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Analysis

Deep character dives propel Daredevil Season 3: Matt Murdock, Karen Page

Michelle W.

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Matt practices boxing in the church basement, under an arched ceiling, flanked by two angel statues.

Part 1 of a 2-part article. Click here for part 2.

I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Netflix shows, and Daredevil in particular holds a special place in my heart. The fascinating, flawed and complex characters are what draw me back to these shows again and again. So, I forgive a lot of missteps, and I don’t critique these shows lightly. But even I have to admit that, in some of Daredevil Season 2 and its unofficial sequel, the crossover show The Defenders, the showrunners kind of dug themselves into a deep hole… Literally.

The plot of Defenders involved an actual giant pit dug in Manhattan, in Midland Circle. This pit was the brainchild of the Hand, the evil organization of ninjas who deal in dark magic, who had it dug to access an ancient dragon skeleton (yes, in New York City) whose bones, ground up, were an essential ingredient for their powers of immortality. Defenders was a stark departure from much of the first two seasons of Daredevil, which had combined courtroom drama, moral complexity, great character development, and awesome fight scenes.

Still, magical ninjas and dragon bones by themselves may not have sunk The Defenders. The show did have a few great moments, especially in the interactions between characters from the different franchises. But in terms of its overall writing, Defenders was a bit of a mess. (Yes, many jokes about “plot holes” have been made.) After the tight plotting and excellent character development of the prior Daredevil seasons, Defenders’ relative lack of these things felt like a let-down.

Because of the mixed quality of Daredevil Season 2, and the disappointment we had over The Defenders, some of us Daredevil fans approached Season 3 warily. Of course, I’m too big of a fan to let any trepidations stop me from watching – I aimed to binge my way through the next adventures of Matt Murdock & Friends no matter what the quality of the show. As more and more teasers and previews were released, though (there were a lot!), us fans got cautiously optimistic. And now, having finished the season, I am thoroughly pleased. The new showrunner, Erik Oleson, dug Daredevil out of that deep hole in Midland Circle in more ways than one.

Oleson grounded the series back on earth, more or less, with antagonists based in organized crime rather than magical ninjas. But the showrunner did a lot more than that. He tapped back into what made the show great in the first place: the characters, with all their flaws, motivations and internal conflicts. Oleson gave the actors meaty, deep character stuff to chew on, including exploration of backstory and scenes full of complex emotions. This was a relief after Defenders, in which too many talented actors were underused or given lackluster writing to work with.

In this 2-part series, I’ll dive into a few key characters in Season 3 who really made this season superb TV viewing.

Spoilers forthcoming. Content warning for suicidal thoughts/actions.

*

Matt Murdock

Matt Murdock, along with his Daredevil alter-ego, is a beloved superhero precisely because he is a hot mess. His superpowers do not give him super-strength or impenetrable skin; he’s more vulnerable than many superheroes, susceptible to getting seriously hurt in fights. (In most of Season 1, he didn’t even have body armor, and he suffered greatly for it.)

Furthermore, Matt’s daytime career and personal life, in both the comics and the show, oscillate between success and disaster; he never stays on the success side for long. He has a complicated relationship with his Catholic religion, with the law, and with his own personal morality. He clings to a moral code in which he never (deliberately) kills anyone, even while he justifies brutally hurting people to get to the root of larger evils. This moral code is shaky at best, allowing Frank Castle to poke holes in it in Season 2.

We lost touch with a lot of these key qualities of Matt’s in The Defenders, partly from the very real challenge of fitting in four superheroes and advancing the plot in eight episodes. As Bo points out in his Season 3 recap, this season re-focuses on Matt’s moral struggles, to great effect.

Matt is a very flawed person, and this is what I love about him as a character. His flaws are deeply explored in Season 3, and they return to and intensify what we’ve seen in previous seasons – he’s impulsive and reckless with his own life; he’s deeply conflicted about faith and morality; and he screws up his personal relationships constantly, to his own and others’ detriment.

Matt in his black suit kneels on the ground waiting for the criminal to deal a killing blow.

Emotional problems

The opening few episodes of Season 3 show Matt at maybe his lowest point of all three seasons. He has always been reckless with his own life and limb, and in fact seems to willingly die in Elektra’s arms at the end of Defenders. Now we see him in a very dark place, going out to pick fights with criminals when he’s injured, weak, and not in full possession of his fighting skills or sensory powers. After being beaten, he encourages the criminals to kill him.

The whole excursion makes clear the unhealthy mental state Matt is in. It could be that Matt felt compelled to go out Daredeviling, and impulsively chose to die when the evidence stacked up that he was no longer competent as Daredevil. Another interpretation is that he went out in the first place deliberately trying to get himself killed, in a more premeditated suicide attempt.

Whether this is a full-on depression episode for Matt, we’ll never know – this is not a man who is ever going to seek professional help. It’s clear, though, that he’s mentally unstable and in a crisis. Fortunately, he has Sister Maggie there to help him pull through, giving him the kind of straight-shooting guidance he’ll actually listen to.

Closeup of Matt's face with a hopeless expression. He has cuts and bruises on his face. The church basement is in the background.

A crisis of faith

Matt’s faith has been shaken up, too, and this is part and parcel of his emotional crisis. He thinks God has forsaken him. The events of the previous seasons, especially watching Elektra be resurrected and then die again, have caused Matt to lose his faith in the benevolence of God and in justice on earth. “Job was a pussy” is a pretty adolescent way to express this, but then again, Matt has always struggled a bit with emotional maturity.

With the themes of resurrection for both Matt and Elektra, I half expected a parallel to be drawn with the Resurrection with a big “R” – after all, it’s a pretty central concept in Catholicism. Having your dead loved one be revived in a dark magic ritual by an evil cult seems like it could throw a wrench into your idea that only a benevolent God does such things. But that might have been a little controversial to point out in a mainstream show. I guess the writers figured they were safer using the biblical story of Job to demonstrate Matt’s wavering faith.

As a side note, I am holding out hope that Elektra isn’t actually dead. After all, Matt made it through the Midland Circle building collapse somehow, which has not been fully explained. We only got a hint from a short flashback showing a blast throwing Matt several stories up, out of the hole – but it was shot in a dreamlike way that means it could be metaphorical or a hallucination of sorts.

In any case, by comic-book logic it stands to reason that Elektra could also have survived. She’s a “Black Sky” (whatever that means – earlier Daredevil seasons and Defenders gave us conflicting hints), and was resurrected once before – doesn’t the dragon bone elixir render her immortal, just coming back a little more morally corrupted each time? Elektra has a lot of potential as a character, not always well-realized in the writing but rescued in large part through Elodie Yung’s acting. I hope we haven’t seen the last of her, but I won’t hold my breath.

Closeup of Foggy's frowning face. Caption: "There's something seriously wrong with you." Closeup of Matt wearing dark glasses, and a cap and hoodie in drab gray. Caption: "Yeah, I know."

Personal relationships

The final thing I want to say about Matt is how delighted I am in what a jerk he is to his loved ones, at least in the first part of the season. Despite their dramatic fallings-out in previous seasons, Foggy is the closest thing to family Matt has got. So it was shocking, and yet so firmly in character, how Matt treated Foggy in episode 3. He surprises Foggy in a bar, and before Foggy can begin to wrap his head around the fact that his best friend is still alive, he gives Foggy some curt instructions to stay away from Fisk, steals his wallet (!), and leaves.

To add insult to injury, in their brief exchange, Matt tells Foggy that it was a mistake to ever have become his friend. And he instructs Foggy to not tell Karen he’s alive – when we know how much stress it put on Foggy in previous seasons to be forced to keep Matt’s secrets from Karen. Who, incidentally, Matt had promised to never keep secrets from again.

This shoddy treatment of his friends is fully in line with Matt’s character arc. He has put Karen and Foggy through quite a lot in past seasons, and only barely began to make amends in Defenders. Now, in an emotional and moral crisis, his reckless treatment of his friends is only dialed up. If we go with the depression interpretation, it also fits. Plus, Matt has channeled all his rage into a single-minded obsession with Wilson Fisk, and he has always been willing to stomp on his personal life in service of his battles as Daredevil.

So, I welcomed Matt being a dick. It was very him. He’s a troubled and imperfect character, which is exactly what makes him interesting.

*

Karen Page

Fortunately, the misguided decisions Matt initially makes about his friends don’t stick. His intentions were to protect them, after all, and he quickly sees that there is no way he can do that. He does a 180, realizes he needs Karen’s help, and shows up in her apartment in episode 6.

This was a very satisfying scene. Karen, unlike Foggy, is not surprised Matt is still alive. And she’s had it. The man who said he wouldn’t lie to her anymore has been in hiding, not letting her know she was alive, for months. “You owe me rent,” are her first, blunt words to him – she’s been checking on his apartment, collecting his mail and keeping the lights on, all this time. Karen is a take-no-shit kind of person, and she’s not one to easily forgive Matt’s transgressions.

She’s doing him a favor, here, too: someone needs to hold Matt accountable. Sister Maggie’s been valiantly trying, but she has to tread cautiously to not break his tenuous trust in her. Foggy meted out some real consequences to Matt in previous seasons, putting his foot down and breaking up their law partnership. But in this season, Foggy seems back to being loyal to a fault. He even makes a guilt-tripping speech to Karen that she should welcome Matt back into her life and help him, referring to how so many people have abandoned Matt all his life. So Karen is who we’ve got to take Matt to task when necessary.

Karen stands talking to her dad outside in a snowy landscape.

Filling in the gaps

Overall, this season delivered more for Karen’s character than possibly any other character in the show. Showrunner Oleson gave viewers the satisfaction of resolving plotlines we’ve been waiting a long time for. One of these was finally showing Karen’s reactions to Matt’s Daredevil reveal. Another was Karen finally confessing, to Foggy first and later to Matt, her murder of Fisk’s right-hand-man Wesley. Those scenes played very real, and very moving: Deborah Ann Woll knocked it out of the park all season, but for me, the murder confession scenes really stood out.

In addition, we finally got Karen Page’s backstory. This has been hinted at tantalizingly throughout the previous two seasons. We knew she was running from something when she came to New York from rural Vermont, which was not long ago with respect to Season 1. We knew she had some dark secrets, something involving a car crash and her brother. We knew she was good with firearms. In the current season, the hints continue: In a heartbreaking scene, Karen calls her dad, asking to come stay with him a while. He refuses, and she carefully hides her tears.

Amazingly, it turns out that the previous showrunners had not bothered to figure out a backstory for Karen. This is according to Oleson, who asked and learned they didn’t have any details hammered down – so, fortunately for him (and for us!), he got to make up whatever he wanted.

Oleson didn’t disappoint. A big chunk of Episode 10 is an extended flashback into Karen’s life in Vermont, before she came to the city. With clear, believable world-building, the flashback feels like its own stand-alone mini-movie, the kind that could win awards at a film festival. We get so much depth added to Karen’s character, learning about how she was the caretaker of her family while also engaging in reckless activities with her drug dealer boyfriend. I thought it particularly revealing that, even when her brother turns on her, Karen ultimately goes to his side: she shoots her boyfriend in the arm to save her brother. In that context, her brother’s death through her own reckless endangerment packs a wallop of emotional impact.

The writers and director deserve huge kudos for the Karen flashback. It may have been my favorite part of the whole season.

Karen holds Matt's collapsed body, head bent, in a church. A large crucifix is on the wall above her. The scene is drenched in red light.

Comics connections

I also think the writers deserve credit for making deliberate references to Karen-related storylines in the comics, while re-inventing them in ways that fit this more modern incarnation of Karen.

In the comics, Karen is famously killed by Bullseye in a church; we get a re-creation of that red-lit church scene but with the roles inverted, Karen cradling a hurt Matt in her arms. Another classic comics storyline has Karen becoming a heroin addict and selling Daredevil’s identity to Fisk for drugs. The show makes nods to that in two ways: there were drugs in Karen’s past, and Karen inadvertently confirms Fisk’s growing suspicion that Matt is Daredevil. These choices pay homage to the comics while making much more sense for this version of Karen’s character.

Closeup of Karen's face with an angry expression, teeth bared.

Karen and Fisk head-to-head

If all that wasn’t enough, Karen’s confrontation with Fisk packed so much power. Both Woll and Vincent D’Onofrio turned in some brilliant acting in this scene. In a move that rivals Matt in recklessness, she tells Fisk she murdered Wesley in order to get a rise out of him and try to goad him into attacking her for the FBI cameras. This is the moment you realize, if you haven’t already, that Karen will do truly insane things in her quest for justice. She makes a striking parallel with Matt.

Karen has been a harder character to like for some. But in Season 3, the writing for her and Woll’s excellent acting exceeded all my hopes. The writer’s room this season was reportedly 50% women – sadly rare for writer’s rooms – which no doubt contributed to the great job done with this complex female character. After this season, Karen may have even surpassed Foggy as my favorite supporting character in the series (which is saying a lot!).

*

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll delve into character highlights of Sister Maggie, Wilson Fisk, and the reunion of Nelson, Murdock and Page!


Images courtesy of Marvel / Netflix

Michelle is a recovering academic and burgeoning film and TV nerd. She loves sci-fi/fantasy, Marvel/MCU, dystopias, LGBTQIA+ themes and characters, and character-driven comedies (sign me up for anything made by Michael Schur). Michelle loves reading, writing, and thinking about feminism, gender and LGBTQIA+ issues, and social justice in the context of film and TV.

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Blackmambauk

Wonderful analysis of such a great season. Especially your bits on Karen, fully agree she was the star of season 3. Deborah has always nailed Karen in my view, the complexities and struggles she has. But this season, she really outdid herself with the material she got and the answers we finally got of her past, of her revealing her secrets of killing Wesley to fisk, god that scene had me on my seat throughout it all, such beautiful tension that so few works ever achieve. I so hope she gets a emmy or something for her work. Not surprised… Read more »

Analysis

I like my women… competent

Patrycja

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Criminal minds is a show that I enjoy watching despite sometimes watching it trough my fingers. It never fails to get my adrenaline going. One of it’s many great traits is the selection and capability of present female characters, be it unsubs or agents. The lead women are versatile and different while still having a few common traits. Furthermore they’re always competent and do the job the best they can.

The leader

Emily Prentiss is one of member of the team that was with them from almost the beginning. She went trough all the career steps, finally becoming the team leader.

Her being in charge was one of my favorite story lines. She earned that privilege with exceptional service and field work with various agencies. Her character replaced Aaron Hotchner as unit chief in season 12 after he resigned. It’s wonderful to finally see a woman leading a team; it happens so rarely. She has a great deal of experience with many different cultures as her parents were diplomats. That’s also how she speaks a few different languages, and it’s a skillset that has helped solve quite a few cases.

While on cases, she’ s rarely upset or lets her emotions get in the way, which is one of the reasons why she makes a great unit chief. She is level headed and calm and always factors many different scenarios into her decisions. With that being said she is also quick on her feet and can make split second decisions when she needs to.

While being calm and collected she still empathizes with the victims and their families and doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself to protect others. She’s not only a skilled field agent but also an undercover operator, which was shown in her stint catching Ian Doyle. That particular unsub also forces her to fake her own death without informing her team, with JJ and Hotchner being the only exceptions. She eventually reunites with the team in season 7 after the whole Doyle debacle was over.

She isn’t with the BAU the entire time. As previously stated she also work with other agencies like the Interpol. Even if she isn’t always with the team, she is referenced and talked about or pops up for a visit. Her work as unit chief hasn’t always been smooth sailing either. She was reassigned after she pursued a case and went toe to toe with Linda Barnes, who disbanded the team.

The mother

Jennifer “JJ” Jareau is the only women on the team with a family. She has two sons with her husband Will, who was a police detective in New Orleans. The fact that JJ is a mother strongly affects the way she acts and responds.

Although she started working when she wasn’t a mom, she always sympathized with the victims and their families the most visibly. Since she started as a police and media liaison, JJ was often responsible for contacting the families of the victims or their loved ones. She always did a great job while consoling them.

Her early role as media liaison made her the “media face” of the bureau, as she often spoke at press conferences. She was also responsible for choosing the cases the team would be working on, so her job came with a lot of responsibility. Her excellent work in that position was the reason for her reassignment and classified assignment. After her comeback in season 7, she made the change to profiler and her responsibilities were taken over by Hotch and Penelope. She is a skilled profiler, as even before she was one she was often crucial to solving cases and did that job even without the title. Her transition was also easier because she observed the team as their liaison.

She was one of the two people to know that Emily didn’t die. As they are close friends. JJ was also the one who met Prentiss in Paris after her “death”.” That close friendship is a recurring theme with the two characters, as Prentiss comes back when Jennifer is missing.

JJ has been trough tough times including the suicide of her older sister, her classified assignment, not to mention the toll the cases take. While she can wear her heart on her sleeve, she is also a skilled operator who will do anything for her family and for the people she loves. As my choice of calling her “the mother” implies, Jennifer is the one who takes care of all the team members. She shares a special bond with Reid, who is the godfather of her son Henry.

Finally, Jennifer is also a great leader, which was showcased when she replaced Emily Prentiss in the role of team leader. Although she has the ability to lead she doesn’t aspire to be the BAU’s chief. She’s content being an SSA.

Baby Girl

The first thing that springs to mind when thinking of Penelope Garcia is her relationship with Derek Morgan, well, and her unique personality.

Penelope is a former hacker gone good who’s now a technical analyst. Out of all the Criminal Minds characters, she’s the most colorful one—literally. Garcia often offers comic relief and a sense of light and joy to the intense show, and is the one the audience can probably relate to the most if you exclude her computer knowledge.

She is very emotional and openly shows all of her reactions. It doesn’t surprise anyone that she can’t look at horrific crime scene photos; her office is filled with colorful and cute stuff because of the horror that fills her screens (that’s what Hotch says to Strauss while describing the analyst). She also often speaks a bit too intimately when talking to team members, especially Derek. She gives him nicknames like chocolate thunder, etc, and he, in turn, calls her ‘baby girl’. These would normally be considered sexual harassment (which was even addressed in a funny scene in episode 9×12).


But it never actually crosses that line because they have a mutual understanding that it’s a consensual conversational choice. In fact, Penelope’s special relationship with Morgan is what initially drew me to the show. There is just something in how different they are personality-wise while still being very close to each other and understanding the other perfectly that compelled me. And while my shipper heart never understood why the two never dated, I have to admit that sticking to a platonic relationship between these two was a great move.

She makes him laugh and calls him out on his BS. He grounds her and helps her focus and get the job done. Their close relationship is probably the reason why it took Garcia a long time to warm up to Luke Alvarez, who replaced Morgan after he retired. It was implied that Garcia and Morgan are still in contact despite him not being on the show; she is even the godmother to his son.

As previously stated, Garcia is a skilled computer expert and former hacker. Her work is often crucial to finding the unsub. While that is her primary job, after JJ’s promotion she also became the liaison for the team. A job she shared with Hotch till he retired. The best way to describe her is that Penelope’s character is the counterbalance we need to all the heaviness and seriousness of the show.

Criminal minds proves that we can have a show that perfectly balances it’s male and female characters. It offers us a selection of women who all are intelligent, skilled, competent, educated, professional, and strong while staying human and showing emotions.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×06 Rewatch: The Fall

Kylie

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It’s time for one of the famous Game of Thrones monologues in this week’s installment of The Wars to Come, our rewatch project looking back over David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s masterpiece to see where it slipped out of gear. Last week, we appreciated Bryan Cogman’s use of book dialogue. This week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Bo examine some of D&D’s iconic writing in “The Climb.”

Episode Recap

It’s a difficult week for our characters on Game of Thrones, and Sam and Gilly are no exception. They may have escaped the Night’s Watch mutineers, but they’re still a few days from The Wall, and traveling alone.

Bran is also traveling, though with his new companions in the Reeds; there’s also new strife between Osha and Meera. The two women bicker since both feels the other is rude to them; this is quickly interrupted when a sleeping Jojen begins to have a seizure. Meera takes care of him through it—apparently this is a common side-effect of his green dreams.

Also traveling up north are Jon and the wildlings, who are planning on scaling the Wall. Ygritte tells Jon that she knows he didn’t really defect from the Night’s Watch when he killed the Halfhand. She doesn’t mind that, but she tells him that they need to look out for each other, since they’re both just soldiers on different sides of wars who don’t truly matter to those leading the efforts. They climb the Wall with Tormund and Orell, though there’s a moment where it seems like they won’t make it, and Orell proves that he was more than willing to sacrifice them if it meant him making it to the top alive. When they finally reach the top, Jon and Ygritte passionately kiss.

Meanwhile, in parts still undetermined, Theon is yet again being tortured, this time by the man who pretended to free him. The man admits that he is a liar, and they “play a game” where the man flays one of Theon’s fingers. If Theon begs him to cut it off, the man wins.

At Riverrun, two Freys deliver Walder’s terms to make up for Robb’s broken marriage. Walder wants Harrenhal, which Robb agrees to give after the war is over. He also wants Edmure to marry one of his daughters in place of Robb. Edmure initially refuses, but this is the only way to get Walder to agree to support Robb’s efforts in taking Casterly Rock, so Robb, Blackfish, and Cat all persuade him otherwise.

Speaking of that now promised Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne dine with Roose Bolton, since they are now being treated as highborn prisoners. Roose tells Jaime that he’ll be free to go back to King’s Landing, provided that he explains to Tywin that it was Locke acting independently when he cut off his hand. Brienne, however, has to stay behind, since she holds no value to Roose and he considers her a traitor. Jaime argues against this, but Roose tells him not to over play his…position.

Elsewhere in the riverlands, Arya practices her shooting with the Brotherhood without Banners when Melisandre unexpectedly rides up. She meets Thoros and Beric, and learns about Thoros resurrecting the storm Lord numerous times. She then gets the Brotherhood to sell her Gendry in exchange for gold. Arya yells at them for this, but they don’t change their minds.

Finally, in King’s Landing, the weddings between Tyrion and Sansa, and Cersei and Loras, are finalized when Tywin tells Olenna that he’ll name Loras to the kingsguard—giving up all claims to Highgarden—if she refuses this offer. Loras likely won’t mind, since his attempts to converse with Sansa demonstrate his supreme disinterest in the match. Cersei and Tyrion discuss their upcoming weddings with each other, and how they’re unlikely to be able to get out of them. Tyrion asks once again about Ser Mandon trying to kill him, and it’s revealed that it had been Joffrey, not Cersei, who gave the orders.

Resigned to his fate, Tyrion tells Sansa about their engagement, made all the more awkward by Shae being right there. Sansa is crushed. Littlefinger and Varys discuss these events in the throne room, since it was Littlefinger who spoiled the arrangements anyway. He tells Varys that he thrives on chaos, which is a ladder, and implicitly informs him that Ros is now dead, since she informed on him to Varys. We are then shown Ros, who was murdered by Joffrey with his crossbow, presumably wanting to try out killing for the first time.  

Is chaos a ladder? We are absolutely going to discuss that below.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Aaaaand here’s the Game of Thrones I’ve been watching for the past three years. Holy bajesus did this episode plummet right off the cliff faster than Jon and Ygritte. There’s a few pieces that were fine, but the King’s Landing plotline (and climax) is just a comedy now. Then we’ve got the return of torture porn, Mel’s adventure of randomness, and a catty Osha and Meera. This was just…such a decline in quality.

Bo: They quadrupled down on the gratuitous violence here. It’s the only impression this episode left on me. The hard dive into torture porn was unrelenting. You can tell they really want this to define Game of Thrones, too. I suppose it does. In the end Game of Thrones is the show of gruesome violence that punishes viewers for caring about anything and simply tortures for torture’s sake, just like Ramsay. The ultimate example of which comes in 3 episodes.

Julia: I like the idea of show!Ramsay being some kind of personification of the show itself. The question then is, who are the Knights of the Vale?

The only thing this episode didn’t have, in terms of Classic GoT Moves™ was making you like a character and then killing them horribly.

Musa: I was seriously just bored throughout this episode. There was so little about it that I felt in anyway compelled to be interested in. Even the infamous speechifying at the end was not enough to save it.

Kylie: I remember it being funnier, and less like word salad.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I think my highlight was the Roose/Jaime/Brienne dinner. Those are three great actors, and you could tell that things were in motion with Roose that Jaime/Brienne were in the dark about. It also felt like there was tension, with Jaime insisting on Brienne accompanying him and such. There’s not much to say beyond that; a solid scene in a cruddy episode.

Am I allowed to pick everything in King’s Landing? I guess I’ll pick Sansa’s scripting if I have to focus in on one thing, where she’s so oblivious talking to Loras as he’s going on about fringed sleeves, and then is naively prattling to Shae who seems to know she’s being dumb, and finally she’s shown crying at the boat just as Littlefinger says, “Some are given the opportunity to climb, but refuse.” Everything put together makes her seem like this unobservant, imperceptive, superficial dolt. Which is a charming 180 from the books.  

Julia: In the interest of lowlight diversity, I’m going for the stuff with Osha and Meera. I think it’s quite indicative that they saw a plotline they thought was boring (their problem, in my opinion, not the plotline’s) and decided to fill it out with two women snipping at each other for no reason.

I would count the Brotherhood selling Gendry, but I think that’s mostly because I know what they’ll do with it by season 7. They did seed that they compromise their principles because they “need the gold” after all.

Highlight… huh. I agree about the Harrenhal scene, I guess. Though I think the direction was a little too willing to laugh at Brienne in a dress, rather than, like, using her discomfort with wearing traditionally female clothes to develop her character.

Bo: Meanwhile, Loras Tyrell, promising knight who represents a young Jaime, knows more about fashion than Sansa Stark. Of course he does. He’s gay. Get it. Everyone laugh because sword swallower.

I really don’t have anything that stood out as a highlight. The Bolton dinner scene was fine. From a purely spectacle level, the Wall climb was pretty cool. That’s all I have.

Theon’s torture is my lowlight. Ramsay says all there is to say. This scene exists just to exist. It’s just there to make us feel bad, just as he’s only torturing Theon to hurt Theon. It’s pointless, gratuitous, torture porn by every definition of the phrase. Ramsay also speaks the line that truly defines one of the key reasons I dislike the show so much, and the line that has caused millions to misinterpret what Martin wants to do with A Song of Ice and Fire. Shame on the torture scene. Shame on everything about it.

Musa: I’m going to have to double dip and say the torture stuff was my lowlight too. There’s a lot to be said about the poor handling of Theon’s torture. I’m sympathetic with the idea of not wanting to just leave the character and his story hanging for a whole season where he doesn’t appear (though it’s not like they wouldn’t do exactly that with Bran later) but there doesn’t actually seem to be anything worth exploring in what they show. Ramsay is a monster and Theon is being horribly brutalized after having done a lot of terrible things in his own way. That’s basically about the gist of this plotline and they spend ALL SEASON on it.

A highlight is significantly more difficult to really pull out of my hat here. Honestly, aside from all the nonsense of that scene itself, I actually do enjoy the back and forth between Charles Dance and Dianna Rigg. I mention the actor’s names instead of the characters because it’s honestly really just the actors showing off their performance chops in a scene together rather than anything meaningful for either character that they’re supposed to be playing. I don’t know whether I want to fully believe Tywin is just THAT uncomfortable with the topics of menopause and homosexuality, but I definitely felt that I was watching an old straight white man being confronted by things that are not his forte and thus terrify him to discuss them openly.

Quality of writing

Bo: “Chaos is a laddah.” “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

We could probably leave it there. This episode was full of grimdark nonsense that D&D love. I’m probably being overly harsh, but I just feel nothing but grimness and anger afterwards. The Tywin/Olenna and Varys/Baelish scenes are also prime examples of D&D thinking they’re more clever than they really are.

Julia: You forgot “A sword swallower, through and through.”

I think it’s kind of amazing how obvious it is that the split of A Storm of Swords leaves both Cersei and Tyrion with nothing to do this season. So Tyrion is just asking random people who tried to kill him and Cersei is…sad she can’t control Joffery? What Emmy worthy arcs.

Bo: Remember people saying they can’t adapt A Dance with Dragons because it would be boring to have Tyrion wander Essos asking, “where do wh*res go?” every episode? I guess this is different somehow. Tyrion sitting around Meereen drinking and telling jokes was different, too. Somehow.

Kylie: I guess Tyrion gets married on top of drinking. Though why that particular conversation was put off-screen is beyond me. It kind of seemed like the one bit of natural tension there to be explored, since Sansa and Shae were both in the dark.

FOOLED YOU

We have to talk about the climb monologue, since the whole damn episode is structured around it. Nevermind Varys and Littlefinger no longer bearing any resemblance to their book counterparts (this is why the spy vs. spy doesn’t work!), but the content of the speech itself was complete drivel. “Some think about climbing, while others don’t climb, and some only know the climb, and the realm is an illusion!” It sounds like some first year English major who just learned about post-modernism. The point is that chaos creates social opportunity, but he’s still climbing the social order very much within the feudal framework. So…it’s less “chaos” and more “unrest.” Or even more simply, “some people profit in war.” Menacing.

Bo: Which is exactly what I mean by D&D thinking they’re more clever than they are. They love monologues like these, even when they’re often complete nonsense. I suppose you could give them the benefit of the doubt in that this is only Littlefinger’s view of the world, and that it’s a view proven false when chaos does prove to be a pit that swallows him whole later. But do we really think that’s what D&D had in mind with this speech?

Musa: The biggest problem with all the Littlefinger and Varys stuff is that they clearly outright state to each other stuff that they’ve done to try and thwart each other. In the books, they don’t do that…because they don’t want the other one to know what they’re doing. And that, children, is how actual spies and political machinators operate. Littlefinger expositing to Varys that he KNEW ALL ALONG about Varys’ scheme to give Sansa to the Tyrells and that he’s also had Ros killed just gives Varys additional information.

Also another sighting of random Varys Marx, doing things “for the good of the realm,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. No wonder that sends Littlefinger off into his nonsensical monologue, it makes just about as much sense as Varys doing things for the good of the abstract concept of “the realm.”

Kylie: He was having Ros confide to him about Sansa boat logistics for the good of the realm. Duh.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: I’m having a really hard time linking what Ygritte said to Jon to anyone else. From what I can tell, the best theme is, “everything is bad, and if you think it’s good, you’re dumb.” In every plotline, maybe with the exception of Bran/Sam’s, people are not having the best go of it. Sansa, Loras, Cersei, Tyrion, Ros, Shae, Edmure, Theon, Brienne, Gendry, and even mildly Olenna are dealing with some kind of terrible news this episode. Jon and Ygritte maybe ties in with her words about how everything’s terrible, which is why they need each other, though they had a more uplifting ending to it. Still, acedia is in full swing here.

Julia: I think you can actually link the title and the speech with that, as eye rolling as the exercise is. And the Wall is a visual representation of this ladder that LF is speaking of, though why they chose to mix their metaphors here is a good question. Why can’t chaos be a wall?

Bo: Jesus, why wasn’t chaos a wall?! I doubt it helps the speech that much, but it would have been better than a ladder. I’d agree that the “chaos ladder” is the theme of the episode. We’re seeing everyone try to climb it and how well (or not so well) the climb is going.

Except Ygritte, who just wants to step off the ladder and take Jon with her? What a wonderful metaphor for my interest in this show.

Kylie: I keep think of Turtle’s “chaos is a catch-all.” Go read that one, guys.

The Butterfly Effect

Bo: I’m not sure this fits here, but let’s remember how Melisandre banged the audience over the head with foreshadowing about Arya that never actually comes to pass. I’d wonder if they were going to cram it into season 8, but they already removed Mel from Arya’s list without any explanation. Game of Thrones does this a lot in the first 3 seasons, where they foreshadow future plot points or establish future conflicts, then randomly dropped them when season 5 rolled around.

And of course, acedia. Sooooo much acedia.

Julia: Maybe we’re just supposed to think Mel is full of shit by season 7?

Kylie: I think they were setting something else up for Arya entirely this year, maybe thinking they couldn’t just have her fuck around the riverlands for an entire season with The Hound, and certainly not spend two years in Braavos. This whole event puts Mel and the Brotherhood on her list, and then she just drops them off it by Season 5, deciding she’s “forgiven them.”

Something worth noting is that D&D stray further and further from using book lines, and begin to think of themselves as masters of iconic one-lines. Littlefinger and Ramsay both show that off here. I have to think if they had written the Jaime/Brienne tub scene rather than Cogman, I have to wonder if it would have still ended on the note, “My name is Jaime.”

Bo: Considering their numerous changes to other lines, probably not.

Remember adaptation?

Bo: Good Guy Tyrion had to tell poor Sansa what’s happening, rather than spring it on her come the wedding day like everyone else.

Kylie: I’m still confused why that was off-screen. And why Tyrion was the one to spring the news, now that I think about it.

I hate hitting on this every week, but Olenna’s adaptation is just god-awful. Now we’ve progressed to her implying that Tywin had a gay experience because the Reach is so full of great allies?

Julia: I mentioned last week that that week’s Olenna content was the second worst example of her being the official negotiator of House Tyrell. Well, here is the prime example of that nonsense. Maybe it would have made sense if she was yelling at Mace about his negotiating strategy, but Tywin actually had a meeting with her to discuss official marriages. During which she insults him to his face several times.

What even is patriarchy?

Kylie: Meanwhile, up north, can you tell me who is the best rabbit skinner of them all?

Julia: There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit, Kylie. God, you’re so judgmental.

Bo: It’s hard to decide what they adapt worst at this point, but how they turned the Reach, the pinnacle of patriarchal medieval feudalism, into this anachronistic nightmare is beyond me. Did they just assume the entire Reach is like Renly since they followed him as king? I mean, Renly’s not even FROM the Reach.

And I know I bang this drum a lot, but holy hell do they miss the point with Littlefinger, and his climb speech is exhibit A. Petyr Baelish is not a man creating chaos for chaos’s sake, just to see what opportunities it creates. He deliberately causes havoc aimed at very specific goals. He doesn’t pit the Lannisters against the Starks just to see what comes of it. He does so with goals in mind regarding Cat, and then Sansa. Reducing his scheming to, “lol chaos” would make book Baelish scream.

Also, the irony of Brynden freaking Tully trying to threaten someone into marriage. It’s not completely against adaptation or anything, but it’s quite funny.

Musa: I have a serious bone to pick with the change from it being maybe Cersei who possibly ordered Mandon Moore to kill Tyrion to it being definitely Joffrey who did so. They just keep on doing this thing where they continue to give Tyrion additional sympathy points while simultaneously taking menace and agency away from Cersei to give it to Joffrey. It ruins pretty much all three characters overall.

Kylie: Well Musa, that brings us to…

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Carol has done her best with Joffrey, but he went and tried to kill Tyrion and then she had no choice but to cover for him! Also, she’s sharing in her misery with Tyrion and genuinely bonding about that. Yeah, we get some zingers like, “we could kill them” and calling Margaery a, “doe-eyed whore,” but we all know Carol has a bad bark.

Julia: Well, Carol’s character is hardly free of internalized patriarchy either. And who can blame her for being resentful of Marg, who’s flouting all the rules and getting rewarded for it, when Carol spent all those years trying to make her marriage work and be a good mother and was still screwed over for it. Indeed she still has her dad trading her like a baseball card.

Poor Carol.

Bo: She loves her family so much. It’s such a shame everyone tosses her aside when she just wants to protect them. How dare Tyrion question her about Mandon Moore? Lions need to stick to their pride.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: We learned that Jojen has seizures without anyone saying something, which is a good use of the visual medium. And I guess Sam explained highborn fire-lighting to Gilly. But in general, I’m just not remember a ton of exposition this episode. Which is probably more of a good thing than the alternative.

Bo: Yeah, the fact nothing immediately stood out as bad exposition means they at least did well here. Sam’s song also does a nice job establishing more about religion in Westeros. Thoros described his life and newfound faith quite naturally, and overall the conversation with Mel imparted knowledge about the red priests.

Kylie: Yeah! Good on you, D&D!

How was the pacing?

Julia: This whole season’s pacing is hilarious. I love how Littlefinger is still packing all his stuff six episodes in. And I’ve already mentioned how Cersei and Tyrion have had nothing to do.

Kylie: I feel like the people that actually have a full season’s worth aren’t in focus at all. Jaime and Brienne might be an exception, but the Night’s Watch, Jon’s new Wildling posse, even Bran and the Reeds (if they had wanted to bother building up characters) could have all benefited from more screen-time. It really is astounding how little happens each episode though.

Bo: Game of Thrones is so poorly planned. They clearly don’t have a plan beyond the current season being written. That’s how you end up with A Storm of Swords taking two seasons when it really shouldn’t have. They should have bitten the bullet and dove into A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons in the last third of season 4. We’re supposed to buy the excuse that Feast and Dance would have been boring to adapt properly, though. We can’t have multiple episodes of characters doing nothing!

There was no sex, baby

Kylie: Just some torture porn with both Theon, and then Ros’s obviously sexualized death. Are we supposed to make something of the fact that Joffrey hit Ros in the same place Arya hit the strawman?

Bo: What is it with HBO shows and the taboo on men giving oral sex to a woman? Jon’s weirdness about it brought back bad memories of The Sopranos doing a whole plotline about Junior Soprano being good at going down on his girlfriend but not wanting anyone to know.

Julia: And what is their weird thing about gay men not being able to pull off political marriages? And this idea that, like, they find all women so…boring or something, that they can’t even have a conversation with them, even as just two people having a conversation.

I just remembered that the one thing Renly did say to Marg during their marriage is that he liked her dress.

Bo: They can’t even get their stereotypes correct. I thought gay men got along great with women since they have so much in common, but not straight men? Wouldn’t Loras and Sansa have a great time talking about gowns and weddings? I guess Sansa was too busy not being the least bit perceptive of people to notice.

Kylie: All I know is that as a bisexual, I have great conversations with everyone because of my sexual interest in 100% of humanity.

Julia: That’s why the Dornish are the best conversationalists.

In Memoriam…Ros

Julia: The real death was any faith I had left in this show.

Kylie: Oh snap.

Bo: It’s okay, Julia, you just need a good old-fashioned desperate resurrection to restore the corpse of your love for Game of Thrones. Just remember the old words they taught you.

Kylie: I think we’re dancing around Ros’s death because it’s just so transparently voyeuristic. And gross. We didn’t need it to characterize Littlefinger, or Joffrey, and it’s just more of that punish you for caring. Ros showed concern about Sansa, well NOPE. Their shock-chasing is of the, “oh no, how messed up!’ ilk, and this is a nice inception point.

Musa: Though overall, this episode seriously does a number on Game of Thrones‘s reputation as the show with lots of tits, dragons, and death. This episode barely had any of those things. So is it REALLY a real Game of Thrones episode, even?

Kylie: Not according to Ian McShane, though I’d say this can hang with the best of Season 6’s wheel-spinning clunkers.

However, it’s time for us to climb the ladder on out of this rewatch for now. We’ll be back next week for some bear pit shenanigans, but we’re curious to hear your thoughts on this week in the meanwhile. Again, we closed on King’s Landing. Is it just the bad taste in the mouth that keeps on giving? Tell is in the comments, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

My First Queer: Evil Queens

Barbara

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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!

Looking back at the other My First Queer articles, I have to say my experience is going to be rather different – but then again, each of those was different, too, and the experience is varied. Still, mine differs in the way that it is much more focused on attraction, instead of the more generalized realizations of queerness or powerful stories of love.

The second is definitely because there were none to be had. The first is, perhaps, because I grew up in a very liberal household. I knew about the existence of the the letters of the LGBTQIA acronym — except queer itself, I guess, because it doesn’t really have a Czech equivalent — probably by the time I started middle school, and certainly by the time I was fifteen. There was no need to discover the idea of queerness.

What was an entirely novel concept, on the other hand, was the idea that it could somehow relate to me, or to anyone close to me.

After all, in most media queerness was — and still is — only incidental, something that happens to the side characters, and as everyone is a protagonist of their own story, I never considered that it would be something to touch me in person. When I try to think of the first piece of media where I encountered a non-straight relationship, it’s difficult. I have been reading fantasy intermittently since I was eleven. Some of that fantasy probably contained background queer characters in a casual way that went well with my general expectations of “this is something that exists somewhere in the world but doesn’t concern me in any way”.

I do remember the first book where a non-straight relationship was at least a little bit prominent: the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. If you know Sapkowski or have read the books, you know it’s not…exactly an ideal introduction into the world of queerness. The protagonist — or one of the protagonists — of the book, Ciri, runs away from an attempt on her life, almost dies in the desert, and finally joins up with a band of outlaws. The first night with them, she is molested and almost raped by one of the men. One of the other women stops him…and then slides into bed in his place.

This is the beginning of Ciri’s first romantic relationship, which ends with her lover/rapist being brutally murdered by a man who then proceeds to enslave Ciri. So, you know. Not exactly the pinnacle of representation, and definitely not something you would want to model your romantic life on.

This choice always feels impossible in-game, precisely because Ciri’s relationship history is so charged,

Sapkowski’s books have other mentions of wlw, too: the long-lived sorceresses being bored of their relationships with men and so trying women for a time until they discover it’s not any better. That caught my attention a little more.

I loved everything about Sapkowski’s sorceresses. Powerful, beautiful and arrogant, I can say with the benefit of hindsight that however over-the-top and mired in sexist stereotypes, they were a combination of my life goals and my wife goals.

However narcissist that sounds, the kind of person I want to be has always been similar to the kind of person I want to have, be they women or men, because I’ve always been more fan of the concept of “marriage of true minds” than “opposites attract.” That probably didn’t help with making matters clearer, since it provided a comfortable excuse for why I cared about them so much: I wanted to be like them.

The most important part, though, is that the sorceresses weren’t really queer. They were still predominantly depicted as straight, focused on the men and interested in them, and their gayness was only incidental, and always connected to men. That, combined with my real-life experiences, likely shaped my views for quite some time. Because the thing is, there was a lot of wlw women around me, but either none of them identified as bisexual, or I didn’t know they did. Just like in Sapkowski! Sleeping with both men and women was just what all the really cool girls did, right? And men found it hot.

What an amazing view to absorb.

Philippa would be so disappointed in me.

Sadly, it held through my actual first experiences with women, and of those around me. Looking back at it, it was insane. A good friend of mine was in a relationship with a girl, they even got fake-married, but I still thought of her as straight and didn’t take it seriously. After all, it was just a couple of gals being pals. In bed.

In short, Sapkowski was the piece of media during my adolescence that got the furthest in having me engage with female queerness, and it did not go very well. But there was another way my identity as a straight girl had the potential to be eroded. Not with explicitly queer women, but with (assumed) straight women I simply found hot. And boy, were there plenty.

Like I said, Sapkowski’s sorceresses hit me exactly in my weak spot. I have always been fascinated by the “evil queen” archetype. If I lived in a country where Disney animated fairy tales were the standard entertainment for children, I’m pretty sure my first queer would have easily and decidedly been Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White. As it is, I only came across them later, and Czech fairy tale films don’t really have any properly evil queens to speak of, for some reason.

So as it was, my first glimpse of this was Circe.

I had a retold-for-children version of Odyssey when I was little, and it was my favorite book. Odysseus was an amazing hero and everything, but there were also beautiful illustrations in my version, and the women in those illustrations were really pretty. Particularly attractive was the evil sorceress who almost defeated Odysseus (and totally would have if he hadn’t cheated by getting help from the gods). She was a-ma-zing.

I dare you not to fall in love.

Not too long after, there was an encounter with Disney after all: I had a book version of Aladdin, and in Aladdin there was Yasmine. In particular, Yasmine in her slave outfit. Yeah, I know.

Looking back at it, I can hardly see for the amount of cringe I’m doing, and I could write dissertations on the orientalization and sexism specific to what can be found in those scenes. But my seven year old self didn’t know anything about that. I just knew that there was, you know, something about Yasmine in that outfit, being so clever as she pretended to be willing to rule alongside Jafar.

I mostly thought it was because she was wearing red and I liked red. Like I said, I was seven.

The next step on this way was the evil queen from Never-Ending Story 2. I remember always being frustrated when she pretends to be good in the middle of the film, because she lost like half of her sex-appeal – though again, I wouldn’t have put it that way when I was probably about ten at this point. Then came Sapkowski, and my love for his sorceresses. And around the same time, there came the most important stepping stone from the realm of media on my way to self-discovery: Monica Bellucci.

I honestly don’t remember how I first came across her. It must have been online, because going through her filmography, the only things I really recall seeing her in are the Matrix films, and before that I was only aware of Asterix and Obelix. And I distinctly remember thinking when it came out, as a connoisseur of the animated version: yeah, she’s a good fit for Cleopatra, she’s hot.

Almost as hot as this one. Come to think of it, Cleopatra from the animated version of this film might actually belong to my series of childhood crushes, too.

So, somehow, somewhere, I discovered Monica Bellucci, and I was immediately smitten. To this day, I consider her effectively the epitome of female beauty.

I was fourteen when Matrix Reloaded came out, and I really enjoyed the scenes with her. A lot. In fact, they probably make me recall that film in a much more positive light than it deserves.  Soon after this, my computer was stuffed with all the pictures of her I could find, mostly of them lightly erotic. Hilariously, yes, I still believed I was straight.

I could continue listing all the other movies I saw with impressive evil queen/femme fatale types in them. Snow White and the Huntsman was a disaster of a movie. But the Queen, oh, the Queen! Well, I think you get the idea.

At any rate, Monica Bellucci was the first woman I have ever seen that I looked at and thought, yes, I want to have sex with her. Not even this, though, was enough to bring any change in how I understood my sexuality. Looking for the media that helped with that, the first media that actually included a healthy queer couple… That would be fanfiction. When I was over twenty, maybe even closer to my mid-twenties.

Yeah.

To be fair, if I had a varied romantic life in the years between, I probably would have figured things out sooner even without any books to help, but as I began dating my husband not too long after my Bellucci-induced awakening, that rather limited my exploration.

My computer was stuffed with pictures like this. Stuffed. How could I think I was straight?

The fact still remains, though. It took twenty years of reading to come across a wlw couple worthy of the name. And it required fanfiction.

I read a lot, though I didn’t seek out queer books – I probably didn’t know that was a thing, to be honest, and if I did, I wouldn’t have searched them out anyway. I was straight, remember? But I read a lot, and varied things – detective stories, fantasy, literary fiction. In none of that did I come across a proper wlw relationship.

The first “femslash” fanfiction I read was a bunch of stories from the Harry Potter universe. It was mostly sexual relationships, combining various Hogwarts girl into pairs and seeing what happened. While fun, it didn’t do much to convince me to take my own preferences too seriously.

I can’t actually pinpoint the one story that did that. What I do know, though, is that as I moved from my reading from HPFF to FF.net and then to AO3, the number of wlw relationships that appeared in my reading increased. Though they were still mostly background relationships, they were at least treated more seriously than what I was used to.

Little by little, the stories chipped away at my denial. But I still can’t help to think that had Sapkowski been less of a sexist clown, and had two of his powerful women been badass wlw queens who ruled the Lodge of Sorceresses, I could have figured everything out so much easier.

In fact, that sounds like an AU fanfiction someone should write.


Images courtesy of Dimension Films, CD Projekt Red, Dargaud Films, Bounty Books, and Fabrizio Ferri

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