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Game of Thrones 1×06 Rewatch: A Booksnob Frown

Kylie

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We’re back for another Game of Thrones Fandomentals rewatch, The Wars to Come. This project, started by two unrepentant book snobs, seeks to revisit HBO’s flagship show back when we remember it being pretty high in quality, so as to glean insights into the vision of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) that we’ve seen horrifyingly unfold. Last week we noticed a keen slip in quality, but this week we’re here with the iconic “A Golden Crown” episode. Kylie, Julia, and Jana break it down. But first, for anyone who didn’t have a chance to watch: a recap.

Episode Recap

There’s no rest for the weary on this week’s Game of Thrones! Recovering from his leg injury in a fight with Jaime Lannister, Ned is barely conscious before Robert reinstates him as Hand, ignoring Cersei’s protests. Ned still wants to make the case for letting Dany live, but his king won’t hear it. He’s too busy heading off on a boar hunt with his brother, so they can swap bawdy stories.

Left to rule in Robert’s stead, Ned fields distressing news from the riverlands where smallfolk describe Ser Gregor Clegane as raiding their villages. Being Tywin Lannister’s “mad dog,” Ned decides to take a hard stand: he attaints him, creates a task force headed by Ser Beric Dondarrion to bring him to justice, and demands Tywin ride to King’s Landing within a fortnight to answer for these crimes and or be branded a traitor. Rather extreme…

His daughters, meanwhile, seem just as troubled by all the political unease. Arya can barely focus on her “dancing” lessons, and Sansa is rude and antagonistic to her Septa with no provocation. Her mood perks up when Joffrey begs her forgiveness for his former cruelty, but it’s short-lived; given the unrest, Ned informs the girls that they’re going home to Winterfell. In the process, Sansa says something about Joffrey being nothing like Robert that makes him realize perhaps he is not the king’s biological son at all.

Speaking of Winterfell, Bran is still having his three-eyed raven dreams. When he wakes, however, he learns that the special saddle is ready for him to test out. He does just that with Robb and Theon watching, the latter of whom tries to encourage the former to call banners and go to war over Ned getting stabbed by Lannisters. While they bicker, Bran almost gets robbed by three wildlings. Initially, Robb rushes in alone, but Theon comes back to kill the wildling that has a knife to Bran’s throat. They spare a wildling woman, and that’s that.

It’s just a sticky as situation in the Eyrie, where Tyrion is still shoved in his skycell. He finally figures out how to get a message to Lysa and decides to “confess.” However, when Lysa and Cat still try to charge him with the attempted murder of Bran and the murder of Jon Arryn, there’s not much he can say to convince them otherwise. Realizing the trial won’t be fair thanks to Lysa, he demands a trial by combat, where the sellsword Bronn stands as his champion. Bronn manages to defeat Ser Vardis Egen, and Tyrion walks free. We’re sure there won’t be any hurt feelings!

And finally in Vaes Dothrak, it’s nothing but hurt feelings on the part of Viserys. His sister has the love and devotion of the Dothraki, which he sees on display when a prophecy is made about the great son she’s supposedly carrying. He decides to steal the dragon eggs and sell them to help buy an army, but Jorah stops him. Viserys then gets drunk and decides that since the Dothraki won’t carry weapons or spill blood in Vaes Dothrak, he could get his way by threatening to stab Dany in her stomach (more explicitly threatening her unborn baby). Khal Drogo, with what seems like Dany’s tacit approval, finds a loophole and kills Viserys by melting gold into a pot and dumping it over his head…a golden crown for a king.

Cue credits.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: This episode was a little weird for me. And it’s totally my own fault, but I saw the title and my brain went “Yes! Good episode!” Parts of it were—I can safely say that. It’s just, I can’t help but feel let down by it. So much of it—Ned becoming Hand again, the Theon and Robb dynamic, everything at the Eyrie, and yes even the Golden Crown itself—felt lacking somehow. It’s like I remember more build-up in my head when I had been a first time watcher, and that was without book knowledge. Here, Drogo and Dany are awesomely in love to the point where she’s somewhat okay with her brother’s death for disrespecting the Dothraki, and I’m on my couch like, “have they had more than 2 non-rape interactions?”

Again, a lot of it was fine, but I just felt so empty watching this in a way I didn’t feel even last week. Help!

Jana: Yes, it did feel a little like “plot point, plot point, plot point… Crown!” didn’t it? To be fair, I’m not sure I read the crowning scene as Dany being okay with it because she’s so in love with Drogo; more like Dany being okay with it because all the people have her back and her brother is deranged and dangerous at this point. But yes, the sudden loving relationship between her and her owner and rapist was… sudden.

love.gif

Other than that, well, the sets are still pretty. The scene in the Eyrie was a little over the top comedic with everything, but I think that bothered me less when I didn’t know what was coming. The scene with Sansa and Joffrey was… appropriately creepy? I think that’s the best way to describe it.

Julia: There’s something about this episode… I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it felt less than. Maybe it was the writing? The whole thing felt a bit surface level and amateurish. Maybe it’s because I read the books and I know how simplified the political situation is? It still looks good, but somehow getting through it was a bit of a slog.

Highlights/lowlights

Julia: I’m struggling to come up with a highlight, at least a sincere one. I enjoyed Ros actually giving us a perspective from the common people, I guess? And it’s a reasonable one too, like she’s a person who makes decisions for her own rational reasons or something.

The worst was everything to do with Sansa. First she’s being horrible to the woman who raised her and clearly loves her (and is at that moment praising her) for no reason at all, then Arya and Ned are sharing an eyeroll to make fun of her for having dreams about having royal blond babies. You know, the thing all of society wants her to want. The writers were just being cruel to the character here.

Jana: That scene. Good god, just that scene. Sansa would NEVER be this rude to her Septa. And why is the septa so opposed to her integrating into southern culture anyway? It’s her job! And then the framing of Joffrey coming over and being all romantic, what was that?!

I’m also having trouble thinking of a highlight. Listing the opening scene feels wrong. Tyrion hoping Cersei ate a stew he jacked off into is, like, an echo of his book character? Bobby B’s four men hunt on foot was kind of funny, even though it wasn’t in any way intended to be? I think I stopped watching originally after this episode and only picked it back up a few years later, and… I can see why.

Kylie: Am I a poser if I also pick the Sansa/Mordane scene? I mean who even was that? What were they hoping to accomplish? Why is Sansa framed like an asshole? Is it that she’s a young, stupid kid? Is this what D&D got from her PoV chapters? AHHHH.

Another lowlight contender is D&D thinking up four different ways Tyrion can describe jerking off into turtle stew. How clever.

I guess my highlight was the golden crown itself? I can’t tell if that was just Harry Lloyd selling the hell out of it or not, though. It felt rushed and unearned, like I said, but his “That’s all I wanted” line just so perfectly captures everything about Viserys.

Quality of writing

Julia: D&D must have really peaked early, I guess. Like I said in my overview, it feels like amateur hour. Prime example, the scene where Ned is sitting on the Iron Throne and Littlefinger is “manipulating him.” “Oh, your wife is a Tully, Ned. Why would the Lannisters attack her?” Like, does the character think Ned is that dumb, or does D&D think the audience is?

Jana: Speaking of Ned, is it just me, or was the end where he discovers Joffrey is the first Baratheon ever to have blond hair a little obtuse? Like, how would this tip him off, along with Sansa wanting all the blond babies (like she’s supposed to because of society and you can all stop rolling your eyes, assholes), that Robert can’t possibly be the father? We the audience saw the twins fucking and might have put two and two together. Would it have killed the writers to add the part where Ned looks at Baratheon/Lannister marriages specifically because he’s not a complete idiot?

Kylie: I love how he also only went back two generations before Robert. Game, set, match! Remember, it’s the “slow minds” Starks on this show!

I thought Littlefinger was supposed to be that unsubtle? I mean, I’m not sure, but Sean Bean kind of played it like he was annoyed at Petyr for whispering this, but also wanted a thinly veiled excuse to come down on Tywin. Granted what we know of the show, D&D’s pattern suggests that they do believe the audience to be this slow on the uptake.

Julia: Yeah, it’s really hard to tell if that’s intentional, or just Sean Bean knowing he’s too good for this shit. But I have trouble believing this Ned could ever be “playing the game” enough to think he could indirectly come down on Tywin. Or, like, fortify Moat Cailin. Remember poor dumb Robb just sitting there with no instructions or anything.

Kylie: This writing is nowhere near the standards of Seasons 5 on, but it’s really here that we begin to see moments where you can tell D&D think themselves very clever. “I flogged the one-eyed snake.” Stick to Martin’s words, boys.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: Judgement? There’s Tyrion’s trial most obviously, but Ned sitting in judgement of The Mountain/Tywin (by proxy), Viserys being sentenced to death, even Robb proclaiming what Theon’s role should be (that’s a stretch, I know). It’s the best I can do; if I’m being honest this one seemed a bit more disjointed than usual.

Jana: I’d like to submit “Starks are dumb” to the court. Ned is dumb and can’t do politics and listens to Littlefinger, Catelyn is dumb because of how her plan backfired in so many ways, Sansa is dumb because she is charmed by Joffrey and can’t see him for the monster he is yet, and also she buys into the pretty southern politics thing, and Robb is dumb and ungrateful in his treatment of Theon. And for not declaring war already, like apparently any normal person would do. And by normal person the show means Tywin Lannister, whose actions are kind of framed as being perfectly reasonable and what any good lord would do. Blegh.

Kylie: Arya escapes being dumb by being so plucky! She says “seven hells” at the idea of marrying the prince!

Jana: Quite, but see, she too is temporarily dumb when she thinks it’s a good idea to skip sword training because she’s scared for her father! But since she is the coolest, it only lasts for half a minute.

Julia: Don’t forget honor being dumb! Honor and the whole feudal order with it! I mean, the feudal order being dumb (or more accurately, inherently unsustainable, inequitable, and destructive) is a major theme of aSoIaF too, but it’s seldom expressed by the narrative making fun of Sansa. The Kangaroo Court of the Vale was blatantly ridiculous to anyone actually concerned with justice, but it was paired with Bronn proving to everyone how fighting “with honor,” that is, fairly, is dumb too. Just like wanting to marry a prince is, for example. And when I know what’s coming with Ned this season… it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Kylie: I think it truly comes back to D&D believing honor gets you killed in this world. Then we get into Season 7 when they’re painting Ned like the poor dolt who could never tell a lie. It all comes back to the acedia aspect; why do they feel this world is worth fighting for, exactly?

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Jana: Sansa gets the third copy of a two-of-a-kind lion necklace! I know that’s not exactly what this section is for, but, I mean. With all the botched call-backs seasons 5 and 6 had, is it any wonder the showrunners rewatched season 1 before writing season 7?

Julia: Sansa in general this episode. Like, why wouldn’t you want this stupid, spoiled brat to suffer horribly?

Kylie: I kind of doubt D&D revisited Season 1 until just before writing Season 7 at all. And I guess they were so proud of themselves for actually putting in minimal effort that they couldn’t help but jam in every vague reference they thought of.

Could it be any more obvious that these two had no interest in Sansa from the start?

Jana: I think they had a lot of interest in Sansa. As a foil to Arya, as a comically stupid background character, as someone for the audience to be annoyed by, so that her suffering wouldn’t seem that over the top, even just given the content of the books that were released at the time.

Julia: I think I would like to note the true birth of Bronn, purveyor of folksy truth and audience avatar. True, he didn’t reference his penis in any way, but he seemed to enjoy Tyrion’s monologue about his own, so I’ll count it.

At least some one did.

Remember adaptation?

Kylie: I hate to belabor the point about Tyrion ‘milking his eel’, but the adaptation of the Eyrie stuff is ridiculous. Cat is in no way given any sort of space to react, or have an arc (she was a damn POV for half of this!), and the entire thing was rewritten just to make it be like the funny, perfect guy charms his way out of a sticky situation. Yes, his trial was bullshit in the books too, which Cat realized as things unfolded, but there was just so much more to it than Tyrion making the people in attendance laugh.

Julia: And they play Lysa for laughs a bit too. Which is cruel.

There’s a bit of the book here. Like, the trial is Kafka-esque, which it’s supposed to be because feudal justice is more than a bit Kafka-esque. It’s a little difficult to maintain perspective on this but, like… Tyrion is innocent here. And Lysa literally pulled the accusation about him killing Jon Arryn out of her ass. This is supposed to show how ridiculous this entire legal system is, and laughing at ridiculous things is fair. But there’s a difference between that and an actual comedic tone, right?

And yeah, D&D never really got the memo that Cat is a major character.

Jana: Cat is basically a decorative tapestry here for all the impact she has on things. She doesn’t even get to talk to her sister about what the hell is going on with her. It’s the Tyrion Lannister Stand-Up Hour, nobody else matters. Except for Bronn, maybe. Bronn is funny and on his side.

What I thought was rather well-adapted was the opening scene. Uh, missing fever dream (what are themes) and let’s not give away THE GREATEST MYSTERY OF THE SERIES™ notwithstanding. It showed Robert’s very worst side, and while Cersei was clearly framed as being the antagonist here, Ned did look conflicted when Robert hit her. Which… is a low bar to clear, but that one look adds some nuance to this. It sets up why Ned tries to save her in future episodes pretty well, I think. I mean, they botched a lot about that, but this one moment? This one moment was pretty good. Sean Bean is too good for this show, as always.

Kylie: I’ll also say the way the golden crown scene went itself is pretty much how I picture it in the books. It’s just the build-up where I question the portrayal.

Cat and Sansa are truly the first victims to this adaptation though, and certainly the ones where it’s easiest to see what’s going to come down the pipe.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Well, Cersei had one scene, and it was almost straight from the book in terms of her dialogue. So, Cersei, right?

Jana: Well, it was a person so drastically different from politically savvy Carol who wanted to make her marriage work last episode that it gave me whiplash. So yeah, I’d say Cersei, too. Bye, Carol! See you soon!

Julia: I might even call her a well-adapted Cersei.

Kylie: Imagine Lena Headey actually getting to play A Feast for Crows Cersei. The missed potential always bothers me.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: “Fish…the sigil of House Tully. Isn’t that your wife’s House—Tully—my Lord Hand?”

I’m choosing the worst example, I know. I’d almost call the exposition in this episode detrimentally lacking, though. Who are these weird women making Dany eat a horse heart and talking about her fetus? That seems random.

Jana: Does the Littlefinger quote even count as exposition? We know this! We know that he knows! Is the point that he is egging Ned on and informing the audience in the throne room? Vaes Dothrak was extremely random, yes. I know book 5 wasn’t out yet, but the khalasar pissing off after Drogo’s death because Dany doesn’t want to be a Dosh Khaleen is a plot point in this season. Sort of. Technically. So you’d think they might mention that the Dosh Khaleen, like, exist? Have a name? Are an institution?

Julia: I looked very carefully and Mama Dosh wasn’t even there!

Impostor Mama Dosh

Kylie: As far as this episode went, it was just a slightly dramatic woman that people enjoyed listening to.

Hey, this is probably more foreshadowing than exposition, but we should probably talk about the Bran seeing the three-eyed raven dreams at some point. This is week #2 of them.

Jana: I don’t know, the raven isn’t even saying or doing anything particular. It just shows up and is creepy for a few seconds. I’m not even entirely sure what it’s supposed to foreshadow, really. That Bran is going to have the same emotional range once he takes up the associated title?

Julia: Bran does take a lot of naps.

Jana: The only honest to god bit of clunky exposition that counts as exposition I can think of are the wildlings. When attacking Bran, they manage to mention Benjen, Mance Rayder, the White Walkers, and Dorne. I’m not entirely sure any of these things would mean anything to anyone unsullied, but, you know, they’re there.

Kylie: At the same time it isn’t the world’s worst way to get name familiarity going. Though you’re right in that it didn’t exactly flow.

“Benjen Stark’s own blood? Think what Mance would give us.”

“Piss on Mance Rayder and piss on the North. We’re going as far south as south goes. There ain’t no White Walkers down in Dorne.”

How was the pacing?

Julia: Overall, I feel like things just happened suddenly in this episode? Does this make sense to anyone else? Like, in the very first scene, Ned just woke up, but I guess he wasn’t unconscious because he’s fully up to speed and it’s war! The small folk are here to talk about it! Robb needs to do stuff, says Theon, and Ros is running away! And within the scenes, people seem to reach conclusions too quickly.

Kylie: I mean, the passage of time was perfectly plausible and worked together between plotlines, but you’re totally right. All my praise about slowly building tensions seemed to get chucked out the window here. It’s not like what had come before it didn’t matter, but the things that happened here (Osha popping up, Viserys getting his crowned) still felt rushed, as if D&D got bored of things.

Jana: I actually felt like things slowed down somehow? The last episode ended with a pretty big brawl that seemed to obliterate the status quo, and this episode opens with Bobby B declaring the big things in King’s Landing from last episode didn’t happen. I realize that that was a book scene, and a well-adapted one at that.

Everything afterwards also feels, as Kylie said, like last episode’s tension just slowly wafts away. The Eyrie stuff was funny, maybe, but so devoid of tension (of course the funny protagonist these shots are centered around isn’t dying, duh) that is started to drag. The sudden appearance of Osha and her friends between Theon and Robb talking about how there might be a conflict happening felt a bit random, and they don’t do a good job of tying her into Jon’s upcoming storyline. And Viserys’s end did feel both a little rushed and like it had been long overdue at the same time. Uneven is probably the best way I’d describe the pacing here.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: This was a somewhat sexless episode, as far as I remember. We got Robert bragging about his college days, and Ros flashed her vag, I guess, but those are kind of laughable. I mean what the hell, Theon? How was that worth it?

Jana: And Ros is still keeping up with current politics! Though I do wonder, if she wanted to get far away from the war, shouldn’t she have done like the wildlings wanted to and gone to Dorne? I want Ros’s adventures in Dorne!

Julia: Omg, Jana. Why would you tease me with that! I wonder if Arianne’s made the eight. We know Oberyn did.

Kylie: We have Evil Sex Worker of False Tears to sate your desire for that, dear. In the meantime, Ros has her aspirations fixed on the FINEST ESTABLISHMENT.

Jana: The true question is whether that establishment is fine enough that you could “Make the 8” in one afternoon. Why did they never have Littlefinger brag about that?

In memoriam…Wallen and Stiv (wildlings with Osha), Vardis Egen, and Viserys Targaryen

Jana: Bye, Harry Lloyd! Your face will be missed! At least we got his wig back for a bit.

Kylie: His outfit too. Discount Harry Lloyd will be happily married to discount NatPo in no time at all!

I feel like we lost Viserys too soon this time around, whereas when I was a first time viewer, I remember feeling like this was highly earned and even a little overdue on the part of Dany. Now in her plotline we’re left with Drogo who we barely know, and Jorah, who is Mr. Exposition for the most part. I’m struggling to understand Dany’s relationship to anyone around her other than Doreah.

Jana: But hey, at least Viserys went out establishing that Jorah is totally into the 14-year old. I think when you watch the show without knowing what it becomes, you are just naturally eager to see Viserys go. He is unhinged and a constant threat to the person we are supposed to emphasize with in this story line. But if you know how much of a blessing this actor was in relation to what else is going to happen on the show, you’re sad to see him go.

Kylie: If only Vardis Egen had fought without honor, like all the cool cats who survive in Westeros. Stupid, dumb honor.

I have barely anything to say about the wildlings who died. We haven’t been given much insight into them at all, but until Jon goes north of the Wall (spoilers?), that’s really the case in the books too. I’m not sure why Robb was so mad at Theon still, but they were going for…something, I suppose.

Julia: I think it’s about how Starks aren’t willing to take risks that might hurt people, or “do what needs to be done”? Again, too much honor.

Yeah, we’ve said next to nothing about the wildlings. I don’t know, they seemed annoying.

Honestly, Harry Lloyd is a treasure, but my main thought during the crown scene was “does gold melting work like that”?

Jana: Nope! Unless the Dothraki cook with the hottest fires known to gods and men, the gold was very impure and very thin.

And what is there to say about the wildlings? They might be decent foreshadowing had they been at all connected to Jon’s story line. Just a cross fade would have been enough. And I’m not one to ask for more Jon content, but here, it might have helped. Eh, I guess they name-dropped Benjen at least. Among other things.

Kylie: Maybe we won’t be pouring one out for them, but Harry Lloyd will be missed.

And next week we lose another delightful actor…

That brings us to a close for “The Golden Crown,” however. I’m curious if our readers felt the decline in quality too. Is this just because we know what’s coming and have far less patience for stuff like Cat’s adaptation, or are things truly starting to get all D&D here? Let us know below, and we will meet again next week in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Mytly
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Mytly

I find myself in the very odd position of disagreeing with a negative review of GoT, and even defending it. Ahhh, the end of the world must be near! Uh, what was I saying? Right, positive things about GoT (and that’s not an oxymoron!). I actually enjoyed this episode quite a lot as an Unsullied, and find that it holds up even as a Book Snob. The cracks in the plaster are there, of course – the Dumb Starks, Bratty Sansa, personality-free Catelyn, the hilarious St. Tyrion, ‘honour get you killed’, and even the seeds of Mad Queen Daenerys (more… Read more »

athena
Member
athena

Dany scenes aside, I think that there is plenty to not like about this episode as both an adaptation and a series unto itself. Tyrion’s trial is written in Cat’s POV and yet Lysa AND Robin have more lines than she does. Apart from her head-nod to Ser Rodrick, she doesn’t do anything and there’s any point in having her there. I agree with Julia that something about the pacing felt off as well. I think the extra time spent with Ned and Cat would have been warranted, but we got flashed and heard some dick jokes, so what are… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

One of the problems is that GoT is terrible with getting across anything that is internalized. Cat indeed doesn’t get to do much in that scene in the book either, since Lysa is in control and Cat quickly realizes she can’t do much about it, but they could have given her more reaction shots and added some lines, if not during then after the scene, to get across what she was thinking and how frustrated she was with Lysa’s actions and the way the trial was proceeding.

Ann Taylor
Guest

Well, I have something to say about the wildlings. Maybe I just terribly don’t remember something from the books, but at least the one “wildling” on the picture above seems like deserter of the Watch and not really wildling. Deserter who tried to cosplay future Jon with terrible ragged wig that didn’t fit him at all. His hair just seems so… unnatural on him…

Jana
Member

I’m not sure whether saying he’s a Night’s Watch deserter because of his black clothes isn’t giving them too much credit. We’re not quite at the point were everyone wears black, but they already haven’t been to too attentive when it comes to house colors and sigils. I think only Viserys really wore something styled after his house so far. Uh, and Tyrion wears dark red, I guess.

Ann Taylor
Guest
Ann Taylor

Yeah, sigils are surely missing. I don’t count the Hand’s tourney, there were a lot of them and I thought some shouldn’t be there (but I’m not able to tell which right now, some of the North I think), and it seemed just like they took some randomly and threw them there. But otherwise… as stupid as the Littlefinger’s “whispering” to Ned above the meaning of dead fish seems now, I truly needed it for the first time. I wasn’t watching carefuly, because I took the whole season in one day fort the first time, and despite Littlefinger’s not subtle… Read more »

Bo
Member

I know I’m getting way ahead, but I started this rewatch with first-time watchers who got way ahead, and you would not believe how bad it gets by season 3. Seasons 3 and 4 are just as bad as season 5 and on. The only thing saving them is that they “adapt” the best book in the series. They were depressingly ugly wake-up calls. Season 1 is a freaking gift in comparison. I know it’s been mentioned numerous times between Kylie and Julia, but you can definitely tell how D&D have no fucking clue who Cat or Sansa are. It’s… Read more »

Ivana
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Ivana

Not season 2? A lot of season was really bad, and they did very little right (Blackwater, 85% of Theon’s storyline, a couple of other scenes… that’s about it). I’d say it’s worse than 3 and 4.

Mytly
Member
Mytly

One majorly negative thing that I did notice in this episode is GoT’s tendency to use naked female bodies as ‘interesting’ backdrops. It’s bad enough when they show naked women writhing around in the background of exposition (aka sexposition) – the worst example of which we’ll be treated to next week: the ‘Play with her ass’ scene. But in this week’s episode, we see them using naked (or at least topless) women as backdrops for an action scene, namely the crowning scene. It makes no Doylist or Watsonian sense! Why are topless dancers gyrating in front of Drogo while he’s… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

That was probably the influence of the unnamed executive producer “for the pervert side of the audience” that Neil Marshall mentioned in his interview where he explained how he was forced to feature a naked woman in the Bronn/Sandor scene.

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

In retrospect, the omission of Ned’s fever dream about the Tower of Joy was the show’s first serious misstep. This scene is the hub around which Ned’s story arc rotates. For the first, but not the last time, GRRM shows the reader the true face of war, even a war as justifed as Robert’s Rebellion: eight good men dead for no reason, and Ned Stark, who survived the carnage, haunted by the memories of his dead friends and foes alike and the promise he made to his dying sister. Ned’s story was pretty well done for the first five episodes,… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Yup, the lack of the Tower of Joy dream in this episode is a major adaptational fail. I don’t think that Tyrion was meant to be unsympathetic in the confession scene (though that doesn’t mean we can’t find him unsympathetic anyway). The intention of that scene strongly suggests that we’re supposed to laugh at his sexist, classist anecdotes, not condemn him for them. Yeah, ‘not today’ is one of the best dialogue additions on the show. That said, I don’t see how this indicates Show!Syrio is a Faceless Man. Referring to the God of Death seems more like a general… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

Being generous, I think Tyrion’s “confessions” were meant to be sarcastic; he was mocking Lysa’s perception of him as the Imp by confessing to various depraved, Impish acts (of course, as we later find out, Lysa wasn’t just accusing him of murder out of prejudice; she was trying to cover up her role in Jon Arryn’s murder). Nonetheless, I do get the sense that, even if Tyrion didn’t actually do the things he confessed to, he certainly fantasized about doing them. I’m not sure about Syrio as a Faceless Man. On one hand, his telling Arya that she is a… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

But why would the FM be watching Arya from the beginning? It’s not like she has some particular quality that would make her an ideal Faceless Woman, or anything like that. Bloodraven was watching Bran because Bran definitely has the talent needed to be the next Three-Eyed Crow/Raven. But Arya is, quite frankly, a terrible Faceless Woman (in both the show and book, though for different reasons). She cannot let go of her identity, she keeps killing for personal reasons and she doesn’t really buy into the FM philosophy at all. It seems really strange – well, more like extremely… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
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Maidens and Mules

Good point, and one that raises a further question: why is the House of Black and White not only keeping a failed recruit around, but (apparently) promoting her and escalating her training?

Mytly
Member
Mytly

If you’re taking about the books, then Arya isn’t a ‘failed recruit’ – she’s still undergoing training, and she’s got potential when she agrees to play by the FM’s rules – witness the clever way she kills the insurance man. The problem with her in the books is that she isn’t always willing to play by the rules and has a tendency to go give the ‘gift’ of death to people based on who she thinks deserves it, rather than as part of an assignment. However, she’s done that only twice so far – and we don’t yet know the… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

Definitely talking about the books. Whatever the show might have been trying to set for Arya in season 1, it fell by the wayside long ago. I say she’s a failed recruit in the books because while she’s certainly able and willing to kill, that’s only half the equation. She needs to become no one and she can’t. And what’s odd is, despite her failure to become no one, she keeps getting promoted. She kills Daeron and tells the Kindly Man why; he escalates her training. She figures out why someone wants the insurance man dead and talks about it… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

I do think this is reading way too much into things and assigning Watsonian meaning to Doylist plot contrivances. I mean, obviously there’s a ship going to Braavos at Saltpans – how would the plot work if Arya had no means of getting to Braavos? That hardly means it was waiting for her. Saltpans is a port that’s right across the Narrow Sea from Braavos, and the Braavosi are prolific traders. It’s not much of a coincidence that Arya found a Braavosi ship there. We don’t know how the FM go about training their recruits other than Arya. Considering that… Read more »

Ivana
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Ivana

Jaqen H’ghar doesn’t necessarily worship R’hllor, he just thinks R’hllor is real and will have his due. This is not in contradiction with what the Faceless Men believe – they recognize all the deities people worship and have their statues in the HOBAW. I assume that Jaqen’s action with Arya had nothing to with the FM missions and were just out of his own beliefs, whether those were beliefs of the FM or of the Jaqen personality he had taken on. He was probably between missions at the time, if he had already fulfilled his mission in King’s Landing or… Read more »

athena
Member
athena

I really hated the hunting scene. Like the King of the Seven Kingdoms goes hunting with three other dudes? What the fuck is that? Forget getting Robert drunk and stupid–all Tywin would have to do is send a mysterious band of outlaws into the Kingswood and problem solved! And the stuff with Renly is just so terrible. We get it, Renly is gay. He loves fancy clothes and hates hunting and blood. He’s just way more sensitive (because he’s gay!) and he cares about the needs of the common people–not fucking his way around Westeros. Because that’s not a thing… Read more »

Jana
Member

That hunt actually made me laugh. Like, here’s the King on a fun hiking trip with his brother, one dude for protection, and one dude who pours the drinks. Your average bachelorette party has more pomp and circumstance about it, and people are still just as day-drunk. I’m also not sure what that scene even did, was making the 8 so important for world building? Not to mention that “sensitive gays don’t hunt” is, in addition to everything else, extremely anachronistic. But then again, women also don’t hunt, not even with falcons, so, hey, whatever. Feminize the gay guy! Woohoo!

athena
Member
athena

There aren’t even servants! It’s totally bizarre. And I guess gay dudes don’t recklessly and valiantly volunteer to fight attainted knights who tried to kill them in the previous episode either. I forgot they cut Loras out of the episode entirely, so on the heels of the hunting scene I was absolutely mystified as to why there were only a dozen old dudes hanging out with Ned.

Ivana
Member
Ivana

This episode’s writing is actually credited to Jane Espenson (her only GoT credit). Of course, it’s hard to say what came from her and what from D&D, since we know the control they have over all the scripts. But Espenson herself is a writer whose scripts range from great to mediocre, and her biggest weakness is that sometimes she can sacrifice consistent characterization and logic for the sake of comedic effect. I’m also in the camp of “Dany’s reactions had nothing to do with loving Drogo and all to do with the fact that Viserys had threatened her and her… Read more »

Analysis

My First Queer: Evil Queens

Barbara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an amazing view to absorb.

Philippa would be so disappointed in me.

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

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

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

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

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

I dare you not to fall in love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Analysis

Past Looks Back from Terrier

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Image Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Terrier contains many firsts for Tamora Pierce. Published in 2006, it surprises the reader with the first person journal format. Previously Pierce used close third person, but this works’s for Beka’s story. It also gives the reader their first glimpse into Tortall’s past. Pierce sets this book in 246 HE, almost two hundred years before her other novels. This also is her first police and crime novel. While she dabbled in crime in the Alanna books, and mentioned the Lord Provost, now she tells us how the police system in Tortall works. Or, used to work, we hope.

Spoilers for all of Terrier and for all of Pierce’s other novels

So, What Happened?

Terrier opens with a flashback to George’s youth. Eleni bailed him out of the Guard station and told him about his famous Guard, then called Dogs, ancestress. Then we jump to 244 HE in the past, where we meet Tunstall, Clary, and the Lord Provost. The Lord Provost tells how he caught a gang of Rats, because eight-year-old Beka Cooper tracked one down.

Then, we see Beka on her first day of Puppy training, where she’s assigned to work with Tunstall and Clary as her mentors. She stumbles initially, given her shyness and overconfidence. But eventually, she grows into her job. Beka also connects to a friend from her past, Tansy, who’s married to the grandson of the most corrupt landlord in Corus. A killer called the Shadow Snake killed Tansy’s son Roland. Tansy gives her a strange stone that her husband claimed would change their fortunes. Beka and her Dogs discover that it’s fire opals, mined by Crookshank, Tansy’s grandfather-in-law.

Through her magic with ghosts and dust-spinners, Beka tracks the opals and the Shadow Snake. Crookshank killed 17 people to keep his opals secret. Beka befriends Rosto, Kora, and Aniki, new members of the Rogue’s court from Scanra. She divides her time between the opals, and the Shadow Snake. Crookshank blames the Rogue for Roland’s death, and the kidnapping of his grandson.

Eventually, Beka discovers the location of Crookshank’s mine, and the Dogs move in. They rescue the current work crew, dig up the dead crews, and arrest the guards. A riot starts the next day after the news of Crookshank’s mine breaks. Rosto locates the Shadow Snake and Herum, Tansy’s husband. They rescue Herum, and discover the Shadow Snake was Yates Noll, and his mother, ‘the kindly’ baker. The book ends when Rosts becomes the new Rogue.

Past and It’s Benefits

Present and Past with Pounce and Poverty

One of Pierce’s successes is how she links the present and the past together. She does this several ways, through character links, and through class links. The most obvious character link is Pounce. Pierce draws on the emotions regarding the cat and constellation that followed Alanna from In the Hand of the Goddess on. Pounce also follows Beka, and we see how this spirit cat became who he was for Alanna. She uses him to tie us to Beka and her story. Pounce also grows in this story, being somewhat cattier than in Song of the Lioness. “Pounce trotted past the newcomers, carrying a black kitten … I cannot let you maul me about. Do it to him.” (427). In doing so, we see how his patience grows from past to present.

Pierce also uses her ties to the past significantly. She opens the book with Eleni bailing out a young George. Eleni tells him about, “Rebakah Cooper … She was a fierce and law-abiding and loyal, my son. All that I want for you. … Steal and you shame her.” (6). Afterwards, Eleni asks the Goddess to guide him on Beka’s path, instead of the theiving path he eventually takes. By utilizing irony here, as well as at the end, when Rosto plans to build the Dancing Dove, we see how the universe connects past and present.

Also in Eleni’s prologue is the revelation George started stealing because she couldn’t afford to feed them enough. This ties into the other theme that ties present and past together, that of poverty. Beka is the first POV from the lower class since Daine, and Daine talked mostly to the nobility. She counts coppers, and worries about rent. Even though the Provost fostered her, she remains part of the lower classes, which provides valuable insight.

Women’s Rights – Knights, Priestesses, and Pedestals

Lady Knight Sabine of Macayhill proves one of the most influential secondary characters in all of Terrier. She is the first lady knight that we meet that never once is treated differently because of her gender. Alanna struggles with acceptance of her gender. Kel succeeds only despite prejudice against female knights. With Sabine, we see the age that inspires them, where lady knights were never doubted, never disparaged for their skills. Sabine rescues Beka from a tavern brawl that would have killed any other Puppy. She helps Tunstall, Clary, and Beka track down Crookshank’s mine and harry Duwall, one of the Rogue’s chiefs. Her fellow knights and nobles respect her. It’s immensely refreshing.

We also see respect for women’s rights in the religious arena. Fulk often sexually harasses women. When Beka’s Dogs ask him to identify the fire opal, he harasses Beka. They stop him. Clary threatens to send him before the Goddess’s temple. Tunstall clarifies. “At the last eclipse, the Mother of Starlight temple chose Magistrates. Goodwin’s now the Goddess’s Magistrate … She signs a writ, and the warrior [ladies] with the sickles come for him.” (86). While violence against women remains a problem for Tortall, past and present, it’s a step in the right direction. It shows the slow steps of progress.

Finally, in a more meta-textual level, women now have the right to be villains. There’s equality between evil women and evil men for the first time in Pierce’s novels. Roger, Ozorne, Blayce, Rubinyan, all male. Now, the Shadow Snake is the primary antagonist, and she’s Mistress Noll. Yes, we’ve had female secondary antagonists, Imajane, and Delia come to mind. But if you put women on pedestals and don’t let them be flawed, then you’ve only entered another phase of misogyny. Pierce takes steps to correct this here.

The Past and It’s Problems

Slavery

The thing that shocked me most in Terrier was the depiction of slavery. After the very successful Trickster’s Duology, to include slavery and to not even mention freeing slaves dissapointed me. In addition, this is the first we hear of any slavery being in Tortall’s past. While the importance of not whitewashing history is clear to me, Pierce simply could have not included slavery in Terrier and in Tortall’s past. Not only is it slavery, it is child slavery, and state sponsered slavery, and a complete reversal of the slave positions of Scanra and Tortall.

Child slavery proves a significant problem, when Beka investigates the Shadow Snake. She uncovers people who sold their children and claimed the Snake took them, or children genuinely taken for the slave trade. “Slave taking is disliked in Corus, but it isn’t illegal. Kidnapping children without their parents’ leave is illegal though.” (79). To clarify, parents can sell their children into slavery, but other people cannot. It is morally disgusting, and Beka prostests it only minimally.

We know the Crown sponsers slavery because not only is there a, “Ministry of Slave Sales” (384), but illegal slave markets get broken up by Beka and the Guard several times. The ‘illegal slavers’ set up a stable to “look like a proper slave market.” (384). After seeing Aly destroy the slave markets in Rajmuat, after seeing a rebellion that freed slaves, this grows intolerable. Scanra also doesn’t have many slaves since they can’t feed free citizens, let alone enslaved ones. Given that slaves work most of the farms in Scanra in the present, it feels Pierce merely flipped Scanra’s present with Tortall’s past to make the past darker. That doesn’t sit well with me. It shows insensitivity on issues she handled well previously.

Diversity and the Watsonian Lens

On a Doylist level, the amount of diversity in Terrier show’s Pierce’s advancing commitment to intersectional feminism. Take Sergeant Ahuda, the chief of the Guard Post where Beka trains, for example. “She is a stocky black woman with some freckle and hair she has straightened and cut just below her ears. Her family is in Carthak, far in the south. They say she treats trainees the way she does in vengeance for how the Carthakis treated her family as slaves.” (25). While the last sentance is dubious, she still remains a POC woman in charge of several dozen people. That’s wonderful, and Pierce develops her more than she did Sarge, in The Immortals Quartet.

In addition, Pierce shows people of color moving around Corus. “[The Rogue]’d foreigners with him, two Yamanis with their hair in topknots. With them stood the Carthaki who’d had Kayfer’s ear my first knight at the Court.” (399) Bazhir also move around the streets, though in a slightly more insular fashion. This reflects their isolation in Woman Who Rides Like A Man. This amazes from a Doylist sense, that Pierce moved so far from that contentious book.

But, in a Watsonian lens of thinking about books, it proves problematic. The diversity here only highlights the lack of diversity in her first series. Song of the Lioness doesn’t even mention non-white characters until the third book, and I find that depiction contentious. Something had to change between Tortall’s past and the present we see here that changed Tortall’s opinion of people of color. We know it results from the chronological evolution of Pierce’s feminism, but still. It also makes you wonder what happened that Lady Knights no longer were accepted. It may be this question is answered in the next too books. But still.

Police Novels and Modern Feminism

I don’t believe it especially controversial to mention that for the last decade or so, we’ve started having conversations about police brutality and corruption. It spawned movements, endless articles, and websites devoted to tracking cases of brutality and corruption. So, this makes it hard to see feminism and feminist movements in Police and Crime novels like Terrier. From our perspective now, we see a novel such as Terrier that contains moments of ‘police’ corruption and brutality, and find it difficult to endorse. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at.

Thankfully, no police brutality against unarmed and disenfranchised victims occurs in Terrier to my judgement. I might miss something, but the closest thing to brutality I saw lies in the ‘nap tap’. “All of us love that hammer blow of baton against jaw, even if it doesn’t always knock a Rat out. Goodwin has the city’s record for the highest number of perfectly delivered nap taps that end with a Rat carried away, stone unconscious.” (192). Beka hesitates at one point about hitting a tavern brawler that is attacking her with her baton, fearful that she’ll seriously hurt him. They do use riot gear at one point, when a riot forms when the news of Crookshank’s mines gets out. But those two moments are the closest the Provost’s Dogs in Terrier come to modern worries of police brutality.

Police Corruption

Unfortunately, corruption proves differently. Someone kills a Dog that gambled with weighted dice, and Beka sympathizes with him. “Of course there are crooked Dogs. I can name two handfuls myself. … I do not like that he was crooked. But he’d still been a Dog.” (201). The insular community of the Dogs allows some exceptions for bad behavior if the perpetrator was a Dog.

Corruption also comes in the Happy Bags. “Other Dogs collect Happy Bags from each business that wants to know otherwise ill-paid Dogs will watch over them with diligence.” (92). In addition they collect from the Rogue which buys some peace between his Court and the Dogs. “Not taking offense over a bit of briber, are you? … On the very night your Dogs are here to collect their bribes from the Rogue. … That’s different. That’s for all the work every one of us does, to keep the streets orderly.” (107).  But it’s not just for keeping the streets orderly. Dogs get personal bribes as well as the institution of the Happy Bag. And their bribe from the Rogue is not only in repayment for public order, but also keeps the Dogs away from several places. Places where the Rogue hides stolen goods, and where Yates hides from the Dogs.

The Dogs get funding almost entirely from the Happy Bags. Beka does not have a single qualm about the bribes that fund her work. She simply accepts it, and in some way the reader accepts it as well. Or they would if the conversation over police didn’t become so strident in recent years.

The mostly non-existent brutality and the blatant corruption make it difficult to read feminism in this book. After all, intersectional feminist groups spent years discussing and protesting this kind of behavior.

Conclusion

Overall, I believe that Terrier continues Pierce’s trend of increasing feminism. The way she includes diversity, even though it creates a Watsonian problem, convinces me of that. The depiction of slavery remains problematic, but I believe that her overall attempts at feminism trump that. It’s also balanced by the central nature of slavery in the Trickster’s Duology. However, the depiction of police corruption makes this book a harder sell to the modern liberal audience than when Pierce first published it.

Hopefully, Pierce’s expanding feminism continues as we enter the books that I have not yet read or reviewed.


Image Courtesy of Random House

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Analysis

Deep character dives propel Daredevil Season 3: Sister Maggie and more

Michelle W.

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Sister Maggie stands with arms crossed and a skeptical look on her face. She is wearing her full nun habit. Shelves of church paraphenalia are in the background.

This Daredevil fan has got a lot of words to spill about Season 3 of the Marvel Netflix show, which rose out of the ashes of Midland Circle (the messy Defenders and hit-and-miss Season 2) to make some of the greatest Marvel TV so far. And it’s in no small part thanks to getting back to excellent characters.

In Part 1, I explored why Matt is such a walking dumpster fire and that’s why I love him. And I enthused about great story choices made for Karen, possibly the best example of character development of the season. Here, I’ll cover some of the new characters this season, as well as an old favorite villain.

Part 2 of a 2-part article. Spoilers ahead!

Sister Maggie stands in a church basement. She is wearing white shirtsleeves and a black dress, putting on blue gloves, looking exasperated. Angel statues and stained glass windows are in the background.

Sister Maggie

Daredevil fans were excited to see the well-known comics character Sister Maggie appear in the show. Knowing a little about the comics storylines with Maggie, Matt’s mother that he never knew growing up, I was cautiously hopeful that this modern show wouldn’t succumb to some of the pitfalls that have happened with this character in the comics. In some storylines, she was demonized for leaving Jack and Matt when Matt was a baby. In a more recent storyline, post-partum depression was advanced as an explanation, finally giving more sympathy to the character.

This is the explanation that the show wisely goes with. We get a Sister Maggie backstory with  Maggie as a young initiate to the convent, taking a detour in life when she meets and falls in love with Jack Murdock. In this version of the story, it isn’t that Maggie suddenly chooses to enter the convent after having a child. She returns to her original life plan, when her nun friends and mentor come to collect her, since Jack is at his wits’ end in the face of her depression. This gives some interesting ambiguity to comments Sister Maggie makes throughout the season about life choices and directions and regret. She clearly thinks she has made mistakes. Does she consider it a mistake to have left her training to marry Jack and bear his child? A mistake to have left Matt? Or both?

Before these revelations, however, Sister Maggie is a bit of a mystery. We don’t learn for quite a while that she’s Matt’s mother in this storyline. Until then, it isn’t clear, since the show only takes inspiration from the comics, and doesn’t strictly follow their stories. In the meantime, Sister Maggie nurses Matt back to health, curbs his worst self-destructive impulses (or at least chews him out afterwards, since she can’t exactly stop him), and gives him cynical life advice he sorely needs. She’s a hardened person who has seen it all and drinks hard liquor, a vice Matt accuses her of overindulging in. (A perfect example of Matt in a glass house, throwing stones.)

My favorite line from Sister Maggie, and a good candidate for my favorite line in the season, was in this exchange:

Matt: “D’you believe people can change?”

Sister Maggie [after a pause]: “I’m still holding out hope.”

In other words, in her five-plus decades of life, Sister Maggie has never seen anyone change. Her dialogue in the early episodes reveal her to be a deeply cynical person, who nonetheless remains true to her faith in humanity and in God. Joanne Whalley’s acting truly brought this tragic, realistic, and loveable character to life.

Young Sister Maggie talks to Jack across the ropes of the boxing ring.

Secrets and guilt

Though it made sense for the plot, I found Sister Maggie less interesting as a character when her cynicism and sarcasm gave way to profound guilt. First, she blames herself a little too heavily for Bullseye’s murders in the newsroom, since she was the one who encouraged Matt to seek out his friends. She did so for Matt’s well-being, never imagining he would pull those friends into a plan to get testimony from the guy paid off to shank Fisk in prison. And that plan seemed risky but logical – I don’t even blame Matt for the newsroom massacre, much less Sister Maggie. Her guilt here seemed misplaced, and I thought it detracted somewhat from the emotional impact of her later, more important source of guilt.

That, of course, is how she left Matt, and never revealed herself as his mother. It’s an odd parallel to Matt/Daredevil, in a way – she helped raise Matt, in the orphanage, but kept her “secret identity” as his mother from him. Matt finds out who his mother is in a sad and powerful way, overhearing her prayer. His anger at her, and at Father Lantom for keeping her secret from him, is very understandable, and I thought was played well. But we got no more wisecracking, hard-drinking, cynical nun for the rest of the season, and I mourned that.

Not to say the subsequent scenes with Sister Maggie aren’t moving, and important: she confesses to Karen about being Matt’s mother and her guilt for abandoning him. She bravely misleads the corrupt FBI agents several times when Karen and Matt are hiding out in the church, quickly putting together that they can’t be trusted, and risking her own skin. And we get a glimpse of what Matt and her relationship might be like going forward, when Matt tentatively asks her if she can help him with the spiritual guidance that Father Lantom used to give him.

I missed that hard-edged side of Maggie, and I hope we’ll see it again in Season 4 (knock on wood that that gets made). Overall, though, I was more than pleased with this addition of another complicated, interesting female character to this show.

Wilson Fisk

I don’t know if I can gush anything new about Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk that hasn’t already been gushed. His acting as Fisk is the kind of thing that can really irk you when you think about the unspoken rule that no superhero shows can win Emmys or the like, because D’Onofrio certainly deserves some kind of award.

In the first season, I initially didn’t like the character of Fisk. I didn’t see the point of following his slow, cautious courting of the art dealer, Vanessa Marianna. Nor of his love of art, meticulous choosing of cuff links, or expert making of omelettes. There was a genius slow build for this character, though. When Fisk’s childhood murder of his abusive father was finally revealed, with his emotional outburst, “I am not a monster!”, somehow D’Onofrio made that 12-year-old’s panic come through the face of this terrifying adult crime lord. And suddenly it all made sense: the obsessive clinging to all the trappings of civilization, of haute culture, are how Fisk desperately proves his own humanity to himself in every moment. It was brilliant, and I was thoroughly won over on this fascinating character.

Wilson Fisk is back in a similar excellent synergy of writing and acting here in Season 3. Once again, we see his ruthlessness combined with his deep vulnerability and insecurity that he rarely reveals – usually only in the presence of Vanessa.

Wilson Fisk sits facing the camera with a calculating expression.

Bending Dex to his will

I have two favorite things about Fisk in this season. One is his manipulation of ‘Dex’ Poindexter, a troubled FBI agent who we eventually see develop into the villain Bullseye. Fisk gives a couple of key speeches to Dex to win his trust and convince him to work for Fisk. In the first speech, Fisk takes a guess that Dex must be miffed about being investigated for shooting criminals that had surrendered, when Dex’s actions (at least from Fisk’s perspective) could be seen as heroic. Fisk’s adept psychological manipulation here was captivating. You could see Dex quickly get bent to his will. And it fits with everything we know about Fisk – how even in prison, in Season 2, he took methodical steps to become top dog and get everything he wanted. He’s a master at this stuff, and it is what makes him so scary.

Later on, Fisk has thoroughly dug through all the files on Dex he could get his hands on, including transcripts of therapy sessions Dex had as a kid. Fisk learns that, as a child, Dex killed his loving, supportive baseball coach in a fit of rage. Fisk’s manipulation after knowing all this is still skillful, although he has the benefit of all that information. Scarier is that he was willing to do so much research on the guy to find his weaknesses. And the synergy with his own life, with Dex murdering a parental figure at a young age, is not lost on Fisk.

Fisk stands in front of a painting, wearing a crisp white suit. The painting is a black and red rectangle on an orange background.

Fisk’s personal art gallery

My second favorite thing about Fisk in Season 3 is a small detail that I find endlessly interesting, which is Fisk’s taste in art. I loved the storyline around ‘Rabbit in a Snowstorm’ in Season 1. Now, as Fisk outfits his lavish house-arrest penthouse, we get to see many other art pieces in his possession. Fisk is clearly attracted to 20th century abstract art, with an emphasis on bold colors and geometric shapes.

I did a quick check with some art historian friends, who identified most or all of the artists represented to be abstract expressionists from the New York School. One looks to be Excavation by Willem de Kooning. Another resembles a Franz Kline. And the red and black rectangles on a smoldering orange background is clearly designed to look like Mark Rothko. (I might be the only viewer who gasped, “Not the Rothko!” when it got destroyed in the final showdown.)

The show made a great choice to go with New York School artists. We already know that Fisk likes abstract art, and this is a famed school that grew out of the city around which Fisk bases his identity. It makes sense that Fisk would see this art as representing some of the highest culture to come out of New York.

Dex stands in his apartment wearing a black suitjacket and white shirt. His apartment is very clean and white. His expression is blank.

Benjamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter (Bullseye)

I am of two minds about Dex. As comics villain origin stories go, this one was pretty good. But I just wasn’t captivated by this character. I was more interested in his use as a tool by Fisk than who he was in his own right.

Dex’s mental illnesses were a bit cliché for a villain: the sociopathic tendencies, the obsessive-compulsive traits. At the same time, these traits made a lot of sense for the character. Dex’s obsessive cleanliness was revealed to be a way he keeps and regains control after a lapse into rage and confusion (symbolized through audio like a swarm of buzzing bees drowning everything out.) His sociopathy, and his struggles to control it and learn empathy, gave him some depth. His therapist was an interesting character in her own right, despite a short amount of screen time.

On the other hand, Dex’s quasi-love interest and (Dex-appointed) moral compass, Julie, gets stalked and fridged for the storyline. Again, even though this plot was relatively well-done – Julie seemed like a real person, with normal responses, for example – this is ground that has been covered so many times in TV that it has gotten boring.

The one thing I really liked about Dex/Bullseye was his fighting abilities. Being a master at long-range weapons made him a perfect antagonist to Daredevil, who excels at close combat. Their battle in the newsroom made it clear that Matt was not prepared for Bullseye’s abilities, and Matt lost the fight. It is important to have your heroes lose sometimes, and Dex’s special skillset was a great way to accomplish this.

I was surprised at the end of the show that Dex did not die. Maybe I shouldn’t have been: a lot of villains in the MCU are spared to be used in further movies or seasons, especially white male villains (see e.g. Fisk, and Billy Russo from Punisher, vs. Killmonger from Black Panther; Cottonmouth, Bushmaster, and Mariah Dillard from Luke Cage). It was a striking scene at the end when, with experimental surgery, Dex prepares to come back as Bullseye.

But before that, Dex’s arc seemed to be bending toward death. In the calculus of action dramas, viewers were owed a tragic (or not so much) death on the part of the villains, to match the tragedies of Father Lantom and Ray Nadeem – not to mention minor characters like Julie, and Jasper, the Fisk-shivving would-be informant. Somehow, though, both Fisk and Bullseye made it, despite Bullseye’s life-threatening injury. I guess the actors signed a contract for longer than one season!

Nelson, Murdock and Page

Finally, there is so much to say about the original threesome we all loved from Season 1. Fans, at least in my corner of fandom, are enamored with the dynamic between Karen, Foggy and Matt, who enjoyed a heartwarming though booze-soaked friendship – it wasn’t for nothing that they were a popular OT3. There’s been a lot of angst over how this happy found family got so destroyed in Season 2, in part due to Matt’s battle with the Hand. We’ve been eager to see the three of them come back together, and Season 3 delivers it.

View over Foggy's shoulder of a buffet table with five people looking up from the food to warmly greet Foggy.

Best Damn Avocado

First, a little bit about Foggy Nelson. Fans of Foggy were pleased to see a big role for him this season. We got him running for District Attorney, in a bold attempt to push the other candidate, Blake Tower, to do something about Fisk. We were granted some comic relief in the form of interactions with Foggy’s best frenemy Brett Mahoney – who often seems like the only non-crooked cop in Hell’s Kitchen.

We finally got to meet Foggy’s family, with his brother Theo played by an actor that I’d believe was related to Elden Henson. Matt saves Foggy’s life in the newsroom fight, which was not highlighted much but seemed to add some balance, as Matt has saved Karen’s life multiple times. And Foggy’s relationship with Marci was explored, although I was disappointed that not much of Marci’s “shark in a skin suit” personality got to shine through; she was mostly relegated to the role of Supportive Girlfriend.

Foggy’s relationship with Matt has been through some ups and downs. Foggy reached a breaking point in Season 2 in particular, drawing a line in terms of how much crazy he could tolerate from Matt. In this season, he seems to have reverted to that intense loyalty that led him to unquestioningly follow Matt in quitting his lucrative law internship to start their own firm. This loyalty-to-a-fault does fit the characters’ backstory, and hearkened to Foggy’s role throughout the comics. But I would have liked to see more emphasis on what the transition involved for Foggy to turn back to trust and forgiveness towards Matt.

Matt, Karen and Foggy sit around a table with food and bottles of beer in front of them.

Reunion

Similarly, though it warmed my heard to see the happy reunion of Nelson, Murdock and Page – hanging out in the Nelson Family Meat Shop, drinking beers, and plotting opening a firm together again – I wondered if this happiness was completely earned. Yes, the three finally started working together again to counter the menace of Wilson Fisk. But there had still been friction between them over Matt’s reluctance to go through legal methods, versus doing it “his way” – the vigilante way. And all the hurts Matt has rained upon his friends seem swept aside in the end.

Plus, Matt appears surprisingly mentally stable by those final scenes (drinking whisky for “medicinal purposes” notwithstanding). At the start of the season, Matt was in religious, identity, and emotional crises, and he engaged in suicidal behavior. It seemed a little miraculous that Matt managed to climb out of his deep emotional hole without psychiatric help.

Then again, I could be succumbing to the trap I’ve fallen in before with the Marvel Netflix shows, and with Daredevil in particular: expecting too much realism and forgetting that it’s all a comic book. Matt physically survived a building collapse. Compared to that, it isn’t too hard to swallow that he mentally recovered from emotional collapse. That realism mistake I keep making is just a testament to the excellent world-building, writing and acting of this show, especially true of Season 3. The care and craft that’s been put into this show makes it feel real enough to believe.


Images courtesy of Marvel / Netflix

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