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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

In Scorpion, I like my women…oppositional

Patrycja

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Scorpion had many flaws and there were plots that could have been handled better. Thankfully with a small exception they were able to write decent female characters which gave us a variety of characteristics and strengths. While leaving the characters on opposite sides of the spectrum.

The waitress liaison

When we meet Paige she’s a waitress at a diner who’s barely getting by. She works two jobs and everything she earns goes to her son Ralph.

We know very little about Paige. There were just a few details that we know. Her father died and her estranged mother is a con women. Their relationship wasn’t the best but they managed to repair it. (Although Veronica leaves at the end of episode 3×14.) Not without leaving some cash for her daughter and grandson. It’s clear to see that Paige tried very hard not to become a mother like her own. She’s very attentive to Ralph’s needs and even though she isn’t aware that he’s a genius in the beginning, she tries very hard to connect with and understand him. She protects her son fiercely.

Paige is a college drop out. During the show she took some night classes in European history to finish her education. Although Paige isn’t a genius, she often contributes some useful ideas to solve problems or offers a comment that helps the others to find a solution.

Throughout the course of the show, she starts understanding and learning more of the science. Her main area of expertise is communication with clients and other people that the team meets. That’s why Walter hired her. She’s supposed to be their liaison to the normal world. She also often takes charge and helps the team to refocus as their minds tend to wander. Paige isn’t a mom only to Ralph—she has to take care of the whole team as they do things like forget to eat.

The waitress had some problems fitting in at the beginning. She didn’t really know her place or role, but with time she became a natural at her job and solidified her position on the team. She did have some trouble with Happy, but they worked it out while dangling on a broken cable in the air.

As wonderful as she sounds, Paige is only human and has flaws like any of us. She is stubborn to a fault and doesn’t like to admit defeat, which doesn’t always sit well with Walter. She can be overprotective of Ralph. Paige has abandonment issues. They can originate from her mother or Drew leaving her when Ralph was little. She was also cheated on. Even though she had abandonment issues, she often used her own fear against Walter who has the same problem. She left him at the end of season 1…which was understandable since Ralphs life was in danger but after that she did it again. Sometimes she lets her emotions cloud her judgement.

Paige is the epitome of a struggling single mom who pushes trough no matter what. Most of her actions are dictated by her heart and the love for her son. Although flawed, she is an excellent example on how to master life’s challenges

The mechanical prodigy

Happy Quinn is a genius mechanic with a rough exterior. She often seems as if she doesn’t care or feel. It’s not true because under the tough shell hides a loving women.

She grew up in a foster home after her mother died. She didn’t see her father until she grew up and found him. Her dad (Patrick) has an Auto repair shop, which can be viewed as the source of her mechanical talent. Repairing stuff is also how she bonds with him.

Her father isn’t the only special man in her life. She shares a profound bond with Cabe, who has kind of stepped up to the role of her father. He was the one who gave her away on her wedding.

Although she may not seem like it, she cares about a selected few very much. Especially team Scorpion. She nursed Walter back to health after he spent some time in the rabbit hole, showcasing her gentle side. She even married him so he didn’t get deported to Ireland.

Happy shared a special relationship with Toby. They got married after she divorced Walter and planned to start a family together. They tried to get pregnant but even then they met another obstacle. Sadly we’ll never know how that plot ended because of the shows cancellation, but I digress.

What I find special about their relationship is the strong foundation in friendship and how well they know and trust in each other. Toby is the only one who didn’t abandon or betray her.

Happy is a representation of every women who makes it in a field dominated by man and was hurt by life. Regardless of that she, was able to build a family and gain success.

The new chemist on the block

We meet Florence as the new chemist who moves to the building next door to the garage. She isn’t a genius, but she’s very smart. She started her own company but lost it. She then moved to start a new business venture.
She can’t really get along with the team in the beginning. Within the course of the show, however, their relationship starts to get better.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy this character. She was created to be a competition to Paige and to show a really smart individual who isn’t a genius but has the same problem as them. Sadly the character comes off as inexpressive and bleak. Her story and problems didn’t manage to get my attention or interest me.

I enjoyed her growing relationship with Sylvester, but it went down the drill since Flo had to have a crush on Walter. The character had potential and maybe with time she could grow on me but alas we’ll never know

The genius whispering sister

Megan was Walter’s older sister. She was a sickly child with a happy attitude. She was one of the few people who understood or tried to understand Walter and build a relationship with him no matter how different he was. She was very ill. She had multiple sclerosis (MS), which eventually killed her.

Even though she was deadly ill, she soldiered on and always saw the glass as half full. She was always kind and lived her life to the fullest. Megan inspired everyone around her, and comforted them when needed. This included Walter and Sylvester in the same episode, at one point (1×12).

She always supported and stood by Walter. Megan was her brother’s biggest cheerleader. Being ill didn’t stop her from having her own opinion. She didn’t want to be on a respirator and she got her way.

Something worth mentioning is her relationship with Sylvester. This particular romance was sweet like a middle school one—the feeling was strong and build on a foundation of trust. Megan gave Sylvester enough strength and courage to go against Walter’s wishes and marry her. Even if they only had a short time together, they were very happy and Megan died having lived a full life.

Megan was the character that showed us that even in the darkest times there’s always hope and a chance to be happy.

Although the woman of Scorpion are on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are united by one characteristic. Strength. Every female character showed strength in her life and soldiering on, making them prime examples on how to handle obstacles.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×02 Rewatch: Long Things, Dumb Words

Kylie

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Tuesday means one thing on TheFandomentals: we’re back with another installment of The Wars to Come, a deep dive into Game of Thrones early seasons in an attempt to understand what happened. Last week, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) penned a fairly competent opening to the third season. This week, Kylie, Julia, and Jana are ready for another of Vanessa Taylor’s finest, with “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”

Episode Recap

Beyond the Wall, Mance makes it clear to Jon that he won’t hesitate to kill him if he finds out he’s faking his allegiance. After all, the reason he united everyone was to get them to understand they’d all die if they didn’t move south, so he is very focused. Mance then takes Jon to meet Orell, a skinchanger who entered the mind of a bird overhead. Once he comes back to, he informs the group that he spied “dead crows.”

Speaking of those crows, the Night’s Watch brothers began their slow journey back to the Wall. The exhaustion gets to Sam, who kneels down to give up after some taunting by Rast. Edd and Grenn do what they can to rouse him again, but it’s Commander Mormont who gets them all moving by assigning Rast to Sam. If Sam doesn’t make it back, then neither will Rast.

Heading up to the Wall meanwhile are Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor. Bran is still having his crow dreams, though in this one, a strange boy about his age appears, telling Bran he can’t kill the crow since it is him. Later in real life, the same boy manages to sneak up on Bran’s camp. When Osha threatens to kill him if he takes another step towards Bran, the boy’s sister holds a knife to Osha’s throat. He introduces himself as Jojen Reed, with his sister Meera. He explains to Bran that he does have prophetic dreams, though Bran is also a warg thanks to his ability to control his direwolf. He also says the raven is something else entirely, and that it “brings the sight.” Osha tells Meera it’s shameful that she has to protect her brother, though Meera just shrugs it off.

At Robb’s camp, news arrives from both Riverrun and Winterfell. The former is that Hoster Tully, Cat’s father, has died. The second letter explains about the burning of Winterfell, and no sign of Bran and Rickon. Robb tells this to Cat, who grieves and asks if she’ll have to wear manacles to her father’s funeral. Robb turns his army to march to Riverrun, though it’s clear not all the Northern Lords want to go. On the way, Talisa approaches Cat to try and talk to her. Cat makes it clear that she blames herself for everything that’s befallen her family and cites her treatment of Jon Snow as her selfishness that doomed them.

Someone whose self-blame is a bit more deserved is Theon, who finds himself tied up in a dimly lit room underground. He is tortured, while he is asked his motivations for taking Winterfell. However, it’s clear they’re not interested in his answer. A man sweeping the floor comes up to Theon after the others leave and slightly eases the tension in the device for him, saying that he was sent by Yara and plans to save Theon later that night.

Elsewhere, Arya continues her travels with Hot Pie and Gendry, the latter of whom teases Arya for her terrible choices in the three names Jaqen gave her. They are soon found on the road by a group of men who easily outnumber them, including Thoros of Myr and Anguy. They call themselves the “Brotherhood without Banners,” and quickly piece together that they escaped Harrenhal. The brotherhood buy the trio food at an inn, and Arya lies about their escape, saying that Gendry forged them weapons and they fought their way out. Thoros says they’re free to go, but just as they’re heading out, Sandor Clegane comes in, who instantly recognizes Arya and identifies her to the room.

Speaking of trying to avoid tension, Jaime and Brienne continue their travels, as Jaime tries to make conversation by figuring out Brienne’s former allegiance. He guesses that she was in love with Renly, though the mocking stops when an old man with a loaded horse passes by. Jaime says Brienne should kill him, but she refuses. Later, they have to cross a bridge together, and Jaime sits down, purposely dragging out the process. Brienne tries to rush him up, but Jaime manages to grab hold of one of her swords. They fight, and just as Brienne manages to best him, a group of men displaying the Bolton sigil appear. As it turns out, the old man did recognize them, and they are taken captive by the Bolton troops.

Finally, down in King’s Landing, Cersei tries to talk to Joffrey about his view of Margaery, no doubt concerned at her son’s fondness. She points out that Margaery had been engaged to Renly not so long before. Meanwhile, Shae tries to warn Sansa of Littlefinger, implying that he wants to have sex with her. Their conversation is cut short when Sansa is summoned by the Tyrells. Loras walks her to where Margaery and her grandmother Olenna wait. Olenna is very critical of the men in her family and makes it clear that she has a strong grasp of the political situation. The two women ask Sansa about Joffrey, since Margaery is to marry him. They promise no harm will come to her, and Sansa tells them that he’s a monster.

Margaery gets to see that fully on display, when Joffrey summons her and ask if the bedside of a traitor was her proper place. She quickly turns the conversation around, puffing up Joffrey’s ego and feigning interest in his new crossbow. She then hints at killing something with it and letting him watch her do so. Shae is also trying to sort out sexual interests in a conversation with Tyrion. She goes to him to try and figure out what to do about Littlefinger because of Ros’s warning, but quickly becomes jealous of Tyrion’s past purchasing of Ros’s services, as well as his comments about Sansa being attractive. However, they have sex, temporarily resolving that situation.

Does Tyrion want Sansa? Did Cat doom everyone? And will Margaery really have to kill something for Joffrey’s enjoyment? We’ll find out next week, but for now, let’s break down what we just saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Well, there’s that cliff the show begins to fall off in Season 3. There were a lot of parts of this episode that worked well, and I genuinely enjoyed. But there’s just so much invented that doesn’t quite work, and it’s quite obviously done with the intent of “improving” the plots. The drop in quality is not subtle for those moments. In fact, just writing that recap the drop in quality is not subtle, but how the hell else do you frame that Shae conversation?

Jana: This is where you start getting whiplash from the draaaastic fluctuations in quality between scenes. I’d say about 75% of this episode was fine or even good, and then we have a self-flagellating Cat doing a crafting project on the road.

Julia: The one thing about this episode was how LONG it was. Seriously, it just kept going and going. There were actual highs this time, but my eyes hurt from all the rolling in other parts.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: Marg was my highlight last week, just for a pretty effortless performance that’s enjoyable to watch. This week that’s still the case, but my annoyance at her scripting has finally caught up. However, I will give a highlight to Jack Gleeson in his performance. I think the material is a little mixed in terms of how well it worked (and some of it is the result of trying to age up Joffrey), however he is such a talented actor that it makes up for a lot of it. He has this ability to turn the mood of a scene on a dime, and you see his entitlement, his cruelty, and his vulnerabilities all at once. It’s really brilliant.

My lowlight was the Reeds’ introduction. It wasn’t the most unpleasant thing to watch in this episode by a long shot, but just…why? What are we supposed to make of them from this? They’re mystical? Dramatic? It just came across as random, forced tension, when it would have been genuinely nice to have a pleasant interaction as an opening. A reminder why it is Northern Lords are so loyal and everything.

Jana: The Time Warp Trifecta was really working for it this week, at least for me. Though Margaery’s scene with Joffrey was supposed to be cringey, I guess. And Talisa was the least worst thing about her scene with Catelyn. That conversation between Tyrion and Shae, though… What even was that?

Julia: Omg, “The Time Warp Trifecta.” Thank you so much for being part of my life, Jana.

Jana: Nevertheless, nothing makes me scream more than Catelyn self-flagellating over… Not loving Jon enough? Even though in the same breath she mentions doing things for him most highborn women wouldn’t even do for their own children? And what’s this bullshit about wanting to ask Ned to legitimize him? And being jealous of Jon’s mother? Good god, what a mess.

(Never forget, three seasons from now, all of Book!Catelyn’s fears about Jon threatening her children’s claims will come true. Too bad Show!Catelyn had completely different concerns, apparently.)

Highlights… Hm. I mean, any scene that gives Sansa something to do that resembles her book storyline is nice, and Diana Rigg is a treasure. I feel like this Sansa maybe gave in a little too quickly, but other than that, I guess that’s my easy highlight to pick. Followed closely by Brienne and Jaime fighting on the bridge.

Julia: Lemon cakes is a very easy highlight. There were even some women doing needlework in the background! And cheese boy! Bless his heart. And it’s kind of all I can think of for an unironic highlight.

An ironic highlight might be the patriarchy magically appearing in King’s Landing, because god did it come hard. Wise women obey, guys! And what even is anal sex? Fun times.

The Cat thing was so horrible on many levels, especially the ones Jana mentioned. Legitimating Jon, Cat’s concerns being framed as primarily jealousy… but did we forgot the torture scenes? Maybe we tried to.

Quality of writing

Jana: Varied, is the word I’d use here. Some scenes were really well and tightly written and enjoyable, and then others, the quality just dropped. And there wasn’t even a Littlefinger around to blame! Though admittedly, the scene where Shae and Tyrion talked about him had probably the worst writing. Was anything Shae said even remotely coherent from one sentence to another?

Julia: Is she just really committed to the Girlfriend Experience or are we supposed to think this is a real relationship? Like, why is this sex worker upset that he once engaged the services of another sex worker?

I think it’s at least a soft original material-book scene dichotomy this week. The best written original scene was probably the one with Carol Cersei and Joff, but then you had… all the other stuff. There were scenes that were just middling, I guess, like where Mance explains his backstory.

Kylie: The Jaime and Brienne scenes were some of the best writing in the episode, and also some of the only scenes that included book content as they were supposed to be. But Jana is right; we’d go from that one moment to the horror of Shae and Tyrion’s nonversation. Possibly the first true nonversation of the show?

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Well the title is kind of appropriate because Robb got those two bad news ravens. Not that they quoted the proverb. Also, why is Lord Karstark delivering messages now?

I’m kind of nowhere in terms of overall theme. The best I can do is that people are bonding and consolidating relationships. I’m thinking especially of Marg and Joff, Cat and Talisa, Jamie and Brienne, and Jon and Mance. There are also new relationships that will be important later; Sansa and Marg, the Reeds and Bran, Arya and the Hound, (who never really interacted before, as far as I can recall) Ramsay and Theon (barf).

Jana: Yes, I was considering something along those lines as well. Uneasy alliances, maybe? False friends? Though that might be more hindsight than anything substantial in this episode.

Kylie: “People in groups of varying sizes doing things.” No, “uneasy alliances” is the closest at making sense, and it actually works fairly well. Don’t forget Rast and Sam, too.

The Butterfly Effect

Kylie: Biggest one I see in effect here is with Cat’s scripting. D&D made no efforts to sympathize with her or her viewpoint in Season 1, which is why we get Cat telling Ned to stay in Winterfell. The political advancement of her family? The legitimate concerns over Jon’s potential claim? Never in evidence, so now we get her mistreatment of him played as just…she was petty and jealous and couldn’t love a baby because he had a stranger’s brown eyes.

Jana: No kidding. If I didn’t know any better, you could almost say that Catelyn’s dynastic worries were completely taken out of the show to make it more palpable for the average watcher when Jon becomes king, and that’d be a great move. But that’s also assuming the writers planned more than one season at a time, and, well…

Julia: They just don’t see Cat as a political actor at all. Even when she went to talk to Renly it was only because Robb asked her to, remember. All this personal and political stuff goes right over their heads. The closest they ever got was with Theon, and we all saw how that turned out.

Kylie: It’s early Season 3 and we’re already at the point of legitimizing a bastard being painted as an unquestionably good thing. GAH.

Julia: Okay, I know I’ve been mentioning this every week, but why do they continue to dig this Shae hole? Now she’s defending other woman from sexual exploitation?

Jana: I actually kind of like the scenes with Sansa and Shae, at least right now. I mean, it is clearly a different Shae than the one in the books, and those moments at least make her somewhat likable. I also think that in theory, having someone for Sansa to bounce her inner monologue off of could have helped the show, a lot, with its portrayal of Sansa, buuuut that sure as hell isn’t happening here.

Kylie: I do think Sansa needs someone for that (and why Dontos couldn’t have fill the role is beyond me). But it’s not really in the service of Sansa at all. In fact, the scenes are mostly just Shae imparting worldly advice on the continually naive Sansa, and then whipping out some weird ‘empowered’ lines, like how she’s totally going to make Littlefinger stop. I guess because she runs around with daggers? Or goes to Tyrion with her problems?

I guess I’m torn on it, is what I mean. I like Sansa having someone she can be nice to, even if this is all going to get thrown out the window. But Shae’s scripting is a sore thumb for this worldbuilding.

Remember adaptation?

Jana: They’re doing an all in all okay job with Jaime and Brienne. Yes, she’s more of a brute, and yes, maybe he goes on about Renly being gay a little too much, but other than that… Or maybe I’m just distracted by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (NCW) getting to actually do something again. God, he used to be so good as Jaime when he was allowed to be kind of clever and not just Carol’s beleaguered brother-lover.

Julia: You mean befuddled.

Jana: Larry was very much both beleaguered and befuddled.

Kylie: Agreed. And to be honest, I adore the way NCW and Gwendoline Christie play off of each other. This is what happens when you give actors actual content and motivation. From what I can tell NCW still tries to make sense of things. Poor guy.

Jana: Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here yelling about how they’re PERFECT AND THIS COULD HAVE BEEN SO GREAT AAAAAH but instead we try to normalize twincest for a few years, no biggie.

Julia: I just realized that the changes to Shae and her foregrounding have effectively made Sansa’s plot all about Tyrion even before they get married. But can we please indulge me and talk about why we think the stuff with Shae is happening?

Jana: My best guess as to why the Shae stuff is happening is basically that Tyrion, the precious saint-like audience avatar main protagonist hero, can’t just be fucking a regular sex worker who doesn’t care about him and his amazingness, which is why Shae is given a personality, traits that make her likable (see above points about caring for Sansa), and an informed knack for intrigue. And like, if it didn’t end the way it did, having Ros and Shae meddle with the politics of the big boys might have been a worthwhile plotline. Shae might have been a really nice example for how ladies-in-waiting are used to spy and all that. However, there was still an endpoint to get to, so all the crumbs we’re thrown here are completely meaningless in the long run.

Kylie: It’s so hard for me to understand what they were trying for with Ros in this. Because there is a bit of a throughline about maids and sex workers spying and having outcomes on the politics of the Highborn for sure. But yeah, it was a plotline without space for it, so it just ended up being this…weirdness that gets thrown out the window.

The most confusing part for me is how Martin has praised Shae’s scripting, and not an inconsequential number of times.

Jana: Eh, he is good friends with the actor. And to be fair, Shae is an actual character who at least occasionally seems to genuinely care about Tyrion and has character traits other than being out for self-preservation and good at playing the role she’s being paid to play. It paints Tyrion in a better light and make him more likable in the long run. But that only work if that was GRRM’s actual goal for Tyrion, which I doubt. I’m pretty sure Tyrion being flawed the way he is is very much the point of the character… Or maybe not. It’s hard to say at this point. The Shae thing is going to collapse hard next season, so for now it just seems like too much effort put into the wrong thing.

Julia: Right!? She just has so much screen time. Is it true or apocryphal that she has more lines than Cat this season?

Jana: I don’t have the numbers, but she definitely…does more than Cat. Has more agency than Cat, which is admittedly a low bar to clear, but nothing an ascended extra should be able to do next to a POV character.

Kylie: If it helps, Catelyn’s end tally is more than Shae’s across all their seasons? I feel like it doesn’t help.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: I’m leaning towards Carol. We had nice slut-shaming digs at Marg’s wardrobe that could have gone either way, but we’re beginning to get that sad mom who can’t control her wild kid framing of it all.

Julia: Yeah, I’m going for full Carol. She’s totally right about the sinister nature of Marg’s risque wardrobe. And the patriarchy!

Jana: No kidding. And Joffrey yelling at her about what wise women do is very much like how people are going to be mean to Carol in the future. What happened to the woman who slapped Joffrey for talking back to her last season?

Kylie: It’s official then:

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Julia: Um, Jojen gave us some myth arc exposition, I guess. We learn about anal sex? And FYI, Lord Karstark, it probably snows all the time in Dorne. They have mountains.

Jana: The guy yelling at Sam was kind of telling us What Happened So Far, but it made sense in context, I guess, and the only reason I noticed it was because I was looking for it.

If you’re generous, Joffrey tries to give us exposition about Westerosi views on homosexuality that are somehow not shared by anyone else making fun of Renly and Loras this episode. Did we mention that in the themes? People make fun of Renly and/or Loras being gay a lot this episode.

Kylie: The most seamless exposition was over lemon cakes, when Olenna was complaining about her various family members and her views on their political alliance. But we can’t exactly credit Vanessa Taylor for that one, can we?

I will say one bit of subtle exposition was that Theon is captive of the Boltons. He was on the wooden cross, and then we see the men displaying that later, which Jaime calls attention to with his, “a bit gruesome for my taste.” It was enough to preserve suspense, but it rewards a close watch, which is not anything I can say about the show now.

Julia: The problem with good exposition is that you don’t always notice it.

Kylie: Why do I feel like we should make that into a shirt?

How was the pacing?

Julia: This episode was 57 minutes long, so maybe it wasn’t the pacing that made it feel like it was taking forever. Though I do remember screaming, “am I seriously only 25 minutes in!?” at one point.

Jana: They had a LOT of scenes that were just going nowhere, or had especially frustrating content like the Cat Self Roast and Shae wildly fluctuating between actual nagging girlfriend and the girlfriend experience bought and paid for. Those scenes and the torture scenes dragged somewhat, the rest was fine.

Kylie: It was endless, absolutely endless. Griffin asked me, “Is it over now?” about three times, and I was just as horrified to discover it wasn’t too. It’s interesting, because the pace wasn’t slower in the way Season 7 scenes are slower, where people just walk across the screen for thirty seconds without saying anything. Instead, each scene itself felt pretty packed, but just packed with nothing.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Most sexual aspect of this episode was Marg explaining Renly’s gayness to Joff, and then getting him turned on with a crossbow. I guess there was also Shae’s blowjob to Tyrion after yelling about his attraction to Ros and Sansa.

I don’t know what to do with Marg to be honest. It seems so sinister now, knowing that Littlefinger will give Sansa the advise of “make him yours” to Ramsey, and her failure to do so resulted in her brutalization (at least, the framing of it). Here, we have the successful “make him yours” campaign by Margaery, and boy does she just wield her sexuality so effectively. I understand Vanessa Taylor wrote this episode, but this entire plotline was scripted by D&D, and it’s clear they think women really can successful control “monsters” if they weaponize their womanly bodies properly.

Jana: I’m also just gonna call it— Natalie Dormer already looks way too old for these interactions to not feel an entirely different kind of creepy than they’re meant to be. I know the show is very vague on their ages and all, but there’s at least a 10 year age difference there and Joffrey is in his teens. Not a good look. Nothing compared to what comes later, but already not a good look.

Julia: Does Shae explaining to Sansa “the only thing that men ever want” count as sexual content? Why am I so effing obsessed with Shae?

Kylie: Someone’s gotta teach Sansa about the awfulness of the world, since she’s sure as hell not learning about it inherently or having a survival narrative. Isn’t this the year where we find out she doesn’t know the word, “shit”?

Jana: Well, remember how Sansa is such a slow learner? How could she have figured any of this out if not for the help of others? But yes, the sheep shift scene is in episode 10, newlyweds being nice to each other for some reason, juuust before the news of the Red Wedding arrives. I have no idea why any of that happened, but hey. Eight episodes to go until then.

In memoriam…Hoster Tully

Julia: Did anyone die?

Jana: Catelyn’s self-respect and self-worth. That died. And from what I recall, also her relevance for the rest of the season.

Oh and I guess we find out about Hoster Tully dying off-screen.

Kylie: Just Hoster Tully. I actually liked Cat’s lines about her manacles in relation to that, though may have been more effective if the guy had ever been mentioned prior to this episode. I miss the Whispering Wood monologue.

Julia: I just miss Cat.

Jana: I miss Cat’s plot.

Kylie: I miss Your Sister.

Maybe she’ll be back next week? We’ll have to wait to find out, but that’s a wrap for today. What did you guys think of the episode? Did the Cat/Shae/Margaery stuff overshadow everything else for you, or were they not as bad as we were making them out?

We certainly look forward to continuing on in Season 3, to see what’s in store for us in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

My First Queer: 90s Fantasy Novels

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This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!

Oh look, Gretchen is going to be writing about books, big surprise! Like Kristen before me in this series, I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up. Books were my escape, especially fantasy books. As conservative evangelical Christians, my parents were all about making sure our little child brains were as free from the ‘corrupting influences of the world’ as possible, hence why I watched so little TV and why it took me so long to figure out I was queer. Fortunately for me, my parents trusted my instincts with books. Granted, I was a compliant child who didn’t go out of my way to find anything subversive. If the cover art wasn’t scandalous and the dust jacket seemed free of ‘questionable content’, I could read it.

With literally hundreds of books passing through my hands over the first decade and a half of my life, if I still remember a scene from a book I read only once and decades ago, it meant something to me. Sometime last year, I reflected on these handful of books seared into my soul. Once you look at them, it’s pretty telling why these are the stories I remember.

The Eagle and The Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey (1995)

Sometime in late middle school/early high school, I picked up one of Mercedes Lackey’s books at the local library and proceeded to devour every available book of hers I could get my hands on. I can’t remember which book of hers I read first, but they left an indelible impression on me.

Part of Lackey’s Bardic Voices series, The Eagle and The Nightingales tells the story of Nightingale a Free Bard (someone who wields magic through music) tasked with finding out why the human king and churches are growing overtly hostile to non-human sentient beings and other classes of people they cannot directly control. She joins forces with T’yfrr a member of the Haspur, a race of humanoid eagles who has an angelic voice. Over the course of the book, the two become not only quest partners, but lovers.

So what? I can imagine you thinking. What does a bard and a bird-man have to do with ‘my first queer’? Fair point, dear reader. On the surface, T’yfrr and Nightingale are differently gendered and so seem to fit a heterosexual mold. However, as a young teen, an interspecies relationship felt as ‘forbidden’ and ‘taboo’ as anything overtly gay. There was something…queer about it even if it featured a female human and a male humanoid eagle. Especially in the story’s context of non-humans being persecuted by the church (*cough cough*) and interspecies relationships being considered taboo by the church but accepted in T’yfrr’s culture. Conversations Nightingale has with T’yfrr mirror conversations Vanyel, one of Lackey’s openly gay characters, has about being attracted to men.

Ultimately, it’s a story about discrimination against marginalized people groups and finding love in unexpected places that your society might find taboo but that’s just their (wrong, bigoted) opinion. That struck a chord with me that I couldn’t label. I just really, really liked it okay? And it made a lot of sense to me and made me feel seen for some reason. (Like I said, really telling looking back.) It was also a really well-written story, the best of the Free Bard series (of which this is the third book), in my opinion. We won’t talk about Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I like to pretend that book never happened.

Admittedly, certain aspects of The Eagle and the Nightingales didn’t age well. While the complicated politics and theme of acceptance are still relevant today, the entire Free Bard series features ‘gypsies’ prominently. Lackey’s characterization of the culture she calls ‘gypsy’ is positive, if a bit stereotypical. The real problem is her use of the word ‘gypsy’ at all. I know, I know. This is a fantasy book from the 90s. In that context, her free use of that word to describe a nomadic, Romani-like people is understandable. At the same time, understandable doesn’t mean problem-free and I would be remiss, even in my reminiscences, to overlook that rather glaring issue.

The Last Herald-Mage Series by Mercedes Lackey (1989-1990)

This brings me to the aforementioned Vanyel. The three books in this series—Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price—tell the story of Vanyel Ashkevron, the greatest Herald-Mage in the history of Valdemar. He presents at first as a bored, coddled, vain pretty-boy disinterested in running his family estate. That veneer hides the reality that he’s an emotionally neglected, highly introverted and intuitive, sensitive child who suffers from his father being overbearing and believing he’s ‘not a proper man’. His homophobic father, who fears he is shay’a’chern, the in-universe term for gay, sends him to train as a swordsman to ‘make a man’ out of him.’

Vanyel meets a Herald-Mage trainee, Tylendel, who is openly gay and sparks Vanyel’s understanding of himself. The two become lovers and lifebonded (aka soulmates), but in a magical tragedy, Tylendel dies (don’t worry, I’ll come back to this). The event also awakens Vanyel’s mage gift. In the aftermath, he learns he possesses all of the Heraldic gifts and becomes the most powerful Herald-Mage to ever exist. Eventually he meets another shay’a’chern couple from the mysterious human clan of the Tayledras, the Hawkbrothers known as Moondance and Starwind. Being gay in their society is not taboo, so they teach him to accept his orientation as normal and beautiful. He also meets a bard named Stefan, the reincarnation of his soulmate Tylendel.

Vanyel dies at the end of the series fighting against Valdemar’s enemies. However, that’s not the end for him. He’s given a choice to continue protecting Valdemar, so he, Stefan/Tylendel, and Vanyel’s psycially linked horse Companion Yfandes (it makes sense in context, I promise; she’s like a platonic soulmate who helps him with magic) become spirit protectors on Valdemar’s border.

Admittedly, Lackey killing of Tylendel to awaken Vanyel’s mage gifts doesn’t sit well after recent conversations about the representation of queer characters. Maybe I’m nostalgic and too kind because of what these books meant to me, but the events never struck me as Bury Your Gays (BYG), even as a kid. Lackey goes out of her way to normalize Vanyel’s sexuality, villainize his homophobic father, an even reincarnates Tylendel in the form of Stefan.

Vanyel’s heroic sacrifice at the end doesn’t feel like BYG either. His death isn’t intended to punish him for being gay, which is the root of the BYG trope. In fact, he gets a happy ending, even in death. He, his soulmate Tylendel/Stefan, and his platonic soulmate Companion Yfandes live forever doing what he wanted most in the world: protecting Valdemar.

Oh, and he has four biological children to carry on his legacy, though I honestly can’t remember how the sperm donor thing worked. Twins Brightstar and Firefeather are raised by the Tayledras shay’a’chern couple Vanyel meets. He also fathers Avren, the daughter of lesbian swordfighters in his older sister Lissa’s command. Most important is Jisa, daughter of Shavri, the king’s co-consort. Basically, the king is infertile but no one knows that, so Vanyel agrees to be the donor in secret. As Jisa ends up marrying the heir, the entire rest of the royal line in the Valdemar series descends from Vanyel.

Plus, Vanyel’s story is so central to the worldbuilding and history of Valdemar that without him, the rest of Valdemar wouldn’t make sense. So even in hindsight, I have a hard time labeling this as BYG. He’s just too important a character and everything else about the story resists being boiled down to, “he and Tylendel died because they were gay.”

Anyway, back to why these books were important to me. I related to Vanyel on a deeply personal level. He was introverted, misunderstood, and suffered from both neglect and direct emotional and verbal abuse. He’s deeply emotional and struggles with depression. He’s mocked by friends and family for being ‘moody’ and not fitting into society’s expectations for his gender. Because of the abuse he suffered, he both feared and desperately wanted intimacy yet denied himself the opportunities to open up for fear of getting hurt. Hey! That was me. Reading about Vanyel felt like Lackey had peered into my soul and put what she found on page. And that was aside from him being gay.

Even though reading these books didn’t immediately make me understand my sexuality, following Vanyel’s journey of discovering his sexual orienation deeply impacted me. I got to read it in real time, watch him figure it out, struggle with the implications, and learn to accept and embrace it by being told it was normal. He gave me the first glimpse of something I didn’t realize was true of myself. I just really, really liked and identified with him okay? I was a shay’a’chern…ally.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy (1994)

Before Lackey, there was Lovejoy and Cohen’s Seven Daughters and Seven Sons. I read this in 5th grade, having picked it off of my teacher’s classroom library shelf because it was based on an Iraqi folktale. I loved (and still do love) all kinds of folktales, myths, and fairy tales, especially non-Western stories. Buran’s story became my favorite, though over time I forgot the title and it took me years to track it down again.

Buran is the fourth of seven daughters living in Baghdad. Everyone in the city shuns her father for not having sons; her uncle—father to seven sons—especially like to throw Buran’s family’s poverty and seeming lack of favor from Allah in their face. Not content to see her family suffer, Buran disguises herself as a man, travels to Tyre, and sets up shop as a successful merchant while maintaining her masculine disguise.

Mahmud, the prince of Tyre visits her shop often, and Buran finds herself falling in love with him and he with her, though she’s still disguised as a man. Soon after he realizes his in love with Buran-in-disguise, Mahmud has a moment where he begins to wonder if she is a woman. So, he sets about testing her to prove her gender. Fearing discovery and the loss of friendship and her business she uses to support her family, Buran uses her wits to pass Mahmud’s first two tests. The third, to meet him at the baths, she flees from as it would reveal her identity. Donning women’s clothing, she heads home, encountering two of her male cousins, whose position in life has much diminished since she left. Her family, on the other hand, is rich and her sisters have married well due to her business acumen.

Her family pressures her to marry, but her heart belongs to Mahmud, though she cannot admit it. Rejecting social expectations of her, Buran determines to never marry and leave her fortune to her sisters’ children. However, Prince Mahmud eventually finds her and the two get married and live happily ever after.

Stories about women who disguise themselves as men and have a prince fall in love with them exist in a strange limbo between queer and heteronormative, depending on how the author frames the prince. Lovejoy and Cohen straddle that line in an interesting way. On the one hand, the story lets the prince believe himself in love with Nasir—Buran’s masculine name—for almost two pages. There’s even a highly sexually charged scene between the two of them told from Prince Mahmud’s perspective. But then Mahmud has a rather convenient insight that Nasir is actually a woman in disguise. It simultaneously feels less homophobic than it could have been and as heteronormative as people who don’t want to acknowledge that Li Shang in Mulan was totally in love with Ping and flagrantly bisexual.

Still, as a child, it was eye-opening to read a story about a man who falls in love with another man, only to realize she’s a woman. And Buran was definitely a character I both admired and identified with. I, too, wanted to be more than what my conservative environment said a woman should be. I admired her courage, her intelligence, and her unwillingness to submit to societal expectations for what it meant to be a woman. There’s a bit of Not Like Other Girls, but no more than Vanyel felt like Not Like Other Boys. They’re both characters who didn’t quite fit in and found a way to embrace and celebrate who they were. Once again, to not-yet-aware-of-her-queerness-Gretchen something about Buran and Mahmud struck home.

And then there was the scene where Buran strips naked and looks at herself as a woman after living as a man for years.

“When I got back to my room, my own safe little room in Jihha’s house, I bade the servant leave the candle, and then I dismissed him. I took off all of my clothes, every single piece, and then I stared down at my naked self. I saw the gentle swell of my two breasts, small, but firm and high, with smooth golden flesh giving way to rosy nipples. I saw the slight curve of my belly, which would never, ever be absolutely flat, no matter how thin and hard the rest of me might be. Beneath my narrow waist, my two hips curved like two crescent moons and between my legs, black hair curled in tiny ringlets.” (p. 151-152)

Poor little 10-year-old baby bisexual Gretchen did not know what to do with the confusing feelings reading that passage awakened in her. I’ll be honest, this was the scene that stuck in my mind for years. Until recently, I had no idea why. Looking back now, I can 100% label it as the first viscerally, “Oh shit, I’m queer,” moment of my life. It only took me 20 more years to unpack it, but this book is the piece de resistance of young queer Gretchen.

So these were my first queer inklings. Strange, I know. Two of the stories weren’t even explicitly queer and the other featured a gay protagonist, not a woman-loving-woman (wlw). But they meant something to me. They planted seeds in my repressed, survival-mentality brain that would only come to fruition many years later. For a survivor of CSA and abuse who literally had no framework for understanding being a wlw, these books were the only shreds I had of a part of myself I didn’t have words for. Yes, they were problematic in some ways. Yes, they were imperfect matches to my own experience. But they were literally all I had.

As I said at the outset, these are stories I vividly remembered years later. Even if I couldn’t remember the name of the book, I remembered scenes or interactions that felt…significant to me in some unnamed as yet way. However flawed they are, they hold a special place in my soul.

They’re also the reason why I write mainstream SFF novels. I know there are other kids out there who don’t know they’re queer just like I didn’t. Kids who wouldn’t think to pick up a book explicitly labeled as ‘queer’ either because they don’t think that’s who they are or because their situation at home wouldn’t allow them to. (My parents would have banned any book labeled that way on sight.) Kids waiting to pick up a book about mages or queens or space colonists and see a protagonist who loves in a way they didn’t know was possible.

So in the end, they gave me even more of myself than I ever could have imagined. This is why stories matter.


Images Courtesy of Atheneum Books and DAW Books

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