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Cherry Bomb Part 2: I’ll give you something to fight for

Julia

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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 Kylierecapped 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?

Nahhh, this could never happen to us.

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.

It’s been about half a year since we watched this, and we still have no idea why this truce needed to exist. This is “marry your enemies for revenge” levels of bad.

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.”

 

Can you guys get a grip?

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.

Well why would you be?

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.

Oh, Larry.

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 supposed 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 people. 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?

Cherry Bust

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:

“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?

Yeah, okay, probably not.

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.

Oh, and comic relief.

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…

Except when they’re not.

In Conclusion

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

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Analysis

Are We Ready to Admit that Thor: Ragnarok was a Hot Mess?

Kylie

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I didn’t watch Thor: Ragnarok in theaters. Actually, I hadn’t seen anything post-Ultron and was fine being free of the MCU for a few years. Then Black Panther came along and I found it so compelling that it washed away any Marvel fatigue I had been feeling. When the opportunity arose to watch the third Thor movie on an airplane, I hit the play button with genuine excitement.

Going into this, I had heard almost all positive things. I knew there were some similarities to Black Panther in the central themes, I knew Jeremiah gave it a glowing review, and I knew it was supposed to be exceedingly funny.

I was also no stranger to the Thor standalones. I felt his introductory movie was a bit silly, but did what it could with a superhero that well…lends himself to silliness. It’s a Norse god in a contemporary setting, after all. The result was a slightly boisterous fish-out-of-water tale with compact development and a pretty solid foundation on which we could understand his character. Thor 2: Dark World was absolutely odious as an artform, but I loved it anyway, much for the same reason Attack of the Clones is my favorite prequel. It was ironic enjoyment, but if you can’t be enthused by Natalie Portman running around in squeaky rainboots with her Science Machine™, then I can’t help you. Plus, it was Thorested Development.

Was I expecting some gaps in my knowledge given me sleeping on Civil Wars? Yes. Granted, those same gaps existed for Black Panther, and shockingly I was still able to fully understand his father’s death, as well as what Agent Ross meant to T’Challa and what their relationship was like. But I promise, I turned on Thor 3 with all the right intentions, and what I consider to be fairly measured expectations.

I turned it off wondering if I had a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of a movie.

Two Plots, No Payoff

If I had watched Thor: Ragnarok on VHS in the 90s, I probably would have begun to wonder if someone taped over the entire middle portion with a completely different Thor film. Because it’s not just that there were two major plot threads, it’s that there were two different tones. Hell, there were almost two different genres when you get down to it.

The first is what I have to assume is the “main plot,” since it’s what the movie sets up in the first acts, and closes in the third. This is the story about Asgard’s legacy and reckoning against the threat of Hela, the Goddess of Death.

Thor is told by some demon guy that his dad isn’t at home anymore, so he goes back to Asgard find Loki pretending to be Odin. Then a random wizard tells them both that their dad is in Norway (yes, I know it’s Doctor Strange, but I’m talking about this movie on its own merits). They go there, but Odin is all sad and about to die, which means that his true heir—his firstborn daughter Hela—will escape from the prison he set up for her. You see, she’s the Goddess of Death and had been the leader of Asgard’s armies for Odin when he apparently conquered the Nine Realms, but she became too ambitious for his taste. What, a tenth was a bridge too far for Daddy Imperialist?

Whatever, he dies.

Thor and Loki go to confront the now-released Hela, she breaks Thor’s hammer, they get chased off, she takes over Asgard with the intention of more conquering, most people think she sucks so she raises dead zombies and a giant wolf to fight for her instead, and then Thor and some random friends come back to fight her again. He realizes he can only save his people, but he can’t save Asgard itself from Hela since she’s too powerful. He evacuates everyone, mainly with Heimdall and Loki’s help. Hela stabs Thor’s eye out and Thor levels up his lightning powers, but it’s still not enough to do anything about her, so he summons that demon guy from the beginning to have him destroy Hela…and all of Asgard. But it’s fine; he’s the King because Asgard is a people and not a place. Odin even pops in a vision at some point to tell him that.

This is a fine story. There’s things in it that could be explored, especially Thor reconciling with Odin’s savage, imperialistic legacy. It’s a bit hamstrung by Odin himself pooping out of the narrative entirely after dropping the plot bomb into Thor’s lap (seriously, am I alone in thinking this is one of the least effective death scenes in movie history? Certainly in MCU history?), and it’s a bit formulaic in the sense that the “bad guy” is more the concept of implacable evil.

I personally struggle with the messaging and execution of it. It’s not that coming to terms with the fallibility of your Kingly father and his decisions made while ruling your country is a weak narrative choice. That, you know, was the entirety of Black Panther, and what made it significant was the way in which T’Challa defined his duty on the throne in a way that made sense for himself and the changed context of the world. It was a meaningful shedding of idealization while coming into his own as a ruler.

This movie should have been that for Thor, but his realization about “Asgard is a people” was just sort of beamed into his head by Odin. Literally, Hela was choking him out, and he flashes to a vision of Odin telling him what to think of Asgard as well as his own powers. 

Then, what does that say if it’s Odin’s words Thor’s living by? That he does still respect this guy and want to follow in his footsteps, despite learning that he was a literal conqueror? That even asshole imperialists can have some good points? (Why does this keep happening?) Or was that Odin coming to the realization when he came to Thor, and he had reached this epiphany off-screen in the afterlife? It was like, “Oh hey I didn’t need to do all that conquering, because my duty was to my people and not the glory of this place.” 

It didn’t even seem like Thor came to the conclusion that destroying physical Asgard was a necessary thing given the place’s legacy and bloody history—just given the situation and how there was some lady with a dead army they couldn’t beat. It was a decision made in the heat of battle when the day was lost, but now he’s got his eyepatch and his people and a spaceship, so he’s ready to fill Odin’s shoes. You know…the shoes that we learned shouldn’t have been worn in the first place. Because imperialism. 

Also the requisite, “crazy over-ambitious woman couldn’t listen to her father when to chill with all the killing” complaint. Cate Blanchett saves it a little, but it’s there.

So yes, for all the weighty subjects floated in this plotline, none of them were actually given significant narrative weight, or exploration, or anything really. I suppose Hela’s claim to the throne and history with Asgard made her more of a meaningful threat; she was a monster of Asgard’s making, not to yet again call back to the film that pulled off all these concepts with actual dexterity and significance. But even with that, she was just evil. She didn’t have any nuanced points, or any compelling reason for anyone to follow her. Just that Odin had once been cool with her, but that stopped.

There was also nothing remotely familial or personal about her dynamic with Thor or Loki since she didn’t actually know them or seem to care about their general existence, and her abilities were never well-conveyed to even give the fight might grounding. We may as well have had Mjolnir shooting through multiple portals again.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t have been done or executed well. This was a long movie and whole lot of time to flesh out Hela’s relationship to our protagonist, or Thor’s relationship to his conception of governance and his home, or the Asgardian commoner point of view, or even to seed the demon guy that eventually brought the cataclysm just a wee bit better than the opening joke did.

No, it was far better we spent it with Thor rolling his eyes and debating the semantics of “crown”

It’s just that instead, the movie spent the bulk of its time seemingly uninterested in the main plot. Because there was ~junk planet antics~ to be had.

And yup, there’s plotline #2: Thor is in yet another wacky weekend adventure that he has to get out of! Which I don’t hate as a concept. I will happily pop some corn kernels and plop down with either of the Thor standalones, because they’re somewhat doofy fun. Just don’t stick me in the middle of this thing after setting up something rather serious and weighty. (And maybe don’t set up that serious, weighty thing by having a wizard warp two main characters to Norway.)

As a brief, brief summary, after Hela throws Thor and Loki out of Asgard, he finds himself alone on a junk planet called Sakaar. He’s captured by some lush played by Tessa Thompson who just so happens to be a former Valkyrie, a member of an Asgardian all-female elite warrior group that had fought Hela before her imprisonment. She sells him to Jeff Goldblum, who rules (?) Sakaar. So Thor is enslaved, literally has a controlling device thing in his neck, and is forced to fight in a gladiator ring. The ultimate Sakaar champion he goes up against is…the Hulk, who has somewhat-permanently hulked out. They fight and Jeff Goldblum cheats to let the Hulk win, which isn’t really worth talking about, though it takes up about ten minutes of screentime so it must be important to someone. Oh, and Loki’s there and Jeff Goldblum’s friend because it’s working to his favor at the moment.

After the fight, Thor quasi-escapes to the ship the Hulk arrived on, there’s some recording of Natasha on it that de-Hulks Bruce Banner. At some point Loki forces Valkyrie to see a vision of her past trauma (her fellow soldiers dying to Hela) so she decides she wants to help Thor get back to Asgard, and then everyone escapes Sakaar by inciting a slave uprising and stealing one of Jeff Goldblum’s ships.

I have spent longer than I care to admit trying to figure out how this possibly relates to the rest of the movie. And I should note, Sakaar takes up well over half the runtime, so it’s not like it can be dismissed as this ancillary plot cul de sac necessity to get Thor and Bruce to run into one another. Like, this had to have meant something, right? Was Jeff Goldblum meant to be contrasted with Odin? Was this system of injustice that Thor witnessed supposed to be the reason why he summoned the destruction of Asgard in the end, and the writers simply never felt the need to explicate this in any way?

I can’t get there. Even the very minor twist of “Loki almost betrayed Thor at the end of the Sakaar sequence, but then comes back and saves Asgard” did not need to be rooted in this setting, nor was it even particularly necessary to the overall story or relationship of the brothers. Thor caught onto Loki at the beginning of the movie when he called him out as fake!Odin—we can see he already learned from Dark World. Loki is the God of Mischief, but that doesn’t mean his usage should be God of False Narrative Conflict In A Desperate Attempt To Inject Last Minute Tension. Because that’s a mouth full.

Maybe it’s my own problem that I was waiting to get back to the plot of the movie during every Sakaar scene instead of realizing this is the plot now. It’s just that normally when movies have a lengthy and pointless side-mission, especially one that cannibalizes this percentage of the runtime, they’re not viewed particularly favorably.

But hey, at least Thor wasn’t learning about systemic injustice and the strength of compassion on a casino planet that tied immaculately into the thematic thrust; that would have ruined everything.

Character Arrested Development

I couldn’t help myself with The Last Jedi fandom dialogue shade. But I do think that’s actually somewhat relevant here. Because I don’t really care that ~not enough happened~ overall or that Finn and Rose had a “pointless” (it was really more fruitless, and that was the point) side-mission. What I cared about was that what happened on our screen worked together towards a meaning, and that characters grew as a result of them. The Last Jedi may not have thought through implications perfectly, or executed things in as refreshing or satisfying a way as possible, but it’s exceedingly hard to argue anything was ancillary given how every single damned character had pretty tight and clear growth.

Thor: Ragnarok had barely anything.

If I could be really generous with Thor himself, he accepted the leadership of Asgard in a way he rejected it from the first movie. But also, his dad’s dead, so necessity makes for strange kings, you know? There’s also nothing that occurs within this movie that particularly leads to him wanting to take on that mantle. At best, it’s that he learns his power isn’t derived from his hammer, but controlled through it, though he learns that through Divine Daddy Almost-Death Vision. So he kind of starts off thinking he’s this awesome lightning god, and ends the movie thinking the same thing, but for slightly different reasons and with means that might look different in a fight.

I mean, I guess leveling up is technically character growth…

There’s also Thor abandoning Asgard, but nothing to indicate it has anything to do with him being upset about Odin’s imperialist rule. If that was meant to be the framing, there’s just nothing that occurs onscreen to back it up. Loki complains that Hela is growing stronger every minute she’s in Asgard and Thor repeats Divine Daddy Vision point #2 as justification. Hell, when Hela and Thor meet for their final fight, Thor quotes Odin while sitting on his throne.

It should be noted that Divine Daddy Vision was the final push Thor needs to overcome the antagonist.

Odin (still in Norway, or King’s Cross Station, or something): Asgard is not a place. Never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand. Even now, right now, those people need your help.

Thor: I’m not as strong as you.

Odin: No… You’re stronger.

Does Thor seem like someone who’s having trouble reconciling his father’s legacy, or is it someone who’s still taking advice from the guy, but oh yeah that murdery spree he went on a while ago was unfortunate? And again, what Thor says about Asgard’s destruction has diddly squat to do with its legacy:

“Surtur destroys Asgard, he destroys Hela, so that our people may live. But we need to let him finish the job…”

I had to look up what the prophecy specifically was, since it was told to us by Surtur (the demon) in a very jokey early sequence that Thor didn’t even bother taking seriously, so why were we supposed to have? It’s just that Surtur will lay waste to Thor’s home. No motivation or anything.

My point is, Thor doesn’t really come to any realization about himself, or Asgard, or even Odin. He learns things, he likes Odin’s pithy governance lesson, but he doesn’t contextualize anything for himself or really grow because of it. He just figures out battle odds and gets a haircut. That’s his arc.

There’s the vague character growth that Thor doesn’t let Loki trick him again, again, again, so I can give him that. I don’t believe this is the context it needed to happen in, or that Thor’s way of exposing Loki at the start would have been too little to that thread, but okay. That continued.

Meanwhile, Loki has absolutely become the Game of Thrones Littlefinger of this universe. He instills chaos in his own plans for chaos’s sake (that is his thing), and how convenient that it lines up to plot demands. Thor kind of calls out this character stagnation to him, ironically ignoring his own:

“Oh, dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me. Round and round in circles we go. See, Loki, life is about… It’s about growth. It’s about change. But you seem to just wanna stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more.”

So I guess it’s a sign of growth that Loki does go back and try to save Asgard with Thor. Even in the very end, Thor mentions how he believes Loki’s presence to be a trick, but Loki is actually there, physically. Maybe he’s…“not so bad.”

Hero shot!

It’s just, this guy’s scripting has been all over the place, and there’s no particular reason to believe his decision is the sign of any lasting change. He teamed up with the prisoners to get out of Sakaar in what’s most easily read as self-preservation, and even when he returned to Asgard, he was calling himself the “savior” and trying to milk his contribution. Maybe, just maybe Loki grew in this movie for the sole reason that he got sad when Thor called him the “God of Mischief.” Because that’s all that would have spurred this. Not the stakes of the situation, not Loki’s own guilt over Odin’s death, and not even Loki wishing he could rectify his poor public image on Asgard. Just, his brother is very disappointed in him.

Yeah, that could be an arc. Though I can’t call it one that’s particularly well-done.

The one that is executed best is probably Valkyrie’s. She’s hiding from her past, clearly both traumatized and guilty over how the fight with Hela turned out. It’s strongly implied someone took a mortal wound for her (no clue how she got away herself), and she’s now got this despicable job where she’s miserable and drinking herself into a stupor. Thor himself showing up clearly affects her and makes her squirm, but it’s not until Loki forces her to relive that trauma that she has a full change of heart.

“Look, I’ve spent years in a haze, trying to forget my past. Sakaar seemed like the best place to drink and forget, and to die one day.

…But I don’t wanna forget. I can’t turn away anymore, so if I’m gonna die, well, it may as well be driving my sword through the heart of that murderous hag.”

This tracks just fine. Loki’s memory home video powers are convenient, but definitely within the framework, and it makes sense that thinking back to that could instill some sense of duty, or passion in her, especially given that Thor is literally trying to get back to Asgard to save it.

The only issue with this is that it’s completely disconnected from the thematic thrust. This was actually pointed out to me as an anonymous message on social media (I may have been ranting), but doesn’t her arc do the opposite of what this movie purports to do with Asgard and its legacy? She’s been a slaver for years, which isn’t even given the space to be hand-waved—it’s just not addressed. Then she gets all back in touch with being a Valkyrie, and re-donning that great Asgardian armor, and having a resurgence of love for her home where she can talk about how much she hates the prophecy about its destruction and everything.

This is fine in its own right, but didn’t we just find out Asgard has been an imperialist superpower? It’s good that someone with clear PTSD is trying to sort through her trauma and reclaim a sense of identity that she’s tried to dismiss for years, but it simply doesn’t fit with what we learned about Odin, which is what calls forth this entire conflict. If it were some more abstract external threat to Asgard, then sure a kind of “I’ll fight until it’s rubble” attitude would have some impact. But Asgard was built on a whole lot of blood and Odin was an active revisionist who covered up artwork depicting that. It’s an odd choice for her, let’s just leave it at that.

I’m trying to think if anyone else grew through the course of this movie. Heimdall stays as prescient and morally upright as ever. Bruce Banner gets de-Hulked, which is important to the MCU I’m sure, but it’s via a recording of someone not in this film, based on a relationship not in this film, so it’s kind of hard to argue there’s an arc here. It’s more that we learn how the Hulk is comfortable spending his free time. And truthfully without having seen Civil War, I can’t tell you whether his sacrificing of Banner to free the Hulk at the end was character growth, or just situational necessity again.

I guess Skurge has a character arc. He goes from being self-preservationist to finally hitting a breaking point with Hela and sacrificing himself for Asgard. Frankly he’s a delight any time he’s on the screen, so even though it’s admittedly thin and formulaic, I’ll give that all the points.

Really, what my main issue comes down to is that it’s blindingly obvious what character these stakes should have instilled growth in, and that’s Odin. Except he’s dead, so he never has to reconcile with anything. Hela has no relationship to Thor or Loki (she doesn’t even know about them), but she does to Odin, and frankly as the dude that imprisoned her, he’s kind of the one that should be going face-to-face in some capacity. What makes a family drama compelling is the fact that the family has a history together, after all.

Now, in Black Panther it was T’Chaka’s crappy decision that sort of “created” Killmonger, a decision that T’Challa hates and feels is wrong at his core, and cannot rest until it is righted. So it was the protagonist’s father’s actions that created the situation with a family member he didn’t know at all. It worked in that movie, so why not here?

Well, probably because Thor didn’t really react to learning that Odin had conquered the other realms. So it just made an already emptyish dynamic between Hela and Thor feel even weaker, since the one thin thread that connected them—Odin and their feelings about him—were only half-explored. Hela felt rejected by Odin and pissed off about that, while Thor felt…not as powerful as him? Happy to quote him?

Maybe I’d have fewer issues if Odin hadn’t just been like, “I’m in Norway now, so that means I’m dying. Bye and have fun with your sister you never knew about!” It’s just that his death was so unceremonious, that the mess of his damn making felt out of the blue and sort of incidental. Then, we cut back and forth from the Goddess of Death taking over Asgard to Thor trying to ignore how big the Hulk’s penis is. Seriously.

And that brings us to our final problem.

That’s not how jokes work

Humor is subjective. Napoleon Dynamite is so hideously unfunny to me that it used to make me angry.

I will say right now that I don’t know if it was the plane flight, I don’t know if it was my mood, or I don’t know if it’s the underlying type of comedy here, but I did not once crack a smile at Jeff Goldblum in this movie. I’ve liked him as a comedian before, and I’m sure I will again. I did not like him here.

I also did not enjoy Valkyrie’s played-for-laughs alcoholism. That trope is pretty grating to me at this point, and even though they kind of painted it as tragic, they also…didn’t. She was quirky and fun because she could down a bottle before Thor finished talking, and when Thor actually suggested drinking heavily might be bad for her, we were supposed to laugh at her telling him she wasn’t going to stop. It’s nothing against Tessa Thompson’s performance, who frankly stole every scene she was in. But that’s just how I reacted to the character.

I did massively like Taika Waititi as Korg, Karl Urban’s Skurge was wonderful (especially opposite to Kate Blanchett chewing the scenery), and there were times that Thor and the Hulk’s back and forths were amusing. So it’s not like I found nothing funny here. But to be sure, a lot of the comedic thrust didn’t land for me, and if it had, maybe I’d have a very different reaction to this film.

That said, the humor of this movie is really the best praise I hear about it. I’m just not entirely sure why that’s a good thing. I’m all for a boisterous, fun Thor romp, but if that’s what this was supposed to be, then why the hell even introduce Odin’s imperialism in it? Why have Thor’s best friends murdered here?

Levity can be powerful in dramas. There were jokes in Black Panther, not to beat this already dead horse, but it didn’t make for a full tonal clash. When M’Baku said his people are vegetarian, it was a great way to cut the tension of the moment and further characterize him. However, we never cut back and forth from Killmonger murdering Andy Serkis to T’Challa doing something ~wacky~. The more jovial scenes, like Shuri’s lab, were before the plot really picked up, and the humor that took place during serious scenes (the car chase, for instance) was sparing.

The stakes of Thor: Ragnarok are literally the destruction of the world. And also the destruction of Asgard’s connection to the other realms. The central conflict is born out of an imperfect, revisionist colonist ruler who is the protagonist’s dad. How are we supposed to be treating this with any kind of seriousness when the own narrative can’t even manage to give as much focus on Asgardians fleeing to their Helm’s Deep as it does to Thor’s haircut?

All the humor (or attempted humor in my case) managed to do was heavily undercut the dramatic tension. Even if I had been in stitches during Sakaar, it wouldn’t have helped me get more engaged with the central conflict. It just might have made my flight go faster. And if the central conflict was not as interesting to the writers as the jokes, then fine, maybe this isn’t the movie for that. But for god’s sake, don’t float that giant imperialism matzo ball if you’re not going to be able to actually do anything with it. Was it just there for color? Odin’s not perfect, ya know…now here’s the Hulk!

Stuff Happens, Don’t Question It!

It’s no secret if you’ve read any of my previous articles that I’m not the best at enjoying fun, colorful action sequences for the sake of fun, colorful action sequences. That is, unless I know it is pure silliness, like with Thor: Dark World. It’s ironic enjoyment, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If I had gone in with that attitude for Thor: Ragnarok, I think I would have liked the ride.

But frankly, that’s not the attitude anyone seems to be holding about this movie. Maybe it was the counterweight to Civil War that the MCU needed, maybe if I had watched it before Black Panther I’d have a more favorable view…maybe it’s that elevated an experience in theaters. For me, I can only see two half-completed scripts stitched together, resulting in a whole that’s weaker than the sum of its parts. It’s fine to celebrate it as a joyous romp for those that felt joy and romped, but I can’t call it a good movie. A good viewing experience maybe, but not a good narrative.

In other words, it’s a Thor movie. Wow. I guess maybe my expectations had been too high.


Images courtesy of Marvel

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Analysis

Fandom Meme Disease, and What Should We Do With It?

Angelina

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A fandom meme disease is this thing that happens when creators absorb fandom-born memes and integrate them into their work.

(And so, first things first: sorry that for the duration of this article I’ll use “meme” as if this were a legit term.  It is controversial to say the least, but it is shorter to say “meme” than “any idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.)

I’m not implying that the creators who do this are somehow bad, or that fandom is somehow bad. Moreover, I don’t believe that fandom-creator interaction is bad. What is bad, then? Let me explain how I see it.

Fandom Meme Creation

Any given fandom is, in my opinion, born when some people contact any given media and start using it as a source of inspiration. Not just a purely artistic inspiration; people may be inspired to write meta-analysis, or to engage in discussions, or to wage a flame war against opponents. All this is normal human reaction on something inspirational. Even flame wars are somewhat natural (still wicked, though; human nature can be wicked, too).

And while acting on their inspiration, people deconstruct the original source and use its metaphorical bricks to build their own work, be it a meta, a fic or an art. The result may be perfectly in line with the original, but usually it is not. It resembles the original, that’s true—but as it went through processing in one’s creative imagination it came out a bit different. Thus, fandom meme is born.

There are millions of those floating on the Internet’s vast expanses. Some of them are soon forgotten even by those who first gave life to them. Some are more resilient than others, so they spread and multiply their kind. Those memes become known as fanon. Other fandom memes stay in this gray area between a headcanon and “this weird idea I share with some friends”. Still, all those are memes.

But I digress.

 How The Internet Changed Things

Nowadays the creators have a unique opportunity to exchange views with the fandom. Not that it was not possible before; the letters existed, the fanmail was a really important thing, and the conventions started long before the advent of Internet, but still the scale was different.
What’s more important, the speed was different.
Back then the creator had to wait for quite a time to get a sufficient amount of feedback from, well, fandom. Now a minute past the release there is a ton of articles, metas, fanart, fanfiction—etc. There is fanart and fanfiction about characters who are announced only/had a brief screen moment in trailers or even teasers. There are metas about them, too!

And all this is actually great. But any great thing has a flip side.

In this case, it is this little fact that on average, an interested person is much more exposed to fandom memes than to canon memes. Because the original version is a meme, too—but a meme that is spread and multiplied on much lower rate than fandom memes are. And the thing with memes is, more exposure usually means more absorption.

The sad truth is, creators are interested persons, too.

When Creators Absorb Fandom Memes

Basically what happens is, being constantly exposed to very bustling fandom life, the creators not only have an influence on it, but are influenced by it. This influence may be different.

While there are certainly those who treat fandom memes as a discussion point only, they are not the only ones. Some creators consciously decide to follow a fanon as a means of pandering to their fandom. Other creators use their work to basically say “your fanon is wrong, don’t follow it”. And then there are some creators who genuinely absorb the meme and spread it in good faith. The latter thing is especially typical for multi-author franchises.

Thus it happens that when a next installment is out, it suffers from fandom meme disease.

What Is Not a Fandom Meme Disease?

  • FlanderizationIt shares one notable similarity with fandom meme disease—namely the fact that a character or event becomes increasingly simplified and defined by their/its most obvious trait, and it happens as the franchise or series progresses. But the difference is that the fandom has no part in this creative decision, just some lazy writing. FMD is not a sign of deterioration—it can happen with something that is otherwise pretty good and very much alive and thriving—while Flanderization is usually a red flag signalling that this media is dying.
  • Retcon. It is, again, very similar to FMD in effect (something or someone is no more the one it once was) and timing (also occurs with some new installment), but the key difference is, retcon acknowledges that something has in fact changed, it just asks us to pretend it hasn’t. FMD doesn’t acknowledge any change and acts as if things were always this way.
  • Any other case of real or perceived OOC. It can be a case of fandom meme disease only if the sudden shift in the original is consistent with the fanon or directly opposes it, but contradicts the earlier version.

Notable Victims

fandom meme disease

Not pictired: a badass warrior who overthrew a whole patriarchal system to learn how to fight

Yeah. I really hate what the otherwise pretty good Legend of Korra did with Katara. A decent half of her personality suddenly disappeared in the thin air, leaving us with the fanon Mommy Healer Katara whose only life goal is to care for her child-husband Aang and bear children for him. Sure, that was a widespread enough idea (and pretty sexist, too), but did the creators forget that they themselves wrote her as very proactive and never content with staying away from action?

Not pictured: a traumatised child-soldier, deeply anxious about her underperformance in all things “feminine”, haunted by things she had to do yet always caring and empathetic towards others

I had a tough time picking a poster person for the very…peculiar way in which Game of Thrones treats George R. R. Martin’s characters. The problem is, only some of them suffer from FMD; others are rewritten to fit into D&D’s own narrative.

The thing with Arya (and Sansa; and Sandor) is that sometimes it is not hard to point directly towards those fan discussions that were a basis for the creative decisions turning the original character into something very, very different.

If I could pick an event to illustrate the FMD…Game of Thrones would never disappoint! Do you remember that Robert’s Rebellion was built on lies? That’s the most blatant case of FMD I’ve ever met. It is ripped from fanfiction and wishful-thinking style metas and even the idea that Robert’s Rebellion is all about Rhaegar and Lyanna is pure fandom meme!

fandom meme disease

Not pictured: a tormented soul, devoid of all emotion due to being consumed by Dark Side, a sorry creature that is ever a puppet of his masters

See, this one is tricky. FMD mostly tortured Vader back in the old EU, but I think Kieron Gillen’s comics are not free from its fair share of Over Powerful Unstoppable Cool Awesome Guy Vader We All Adore. He has his good moments when he actually catches the other part of being a Sith, but mostly it is right here. This Vader is really cool, he is fun to watch, he is wisecracking, he is never truly challenged and never has to doubt himself. He beat the ancient dark Jedi without breaking a sweat, for good’s sake. That’s really too much.

The ultimate Manly Man of the franchise—though of course Rogue One gave us an even more blatant example of purest fanon possible on big screen.

And There Are More

I didn’t want to use Hermione Granger from Cursed Child because it may cause misunderstanding, but what about the movies? What about Princess Leia and her sorry fate throughout the old EU? What about loads of characters I don’t know, but you certainly do?

And what about sexism that is suspiciously ever present in any case of fandom meme disease?

Girls and women are pigeonholed by their tomboyish/feminine attitude, with tomboys stripped off all feminine traits, while girly girls devoid of all courage, right to be angry and right to be rational, as those things are associated with masculinity.

All the while “cool” male characters are carefully stripped off any sign of human nature, emotion or just simply weakness. Tell me it happens by pure chance.

So… What Can We Do?

We can talk about it. Raise awareness. Point out the bad tendency of sexist fanons to creep on big screen and on book and comic book pages.

If this exists, it can be beaten, after all.


Images courtesy of HBO, Viacom, Disney

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Gaming

Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World

David

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Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.

However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”

Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.

Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.

By Land

The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.

Not Kosher

In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.

The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.

Also Not Kosher

Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.

We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.

Kosher! (maybe)

Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.

By Air

Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.

Not Kosher

Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster.  Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.

The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.

Kosher! (Surprisingly!)

I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.

And By Sea

There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.

Kosher, and think of all the sushi.

For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.

The Hunt Goes On…

So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!


Images Courtesy of Capcom

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