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Game of Thrones 2×08 Rewatch: The Price of Writer’s Block

Kylie

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It’s time to double down on bad decisions in this week’s installment of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch project, revisiting David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s show to contextualize its downward trajectory. Last week, an uneven episode landed for some but not others. This week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Alejandra analyze D&D’s build to their first battle episode, “The Prince of Winterfell.”

Episode Recap

War is nearly upon King’s Landing, though Tyrion does not seem to have much luck figuring out what to do with the guidance of books alone. Varys stops by to encourage him, and they both discuss how Stannis is likely to land at the Mud Gate. That night, Cersei and Tyrion have dinner where Cersei seems paranoid that Tyrion is trying to get Joffrey killed by having him fight. She reveals that she has found and imprisoned Tyrion’s “whore” and will see that everything Joffrey suffers in battle will be inflicted back on the sex worker. However, Cersei has her brought in and it’s Ros. Tyrion apologies to Ros, but plays along, telling Cersei that one day she’ll pay for this. He then hugs Shae, saying they need to be more careful.

The next day, he and Varys try to impress on Joffrey the danger of Stannis’s arrival, but Joffrey won’t listen. Varys tells Tyrion about Daenerys Targaryen and rumors of her three dragons.

On Stannis’s side, he and Davos recall Davos’s promotion to Lordship: how he smuggled onions (and other food/supplies) through the siege lines when Stannis was holding Storm’s End during Robert’s Rebellion. Though the other Lords look down on Davos, Stannis says he’ll make him Hand as his council has always been valuable.

Up at Harrenhal, Tywin realizes he must strike now, fearing Robb may march on Casterly Rock, with Stannis also two days from King’s Landing. Arya realizes her chance to “name” him to Jaqen H’ghar is gone. She talks to him all the same, and he confirms anyone named will die, but he cannot say the timeframe that it would happen. Arya gives her third name to him: Jaqen H’ghar. He asks her to un-name him, and the only way she agrees is if he helps her, Gendry, and Hot Pie escape. He tells her they’ll be able to walk safely out at midnight, and when the time comes, the three leave, realizing all the guards are dead.

In the Westerlands, the newly released Jaime is being taken south in the custody of Brienne. He tries to provoke her to anger so she’ll duel him, but she keeps her head.

Robb returns from the Crag to discover his mother let Jaime go and gets pissed, as exchanging him for two girls does not seem equitable to Robb. He orders his mother to be guarded. He then discusses the Boltons retaking Winterfell with Roose, and tells them to show mercy to any surrendering Ironborn except Theon, hoping he can encourage his men to turn on him. Talisa comes to Robb’s tent to talk, and after venting his frustrations, Robb asks her background. She tells him that she was a highborn from Volantis, a slave city, and when her brother almost drowned and was rescued by a slave, she vowed to not “waste her years” planning parties anymore. Robb is moved and tells her he doesn’t want to marry the Frey girl, and the two have sex.

Meanwhile in Qarth, Jorah tries to convince Dany to leave without her dragons, feeling the House of the Undying is too dangerous. She refuses and instead demands to be taken there.

Back beyond the wall, Ygritte brings Jon to the “Lord of Bones,” a wildling who wants to kill him on sight. Ygritte convinces him that because Jon is Ned Stark’s bastard, Mance would want to talk to him. Jon finds that Qhorin Halfhand was also captured, and it was all his fault. Qhorin tries to convince Jon that he needs to defect, even going as far as to pick a fight with him in front of the wildlings.

Elsewhere, the brothers of the Night’s Watch dig up a cache of dragonglass arrows and a horn.

Finally, in Winterfell, Theon has all the ravens killed so word of the murdered “Bran” and “Rickon” can’t reach Robb. His sister Yara then arrives, though did not bring the men he asked for to hold Winterfell. She tells him that the North will come to reclaim it, and they shouldn’t try to hold it. Ironborn draw their power from the sea, after all. Yara clears the room so she can try and convince Theon alone to leave with her, explaining that she cares about him. However Theon is in too deep and doesn’t want to look like a coward.

Later in the courtyard, Maester Luwin spots Osha, and follows her to the crypts, where Hodor, Bran, and Rickon are also camped out. They discuss quietly how Theon had murdered the orphan boys and disguised them as Bran and Rickon, but they don’t want to let Bran know, since he might blame himself. Unfortunately, Bran was awake and overheard the whole thing.

How will Theon get out of this jam? Will Dany get her dragons back? Will Stannis come to the Mud Gate? Find out next week, but for now, let’s dive into what we just saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Musa: Why does everything have to be shot in complete darkness on this show? The scene with Yara and Theon at the beginning would have been so good if someone had bothered to actually light the set that day. The scene at Harrenhal was slightly better, if only slightly because there was some sunlight coming in from behind Tywin.

Kylie: My brain is broken, I think, because Talisa is overshadowing the whole episode for me. What a nice love story! It just…felt so out of place, to almost hilarious levels.

Alejandra: At least it’s a better love story than Twi—wait, no. I’m not sure it is.

I was enjoying this one and then I wasn’t. Too big a chunk in the middle was too inconsequential and frankly a bit boring, until the very end when we go back to Winterfell.

Julia: Wow, the people of Weisseroff sure do have a lot of stories they want to tell each other. I guess this episode was mostly bridging and as that, it was… alright I guess.

Really, my main problem with season 2 so far is the lack of any emotion I’ve been feeling.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I need to stop surprising myself with this, but as has been the case all season, my highlight was Theon’s plot. In particular, I loved the dynamic with Yara. There’s their competitive bs, but then there’s their interplay when they’re alone too. You see Theon’s vulnerability since she basically called him out on everything, and yet his determination not to be emasculated, to his own doom. Subtle, mostly written convincingly, and just really engaging in a way I don’t remember it ever being engaging before.

I’m going to take the low-hanging fruit as my lowlight: Qarth. Why did this scene exist? Why would Jorah honestly think the dragons are okay to leave behind? Nothing would be lost in translation if after those last events, Dany goes to the House of the Undying.

Yeah, us too, thanks.

Alejandra: I have to agree that Winterfell was by far the best part of this episode. But personally, I’ll pick Brienne and Jaime as my highlight just because I love the performances so much, and they are so quintessentially Jaime and Brienne since the very beginning (and until further notice).

My lowlight is most definitely Robb and Talisa’s Fairytale Romance. It really is comically out of place and also takes up so much time in the episode. It is played as so sympathetic to both characters, and yet I can’t help but still hate Robb for being such an idiot. One scene he’s chastising his mother for jeopardizing the war effort, and next he goes and does this. And I’m so certain that D&D did not notice the hypocrisy there. Eff you, Robb.

Julia: I was oddly charmed by Oona Chaplin, even when she was telling her endless story about how she discovered slavery is wrong so she should go time travel or whatever. Not enough to call it a highlight by any means, but good on you lady, for doing the best you could with the material you were given.

I know it would be déclassé to pick Winterfell as a highlight too, so I’ll go with seeing Cersei for a whole entire scene! And in a D&D episode too! Lena Headey was having such a wonderful time. She was so unreasonable and paranoid! There was one minor hiccup where they take the terrible thing that Tyrion was supposed to say in that scene and just piled it onto her, but it’s a D&D episode, I’ll take what I can get.

The lowlight might also be in King’s Landing. And it’s any scene that involves both Tyrion and Varys. Well, that’s not true, there was that moment where Joffery was being a hilarious poser and they were both rolling their eyes internally that I enjoyed, but let’s look at these two scenes. The first one we find out that Stannis is two days away and Tyrion is only now planning the defence of the city. What. They’ve known he was coming, and if not him Renly, for quite some time. It’s just stupid writing. Then the scene on the battlements is just Varys telling Tyrion how awesome he is. Pass.

Musa: My lowlight is easily also in that King’s Landing siege planning scene, specifically the bit where Bronn is supposedly somehow an expert in siege warfare. He knows everything cause he’s street smart(™) and totally knows more than anything any *phfffffft* maester wrote in any book. SEE HOW SMART AND WORLDLY THIS SWASHBUCKLING SELLSWORD IS! I hate that overemphasis on how street smarts are automatically more useful and important that knowledge gained from studying history from books. I also just have an increasing hatred for Bronn on this show just cause I know how off the rails his automatic expertise in everything is going to go later down the line.

My highlight is harder to find, but it’s probably the interaction between Theon and Yara. It’s the boring and safe option, sure; but honestly I do find it really compelling when Yara is telling that story about Theon as an infant. It actually made me feel something for half a second.

Julia: Also, did anyone else notice how both Bronn and Shae are literate now? Okay.

Quality of writing

Musa: Remember the time before everyone somehow just had access to all knowledge of their enemies somehow instantaneously? Tywin actually still believing Jaime is held captive right after a few scenes detailing Jaime’s escape reminds me of better days.

Julia: I have to say, as dumb as the scenes with Robb and Talisa were conceptually, the dialogue was… alright? I also liked the scene with Kevan (hi Kevan! Not that we know his name…) arguing with Tywin. It’s probably mostly book projection but you did get the sense that this is one of the few people Tywin listens to and takes seriously.

Kylie: I don’t think I was annoyed or put-off by the construction of the writing at all in this case, just the circumstances in some scenes. Talisa’s monologue should have been the worst offender, but it at least sounded like a person was speaking, instead of whatever garbled mouthful Dany was throwing at the Spice King. I think some of the set-up for the reminiscences within the episodes were on the clunkier side; still, had you told me this wasn’t a D&D episode I would have believed it, and if that’s not a mark of quality, then I don’t know what is.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Um… like, um… wow I have nothing. The best I can do is maybe, like, planning, and how the best laid plans sometimes go wrong?

You have all the planning for the seige in King’s Landing, but oh no, Cersei is upsetting Tyrion’s hide-the-gf plans. Tywin is making plans for the war because they seem to be losing, Arya has to speedily change hers. What Dany’s doing in Qarth counts as planning, I guess. And Robb had these plans to marry a random Frey, and we see what’s happened with those. Cat’s plans with freeing Jaime took a turn as well.

And then Stannis is planning to make Davos Hand.

Kylie: That’s a really good effort, dear, though forgive me if it does feel a bit thin. Cause like, in every episode people are trying to accomplish stuff, so it’s just not all that novel.

Not that I can do much better! “Remember when” applies to Davos/Stannis, Talisa, and Yara (or more accurately, how the past shapes the person you become), but I’m not seeing it anywhere else.

Or doubling down on bad choices? Robb/Talisa have sex, Qhorin tells Jon he has to defect, Theon insists on holding Winterfell, Tyrion plays along with Cersei’s mistake (sorry Ros), and Dany commits to freeing her dragons. Even Arya sort of applies if we consider her bad choice in not naming Tywin. Obviously some are more damning than others, here.

Though hey, at least the title fully applies here.

Julia: I really wish Theon had burst into the room with a fugly crown, though.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: Cat made this momentous and game changing decision and most of the episode is focused on Robb and his love life? I think that crack is already pretty long and deep, though.

The Varys as the president of the Tyrion Lannister Fan Club conversation could have been in season 6.

Musa: Jon being relegated to moron who blunders his way through life to eventual success is clearly in its early stages here. Unlike in the books, it’s directly Jon’s fault that the Halfhand’s team get killed and he and Qhorin end up captured. Yet somehow, Jon ends up coming out ahead in the end. Through sheer stupidity and not understanding what’s going on until the very last second.

Julia: Wow. Robb, Tyrion, Jon… I wonder what these three characters have in common.

Kylie: I actually think this whole episode is a bit of a crack in the plaster, in that it sets the stage for building up their *momentous* shocks with very, very little planning. I’d say the rushed feeling of the King’s Landing plotline with all the battle prep at once is not unlike the “walking tour of the north” before the Battle of the Bastards.

Remember adaptation?

Musa: All the Northerners loved Ned, according to Talisa anyway. Funny they seem to have forgotten all their love for Ned when his children came knocking for help in rescuing one of his sons from being a captive of the Boltons. I do like the paternalistic outlook Ned instilled in Robb regarding how to conceive of the Lord’s position as being akin to father of all the people who fall under his rule and protection.

They also changed Ned’s words to Bran in the first chapter of A Game of Thrones to being addressed to Robb instead. Not necessarily a bad change, it’s easy enough to fit into the context as related by Robb. It does take another thing away from Bran’s character though. And I seriously just hate every time Bran gets something taken away from him in this show because of what ends up happening in season 7. Also is Karstark a worshipper of the Seven all of a sudden? Why the awkward reference to offering his heart up to The Father?

Julia: The new context for the iconic Ned line is a little odd. Ned had night terrors or something? And that made him brave. Sure.

I complained a few episodes ago that the Battle of the Blackwater doesn’t feel like it’s being built up enough. Well, I guess they decided to shove the whole season’s worth of build up into this episode. And not in a good way. It really gets me that Tyrion is reading reference books looking for tips on winning sieges when Stannis is two days away. His chain plan took weeks or months to execute in aCoK, if I recall. They seeded the wildfire, I guess, but that was so long ago that most people will have forgotten it. (All the better to shock us with next episode.) It makes Tyrion seem kind of an idiot.

Kylie: Far less proactive, too. Look at us, Julia, the show will turn us into book!Tyrion stans.

Also less proactive—like, hilariously so—is Arya with her escape from Harrenhal. I guess for the sake of wheedling down the plotline it kind of makes sense to merge her naming Jaqen with her escape, though we lose both her helping free Northmen and her first kill. And it’s just…that “oh darn, there goes Tywin” look is maybe about as opposite to what her aCoK king arc actually was.

Julia: It’s hard to buy the argument that they had no time for her plot when we spent multiple scenes of her shooting the breeze with Tywin.

Musa: I know I sort of already mentioned it above, but I still have serious problems with the Jon and Qhorin Halfhand stuff, and it’s all because it’s a terrible adaptation of an excelling book plot. Qhorin and Jon were supposed to be the last survivors of a slow whittling down of the Halfhand’s crew. Qhorin and Jon were supposed to spend entire nights together. Qhorin was supposed to slowly implant the idea of Jon defecting and spying on the enemy from the inside through application of the principle of the Night’s Watch vows and emphasis on Jon’s pledge to obey any order Qhorin gave him. It was supposed to be a tragic end to a great man who put his duties above his own continued life. Instead, we had all of that shoved into three lines of dialogue, where Jon doesn’t even understand what Qhorin is talking about! And why? Because they wanted to have more time of Jon and Ygritte futzing around the icy wilderness. Riveting.

Julia: So Jon and Ygritte and Arya and Tywin are two examples of the exact same thing. Who said D&D were bad at consistency?

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is tough for me to answer. The abuse of Ros is really not something I see Carol doing (Cheryl for sure), but comparing this scene to how it unfolds in the books is night and day. I do think the cruelty is hard to ignore here, so I’m going to lean towards Cersei. But my god, are all the teeth gone here. I guess in comparison to the sad sobbing we had last week, this is at least a good intermediary step to the Cersei that’s to come in “Blackwater”?

Julia: Really? I’m a little surprised you’re not learning a lot more heavily towards Cersei. I saw her there fully formed for at least a few lines. She was just so happy and taken with her own cleverness before Ros was brought in. Tyrion was definitely not Tyrion in that scene, but Cersei was Cersei, or so I thought.

Maybe it is just juxtaposing her to the poor weeping mom, trying so hard, from last week. Or maybe it’s just because I know this is the second closest thing we’ll get to Cersei, other than Blackwater.

Musa: Honestly, if I had never read the books before starting on the show, I’d never have gotten what “Cersei’s” deal is supposed to be with how much whiplash there is in her character. As it stands, when I first watched the show, I’d already read the books and essentially just ended up projecting my own conceptions of Cersei onto the show character and kind of glossed over how inconsistent she was. In the Ros scene though, I think the scene lost something more because of how Tyrion was handled. There was a declawing of the books characters’ going on overall, but in this case, declawing Tyrion had a sort of domino effect that toppled Cersei’s character too.

Julia: Maybe it was because Tyrion was so white-washed, that even a very toned-down Cersei seemed very unreasonable and paranoid to me.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Alejandra: Since I don’t have many thoughts on this, my guess is that it was fine. There was no point that made me roll my eyes or laugh in terms of exposition. With the exception of the Grandpappy Tywin scene, once more relaying battle plans in plain view of the help.

Julia: There was this super special moment where Varys just starts talking about rumours of Dany and dragons, just apropos of nothing. I think I laughed out loud.

I do approve a little of the way they reminded us of the whole Frey marriage alliance thing. Like, in a conversation where it sounded at least a little organic.

Kylie: Yara talking about baby Theon felt a bit more forced to me than how Talisa or Davos’s backstories were introduced, but honestly I think had it been in an episode without those two, it’d have seemed fine. On the better side was Jaime expositing on Brienne’s home.

I had the exact same reaction to Varys, though.

Musa: The one bit of exposition I didn’t really have a problem with was Jaime’s info-dump on Tarth and Brienne’s family. It makes sense to use the sigil of the ruling family as a memory device to recall details about that family. It’s a pity that it doesn’t actually do anything to serve Brienne’s character because we never actually learn anything about Brienne’s family or personal history at all! The laid the foundations and then straight up just left them there forgotten.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: I had problems with this one feeling endless too. It’s weird, since it’s supposed to be set-up for the big battle next week. But I felt like King’s Landing got the shaft again, and it was the other plotlines that were especially tedious. Maybe that’s because we had two very long, reflecting monologues?

Julia: I think I counted four times a character just stopped the plot to tell a story. Yara told us about how Theon had colic, Stannis reminisces about the siege of Storm’s End and how Robert didn’t appreciate him, Talisa told us her entire damn backstory, and—surprisingly the least bad offender—Tyrion told us about his time being in charge of the plumbing in Casterly Castle. I feel like I missed one.

Right! Robb told us some Ned stories too.

Musa: When GRRM does set up for a big momentous event in the climax of the book, it’s tense and you feel the character’s foreboding and a sense of doom lays over the narrative. When D&D do it, it’s wheelspinning.

Alejandra: A deep, dark pit of wheelspinning. A good thirty minutes in the middle of this episode are essentially empty. Tywin and his council are more tense about the imminent attack on King’s Landing than most of the characters in the city. They’re just chilling and having pseudo-meaningful conversations.

Julia: Wow, you’re so right about that. But considering they make it from Harrenhal to the city before Sansa’s period finishes, they really need that hustle.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Musa: Robb gave up a very nice bridge for the girl. It’s definitely not the worst sex scene Game of Thrones has ever done. It’s actually kind of tasteful all things considered. It wasn’t until season three that the camera was really devoted to Talisa’s butt.

Kylie: I found it fairly tasteful, and you do get the impression these characters want to be schtupping each other, which is more than can be said for #BoatSex. Yes, Talisa sheds more clothes than Robb, and yes I have my annoyances surrounding the choices made in adapting Robb. But as a sex scene in and of itself, it was fine.

Julia: Yeah, I totally buy that they want to bone each other. And that convo Ned-story scene at the beginning made it seem like they’ve really gotten to know each other during this field trip to The Crag, even if Robb is only now asking her her backstory.

Musa: Is this the wrong place to mention that Talisa’s backstory is garbage?

Julia: It’s never the wrong place for that.

Kylie: It’s only an intense devalument of feminine coded skills to make a point that serves to wildly misunderstand the entire societal structure. Schmeh.

In memoriam… All those Harrenhal guards

Julia: It’s a big deal that Arya hasn’t done any actually killing yet, right?

Kylie: She killed the stable boy who was going to tell on her. But without a kill…without really doing much of anything for that matter…what the hell was this season for her? I think the “culmination” we just witnessed really highlights what’s been lost in her adaptation.

Musa: Arya’s character seriously feels the most wasted overall this season.

Julia: Yeah, I think her plot somehow became about Tywin? Like, through Arya he learns that he has to go help Cersei and Tyrion, even if it means abandoning Jaime? It’s not really there either, but it’s more there than Arya… knowing she has a magic killing machine while she learns how to pour wine and kind-of-sort-of lie maybe? There was that one time she thought about stabbing Tywin… and that didn’t make her think to use her killing machine? But it shows that she still loves her family, right? And we were supposed to think she’s the one misdirecting letters, right?

I’m trying!

Kylie: Perhaps others in the comments will try more successfully, but we’ll have to wrap things up here.

What did you guys think of this episode, and was there something in Arya’s plotline we’re not seeing? We’re happy to chat below, and otherwise, we wish you good 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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LadyJeyne
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LadyJeyne

I really don’t like the Robb/Talisa plotline; it’s such a misrepresentation of what was there with Robb in the books. I actually think Robb and Jeyne’s relationship is far more interesting: she cares for him while he’s wounded, they have sex when he’s in a very bad place emotionally (grieving for Rickon and Bran and betrayed by Theon), and then they get married because without her virginity Jeyne is considered damaged goods, especially if she gets pregnant, and Robb wants to protect her honor. They build a nice, loving marriage together, and I really wish that we had seen more… Read more »

Chieroscuro
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Chieroscuro

Okay, you cut Jeyne Westerling and Sybell Spicer’s rampant manipulation, which I mean, come on, woman puts her daughter in bed with a king while simultaneously drugging her with an abortifacient under the guise of fertility treatments, which is just fantastic drama. Sure, you replace all that with Talisa, the exotic eastern noblewoman who becomes disillusioned with the comfort of her privilege and so disturbed by the practice of slavery that she runs off to a different continent to work as a field medic. Perhaps Braavos, noted free city that’s vigorously anti-slavery and shares her native language would have been… Read more »

Kevan
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Kevan

I agree with Musa, seeing Qhorin go from a noble samurai-ranger who serves as a mentor to Jon to… some guy with a hat ?

Also, some day, you should really do an article listing all that is wrong about Talisa. It would be long, but interesting.

Mytly
Member
Mytly
Blackmambauk
Member
Blackmambauk

Steven Attwell in his analysis of Catelyn’s third chapter in ASOS.

Also does a wonderful job of detailing of why Jeyne works in the books. Of how tragic she is, I still remember reading that part and my heart tearing for Jeyne and the situation she finds herself in. which only gets worse due to her mother and what happens to Robb.

Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Catelyn III, ASOS

Something which I have never felt from Talisa in the show. Not Oonas fault at all, she worked with what she was given as best as she could.

Musa
Member

I could seriously have just gone on and on about the Qhorin thing indefinitely

Catherine M.
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Catherine M.

Yes, Tyrion comes off like such an idiot hear. Even with the wildfire the setup fails, because in this you have him looking over those books, desperate for ideas, before he remembers the wildfire, like it’s a new revelation. Yes, we know you have wildfire, we saw you obtain it ages ago, did you really forget this whole time?

Atya
Guest
Atya

Ooh THIS episode is peak Talisa, not the last one!!! If her monologue backstory wasn’t funny enough, Robb’s serious impressed face at the story was funnier. What was he even so impressed anyway? That a slave healed her brother but could have been killed, so slavery is wrong, so she became a healer, so she backpacked to wartime Westeros? Does anyone understand what the moral of her story was supposed to be? And why does Robb think that a woman who thinks parties are a waste would make good queen material? Oh well, at least Richard Madden and Oona Chaplin… Read more »

Musa
Member

As to the Talisa thing, honestly it’s just that D&D have a penchant for female characters who are “not like other girls”. This doesn’t mean they’re willing to have female characters actually have impact aside from tangentially through a male character. It just means they like having the superficial vaneer of a woman in the story acting as if she has agency while the narrative continues behaving as if she doesn’t

Blackmambauk
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Blackmambauk

Hence why Talisa ends up being gutted at the Red Wedding while pregnant with Robb’s son (to be named Ned just because D&D do subtly the size of a hammer). And becoming known as the foreign whore who cost Rob the war. Real Agency and feminist writing there from them as always.

Atya
Guest
Atya

Yeah, Talisa’s speech was literally “I’m not like other girls.”

She was literally created only to be stabbed. For all we care, Robb could have married a stone wall for the impact she had. Aside from that one mention about Robb marrying a foreign whore, it’s now as if never existed. She existed to purpose Robb’s story, and was disposed of once his ended.

Ira
Member
Ira

Robb marrying a wall would be a way more interesting story than the one we got. Is he mad? Is there significance to the wall? What’s going on here?! With Talisa it’s just here’s a woman. You can see her butt sometimes.

Ann Taylor
Guest

He should have married that bridge. THAT would be game changing.

Musa
Member

She got that one magic mention from Arya!Walder in the premier of season 7. That counts as payoff right?

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

Theon was good as usual and for once I could actually buy that Yara and Asha were meant to be the same character. That said, why was he trying to keep Bran and Rickon’s supposed deaths a secret exactly? He goes to considerable trouble to fake their deaths and then doesn’t bother to let anyone know except the people who are actually in Winterfell. Meanwhile the show checklists Cat releasing Jaime and Robb falling into the arms of… a woman, but not main reason they had for doing these things: that they had just received news that Bran and Rickon… Read more »

MCB
Guest
MCB

Maidens and Mules brings it up below, but I want to draw more attention to what is, to me, the biggest mind-boggling “why?!” adaptation choice of this season, one that as affected every season since: why hide that Bran and Rickon are dead? It’s note just key to Robb and Cat’s motivations – without their emotional trauma they both come across like idiots in their decisions here – but to the plot from now on. If everyone believes there’s a chance that Bran and Rickon are alive, then nothing that has happened in the North since then makes much sense… 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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