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Game of Thrones 1×10 Rewatch: Inspire before Crud

Kylie

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Welcome welcome to our Season 1 finale of The Wars to Come, the Game of Thrones rewatch project here at The Fandomentals. It’s been quite a journey to go back to the days of showrunners Benioff and Weiss (D&D) trying to adapt George R.R. Martin’s books, and the results have been pretty interesting. For the last two weeks, we’ve been enjoying fairly strong episodes, and while next week we will have a podcast for you on Season 1 as a whole, today Kylie, Julia, and Danzie are going to be focusing entirely on “Fire and Blood.” As always, we begin by recounting the events for those who weren’t able to watch.

Episode Recap

Following the shock of Ned Stark’s execution, it’s complete political mayhem in Westeros!

The Stark sisters get an up-close view; Arya gets spirited to safety by Yoren, who cuts her hair and says she’s to disguise herself as a lowborn boy during his march back to The Wall with new recruits. Two other boys try to bully her to steal Needle, but Arya holds her own and is backed up by Gendry, also traveling with Yoren’s group. Sansa, meanwhile, remains a political prisoner slated to marry Joffrey. The new king is busy ruling in a rather horrifying manner, ripping the tongue out of a bard before taking Sansa out to look at her father and Septa Mordane’s heads on spikes. For a minute it seems like she contemplates pushing him off a wall (and herself as well), but she is stopped by the Hound, who tells her to simply give Joffrey what he wants. How will both sisters survive their respective messes?

Well, one answer might be from their brother Robb, who is determined to continue the war effort to get them back (after which Cat promises they will get their revenge). He wants to support Stannis as the next rightful heir to the throne, but the Northern Lords have another thing to say about that: they will only serve Robb Stark, the King in the North!

Tywin, meanwhile, just received news both of Ned’s execution and Jaime’s capture. When Tyrion points out that there’s no hope of fostering peace without a living Ned, Tywin agrees. He’s been named Hand of the King by Joffrey, but wants to oversee his war effort at Harrenhal, which apparently includes the burning and ransacking of the riverlands. He decides to send Tyrion in his stead as acting-Hand, under the condition that Tyrion does not bring Shae with him. Tyrion, however, is sick of his father getting his way, and decides he’ll bring her all the same.

Up at The Wall, Jon takes the news of his father’s death poorly and almost deserts the Night’s Watch in the night, so he can join his brother’s war effort. He is stopped by Sam, Grenn, and Pyp, who recite their vows to him and convince him to stay. Jeor Mormont later berates Jon for this, pointing out that there’s walking dead now, so maybe his efforts are better spent at The Wall. The Lord Commander then lets him know that he wants Jon to accompany him beyond The Wall with most of the Night’s Watch so that they can learn what’s really out there.

Meanwhile at Winterfell, the news of Ned’s death may not have entirely been a surprise for Bran or Rickon. The former had another crow dream in which he saw his father in the crypts, while Rickon claimed he saw the same thing (though it’s unclear if it was in a dream). Has there been a magical reawakening in the world?

That question is better answered in Essos, where Dany finds the results of asking a “witch” (Mirri Maz Duur) to save Drogo from dying. Her son died in childbirth, and the life this death supposedly bought is a completely catatonic, yet still-breathing Drogo. Realizing the mistake she made, Dany mercy-kills her husband. Later during his funeral, she orders Mirri Maz Duur to be tied to his pyre, while the three dragon eggs are placed in it. Once it’s ignited, Dany steps in herself, despite Jorah’s protests. However, he had no reason to fear: the next morning he discovers a naked yet alive Dany with three newly-hatched baby dragons.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I gave D&D snaps last week, and I gotta say I was still pleasantly surprised by the quality of this episode. Goes to show how powerful a show can be when like…events of things matter and affect people in interesting ways. There’s also the fact that this episode had new beginnings and possibilities for most characters rather than so many GoT finales to come, where it’s like, “now I killed the person I wanted.” That said, it was also the return of my cringing and audible complaints, and we’ve got a few D&D originals to thank for that one.

Julia: There were quite a few very memorable and iconic moments this episode; the “King in the North” thing and Sophie Turner turning in a performance that makes me forgive everything she’ll do in the future come immediately to mind. Not to mention Dany’s Teflon hair and the amazing score that goes with it. But then there were some unfortunate moments that were very… not good.

I love your point about the way the season specific story wasn’t just “completed,” as opposed to later seasons. The closest we get to that is Dany killing MMD, and that’s clearly not the same thing at all!

New beginnings!

Danzie: I think I was overall pretty happy with this one. A couple things were underwhelming and even a little weird, but the the important stuff was tackled well and, for the most part, outweighed the bad.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I worry my Sansa-stanning tendencies make me uncritical, but Sophie Turner’s scene really was just incredible. It’s a hint at that internal Sansa we read on the page, and it just captured so much so well in a few short lines. You can just see her whole face shift with the, “How long do I have to look?” If only they gave a crap about the mask of courtesy stuff consistently

Also Arya’s scene was effective, just because her means of survival is so open-ended. I was genuinely excited for a minute about what was to come, before I remembered certain adaptational delights like Grandpappy Tywin and her extra season memeing with The Hound. But in and of itself, yes, the Stark sisters and what’s for now their parallel journeys won the day.

My lowlight was spy vs. spy 2. I legitimately couldn’t understand what they were even going on about, other than to obsess about Varys’s castration. Which boy oh boy does that get dialed to eleven.

Julia: Seriously, that Sansa scene was perfect.

And this Spy v. Spy was not nearly as horrible as the first one, if only because Varys clearly won and Littlefinger just looked like some random asshole with an unhealthy fixation on the genitalia of his work college.

Speaking of stanning, I think I sort of like MMD. Or, at least, I was totally on her side, which I didn’t expect at all. Yeah, slaughtering people for no reason is bad, gods damn it!

That’s not really a highlight, though. I think I might go with everything to do with that sequence with Bran, Osha, Rickon, and the crypts. The atmosphere is great, and Natalia Tena is lovely as Osha. I really believe that this random captive from North-of-the-Wall has come to care about these kids. And remember when people were nice to each other?

My lowlight is Jon just being an insufferable dumb-dumb. It was word for word adapted and all that; maybe it’s the age change, or maybe it’s just Kit Harington’s performance that just seems to emphasize all the annoying aspects of Jon’s character, but I just really wanted to skip these scenes. I didn’t though, because I’m dedicated.

Danzie: My favourite scene by far was Robb/Catelyn. I know, I know, but the beat-changes that Michelle Fairley goes through in this scene are so fantastic. The way she pushes aside her own grief to be there for her son is beautiful. I can even excuse the #revenge of “we’ll kill them all,” because we find out later that this was something said in anger and not in any way her M.O.

I truly count this as one of the VEEEERY small handful of times that the show surpassed it’s book counterpart of a scene. I legit teared up a little. This show had the potential to be so good. The “what if”’s are heartbreaking. Also, take a shot for every episode that this woman was robbed of an EMMY. SMH.

Lowlight: It’s a toss up between the bizarre Pycelle… experience and the Night’s Watch scenes that looked like they were all shot on the first and only take. To Kit Harington’s credit, his acting does get better later on in the series, but Jon’s Extreme Angry Face of Indignation™ made him look more like an angry child that just got his Playstation taken away.

Also, I couldn’t stop laughing at Tywin pronouncing “whore” like “hoo-war”, because all I could think of was this.

Quality of writing

Julia: Like almost always when D&D are just cutting and pasting from Martin, they do perfectly fine, but their own original content stands out like a festering thumb. Even tiny little things that they throw in there, like Cat being into mass murder. Like, please stop trying, guys. It’s cute, but don’t.

The Pycelle scene especially pisses me off. It’s probably mostly the director’s fault, but still. Like, his history lesson is actually giving us insight into Pycelle’s character and his weird but oddly touching devotion to Tywin and his offspring, but then you have a sex worker washing her vag in the back and his inexplicable air squats? Clearly someone didn’t care if we actually gained that insight.

Kylie: I’m still just so confused why they had to dial up the “he may not be as frail as he seems” elements in the books to eleven. Air squats??

This is a real thing that happened.

Julia: God, Kylie, do some CrossFit.

Kylie: No.

Anyway, Cat’s going to kill them all FOR REVENGE! Yeah, that was a fun one. You know, the copy-paste from Martin is perfectly fine, but in general I feel like there’s not that much like…to this TV series? It’s just, so much is missing for context that things like Robb being made King in the North feel empty to me on rewatch. We had maybe 1.5 scenes with Smalljon before this and couldn’t even name the other lords, you know? I realize that in the books it’s not that Robb did a whole lot more to earn it in any way, but the show is such an abridged version, and one with very questionable original content added even now, that I’m second-guessing myself for being as gripped by it as I had been (at least through Season 3).

And yes I know how snobby I sound.

Julia: Well, you were gripped, so there must have been something to it surely? But I mostly agree. Like, when Greatjon started his nationalistic spiel my first thought was “whoa, slow down, isn’t that a little extreme?”

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: I worry that this is pretty surface level, but the most cohesive aspect of this was the “new beginnings” idea. The wars to come, if you will. Robb being made king sort of sets the task before him; in the same way, Arya is now entering into “hide your identity for survival” mode, Jon is heading beyond the Wall, and Sansa is already being told to “give Joffrey what he wants” and figuring out how to navigate that is her “mission.” Dany is a slight anomaly because she was more proactive than the Stark kids in the set-up for her next chapter, I guess?

She put the eggs in that fire HERSELF

But again, I’m very open to something deeper being suggested. I was more of a math kid in eighth grade, after all.

Julia: No, I think that’s pretty good. Even Jon is starting a new chapter with the going beyond the Wall and doubling down on his Night’s Watch vows.

Also, it’s an ironic theme because this was probably the only finale they filmed without the guarantee that they’ll have another season.

Danzie: “Grief” works I guess, but it’s a bit broad. I agree as well, Kylie. If nothing else, this episode does do a great job of setting up the next season while still emotionally completing its own chapter. It’s easily the strongest of the show’s season finales, I feel.

Julia: Probably? I forget how they wrapped up season 2. On the other hand, there’s a total lack of crowd surfing on people of colour, which is a little sad.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: Emilia Clarke’s performance this week felt very… prognosticating of the future. She hasn’t lost the ability to move her face yet, but she does love her shouty speeches.

Danzie: Pycelle’s scene was just… squirm-in-your-seat awkward. I remember even in 2011-2013 finding Pycelle’s character really odd on the show. He doesn’t ever seem to serve a purpose in D&D’s version of the story. You could have cut him completely and lost nothing.

Spy vs. Spy is just more of Benioff and Weiss giving each other writing room reach-arounds. Sadly it’s only going to get worse.

Kylie: I’m going to ignore that visual for now, Danzie, but thank you. Hey, remember how at the Purple Wedding Carol stops Pycelle from giving girls pelvic exams or something? I guess for now it’s just funny that an old guy wants to employ sex workers.

Julia: If we didn’t have Pycelle, who would say all the High Septon’s lines?

Kylie: I definitely second Emilia Clarke’s performance being kind of weak this week. There were glimpses of Deadpan, and glimpses of “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?” Neither are the most charming options.

We also get a very very small glimpse into Bran’s Exposition Bot future. However, since he’s still inflecting in his speech, it’s pretty passable. Plus he’s showing Osha, a literal newcomer, stuff she hasn’t seen before. Still, I was cracking a smile at, “That’s my father’s sister!”

Julia: There’s also the infuriating continued foregrounding of Shae. I have a feeling we’re going to talk about this more, so I’ll leave it there.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: What the fuck are they doing with Shae the Funny Whore? Like… what. Also, Fake Frail Pycelle, which they do officially nothing with.

Danzie: I can’t remember if it’s next season or the one after, but don’t we eventually get to a point where Shae has more screen time than Catelyn? Is that why she’s a “funny whore”? Is that the joke? NO ONE IS LAUGHING AT THIS JOKE D&D.

Kylie: If it’s not next season, it is most certainly the case in Season 3. Her foregrounding is definitely one of the odder adaptational decisions. I’d say it was to give smallfolk more of a face but 1) D&D’s most consistent aspect of their writing is that they ignore the viewpoint of the smallfolk and 2) Ros was invented for exactly that purpose.

Julia: I’m haunted by the throw-away comment last week where Bo was like, “Why isn’t Ros Shae?” Like… yeah. And of course the only place their mind went for “point of view of the smallfolk” was a sex worker, not like, Mikken the Blacksmith in Winterfell or one of those women who make Cersei’s dresses.

Like… are all their original characters sex workers? The only ones who come immediately to mind who weren’t are the freedman in season 5 Dany executes and Olly. Ironically very loosely based on a character who was a sex worker.

Cousin Alton?

Kylie: Uhh…Myranda and Violet, who both were presented to us as sex workers when we first met them, but really weren’t, I guess. Also Smurfette and Kuvira are exceptions here. But yeah, otherwise we’re looking at Evil Sex Worker of False Tears and Olyver. Huh, it’s almost like they have a bizarre fixation.

Moving on to a very small adaptational choice, they omitted the part of “when the sun rises in the west” that discusses Dany’s womb quickening (as in, “it’s not gonna quicken”). I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it, but in 7×07 D&D pretended that they had included this, so…why was it left out in the first place? Just to be less wordy?

Julia: It’s not like it’s one of Dany’s principle anxieties moving forward. It’s fine.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: I don’t really recall Cersei speaking in this episode. Poor Carol 🙁

Julia: No, no. She told Lancel to stop talking and get into bed. He was being super annoying. Also, she had a lot to say to Joff, given how many times he said, “Mother says.”

Danzie: I dunno, but seeing Lancel’s bum made me long for death wish I was re-watching this past week’s fantastic string of Steven Universe episodes instead.

Julia: Why is Lancel bum making you think of Steven Universe? He’s not hot yet, so it’s not like you can say they’re both just high quality things. Shit, how old is Lancel? How creepy am I being?

Kylie: Now I’m just thinking about High Grandpa waggling his eyebrows at Carol for fucking her cousin. Guess she committed that high treason with Lancel off-screen while Robert was alive.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Julia: It was super nice of Bran to tell us about Rickard and Lyanna. Poor Jaime tried to recap the pilot, but he lost heart.

That scene with Pycelle in the foreground, saying moderately interesting history things, while Ros is naked in the background, just barely out of focus, is the most D&D thing I’ve ever seen.

Danzie: The problem is, D&D have no faith that the audience will pay attention without naked women on screen. They see their viewers as idiot man-children.

Kylie: Which ironically was probably the reason why I wasn’t able to retain anything Pycelle talked about. What was it? The kings he’s served? I was too busy recalling other cases of sexposition to hear it.

I don’t think it was that clunky overall, at least not the exposition we needed to retain. (Pycelle’s whole thing is kind take-it-or-leave-it.)

Julia: I used my powers of being straight to just ignore the naked woman, and it was actually quite not stupid. Like, pure Pycelle. He talks about how Aerys was charming once, and how madness is the worst affliction there is, and how Joff has so much potential.

My question is, does he pretend to be frail while having sex? Because that just seems like a waste. Also a waste: if you’re going to set up that Ros is schtupping Pycelle, like…she works for LF. Do they ever do anything with that?

Kylie: Doesn’t she get sad from fucking old men and then tries to co-run his brothel for him? And conspire with Varys or something? Ugh, let’s leave Season 3 for Season 3.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: I feel like it was good? Things stayed very focused and it felt like only a couple of days passed for everyone. Then the episode did well bouncing around, so that they could keep the end scenes for every character towards the end of the episode. I found it mostly effective.

Danzie: The only thing I found a bit jarring was right in the middle of Jon leaving the Wall, they cut to the Tyrion/Shae scene and then afterwards immediately returned to Pyp/Grenn/Sam catching up to Jon on horseback. And of course, the Pycelle scene which seemed to slow space and time like a bad pot brownie.

Julia: The Wall stuff felt slow but it wasn’t really. They recited those vows very slowly.

Kylie: Oh my sweet, summer child, what do you know of slow? Slow is for the unnecessary establishing shots of Sansa writing a letter before traveling to Molestown. Slow is for the long wight moot, when Tyrion takes a full minute to walk across the dragonpit, only to be followed by Sandor futzing with chains on the box for another one.

I’ll agree about the Pycelle scene. It really killed the tension dead.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Julia: They skipped the part where Dany gives comatose Drogo a blowjob, so yay restraint?

Danzie: All of Dany’s sex scenes in the book are weird as hell aren’t they? But yeah, bullet dodged. Also… I guess Cersei just chills fully clothed between rounds of sex while Lancel has to stay naked. What’s the timeframe between these sexual bouts? I don’t get it.

Kylie: Thank you for that reminder, Julia.

Maybe Lancel was staying under the covers, but Cersei wanted some wine and there was a draft from the window? I peg it at about 20 minutes and Lancel is in his post-sex lazy mode.

In memoriam…Drogo, Mirri Maz Duur, Rhaego

Danzie: I have nothing to say about the deaths this week, but I do have a cute story: When Lord Glover yelled “Renly is not right” during the King in the North scene, my dog (whose name is Renly) snapped his head around to the TV upon hearing his name.

Kylie: That’s significantly cheerier that trying to parse out any thoughts I have on Rhaego turning into an ash-filled dragon. Dany mercy-killing Drogo I thought was effective for her characterization, which isn’t shocking because it’s exactly what happens in the damn books. However apparently it’s ridiculously difficult to actually suffocate someone with a pillow? It’d take like, a half an hour and require a ton of pressure, or something like that.

Dany burning Mirri Maz Dur is the start of Aerys 2.0 discourse? I think? Here’s hoping she finds a man she’s willing to listen to and curb her instincts.

Julia: You also can’t render people unconscious by bopping them on the head.

Don’t you mean Rhaenyra 2.0, since she also had a lizard baby? Like I said, I’m totally on MMD’s side. I’m kind of proud of her, she was almost Dornish.

Kylie: Would that she had met Evil Sex Worker of False Tears.

Always in our hearts

That’s where we have to wrap up today, and next week will be our Season 1 closer podcast. But what did you guys think of this episode and season in general? Were the cracks as long as we were making them out to be? Is this rewatch destined to be increasingly more depressing? Let us know, while we continue to seek our fortune 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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Blackmambauk
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Blackmambauk

I have really enjoyed your take on season one of GOT, reminding me as when I first read the first book of when the Show actually cared to adapt GRM’s work with a measure of respect and captured his dialogue, his world building and even in one or two places improve upon it or capture it so well that I picture the show’s version when reading it. something I cannot say of their adaptations of GRM’s other books. Which when I read them, I rarely at best ever imagine the show’s take on it beyond the actors voices (i.e. Theon’s… Read more »

Kari Arvid
Guest
Kari Arvid

I’d like to point out how this episode has one of D&D’s weirdest adaptational decisions. According to Game of Thrones Wiki, the bard whose tongue Joffrey ripped out is Marillion, the same guy who travelled to Eyrie with Tyrion and Cat. So, they hired someone to play him, and then teleported him just to kill him to showcase how awful Joffrey is (because we didn’t know that already), which makes them unable to use him in Lysa’s death scene, the only scene where narrative needs him. It’s not really that big deal, but it could have made Littlefinger’s story about… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

Possibly the most notable early example of teleportation. Or maybe not teleportation, because he could have taken a boat and gotten there (while Tyrion and Bronn were going by land, getting captured by the clans, participating in the battle, etc. – but of people finding themselves in the oddest of places for no good reason. It continues to astonish me that Marillion – who had been travelling through the Riverlands and all the way up to the Eyrie to find a job there – suddenly changed his mind and was apparently so dedicated to going back to King’s Landing the… Read more »

Chieroscuro
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Chieroscuro

My biggest problem with Catelyn going full REVENGE is that it wasn’t in preparation for Lady Stoneheart. If this was our first glimpse into the darkness that Catelyn will sink, that’d be fine. But we get cheated of the full Jinglebell Murder Zombie treatment, so what’s the point in writing her like that?

Mytly
Member
Mytly

What’s with all the anti-Dany bitching? It’s obviously not anti-Deadpan bitching, since the stuff you’re criticizing is the same in the books. If you don’t like Book!Dany, that’s fine – no one is obliged to like her. But all of you keep making these snide comments about her throughout the article, like she’s some Olly-type D&D original character. Even the image captions are low-key bitchy (“She put the eggs in that fire HERSELF” … um, what? She walked into the fire – that was the proactive part!). And not to mention, there’s no discussion of her crowning moment of awesome… Read more »

Rorian
Member
Rorian

But then they cannot snark about how D&D mess up the Dany story in later season

Danzie
Member

For me personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Book!Daenerys. For the subjective reason that I just don’t find her super interesting – no hate, I just don’t find her engaging. I’d say that the only thing I actively dislike about her chapters is that I found a lot of her sexual encounters to just be bizarre. An example would be when she was masturbating and one of her servants reaches over to “help”. From a doyalist perspective, it didn’t serve a purpose. I know there are other instances of stuff like this for other characters. I just found… Read more »

Joanna
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Joanna

RIP the end of me finding Dany a compelling character (show, esp but book, too.) If they’d actually made her a tyrant instead of white saviour nonsense and Jon Snow schmoopily talking about her “good heart” in the same season 7 episode she’s roasting men alive, I’d find her more interesting. I think part of the issue, too, is I’ve never bought this drive for the Iron Throne when she has never lived in Westeros and already has a throne in Meeren. Why not rebuild Valyria, a much longer part of her family’s history? That would make as much sense… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

I think I’m going to scream the next time I hear that nonsense about Dany being a “white savior”, which is constantly used to dismiss her character (or even demonize her as a spawn of George W. Bush and Satan, particularly by aggressive Stannis and/or Jon stans who are concerned that she may stealing their favorite’s role). Or at least, anyone who says that Dany is a “white savior” has to immediately start calling Jon a “white savior”. Because he fits that description so much better. I love his arc with the wildlings, but in many ways it’s very a… Read more »

Joanna
Guest
Joanna

Fair, to all of this, I just think of the “white saviour” stuff for Dany, particularly with that shot of her being lifted up by brown people. It’s not that she was wrong to free them, or that she should just keep the slaves as slaves or that Meereen was a great place. It was the visual representation of that- which isn’t a character flaw or a story/book flaw, but a production/show flaw. What the show decided to do. I just get irritated that the show never seems to want to call her on anything( her entitlement, for instance. Burning… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Oh gods yes, the whole ‘Dany is a white saviour’ business needs to die in a fire (no pun intended). Dany is in an unfortunate position as a character, because she gets shit on from both sides of the readership. The dudebro types hate her because she’s a female character who dares to be powerful in her own right and who has all the magical symbolism surrounding her that’s usually reserved for male heroes. At the opposite end of the political scale, you have the readers who are trying to be ‘woke’ or whatever, and so criticize her for daring… Read more »

Callum
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Callum

I always thought of the Wildlings as more of a Scots, or possibly Celts, stand-in not Native American. I don’t know if it’s because I’m British and Westeros seems so European/British to me that I never once thought of a connection between Wildlings and Native Americans. I agree that Jon and the Wildlings is very much a White Saviour narrative though.

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

Fire and Blood is the episode known to most as “the one where the dragons are hatched.” It’s a central scene in the books and to the show’s credit, the scene is well done. For once, the nudity has a purpose: Dany isn’t naked in a sexual context, she’s naked because she’s been reborn. I do wish they’d had her lose her hair though; it would have completed the image. My main issue isn’t with the scene itself, but rather its context. There’s no mention of the House with the Red Door in the show or Dany’s dragon dreams. Much… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

I’m not bothered with Dany not losing her hair on the show. Actually, it makes more sense that her hair is intact. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that book Dany’s body was temporarily immune to fire due to the magic of the event, but that it didn’t apply to her hair. Her hair is a part of her body, if the rest of her body was fine, there’s no reason for her hair to burn. In terms of sheer cinematic effect, that scene was perfect, as was the opening scene of the show, with the White… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Dany not losing her hair on the show is on par with Tyrion not losing his nose post-Blackwater. Both are reasonable compromises made to avoid making adverse changes to the looks of major characters in a visual medium. And I agree that Dany losing her in the books makes no sense from the practical point of view. I always took it as having more of a metaphorical implication, in that she is reborn naked and hairless from the flames, just as if she would if she were literally a newborn infant. The dragon birth scene is easily my favourite in… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

What I best remember about the season 2 finale (other than the anticlimactic ending to Theon’s storyline) is that it ended on a cliffhanger – Sam and the other NW members on the run from the wight army, and Sam catching a glimpse of a White Walker riding on a wight horse, leading them. (Which initially confused me a great deal, since the White Walker kind of looked like Jeor Mormont if he had lost a lot of weight and been zombified. It took me a moment to remember that it had to be a White Walker, therefore not a… Read more »

Ann Taylor
Guest

Yeah, Doreah and Xaro locked up was just…weird. First she clearly told Doreah to sleep with Xaro to gain intel and then she killed her for that? (Because the scene where Doreah killed Irri was cut so there was nothing on the screen pointing to her as the bad gu and the only thing on the screen was Doreah the sex slave sleeping with slave owner as her mistress (ok, queen but did they truly see any difference?) ordered her and being killed for that.)

Ann Taylor
Guest

There’s one thing I think they did much, much, much better in the show in this episode that always bothered me in the books. There’s no weird breastfeeding of dragons!

Ivana
Member
Ivana

Yes! Reptiles breast-feeding?! Sometimes it seems like GRRM has problems not just with genetics and math, but also basic biology.

sjarrel
Guest
sjarrel

While I disliked his gymnastics like the next person, I always thought the part of the Ros-Pycelle scene where he almost haphazardly waxes on past kings was meant to convey that he’s aware that Ros is a spy and is purposefully feeding her boring and useless stuff. Not that this makes it any more entertaining to watch, mind you. Also, having recently done a re-watch of the entire show, I wish you guys all the luck and strength in the world.

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By The Numbers

Having Sansa faint after Ned is executed has always bothered me

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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