe shifted her perspective?
We can’t answer any of these questions. The pregnancy was drama, and not especially coherent drama. But at least it filled a couple minutes of screentime. Is she going to carry it to term next season? Somehow we doubt it, but we’re
eager going to find out!
King’s Landing Odds and Ends
We can’t say anything more about Cersei and Jaime, but there are two characters we feel contractually obligated to mention, since they had at least four scenes where they were the focal point. We’re talking about Euron and Bronn.
Let’s start with Euron. We make fun of the hooligan quote a lot, but really…can you blame us?
“Ramsay was the new Joffrey. I think Ramsay was a great character and played by a great actor [Iwan Rheon]. But for me, Ramsay is 100 percent evil. I think Euron is not, which makes things a bit more conflicted within him. I’m more like a hooligan.” —Pilou Asbæk
Fuck you! Ramsay at least had daddy issues and a girlfriend! What is one thing that redeems Euron from being 100% evil, exactly?
During the season, we joked about how Euron had a different demeanor every episode, but don’t worry…Asbæk has a quote for that too:
“All of the psychopaths I’ve met in my lifetime have multiple personalities. Not like they’re schizophrenic, but they can adapt to the people they are surrounded with. He’s a chameleon.”
Ableism and horrible understanding of the DSM aside, we guess this means we shouldn’t bother analyzing his character then. He’s a chameleon. He adapts to the needs of the scene, and shockingly, his location and success adapts to the needs of the plot. Remember last year when his plan was to marry Dany? Why does he want to marry Cersei this year? Why doesn’t he just sack King’s Landing? It’s because he’s a hooligan! Why is he obsessed with Theon, exactly? Is he worried about his claim, cause that Salt Moot was decisive…
Really, we just have no avenue through which we can analyze Euron, or even take him seriously as a character. He’s presented to us as this whining, petulant, silly, leather-wearing, fighting dude with guyliner and a modern haircut. What are we supposed to do with this? What is the audience supposed to do? Does anyone even care about him dying? At best, he’s slightly annoying. We assume Theon will get the ~big kill~, but his presence in Cersei and Jaime’s story is almost incidental. He just exists to muddy the troop-sizes, and hand them random naval victories.
Then there’s Bronn. Oh, Bronn.
This character has been one-note for so long that we’re almost exhausted bringing him up again. He’s also a comic relief character, we get it. This is a heavy show (well…to some), and levity is nice. Do we think dick jokes are the best form? Not exactly, and of course it reeks of horrible toxic masculinity and cissexism. Which yes, is always uncomfortable since we’re supposed to like Bronn as the audience. He saves Jaime! He shoots a dragon heroically instead of grabbing his bag of gold!
At the end of the day, we cope with Bronn’s offensive jokes and our annoyance at his continued existence with the ongoing honeypot about how he’s in love with Jaime and scared to talk about that attraction. But there’s absolutely assholes who would make the same jokes without any deeply repressed motivation, and we know D&D aren’t trying to write a love story here. Hell, Bronn’s as unnecessarily loyal to Tyrion as he is to Jaime, so the honeypot isn’t even super in-evidence. It’s just better than having to take him seriously as a character.
Because if we have to do that…we have nothing to say. He pops up to make stupid jokes, saves Jaime’s ass in improbable ways, and sometimes talks about liking gold and lordships. This is the most staganent character possible, and that’s saying a lot on this show. Even his stupid one-scene arc was negated when the next scene he told Jaime he was out, because dragons. Though…nothing came of that, so…
We’re trying. We’re trying to find something useful. The best we can say is that at least this season, Cersei was a compelling villain, if you can accept that her obsession with staying in power for the sake of power comes from the context and her characterization—not just D&D’s shallow need to keep a non-wight antagonist around. We find that personally difficult, since everything she and Jaime did stunk of contrivance. So in our opinion, it’s not so much about the great writing of Cersei, as it is Lena Headey’s nuanced acting finally paying off in way that matches the marketing.
Question: what would have happened if Cersei and Jaime broke up in the first episode because he was horrified at the sept explosion, and then Daenerys flew her dragon over the Red Keep and ate her, which was a perfectly reasonable move for her to be able to do at that point? We’ll tell you what would have happened: we’d be in the first episode of the next season (if not, further), only Daenerys wouldn’t have pissed away half her troops, and the character actions would have made more sense. So why did Season 7 exist at all?
We know this sounds odd, since we are 100% the “it’s the journey and not the destination” kind of people. But when that journey is nothing but illogical plot points, random character motivations, and false tensions, we’re going to say that maybe it could have been skipped.
The cheap drama isn’t even surprising anymore! Sure, Cersei asserting one thing and then doing the exact opposite was unexpected, but we weren’t exactly gasping. You know what might have been surprising? Had she actually pledged her troops for real and was committed to trying to win Dany over next season. There could have been tension because how can you trust that, and would Cersei begin to suspect that she’d be better off turning, and how can all these random coalitions actually come together with so much history and bad blood between them?
But there’s 80 minutes to fill, and if nothing else has come from this retrospective series, it’s that D&D struggle in the imagination department. They want yet another ~amazing antagonist~ and think they have it Cersei. We can’t wait to see all the shocking deaths that occur on the path to bring her down.
We’re going to leave this one here; yes, the plotline was badly motivated and comes apart under the most minimal amount of scrutiny. That’s Game of Thrones these days.
However, before we duck out completely…remember when that wasn’t the case with this show? Remember when it was somewhat evocative and logical and dare we even say deep?
Well, we at least think that’s what the first few seasons were like, not that we’re saying they’re free of problems. At this point in our GoT-critiquing careers, we feel it’s high past time that we go back and rewatch seasons 1-4, and we very much would love you to follow along. So stay tuned for more news on that project, and be sure to subscribe to our Unabashed Book Snobbery podcast to hear our mostly unedited thoughts on this plotline when it drops. We’ll see you soon!
Images courtesy of HBO
The Best DreamWorks Princess
The recent release of the trailer for a highly anticipated animated sequel has me thinking about princesses. One in particular. This one:
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, DreamWorks Animation’s best princess. I’m sorry Princess Fiona, but Hiccup takes this title handily. Alright, I can hear the argument already. He can’t be a princess because Berk is a chiefdom where the position isn’t strictly hereditary. Being the son of the chief doesn’t make him royalty.
He’s not a literal princess, no. But Hiccup does fall squarely into an archetype of the dutiful princess. His character arcs throughout the movies, shorts, television and streaming series takes him through almost every possible hardship a dutiful princess can go through.
The dutiful princess is a character trope we like to discuss on occasion here on the Fandomentals. A dutiful princess is someone who holds a position of power or at least holds a level agency that places them in a leadership akin role. Standard symptoms of the dutiful princess include, but are not limited to, the feeling of not living up to expectations, a complicated relationship to one’s greater role in society and the ever classic, family drama.
Not living up to expectation could be the defining statement of Hiccup’s character arc in both movies, but especially in the first one. Hiccup is introduced as the quirky outsider who’s not like everybody else. He’s small, thin and lanky, surrounded by the toned, full-figured, battle harden people of his tribe. Almost every adult dwarfs him, especially his father whose name, Stoick the Vast, is no irony.
Just being a Viking of Berk comes with the expectation one should be a natural dragon killer. But that’s only the beginning of the expectations placed on Hiccup. Not only is his father the paragon of what a Viking should be physically but Stoick is the chief of Berk. He fearlessly fights dragons barehanded and performs exuberant acts of strength like it’s a mild workout. Stoick’s strength inspires the people of Berk and, in turn, they trust his judgement enough to follow him into the heart of the dragons’ nest.
How to Train Your Dragon does two interesting things with Hiccup’s response to the expectations placed on him. Firstly, Hiccup’s initial efforts to close the gap between his current-self and his expected-self aren’t done through physical pursuits. Hiccup, all too aware of the physical differences between himself and the typical Viking takes another route that plays to his strengths. He uses his ingenuity and engineering skills to construct a device that will do the heavy lifting for him. It works too, even if no one is aware of it. Hiccup’s actions here are a realistic effort for him to achieve those expectations, even if he’s not perfectly embodying them. He tries to bridge their expectations on his terms, exactly what a dutiful princess would do.
The second-way Hiccup is forced to confront the expectations placed upon him happens after he’s begun to reach them. As Hiccup learns more about dragons through his interactions with Toothless, he becomes more proficient in dealing with dragons in the ring. When the others in Berk see this they react is a pleasant surprise yet an overall acceptance of his newfound dragon conquering abilities. He’s finally the star of the village and has his father’s acceptance and attention. But he’s gained all of this by befriending a dragon, the antithesis of being a Viking.
The climax of his character arc in How to Train Your Dragon comes to a head when he must choose between living up to expectations that have followed him his whole life and the newfound responsibility he feels for Toothless and all dragons. Ultimately he chooses against the expectations of being a dragon killer. It’s a decision that, when he makes it, he has no way knowing the personal cost. But, as any dutiful princess would, he makes the decision anyway, believing it to be the right one. In doing so he changes three hundred years of violence and ushers in a new chapter of life in Berk.
Turns out ending the conflict between humans and dragons earns one the favour of the whole village. In the five year gap between How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 Hiccup’s become the ‘pride of berk’. He’s also Stoick’s choice to succeed him as chief. Hiccup doesn’t believe he’s ready for the job. But it’s not because he thinks he’ll be a poor leader. In fact, he naturally assumes the role of leader when the dragon riders are formed. There are eight seasons worth of content (DreamWorks Dragons) where Hiccup proves his leadership abilities time and time again. His hesitation to become the chief stems from Hiccup not seeing himself being able to become as great as his father. Yet that hesitation doesn’t stop him from wanting to protect everyone.
When rumours of a dragon army being lead by the ruthless Drago Bludvist reach Berk, like a true dutiful princess, he tries to rushes off to keep the peace which naturally means he only incites conflict. His actions not only cause Drago to turn his full attention to attacking him but amongst the conflict, Stoick dies saving Hiccup.
Hiccup’s relationship to the chiefdom is tied intrinsically to his relationship with his family and his self-perception. He spends most of his life trying to live up to his father’s expectations. Then just when he gains Stoick’s respect he has to come to terms with becoming chief. Not to mention at roughly the same time he learns mother who he thought was dead is actually alive. She shares his natural affinity for dragons which is good. But she also chose to not return to Berk, which is… confusing. Then, just as his family is reunited, he loses his father when Stoick dies protecting Hiccup. That day gave Hiccup a lot to process.
Hiccup’s relationship with his parents also mirror the aspects within himself he feels at odds with. The Viking chief who needs to protect his people and the dragon rider who wants to protect the dragons. He isn’t just a dutiful princess to his people, he’s one to the dragons as well. Both Stoick and his mother, Valka, echo similar sentiments, ‘We protect our own’. Hiccup takes this one step further, ‘the Alpha protects them all’. With Toothless at his side, that’s exactly what he promises to do.
It’s not all tough decisions and parent drama in Hiccup’s life though. There is one area where Hiccup breaks the usual trials of the dutiful princess. In his love life. He manages, somehow, to maintain a healthy relationship that survives years and all the hardships he faces.
But the hardships aren’t over for our dutiful princess chief. The trailer for the third installment of the movies, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World show him still making the difficult choices to protect all of his tribe, Viking and dragon alike. With his sights set high to change the world, he doesn’t have an easy road ahead. But he isn’t alone. He stands with the support of his mother, Astrid, his friends and, of course, his dragon.
Images courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
Waiting for Katoh: Romancing the Iron Bull in Dragon Age
Inquisitor: It’s a little unnerving that you have this down to a system.
The Iron Bull: Systems are comfortable. And my goal is for you to get… very comfortable.
Spoiler Warning for Dragon Age: Inquisition
NOTE—CONTENT AND POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This post includes some respectful yet candid, open and potentially NSFW discussion of The Iron Bull’s DAI romance (and its BDSM elements). Please proceed with caution and full awareness.
Once upon a time, I’d been dreaming of romancing a prince in a videogame. Then I played Dragon Age: Inquisition and stumbled across The Iron Bull.
He was everything I hadn’t wanted. And he was perfect: funny, brilliant, sensual, and caring. I fell flat and (thinking I was on my way to an adorable Beauty and the Beast-style romance for Bull and my little blonde Inquisitor) instantly decided that he would be mine.
Pretty soon I began to realize, however, that this romance was not going to be as easy as I’d expected. Despite his purported availability and enthusiasm, Bull didn’t show much interest in my Inquisitor’s charms at all, and had instead spent dozens of hours in-game smilingly ignoring her efforts. Months, in game-time. Months. My poor Inquisitor was not a happy camper. (Please note that I’ll be generally referring to the Inquisitor as “she” throughout this piece since I’m discussing my own playthrough, but of course as Bull is pansexual, the Inky can be any gender preference the player chooses.)
At first, I hadn’t found Bull attractive—he was intimidating, this big, hulking guy who just wasn’t my type at all. But then, as I described, I started to realize what a fantastic and complex character he was, and soon I was gazing at Bull with glowy pink hearts in my eyes, just like pretty much everyone else in Thedas:
Cole: The Iron Bull, a woman in the last village wanted you to pick her up and take her clothes off.
Iron Bull: Most people do.
Cole: In her mind, you were very big.
Iron Bull: Well, that’s flattering.
But meanwhile, I wasn’t getting anywhere, and my poor Inquisitor’s flirts weren’t seeming to have any effect at all. Then, although I was trying to avoid spoilers, I saw a comment that eventually Bull would show up in the Inquisitor’s quarters when his approval was high enough. So (hilariously) in between flirts, my poor Inquisitor started running back up to her room to see if Bull would show up there. (Just in case you thought this couldn’t get anymore embarrassing…)
But my Inky kept flirting, determined to win Bull’s heart. And then he finally showed up in my Inquisitor’s quarters, and everything changed. And I basically fell out of my chair at the options he presented, because they were a hell of a lot more eyebrow-raising than “So, hey, I got you a rose.”
This was not at all the fairytale I thought I had been pursuing… but it was fantastic writing from Bull’s writer (fantasy novelist Patrick Weekes). And beautifully character-appropriate.
First off, the reality: when it comes to romance, Bull’s in a league of his own. I mean, let’s be honest—a few frilly words with Solas and Cullen and you’re making out on the rooftops.
But as I mentioned, Bull’s different. There’s no reaction at all. (I always picture him reacting with faint amusement, like, “Nice try, Boss…”) Until, one day, finally, there’s a reaction. The day arrives, when you’ve made so many overtures that Bull himself couldn’t fail to acknowledge the signals. Victory is yours, on the night Bull shows up in your quarters out of the blue, and he finally makes his move.
But he’s got a proposition for you. And it’s a doozy. He’s not just propositioning you for sex, he’s asking you to enter a world that may scare or intimidate you just a little.
And just like that, BDSM entered the world of mainstream gaming.
Terms and Conditions
When Bull finally takes action, it’s fascinating, because from a character and story perspective, he’s risking everything on a very specific moment. If Dragon Age: Inquisition were an actual novel (and not the playable novel I believe it actually is), I’d be fascinated to know exactly what caused Bull to go, “Okay. It’s time.” Was there a specific flirtatious moment? Or was there an outside cause? It would be interesting, for instance, to headcanon a message from the Qun, or even a proactive decision when he recognizes interest in the Inquisitor from a potential rival.
Either way, Bull shows up, and makes his play. If he succeeds, everything’s changed. If he fails, it would be interesting to wonder what his backup strategy might be… if he’s Qun-loyal, does he then coldly seek out Dorian, for instance? Or is he content to continue to prove himself simply as a captain and companion?
But… on the other hand, this is Bull we’re talking about. He knows human nature like nobody else (humans, elves, dwarves, everyone, etc.). He reads signals and micro-signals. He understands how people are wired. Then he acts. And it’s interesting that when he does, he’s continuing his previous “playing it cool” approach—he’s still holding himself back a bit, a little removed and detached.
Most of all, he’s still playing games. Only this time, he wants you to play, too.
I mean, let’s face it, Bull could’ve taken my Inquisitor up on her flirtations, offered her a jolly night in the sack, and he’d have probably been pretty safe doing so. She would’ve been perfectly happy with this, too, on some level—we already know, from hearsay, that such nights with Bull are perfectly satisfying and that he certainly appears to make sure everyone goes home happy. But as with most situations for Bull, he’s thought this through, and he’s determined that there’s only one specific outcome that works.
And he’s quite aware that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps no other character’s romance is as careful about consent as Bull’s, and your character can say no to Bull’s flirtation with zero hard feelings on either side. Spy or not, secret agenda or not, he’s genial and kind in response:
Iron Bull: …I’m not sure you know what you’re asking. Not sure if you’re ready for it.
Inquisitor (refusing): You’re right. Flirting was fun, but it probably wouldn’t work out.
Iron Bull: Exactly. So don’t worry about it. Let’s just keep killing things. We’re really good at that. For what it’s worth, though… you would’ve been walking funny the next day. Anyway, nice talking with you. Have a good one.
I mean, Bull handles rejection like a champ here (and elsewhere, as our Inquisitor can turn him down here, break it off the morning after, or when their romance is discovered, among other occasions). I really like that he’s not kidding about there being zero repercussions or hard feelings.
An Object of Obsession
Meanwhile, let’s get back to motives for a moment. If Bull’s motive was simply to seduce the Inquisitor, he could’ve done this months ago (in-universe), couldn’t he? And if his goal was just sex, again, wasn’t this already within reach for him fairly quickly?
Instead, he’s still playing chess, still being strategic to shore up his position in the long game. From a character standpoint, my impression is that he’s willing to risk losing because he’s confident enough in his own skills, his own abilities at reading and understanding human nature, to do so.
My take here, in fact, is that he’s willing to gamble because if he’s right in his assessment here (whether Qun-loyal or Tal-Vashoth, depending on the outcome of “The Demands of the Qun“), Bull won’t just have the Inquisitor as a casual bedmate, he’ll be providing them with a relationship whose demands satisfy a need previously unrecognized within the Inquisitor herself, and in ways only he can satisfactorily meet. In short, he’s positioning himself fairly coldly to be the object of a sexual obsession. And he’ll gain a potential (and high-ranking) chesspiece in his play to both control or affect the Inquisition as well as for his potential return to the Qun as a power player despite his past sins (at least, as an option).
Which is where the BDSM aspect of Bull’s romantic proposition to the Inquisitor comes into the picture.
It shouldn’t be surprising that, in the bedroom, as elsewhere, Bull’s secretly all about power dynamics and exploiting those for his own benefit.
Waiting for Katoh
It’d be one thing for Bull to make his move as an uncomplicated typical romantic overture. Basically, the kind of scenario where he’d say, “Hey gorgeous, Bull here. If you’re agreeable, let’s finally hook up!”
It’s quite another for him to show up in your quarters unannounced (a great and subtle way to start the scenario with the Inquisitor off-balance), to say, “So… I’ve gotten the messages. I get what you want. And it’s tempting. So let me make you an offer in return: What if I promise to give you everything you want, plus that escape you crave, but only on my terms, and at the sacrifice of full control, in a scenario that demands your absolute trust? While, in addition, possibly changing your entire outlook on who you thought you were?”
Um… No big deal, right? The only problem is, Bull is asking for that absolute trust, that willingness to be completely vulnerable… after he himself has already openly told us, at that point, numerous times, why he himself should not be trusted. If we’re paying attention. So it’s a pretty fascinating and fraught situation from a story standpoint, and one that provides the potential for a surprising amount of tension and drama. And if he’s working an agenda, and we don’t gain his loyalty (in “Demands of the Qun”) the outcome of the story that begins here is truly heartbreaking at the conclusion of “Trespasser.” (People, save the Chargers. Just please, always save the Chargers.)
Meanwhile, no matter what Bull’s agenda here, as I mentioned, Bull makes his move with care, respect, and delicacy. He ensures consent—not once, not twice, but three separate times. The consent aspect is important and even somewhat poignant if you think about it, because Bull himself comes from a culture in which sexual consent, at least in the big-picture sense, is nonexistent. In life under the Qun and elements like the Qunari breeding programs, what or who you want personally doesn’t matter. The Qun is all about the collective good. Individuals either assimilate, do what they’re told (or who they’re told), or they die.
All of this is why, for me, Bull’s emphasis on consent here is a vital and very telling character note. (It’s also why criticisms of that consent scenario drive me batty, but more on that farther down.)
The issue of consent is doubly important in Bull’s scenario from a larger standpoint, I’d further argue, precisely because lack of consent has been such a troubling yet consistent aspect of other BDSM representations in popular entertainment, most notably, in stuff like 50 Shades of Grey. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read it, but in researching this, I became aware of the criticisms of the romance and its issues with consent and abuse.) The emphasis Dragon Age: Inquisition places on an empowered and consenting relationship is therefore, to me, culturally important and responsibly done.
We’re Definitely Not in Hyrule Anymore…
In a big-picture sense, seriously, all of this is pretty complex and surprising stuff for a videogame. Because it puts the player/protagonist into a situation in which they might very well react in any number of ways—with discomfort or outright disgust, with amusement or interest, or with enthusiasm and delighted approval, et cetera. (What’s interesting is that the Bioware team was evidently initially very concerned at the reactions from players and was subsequently pleasantly surprised when Bull’s romance was a non-issue for the vast majority.)
Keep in mind that, strategically (if it occurs before “Demands of the Qun”), Bull has everything to lose here in terms of the political coinage he’s acquired with the Inquisitor over his time with the Inquisition. Yet he’s willing to risk it, because he’s gambling as always on his proven ability to read other people. He’s basically saying, “Okay, I’ll give you what you want… but only on my terms… if you agree.” While pretty much already assuming he knows the choice they’ll make.
Right away, when he shows up in the Inquisitor’s chambers, Bull presents her with a series of choices. The short answer? He’s still making sure we’re chasing him (and his approval). It’s all so smart, and so much fun from a writing standpoint. Sure, he’s there, he’s willing… but there’s also that palpable sense that Bull’s also pretty uninvested in the outcome (at least by all appearances). He’s acknowledging the flirtations, but he’s also halfway out the door. It’s calm and deliberate—a far cry from Solas’s, Cass’s, or Blackwall’s passionate declarations of desire or love even against their better instincts, simply because they cannot help themselves. Instead, with Bull, it’s slightly cold, almost amused.
But either way, he makes his offer, and we can respond. And once the Inquisitor consents the third time (in an agreement that’s either more innocent and romantic or that’s more worldly and experienced), we end on a real smile from Bull, an embrace… and then a quick fade to black.
(Honestly, maybe that fade to black was perhaps a little too quick. I’m just sayin’…)
But we don’t jump to the next morning, as we might expect. Intriguingly, instead, we’re shown a moment when The Iron Bull is leaving the Inquisitor’s chambers, and he’s confronted by Leliana, who is stopping by to ask the Inquisitor for input on an Inquisition matter.
Bull’s response there is to tell her no, point-blank. He sends Leliana away—Leliana, our leader, spymaster, and warrior-nun. The person nobody says no to. And he does so with a shrug. It’s intriguing and textbook Bull: “Let her rest,” he says, coolly meeting the eyes of the most terrifying person in all of Skyhold. He’s at ease. He’s also amused, relaxed, and confident. And Leliana, visibly thoughtful about this unexpected development, departs without further comment. (And I love that she never, ever says a word about what she knows here. Nobody keeps secrets like our Nightingale.)
In an obvious sense, Bull’s just done some oddly positive things here. He’s—it’s certainly implied—provided the Inquisitor with the escape and release she needed. He’s also fended off potential interruptions and made sure she gets some much-needed rest.
He’s also just made a major power move. He just told Leliana, in no uncertain terms, that he’s now a factor in the Inquisitor’s life. It can be taken as selfish (“I’m someone you need to take note of”) or unselfish (“I’m here to make sure you give her the space she needs”). Or a combination of the two.
For me, the headcanon read on this scene depends on what the outcome was to “The Demands of the Qun.” If we saved the Chargers, Bull has no more need to apply ulterior motives, and he’s simply doing what he’s best at—caregiving and protecting. If we chose to sacrifice the Chargers, however, Bull’s motives immediately get a lot murkier. (So much so that it’s going to have to be a whole separate blog post in the future.)
Meanwhile, my Inky got her night with Bull. And I’m assuming it was fabulous and delightful and probably earth-shattering on a number of levels. But she certainly had some questions the morning after (and so did I).
The best part is? He answers them.
Warnings and Watchwords
It’s interesting that Bull’s seduction has a decidedly cool element, a visible detachment, yet he’s so much warmer and kinder the morning after. This could be an expected result of the intimacy of their previous night together. Or it may also simply indicate that he’s more confident and not feeling the need to hold himself at arms’ length anymore.
Regardless, Bull’s actually very approachable the next morning, if we choose to go ask him to talk with us about what happened the night before. He’s genial, friendly, and open—surprisingly so. (My favorite part of this early conversation is when we first try to talk to him about the previous night, Bull assumes we just want some therapeutic advice on physical comfort in the aftermath, responding cheerfully that, “I can show you some stretches…”.)
Then he realizes what the Inquisitor wants to talk about, they sit down together in her quarters, and just… talk. In an extended, smart, literate, and mature dialogue sequence about what they did, how the Inquisitor feels about it, what each wants, what he’s offering, the rules of engagement, what the boundaries are, and where those boundaries end. He also addresses, bluntly, the psychology behind his choices.
And here’s where it gets fascinating. He reveals to you at this point, fairly candidly, how he thinks you’re wired and what he thinks you need. He admits that he’s using his Ben-Hassrath training to intuit this stuff, but also that he’s using those powers for good:
Inquisitor: I’m still not sure how to react to the things we did.
Iron Bull: If you’re limping, I can show you a few stretches that’ll take care of it.
Inquisitor: That’s not what I meant.
Iron Bull (pausing): You don’t say. Found a part of yourself you didn’t know was there before…
The Inquisitor doesn’t answer.
Iron Bull (more gently): Ben-Hassrath training, remember? Grew up learning to manipulate people. When it’s a hostile target, you give them what they want. But when it’s someone you care about, you give them what they need.
Inquisitor: So if I agree, how does this… work?
Iron Bull: Outside this room, nothing changes. You’re the Inquisitor. You’re the Boss. I will never hurt you without your permission. You will always be safe. If you are ever uncomfortable, if you ever want me to stop, you say “katoh” and it’s over. No questions asked.
Inquisitor (one of several minor varying options): It’s a little unnerving that you have this down to a system.
Iron Bull: Systems are comfortable. And my goal is for you to get… very comfortable.
My favorite part of this exchange is the way Bull is employing his usual talent for lying with the truth and hiding in plain sight.
Just as he told us he was a spy the moment we met, here he points out that his Ben-Hassrath training is enabling him to manipulate the Inquisitor, and that he is blatantly doing so. But he’s doing so (or so he implies) for good, not ill. For our benefit. And if we saved the Chargers in Bull’s personal loyalty quest (turning him into a true rebel by necessity—a Tal-Vashoth), this is true. If we sacrificed the Chargers and he remains loyal to the Qun, things here are, as mentioned, actually pretty dark. But more on that later.
Either way, what Bull doesn’t do, at any point, is compromise. Instead, Bull lays out the scenario for the two of you going forward. The crux of his approach: To put it somewhat demurely, Bull gets to drive. The Inquisitor will have to agree. He will not compromise, as noted in a further conversation and partial negotiation they may have later on (all of these dialogues were written with his usual eloquence and subtlety by Patrick Weekes, who wrote Bull, as well as Solas and Cole, in his Dragon Age: Inquisition appearance).
What You Need
The Inquisitor can then return to Bull for a third conversation, and this was my favorite of the three, because the writing allows the Inquisitor a variety of character options–they can ask a dozen questions, or they can commit right away. They can show confidence, or admit to vulnerability or insecurity for example, asking Bull if the BDSM is an aspect of any of his other relationships, for instance, with the serving girls or others Bull has bedded in the Inquisition. Bull’s answer there is simple: nope. Because that’s not what the serving girls needed. He’s wired to give people what he perceives they need, so each scenario for him is different and unique.
Bull further elaborates below (note that he starts out with a clear statement that he’s committed to you, absolutely, as of this moment—that there’s nobody else, until or unless you end things):
Iron Bull (speaking about his previous dalliances): I mean, I used to. Long as we’re doing this, you’ve got my complete attention.
Inquisitor: You told me that this is what I needed. What did you mean by that?
Iron Bull: You’re the Inquisitor. You didn’t ask for the job, but you’ve taken on the responsibility. You’ve got thousands of lives riding on your decisions. You bear that weight all day. You need a place where you can be safe, knowing someone else is in charge for a bit.
Inquisitor: So if this is a conscious decision for you, could you do something else if I wanted you to?
Iron Bull: No. This is who we are. It’d be disrespectful to what you need to treat you any other way. If it doesn’t work for you, though, I understand. No hard feelings.
Inquisitor: What about what you need?
Iron Bull: Hey, I’m good. I am better than good. You don’t trouble yourself on that front. Old Iron Bull is just fine.
It’s interesting to me that Bull’s highest allegiance here is to what the Inquisitor needs. It’s the thing he’s most drawn to as a nurturer, spy or no spy, that ability to fulfill that, and it’s something he won’t compromise on. He even calls it out specifically, that “It would be disrespectful to what you need to treat you any other way.” He won’t do otherwise… even if it’s in his best interests politically. And, typical for Bull, he utterly discounts what he himself might need out of the relationship. (I find this weirdly moving, and would certainly of course headcanon that the Inquisitor is generous and attentive regardless of this statement—he deserves it.)
Either way, these conversations while certainly a bit edgy for the mainstream, really shouldn’t be. Speaking as something of a bumbling semi-human toon myself (when it comes to, like, non-pixellated romances), I found them intelligent, insightful, and respectful, and had no issues with Bull’s romantic narrative in any way. Besides, in service to the story, ultimately, to me it’s powerful, it’s emotional, and best of all, it’s also responsibly and affectionately set forth. It’s true to who these characters have been painted to be.
I definitely appreciate that there are (to me, at least) no issues regarding consent, physical or emotional danger, or of power abuse, unlike popular and often irresponsible representations of BDSM across much of entertainment media (cough, 50 Shades of Grey). Ultimately, as someone unfamiliar with that culture, my own reaction to the portrayal of Bull’s romance as a depiction of BDSM, after reading a fair amount of discussion (both pro and con), is that it has been handled here with real responsibility, as well as with sensitivity and a clear understanding of both the characters, the lifestyle, and of human nature by Weekes and the rest of the Dragon Age creative team. I think in that way that the romance storyline is a pretty significant milestone for inclusivity, and should be celebrated as such.
However, not everyone agrees with me. Beyond his romance with Dorian (which as I’ve noted, I don’t think was remotely abusive and will address in more detail in the future), there’s been some heated discussion about Bull and his relationship with the Inquisitor. So it was interesting to wade into that minefield. Some felt there were consent issues (which I cannot understand at all, given what we’re provided here), some had issues with his assumption that the Inquisitor is submissive, while still others felt that Bull’s “take it or leave it” approach to the relationship was somehow triggering.
Again, I don’t get any of these critiques or find them viable.
First off, Bull’s assumption that the Inquisitor is seeking a submissive role in the bedroom is an easy thing to address within the story—you can either headcanon that he’s right, or hey, you turn him down. It’s not difficult. Me, I thought it was a believable character note for a number of reasons. It spotlighted Bull’s insights into human nature in an unexpected way (and keep in mind, Bull is shown to be scarily accurate about reading people in this way); it provided a scenario in which our protagonist is actually challenged about their own perceptions of what they want in the bedroom (and how often does that happen in a game?); and it explored Bull’s caregiver tendencies in ways that were complex and even potentially disquieting… and yet lovely, too.
Because Bull’s immediately all in. If we agree, he’s 100% monogamous and focused only on us, on giving the Inquisitor whatever is needed. And this caregiver aspect isn’t just subtext to me, but actual text. The entire relationship is, in my own view, presented as genuinely healing, and so many people miss that about Bull’s romance. Yes, there are power dynamics at work here, of course, but there’s also something gentle about what Bull’s offering the Inquisitor—it’s not ever presented as harsh or scary; it’s not the cliche of whips and chains (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s what floats your boat), but is instead rather a safe haven. There’s a genuine element of fantasy and play to it, and we see both aspects, the gentleness and the fantasy element, in the scene where Bull and the Inquisitor are interrupted later on.
And while it’s true that Bull may in fact eventually betray you (if you betrayed him), that happens on the battlefield. Never in the bedroom. No matter what you chose when it came to his loyalty mission, by all appearances he keeps his promise and the Inquisitor’s bedroom remains a safe and separate space.
Regardless. Not everyone will be into what Bull proposes, nor will they take him up on it once he sets the stage for what he wants to provide. And in those cases it’s then, luckily, quite easy to say, “Nope” and move on.
Arguing the Dynamics
To Speak or Not to Speak
Meanwhile, to me, Bull’s pretty careful, thoughtful and thorough when discussing exactly what their relationship will be like if the Inquisitor proceeds. He provides the Qunari word “katoh” as the ‘watchword’ (or, ahem, safe word) in case the Inquisitor is uncomfortable at any point, then leaves it up to her whether she wants to continue. Bull may have an agenda, but he is also incredibly sincere on the issue of agency in every way.
And speaking of “katoh,” it’s probably my one area of minor complaint in the romance. Eventually, the ‘watchword’ becomes a kind of badge of honor for the Inquisitor—the fact that she never says it, it’s implied in a lighthearted way, is because she’s adventurous, not afraid of her own limits, and because the two of them are having a terrific time together.
However, the idea that not saying it is somehow a good thing doesn’t work for me. To me, the whole point of “katoh” (especially in the case of a character who is new to these scenarios, I’d imagine) should be that expressing her boundaries or areas of discomfort is not just allowable but is actually healthy for both her as well as for Bull as the relationship begins. (I mean, I’d think for most people, there might be, hilariously, “katohs” all over the place to start, as they got comfortable with each other, or maybe I’m just projecting here.) But from a story standpoint, I can see why the fact that she doesn’t say it (surprising Bull, to say the least) also has an emotional component and says something about her trust in him.
The Offer Beneath the Offer
Regardless, Bull’s setting forth the ground rules. And at this moment, if she says that one word (“katoh”), it’s over, no hard feelings. And please note—potential double agenda or no, Bull means this—I’ve played through all the different variations, and when Bull promises “no strings,” he puts his money where his mouth is. He’s even genial and supportive if the Inquisitor moves on after their night together to romance other companions:
Iron Bull: Understood. I’ll see you later, Boss. (Alternatively: Huh. You got it, Boss.)
But if the Inquisitor questions Bull on his point of view, his reasons, and his goals for the relationship, it’s a fascinating conversation, and one of my favorites with romanced companions across the entire Dragon Age landscape.
This is because Bull’s logic for why he wants the relationship to go this way is pretty irresistible, and it’s seriously the world’s oddest combination of creepy and sweet ever.
Because… what he’s offering your Inquisitor is even more seductive than sex; he’s offering escape. As well as open permission to be vulnerable in ways the Inquisitor is simply not allowed to be in daily life. And, quite possibly, it may be the only true escape they’ve found since becoming Inquisitor. He’s saying, “Come with me, play with me; I’ll take care of you and you can take your mind away from this apocalyptic time, place, and responsibility you never asked for.”
I mean, if you’d been catapulted to a position of leadership you’d never wanted or imagined, were surrounded by strangers (many of whom feared, hated or were initially trying to imprison you), had left or lost everyone you’d loved, were suddenly leading a world political power, were managing a magical mark that was also slowly trying to kill you, and the world was falling to hell around you in a rain of demons from the skies…?
Yeah, I’d think that offer would be pretty damned tempting.
“I Cannot Move My Legs”
Then, not long after Bull and the Inquisitor embark on their escapades, there’s a scene where Cullen, Cass, and Josie happen upon them unexpectedly. It is seriously the funniest scene I’ve ever seen in a game, and I laugh out loud every time I see it. But there’s also more to it than you might expect at second glance—it’s actually a lovely and surprising interlude—funnier than you’d anticipate, but also potentially tender (and really sad, as well, depending on your character’s choices). Either way, it’s a revealing moment in the romance if we look closer.
We open on Bull and the Inquisitor, right after another encounter. Bull’s naked and still relaxed in the bed, the Inquisitor dressing in a matter-of-fact, “we’ve been together awhile now” kind of way. And this is where we catch a glimpse of that gentle hidden aspect to the relationship. Bull’s voice is soft:
Iron Bull: There we go. No Inquisition. No war. Nothing outside this room. Just you, and me. (Pause) So. What’d you want to talk about?
Then Cullen inadvertently walks in. And he realizes what he’s walking in on and his body literally tries to march him backward out the door on its own. It’s fantastic. Then he settles for covering his eyes against the sight of a naked Bull as if he’s a vampire faced with sunlight.
Then Josie comes in. And she freezes in place, mesmerized by the glory that is, evidently, Bull’s junk (amusingly and thankfully hidden by the Inky and various other elements as the scene progresses).
Then comes Cassandra as the capper on the scene, and her patented disgusted noise here is probably the best example of that classic Cass-reaction in the entire game. Because she’s not really disgusted, just exasperated. Like she’s going, “Inquisitor. Bull. The world is falling down and NOW you decide to do this? I am disappointed.” And she’s of course raising one perfect eyebrow in judgment at the same time.
Anyway, it’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever see in a video game, as all three are mortified by the situation and yet cannot look away. Josie’s “I just had three shots of Novocaine” face is seriously the best thing ever (“I cannot move my legs…”), while Cullen’s little snicker adds a much-needed dash of humor to our often stoic Commander’s personality. (Seriously, when he giggled at this, I went, “Okay, fine, Hot Templar Man, I’ll romance you” and added him to my mental list behind Solas.). Cassandra (perhaps funniest of all) is simply irritated at being faced with the entire situation.
She doesn’t give a crap about sex or safe words or orgasms. She’s just wondering why you’re wasting your time when there is WORK to be done. And given that Cass is DAI’s die-hard closet romantic (not to mention there’s the matter of her occasional flirtations with Bull in their banters), it’s kind of weirdly adorable. I almost wonder if there isn’t an element of her protesting a bit too much, but there’s no hint of that, so I think ultimately it’s simply her allegiance to the Inquisition that’s causing her extreme disapproval here. (At least outwardly.)
A Dignified Exit
But it’s not all just fun and games. We can commit to Bull here, proud of our relationship with him and absolutely fine with people knowing. Yet, meanwhile, for the unexpectedly sadder ending—if we express embarrassment at being discovered with Bull, it’s much more bittersweet, as Bull sacrifices his dignity without a qualm—but only to a point:
Cass: I apologize for interrupting what I assume was a momentary diversion.
Cullen (snickers): Nothing wrong with having a bit of fun.
Josie: Who wouldn’t be a little curious?
Inquisitor: Responds either affirmatively (“Bull and I are together”) or ends things, with “This was just a fling” (“Iron Bull and I were just blowing off some steam”).
Iron Bull (if option 2 is taken): Yeah, the Boss wanted to ride the Bull. Nothing for anyone to get excited about.
Josie (flustered): I’ll just…
Iron Bull (after a pause): Hey, Josephine… you busy later?
Josie actually does pause momentarily (and personally, I hope she looked him up), then they all leave.
Iron Bull: Ah, well. Fun while it lasted.
Inquisitor (being a total jerkface): We don’t have to stop.
Iron Bull: Yeah. We do. I was trying to relieve your stress. Not add to it. If you’re ashamed of this, I’m doing a crappy job.
Iron Bull: Don’t worry about it, Boss. I’ll see you later.
I love this moment (well, I hate what the Inquisitor’s done, but I really like Bull’s reaction). I love that Bull will actually turn down the Inquisitor here. So much of Bull’s persona is about his support and willingness to give, but at the same time, there needs to be a limit. And the quiet way he walks away in this moment (as he should) when faced with the Inquisitor’s shame at being with him is a perfect and necessary character note. He may be a caregiver but the guy has the self esteem to expect better of those he sleeps with… and he should.
However, if we do commit to Bull, it ends very sweetly and on a much happier note:
Iron Bull: You okay Boss?
Inquisitor: You know, I believe I am. But since we have a moment…
Iron Bull: What’s that?
Inquisitor: It’s a dragon’s tooth, split in two. So no matter how far apart life takes us, we’re always together.
Iron Bull: Not often people surprise me, kadan.
Iron Bull (pulling her down into the bed): Kadan. My heart.
And as I’ve mentioned, I may have actually let out a cheer at this, because I headcanoned that my original Warden was in love with Sten (and vice versa) even though they both knew it was hopeless. Their only outlet, I believed, was his use of that word, his one way of expressing his hidden feelings. So, in other words, every time Sten called her “kadan,” I plotzed a little.
So this was fabulous. (And yes, yes I know that “kadan” can be used in a nonromantic context. I just can’t hear you over the la-la-la sounds I’m currently making to ignore that.)
Nobody Says I Love You…
Bull’s romance continues to evolve through the DAI story after this point, and again, I found it so refreshing that the game dared to explore the dynamics of a relationship that began with sex and evolved into something more complex. Bull and the Inquisitor are still evidently having sex all over Skyhold, including, evidently, one or two occasions on the War Table itself (Cole informs a delighted party of companions of this fact in one of his highly revealing little banter dialogues about Bull’s romance with the Inquisitor, and Blackwall’s response is especially funny: “I look forward to informing Cullen!”).
But there’s still something that hasn’t been said—those three little words that determine that there’s emotion involved here, and not just sex. And as we know, there’s no room for love and sex to occur at the same time traditionally under the Qun.
Then, however, we get a post-coital conversation between Bull and the Inquisitor about how their relationship is going (everyone’s very happy, let’s just say), and about his surprise that she’s never used the safe word he provided. The two then proceed to banter about the potential safe words of our other companions, and as always, it’s an opportunity for Bull to show how insightful he really is when it comes to reading other people. There’s a brilliant little moment when his use of a particular Orlesian phrase about Blackwall says volumes about how much he’s already figured out about the mysterious Grey Warden and his true backstory, which for most has not yet been revealed at this point in the story.
It’s interesting to note that while Bull and the Inquisitor wonder aloud about the safe words and predilections of many of their companions, a few notable omissions there include Solas (interesting, since I definitely think he’d have one at the ready—as he directly implies in an early flirt scene with a mage Inquisitor), and Dorian.
Side Note: I would have laughed so hard if Solas’s suggested safe word had been “Fade.” Come on. Admit it. It’s funny. He’d never have even made it through the door on your very first date. And it would’ve been hilarious.
I think Dorian’s omission here, meanwhile, occurs for many reasons—first, because it’s another subtle example of Bull judging others and what they need, and I think the implication is pretty clear that Bull doesn’t think a BDSM scenario would be ideal for Dorian (with his history of rejection and betrayal, I’d agree, although it’s also implied that there are elements of kink to the relationship in other ways). I also think Dorian may not be discussed because he’s an alternate-timeline choice for Bull as a romance, and his omission keeps the two stories wholly separate.
This interlude can end on a few different genuinely touching emotional notes. In one, the Inquisitor implies love and thanks Bull for being with her even if they don’t survive.
Bull interrupts this speech, however, and his broken “Katoh. Stop. I can’t… We’re coming out of this together.” is one of Prinze’s most beautiful moments in voice acting the character of Bull. What gets me is that Bull is the first one to use the word in earnest here; he’s giving us the rare glimpse of the guy who survived Seheron… and then broke.
Sex and Love Beyond the Qun
All variations on this scene end with the two falling back into bed together, but the differences in each conversation thread choice are fascinating because the scene can end in exactly the same way each time, yet in one instance it’s slightly emotional and intense (the Inquisitor fearing death and Bull comforting her), in another sweetly affecting (the Inquisitor telling Bull she loves him, and him returning the sentiment after responding teasingly), or even playful (as the Inquisitor ends on a lighter tone, telling him this was fun). And it’s all lovely and moving… as long as he’s Tal-Vashoth.
Because, if he’s not, once again, this is all empty. An act. Depending on whether we saved the Chargers, or doomed them.
If we saved the Chargers, then I think part of the reason Bull genuinely allows himself to love you is because he’s in a freefall of relief at Krem and the Chargers’ survival (his family), secret relief at being free of the Qun, while also still navigating his total fear and despair of what he’s supposed to do now. All combined with the constant fear that he will go “savage” and become Tal-Vashoth.
And of course, add in a healthy amount of guilt because he now must wonder how many Tal-Vashoth he hunted and killed for the Qunari were simply good men like him trying to break free. So to me, it’s natural that Bull is more open to the romance and actually allows himself the possibility for love and even commitment. That is, if you saved the Chargers. And saved the part of himself that had allowed himself to feel and love.
As I’ve written before here, Bull is innately generous, a giver at heart. The Qun, once upon a time, warped that impulse into something darker and more controlling. Then came the Inquisition, and his own “last chance.” Sure, Bull was playing a delicate game at first, and balancing both potential outcomes. But at some point, somewhere along the way, it all became real. He returned to his core self, abandoning power and politics, turning to something he’d never been allowed to imagine existed—real intimacy, commitment and trust.
It’s ironic in the end, that while Bull offered our Inquisitor the possibility of escape both emotionally, psychologically, and sensually, the person who achieved the actual escape in the end was Bull himself. And we’re the ones who gave it to him. By saving his self-built family, we saved Bull and (unknowingly) ourselves. And that’s the opposite of cold; it’s something that goes beyond sex, power, or obsession and is simply about love and trust on truly absolute and unshakable levels.
And that’s always going to be greater and more powerful than any demands of the Qun.
Images Courtesy of BioWare
This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of an article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on DumpedDrunkandDalish.com.
Game of Thrones 1×07 Rewatch: You Play the Game or the Arse
Hello and welcome to The Wars to Come, the Game of Thrones rewatch project by… You know how it goes.
This week in “You Win or You Die,” the stakes are certainly life or death, particularly for Daenerys Targaryen. After failing to convince her husband to help her take back the Iron Throne for her family, she sets out to the market, for what she thinks is a day of innocent shopping. Yet not all is at it seems. For one, Jorah creeps off and gets handed a royal pardon for spying on her. For another, a wine merchant outright tries to murder her with poison! Jorah thwarts the attempts (pardon in pocket), and the entire ordeal incites Khal Drogo, who declares his desire for vengeance against Robert Baratheon. He will sail to Westeros after all!
Jon has his drama to deal with. For starters, Uncle Benjen’s horse returns to The Wall…sans Benjen. Then at the graduation ceremony for Night’s Watch School, Jon is told that he’s going to be a steward, not a ranger. He’s always wanted to be a ranger, and as a steward he certainly won’t be in a position to help his uncle!
He’s just about ready to quit when Sam points out to him that clearly the reason he was assigned as not just any steward, but Commander Mormont’s steward specifically, is that he’s getting groomed for leadership. Jon sees the logic in it, and the two friends take their vows together at a heart tree north of the wall.
We briefly visit Winterfell, where Theon tries to demand sex from Osha, before Luwin puts a stop to it. A guest or a prisoner? Luwin points at that Theon of all people should know the distinction may not be huge.
We make an equally brief visit to the camp of the Lannister army, where Tywin Lannister berates Jaime for not finishing the job during his fight with Ned by killing him. Their House was slighted by Cat kidnapping Tyrion, so clearly it is only right that Jaime take a force and capture Riverrun. Boy, feudal politics are as charming as ever!
Nowhere is that more apparent, however, than in King’s Landing. Ned finally confronts Cersei about the illegitimacy of her children, and urges her to flee with them before Robert returns from his hunting trip, as he plans to inform the King immediately. However, it turns out the opportunity will never arise; Robert drank too much wine and in an attempt to drunkenly hunt a boar, got himself lethally gored. Ned is able to take down his final will, which names him as “Lord Protector of the Realm” until Joffrey comes of age. Despite Robert saying “Joffrey” explicitly, Ned simply writes “my rightful heir.” Robert also changes his tune about wanting to kill Dany, but when Ned tells Varys to put a stop to it, he’s informed that it’s already in motion.
Elsewhere, Littlefinger tells two of his sex workers about that time he dueled Brandon Stark because he loved Cat.
While Robert slowly dies, Renly seeks out Ned, telling him that he must act now and take Cersei and her children into custody before she can act. When Ned speaks of naming Stannis as Robert’s successor, Renly says that he should be named instead, despite being the youngest. Ned dismisses this plan.
He also dismisses Littlefinger’s suggestion to make peace with the Lannisters, bow before King Joffrey, and merely sit on the incest secret unless they need to expose it. Instead, he asks Littlefinger to secure the gold cloaks for him, so that he’ll be able to properly confront Cersei when the time comes.
That’s sooner rather than later; Robert dies, and almost immediately Cersei puts Joffrey on the throne, where he calls upon the Small Council to pledge their fealty. Renly’s fled the city, but Ned heads to the throne room, where he presents Robert’s will. Cersei tears it up, and when it’s clear that she will not yield, Ned calls on the gold cloaks to arrest her. Instead, they murder all the Stark House guards, and Littlefinger puts a dagger to Ned’s throat.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: I feel like this episode was a bit stronger than last week’s. I mean there is the one scene of just sheer horribleness, but otherwise it felt somehow more focused, maybe. I suspect a lot of that was due to the King’s Landing plotline just utterly dominating the episode. Sure, we had a few scenes with Jon and Dany, Tywin’s introduction, and even a delightful moment with Theon in Winterfell. But so much stayed with the main action, which was quite enough to drive things forward well. I may just be complimenting the pacing here, but I at least had more of a positive reaction, I think.
Griffin: I don’t even remember what happened from when I watched it. There was Robert dying, Jason Momoa’s awesome scene, and they cut the apologizing assassin. I was bummed about that since I liked how stupid it was from when I read it, and I wanted to see them do it since it is so stupid. It’s just so ridiculous but for some reason it felt like it fit within the world of the book, which defies all logic. I vaguely remember something about Jon Snow, mostly because he apparently wasn’t in the previous two or three episodes? I mean, it says a lot that I didn’t remember he wasn’t there at all. Was Sansa in this one? Arya? This show is bafflingly forgettable sometimes.
Julia: I agree that it was a much stronger episode than the previous one or two. I remember this being the first time in my life possibly, that I noticed nerdy things like “blocking” and “shots.” The extreme close ups in the wine-assassin scene, and the odd blocking and pacing of the Ned-Cersei scene were an education.
Also, did you know that Ned is into honor?
Danzie: Aside from that scene, I actually really love this episode. Baratheons being well represented is my kryptonite. See D&D? I’m not that hard to impress.
I have a couple nitpicks but, yeah, this was an overall winner in my books.
Griffin: I guess my highlight is probably Jason Momoa developing the amount of screen presence he looks like he should have. Pretty much every other scene that wasn’t killing Viserys was just “big dude is big dude” for him. I’ve been wondering if that was just a writing issue, or if he just didn’t have the physicality to really make the role work. Turns out they just needed to actually write a scene where he does a thing for him to, well, do the thing. Seriously, even with the “golden crown” it felt kinda…deliberate? Like, Drogo had planned this to happen, and was sorta casual about it.
As for the low-point, it has to be the Sexposition. Jesus christ that scene was atrocious. Littlefinger had to literally yell his origin story over the ever-loudening moans of women fucking on his explicit orders. Seriously, dude? I mean—he’s not even getting off on it. He’s just yelling. For no reason. I couldn’t even pay attention to whatever nonsense he was spouting because the staging was so unbelievably awkward and random. I cannot imagine being the sound mixer when editing that scene; it’s like a visual representation of why their job is necessary and integral. Did they get paid more for that one? God, I hope so.
Kylie: I definitely second this low-point. It’s just…in terms of quality it’s not even that far removed from the low-points of Seasons 6 and 7. The only saving grace is that it’s one contained scene with a relatively shorter story on the exposition scale. I’m worried it’s going to overtake anything else to do with this episode for this rewatch, that’s how bad it was.
I had a personal highlight, and that was watching Emilia Clark move her face in the market scene. I don’t exactly think it was the episode’s best moment, but it was so refreshing that I felt invigorated.
I think objectively my highlight is the throne room sequence. I know it’s obvious, but it was well-executed. You really get a feel for the farce of all courtly politics, and Barry’s sad little face when Cersei ripped up the letter was a highlight unto itself. It was this kind of tension that made me fall in love with the world and really want to engage, and I think this was a case where it was blocked and written well.
Julia: Yeah, the sexposition scene was the worst. The Worst. But in the interest of variety I will pick the scene where Ned confronts Cersei. Just, like, this is such an effective scene in the book, but here it’s just so odd. I mean, the pacing is bizarrely off, and the shot-reverse-shot looks unnatural. It’s not especially bad, really. Just, comparing it to the source material makes me sad.
Highlight? I really liked Cersei’s costume in the throne room. It was so interesting and different, and maybe even what a queen would wear.
Danzie: Sexposition was not only bad, it was a scary look into the future for this show. Jesus, what a bummer in an otherwise good episode. It’s an example of how D&D don’t trust their audience to pay attention without an ample supply of nudity. I think it’s easily the lowlight of the entire first season for me.
I have so many highlights though! Sam and Pyp truth bombing Jon’s whiny ass was pretty satisfying. Luwin (who I forgot was such an amazing cinnamon roll prior to this rewatch project) shutting down Theon’s creepy behavior with an epic burn was also pretty amazing. Renly being, like, a CHARACTER and not a gayreotype made me happy too. I stanned the heck out of my Baratheon trash-baby basically being the only one smart enough to get the hell out of King’s Landing before all this went down. See you next season with your awesome beard and crown, bro. <3
In the end though, I have two winners. The first is Robert’s defining moment as a character, where, moments from death, he finally decides to grow up and let go of his fear and anger towards the Targs. I know this is more a compliment to the source material, but Mark Addy nailed the hell out of this scene. We need to start an Emmy-snubbed list.
The second is the Jaime/Tywin scene. Charles Dance was such spot-on casting for Tywin. You start to learn here why the Lannister kids are so fucked up. Even Jaime who is his “favourite” has unrealistic expectations put on him. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t with a dad like Tywin. Also, this was the scene that made me decide to get a replica Jaime sword. I’ll include a pic. 😀
Quality of writing
Julia: Not too bad? The sexposition stands out as horrible, but other than that, most of the scenes were too straightforwardly adapted to have the opportunity to be horrible.
But that scene though. What I suspect happened is that the director just saw this stupid Bond villain monologue, and thought, “oh no, this is just two pages of him explaining his evil plan, and the virginity pledge he took! How do I make this interesting?” And since the director seems as incompetent as the writers this week, he landed on male-gaze girl-on-girl in the background?
Danzie: Haha, with the exception of the darkest timeline scene that I’m sure I can (and will) rip into, I’m pretty happy with the writing. Turns out that when you just stick to adapting the books things turn out pretty well? Who knew.
Kylie: We’re at least definitively still in the world of conversations. Spy vs. Spy was getting close to nonversation territory, but here people still talk like people. Well…Westerosi people. I’d say the quality was overall very decent. Now play with her arse.
Griffin: I’m pretty sure I hated the characters I was supposed to hate. But I’m not sure I like or empathize with the characters I’m supposed to like. The biggest problem remains that they aged up the children, at least to me. This makes it really difficult to believe Jon’s plotline in any way, unless he’s the absolute dumbest person around. It makes sense he’d be groomed for command, but not that he wouldn’t understand that and needs it spelled out.
Aside from that, in terms of writing, I guess it was fine. There’s nothing really that stands out as great writing, but they have an entire cast of amazing actors who can really elevate the material. Like Jason Momoa’s scenery-chewing moment. So really, the writing is probably mediocre, but they just have really good actors. But they shouldn’t need to constantly lean on that; that’s not sustainable.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Griffin: What was the theme of this episode? I guess it was “honor” and “survival.” And how those two don’t mix. That’s just sorta the whole point of Ned’s story though, if I recall correctly.
Kylie: I’m trying to specify it more to connect Dany and Jon and Ned here. I mean the theme you hit isn’t exactly wrong, but more just overarching for the season. Then again we’ve talked before about how maybe episodic themes are more incidental than anything else.
Julia: I think maybe you can connect Dany and the King’s Landing stuff with the idea that a desire for the throne makes you do horrible things? Like, even Ned slightly changed the wording of Robert’s last wishes. Might be a stretch.
Danzie: The theme I got was “what makes a good leader?” Is it military prowess? Well clearly not, because Robert was an amazing fighter but a terrible king. Is it bloodlines? Not when you look at half the crazy Targaryens. Is it a lawful king like Stannis or a diplomatic and well loved person like Renly? Is it conquerors like Aegon I as Dany suggests?
These are all archetypes and ideas that will come into play during the war of five kings and beyond… or y’know, they would’ve, but the show decided to become terrible.
Kylie: I think to that theme, Danzie, it’s hard to super connect Jon’s scenes to that. We get that they’re grooming him for leadership, but Jon’s struggle this episode is more just his inability to think anything through, apparently. Or to think. He commits to the Night’s Watch, but it’s less to do with leadership and more to do with his bros talking him into it. What makes a good leader? Apparently not the smarts.
The issue with “doing bad things for the throne” is that Ned doesn’t want the throne in any way, and changing Robert’s wording was less horrible than it was protecting a dying man from something that would really upset him, while still trying to honor the laws of the land. I’m worried I’m making a special pleading case for Ned with that, because it is a slightly deceitful action, that’s for sure. But even his lie was…not without honor.
Dany convinces Drogo to fight for her throne after almost getting killed, Jon pledges to the Night’s Watch even without necessarily liking his post because of future ambition maybe, and Ned tries to do the honorable thing in ensuring the proper line of succession, only to be betrayed. I think what we have are three people doing things at various levels of political power, all tied to a vague sense of duty. But it’s okay if it’s a bit scattered.
Also it feels completely random that this is the episode we learned Littlefinger’s backstory. “I’m not going to fight them, I’m going to fuck them” was his thesis. Is that linked to anything here?
Julia: Well, that’s what Ned should have done, right? Play a game where he can control Joff and Cersei because he knows their secret? And Dany literally fucked her way to getting Drogo’s army. #femaleempowerment.
Kylie: So the show validates Littlefinger’s worldview. Neato.
Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)
Kylie: Putting aside the elephant’s arse in the room, I think one of the bigger cracks that starts here was actually something relatively well-executed: Tywin’s introduction. I love Dance in the role, and I think what he was saying gave texture to what we’ve seen of his three children.
That said, it’s kind of baldly the beginning of their more obvious Lannister favorism, and the Tough but Fair Grandpappy Tywin we’re going to get much more of next season. Maybe this belongs more as an adaptational grievance, but the scene in and of itself was fine. It’s knowing where it leads that makes it more difficult on a viewing now.
Julia: It’s also the beginning of the crack (well, maybe it began with the Spy vs. Spy) that I call “These people have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.” Like, last week we learned that the feudal order was dumb, right. And that honor specifically was dumb? Well, now we have Badass, tough but fair Tywin telling us why we have to go to war because of the feudal order, and because another family insulted a member of his. You know what that’s called? A matter of honor! So, either we’re all dunderheads who can’t appreciate how their Tywin is not, in fact, being portrayed as a reasonable actor and generally sympathetically, but is instead a biting critique of all the things that come out of his mouth. Or, D&D have no idea what any of these ideas, or their implications, actually are.
Because as it is, it does seem like favoritism. Protecting the feudal order is dumb, unless you’re the Lannisters, they can’t look weak to the other houses. The line of succession is dumb, unless you’re the Lannisters. We wish them well in their attempt to build a dynasty that lasts 1000 years. Honor is dumb, unless you insult a Lannister, then it makes perfect sense for them to kill all your peasants.
At this point, it’s still just a crack, and a more balanced interpretation is possible if you look at just this one scene. But knowing how they’re going to set up Tywin as this ideal player of the game, it’s a crack.
Also, this is the start of Tywin as this earthy, pragmatic, thrifty type, with simple tastes, so unlike those decadent Dornish. Like, maybe Tywin would butcher his own venison, but where are the rubies on the hilt of his hunting knife? And where the fuck is his cloth-of-gold cape?
Danzie: The Lannister favoritism does start to spin out of control later on, but if you look at the Tywin/Jaime scene framed only by what we’ve seen so far in the show’s run up to this point, it’s fine. I think it gets across Tywin’s character quickly and well for what it is. I also think that one person’s perception of honor isn’t the always the same as someone else’s. Ned’s is humble. Tywin’s is prideful.
That being said, the points you make are more than valid. D&D don’t actually understand or care about exploring the themes they Ctrl C + Ctrl V from the books. They’re just copying homework and handing it into the teacher without understanding the assignment. I’d love to live in a world where I can give them credit, but the jig has long been up.
It’s at this point that I’d like to link to Kylie’s wonderful article.
In the end, we’re all a little crazy for even trying to make sense of a show where the creators are pretty clearly not even trying (even when it’s accidentally good by virtue of the strong source material), but on we march.
Kylie: I love that it was the empowered ladies of Horn Hill that pushed me to writing that one.
All I can add is that at least we’re still in the stage of viewing where we can sit back and enjoy Charles Dance’s Tywin for what it is. And yeah, the dude is a huge fucking hypocrite. But the showrunners shouldn’t be; not if we’re supposed to uncritically accept “honor gets you killed.”
Um. So. Should we talk about the arse crack in the plaster, or does it speak for itself?
Danzie: Damnit, Kylie. XD
Julia: They’re still doing pretty well here. They still feel the need to add “honor” to everyone’s lines whenever they’re talking to or about Ned, but there were only two original scenes that I can think of. The first was the scene with Tywin and Jaime, which worked because of Charles Dance and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, but was really kind of nothing—like, they even started killing all the peasants last week, so it’s not like we needed that exposition, and then there was that scene… Other than that, it was mostly a dramatic reading of A Game of Thrones.
Omg, I forgot. Sam really misses girls, you guys. Not his mother and sisters, mind you, who love him for who he is and all that junk, but girls he can ogle without their consent. What great character changes.
“I miss girls. Not even talking to them. I never talked to them. Just looking at them, hearing them giggle. Don’t you miss girls?”
Danzie: Yeah, those lines felt a little weird coming out of Sam’s mouth. Like, I’m sure even book-Sam misses girls to a degree, but I think that a rich boy from the South would be far more concerned with, y’know, SURVIVING his time in The Watch. Even stewards face brutally long days of work in incredibly harsh conditions. It’s not like, an all boys Christian summer camp where you spend half your time sitting around being bored and then go kayaking. He’s settling in remarkably well considering one of his superiors ordered another recruit to beat the shit out of him a couple episode back. But not having tits & ass to look at would suck, am I right young male demographic?
Speaking of the Night’s Watch, this is indeed a big example of where aging up the characters runs into problems. You can’t take the actions of a fifteen-year-old and apply it to someone in their early 20’s/late teens without the context changing massively. A young teenager throwing a fit over not getting what they want is pretty understandable, but when you have a very adult actor depicting these emotions? It gets a lot harder to be sympathetic because a grown-ass man is suddenly throwing a hissy fit on screen over something he really should have known was a possibility before he signed up.
Robb goes on to suffer in the same way. Breaking a political marriage promise by jumping into bed with someone else makes sense (and you could even argue is an almost inevitable action) for someone that young. But when you’re like, twenty-two, the expectation is that you should really know better given what’s at stake.
Griffin: Jon really comes across as the biggest idiot around. According to Kylie that’s not going to change much?
Kylie: I think D&D read “You know nothing, Jon Snow” at face-value.
Danzie: “Jon really comes across as the biggest idiot around… that’s not going to change much?”
Poor, sweet Griffin…
Julia: At least they’re getting Drogo pretty well. If only there were more people to see that…
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: A very, very turned-off Cersei? Wait, no, weaponizing her sexuality is like, Cersei’s MO with men, which is why she has so much self-hatred, too. She sees it as her only use in society and viable card to play, and it’s rather bizarre that they cut her making a pass at Ned.
Then again, they also cut Ned saying, “For a start, I do not kill children.” That was rather crucial to his character. So I’m suspecting D&D didn’t super understand that scene.
Otherwise Cersei was very Cersei in the throne room. Barry’s face when she ripped up Robert’s letter was perfect.
Julia: Yeah, turned-off Cersei is a good way to phrase it. I was watching that scene thinking how Carol she was, how she makes incest seem so reasonable and what any good person would support, but then I realized how she was just quoting Cersei and that made me question everything. I guess it just goes to show how things that seem subtle and unimportant—a couple of omitted lines and actions, a tone—can be so huge.
The throne room scene was perfect, though.
Danzie: Agreed. Mostly book-Cersei, with a dash of Carol.
Griffin: There is no Carol in HR! (I still don’t know the difference, but Carol sounds nice?)
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Danzie: Next question, please.
Kylie: “I do believe my lord’s in love.” / “For many years. Most of my life, really. Play with her arse. And she loved me too.”
I’m sorry; I can’t move past it! I know there were decent things in there, like Dany navigating Essosi trade, and the Night’s Watch vows, but oh my god that overshadows just everything. EVERYTHING.
Julia: They did a much better job in their other scene, but that wasn’t what you would call elegant either. “You will take half our forces to Catelyn Stark’s girlhood home.”
Griffin: I don’t want to talk about the sexposition. Frankly, it’s hard to tell where the character moments end and where the exposition moments begin on this show in general, and not in a good way. I didn’t feel like I was being spoon fed too much, but it’s also hard to keep track of motivations in individual scenes sometimes.
Julia: I’m also not too happy about how Jorah is always explaining Dothraki things to Dany. This is a problem in the books too, as I recall, but you have three Dothraki around her with speaking roles, even apart from Drogo. Use them for god’s sake.
How was the pacing?
Julia: The pacing of the episode was fine, I think. I don’t remember noticing it, and that’s usually a good sign. But am I crazy about the pacing of the Ned-Cersei scene being odd? Please, reassure me/encourage me to seek help.
Kylie: I forgot it opening the episode. That seemed an odd place for it. Then you add in the shot-reverse-shot soap opera framing, and yeah… She kind of jumped to “you win or you die” after a couple back and forths; the heavy hitting moments of that exchange were cut anyway, and then it was done.
Danzie: Yeah, more time really should have been given to the “you win or your die” scene in general. It’s kinda like… one of, if not the penultimate moment of the entire first book. It felt a bit too glossed over considering its importance.
Though, apparently Lena Heady was pregnant during the filming for this scene, which kinda explains the weird shots/editing.
Other than that, I think the pacing was pretty strong.
Julia: I mean, pregnancy tends to last for longer than the time it takes to film one scene. But I guess that’s why she’s been standing with those giant sleeves in front of her all season.
Griffin: It was better than last week. So, “fine”, I guess?
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Danzie: Okay, we’ve done a lot of complaining, but let’s really break this down:
- The quality of sex is determined by loudness. By this logic, one should always be screaming directly into one’s partner’s face. Anything less and they’ll just assume you aren’t into them.
- Lesbian sex must always include one of the women acting as “the man”.
- Make sure your boss is in the room telling you his tragic backstory.
- Haha, wait. There’s a “one-eyed Joe” at the Night’s Watch who works the stables?
- 70’s porno lighting.
Also, while listening to Littlefinger’s friendzoned speech it suddenly dawned on me why certain… sub-sections of the internet champion him. Not that that’s show-Littlefinger exclusive, I just… don’t know how I didn’t realize until now.
Julia: I like how Ros is mostly just concerned with the cleanliness of her hands throughout the scene. I think I love her.
Griffin: Danzie lays it out better than I could, but it’s just…no. And also somehow incredibly boring and unengaging. It’s like they all sat around a table and thought up the single least sexy way to sex ever. And then did it. REALLY LOUDLY.
Kylie: Well, the point was that it was merely performative, so to even characterize it as lesbian sex is already not particularly accurate… I really don’t know why I’m trying.
Julia: I believe I’m the only one here who’s not female attracted (correct me if I’m wrong) so I don’t think me reiterating how unsexy that scene was will help any. But god, if that scene was meant to titillate, it failed miserably. And can we talk about Littlefinger’s virginity pledge?
Kylie: If there’s one thing I gathered from Littlefinger in the books, it’s that he’s totally sexually reserved because of his pure love. /s
I think “hideously unsexy” is a good way to phrase it, but can I just complain about something really stupid with it for a second? Littlefinger had Ros and the other sex worker practicing on each other so they could practice their moaning that they do with customers. Ros sounded “ridiculous” or something, so he had them switch. Other sex worker moaned while Ros got her off. Then Littlefinger liked that performance, so he said “you’re both working tonight.” But wasn’t Ros’s awkward moaning the problem in the first place? So why is she cleared for work? Doesn’t she still need to practice moaning to his satisfaction?
Why am I analyzing this aspect?
Julia: No, no. I think you just found the plothole that makes the entire season fall apart.
There was also full frontal male nudity this episode. And I think we can all agree that seeing the floppy fish of a man about to be dragged to death is exactly the same as the “play with her ass scene” and the female nudity therein, so all accusations of sexism are invalid.
In memoriam…Robert Baratheon & Stark House guards
Julia: Oh Bobby B. Murdered by a pig.
Kylie: And now everyone gets to taste the boar that got him. I kind of always felt it was weird that Robert’s hunting trip and death scene were split into two episodes. Renly running in like, “come quick!” always felt so random to me.
Julia: Remember a few episodes ago when he was afraid of blood, and now he’s covered in Robert’s and doesn’t seem fussed at all?
Danzie: I think it all would have been a bit too rushed if it was all in one episode. At least Robert got a better death than Stannis. Not that I’m in any way still salty over that…
Griffin: I really don’t understand why they waited to kill the Stark guards in that scene. That whole conversation was a complete waste of everyone’s time if their end goal was to make sure Ned didn’t have the chance to fuck everything up. Shouldn’t Cersei know by now that his commitment to honor is immutable? Shouldn’t most of the higher echelon in King’s Landing?
Kylie: I guess it’s part of highlighting courtly farse? That the whole thing is so performative, and Cersei was trying to give Ned a chance at that. This is, of course, something in the books too. Maybe this is feeble, but sometimes we do need certain dramatic moments as part of storytelling. I don’t think it necessarily violated Cersei’s character in any way. Maybe Carol’s though…
But that’s a good place to leave it. What did everyone else think? Were the big moments here as impactful this time through? Was the arse crack in the plaster as distracting as we’re making it out to be? Let us know in the comments below, and we continue to wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.