Content Warning: This article discusses verbal abuse, sexual slavery, and rape as depicted on Game of Thrones.
After torturing myself with a rewatch of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, (hey it’s okay to hate watch!), I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of ‘adaptation’. While I think we can all safely say that the show has moved so far off from its source material that ‘adaptation’ might not be the right word anymore, the process of adapting is still one of the greatest means of critiquing our media today. It gives us a grander view behind the curtain at all the cogs and machinery that go into the choices the creators make. On an original show, one doesn’t have the privilege of comparison. Filmmaker’s intention and the implications of the material can be more difficult to pin down without a source material to compare it to.
With Game of Thrones (“Thrones” from here on out) we have the ability to see when changes or omissions were made, what they entail, and thus what they mean. It’s the widest view into creator intention that could possibly exist, and it’s what makes Thrones criticism some of the strongest and most comprehensible criticisms of part of the art that doesn’t always resemble the finished product: the development.
Creators, when adapting already written material, make a choice when they cut something or change something. Whether that choice means they didn’t think something was important, they didn’t think it was good enough, or they thought they had something better to service the story, it all leads back to initial developmental decisions that reflect on the creators.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have made all kinds of choices when adapting George R.R. Martin’s high fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. From the smallest changes that might have you asking as a book reader “Are they doing this just to spite me?” to glaring changes and omissions that say a lot more. One of the most personally frustrating parts of the show and its current place in pop culture is its depiction of sexuality, which is what I want to address today.
After Yara’s latest hitch as a swashbuckling rapist lesbian this past season and the treatment of Loras Tyrell, it’s clear that the sexuality spectrum has never been their strong suit. And let’s not forget Oberyn “I have to grab every ass in the room to prove to you I’m bisexual” Martell. However, in the books, there’s more fluidity. There’s more truth. That’s not to say that A Song of Ice and Fire is a beacon of light for LGBT+ representation in fantasy literature, but it’s leaps and bounds above its television adaptation. Suffice to say, the final result doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the movers behind the cogs.
For starters, the primary characters that the show has chosen to depict that are within the LGBT+ community are limited to the three mentioned above. None are depicted in well-rounded or positive ways in the adaptation. One was reduced to their sexuality and their sexuality alone, losing any and all characterization (Loras). Another become no more than the caricature of their sexuality that they were intentionally putting out as a front (Oberyn). The third was reduced to representing a letter in the acronym to check off a quota and, in doing so, became representative of the toxic masculinity that is so often forced upon the community by people who have never navigated it (Yara).
Sexuality is important and it’s a topic that Thrones, which claims to be a progressive force of fiction, continually fails to handle well. Loras’ character has been reduced to his sexuality ever since Renly’s death on the show. After being reduced to one part of his identity, he is then condemned for it, confesses to having sinned, and is mutilated as punishment all before he gets blown up with a mass of people at Kings Landing.
In the books, Loras is a knight. He’s proud, dashing, a great warrior, short-tempered, headstrong, and very much resembles a younger Jaime Lannister. They’re fascinating foils for each other in the books. Loras’ attempts to balance his journey as a knight and member of the Kingsguard with his love for Renly, a love that lasts more than a scene or two in the books in terms of grief, shows Jaime who he was and who he could be. Loras, Jaime laments, is stubborn and a little vain, but he is truthful. He is worthy of the title of knight and because of the heart, honor, and pride that guide him, he will most likely end up on the great pages of the White Book. He will thus secure his place in noble Westerosi history, a place that Jaime is trying to rewrite for himself.
“He is proud and reckless and full of piss, but he is not false. Not yet.” – A Storm of Swords, Jaime VIII
Moreover, Loras Tyrell’s love for Renly runs strong and true, so much so that he says, “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” In the show, they focus on his sexuality more than any other characteristic. He sleeps around after Renly’s death (there are jokes about him sleeping with every stable boy in King’s Landing), which perpetuates the stereotype that gay people are more promiscuous. In the books, Loras has this beautiful arc about coming to terms with Renly’s death that runs parallel to his virtuosity as the ideal picturesque vision of knighthood. All of that nuance is lost on the show.
Oberyn’s sexuality on the show is essentially as heavy handed and offensive as Loras’. The writing of Oberyn evinces the horrible trope where bisexuals are hyper-sexualized. In order to prove to the audience that they are bisexual, writers feel the need to depict them in bed with both sexes repeatedly. It’s why Benioff and Weiss set practically all of Oberyn’s scenes in a brothel. Such damaging stereotypes about bisexuality, as well as the oversexualized POC imagery they are pushing, are all fronts Oberyn puts on for the people at Kings Landing to shock them. However, Benioff and Weiss took this act seriously (probably because they didn’t end up adapting the POV character that breaks the racist caricatures of Dorne) and in doing so, made his sexuality the punchline, just as Loras’ was.
In the books, when Oberyn comes to Kings Landing, he puts on the facade of being the racist Dornish stereotype everyone thinks him to be. He flaunts his sexuality and progressiveness in front of them all because he wants to make them uncomfortable and knows that it will. However, the stereotype Oberyn perpetuated to disquiet everyone with his presence was quickly broken down by the narrative. The Dornish no longer seemed a stereotype once we heard his deeper conversations with Tyrion. Even less so once we got Dornish perspectives in the story.
Yara, however, is probably the most offensive of all and so incredibly frustrating. In a perfect world, the possibility of a character that I am emboldened by as much as I am by her book counterpart being apart of the community I identify with would be a jump for joy moment. Instead, it was a disastrous series of events as the writers took Yara’s book counterpart and made her revolting rather than empowering.
My immediate emotional reaction to the Volantis brothel scene in Season 6 was revulsion. I sat there dumbstruck at how they could have made this scene even worse than I could have possibly imagined it after the release of the trailer. I could not understand how people online were shouting happily about the fact that Yara was a lesbian and how great of a piece of representation what they just saw on their screen was. It took me a moment, because of this disparity of opinions, to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t exaggerating. I realized that people are so starved for any form of representation on screen that validates their identity that even the most disgusting, problematic portrayal seems like a victory.
Moreover, the primary dialogue around the show seems afraid to actually critique its flaws, so I questioned whether or not I was making something bigger than it actually was. I wondered if my read on the situation was plagued by bias and assumption that the creators and writers meant something more sinister than they actually did. However, once I watched the “Inside the Episode” and deconstructed the choices they made, it was clear that the implications didn’t happen by accident.
One of the biggest problems I have with the show in general is framing, which brings me to the age old battle of depiction versus endorsement. You’re allowed to depict something horrible, as long as the lens through which you tell your story doesn’t endorse it. Context must clearly communicate the act as horrible. With Yara, while it would still be disgusting character assassination and bad representation, if they at least framed her actions as negative, I would have been more comfortable with watching it play out on my screen. If Yara’s verbal abuse of an already abused victim and rape of a sex slave was looked at through a lens indicating that what she is doing isn’t right and highlighting her wrongdoings, then it wouldn’t be as problematic. Instead, her actions were framed as positive.
This Yara is saturated with toxic masculinity. The reaction Yara has to seeing her brother again this season has been incredibly jarring, disturbing, and virulent. Her relationship with Theon was previously established on the show as one of love and care, so much so that she was willing to shake all responsibilities and the will of Balon to attempt a rescue.
“I’m going to pick the fastest ship in our fleet. I’m going to choose the fifty best killers on the Iron Islands. I’m going to sail up the Narrow Sea, all the way to the Weeping Water. I’m going to march on the Dreadfort. I’m going to find my little brother. And I’m going to bring him home.”– Yara, 3.10 “Mhysa”
This doesn’t sound like a person who would subsequently tell her brother, when he is in the most need of her support and care, that he should kill himself or forget his trauma. There’s uneven characterization in general. Where previously Yara combated the Ironborn ways of life, commenting on the futility of reaving, she tries to earn support at the Kingsmoot by pledging to command the biggest fleet the Iron Islands have ever seen. While an arc of wanting to change a damaged and futile system emerges early on, it begins to quickly disappear.
It’s lazy storytelling in general, crafted to fit the needs of the plot rather than character driven journeys. Especially when compared to the takeaway for Asha’s (Yara’s book counterpart) reaction to seeing her brother again for the first time, albeit under different circumstances, which is much stronger and sweeter. In a show and story that so rarely gives us beautiful and supportive relationships between siblings, where we get either the toxic incestuous relationship between Jaime and Cersei or even a seed of discourse stirring between Jon and Sansa after reuniting, showing this, especially in a people like the Ironborn, would have been beautifully meaningful. In a sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, the unreleased next installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Theon describes Asha’s reaction to seeing her brother and hearing his story.
“You have to know your name,” he’d told his sister. “You… you told me you were Esgred, but that was a lie. Your name is Asha.”
“It is,” his sister had said, so softly that he was afraid that she might cry.
–The Winds of Winter, Theon I sample chapter
Asha turns her initial disgust at a creature she believed to be pathetic to endearing sincerity, care, and sadness for a brother she thought lost and a brother who had been broken apart.
Not only is Yara verbally abusive to Theon, but all of her interactions with the sex slaves tell a story of sexual abuse. In Volantis, slaves are marked by tattoos. Varys even explains this last year in his chat with Tyrion.
Varys: “Yes. The Volantine masters are very organized. Flies for dung shovelers. Hammers for builders. Tears for whores, lest they forget.”
–Varys, 5.03 “High Sparrow”
We are even told the specific tattoo that makes a sex slave: a tear drop. The woman Yara kisses has been marked with said tattoo and thus, is a sex slave. It’s information being directly fed to us on the screen, and it’s undeniable.
Yet, the fact that this “glorious” bit of representation was a depiction of rape, not sexual agency, is completely missing from the dialogue regarding this scene. The sex slave has no agency. She is someone’s property who uses her as a good or service like an object, and Yara continues to treat her that way. She’s not free to make the decision to kiss Yara. She’s not free to act on her own accord. If someone is not psychically free, no matter what face they are putting on, they have no agency to make choices that dictate their life. Kissing a sex slave in a brothel isn’t a scene of proud sexuality and consent. If one person can’t properly give consent, it’s rape.
The worst part is, either the writers neglected to realize it’s rape, which they’ve done in the past, or they forgot what they had already written. Further along in the scene with Tyrion and Varys in Volantis, they show up at a brothel where Tyrion proceeds to turn down sex with a sex slave after charming her with his ‘wits’, because he’s too good for that narrative. God forbid we paint Tyrion in a negative light because on the show, he’s turned into a “Mary sue”-eqsue character who can do no wrong. He can’t bring himself to have sex with a slave because he knows she has no agency, and he’s jut too good of a guy to ever do that.
Either the writers forgot or expected their audience to forget the tattoo that marks the sex slaves, and so when this scene happened, they expected raves and cheers of support for their great instance of ‘representation.’ They chose not to frame Yara’s interaction with the sex slave as clear rape within the narrative when in the past season, Tyrion’s instance of refusing to partake in sex with one furthered his endless Nice Guy arc and continued to confirm him as a hero who can do no wrong. There are worrying implications from both a writer’s standpoint and a storytelling standpoint. Virtually the only instance of lesbian representation on this show is one of rape. At the same time, a straight hero was previously placed in the same situation with a more complicated underlying narrative wherein he chose to take the ‘moral’ high ground. This is more than just a commentary on the problematic Ironborn way of life.
This scene was one of the only scenes of sexual nature between two women, other than the brothel scenes with Littlefinger where they are all for the male gaze, and yet this felt just as gross. This one and only scene, a scene that had many people cheering, was a moment of rape and toxic masculinity internalized tenfold. I don’t think you can call it good representation when the lesbian character we’re supposed to identify with and support in the narrative is a rapist and a sexist who believes the women she is raping are things. Even without directly naming the slavery aspect in this episode, she calls the girl that she is going to “fuck the tits off of” “this one,” as if the slaves were an object. She’s not ‘navigating’ this patriarchal society. She’s perpetuating it here with rape and looking at sex slaves as objects, not people.
Within the structure and narrative of the Ironborn culture of the books, I could see Euron, Balon, the book character and other Greyjoy uncle Victorian, and even the past-Theon saying this, but Asha (Yara’s book counterpart)? Asha who was born into this lifestyle and culture but as a woman who had no interest in being a Salt Wife. Asha who had to grow up combatting the inherent sexism within her society in order to find a way to rule. One of the best examples of her attitude towards the Westerosi patriarchy and toxic masculinity in general comes from her POV chapter in A Dance with Dragons.
“Cunt again? It was odd how men like Suggs used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued.”–A Dance with Dragons, The Sacrifice
Asha has been on the receiving end of a million “cunts” and a victim of sexism all her life. Living and growing up on the Iron Islands only multiplied it. A woman in her position, who’s had to navigate the Ironborn her whole life and earn their respect, knows how it feels to be mistreated for because of her gender. She had to work hard within that structure to prove herself as a a good ruler in order to get the type of support she wants, especially at the Kingsmoot, but this applies to Balon’s support as well. However, if Theon hadn’t been a victim of war and been taken by Ned to be his ward at Winterfell, I don’t doubt for one second that even one of her greatest supporters (Balon) wouldn’t have given her a second glance or anywhere near the amount of attention and respect that he did.
All of her “masculine” traits that she pushes in the books were products of fighting against the sexism of the Ironborn culture. She is forced to navigate it because she lives in it, but she also combats it. How else would she have been accepted and respected as the warrior and leader she had come to be in the Iron Islands? By taking Theon’s place and learning how to fight her battles against the system from within, she became the heir Balon had lost.
Instead of that narrative, where she’s a tough Ironborn but a victim of the system and culture that she must navigate and overcome, we get internalized misogyny multiplied and shot back uncritically. In the books, she is a captive of Stannis’ army, and one of her guards is Alysane Mormont. A relationship that begins as captive and captor turns into respect and earnest warmth. That journey of mutual female respect is documented through the names Asha uses to refer to Alysane. What starts out as “the She-Bear” becomes “Alysane” and eventually, “Aly.” This is not a woman who treats other women like things.
Yara is an abuser. From rape to verbally assaulting her abused brother Theon, she has become a grossly toxically masculine person, not just navigating but embodying all the bullshit she’s had to combat to command Ironborn ships and be respected as Balon’s heir. Why are we even supposed to favor and support her over her uncle Euron, who is just as toxically masculine and cruel? They think, behave, and internalize their culture to the same extent, and are virtually the same. Minus Euron’s kinslaying, which no one has an issue with anyway. It’s no wonder the Kingsmoot picked Euron after he discussed the size of his penis, since Yara’s mindset is consistent with that same dude-bro patriarchy brain.
I also have to mention that in the books she is straight, and vehemently so. Usually, I would be one of the first people jumping for joy at the notion of one of my favorite characters representing something so rarely represented on screen. However, I can’t help but think that the decision to make Yara, a less stereotypically feminine female character, gay reflects a stereotype that the show runners and creative team perpetuate in their heads. It’s at the very least consistent with Alex Graves calling Brienne, also a non-conventionally feminine character, a lesbian. It is also worrying because in the books, her heterosexuality is one of the few instances depicting female sexual agency and choice of partner for a woman in this society, contrasting all of the arranged marriages we see. In the show, Yara’s sexuality is changed to represent a different minority, but is showcased in such a way that she is the only one in the act with any agency.
And That’s It
This is all the representation we get? This is what websites are cheering about? This is what the show is getting applauded over? Thrones has never been good with diverse representation, especially not representation of sexuality. While it’s not easy to maintain every secondary and tertiary characters’ arcs, they should still be fleshed out and fully rounded people. Loras was gay. That was the only characterization they gave him and the only thing his scenes ever indicated or told us. They continued this pattern with Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand, both of whom are bisexual. Most of their scenes took place in a brothel. The show fell into the trap of equating bisexuality with hyper-sexuality, an offensive, harmful, and ridiculous stereotype. Yeah, they both could enjoy sex and engage in it often, but that’s not all they do. From the show, we wouldn’t have guess that. It’s one of the biggest issues they fell for when adapting Dorne in general.
A desired subversion of these stereotypes never comes on the show, and these people are all reduced to their sexuality. Thus, while another sexuality might have technically been “represented” on our screen, it was more harmful than honest and positive. Yara’s character and the situation in the brothel is downright damaging, yet it’s cheered in the critical and cultural dialogue. Furthermore, it’s supported in the narrative, as Weiss and Benioff don’t seem to see the toxicity in their relationship or the blatant abuse here as being harmful. After all, abusing an abuse victim is just “tough love” (according to their “Inside the Episode”). Rape is apparently a badass and brave form of lesbian representation, too. The writing refuses to frame Yara’s interaction with the sex slave as clearly negative and wrong, yet, they had no issue doing so with Tyrion. They reduced lesbianism down to a gratuitous representation of her sexuality, while also characterizing her as the toxically masculine face of sexism that stains Ironborn culture.
From the mess of what they chose to adapt to the nuance and character exploration of what they didn’t (i.e. Jon Connington or Taena Merrywhether) it’s clear that they made a choice. A choice that, in the end, resulted in both a stunted and harmful depiction of what little representation the LGBT+ community can claim in this blockbuster of a show. Choices matter, and as we move toward the end of the show, a show that some people are lauding as a beacon of feminism and representation in fantasy, it becomes clearer that what Benioff and Weiss are actually interested in adapting is not a genuine attempts to represent diverse communities as people. They seem far more interested in representation points, even if they perpetuate problematic stereotypes and falsities, in order to create the spectacle without heart that Thrones has become.
Images Courtesy of HBO
Game of Thrones 2×04 Rewatch: Garden of Groans
Good fortune and tidings as we return to The Wars to Come! We can’t wait to dive into yet another chapter of our Game of Thrones rewatch series, seeking to explore the path that took the show from engaging and competent to…wormholing ravens and confusing trials. This week we’re in for a special treat: the only woman to ever grace this show’s writers’ room, Vanessa Taylor, is credited as penning “Garden of Bones.”
Things are grim and grotesque in the riverlands! Robb earns himself a victory on the field against the Lannister forces, yet after the battle we see many injured. He helps a field-nurse from Volantis name Talisa amputate a man’s foot, and she points out to him that the smallfolk are the ones paying the price for his war.
Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie, and their fellow travelers arrive at Harrenhal as prisoners, only to discover that the guards have been selecting one a day to die. They witness the torture of an unlucky man, who has a barrel containing a hungry rat strapped to his chest. He is asked questions about “the brotherhood,” but cannot answer any. The Lannister guards hold a torch to one end of the barrel, giving the rat only one place to go… Gendry is selected the next day for this grisly fate, but is saved just in the nick of time by Tywin Lannister’s arrival. He immediately chastises his guards for wasting good men, and once recognizing Arya as a girl, selects her to be his next cupbearer.
Down in King’s Landing, Joffrey is not behaving a whole lot better. First, he reacts to Robb’s military victory by ordering Sansa to be beaten by his kingsguard. Tyrion intervenes and put a stop to it, even giving Sansa a chance to ask out of her situation. However, she tells him she is loyal to her “love.” Bronn and Tyrion discuss Joffrey’s disgusting behavior, and Bronn suggests getting him some sex workers to work frustration out on. Tyrion does that, but Joffrey instead commands one of the sex workers—Ros—to brutalize the other as a message to Tyrion.
Tyrion receives another message from Lancel, who asks him to release Pycelle on Cersei’s behalf. However, Tyrion quickly turns the tables when he corners Lancel about being in a sexual relationship with Cersei. He promises not to tell anyone so long as Lancel reports to him on the queen’s comings and goings.
Other royalty is busy over in the Reach. Littlefinger arrives in Renly’s camp, but the self-fashioned king holds no love for him. Yet if the time should come when Renly reaches King’s Landing, Littlefinger makes it clear he’s willing to flip sides. He then meets Margaery Tyrell, who he attempts to grill on the details of her marriage to Renly. This queen doesn’t reveal much. Littlefinger finally gets to speak with Cat, who is furious with him. He does manage to present her with Ned’s bones, and slips in a lie about the Lannisters holding both Sansa and Arya.
Renly and Stannis treat with each other, and despite Cat trying to encourage them to get along as brothers, neither will step aside to acknowledge the other as king. Stannis tells Renly that he has one night to reconsider. Later, Stannis asks Davos to smuggle Melisandre for him. Turns out it’s so she can give birth to a shadow in the caves below Renly’s camp.
Finally in Essos, one of Dany’s bloodriders returns with a gift from the Elders of Qarth, called “The Thirteen.” Her party turns to head there, understanding that outside the walls are referred to as the “garden of bones” thanks to all the skeletons from those who had been turned away. She meets the Thirteen, and when she refuses to show them her dragons, nearly gets refused from the city herself. However one of the Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, invokes “soumai,” vouching for her and taking legal responsibility for her party. The uncertain group head into the city.
What will greet them in Qarth? What is the shadow that Melisandre gave birth to? And is there gold hidden in the village? We’ll find out next week, but first…a discussion of what we saw.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: I had to triple check that this was written by Vanessa Taylor and not D&D. And yes, I know that it’s a writers’ room, and individual credit only goes so far, though I’d argue that with GoT, we can usually tell notable differences and the process comes across as more siloed than it does for other shows.
Still. The first half hour of this was easily as bad as Season 5, with a small exception that the words spoken in between the gay/fart jokes, the torture, the abuse of sex workers, and the gore were mostly shaped by George R.R. Martin’s prose. The best I can say is that the second half of the episode became moderately passable, albeit still lacking in the tension as discussed last week.
Julia: Yeah, this episode felt like it had all the worst aspects of GoT all shoved together, especially in the first half hour, and I came away with the feeling that I was just watching trash. A few ‘fros and bell bottoms and it could have been a 70s exploitation movie.
Even this rewatch write-up is so painful because I feel like I had nothing to say beyond, “god that sucked.” And explaining in detail why things are bad is kinda my thing!
Danzie: Lordy, what a pile of crap that was. I had blocked everything but the Stormland’s scenes from my memory. You really get the full GoT dumpster fire potpourri here, though. Juvenile humour, sexual violence, torture porn, disappearing and reappearing medieval patriarchy, hammy acting… the list goes on. It’s a handy little episode to use as evidence to back up the claim “Yes, this show really is that bad. No, I’m not overreacting, Shannon!”
I am going to use this gem to win so many arguments.
Griffin: All of this. It was gratuitous. Gratuitous and bad. I kept waiting for it all to end. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say, or what was supposed to be appealing about this show after this.
Julia: Oh boy, oh boy. A highlight. The first thing that springs to mind is a little weird because it’s not usually me, but… I think I really liked Renly this episode? I’m a sucker for any time someone tells Littlefinger what a slimeball he is, and that ham line was genuinely clever and even a little funny. It’s painfully obvious how much more the writers like him compared to Stannis, but hey, maybe he’s not so bad?
As for a lowlight, um, everything else?
Griffin: I’d honestly have to go with the one singular moment that had me cracking up: cutting straight to the throne room with Joffrey aiming a crossbow down at Sansa. The framing of it was just so ridiculous and weird that it honestly looked like self-parody. The more they took it seriously in the scene, the funnier it got. What the hell was he going to do? Just start shooting people with a very slow to reload weapon and not expect to get gutted by, like, the third Kingsguard he cuts down?
As for lowlights, again, the crossbow. Really should have cut away from that “let’s mutilate some sex workers aren’t we trendy???” scene when he started screaming “harder”…and before he got the garden weasel looking thing out.
Kylie: My highlight was the burrito dress. I screamed and clapped. I wish I had a non-ironic highlight, but this is truly what warmed the cockles of my heart the most.
It’s so hard not to pick the Joffrey & sex workers scene as a lowlight, especially knowing what that “sets up” in Season 3. But there’s plenty to go around. The general levels of gore were really distressing for me, since I’m already not great with that. The Talisa cutting off a leg scene was one that I didn’t look at, but thank the gods her feminist candor was spoken clearly.
I don’t know—the protracted torture scene at Harrenhal? So glad we had a full five minutes of the guy we never met before getting eaten by a weasel. Do we think these Lannister folks are bad news, or something?
Julia: It was a rat, Kylie. God. Clearly all your criticisms are invalid now.
Danzie: One of my favorite chapters in the entire book series was (lucky for me) the only truly decent scene of the episode. Renly is at his best in the entire run of the show here. I’ve always said that I could watch Renly troll Stannis for hours and not get bored. It’s his social intelligence that I love about him. He understands exactly what it is that the masses love about him and hate about Stannis. I’d like to have seen the inclusion of the peach, and for him to have been unarmed, but other than that, yeah, this is peak Book!Renly.
However, my other Baratheon darling didn’t shine here like he does in the books, and that’s a shame. Loads of good personality things they lost out on here, like Stannis showing up to the parlay exactly on time and having to wait around for his self-centered little brother to finally feel like showing up. Also missing is Stannis promising Catelyn to try and reunite her with her daughters as soon as he is able. But most importantly what’s missing is Stannis’ guilt over killing his brother, an act that near mentally destroys him in the books. It’s minor stuff now, sure, but it’s things like this that go on to utterly destroy any chance at Stannis’ likability.
Lowlight: The shadow baby. Okay, I know there was loads of stuff that was worse in this episode, but I really feel like I need to point this out.
Davos rowing Mel ashore makes no goddamn sense under these circumstances.
The reason he does it in the books is because she is trying to kill Cortnay Penrose. However, because he’s inside Storm’s End (which has magical wards within its walls), Davos has to bring her in underneath the castle via his old smuggling run. It’s then that he puts two and two together about Renly’s death and she admits that Renly was much easier to kill because he was totally unprotected (from magic anyway) at his camp.
So why does she have to do this from shore? Why do we need to be in this tunnel? Where is this random tunnel? In fact, where even are we right now? The Reach? The Stormlands? Renly certainly isn’t in Storm’s End.
Julia: My random quibble: who were those 4 women following Sansa around and why do we never see them again?
Quality of writing
Kylie: I’m sorry, Vanessa, but the extended gay joke with a fart punchline is about as bad as it gets. Maybe I shouldn’t hyperfocus on it, but there was something about this episode that was so unrefined, that it comes across as utterly amateur.
Julia: Like I said in my initial reaction: it was just trashy this week. The “humor” was on par with the worst of seasons 5-7 and it revels in all the abuse and torture that’s going on.
Griffin: It kind of felt like an entirely different show to me. I mean, with the exception of that one episode Martin wrote, and to a lesser extent 2×01 (which was helped considerably by the fact that very little needed to be established, and they could just go) this show has never been written that well from my point of view. But still, this was a new level.
Danzie: There’s just not much that is salvagable here, and (all jokes aside) I’m someone that really tries to liberally give snaps to the stuff I like. In so many ways I think this was the first major warning sign of what was to come. I still prefer this to seasons 5-7, because at least at this point they still sort of care about telling a story, but damn. This is the first episode of this rewatch where I actually felt ashamed for liking this show once. It’s made me question my entire relationship with this show.
(This picture belongs in a museum, though.)
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: Pass. Unless you count “everything sucks and aren’t we edgy.”
Griffin: How about, “Everything sucks and aren’t we edgy and also surprise feudal feminism!!!!”
Kylie: I love how those concepts seem like they shouldn’t go together at all, but they sort of represent the building blocks of this show.
Okay, I’m going to make an earnest attempt: everything comes with a cost. Talisa kind of delivers it to Robb in a neatly packaged thesis statement. Granted, this theme doesn’t really mean anything. The cost of Robb’s war was Sansa being brutalized, the cost of Tyrion sending sex workers to Joffrey were the sex workers being brutalized, the cost of the war in the riverlands were the brutalization of the prisoners…
Um. Typing that out, the theme was maybe just brutalization. And also the titular “garden of bones” didn’t really tie into this, because Dany didn’t get any sort of negative repercussions for violently threatening The Thirteen of ”Kwarth.” I guess the more central point of this episode is that…violence is a necessary part of this world? Which is more a feature, but damnit, Vanessa Taylor isn’t giving me much to work with.
Then we have the inserted ~feminism~ of Talisa, and I’m starting to suspect Ms. Taylor is not the world’s best sensitivity reader.
Julia: I think maybe the theme is “Damnit, Vanessa Taylor!”
Danzie: I want to somehow tie Renly’s line of “a man without friends is a man without power” to something. Robb makes a new friend in Talisa. Dany has trouble getting in to Qwarth (sic) because she doesn’t have a friend to vouch for her. Stannis’ power comes from his gal pal, Mel. Tyrion thinks Joffrey having some “adult friends” will help him chill out. LF wants to be friends with the cool kids, but they all tell him to fuck off.
The Garden of Bones is also a metaphor for friendship.
…okay, not really, but this episode broke me in a way I wasn’t expecting and quite honestly I’m just tired of trying.
Kylie: We are all bones in the garden now. The title fits!
Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)
Julia: The cracks are just the plaster coming off the wall in sheets in this episode. The scene with Joff and the two sex workers is as bad as anything in season 5, and that rat torture scene is as bad as Theon in season 3 so… congrats, you’ve reached peak GoT.
Kylie: Then there’s also the worldbuilding. We discussed the magically disappearing patriarchy (in so many terms) with the sexually liberated Margaery last week as a crack. Well, Talisa is the fucking Kool-Aid man busting through. Julia and I have joked so many times about the “unchaperoned field nurse sass-talking a king” that the phrase almost means nothing to me, but…yeah, it’s a fucking high-born (I think?) woman walking around alone on a battlefield, sass-talking a king. The patriarchy is truly destroyed here.
Of course, it will magically reappear when there needs to be a justification for violence against women, or random bullshit like making Lyanna Mormont’s stand against socks seem very Progressive™. In my mind, this hole in the wall is everything that becomes wrong with Game of Thrones, because it certainly connects to the brutalization Julia just mentioned too.
Julia: Just, like… let’s think about this character for half a second.
She’s from Volantis. (Show-only peeps have no idea what that is, but it’s a giant city in Essos that has slavery and thinks highly of itself.) For reasons of being so sassy and feminist and ahead of her time, she decides that slavery is bad and that healing people is good. Okay. So then she thinks her best plan is to go to this fairly barbaric and benighted part of the world and be a field nurse. Like, was she already a traveling healer type around the riverlands and just thought this war was an excellent opportunity for more service? Did she hear about the war and come running from Essos? Her mastery of the Common Tongue suggests she’s been chilling there a while. Where did she get her supplies of opium and silk bandages? Is that family money she’s using to buy them, or does she have a local benefactor? Where did she gain this medical expertise?
Why do I suspect this is more thought put into this character than the writers had?
Danzie: I like to think that it was all a mailing error. Talisa was supposed to be the sassy new resident doctor on a medical drama but the character pitches got mixed up and now Grey’s Anatomy has a mild-mannered girl from the westerlands.
Kylie: Another crack in the plaster is the torture porn, which only gets more and more drawn out as the series goes on. Edginess is a distant horizon they’re constantly chasing, I guess.
Griffin: I remember Davos being a much, much more sympathetic and likeable character. Now he’s…just sort of there? I dunno, but he seems pretty one-note and flat to me so far. I’m pretty sure that Melisandre was supposed to be that in the books, so it works here (I guess?) but…that birthing scene. With the shadow.
I’ve seen some stupid things in my time, but I’ll admit that there was just no good way to shoot that. Seriously, I feel like that’s something that just was never going to translate well to the screen no matter what they did, since you can’t cut away from it or it doesn’t work. Maybe if they’d done the sequence more like a monster movie? That might work.
Kylie: The best I’ve ever seen a shadow of death translated was in the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I think it was watching the literal squeezing out of the shadow that made it so odd. And it kinda gets a face next week…
Alright, I have to bring up Tough but Fair Grandpappy Tywin. Because he’s apparently so awesomely awesome and Fair that he will reward a random peasant girl for disguising herself as a boy. Yes, Tywin of the books wouldn’t have wasted working bodies on senseless torture. But the idea that he’d give a shit about any one of them, let alone enough to call Arya “smart” and select her as a personal cupbearer, is ridiculous.
Julia: I mean, it was really dumb of them to kill blacksmiths. Tough but Fair Grandpappy needs to be frugal; I would say why, but that would spoil the cleverest twist D&D ever pulled off.
It’s almost weird saying this, but so far they’ve done alright with Renly. And Stannis is still perfectly salvageable. Obviously the gay punchline stuff was horrible and out of place, but PLOT wise, it’s all pretty here? Like, Stannis has the best claim, legally speaking, but no one likes him. Renly’s claim is bull, but he’s popular. That’s minimally sufficient at least, which is more than we get in later seasons.
What do we think of the direction they’re going with Qwarth so far? It’s a change from the parade they threw her in the books.
Danzie: I dunno, but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of whoever played the Spice King. He seemed to be the only actor who knew the ridiculousness of the show he was in. He was just having so much fun!
Julia: It’s a sense of awareness we won’t see on the screen until Ian McShane’s Ray in season 6.
Kylie: If I can seriously try to answer Julia’s question (though agreed about the Spice King), I think it’s part of D&D’s general misunderstanding that struggle is necessary in every facet of a journey to make any end triumph meaningful. Maybe this is thinking it through too much, but I’m just remembering the way the summarized Jon’s arc in Season 6 as, “well he began the season dead and now he’s king, so he’s doing well!” Keeping in mind they bend over backwards to aid Ramsay at every turn. It turns into “no one is nice to anyone anywhere,” and I honestly do think these are the beginning signs of it.
Or maybe they just didn’t want to spend money on a parade.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: Poor Cersei/Carol, she was only mentioned this week. Sending Lancel to Tyrion could have been a move by either of them. So, I say we skip this section for this week.
Julia: Joffery’s actions do suggest Cersei’s parenting, though.
Kylie: Sure, even if the more Carol comes out, the less that much tracks.
Danzie: Another question is was it Carol or Cersei who commanded the Lancel sexytime? I wanna say Cersei, because Carol, as we know, wouldn’t dare sleep around on Larry.
Julia: Yeah, but Larry’s in jail and she’s SAD.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Kylie: Jorah got to explain Qwarth and the Garden of Bones! He must have been so happy!
Griffin: Yeah, that was like, literally all he did in the episode. I remember saying something along the lines that his description of the Garden of Bones isn’t really different from any other city with walls and gates. If they only had graveyards surrounding a massive city, with no suburbs, okay, that would be pretty freaky and one hell of an image, but…nope. Just a desert. Why not make it a point to mention sandstorms? Maybe they kick out prisoners or beggars or something into the sandstorm when it goes so they can die in the desert.
I think the rest of it was mostly fine; nothing really stands out to me as particularly egregious, though everything with Littlefinger was kinda “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M DOING THINGS!!!!”. I don’t know if that’s just who he is in the show, or silly. Is it both?
Kylie: He overstates the case a ton on the show, and is also the official expositor, so it’s kind of hard to tell where the character ends and contrived writing begins. I think it read fairly organically considering some of his other scenes, and it helped that both Renly and Cat were not about to give him the time of day.
Julia: Speaking of overstating the case, Dany. God she likes to yell about all the people she’s going to kill. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wrote off this character as an annoying, entitled asshole.
Danzie: Yeah, she really does just yell and stomp her feet… which I guess Xaro found charming? Because it’s only after this that he decides to let her in.
Julia: Ah, arbitrary laws and oaths based on cutting your hand with a sword. I was wondering when the blatant Orientalism would show up.
How was the pacing?
Julia: I think it’s pretty safe to say there were a few scenes that dragged on too long.
Kylie: Griffin is understating his reaction to this, I might want to point out. He was next to me yelling, “Why is this still going on?” in at least three different spots.
To say something vaguely nice (?) the second half of the episode moved a lot better. Or at least, I wasn’t viscerally uncomfortable and mentally begging the scenes to end in my mind.
Danzie: The actual script on paper was way shorter than other episodes. A big chunk of what made up the screen time was just people being beaten or tortured.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: The sexworker scene was so horrible that I feel as if we’re not even willing to talk about it. Yes, Bronn suggesting Joffrey needs sex workers was in the books. Actually making us watch a scene of him ordering Ros to beat up her coworker while he sits and grins for as long as we did was just plain gross. We get it. We would have gotten it had the scene ended three minutes beforehand, too. We don’t need this insight for Joffrey, and it pushed into gratuitous somewhere around the belt smacking.
Danzie: The scene just flat out wasn’t needed. Joffrey is a monster, and as you said, we get it. We have tons of examples of it already. We don’t need a scene of Cruella de Vil drowning a cat to know she’s evil when literally all she does is try to kill puppies all movie long.
The only thing I can think of is that now we are supposed to feel even more terrified for Sansa? “Be worried that Joffrey will brutally rape Sansa, audience!” Good thing she eventually gets out of King’s Landing so she is safe from that sort of thing.
Kylie: Thank you, I’m mad all over again. Great analogy though.
The other sex was the off-screen Lancel and Cersei sex that Tyrion calls out. Lancel is like, clearly being coerced, right?
Griffin: Yeah, that sexworker scene, as I mentioned above—what even was that garden weasel thing? Half of a candle stick? Very disturbing and way, way, way too long
I’m pretty sure Lancel is supposed to be…are we supposed to sympathize with him for being coerced? I’m not totally sure that we are since Tyrion makes a point to explicate that Lancel clearly didn’t hate shtupping his sister. Doesn’t make it better, but it’s kind of hard to see the merit of that sequence aside from Tyrion being by far the most entertaining character on the show. Maybe it was just a showcase…?
Julia: I’m mean, it’s not rape if you enjoy it. Especially if you’re a teenager and she’s a hot 30-something.
What is there to say? I think the last time we saw sex between two people who liked each other and both wanted to be there was Ned and Cat cuddling in episode 1. Renly and Loras too, I suppose.
Kylie: Hey now, the ship captain’s daughter seemed to be fine fucking Theon. And his view on it was clearly free of issues…
In memoriam: 2 homophobic Lannister guards, 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours, random prisoner, and Stafford Lannister
Julia: Does Stafford Lannister count? He died off screen and we never even met him. I’m still not done mourning for those 2 homophobic guards, though. What a loss to the art of comedy.
Kylie: The site that has this list put him down, so he counts! But in terms of who we saw die, I guess the tortured prisoner eaten by a weasel was the most…effective? Which again, we did not need to see all of. We knew they were dying from the first scene with that old lady.
Talisa has sassy words to say about 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours. Death is bad! The smallfolk are the ones paying! I mean, she’s not wrong, but I’m kind of remembering when Weiss tried to get all deep after Shireen’s death, saying audiences were hypocritical for caring so much about that moment, but being okay with Stannis killing people in “Blackwater.” There’s a dang narrative, Talisa!
Honestly though, most of my annoyance there is that they’ll float the plight of the smallfolk as an edgy, messed up feature of the world, but then not bother to give their point of view any consideration.
Danzie: Silly Kylie. Sex workers and smallfolk are only there to get tortured and killed. Getting their perspective wouldn’t be dramatically satisfying.
Julia: That random old lady earned her SAG scale, though.
Wow, this is shorter than usual. We really hated this episode.
Kylie: No argument from me. But what about everyone in the comments? Was it really, truly this horrible? And what the hell, Vanessa Taylor? Let us know your thoughts, and next week we’ll get the good ol’ boys back as the writers, continuing The Wars to Come.
Images courtesy of HBO
Tragedy in Lady Knight
The dedication to Lady Knight reads “To the people of New York City, I always knew the great sacrifice and kindness my neighbors are capable of, but now the rest of the country knows, too.” It’s a somber beginning to a book about the tragedy of war. Obviously, it talks about the events of 9/11, and the book was published in 2002, barely a year afterwards. It’s the grimmest of Pierce’s books so far, but like the dedication, it also shows the most kindness.
Spoilers for Pierces previous work. Warnings for mentions of abuse and the murder of children.
Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream
Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, also known as the Cornetto trilogy, is a trio of movies that stand in a league of their own. Each movie is its own story and any of the three could stand on its own without the others. Yet they’re all linked by their craftsmanship, themes and, of course, Cornetto. They’re all top class comedies, while also being well-executed character-driven action movies. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End each focus on the friendship between their protagonist and deuteragonist (each time portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively). They delve into the deeps of friendship and the aspects, both negative and positive, that can exists in relationships.
It’s not you, it’s the Zombies
Before the zombie apocalypse, Shaun was living aimlessly, while Ed, his best friend, loafed around on his couch playing video games all day. Shaun had a serviceable job, a stable relationship with a girl he loves, good friends, and pub to go at the end of the day. He was hardly living a full life, but he was living. Sure, he had plans for the future—get a better job, commit more to his relationship, and get Ed off his couch—but he never acted on them. He made promises to his girlfriend that he’d do better, but had no follow through. When anyone pointed out that Ed was a hindrance to him, Shaun would always defend his friend.
Ed’s antipathy to development is even worse than Shaun’s. He doesn’t have many expectations for himself. Instead, he’s content to let Shaun defend him while he plays games and does a whole lot of nothing. Ed only helped keep Shaun stagnate.
Everything changed when they found zombies in their backyard. It takes the z-word to get Shaun to act on his plans. With the undead knocking at the doors, he firmly decides what’s important to him and sets out to protect it. He finds not only is he good with the follow through, he naturally assumes the leadership role, adjusting quickly on the fly to keep his friends and family safe when their lives are on the line. When disaster strikes, he makes decisions no one should ever have to make, zombie apocalypse or not.
And Ed, well, actually, Ed doesn’t change all that much. He’s more interested in getting to drive the cool car than he is about the zombies in the street. In the few minutes, Shaun takes to get his mom and stepdad he manages to crash the car. When they’re surrounded by a horde he nonchalantly takes a call (from a guy he occasionally sells drugs too).
Shaun’s willing to forgive and ignore Ed’s apathy until this moment. It takes the world ending and their lives at stake to Shaun to finally confront his friend. The apocalypse becomes the catalyst that pushes Shaun to making decisions. One of those decisions is letting go of a friendship that had been holding him back.
But it’s not all sad; Shaun gets the girl and still finds time to play games with Ed occasionally.
They’re not Bad Boys
Nicolas Angel is kind of cop who’s good at his job. Every part of his job, including the paperwork, but everything else in his life suffers. He breaks up with his girlfriend. The other officers are all too happy to get rid of him because he makes them look bad by comparison. The only constant in his life before moving to Sandford is his Japanese Peace Lily.
Danny, on the other hand, is the kind of cop who never had to be good at his job. He lived his whole life in a small village where the most work the cops had to do was deal with ‘accidents.’ His father is the inspector. Everything he learnt about his job was from action cop movies.
Friendship in Hot Fuzz goes in a different direction. Nicolas and Danny aren’t the lifelong friends Shaun and Ed were. In fact, a drunk Danny almost runs overs Nicolas when they first meet. Danny actually learns what it means to be a cop from Nicolas. Nicolas learns there’s more to life than the service and there’s more to service than enforcing every law. For Nicolas, Danny becomes the person he cares about more than the job.
By learning more about Sandford from Danny, Nicolas becomes more willing to let smaller infractions go when working to keep the greater peace. By the climax, he even enlists the help of some vandals he’d been suspicious of on his first night in the village. Danny, on the other hand, learns that being a cop isn’t about the big action shootouts, and even when the big action shootout happens, he and Nicolas fight their way out while only using non-lethal takedowns. In this view of friendship, each one makes each other a better cop and a better person.
The Crowning Glory of the End of the World
Gary King is the king in his mind and every king needs a court. For Gary, his court is made up of his friends or, to be more accurate, his enablers. Like so many, Gary found his adulthood paling in comparison to the glory of his youth and has been trying to regain that feeling. The height of his youth had been trying to conquer the Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl with four of his best friends. They never finished the Mile, but that night still left a mark on Gary. For him, it never got better and that’s where the problems start.
He keeps searching for that same high in the substance he linked with the first: alcohol. Never finding it, he makes one last ditch attempt to regain his crown by reclaiming the Golden Mile and finishing what they’d started all those years ago. He rounds up his old friends, who have all grown up and progressed in their own ways. Among them is Andy Knightley, who used to be Gary’s right hand but has been sober since the very night Gary is trying to reclaim.
Amidst the discovery that their hometown has become a hub of alien activity, Andy learns just how deep Gary’s addiction goes. Of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, Gary King is the most tragic protagonist. His addiction sends him on a dark spiral. Even as he tries to regain his youth with his friends, he keeps them at distance emotionally. He thinks he needs drinking buddies more than he needs true friends who will help him.
Gary’s inability to say no to a drink inevitably leads to the World’s End, both the name of a bar and the actual end of the world. But when he hits rock bottom and realizes Andy was willing to follow him there for his sake, that’s when he finds the strength to stop living in the past.
Be it the heartbreak of losing good friends, the surprise of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of persons or wanting to help a friend who’s not ready to help themselves, the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy portrays the complexities of platonic relationships. Best of all, it shows how they evolve as we grow and change.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures.
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