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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 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?

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 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?

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

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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There are so many factors that have come into play when I first heard about Image comics newest release, DIE, that it is hard to pinpoint the real reason it intrigued me so heavily. Who am I kidding, it was all the reasons. Most importantly the staff on it.

For one, it features two of my favorite Image Comics alum. The first being Kieron Gillen, the mastermind that gave us the brilliant comic The Wicked And The Divine,which is one of the best ongoing comics at the moment. On the art work is the incredibly talented Stephanie Hans whose realistic and beautifully shaded and colored panels were also featured in The Wicked And The Divine‘s 1831 one shot as well across other comic distributors such as DC with Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The two coming together again like in 1831 is a match that builds this comic up to be really something special.

Image, in the last few years has really been producing some special and important books in the past few years, among them being The Wicked and the Divine, some of the more acclaimed include Saga, Blackbird, Paper Girls,and Infidel, the company takes a proud departure from Superheroes that dominate the comic industry and opt for more fantasy or science fiction stories with adult and political themes.

Lastly, the plot was incredibly unique and original. When it was advertised as Jumanji meets It, I was instantly interested. While not being a player of table top games myself, I can certainly see the crowd this book is trying to reach while also showing the fun about these games with an added horror twist that is sure to be remembered after the first issue.

The story really does follow a similar timeline to the mentioned Stephen King novel since it follows a group of friends during two periods of their lives: as teenagers and as adults. As we are introduced to each member of the group, we notice nothing in particularly strange about their characters, other than a shared love for table top games and science fiction and fantasy themes. The group has gathered together to celebrate the birthday of their friend Dominic by playing an apparently hard to find game called Gormenghast.

We learn a little about each character based on their choice of created characters. Dominic himself creates a diplomat woman that’s apparently a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli, the Dictator. Matthew, a magical warrior of empathy, the Grief Knight. Angela, a cyber punk, Neo. Isabelle, an atheist with gods as pets, Godbinder. Chuck, a lazily created every-man. And Sol the dungeon master with D20 die.

As the game begins the comic cuts to two hours later as Sol’s mum comes to check on them and they have disappeared. Fast forward again and it’s two years later and the group suddenly appears on a random road nearly getting hit by a car. Angela is missing her arm and we can’t really make out what happened, they are now only known as the Stafford six a group of teenagers who went missing two years ago. Sol is the only one missing from the group.

The comic again goes in time to 25 years later where we get to see how this tragedy has affected the rest of their lives. Apparently they had all made a promise never to speak about what happened, not even to one another. Sol’s mother even after so many years pesters Dominic about the fate of her son, to which he avoids. Using brilliant dialogue we see just how dark this has made their lives. Dom seems not to keep in touch with all the others except his sister who has gone through a string of divorces. They have made the best of living with their memories but it is all destroyed when Dom receives a package at a bar, a bloodied D20 die.

It’s at this moment that he decides to reunite the group. After so much time, some have changed completely while others not at all…I’m looking at you Chuck. While some have new companions and some less. They decide as a group to finally discuss what happened that night and where they were for two years until the die calls out to them. The Grandmaster threatens the realm and a hero is needed it calls as they are all sucked into the die and land into a desert ruin. It’s apparent that they have all become their characters…why does Chuck look like Varric.

With the end of the issue the group bickers among themselves about being back in the game, something they’ve repressed for nearly half their lives until Sol appears as the new Grandmaster. What I took from his dialogue is that he was trapped by the previous one and during these long years he’s fought a war to survive or escape and eventually defeated him and became the Grandmaster himself. It’s not clear whether he’s sane or not at this point but it points to the latter as he tells his friends that they are not leaving until the game is over.

This first issue was great at establishing its main cast. While I kept most of those details out of this review, the book really fleshes them out individually and gives life to each of their personalities. Anyone who has read The Wicked and the Divine will know just how well Gillen handles diversity among characters as well as conflicting attitudes. They actually feel like a group of friends you might have been a part of in high school. I really loved this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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It had to happen sometime. I talked last book about how much Butcher had improved on his shaky start. Published in 2002, Summer Knight brings the shaky opening to a conclusion. It also opens up a new phase of storytelling for the series as a whole. In case you couldn’t tell, I really like this book. It brings so much to the series, and features one of the more iconic moments of the series for Murphy. Let’s get into it.

Spoilers for Summer Knight and all previous books in the series.

So, What Happened?

Summer Knight opens with Harry and Billy investigating a rain of toads. Harry grumps around and alienates all his friends because of his grief over Susan. Afterwards, he goes to a meeting Billy orchestrated, which turns out to be with Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae. She bought his debt from the Leanansidhe, and wants him to clear her name for a murder. Harry refuses and goes to the White Council meeting. We meet several other wizards, and a vampire offers peace between the White Council and Red Court if they turn over Harry. At the conclusion of the meeting, the wizards agree not to sacrifice Harry if he makes Mab cooperate with the Wizards.

Harry discovers that the murdered man, Ronald Reuel, was the Summer Knight, the human intermediary for the Summer Court. The power he wielded disappeared, destroying the balance. Which, eventually, leads to war between the Courts. Elaine, shows up as the Summer Emissary. Harry attends Reuels funeral, and runs into several teenage, changeling acquaintances of the knight who are concerned over the disappearance of Lily. He visits the Winter Lady, then contacts Murphy. They fight several monsters in a Wal-Mart. He goes to the Summer Lady after finding Elaine beaten by his car.

Harry visits the Summer and Winter Mothers in the Nevernever. The Winter Mother gives him an Unraveling. Aurora, the Summer Lady steals it from him and reveals she orchestrated everything to remake the seasons in her own image. She trapped the power inside Lily. Harry objects to this. Harry, the Alphas, and two of the teenage changelings go to the Stone Table. They interrupt the fight between seasons, steal back the Unraveling, and kill Aurora, saving Lily, the one holding the mantle. In the conclusion, Lily becomes the new Summer Lady.

Best Moment – The Wal-Mart Fight, Organization to Conclusion

There are so many good things about this scene. There’s finally communication, Murphy’s first moment of awesome, and plot hooks perfectly combined with character catharsis. Over the course of this unlikely placed scene, Butcher manages to bring several elements of the early series to a conclusion.

The first, of course, is that Harry finally tells Murphy everything about the supernatural. She even gets in one last one-liner about being kept out, a start to their banter for the rest of the series. “‘I know I’ve kept things from you.’ … ‘Yeah’, she said, ‘I know. It’s annoying as hell.’”(299). He tells her everything. About the Red Court, the White Council, the Fae, and Chicago Supernatural Politics. Now, we won’t have the cheap conflict from Storm Front where they work at cross-purposes again.

Immediately afterwards, we have the fight with the chlorofiend, the Tigress, and the mind fog. At the conclusion of that fight, we also have Murphy’s first major impact since the Loup-Garou. “Murphy tore through them with the chain saw, … then drove the blade directly between the chlorofiend’s glowing green eyes.” (345). Chainsaw with cold iron, vs Fae Creature. Murphy wins.

The way that the plot interacts shows improvement from the previous book. There, Butcher attempted to tie together the antagonists with the chain spells. Here, we see the ghoul, the summoned monster, and the mind fog from two different people. The Tigress also capitalizes on Murphy’s trauma from the previous book. But everything makes sense, and the conclusion of the fight ties together various plot threads, since Ace sent the Tigress, Aurora the fog and fiend, and Murphy starts to recover from Kravos’s attack.

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

While some of the previous books focused more on the change to other people, here we have Harry change. He has a character arc that comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end. Harry starts the book depressed over Susan, and he alienates everyone. Billy points it out. “I don’t need to be a wizard to see when someone’s in a downward spiral. You’re hurting. You need help.” (25). Given that Billy previously espoused the theme of the series, his reintroduction here is significant. Eventually, Harry accepts the help Billy offers, both in scheduling meetings, and with the fight at the end. After the fight, Harry even goes over to hang out with the Alphas, and plays a barbarian in a Dungeons & Dragons spin-off game. He quotes William Shakespeare jokingly, and says, “Meep, Meep” to a deranged Faerie Queen. (489).

It is not only the Alphas that help change Harry’s mood. His reunion with Eileen, his teenage flame, who he thought he killed alongside Justin also helps. Finding out he didn’t kill her brings him closure. But through the book, when she nominally serves as an opponent, the Summer Emissary to his Winter, her presence reassures him. Even when she ‘betrays’ him to Aurora, and binds him, she still helps him. “I’d been right. It was the same binding she’d used when we were kids.” (433). Her meddling enables him to escape Aurora’s death trap, by using their childhood bond.

At the conclusion of the book, she gives him advice regarding Susan that builds to the catharsis detailed above. “Stop thinking about how bad you feel—because if she cares about you at all, it would tear her up to see you like I saw you a few days ago.” (510). That help sends him in a new direction.

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

While the information on the White Council is delightful, the Fae Court proves more valuable to the main plot. And we learn a lot about the Courts here. Lea makes an appearance, where she ‘helps’ Harry by distracting him and a Fae from fighting and guiding him to the Stone Table. She mentions again how she believes her actions last book only helped him as well. It gives insight to the alien nature of Fae morals.

We also can draw conclusions about the structure of the Courts given all the information on how they organize themselves. Through the book, we learn about the Winter and Summer Courts, each with three Queens. The Mothers, the retired queens. The Queens, the current ruler. And the Ladies, the heir for the future. Their Knights that do their will in the mortal world, and the Emissaries chosen on special occasions.

Also informative is the phrase, “If Winter came here, Summer had to come too, didn’t it?” (219). It implies certain checks and balances on each other’s behavior. That only highlights how serious a problem it is that the Summer Knight is dead, and the mantle gone. Lea’s information about the Stone Table reinforces that. Beyond being a reference to Narnia, it also guarantees great power to whoever holds the table, and whoever sheds blood on it. So, the peaceful transfer of the table from Summer to Winter and back with the seasons preserves their equality. Aurora’s plan only serves to show how important it is to keep that balance, less there be another Ice Age, or worse.

In showing us all this, Butcher expands his universe so much further, and sets the ‘table’ for future stories. Ones that will lead to the eventual conclusion of the series, yet to come.

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

Given all that we know now about the Fae, it comes as no surprise that the worst worldbuilding also comes from that section of the story. Butcher’s take on Changelings is innovative, being half-human, half-Fae rather than the traditional version. The problems arise from how the narrative treats her, and the results of her half-Fae heritage.

The problem with Meryl is that Meryl dies at the end of the story. She is the first person explicitly allied with Harry to die. The only previous person that was not an antagonist that died was MacFinn, and he attempted to murder them all because of an uncontrollable curse. Meryl dying in and of itself is not the entire problem. Butcher directs the series in a darker direction, so deaths will come eventually. The issue that I have with the conclusion of Meryl’s story is that Butcher could have done so many things with her. As a Changeling aligned with Winter, dearest friend of the new Summer Lady and Knight, the possibility of an inter-Fae alliance or Court would develop.

She even said, “[Winter] Calls,’ Meryl said. ‘ But I’m not answering.’” (459). The Changelings provide a glimpse of the Fae outside of the manipulation, outside of Court politics. Meryl could have been symbolic of that. But no. Meryl Chooses to save Lily. She Chooses and she dies and all that hope with her. It’s a story brought too soon to a conclusion, one that broke off threads that could have continued.

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

I will admit, this is a sticking point for me. I talked about my dislike of Harry’s voyeurism in Storm Front. I brought it up again in Fool Moon. Thankfully, it didn’t appear too often in the following books, but here we see this again with a vengeance. And it doesn’t even make sense in character this time.

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

“But I had been used to a certain amount of friendly tension relieving with Susan. Her absence had killed that for me, completely—except for rare moments during the damned dreams when my hormones came raging back up to the front of my thoughts again as though making up for lost time.” (176).

So, theoretically at least Harry’s libido takes a break. I understand that part of this nightmare and Harry’s symptoms comes from the dangerous way he’s punishing himself for Susan’s condition. But, still. Even before this dream we have moments where he stares at Mab’s ass. He knows she’s the Winter Queen, and he still ogles her when she leaves. At Maeve’s court, Butcher spends a good deal of time describing Jenny Greenteeth, a Fae seductress. He could have emphasized the alien way she moves, the details that make her decidedly not human, and dropped a one-liner about her being naked at the end. It would have been in character for Harry’s blasé kind of humor. Instead, Butcher flips that script, focusing on the nakedness, with the inhumanity coming as an aside.

Call it my own personal soapbox, if you will, but that doesn’t sit well with me, especially when the last book did so much better with Harry’s gaze. (Not perfect, of course, but better. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to keep improving.)

In Conclusion

Overall, Summer Knight showcases the best of Butcher’s work so far. While the choices were somewhat limited compared to last book, the plot hangs together much better. That cohesive plot lent its voice to each category, and the worst moments were nitpicks and could-have-beens.

The way that Butcher brought this story arc, and Harry’s character arc to a conclusion proved satisfying. His mastery of plot improved, with the motivations of the antagonists and the number being reasonable, instead of overwhelming. The knowledge about the Fae, about the Council, and about Elaine all help set up this next phase of the series. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Am I being too nit-picky in the ‘bad’ categories, or is it just proof of concept that the problems can be reduced to nitpicks? Was the White Council more fascinating than the Fae, or was Harry’s arc disjointed? Let me know if I’m being too harsh on the series, if you had a different idea for a category, or if you have any comments about the arc of the series as a whole. I look forward to hearing from you.


 

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre

Kylie

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We’ve done it! We’ve made it through three seasons of Game of Thrones here with our rewatch project The Wars to Come. And with that, we’ve also made it through the most bearable parts of this series by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). While last week brought some mixed reviews, it seems that this week, Kylie, Julia, and Katie are leaning more towards jeers and boos in “Myhsa.”

Episode Recap

Picking up from last week’s morbid end, it’s a slaughter outside the Twins as the Frey troops finish off Robb’s forces. Arya, escaping with Sandor, oversees her brother’s body being paraded about—now with Grey Wind’s head on his shoulders. The next morning, Walder Frey chats with Roose Bolton about their improved stations, now that Roose has become the Warden of the North. Roose reveals that his bastard Ramsay was the one who got the Ironborn to surrender Winterfell, and the one keeping Theon hostage now. Arya and the Hound, meanwhile, pass a group of Frey soldiers who brag about aiding in sewing Grey Wind’s head onto Robb’s body. Arya slips off Sandor’s horse and kills one of them, with Sandor killing the other two to protect her.

We check in with Theon and Ramsay, the latter of whom is still torturing the former. Theon asks to be killed, but Ramsay points out he’s not useful to him that way. He decides that Theon’s new name is ‘Reek’.

At some point, Ramsay had sent a box containing Theon’s castrated penis to the Iron Islands, with a letter telling the Ironborn to withdraw from the North. Balon and Yara receive it, and though Balon seems completely indifferent to Theon’s suffering, Yara decides that she will take her best fighters and rescue her brother.

Despite the massacre at The Twins, things seem rather peaceful in King’s Landing for a moment as Sansa jokes around with Tyrion about ways they can prank those who speak poorly of him. However, that is soon dashed when he attends a Small Council meeting where it’s revealed what happened to the Stark forces. Joffrey is gleeful and says he wants to show the corpse of Robb to Sansa, but Tyrion tells him he can’t torment her any more. This leads to an unpleasant confrontation, which Tywin puts an end to by sending Joffrey to bed. As everyone else clears out, he reminds Tyrion that he must impregnate Sansa now that she’s officially the heir to Winterfell. That might prove difficult, since when Tyrion sees her next, it’s clear she heard about her family and is incredibly sad.

Later, Varys tries to bribe Shae to leave Westeros, since he believes Tyrion can help the land and Shae is a distraction to that end. She refuses. Tyrion, for his own part, passes his time by drinking with Pod, until Cersei comes in and tells him that he really should impregnate Sansa, so that she can have some joy in her life, just like Cersei’s children brought her. Much later, Jaime arrives back in the city, and meets a stunned Cersei.

Up at The Wall, Bran and the Reeds take shelter in one of the abandoned Night’s Watch castles. Bran tells them it’s haunted because of the ‘rat cook,’ a man who killed his guests under his own roof and was cursed into the form of a rat. Gilly and Sam turn up at the same castle, and Sam recognizes Bran as Jon’s brother. He gives Bran and the Reeds his dragonglass to help protect them as they set out north of the Wall.

Sam and Gilly make their way back to Castle Black, where Sam makes the case to Maester Aemon that Gilly is worthy of their protection given their vows extend to the “realms of men.” Gilly names her baby after Sam, and Aemon, after learning what they had seen, commands Sam to send out all the ravens with this news.

They’re not the only ones to make it back to Castle Black; Ygritte finds Jon washing his wounds. He tells her he loves her, but he has to go home, and says he knows she won’t hurt him. That bit turns out to be wrong since she shoots him with arrows three times, though Jon still manages to ride back to the castle where he is greeted by Sam and Pyp.

Down at Dragonstone, Davos struggles with Gendry as a prisoner. The two talk, and Davos reveals that he too was lowborn and from Flea Bottom. Later, Davos reads through Stannis’s mail having made great strides in his literacy. He comes across Maester Aemon’s letter and is shocked. However, the news arrives that Robb has died, which means Stannis wants to sacrifice Gendry, since they now have a sign that the leech magic worked. Davos tries to argue against it, but it’s hopeless.

Davos instead breaks Gendry out and sneaks him into a rowboat, giving him guidance on how to get back to King’s Landing. When it’s discovered that Gendry is missing, Davos is correctly accused by Stannis and Melisandre. He’s sentenced to die, but Davos quickly pulls out Aemon’s letter and tells Stannis the real fight is to the north. Melisandre agrees with him, and tells Stannis that Davos has a part to play still.

Finally, in Yunkai, the now freed slaves come outside their gates to meet Danaerys. Her Unsullied guards are wary, but when the freedmen begin calling out “Mhysa” to her (meaning “Mother”), she realizes that no one will hurt her. She leaves the protection of her Unsullied to walk among the Yunkish.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I’m really not able to type well, because I am still cringing from the crowd surfing scene. And especially knowing the script fully intended for Dany’s whiteness to be the focal point…ugh.

Trying to think about this episode as a whole, there was so much that just straight up annoyed me, but then the numerous Davos and Bran scenes somehow were well-placed enough that I’d calm down. It’s not that they were even that amazingly done (seriously, how would any show-only like Stannis at this point?), but the rest was just…very clearly not the show we began with in Season 1.

Katie: I was happy to get to jump on this rewatch because I always am interested in tenth episodes of Game of Thrones’s seasons. The big climax has just occurred and then there’s so much wrapping up and scene-setting to establish what comes next. They’re so often good barometers of how the show is doing. This one was a roller coaster for me. It reminded me of a lot of the things I genuinely enjoyed about the earlier seasons of the show, but then Sansa would be sidelined, Ramsey would monologue, or oof, that whole last scene.

Julia: All of this episode was mostly a need to set things up for the coming seasons. Sometimes this makes perfect sense, like setting up Stannis going north, but sometimes I was just scratching my head going, “Why are they digging this whole even deeper?”

Okay, that was mostly the scene where Shae rejected those diamonds. Like, did they have a different plan for her at that point? Why?

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I actually think my highlight was Walder and Roose talking, since you can clearly see just how odious they are, and also how that chip on Walder’s shoulder came to define a war. Roose was a bit hypocritical with his, “Robb didn’t listen to me ever” and also, “here’s how the situation with my bastard unfolded that Robb sanctioned,” but that’s not exactly an issue since we’re not meant to be convinced by these two. At least I don’t think so.

My lowlight is a very personal annoyance, I know, but Sansa laughing and joking with Tyrion and not knowing the word “shit” was pure sheep shit in and of itself. Also how many times did Arya possibly stick poo in the mattress that Sansa was no doubt sharing with like, Jeyne Poole?

It’s just, come on. I get that the sun rises and sets out of Tyrion’s ass on this show, but can’t his prisoner wife at least be a bit distant to him? You know, her whole thing in the books with her armor of courtesy. The way the show makes it seem, she was well on her way to liking this marriage, and then the death of her family made her sad for a few days (during which will be her escape, since that’s coming in two episodes). So frustrated.

Katie: That’s a good highlight, it’s always nice to see David Bradley cackle his way through his lines. And you know, I actually really considered Sansa laughing and joking with Tyrion as a lowlight too? Not because the scene itself is particularly bad (I’d forgotten how nice it is to see Sansa look happy about something, anything!). But because her emotions in all her scenes this episode are 110% about Tyrion. First to make him look like a great guy, which is par for the course. But it gets even worse later when it turns out that Sansa heard the news of the Red Wedding off screen, and her sadness is not her own, instead is simply given the narrative function of bumming out Tyrion a bit more. It’s a good pick for highlighting all of the generally… bad writings tendencies of the later seasons.

That said, I have to pick the closing Mhysa scene. It’s probably the point when I turned hardest on this show when I originally watched it? It’s such a thematic, narrative, and directorial failure, bad for the story and gross in all its racial implications. There were a lot of bad scenes in this episode, but this was the one that made me most actively angry.

Kylie: Yeah, it’s completely tasteless and the last taste you get of the show for the season. It may actually have been the worst closing shot of any season, now that I think about it.

Katie: My highlight is probably the Small Council scene, before it’s whittled down to Tyrion and Tywin? I’ve always liked the dynamic of more competent people having to deal with Joffrey’s kingship and deciding whether to be deferential or confrontational. It’s also a scene that’s not overly talky, and lets the (good) acting speak for itself. Honestly, though, I probably just enjoy seeing Charles Dance belittle Jack Gleeson. Honorable mention to Davos and Shireen hanging out and reading together, because it was very sweet.

Julia: Jack Gleeson is such an easy highlight to pick. He was just so happy and bouncy. And it helped that it was more or less just a book scene acted excellently. But I’m going to take your honorable mention and turn it into my highlight. Remember when Davos actually did stuff? Remember Shireen’s School for Conveniently Placed Illiterates? I used to love both these characters so much, and they have such great chemistry together. So even though this scene triggered a spiral where I was thinking what the Westerosi equivalent of Dutch speaking printers that would result in there being a “g” in “night” would be, or if they even have standardized orthography in Westeros, and what a trick that would be without printing, and if the maesters as an institution would be enough of a centralizing force to have standard orthography make sense…. I still really liked it.

I honestly think the “pork sausage” scene is not only a lowlight of the episode, it might be a lowlight for the whole series, even given all the stuff they’re going to do later. It was just so long and so… Am I going insane, or did they play it for laughs? Maybe they were going for some kind of Deadpool-esque black humor, but whatever Ramsay dangling a sausage was supposed to be, it wasn’t funny.

Katie: It’s so bad! I think they are playing it for laughs, at least kind of? Ramsay’s whole shtick seems to be “he’s so evil and so wacky! Isn’t it crazy?!” The cavernous abyss between the obvious delight D&D have in writing Ramsay and the terrible way it plays out on the screen and drags down the story is a… not great sign of things to come.

Kylie: Also speaking of what’s to come, Ramsay and eating becomes like, a thing, sort of similar to Brad Pitt’s character in Ocean’s 11. I guess it’s because they found this sausage scene suitably off-putting or something? But it leads to a full-on dramatic moment of Roose telling him to stop eating in Season 5.

Quality of writing

Katie: It is the lowest of low-hanging fruit, but can we talk about the Ramsay-Theon scene for a sec? The first shot of Theon in this episode is just a lingering shot on his crotch. We have an endless Ramsey monologue as he eats a pork sausage (get it?), and then Theon gets punched in the face a lot and cries. This show, guys. “Do eunuchs have a phantom cock?”

Julia: Yeah, the dialogue is cringy, but in terms of writing, the bigger question is why this scene, or this plotline even exists. GRRM puts a lot of disturbing stuff on the page (far too much according to many people) and even he chose to leave most of this stuff as implication. Perhaps they should have asked themselves why that was.

Kylie: I guess just so we could see the “transformation” into Reek more clearly? Like, they wanted him to be called ‘Reek’, but didn’t think that would track. Why they left the nickname in is beyond me, since they cut out Ramsay posing as Reek, and all that rather confusing backstory that came with it.

Even if they felt like we couldn’t have understood how broken Theon was without showing at least some torture, we certainly could have gotten by with half as many scenes, and none needed to be quite so explicit or drawn out. This one in particular was endless.

While we’re talking about the sausage though, I actually liked the dialogue given to Balon when he reacts to all of this. It was very on-point for the Iron Islands attitudes.

Katie: It was also undercut a bit by the fact that it makes the adoption of Reek seem kind of arbitrary rather than an eventual outcome of Theon’s torture. Theon’s obviously not in a great place at the start of this scene, but there’s not much of an indication that he’s really lost his sense of self. He seems eager to hold onto his name when he first gets hit in the face. Because of that, the fact that he takes up the name at the end seems less like a culmination of a character arc than an admission that he’ll do what Ramsey says if he gets punched sufficiently.

Agreed about the Balon dialogue. I also didn’t mind Cersei’s mom monologue (momologue! oh, gross, I’m sorry).

Julia: Like Walder Frey’s obnoxious misogyny last week, Balon’s horribleness felt like it was actual there to serve the world and the characters. I’m not sure why Ramsay’s antics feel so different, especially from Frey’s stuff. Maybe it’s just the absurdity of the sausage wagging.

Kylie: They just feel very out of place. The dialogue doesn’t sound like anything that’d be in ASOIAF, and I don’t just mean because of some strange anachronisms, like talking about “phantom limbs.” No way Westerosi would have coined that term.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Katie: Tough to pick a theme in an episode that had roughly 36,000 plot lines happening at the same time. The closest I could come to was the emphasis on tension between valuing the Family Name and valuing family members themselves. The clearest example is Tywin’s long speech to Tyrion about how he wanted to kill him as a baby but HE WAS A LANNISTER so he kept him around, but it’s also evident in Balon’s indifference to Theon once he’s a family liability (and Yara’s pushback). I suppose it works with Stannis and Gendry as well, with Davos playing the Yara figure. If we want to be kind and stretch this theme to its breaking point, we could also include the Davos/Gendry scene about Flea Bottom, and the Shae/Varys scene, both of which demonstrate how those without a family name often have to play by different rules. That still leaves out most of the episode?

Julia: That’s an excellent effort. There’s something there maybe about obligations. Like, Jon has one to the Night’s Watch, and Tywin had an obligation to not kill his own child, (the cross he bears is heavy) and Guest Right is an obligation, but that just seems like a less insightful version of what Katie said.

Title? Dany is a mother to all the freedmen, and motherhood is also what Carol’s content is about. And the Rat Cook is a parent too…it’s totes a theme.

Kylie: Gilly is a mother to the baby she just named Sam! Honestly, the title is feeling pretty peripheral to me.

Katie gets full marks though, for sure. The three Stark kids kinda have a mutual loss of innocence (not than any of them are fully innocent at this point, of course). Sansa learns about her family’s fate, Arya kills her first man, and Bran heads north of The Wall. That one is kinda weaker, but given this is a season that ends in the middle of a book, it’s more of a parallel with them than I’d have expected.

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

Kylie: I don’t want to keep harping on the Sansa/Tyrion scene, but I think this is one of the clearest butterfly effects at play. Tyrion is made a really, really, really nice guy who the audience loves, so any character we are meant to like must love him too. In this case, Sansa. So take the whitewashing of his character that’s been there from the start, and two seasons later his prisoner child-bride is joking around with him, and Varys tries to set Shae up for life across the Narrow Sea, because Tyrion is apparently the only man who can save Westeros and he needs to be less distracted.

Katie: Agreed. I was shocked at how openly Sansa was used as an emotional prop in this episode.

Julia: Ugh, I feel like I can rant about Saint Tyrion for hours. In fact, I’m quite sure I have. I would argue that the changes to Tyrion’s character have the most butterfly effect of any decision in the show, maybe more than the decision to age up the kids, or the one to take out most of the supernatural elements. Tyrion’s characters flaws in the book drive the plot quite a bit, after all. And make his actions make any kind of sense.

At this point, I think many intelligent show-only watchers would be surprised to learn that Sansa is a POV character in her own right. And that Shae isn’t.

Katie: Also, this is a very small detail, and nit-picky, but I think it illustrated well the problems the show increasingly ran into down the line. I am not at all a fan of the choice to open the episode with… the mass slaughter of Northern extras. It’s supposed to serve as a carry-over from the climax of last episode, I suppose. But the reason The Red Wedding works as an emotional gut-punch is because it’s so intimate. It’s a shockingly and terribly personal moment.

As y’all noted last week, it’s a climax the show keeps trying to recapture, and it keeps trying… badly. In large part because it keeps aiming for grand scale over the emotional horror of individual moments. Michelle Fairley did such a good job of selling those last few seconds of emotion in The Red Wedding. Opening this episode with anonymous extras screaming and dying is literal overkill: it takes what should be the center of the scene—Arya seeing Wolf-Headed-Robb—and confuses and muddles it. Rather than a clear, stark (sorry), emotional moment, we get a frenetic, busy, overly-complicated scene. Clean it up! Bombast isn’t always best. It’s not a big deal, really, but it’s a wasted opportunity, and so indicative of what the show is going to prioritize as it goes along.

Julia: At least it gives the aforementioned hypothetical intelligent show-only watcher the tools to call bull on Tywin’s later line about all he did was kill a few dozen men at dinner, and what’s so wrong about that?

Kylie: True, though I’ll agree it was very visually busy. There’s that shot of Roose that opens it, and the way he walked to look out reminds me exactly of this one shot in Return of the King with an orc charging into battle. It was a wonky way to open things (also it was pretty damn dark), and given the effectiveness of the Walder and Roose scene later, I don’t think it’s a very necessary one.

Worth noting something that’s about to turn into a butterfly effect: the Night’s Watch vows. Sam found the “loophole” to make a case for Gilly staying (a compelling one at that). Next season we get the sex loophole, and I feel like we had one more at that too. Maybe the implicit loophole that allowed Jon to quit? It’s also symptomatic of D&D chasing a good thing, or something that lands. This is still pre-chicken joke GoT, remember.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: Well, this section is getting harder and harder.

Um. Gendry fits rather seamlessly into Edric Storm’s role in this episode. Minus the way he bonded with Davos, I guess. They bonded in both cases, but not in the same way.

The small council scene about the Red Wedding was pretty good, at least until it became about how awesome Tyrion is for not raping a 14-year-old, but other than that the stuff from KL was not super faithful.

Kylie: Not at all. Though let’s chat about the adaptational decision with Yara. Is it that D&D just don’t plan more than one year at a time? Because I don’t think it’s about them feeling like we needed to check in with her and trying to come up with a great Season 4 plot for her specifically; we didn’t check in on the Iron Islands at all this year, and there’s nothing that necessitates putting the theater in next year either.

Even if they did plan, does that mean they purposely set up Yara for a completely futile, one-off failed mission? Because god knows they wanted Theon to be in his ADWD plotline, no matter what woman gets shoved into Jeyne’s role… I guess I’m just not getting what they were even trying for with this. False hope of Theon’s rescue?

Katie: Such big chunks of these finales focus on laying the groundwork for future plots. But in practice I think that sometimes bleeds over into just… setting up potential drama or tension? It wouldn’t surprise me if they just wanted another rousing (“rousing”) speech or set up for potential action next year, regardless of whether it would matter at all in the long run. The more generous part of me wants to say that there was some level of awareness that the Theon/Ramsey scenes were floundering and needed the (false) promise of some kind of narrative development before the end of the season.

Julia: In retrospect, though, it does seem cruel of them to set Yara up like that. As cruel as setting Shae up like that was. I think being even more generous is presuming that they had different plans for both these characters—they wanted Shae in particular to do something different during the trial and for Yara to maybe do something like her book plot with Stannis maybe–but audience reaction, or budget, or lack of writing skills made it impossible?

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is the most Carol Carol who Carol’d all the way to Carolville in her Carolmobile.

Katie: She reminded me of a mom who has been to so many grinding, exhausting parent-teacher conferences about her terrible kid. She knows the teacher is right, but she has to keep her game-face on? She’s just trying her best.

Julia: Imagine another hypothetical intelligent person, who only ever sees this episode of GoT, being told that Carol is supposed to be the villain.

Also, what on earth was that sleeveless number she was wearing in the last scene? And why was she looking at a seashell of some kind and smiling sadly?

Kylie: She was smiling sadly at seashells. She and Jaime used to sell seashells down by the seashore, or something. I feel like I remember that context being explained to us (was that something they talked about in the pilot?) but damn if I remember.

Julia: They talked about jumping off a cliff once.

Why was her scene with Tyrion even there? Like I say, it’s an odd thing to do with someone who’s supposed to be a villain. Was it all just so Tyrion can seem like a nice guy for not wanting to impregnate Sansa?

Kylie: Or to make it clear that once Cersei’s kids are gone, there goes the only good piece of her. Yay! Either way, there’s no debate this week:

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: Tywin’s exposition seemed good, albeit horrifying. I guess Bran is technically expositing with the rat cook, too, though that’s really just telling a fairy tale. I don’t know, the things that jumped out to me as clunky in this episode were not exposition in nature.

Julia: What, talking about phantom cocks was not exposition? Maybe Ramsay should have asked a cock merchant, I’m sure they would know all about that.

Feel free to be annoyed at me, but the way Tywin said, “I raised you as my son, because you are a Lannister,” to Tyrion probably gave a lot of fuel to the Tyrion the Secret Targ folks.

Kylie: That was also following him saying “since I cannot prove you’re not my son” in another episode this season too, I think. Maybe Charles Dance is a Tyrion truther.

How was the pacing?

Julia: D&D seem to have more trouble with pacing within scenes even than the pacing of episodes.

Kylie: I’d agree with that. The entire episode stops dead at the sausage waving, and frankly Davos and Gendry’s conversation didn’t exactly get to a point.

Overall the episode just struggled from that spottiness we’ve been seeing all season. I can’t tell if it’s better or worse that they were trying to give so many characters a stopping point. Often jumping around helps break things up, but it sure didn’t feel like that this time.

Another week of no sex, baby

Katie: You know, given the number of scenes where people tell Tyrion to have sex with Sansa, maybe “no sex, (no) baby” is the theme.

Kylie: And now his watch begins, after all. He hasn’t seemed to be getting it with Shae either, now that I think about it. I guess she’s struggling with her maybe!jealousy still over Sansa?

Julia: No, no Kylie, she’s outraged that people would dare treat Sansa this way, since she loves that girl so much and would kill for her.

Kylie: Until she decides that whatever, let’s just implicate Sansa in a bunch of crimes. I can’t believe we have another season of Shae…

In memoriam…those Frey soldiers

Katie: In memoriam of the last time Arya’s character arc was interesting! Sorry.

Kylie: Ain’t it the truth. We’re about to get a full season of her and Sandor doing nothing, and talking about how nothing is nothing, and frankly that’s a highlight compared to Braavos and her arc quite literally iterating. Though…Arya in Season 7 was not boring. Many other things, but that’s one charge she gets away from.

Is this where we should talk about her kills in the book getting thrown in at random times and in random contexts?

Julia: I remember there being a chart.

This season’s been fun. I think I get people still having patience with this show after this, but in retrospect, it’s so totally off the rails already.

And I just remembered, the Pornish are coming soon!

Kylie: OH MY GOD.

Well, for us at least, the Pornish won’t be coming until 2019. We will have the Season 3 rewatch podcast out to you in the next couple of weeks, and then Season 4’s rewatch will start January 8th.

Thank you all for following along this season. We’re curious to know what you thought of this episode specifically, though. Did D&D leave a tantalizing endpoint, or are things just sloppy to the point of distraction? Let’s discuss that below, and we wish you both a happy new year and good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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