Spoiler alert: Game of Thrones season 1-6, some minor A Song of Ice and Fire descriptions
Jumping off from our last long look at Marg Tyrell, we now turn our attention to the little dove of the north, “Sansa Stark”. If you have not already read Kylie’s and Julia’s piece on the season 6 Winterhell plotline, I suggest you do at some point to fully understand my salt with Sansa’s character and, in turn, her fashion design.
To recap a few key definitions:
- Watsonian analysis: looking at the way a costume functions within the universe; how it is explained in the show, and
- Doylist analysis: looking at the reasons a costume came to be as a form of art created by real people; analyzing and critiquing real-world explanations
Keep in mind, too, that we should always ask if a costume functions how it is supposed to. A beautiful costume that fulfills its purpose survives both Watsonian and Doylist analysis better than one that completely misses the mark. Costuming adds or detracts from the credibility and integrity of the overall work, and whether it adds or detracts depends on if it is believable in the context.
So let’s jump right on in to our next section of A Song of Pins and Needles.
The North is Where Fashion Goes to Die
We start off blundering out of the gate, with “Sansa Stark’s” first few bizarre season one dresses. There isn’t anything worthy of analysis here in and of itself – there are just two points I want to note for future reference.
First, Sansa’s feast dress is episode one is ugly. I mean, what is even happening at the neckline? Someone tied knots in fabric and called it a design. Luckily for us this style quickly disappears and, as far as I can tell, never reappears in the remaining seasons. Thank the gods.
The objective ugliness of this dress makes me think Cersei is pulling a little Regina George on us when she compliments it.
Second, Sansa specifically states that she made this dress herself. She is proud of the fact that she created her own garment, and Cersei even suggests Sansa might make a beautiful dress for her – the queen – one day. It is seeded from the start that Sansa is a talented seamstress and embroiderer. This is part of her identity as a northern lady within the show’s cannon. Put this tidbit in your pocket for later.
The Wedding Dress I Want to Love
The first exquisite costume we get on “Sansa Stark” is her wedding dress when she is married to Tyrion Lannister. Before we get into the disappointing analysis, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fantastic craftsmanship it took to create this gown, including the sewing and embroidery skill.
There is no denying this is an exquisite costume. And it doesn’t suffer from Marg-Went-to-Kleinfeld syndrome – that is, Sansa’s gown fits in the time period. I love this dress, but it would be weird for me to wear it as a bride to a modern wedding.
Overall, I think it is successful at what it’s trying to do. The gown is meant to be a very fancy dress for the wedding of some very important people. It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, it doesn’t break the suspension of disbelief, and the quality is excellent. This is one of my favorite dresses in the series, and when I first put it on the list to analyze, I thought it’d be a rare moment for us to celebrate Clapton & Co.’s design aesthetic.
But like *almost* everything else on this show, even this beautiful design crumbles under mild scrutiny.
Watsonian “In-verse” analysis: What even are feudal houses anyway?
Sansa Stark’s first wedding dress falls short under Watsonian analysis because of its color and embroidery patterns. It is otherwise the right kind of gown – elegant, extravagant, and chronologically appropriate. But coloration and imagery matter in a society governed by the rule of feudal lords with house colors and sigils. We have multiple examples of people referring to each other as their house sigil, including the Lannisters’ constantly referring to themselves as “lions” and the Starks always being called “wolves”. And lest we ever forget the importance of house sigils as vessels for metaphor, season one gives us two scenes that drive the point home. The first is a book scene used to foreshadow events to come.
And the second is a show “original” copy/paste of the book’s metaphor.
The fact is that color and imagery matter in this society because both are part of the larger PR campaign of each house as the people within vie for power. They are like a team color and a team mascot – something simple everyone can rally around and emulate. More importantly, they let everyone know whose team you’re on. Which is why banners are particularly important in battle, which D&D care about profusely.
The function of color and imagery in the Westerosi wedding context is to show a woman passing from her father’s house to her husband’s house, solidifying her future children’s place as part of her husband’s house. In the context of major marriages – where large, powerful houses are marrying each other – the imagery of both houses is equally important to advertise to joining of great wealth. We see this in the show with Margaery, who wears a distinctly Tyrell wedding dress with (sort of) Tyrell colors and Tyrell imagery, with hand-rolled roses all over the gown. The next function is to show the moving of the woman from one house to another. We see this in the show with the “cloaking” ceremony, wherein the husband places his family’s cloak on the wife. This happens once to Sansa (the northern lords also forgot about the cloaking ceremony, YOLO) and once to Margeary. It is the literal covering of the woman in the husband’s colors, showing the lords, ladies, and small folk alike that she is part of a new team.
The struggle with Sansa’s first wedding dress, then, is two-fold: first, she starts off in her husband’s house colors, even though she is part of a major house; and second, there is only one cloak. Granted, that second problem is true in all the marriages we see, but it is particularly present here because of the dress itself.
Sansa Stark should be wearing the Stark house colors and imagery on her wedding day, period. It does not matter that she’s a prisoner of the Lannisters. She is a Stark, and the Lannisters, in fact, want to emphasize her Stark-ness to solidify their hold on the north through this marriage. As everyone says, Sansa is the key to the north. With her married to a Lannister, the Lannisters take over Winterfell and its accompanying wardenship. It is vital that she is known as and believed to be Sansa Stark. She, therefore, should wear her house colors for the wedding.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t a novel idea. The source material provides the exact description and reasoning for a Stark-colored outfit.
“…the gown itself was ivory samite and cloth-of-silver, and lined with silvery satin. The points of the long dagged sleeves almost touched the ground when she lowered her arms… The bodice was slashed in front almost to her belly, the deep vee covered over with a panel of ornate Myrish lace in dove-grey…”
And a bit later, the maiden’s cloak:
“…a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls. A fierce direwolf was embroidered upon it in silver thread. Sansa looked at it with sudden dread. ‘Your father’s colors,’ said Cersei, as they fastened it about her neck with a slender silver chain.” A Storm of Swords
The accompanying issue here is point two: there is only one cloak. The purpose of two cloaks is to drive home the visual to the audience (i.e., the smallfolk and people over whom the powerful marrying couple have power) that the wife’s power is subsumed into the husband’s house. The physical removal of her father’s cloak and replacement with her husband’s cloak symbolizes that transfer of power, which is the whole purpose of a wedding in Westeros.
In Marg’s marriage, while we don’t have two cloaks, we at least get a similar visual because of the colorization: Marg is wearing (sort of) green, and that rose-bedazzled gown is physically covered by the Lannister cloak. Sansa, by contrast, does not give us that visual. Since she already starts out wearing her husband’s colors (gold – and red, if you count her hair), and since she does not have a house Stark cloak, we don’t get the imagery of the Lannisters taking the Stark power for themselves. Without the symbolism for the masses, the entire purpose of the wedding is undercut.
Within the context of show!Westeros, it doesn’t make sense for Sansa to have a wedding dress in her husband’s colors. We know this because of Marg’s dress, which is so thoroughly Tyrell, and even Marg’s second wedding dress which tries to place her as part of the royal family already by being gold. Marg’s position as someone who has a legitimate claim to the queenship based on her marriage to Joffrey was vital to her image and her marriage to Tommen, so it makes sense for her colors to be Baratheon.
The same issues appear with the imagery embroidered onto Sansa’s dress. The embroidery here is amazing, but it is inaccurate. Sansa should be wearing the symbol of her house, just like she should be wearing Stark colors. The embroidery on her dress actually includes the house symbols for the Tullys and the Starks AND the Lannisters! Her bodice is starting to look like Noah’s Ark.
Unfortunately, while this is one of the best quality gowns in the show (that brocade though!), it fails in its basic design. It certainly passes as a wedding dress, but the inconsistency it promotes forces us to continue to the second part of our analysis where we consider the real-life motivations behind the design.
Doylist “real-life” analysis: The Metacademy of the Arts Doesn’t Teach Sigils
Before we continue down the path of perpetual disappointment, we need to take a moment to appreciate the glorious angel who is Michelle Carragher. Much of the fantastic embroidery done on GoT is the product of Michelle Carragher’s incredible talent. If you ever want to experience jaw-dropping beauty somehow crafted from the fingers of a flesh-and-blood human, take a peek at Michelle Carragher’s website and her embroidery achievements. She is an embroidery god among us lowly pretenders, and she does a bang-up job on everything she touches.
It’s not Michelle Carragher’s fault – nor is it Michele Clapton’s – that she must work inside the skewed world created by D&D.
“For Sansa’s wedding dress the designer Michele Clapton wanted to have an embroidered band that wrapped around which symbolistically told Sansa’s life from the Tully and Stark beginnings to the entanglement with the Lannisters,” says Michelle, “The dress colour was still very much Sansa Stark and the embroidery had pale golden tones but woven through the story are ripe red pomegranates, the red colour symbolising the growing Lannister influence over her.” Michelle Carragher
Here, we see the same problem that appeared with Marg’s wardrobe: the meta-seamstresses of Westeros strike again! Based on a previous reader comment, I now assume these are all graduates of the Metacademy of the Arts, located in Volantis on the same campus of the Metacademy of Medicine.
The concept of telling a story through embroidery is cool. There’s an exceptional amount of detail that can go into embroidery that acts like an Easter-egg once the audience realizes it’s there. If done right, this sort of detail adds a lot of depth to the story, and it shows how much the creators care about every little detail. Plot-supportive, detailed but not-so-obvious surprises bolster the credibility of the creators and strengthen the consistency of the story. Consider Nibbler’s shadow in Futurama, or the various prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire.
But here the embroidered story doesn’t make any sense. Who made this dress?? Is there a seamstress in King’s Landing who decided to include an act of resistance in a very important wedding dress, and nobody else noticed? Certainly none of the Lannisters commissioned the piece to have symbols of Tully fish and Stark wolves being eaten by lions. The whole point of a wedding is the legal passing of power through a woman from one house to the next, not to highlight the murders of her family members (especially murders the Lannisters don’t want to take credit for – the Red Wedding was against the gods). Who embroidered this in-verse?
And this embroidery story wouldn’t even be necessary is Sansa just had the cloak of her house. If you want to show a Stark being overtaken by a Lannister, then have a Lannister remove her house cloak and put his in its place! It’s almost like the source material already has a way to deal with this specific dilemma.
This is a cool idea with no backing. Just like Marg’s wedding dress, Sansa’s was almost well-executed but for enough in-verse believability to hold it up. It is symbolism done poorly. Symbolism should not break continuity, and this certainly does. Tywin Lannister would have blown a gasket if he realized the “symbolism” on his son’s wife’s wedding gown.
What could have made all the difference was the color choice. And here, again I wonder if anyone paid any mind to the source material at all. There was no reason for the costume department to stray into gold for this dress – the book clearly puts her in Stark colors, and the wedding dress would have made sense if it was Stark colors. The only explanation I can think of is that Clapton & Co. did not read the description of Sansa’s dress and just made their own how they chose. This becomes a greater likelihood as we see repeated instances of dresses that do not remotely resemble their book counterparts, like Marg’s wedding dress. There’s really no excuse to avoid the source material. They certainly didn’t improve on the design!
And last, there’s no excuse for these mis-matched patterns at the seams.
Before we jump into the Darth Sansa Warlock Costume and drown ourselves in exasperation, let’s take a look at a beautiful and confusing little detail of Sansa’s emo transformation. You may recall Sansa’s dazzlingly beautiful dress she wore to Marg’s wedding.
She attended the Purple Wedding wearing purple (woah!) with little firefly clasps on her dress. As a side note, apparently there’s a whole thing about how Sansa’s jewelry is always fireflies and butterflies and shit, because that’s her spirit animal or something. I couldn’t find any direct quotes from Clapton & Co. on this, so I’m going to pray it’s a fan honeypot and leave it there. For the love of the seven, I hope it’s not something she actually said or intended.
Sansa is whisked away to the Eeyrie in this dress, where she later undergoes her emo evolution. One of her black dresses is this one, which appears in the tavern scene as she travels to Winterfell:
Notice the texture of the fabric, the cut of the bodice, and the firefly pins. You guessed it – this is the exact same dress that Sansa wore to the wedding, only dyed black! I actually don’t hate the idea of Sansa dying an outfit to be able to use it again, and if this were another show with more credibility, I would say this was an good example of a not-so-obvious detail that adds depth and continuity to the story. But this is GoT season five, they’ve lost all benefit of the doubt, and this particular attempt at detail just raises bad questions.
Where did Sansa get enough black dye to re-dye this dress? How multi-functional is this gown? It’s fancy enough for a wedding where she’s sitting at the dais with the king and queen, but also versatile for long-distance travel? Will no one recognize the style of dress, including the fuck-off little dragonfly pins, just because it’s dyed black? I mean, Sansa was literally right in front of a huge crowd of people all day. Also, dying the fabric a new color doesn’t make it less of a fancy fabric – the natural daughter of Petyr Baelish shouldn’t be wearing the same thing as Lady Sansa Stark/Lannister.
In addition to this weird detail, we have Sansa’s not-so-sublte super secret spy outfit. Here she is, not sticking out in a crowd at all:
All the common ladies wear this fashion! Wearing all black is normal for people not in the Night’s Watch! Black isn’t an important color for this socety meant for one specific group of people! EVERYTHING IS FINE DON’T LOOK AT ME.
This is not a spy movie. Wearing black does not make her undercover. Wearing black does make her stand out, since black is significant to this culture because of the Night’s Watch. The super secret spy outfit is not fooling anyone. Though I must say it is impeccably tailored.
Sansa Went to Hot Topic
Let’s get to the point: there is an endless amount of bullshittery about the Darth Sansa costume. I don’t find it worthy of Watsonian analysis because there is literally no way to tease out anything intellectually honest about it. This is a modern dress with modern details, sewn with modern techniques (i.e., machines), that was dropped into a medieval setting with no adequate in-world explanation. Where did Sansa get the fabric? How did she have this idea for a design? Why did she think black was appropriate for her disguise? How did she make the dress in such a short time? What is happening???
On the flip side, D&D and Clapton & Co. have tried to Doyle this shit up since the moment it appeared on screen. Their motives and explanations make no sense. Studying their explanations through the Doylist lens is where all the meaty analysis is here. Let’s start with the big quote from Michele Clapton:
David and Dan came to me with the idea of a transformation for Sansa. They wanted her to be her own woman rather than this victim. […] It’s meant to be as if she is somewhat reborn while mourning for all that she has lost. We know that she has the skill because we have seen her doing needlework from season one, but I liked the idea that she doesn’t want to sew anymore. The metal piece is really a miniature of Arya’s sword, Needle, and the idea is that there’s a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon. I like that she carries it when she descends the stairs, now she’s armed and it’s a link to her family.
It’s so easy to make someone look strong, but if you don’t think about the story, it’s kind of a wasted gesture. She could have probably looked even more amazing if I had put the reasoned arguments of where it could have come from aside, but ultimately, it makes it a stronger look if it’s a more believable transition. – Michele Clapton
Seven save us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Starting from the top, the first issue is that D&D seem to think costume changes signify character growth. We’ve seen that happen a few times in the show – most notably the emerging of Cheryl from the husk of Carol – and it inherently isn’t a bad idea. When people change, the way they express themselves changes, too. I could buy these costume-changes-with-character-growth claims if and only if there was actual character growth that was (1) earned and (2) followed through on. Sansa gets her badass warlock costume because she’s so badass and her badassness is badass, but it’s followed by her stupid forced marriage and contrived sexual abuse. But she’s strong in the real way now because she has a badass costume change? She’s not going to be a victim anymore, right? D&D’s use of costume changes to signify growth is just disingenuous because the script ruins everything.
It should also be noted that this is around the time the Sansa Stark Construct begins to emerge, which has a direct affect on the explanations given by the creators.
The next issue is this concept that Sansa no longer wants to sew. This idea comes out of nowhere and has no Watsonian explanation. Sansa is an extremely talented seamstress! Remember that tidbit I told you to put in your pocket for later? Well pull it out now, and recall that Sansa has been seeded as an excellent seamstress since the very first episode. Sewing is important in this society because you otherwise would not have any clothes. At all. Being able to make your own clothing is a HUGE asset to yourself and your family. As a highborn lady, Sansa needs to not only be able to sew, but also be able to sew really well to make fancy dresses, which is what she is supposed to wear. This sewing dilemma is part of the strife between Sansa and Arya, as Arya does not fit the mold of a highborn lady because she lacks sewing skills.
Since there’s no reason for Sansa to no longer want to sew, there must be some reason the creators would put that motivation in her head. To me, this seems to be part of the misogynistic and toxically masculine pattern of D&D’s storytelling, even when they don’t realize it. Sewing is a woman’s job in Westerosi society. The counterpart job for men is metalwork, like how Gendry is a smith, making armor. If Sansa is going to be Strong in the D&D way – that is, “strong” with toxically masculine traits – she needs to stop sewing and start carrying a weapon. Hence, we have the notion that she no longer participates in a female activity and instead carries a small version of her sister’s sword with her.
What confuses me (besides literally everything about this) is that they missed the opportunity to actually draw a fulfilling comparison between Sansa and Arya and how they navigate the world. Arya’s sword is called “Needle” in direct defiance of Sansa. As Arya says, “Sansa has her needle, now I’ll have my own.” This sets up a perfect opportunity for parallelism in themes, where each sister deals with the same theme (identity) through different means. By dealing with the same issue of their Stark identity in different settings, the reader/audience gets to see the similarities between the characters and how their identities as Starks largely define them, even when they are worlds apart. This in turn plays into broader themes in the story about birth and the feudal system, and the critique of human nature George R.R. Martin creates.
The show, now being ahead in both Sansa’s and Arya’s stories, had the opportunity to call back to that “needle” dichotomy and hit it home for the audience. Sansa should not be abandoning her needle. She should be using it as a weapon, in the same way she uses her courtesy as armor. Sansa can use her ability to sew to dissemble into the crowd and hide herself; she could’ve used her ability to sew to announce herself at the Eyrie as Sansa Stark, coming out to the lords and ladies in a Stark-themed gown. Outfits make statements when the designer knows what she is doing and has the skill, and Sansa certainly is seeded to have the skill. There are hundreds of options for ways Sansa could use her sewing skills to tease out more agency in her situation.
Instead, we get one last weird feather dress and the concept that Sansa no longer will use one of her greatest skills to her advantage. So much for taking control.
Third, what even is this necklace. This looks like a plastic belt buckle. And what even is the explanation of this necklace:
The metal piece is really a miniature of Arya’s sword, Needle, and the idea is that there’s a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon.
What? Is that a full thought? Is that really what we get? It’s her weapon because it’s a miniature of another weapon, and you stitch it through the necklace, so that’s a weapon! This is a professional adult’s explanation. WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE.
I like that she carries it when she descends the stairs, now she’s armed and it’s a link to her family.
You do realize she’s not actually armed. Like, it’s not an actual sword. She’s not even metaphorically “armed” with it. You know what she could be metaphorically “armed” with? Courtesy and a real fucking sewing needle.
The saddest part is the last bit, where Michele Clapton tries so hard to convince me everything was well thought out.
It’s so easy to make someone look strong, but if you don’t think about the story, it’s kind of a wasted gesture. She could have probably looked even more amazing if I had put the reasoned arguments of where it could have come from aside, but ultimately, it makes it a stronger look if it’s a more believable transition.
There’s a few more upsetting quotes from Clapton trying to explain away her shame.
“We’ve always known that Sansa makes her own clothes, so it was a very deliberate decision of hers, to change and say, ‘I’m not going to be pushed around. I’m going to take charge.’”
There’s the unfortunate implication here that being sexy means a woman is “taking charge”. Sansa’s warlock costume is obviously much sexier than she’s ever appeared, and happened just on the cusp of the actor, Sophie Turner, finally being of legal age. The pattern of women using their sexuality as a form of manipulation, and thus a way to take control, on GoT is alarming, discomforting, and sexist. Michele Clapton’s understanding of this costume fits into that pattern.
Clapton drew our attention to Sansa’s necklace, which has a long spike at the end. Because Arya has her Needle, this is Sansa’s Needle. “It’s her chance to take control,” Clapton said. “When she comes down the stairs, she’s playing with it like, ‘This is me, taking control of this situation.’”
Because fondling a miniature “sword” with no power to actually hurt anyone or actually sew is SO powerful and helps her take SO much control.
There’s also the idea that Sansa used raven’s feather on the bodice and shoulders of this dress. See, ravens send messages, and with this dress, Sansa is sending a message to everyone that she a Strong Woman™! It’s really hard to care about these explanations when they’re this stupid. The feathers are ugly. They look sewn on by a machine and they’re still badly sewn on at that.
Even Myranda isn’t convincing when she compliments this dress.
Wedding Number Two: Always a Bride, Never a Bridesmaid (trigger warning)
Bowling ahead deeper into season 5, now in the early throws of the Sansa Stark Construct, we get another bizarre costume choice: the linebacker wedding gown. At this point in the show, the Watsonian analysis is basically impossible. I mean, Sansa is marrying into the family that literally killed her own family, for revenge! I can’t really hold the costume department to a higher standard than the fucking story writers.
But just to give it a brief moment, here are some problems with the Watsonian explanation of this dress. (1) Color – again, should be Stark colors for the same reasons as above. Note that this dress got closer – white is one of the colors – but there is no doubt in my mind that the designers put her in white to emphasize her virginity for a modern audience (since we put brides in white and associate that with virginity). We know this was the reason because Sansa’s virginity is confirmed multiple times before the wedding scene, with the entire point of making her rape all the worse and more dramatically satisfying. (2) Lack of cloak – same as above. (3) Style and cut – this dress doesn’t look like anything else we’ve seen. Sansa doesn’t live in a world where experimenting with fashion is cool. She certainly had no input on her dress for her forced marriage as a prisoner. And Winterfell doesn’t have any internships for students from the Metacademy of the Arts.
Plus it’s not like Sansa needs to be this covered. The north can’t be that cold with Myranda rockin’ her unlaced corset and fingerless gloves in the exact same scene.
So fuck this Watsonian nonsense – I expended all my honeypotting energy trying to figure out why blue was a Dothraki color. The real meat here, if there is any, is found through the Doylist lens.
Doylist: Everything Comes Back to the Rape
There is no question that the primary driving force behind this creation was Sansa’s impending rape by Ramsay. First and foremost, this is the biggest pattern in the season: that the plot bends head-over-heels to put Sansa in that bedroom with Ramsay. Second, every detail of the costume indicates the purpose of its design. The dress is white. It shows her waist, but is covering her whole body. It isn’t sexy. It has delicate feathers on the shoulder. Sansa’s hair is done in a tight up-do. Everything about it screams “virgin” or “virginal”, to remind the audience that Sansa is “pure” through modern color, shape, covering, and detail.
Michele Clapton said some stupid shit about the dress’s shape being a call back to Sansa’s brother’s and father’s clothes, as a way to honor them or something. It’s another statement by her I’d rather ignore. I mean, don’t all highborn ladies want to look like their fathers’ on their wedding day? And those meta-seamstresses are running out of ideas!
This is a poorly designed, poorly thought-out costume with bad implications. It feeds into the rape-as-drama narrative that ruins this season. On top of all that, it’s an ugly dress. I’ll at least give it this – somebody sewed it. Their skills, however unimportant in this horrid design, are genuinely appreciated.
Conclusion: The Future of the Sansa Stark Construct
I’m not including analysis of the Sansa Stark Construct’s season 6 outfits because (1) I think they will be better analyzed along with her season 7 costumes and (2) none of them are particularly remarkable. We do know that Sansa’a ugly needle necklace is coming back in season 7, and I’m sure I”ll have more to say on the matter at that point.
It should be noted that, as Sansa’s personality shifts through seasons five and six, her fashion senses change. She even decides to go back to sewing once she’s at the wall, and she sews at the speed of light! But it’s not surprising, really – I mean, she’s no longer wearing her warlock costume, so now she’s grown as a character back into her previous sewing ways? Because costume changes show character growth? Seeing as the Sansa Stark Construct goes through multiple character changes scene by scene, she is going to become increasingly difficult to dress.
Michele Clapton is back from her brief season 6 hiatus, and D&D consistently give us dramatically satisfying gold, so I expect the costumes to continue on in their predictably disappointing pattern (no pun intended).
Next on A Song of Pins and Needles will be a close look at Cersei Lannister.
Images courtesy of HBO.
Are We Ready to Admit that Thor: Ragnarok was a Hot Mess?
I didn’t watch Thor: Ragnarok in theaters. Actually, I hadn’t seen anything post-Ultron and was fine being free of the MCU for a few years. Then Black Panther came along and I found it so compelling that it washed away any Marvel fatigue I had been feeling. When the opportunity arose to watch the third Thor movie on an airplane, I hit the play button with genuine excitement.
Going into this, I had heard almost all positive things. I knew there were some similarities to Black Panther in the central themes, I knew Jeremiah gave it a glowing review, and I knew it was supposed to be exceedingly funny.
I was also no stranger to the Thor standalones. I felt his introductory movie was a bit silly, but did what it could with a superhero that well…lends himself to silliness. It’s a Norse god in a contemporary setting, after all. The result was a slightly boisterous fish-out-of-water tale with compact development and a pretty solid foundation on which we could understand his character. Thor 2: Dark World was absolutely odious as an artform, but I loved it anyway, much for the same reason Attack of the Clones is my favorite prequel. It was ironic enjoyment, but if you can’t be enthused by Natalie Portman running around in squeaky rainboots with her Science Machine™, then I can’t help you. Plus, it was Thorested Development.
Was I expecting some gaps in my knowledge given me sleeping on Civil Wars? Yes. Granted, those same gaps existed for Black Panther, and shockingly I was still able to fully understand his father’s death, as well as what Agent Ross meant to T’Challa and what their relationship was like. But I promise, I turned on Thor 3 with all the right intentions, and what I consider to be fairly measured expectations.
I turned it off wondering if I had a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of a movie.
Two Plots, No Payoff
If I had watched Thor: Ragnarok on VHS in the 90s, I probably would have begun to wonder if someone taped over the entire middle portion with a completely different Thor film. Because it’s not just that there were two major plot threads, it’s that there were two different tones. Hell, there were almost two different genres when you get down to it.
The first is what I have to assume is the “main plot,” since it’s what the movie sets up in the first acts, and closes in the third. This is the story about Asgard’s legacy and reckoning against the threat of Hela, the Goddess of Death.
Thor is told by some demon guy that his dad isn’t at home anymore, so he goes back to Asgard find Loki pretending to be Odin. Then a random wizard tells them both that their dad is in Norway (yes, I know it’s Doctor Strange, but I’m talking about this movie on its own merits). They go there, but Odin is all sad and about to die, which means that his true heir—his firstborn daughter Hela—will escape from the prison he set up for her. You see, she’s the Goddess of Death and had been the leader of Asgard’s armies for Odin when he apparently conquered the Nine Realms, but she became too ambitious for his taste. What, a tenth was a bridge too far for Daddy Imperialist?
Whatever, he dies.
Thor and Loki go to confront the now-released Hela, she breaks Thor’s hammer, they get chased off, she takes over Asgard with the intention of more conquering, most people think she sucks so she raises dead zombies and a giant wolf to fight for her instead, and then Thor and some random friends come back to fight her again. He realizes he can only save his people, but he can’t save Asgard itself from Hela since she’s too powerful. He evacuates everyone, mainly with Heimdall and Loki’s help. Hela stabs Thor’s eye out and Thor levels up his lightning powers, but it’s still not enough to do anything about her, so he summons that demon guy from the beginning to have him destroy Hela…and all of Asgard. But it’s fine; he’s the King because Asgard is a people and not a place. Odin even pops in a vision at some point to tell him that.
This is a fine story. There’s things in it that could be explored, especially Thor reconciling with Odin’s savage, imperialistic legacy. It’s a bit hamstrung by Odin himself pooping out of the narrative entirely after dropping the plot bomb into Thor’s lap (seriously, am I alone in thinking this is one of the least effective death scenes in movie history? Certainly in MCU history?), and it’s a bit formulaic in the sense that the “bad guy” is more the concept of implacable evil.
I personally struggle with the messaging and execution of it. It’s not that coming to terms with the fallibility of your Kingly father and his decisions made while ruling your country is a weak narrative choice. That, you know, was the entirety of Black Panther, and what made it significant was the way in which T’Challa defined his duty on the throne in a way that made sense for himself and the changed context of the world. It was a meaningful shedding of idealization while coming into his own as a ruler.
This movie should have been that for Thor, but his realization about “Asgard is a people” was just sort of beamed into his head by Odin. Literally, Hela was choking him out, and he flashes to a vision of Odin telling him what to think of Asgard as well as his own powers.
Then, what does that say if it’s Odin’s words Thor’s living by? That he does still respect this guy and want to follow in his footsteps, despite learning that he was a literal conqueror? That even asshole imperialists can have some good points? (Why does this keep happening?) Or was that Odin coming to the realization when he came to Thor, and he had reached this epiphany off-screen in the afterlife? It was like, “Oh hey I didn’t need to do all that conquering, because my duty was to my people and not the glory of this place.”
It didn’t even seem like Thor came to the conclusion that destroying physical Asgard was a necessary thing given the place’s legacy and bloody history—just given the situation and how there was some lady with a dead army they couldn’t beat. It was a decision made in the heat of battle when the day was lost, but now he’s got his eyepatch and his people and a spaceship, so he’s ready to fill Odin’s shoes. You know…the shoes that we learned shouldn’t have been worn in the first place. Because imperialism.
Also the requisite, “crazy over-ambitious woman couldn’t listen to her father when to chill with all the killing” complaint. Cate Blanchett saves it a little, but it’s there.
So yes, for all the weighty subjects floated in this plotline, none of them were actually given significant narrative weight, or exploration, or anything really. I suppose Hela’s claim to the throne and history with Asgard made her more of a meaningful threat; she was a monster of Asgard’s making, not to yet again call back to the film that pulled off all these concepts with actual dexterity and significance. But even with that, she was just evil. She didn’t have any nuanced points, or any compelling reason for anyone to follow her. Just that Odin had once been cool with her, but that stopped.
There was also nothing remotely familial or personal about her dynamic with Thor or Loki since she didn’t actually know them or seem to care about their general existence, and her abilities were never well-conveyed to even give the fight might grounding. We may as well have had Mjolnir shooting through multiple portals again.
That’s not to say these things couldn’t have been done or executed well. This was a long movie and whole lot of time to flesh out Hela’s relationship to our protagonist, or Thor’s relationship to his conception of governance and his home, or the Asgardian commoner point of view, or even to seed the demon guy that eventually brought the cataclysm just a wee bit better than the opening joke did.
It’s just that instead, the movie spent the bulk of its time seemingly uninterested in the main plot. Because there was ~junk planet antics~ to be had.
And yup, there’s plotline #2: Thor is in yet another wacky weekend adventure that he has to get out of! Which I don’t hate as a concept. I will happily pop some corn kernels and plop down with either of the Thor standalones, because they’re somewhat doofy fun. Just don’t stick me in the middle of this thing after setting up something rather serious and weighty. (And maybe don’t set up that serious, weighty thing by having a wizard warp two main characters to Norway.)
As a brief, brief summary, after Hela throws Thor and Loki out of Asgard, he finds himself alone on a junk planet called Sakaar. He’s captured by some lush played by Tessa Thompson who just so happens to be a former Valkyrie, a member of an Asgardian all-female elite warrior group that had fought Hela before her imprisonment. She sells him to Jeff Goldblum, who rules (?) Sakaar. So Thor is enslaved, literally has a controlling device thing in his neck, and is forced to fight in a gladiator ring. The ultimate Sakaar champion he goes up against is…the Hulk, who has somewhat-permanently hulked out. They fight and Jeff Goldblum cheats to let the Hulk win, which isn’t really worth talking about, though it takes up about ten minutes of screentime so it must be important to someone. Oh, and Loki’s there and Jeff Goldblum’s friend because it’s working to his favor at the moment.
After the fight, Thor quasi-escapes to the ship the Hulk arrived on, there’s some recording of Natasha on it that de-Hulks Bruce Banner. At some point Loki forces Valkyrie to see a vision of her past trauma (her fellow soldiers dying to Hela) so she decides she wants to help Thor get back to Asgard, and then everyone escapes Sakaar by inciting a slave uprising and stealing one of Jeff Goldblum’s ships.
I have spent longer than I care to admit trying to figure out how this possibly relates to the rest of the movie. And I should note, Sakaar takes up well over half the runtime, so it’s not like it can be dismissed as this ancillary plot cul de sac necessity to get Thor and Bruce to run into one another. Like, this had to have meant something, right? Was Jeff Goldblum meant to be contrasted with Odin? Was this system of injustice that Thor witnessed supposed to be the reason why he summoned the destruction of Asgard in the end, and the writers simply never felt the need to explicate this in any way?
I can’t get there. Even the very minor twist of “Loki almost betrayed Thor at the end of the Sakaar sequence, but then comes back and saves Asgard” did not need to be rooted in this setting, nor was it even particularly necessary to the overall story or relationship of the brothers. Thor caught onto Loki at the beginning of the movie when he called him out as fake!Odin—we can see he already learned from Dark World. Loki is the God of Mischief, but that doesn’t mean his usage should be God of False Narrative Conflict In A Desperate Attempt To Inject Last Minute Tension. Because that’s a mouth full.
Maybe it’s my own problem that I was waiting to get back to the plot of the movie during every Sakaar scene instead of realizing this is the plot now. It’s just that normally when movies have a lengthy and pointless side-mission, especially one that cannibalizes this percentage of the runtime, they’re not viewed particularly favorably.
But hey, at least Thor wasn’t learning about systemic injustice and the strength of compassion on a casino planet that tied immaculately into the thematic thrust; that would have ruined everything.
Character Arrested Development
I couldn’t help myself with The Last Jedi fandom dialogue shade. But I do think that’s actually somewhat relevant here. Because I don’t really care that ~not enough happened~ overall or that Finn and Rose had a “pointless” (it was really more fruitless, and that was the point) side-mission. What I cared about was that what happened on our screen worked together towards a meaning, and that characters grew as a result of them. The Last Jedi may not have thought through implications perfectly, or executed things in as refreshing or satisfying a way as possible, but it’s exceedingly hard to argue anything was ancillary given how every single damned character had pretty tight and clear growth.
Thor: Ragnarok had barely anything.
If I could be really generous with Thor himself, he accepted the leadership of Asgard in a way he rejected it from the first movie. But also, his dad’s dead, so necessity makes for strange kings, you know? There’s also nothing that occurs within this movie that particularly leads to him wanting to take on that mantle. At best, it’s that he learns his power isn’t derived from his hammer, but controlled through it, though he learns that through Divine Daddy Almost-Death Vision. So he kind of starts off thinking he’s this awesome lightning god, and ends the movie thinking the same thing, but for slightly different reasons and with means that might look different in a fight.
There’s also Thor abandoning Asgard, but nothing to indicate it has anything to do with him being upset about Odin’s imperialist rule. If that was meant to be the framing, there’s just nothing that occurs onscreen to back it up. Loki complains that Hela is growing stronger every minute she’s in Asgard and Thor repeats Divine Daddy Vision point #2 as justification. Hell, when Hela and Thor meet for their final fight, Thor quotes Odin while sitting on his throne.
It should be noted that Divine Daddy Vision was the final push Thor needs to overcome the antagonist.
Odin (still in Norway, or King’s Cross Station, or something): Asgard is not a place. Never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand. Even now, right now, those people need your help.
Thor: I’m not as strong as you.
Odin: No… You’re stronger.
Does Thor seem like someone who’s having trouble reconciling his father’s legacy, or is it someone who’s still taking advice from the guy, but oh yeah that murdery spree he went on a while ago was unfortunate? And again, what Thor says about Asgard’s destruction has diddly squat to do with its legacy:
“Surtur destroys Asgard, he destroys Hela, so that our people may live. But we need to let him finish the job…”
I had to look up what the prophecy specifically was, since it was told to us by Surtur (the demon) in a very jokey early sequence that Thor didn’t even bother taking seriously, so why were we supposed to have? It’s just that Surtur will lay waste to Thor’s home. No motivation or anything.
My point is, Thor doesn’t really come to any realization about himself, or Asgard, or even Odin. He learns things, he likes Odin’s pithy governance lesson, but he doesn’t contextualize anything for himself or really grow because of it. He just figures out battle odds and gets a haircut. That’s his arc.
There’s the vague character growth that Thor doesn’t let Loki trick him again, again, again, so I can give him that. I don’t believe this is the context it needed to happen in, or that Thor’s way of exposing Loki at the start would have been too little to that thread, but okay. That continued.
Meanwhile, Loki has absolutely become the Game of Thrones Littlefinger of this universe. He instills chaos in his own plans for chaos’s sake (that is his thing), and how convenient that it lines up to plot demands. Thor kind of calls out this character stagnation to him, ironically ignoring his own:
“Oh, dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me. Round and round in circles we go. See, Loki, life is about… It’s about growth. It’s about change. But you seem to just wanna stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more.”
So I guess it’s a sign of growth that Loki does go back and try to save Asgard with Thor. Even in the very end, Thor mentions how he believes Loki’s presence to be a trick, but Loki is actually there, physically. Maybe he’s…“not so bad.”
It’s just, this guy’s scripting has been all over the place, and there’s no particular reason to believe his decision is the sign of any lasting change. He teamed up with the prisoners to get out of Sakaar in what’s most easily read as self-preservation, and even when he returned to Asgard, he was calling himself the “savior” and trying to milk his contribution. Maybe, just maybe Loki grew in this movie for the sole reason that he got sad when Thor called him the “God of Mischief.” Because that’s all that would have spurred this. Not the stakes of the situation, not Loki’s own guilt over Odin’s death, and not even Loki wishing he could rectify his poor public image on Asgard. Just, his brother is very disappointed in him.
Yeah, that could be an arc. Though I can’t call it one that’s particularly well-done.
The one that is executed best is probably Valkyrie’s. She’s hiding from her past, clearly both traumatized and guilty over how the fight with Hela turned out. It’s strongly implied someone took a mortal wound for her (no clue how she got away herself), and she’s now got this despicable job where she’s miserable and drinking herself into a stupor. Thor himself showing up clearly affects her and makes her squirm, but it’s not until Loki forces her to relive that trauma that she has a full change of heart.
“Look, I’ve spent years in a haze, trying to forget my past. Sakaar seemed like the best place to drink and forget, and to die one day.
…But I don’t wanna forget. I can’t turn away anymore, so if I’m gonna die, well, it may as well be driving my sword through the heart of that murderous hag.”
This tracks just fine. Loki’s memory home video powers are convenient, but definitely within the framework, and it makes sense that thinking back to that could instill some sense of duty, or passion in her, especially given that Thor is literally trying to get back to Asgard to save it.
The only issue with this is that it’s completely disconnected from the thematic thrust. This was actually pointed out to me as an anonymous message on social media (I may have been ranting), but doesn’t her arc do the opposite of what this movie purports to do with Asgard and its legacy? She’s been a slaver for years, which isn’t even given the space to be hand-waved—it’s just not addressed. Then she gets all back in touch with being a Valkyrie, and re-donning that great Asgardian armor, and having a resurgence of love for her home where she can talk about how much she hates the prophecy about its destruction and everything.
This is fine in its own right, but didn’t we just find out Asgard has been an imperialist superpower? It’s good that someone with clear PTSD is trying to sort through her trauma and reclaim a sense of identity that she’s tried to dismiss for years, but it simply doesn’t fit with what we learned about Odin, which is what calls forth this entire conflict. If it were some more abstract external threat to Asgard, then sure a kind of “I’ll fight until it’s rubble” attitude would have some impact. But Asgard was built on a whole lot of blood and Odin was an active revisionist who covered up artwork depicting that. It’s an odd choice for her, let’s just leave it at that.
I’m trying to think if anyone else grew through the course of this movie. Heimdall stays as prescient and morally upright as ever. Bruce Banner gets de-Hulked, which is important to the MCU I’m sure, but it’s via a recording of someone not in this film, based on a relationship not in this film, so it’s kind of hard to argue there’s an arc here. It’s more that we learn how the Hulk is comfortable spending his free time. And truthfully without having seen Civil War, I can’t tell you whether his sacrificing of Banner to free the Hulk at the end was character growth, or just situational necessity again.
I guess Skurge has a character arc. He goes from being self-preservationist to finally hitting a breaking point with Hela and sacrificing himself for Asgard. Frankly he’s a delight any time he’s on the screen, so even though it’s admittedly thin and formulaic, I’ll give that all the points.
Really, what my main issue comes down to is that it’s blindingly obvious what character these stakes should have instilled growth in, and that’s Odin. Except he’s dead, so he never has to reconcile with anything. Hela has no relationship to Thor or Loki (she doesn’t even know about them), but she does to Odin, and frankly as the dude that imprisoned her, he’s kind of the one that should be going face-to-face in some capacity. What makes a family drama compelling is the fact that the family has a history together, after all.
Now, in Black Panther it was T’Chaka’s crappy decision that sort of “created” Killmonger, a decision that T’Challa hates and feels is wrong at his core, and cannot rest until it is righted. So it was the protagonist’s father’s actions that created the situation with a family member he didn’t know at all. It worked in that movie, so why not here?
Well, probably because Thor didn’t really react to learning that Odin had conquered the other realms. So it just made an already emptyish dynamic between Hela and Thor feel even weaker, since the one thin thread that connected them—Odin and their feelings about him—were only half-explored. Hela felt rejected by Odin and pissed off about that, while Thor felt…not as powerful as him? Happy to quote him?
Maybe I’d have fewer issues if Odin hadn’t just been like, “I’m in Norway now, so that means I’m dying. Bye and have fun with your sister you never knew about!” It’s just that his death was so unceremonious, that the mess of his damn making felt out of the blue and sort of incidental. Then, we cut back and forth from the Goddess of Death taking over Asgard to Thor trying to ignore how big the Hulk’s penis is. Seriously.
And that brings us to our final problem.
That’s not how jokes work
Humor is subjective. Napoleon Dynamite is so hideously unfunny to me that it used to make me angry.
I will say right now that I don’t know if it was the plane flight, I don’t know if it was my mood, or I don’t know if it’s the underlying type of comedy here, but I did not once crack a smile at Jeff Goldblum in this movie. I’ve liked him as a comedian before, and I’m sure I will again. I did not like him here.
I also did not enjoy Valkyrie’s played-for-laughs alcoholism. That trope is pretty grating to me at this point, and even though they kind of painted it as tragic, they also…didn’t. She was quirky and fun because she could down a bottle before Thor finished talking, and when Thor actually suggested drinking heavily might be bad for her, we were supposed to laugh at her telling him she wasn’t going to stop. It’s nothing against Tessa Thompson’s performance, who frankly stole every scene she was in. But that’s just how I reacted to the character.
I did massively like Taika Waititi as Korg, Karl Urban’s Skurge was wonderful (especially opposite to Kate Blanchett chewing the scenery), and there were times that Thor and the Hulk’s back and forths were amusing. So it’s not like I found nothing funny here. But to be sure, a lot of the comedic thrust didn’t land for me, and if it had, maybe I’d have a very different reaction to this film.
That said, the humor of this movie is really the best praise I hear about it. I’m just not entirely sure why that’s a good thing. I’m all for a boisterous, fun Thor romp, but if that’s what this was supposed to be, then why the hell even introduce Odin’s imperialism in it? Why have Thor’s best friends murdered here?
Levity can be powerful in dramas. There were jokes in Black Panther, not to beat this already dead horse, but it didn’t make for a full tonal clash. When M’Baku said his people are vegetarian, it was a great way to cut the tension of the moment and further characterize him. However, we never cut back and forth from Killmonger murdering Andy Serkis to T’Challa doing something ~wacky~. The more jovial scenes, like Shuri’s lab, were before the plot really picked up, and the humor that took place during serious scenes (the car chase, for instance) was sparing.
The stakes of Thor: Ragnarok are literally the destruction of the world. And also the destruction of Asgard’s connection to the other realms. The central conflict is born out of an imperfect, revisionist colonist ruler who is the protagonist’s dad. How are we supposed to be treating this with any kind of seriousness when the own narrative can’t even manage to give as much focus on Asgardians fleeing to their Helm’s Deep as it does to Thor’s haircut?
All the humor (or attempted humor in my case) managed to do was heavily undercut the dramatic tension. Even if I had been in stitches during Sakaar, it wouldn’t have helped me get more engaged with the central conflict. It just might have made my flight go faster. And if the central conflict was not as interesting to the writers as the jokes, then fine, maybe this isn’t the movie for that. But for god’s sake, don’t float that giant imperialism matzo ball if you’re not going to be able to actually do anything with it. Was it just there for color? Odin’s not perfect, ya know…now here’s the Hulk!
Stuff Happens, Don’t Question It!
It’s no secret if you’ve read any of my previous articles that I’m not the best at enjoying fun, colorful action sequences for the sake of fun, colorful action sequences. That is, unless I know it is pure silliness, like with Thor: Dark World. It’s ironic enjoyment, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If I had gone in with that attitude for Thor: Ragnarok, I think I would have liked the ride.
But frankly, that’s not the attitude anyone seems to be holding about this movie. Maybe it was the counterweight to Civil War that the MCU needed, maybe if I had watched it before Black Panther I’d have a more favorable view…maybe it’s that elevated an experience in theaters. For me, I can only see two half-completed scripts stitched together, resulting in a whole that’s weaker than the sum of its parts. It’s fine to celebrate it as a joyous romp for those that felt joy and romped, but I can’t call it a good movie. A good viewing experience maybe, but not a good narrative.
In other words, it’s a Thor movie. Wow. I guess maybe my expectations had been too high.
Images courtesy of Marvel
Fandom Meme Disease, and What Should We Do With It?
A fandom meme disease is this thing that happens when creators absorb fandom-born memes and integrate them into their work.
(And so, first things first: sorry that for the duration of this article I’ll use “meme” as if this were a legit term. It is controversial to say the least, but it is shorter to say “meme” than “any idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.)
I’m not implying that the creators who do this are somehow bad, or that fandom is somehow bad. Moreover, I don’t believe that fandom-creator interaction is bad. What is bad, then? Let me explain how I see it.
Fandom Meme Creation
Any given fandom is, in my opinion, born when some people contact any given media and start using it as a source of inspiration. Not just a purely artistic inspiration; people may be inspired to write meta-analysis, or to engage in discussions, or to wage a flame war against opponents. All this is normal human reaction on something inspirational. Even flame wars are somewhat natural (still wicked, though; human nature can be wicked, too).
And while acting on their inspiration, people deconstruct the original source and use its metaphorical bricks to build their own work, be it a meta, a fic or an art. The result may be perfectly in line with the original, but usually it is not. It resembles the original, that’s true—but as it went through processing in one’s creative imagination it came out a bit different. Thus, fandom meme is born.
There are millions of those floating on the Internet’s vast expanses. Some of them are soon forgotten even by those who first gave life to them. Some are more resilient than others, so they spread and multiply their kind. Those memes become known as fanon. Other fandom memes stay in this gray area between a headcanon and “this weird idea I share with some friends”. Still, all those are memes.
But I digress.
How The Internet Changed Things
And all this is actually great. But any great thing has a flip side.
In this case, it is this little fact that on average, an interested person is much more exposed to fandom memes than to canon memes. Because the original version is a meme, too—but a meme that is spread and multiplied on much lower rate than fandom memes are. And the thing with memes is, more exposure usually means more absorption.
The sad truth is, creators are interested persons, too.
When Creators Absorb Fandom Memes
Basically what happens is, being constantly exposed to very bustling fandom life, the creators not only have an influence on it, but are influenced by it. This influence may be different.
While there are certainly those who treat fandom memes as a discussion point only, they are not the only ones. Some creators consciously decide to follow a fanon as a means of pandering to their fandom. Other creators use their work to basically say “your fanon is wrong, don’t follow it”. And then there are some creators who genuinely absorb the meme and spread it in good faith. The latter thing is especially typical for multi-author franchises.
Thus it happens that when a next installment is out, it suffers from fandom meme disease.
What Is Not a Fandom Meme Disease?
- Flanderization. It shares one notable similarity with fandom meme disease—namely the fact that a character or event becomes increasingly simplified and defined by their/its most obvious trait, and it happens as the franchise or series progresses. But the difference is that the fandom has no part in this creative decision, just some lazy writing. FMD is not a sign of deterioration—it can happen with something that is otherwise pretty good and very much alive and thriving—while Flanderization is usually a red flag signalling that this media is dying.
- Retcon. It is, again, very similar to FMD in effect (something or someone is no more the one it once was) and timing (also occurs with some new installment), but the key difference is, retcon acknowledges that something has in fact changed, it just asks us to pretend it hasn’t. FMD doesn’t acknowledge any change and acts as if things were always this way.
- Any other case of real or perceived OOC. It can be a case of fandom meme disease only if the sudden shift in the original is consistent with the fanon or directly opposes it, but contradicts the earlier version.
Yeah. I really hate what the otherwise pretty good Legend of Korra did with Katara. A decent half of her personality suddenly disappeared in the thin air, leaving us with the fanon Mommy Healer Katara whose only life goal is to care for her child-husband Aang and bear children for him. Sure, that was a widespread enough idea (and pretty sexist, too), but did the creators forget that they themselves wrote her as very proactive and never content with staying away from action?
I had a tough time picking a poster person for the very…peculiar way in which Game of Thrones treats George R. R. Martin’s characters. The problem is, only some of them suffer from FMD; others are rewritten to fit into D&D’s own narrative.
The thing with Arya (and Sansa; and Sandor) is that sometimes it is not hard to point directly towards those fan discussions that were a basis for the creative decisions turning the original character into something very, very different.
If I could pick an event to illustrate the FMD…Game of Thrones would never disappoint! Do you remember that Robert’s Rebellion was built on lies? That’s the most blatant case of FMD I’ve ever met. It is ripped from fanfiction and wishful-thinking style metas and even the idea that Robert’s Rebellion is all about Rhaegar and Lyanna is pure fandom meme!
See, this one is tricky. FMD mostly tortured Vader back in the old EU, but I think Kieron Gillen’s comics are not free from its fair share of Over Powerful Unstoppable Cool Awesome Guy Vader We All Adore. He has his good moments when he actually catches the other part of being a Sith, but mostly it is right here. This Vader is really cool, he is fun to watch, he is wisecracking, he is never truly challenged and never has to doubt himself. He beat the ancient dark Jedi without breaking a sweat, for good’s sake. That’s really too much.
The ultimate Manly Man of the franchise—though of course Rogue One gave us an even more blatant example of purest fanon possible on big screen.
And There Are More
I didn’t want to use Hermione Granger from Cursed Child because it may cause misunderstanding, but what about the movies? What about Princess Leia and her sorry fate throughout the old EU? What about loads of characters I don’t know, but you certainly do?
And what about sexism that is suspiciously ever present in any case of fandom meme disease?
Girls and women are pigeonholed by their tomboyish/feminine attitude, with tomboys stripped off all feminine traits, while girly girls devoid of all courage, right to be angry and right to be rational, as those things are associated with masculinity.
All the while “cool” male characters are carefully stripped off any sign of human nature, emotion or just simply weakness. Tell me it happens by pure chance.
So… What Can We Do?
We can talk about it. Raise awareness. Point out the bad tendency of sexist fanons to creep on big screen and on book and comic book pages.
If this exists, it can be beaten, after all.
Images courtesy of HBO, Viacom, Disney
Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.
However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”
Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.
Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.
The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.
In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.
The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.
Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.
We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.
Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.
Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.
Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster. Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.
The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.
I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.
And By Sea
There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.
For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.
The Hunt Goes On…
So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!