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The Frustratingly Harmful LGBT+ Representation in Weiseroff’s Westeros

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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).

Loras Tyrell

Can you feel the Finn Jones D&D salt?

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

Yes…these articles exist and they are as bad as they sound. (source)

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

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.

The Yara ones are some how worse than Oberyn’s. “I’m gonna fuck the tits off this one” is endearing? I guess I’m out of touch with my community. (source)

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.

Tyrion: “Slaves?”

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.

Poor Gemma Whelan deserves to sit the Salt Throne that I’m currently residing on to wreak havoc down on D&D for pure character assassination. Remember when she ran away from dogs?

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.

It only gets ‘better’. Gross. (source)

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

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Caroline
Member

So on point. Slay!

Red
Guest

Canon LGBT* characters from the books: Daenerys Targaryen (bisexual…although I DO have issues with how her sexuality was portrayed in the books, it’s there), King Stannis Baratheon (one of the few very well-written asexual characters out there), Prince Renly Baratheon (gay/possibly bisexual), Lord Jon Connington (gay), Ser Loras Tyrell (gay), Prince Oberyn Martell (bisexual), Ellaria Sand (bisexual), Nymeria Sand (lesbian), Sarella “Alleras the Sphinx” Sand (gender-nonconforming/possibly transgender), Lady Taena of Myr (lesbian/possibly bisexual), Xaro Xhoan Daxos (gay), Ser Lyn Cobray (gay), Hother “Whoresbane” Umber (gay/possibly bisexual)…probably forgetting a couple here but hey there’s the list off the top of my… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

I’d argue that Sarella is not any way transgender at all: her male guise is just a way to get higher education. Also I’d rather not count Lyn Corbray as ‘gay’, because it’s too ambigous if he is a gay or a pedofile (‘likes his boys young’ is… very edgy). Lastly, Taena is at least bisexual – she had a male lover.
Anyway you did a great summary))

Red
Guest

My read on Taena was that her marriage was purely political, and that she doesn’t really view her husband as more than a means to an end, hence why when she talks to Cersei about what she wants out of their alliance she only mentions her SON, not her husband…as opposed to Cersei, whom she’s clearly infatuated with. It’s been a while since I read those chapters, though. I have to reread them again.

Ivana
Member
Ivana

Taena is a spy, though, so it’s hard to know if she’s really infatuated with Cersei, or just really good at putting on an act to manipulate her.

Red
Guest

And with Lyn Cobray it’s…kinda both is my understanding of it. He’s gay and he’s a pedophile. If there weren’t LGBT+ characters across the spectrum of “good/moral — evil/immoral” in the books, I’d definitely be very uncomfortable with that. I’m giving Martin the benefit of the doubt with Cobray though. Feel he’s pretty much earned that.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Hm, in my opinion it’s different things (a gay person is a person attracted by same-sex post-puberty persons I mean), though I understand you point.
As for Taena, there are a lot of women who don’t love their husbands. She certainly is behaving in a seductive way towards men, and she has a male lover. And her relationship with Cersei is not a healthy one or even a consensual one, so… it’s much more complex. I could picture her as a straight woman forced into homosexual activities by Cersei. By the way, Cersei! She is bi)

Ivana
Member
Ivana

There is more reason to think Cersei is bisexual (though with a preference for men) than there is for Daenerys, IMO. I certainly wouldn’t classify Dany as bisexual. Cersei has some genuine attraction to Taena, but Dany feels no real attraction to Irri. It’s only convenience – Irri is little more than a vibrator, while Dany is fantasizing about men. Which does make me uncomfortable, but for the reason that Dany should know better than to treat Irri that way, because she knows that Irri offers sex because she feels it’s her duty to her khaleesi, and that Irri used… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Dany is very young at that point, and not very… educated in that field, considering her own sad experience. She went through sexual exploitation and exploited her own sexuality herself, all with very little understanding of what she was doing, save for ‘make my life more comfortable’ idea. She was doing a bad thing, but I think it was not consciously bad – it was more erratic. She was offered, she took, she doesn’t yet understand that sex is something more than just simple motions. As for Cersei… she could be bi or at least bi-curious; but really I think… Read more »

Cynical Classicist
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Cynical Classicist

That makes sense. Cersei turning into what she hates, even down to becoming drunk and fat.

Ivana
Member
Ivana

Yes, I feel the same about that. Maybe I sounded harsher in how I worded it, but I don’t judge her harshly. It just makes me uncomfortable and it feels like Dany should have thought about it and seen the problems in the situation.

Cynical Classicist
Guest
Cynical Classicist

I agree its better to portray LGBT+ characters across the moral spectrum, to show that they are people.

Cynical Classicist
Guest
Cynical Classicist

There is some debate over whether Stannis is asexual or not, regarding his relationship with Mel. Aerys I was probably asexual, considering he showed no interest in females and there aren’t any hints he was gay. The Blackfish… might be asexual, we don’t hear any hints he’s interested in anyone sexually. Some people say he was in love with his brothers’ wife, but there is so little evidence for that. And on gay characters there’s also Daeron, son of Aegon V (it seems quite a few third sons are gay in ASOIAF) and Jeremy Norridge. The show apparently does Varys… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

I see Stannis as aromantic rather than asexual.

Cynical Classicist
Guest
Cynical Classicist

That would make sense. Stannis isn’t into romantic relationships and looks down on the sort of rampant sex his elder brother had. Its as if he wants to show himself as the well-behaved brother, in aspects like how his beard is trimmed in a manner unlike Robert’s.

Ivana
Member
Ivana

I mean, book Stannis is not a horndog completely led by his dick that the show makes him into in his relationship with Melisandre. Sex is not one of his primary motivations. But the books still portray him as attracted to Mel – Davos noticed the body language of how Stannis reacted to Mel as opposed to how he reacted to Selyse, and while Davos is not always right about how he sees Mel and Stannis’ relationship and often has biased and skewed views, I think we’re supposed to see his observations as correct in this case. And while Mel… Read more »

blacken
Member
blacken

Indeed, I wouldn’t class Stannis as asexual. From Melisandre’s POV in ADwD “With Stannis gone, her bed saw little use.”

Also saying that Dany is bisexual is a bit of a stretch given that Dany uses her handmaids for sexual release only, I suppose you could say bisexual and heteroromantic.

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

We never confirmed if Nymeria Sand is bisexual; probably, but “abed with the Fowler twins” is sort of a vague line.

blacken
Member
blacken

Or actually just gay seeing as she hasn’t had any pairings with men.

Rr
Guest
Rr

If I’m not mistaken show!Loras was supposed to be a combination of Loras, Willas, and Garlan since they wanted show!Loras to be the heir to Highgarden and thus Garlan and Willas were cut. Yet despite show!Loras being a combo of 3 characters and having SO much content and characterization to work with, his only characterization was that he was gay. Which, YIKES. That’s inexcuseable.

LadySeaworth
Member
LadySeaworth

One thing GRRM is really good at doing is writing characters whose sexual orientation is incidental rather than all they are. Loras may be gay, but he’s also a bit of a jerk, cares deeply for his family (especially Margaery), is willing to admit that he’s not the best (I think at one point he admits Garlan is a better fighter than him), and is generally a complicated human being. Beneath Oberyn’s facade is a man who’s still caught deep in grief and anger, and who wants nothing more than to see his family avenged so their souls can be… Read more »

Claire
Guest
Claire

I agree with a lot – actually, essentially everything – of what you’re saying about the way the show handles LGBT characters, but I also disagree a lot with what you’re saying about the books. My main gripe is about ASOIAF!Loras. His relationship with Renly isn’t nearly as there as you make it seem in your post – we never see them interact one on one together, instead we mainly see them through Cat’s eyes. While the clues that they’re in love are very much there, the focus in those scenes is not on them and their relationship at all.… Read more »

blacken
Member
blacken

Loras and Renly aren’t great representation, they’re minor characters in a large, sprawling story who are never POV characters or emotionally involved with any POV characters, with the exception of Brienne, hence the focus. With regard to Dany, I mean the first time Irri pleasures her it kind of happens pretty fast, and was apparently done on Irri’s own initiative, but thereafter Dany actively rejects it. From ASoS: “Dany stepped away from her. “No. Irri, you do not need to do that. What happened that night, when you woke . . . you’re no bed slave, I freed you, remember?”… Read more »

Claire
Guest
Claire

Definitely agree with you on Loras and Renly, but I think you’re wrong on the Irri and Daenerys front. Yes, Irri intiates sex with Daenerys on the ship when she wakes up and realises that Daenerys is masturbating in ASOS but it becomes clear that she sees it as her duty to her queen: “I am handmaid to the Mother of Dragons,” the girl said. “It is great honor to please my khaleesi.” Which is what she says directly in response to Dany rejecting her offer to pleasure. And later, in Mereen, after she has exiled Jorah for treason and… Read more »

Bo
Member

Back when that trailer leaked showing Yara sucking face with a sex worker, a lot of fans reacted really abrasively to those of us who were angry about it. “Why does it matter?” ” Why do you have a problem with this?” “Isn’t more representation a good thing?” The end result is EXACTLY why we were angry. We knew they only made Yara lesbian because to perpetuate the horrible stereotype that “women warriors just want to be men and are lesbians.” Then they also used her and that stereotype to further toxic masculinity and further show their complete disrespect for… Read more »

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

I was mad at the time just because I’m mad about “change” in general, but the finished product we actually got was decent enough that I came around to thinking it worked rather well (as opposed to making say, Catelyn gay, Yara isn’t in any long-term relationships with men so it’s not like this ruined a major subplot from the novels or anything).

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

I made a long video about this in my youtube channel, and rather than retype everything, the short version: 1 – Seasons 1-4 of Game of Thrones were decent enough at LGBT representation relative to the source material. They even actually showed Renly and Loras a bit more prominently. On a societal level at least, they depicted homosexuals well enough that it isn’t one of my driving complaints about the TV series (though I do think D&D should be fired). 2 – ….yes, they didn’t write Loras very well from Season 3 onwards, but I didn’t consider it a disaster.… Read more »

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

Okay, second post: this is the hour long video I made on Yara’s sexuality, and how I went from hating it as a “change from the books and thus automatically bad!” to actually sort of a good idea for her cultural setting: I talk about “should works of fiction set in ancient Rome or similar societies depict seemingly voluntary sex with what are ultimately slave prostitutes” in a separate video on “Rape, in the books” (I conclude that other ironborn would do this in the Free Cities, and I think D&D are idiots, but it’s close enough to the society/world… Read more »

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

Third post: while I’m at it, this is a video I made on “Gender & Sexuality in Game of Thrones”, based on an article I wrote about it for Game of Thrones Wiki (and explaining why the Wiki doesn’t have Category tags for articles on “queer” characters like Loras or Renly):

WanderingUndine
Member
WanderingUndine

I agree about Loras. I agree that making Yara ‘lesbian’ in order to queerbait her with Dany was poorly and had gross fandom fallout. Like the time I saw someone say “It makes sense that she’s lesbian, since she’s basically been a boy all her life.” Um, NO. Doing male-coded things doesn’t make her any less female than she identifies as, and neither does her sexual orientation! And I agree that framimg the rape as ‘good’ makes it far more problematic. When Book!Tyrion similarly rapes and menaces a sex slave, it’s repulsive and awful — but it’s *intended* to be.… Read more »

blacken
Member
blacken

Amazing breakdown! Literally nothing to add.

WanderingUndine
Member
WanderingUndine

The linked list of “Badass Lesbian and Bisexual Women” describes Yara’s love interest as “All women. Everywhere.” Um, what? Having sex with one prostitute does not mean someone is attracted to *everyone* of that gender.

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[…] a far cry from being perfect. It’s no secret that media representation for LGBT+ folks often ends in a disaster because they’re still, by and large, written by non-LGBT+ […]

Timothy McLean
Guest
Timothy McLean

Asha has been on the receiving end of a million “cunts”…
(snicker)

But seriously now. Game of Thrones is a nasty piece of work in many, many ways, but there is one thing which makes me grateful for it. (Well, two, if you count how it got me interested in the books.) Comparing GoT with ASoIaF provides a perfect example of how to do all sorts of things well and poorly, from representation (LGBTQ and otherwise) to grim plotlines to responding to criticism.

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[…] was justifiably criticised by the queer community for taking a non-stereotypical gay couple and making them a caricature. I think it is a case of […]

Analysis

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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

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

So, What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

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

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

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

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

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

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

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

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

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

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

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

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

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

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

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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


 

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre

Kylie

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

Episode Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial, quick reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights/lowlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

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

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

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

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

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

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember adaptation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

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

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

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

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

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

Julia: They talked about jumping off a cliff once.

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

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

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

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

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

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

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

How was the pacing?

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

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

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

Another week of no sex, baby

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

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

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

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

In memoriam…those Frey soldiers

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

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

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

Julia: I remember there being a chart.

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

And I just remembered, the Pornish are coming soon!

Kylie: OH MY GOD.

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

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


Images courtesy of HBO

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