Welcome to the halfway-mark of The Wars to Come, the Game of Thrones rewatch project seeking to analyze the show when it was halfway decent. Last week we chatted about Season 2 on our podcast, while this week Kylie, Julia, and Griffin press onto Season 3, with a Benioff and Weiss (D&D) episode, “Valar Dohaeris.”
We pick up the season with a cold open: the miraculously living Samwell gets chased by a wight, until it is stopped by Ghost and then set on fire by Lord Commander Mormont. It’s the Night’s Watch brothers! Unfortunately, Sam failed to send a raven before they spotted the army of the dead, so their only chance to warn the realm is to all make it back to The Wall.
After the credits, we continue beyond The Wall, where Jon is taken to Mance Rayder’s tent. There he mistakes Tormund Giantsbane for Mance, who stands to reveal himself. The King Beyond the Wall asks Jon why he wants to join them, and after an unconvincing lie, Jon tells him about Craster handing his baby away to a White Walker, and Mormont not caring. “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living.”
Down in King’s Landing, Tyrion is still recovering from his injury. He decides to let Cersei see him, since she points out that a door wouldn’t stop her from killing him if she really wanted to. Bronn, meanwhile, is interrupted from a trip to the brothel so he can come protect Tyrion, if needed. Cersei asks Tyrion what he plans to talk to Tywin about, though he gives his sister only non-committal answers. She storms out before Bronn comes to head with the guards she had brought along.
As it turns out, Tyrion wanted to talk to Tywin about his inheritance, especially in light of everything he did for King’s Landing to save it from Stannis’s invasion. Tywin tells Tyrion (without thanking him) that he can get better chambers, a new job, and a wife as a thanks for his service, but he will never get Casterly Rock. He still blames Tyrion for his wife’s death, and looks down upon him for purchasing the services of sex workers. The conversation concludes with Tywin threatening to kill the next sex worker he finds in Tyrion’s bed.
Speaking of Shae, she and Sansa are watching ships leave King’s Landing when Littlefinger and Ros approach. Littlefinger tells Sansa that he may be able to get her out of the city with him soon, if she’s ready to go on a moment’s notice. Sansa agrees at once. Ros, meanwhile, warns Shae not to trust Littlefinger with Sansa.
Elsewhere in the city, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are passing through Flea Bottom in their individual litters when she orders hers to be stopped so that she can visit an orphanage. There she lifts the spirits of the children by telling them their fathers who died in Blackwater were as brave as knights. She lets the owner of the orphanage know that she can come directly to her for anything she may need. Later at dinner with Cersei, Joffrey, Margaery, and Loras, the queen cautions Margaery not to mingle with the smallfolk, though she tells her she’s accustomed to such charity work. Joffrey agrees with Margaery, and it’s clear she’s already gaining influence on the young king.
Just outside the city at sea, Davos is still alive and stranded on a small bit of land. He flags down a ship, and is asked which king he supports, to which he unequivocally answers Stannis. It turns out the ship belongs to Salladhor Saan, who is upset about the battle and done supporting Stannis. He tells Davos to abandon him too, since all he does now is listen to Melisandre, who’s been burning non-believers alive. Davos refuses, and goes to Dragonstone where he hopes to kill Mel. He meets with her and Stannis, and the red priestess declares that if she had been at the battle, Stannis would have won. When Davos tries to lunge at her, he is stopped and dragged away to the dungeons on Stannis’s orders.
Meanwhile, King Robb Stark and his men reach Harrenhal. They’ve grown dejected without a true victory in some time, though find the castle abandoned, with all the Northern prisoners put to death and left out for them. This angers the Northern Lords, and Robb demands Cat be locked up as some sense of justice, despite Talisa’s protests. Then she and Robb find one lone survivor among the bodies: a man named Qyburn.
Finally, across the narrow sea, Dany, Jorah, and the Dothraki still loyal to her have sailed to Astapor in Slaver’s Bay, where Jorah wants them to consider buying a slave army. Dany goes to hear the master of the Unsullied out. He is quite rude, though his interpreter Missandei makes a better case for him. There, Dany learns about the harsh treatment of the Unsullied, who have been castrated, forced to murder a baby in front of its mother, and don’t even flinch when mutilated by the master. Dany is appalled by the idea of owning slaves, though Jorah maintains it’s her best option. As they discuss this, a seemingly innocent child tosses a ball at Dany. She is soon knocked to the ground by a hooded man, who saved her life; the ball contained some kind of poisonous animal. The man turns out to be Barristan Selmy, who asks to join Dany’s Queensguard.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: I think I went in expecting Season 3 to be kind of shoddy from the start. And don’t get me wrong: throughout this episode I was reminded of what’s to come and it’s gonna be one journey, that’s for sure. However this episode in and of itself? It was fine. Season openers on this show tend to be, now that I think about it. The zooming around to check in with most people works well to establish a decent pace, and though the stakes are set for the nonsense that will unfold, there’s just not enough detail in it yet to be noticeably bad. I have definite quibbles, and definite frustrations from an adaptational standpoint, but as an episode of TV, this was fine.
Julia: To be very honest, I really didn’t want to watch this episode at all, and had to force myself to do it. And, like Kylie said, it was fine. The time went quite quickly. There was a lot of book dialogue. I don’t think I was screaming at the screen at any point.
Griffin: I didn’t feel it was long, which is rare for this show, but I’m also reminded of the Season 2 opener where I had very similar feelings. It was just, go, go, go, bing bang boom. All set-up, but in a way that made sense because a BIG THING had just happened and we hadn’t really dealt with the fallout entirely yet. New status quos are typically reserved for season openers, as that is the nature of how serialized television typically operates (it’s also easier for the viewers and the production team to work with) but this one wasn’t…really that different. It acted like it was different, but was it really?
Dany is still running around somewhere else, the Lannisters are still in King’s Landing, Robb is still banging that hot time-traveling field nurse, and Jon is still beyond the wall. Stannis is still Stannis, I guess. A few circumstances and specifics may have shifted, but overall it wasn’t this huge change that the episode structured itself into being about. It was fine, though, I guess. Watchable, but not super engaging.
Kylie: Can Emilia Clarke act? This wasn’t a highlight, but I did have a moment of feeling stirred during the Astapor scenes because it was clear she could understand what was being said, and her emotions were easy to pick up. I’d call this a “nice surprise.”
Margaery was actually my highlight, and I say that absolutely hating what this character’s function is, what the implications are for how the setting is scripted, and certainly what ultimately becomes of her. However, Talisa already blew the hole in the wall, and Marg just walked on through, with her delightful grin and easy grace. She’s a character that’s effortless to root for, because she too has been beamed in from a different time, but at least she’s fun, you know? I’ll take anything I can get. Plus it’s clear that her “charity work” schtick is self-serving, and I’m always drawn to flawed characters like that. Do D&D have a single clue what they’re doing with her? Of course not! Does her employ make any sense as time goes on? Of course not! But I do enjoy the way she shakes it up for now, especially with Joffrey and Cersei’s dynamic.
Everything else felt kind of beige to me, if I’m being honest. I guess Davos’s mini plot was a lowlight, if only because I feel the least engaged with that plotline altogether. Though I do love how Carice Van Houten continues to be far too good for this show, with her absolutely selling Mel’s convictions and self-assuredness.
Julia: I noticed Ms. Clarke’s face too! I was so proud of her! Like, when they do have the “reveal” that she understood Valeryian this whole time, it will neither be a cheap shock, nor will it have been spoon fed. Good job, boys!
That might actually be my highlight. That or Missy’s debut. And the fact that we got an extended book scene like that. There were quite a few book scenes, like Tywin and Tyrion and Davos’s sub plot.
I know you like it, Kylie, but Marg’s stuff is a large part of my lowlight: that random sprinkling of tiny anachronisms that were just enough to drive me a little nuts. I know, I know, the Kool-aid man’s already been through, but for some reason it stuck in my craw. First there was Marg’s Lady Di charity stuff, that was immediately preceded by her ruining a dress that probably took someone hundreds of hours to make, because she’s so progressive. (Has there ever been a clearer indication that they don’t understand this world?) Then there was the dinner dress itself, which might as well be her running around naked as far as Westerosi would be concerned. Also, what kind of climate do they even have in King’s Landing. Marg and Shae are walking around with exposed backs while Sansa is totally covered chin down. They can’t both be comfortable.
And then there is Talisa. Dear, you’re a queen now, at least brush your hair.
And lastly, it was a very small thing, but it got me. Mel was all, “what would you have us do with the infidel, Ser Davos?” No! Stannis didn’t burn dudes because they didn’t believe in his dumb new magic friend; he executed them for treason or murder or whatever, and used a method of execution consistent with his religion. He may be an asshole in the show, but he’s not goddamn ISIS.
Kylie: Everything you’re saying is more than fair and a very good criticism of how they approach this setting. But I just…don’t really like most of these characters, even at this point. Ugh, it’s probably a bad sign that my highlights are already dipping into silly, ironic territory.
Griffin: I don’t know much about any of that, but I guess my highlight had to be…nothing? Nothing really stood out to me as “good” aside from the CG on the dragons, which looked fantastic. Seriously impressive what they did with shot composition; same with the way they meshed practical and digital to make that giant look perfect. There’s no way his beard wasn’t a practical effect. Hair can look good on computers, but not that good. Especially not in direct sunlight surrounded by reflective surfaces. As for lowlight, uh I guess Sansa and Shae’s little game sort of existed.
Quality of writing
Julia: The difference between the scenes that are just a copy-paste from A Storm of Swords and the original material is like night and day.
Griffin: Tyrion is still Tyrion, and thus more or less the one bright spot within this show that is never not entertaining. Other than that, I guess Davos was fine? He seemed more like his book counterpart than any other moment in the series so far.
Kylie: There is that unevenness, for sure. I may have enjoyed Marg as just a break from what we normally get, but she sticks out like a sore thumb with how she’s written. I’d also point to Sansa and Shae’s boat game as an excellent example of an original scene that has very clunky dialogue, especially when Ros comes over to get in on the action.
Julia: D&D are into the social mobility of sex workers; aren’t they great guys?
Kylie: Is “the truth is either terrible or boring” a trailer line? It kind of sounds like it was crafted as that.
Griffin: Now that you mention it, it does sound exactly like that. That and part of Tyrion’s whole thing about saving the city and not being remembered. Or did Tywin say that? Either way, that kind of thing.
Julia: He said that all Tyrion did was waste his time drinking and with harlots or something? And poor Tyrion is such a saint he didn’t defend himself.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Kylie: Episodes that jump around like this are always super difficult, but I guess “self-image” is one? Dany struggles with what kind of ruler she wants to be viewed at and the implications of a slave army to that, Tyrion wants to be recognized as politically important and worthy of his titles given his actions last year, Marg wants to be loved by the smallfolk, Robb wants to be seen as just to the point of locking up Cat, and Davos…more thinly ties in here, wanting to fight for Stannis without having to also support burning people alive, I guess. I can’t fit Jon in, though, and that’s mostly because this show actually doesn’t make the case for why he’s committed to the Night’s Watch in the first place. What he said to Mance is like, “…yeah. Good point. Defect, Jon!” So it didn’t really seem like he was grappling with much, even if he’s supposed to be.
Julia: New threats and challenges? That might be a bit “no duh” for a season opener. Dany has to deal with this new ethical dilemma while she more actively seeks power, Cersei has a new rival, Sansa has a new plan, I guess. So does Jon.
Griffin: I kind of saw it as “none of this matters, neither high-born nor small folk” because of the whole impending doom from eternal winter and undead hordes. A curiously comprehensive rejection of the feudal system that cannot possibly have been on purpose, since it’s my understanding that the showrunners really have a hard-on for it. It’s not super explicit, but showing us so many different facets of a broken system, and then also showing Jon making a choice to say “screw that I’ma do something that matters” is…important if the show was as smart as it thinks it is.
Julia: Yeah, I can totally see that. And Tyrion’s material ties into how unjust this non-merit system is. And even Marg doing all this work on her own and still having to pay lip service to Joffery’s wonderful “leadership.”
Cracks in the plaster
Julia: I feel like we should rename this section. GoT is fully formed except they happen to have some book scenes sprinkled in.
Shae as Sansa’s unironic defendant is giving me feelings.
Kylie: I can’t believe it’s not thematically relevant! I know we harp about Sansa’s arc from the books getting scrapped, but it’s in full evidence here. And nothing comes of it. Shae throws her under the bus to the point where Sibel Kekilli had to join the ranks of actors telling D&D to write something that made sense.
Sorry, ~spoilers~. We could just rename this section “the butterfly effect.” It’s already pretty clear Talisa set the stage for Marg, you know? We’re also seeing the results of Robb as the foregrounded lead. What to do with Cat then? I guess lock her up. Then, of course, there’s D&D’s infatuation with their own created characters. Ros was originally just to offer a grounding, smallfolk viewpoint, and now she’s playing the game and offering snappy advice to canon characters.
Julia: I’m for the name change.
Kylie: I swear it will be done. Also please note the butterfly effect on Bronn, who will get increasingly one-note.
Griffin: I don’t think the show really gave the audience, or Jon, any actual reason to not see the Wildlings as the objectively superior faction to join, like Kylie said. The whole thing with Craster was, as I recall, not totally explicated in the books, but even then that dude was a disgusting monster that the Night’s Watch declared a necessary evil. Meanwhile, the Wildings rape and pillage the seven kingdoms pretty much every time they get past the wall, and we’re, if I recall, either shown or told that in the books by this point.
Mance Rayder used to be a Ranger, yes, but…the show makes them out to be the plucky good guys, and I don’t think that was entirely intentional. Like, it seems almost comically ridiculous that Jon even has trouble choosing between the nihilistic self-defeatist jerks who loathe him and literally any level of emotion…or the pseudo-tribal union of people seeking freedom and not dying from an undead horde everyone else is too petty to pay attention to. If Jon’s primary motivation is honor, and it is, then the honorable thing would be to sacrifice his vows to the Night’s Watch and fight alongside the Wildlings to defend the realm. Y’know, what he literally signed up for.
Kylie: Definitely agree. The Night’s Watch has been done zero favors by this show for two years, and it’s kind of getting to the point where I’m realizing how little the audience has to go on at all. It’s the world’s worst penal colony, and Jon hasn’t yet articulated any of what’s important to him other than “fighting for the living.” Well hey, that is Mance.
Julia: I wouldn’t be surprised if even attentive watchers thought Qorin wanted Jon to defect earnestly. Like you said, so he could actually fulfill his vows.
If I recall, in the books, Jon’s “reason” for defecting was basically “the feudal system screwed me over,” but it was preceded and followed by extensive internal monologues about how confused and offended he was by the Free Folk and their wacky, democratic, sexually liberated ways. So it’s clear that he’s nowhere near challenging the feudal order in any meaningful way, and he never loses his commitment to the Watch. Here, why wouldn’t the audience believe him as much as Mance does? I suspect this will be important for the remainder of the season.
Kylie: Okay, okay, let’s talk Marg as an adaptation. I realize the book character’s performance of pious maidenhood isn’t as plucky and fist-pumping as a sass-talking boss-ass-individual who wants to be so intimately involved that orphanages come “directly” to her, but yee gads is this not what makes sense for the setting. I did like the mention of the Tyrells bringing food with them, since that’s legitimately a way to appease the smallfolk and what happened in the books (with the Tyrells also having been the ones who cut off the supply in the first place). But that entire point was overshadowed by Cersei’s zingers about Marg’s bare midriff, and…well, Marg’s bare midriff.
Julia: I mean, this is exactly the same thing they did with Jeyne Westerling, which is really the same thing they did with Sansa. They reject any notion of traditional femininity as politically useful in this type of setting. So even something as “soft” as Marg doing charity work has to be tinged with sexy dresses and the implication that she looks over the non-profit’s books herself.
I’m still not over the “let’s walk through this alley with no guards and walk in shit puddles!”
Not just because the lack of care it shows for the people who will have to clean the poop from her shoes and all that, but, like…if this is supposed to be a cynical move to be popular with the small folk, then wouldn’t you make a huge show of this? Bring guards, then more people will come to watch. Go talk to the orphans out in the street where everyone can hear you. The way it’s shown, as a spur of the moment thing and just to be nice, implies that Marg’s charitable efforts are…earnest? Which, are they supposed to be? Is she a good guy sexual manipulator?
Kylie: According to Nat Do, she is a shrewd politician who sees the benefit of helping others, but also does like doing it and believes in it. So I guess she’s sexually manipulating for the greater good! As for the lack of ceremony around that visit, Joffrey was there so he mattered in terms of seeing it, and I guess the idea was to start associating the Tyrells with aid. And grinning at kind of creepy looking men!
It makes some sense to me, but this definitely sets the stage for the High Sparrow, who believes his beliefs but also is a shrewd political player (and is the only honest man in Westeros, except when he’s not).
Julia: Yeah, except when he’s not. I guess that applies to Marg too, who seems to forget all this charity stuff as soon as she actually becomes queen. Too many brunches.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: Carol is emerging, and will soon take over. We didn’t get confirmation this week about Joffrey giving Moore the orders, but that’s coming. However for her, it was a relatively nice conversation with Tyrion. Cersei is still there though, to a degree, at least to slut-shame Marg.
Julia: I thought that conversation with Tyrion was pretty Cersei-like. “Oh, someone tried to kill you, how sad.” She was even a little drunk sounding. I think good ol’ LH remembered some of that “Blackwater” magic.
Kylie: I guess mild paranoia too? Fine, I’ll give it to Cersei this week.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Julia: The one big dump was probably the Unsullied and their introduction. And it made sense that it was the way it was. Maybe I’m only saying that because it was a book scene.
Griffin: I remember reading that scene extremely vividly because it was so long, or at least it felt that way. I initially read that chapter in the book, took a break from the books, and then started listening to the audiobooks starting with Book 3 during an hour-long commute I used to have. That scene, combined with all of the other extensive mentions of genital mutilation over and over and over and over again exhausted me and tanked my mood so much that I had to quit listening because it was honestly making me miserable. WE GET IT MARTIN. YOUR POINT IS MADE. DEAR GOD JUST STOP.
But he didn’t, and that’s why the Unsullied scene here was so, so, so, so, so, so, so, much better in terms of execution, at least from my point of view.
Kylie: I don’t remember it being quite so drawn out, though Dotrice certainly makes you hear every word. I thought that cutting off the nipple was very effective to quickly communicate everything, though as Julia said, it was clearly an adaptation of that scene. This is also a benefit of a visual medium, where you can get a lot across in few words.
How was the pacing?
Griffin: Weirdly consistent, to be honest. I don’t recall it being too fast or too slow in any one moment, and I didn’t ask “how is this not over yet?” once. And I do that a lot.
Kylie: I know, I hear it. I didn’t catch you looking at your phone once either. I think the Davos scenes were the closest I came to that, though it’s through no fault of Liam Cunningham. There’s just literally no reason to be excited about Stannis on this show. I do think this is about as well-paced as any Game of Thrones episode gets.
Julia: Yup. I didn’t even notice how much stuff we haven’t touched yet. No Arya, no Brienne and Jaime, no Theon. Though the longer we’re without Theon the better.
Kylie: No Bran, too. The longer we’re without Bran, the better they think we are, so…
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: We had Bronn get interrupted by Pod, and then I remembered what’s coming with Pod and sex workers and my soul left my body. I have nothing to say other than, “oh wow, completely unnecessary nudity.”
Julia: I was, like, “Oh wow, she actually has lines and isn’t just chilling with her tits out in the background. That’s how you know this is season 3 and not 5.”
Kylie: Also Bronn was able to have a conversation without the word “cock.”
Julia: He did call the brothel an “establishment,” though. What is even with that?
Griffin: They think it makes their show seem fancy and mature because they believe usage of that term carries the overarching effect of making literally everything sexual in their narrative sex-positive and empowering towards women. At least, that’s my read on it.
Kylie: ‘Cock’ or ‘establishment’? Why are we still talking about this??
Griffin: Establishment, as Julia so aptly established.
In memoriam…those Northerners at Harrenhal
Kylie: This is where I think we’re really feeling the effect of cutting out Arya’s actual A Clash of Kings plotline. That she was in a place with many, many Northern/riverlands prisoners of mild importance was kind of crucial. Now the impact is lost, because it’s just some random pile of bodies that feels disconnected from everything. And then that this find results in Robb getting mad at Cat all over again is just stupid. Jaime Lannister quite obviously had nothing to do with this.
Griffin: Wait, that was Harrenhal? Holy crap, I thought that was Winterfell. That’s…were there any kind of identifying markers to signify that? It was cold, there was snow. Robb and Cat looked horrified, so I thought, “oh they went back to Winterfell that’s weird.” I don’t even think we got an establishing shot, which would have cleared this up real quick. Did we? I don’t recall seeing one, but I could have blinked at the wrong moment. Kylie tells me I missed one, but even still I didn’t think they’d find bodies like that anywhere else aside from Winterfell.
Kylie: That makes sense, though I promise there was an establishing shot, and a quick back-and-forth with Roosey B. about how the Mountain would hold anything Tywin tells him to.
Julia: Imagine if Arya had bonded with a Manderly rather than Grandpappy Tywin.
Kylie: You mean that sad old dude on a bench? Nah.
We do have to wrap things here, though I feel bad since we barely touched on Sam. I guess the wight died? Either way, we’re eager to hear your thoughts. Was the episode as fine as we stated? Are there obvious highlights that we missed? And was Emilia Clarke really moving her face muscles?
Let us know your thoughts, and we once again wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.
Images courtesy of HBO
In Scorpion, I like my women…oppositional
Scorpion had many flaws and there were plots that could have been handled better. Thankfully with a small exception they were able to write decent female characters which gave us a variety of characteristics and strengths. While leaving the characters on opposite sides of the spectrum.
The waitress liaison
When we meet Paige she’s a waitress at a diner who’s barely getting by. She works two jobs and everything she earns goes to her son Ralph.
We know very little about Paige. There were just a few details that we know. Her father died and her estranged mother is a con women. Their relationship wasn’t the best but they managed to repair it. (Although Veronica leaves at the end of episode 3×14.) Not without leaving some cash for her daughter and grandson. It’s clear to see that Paige tried very hard not to become a mother like her own. She’s very attentive to Ralph’s needs and even though she isn’t aware that he’s a genius in the beginning, she tries very hard to connect with and understand him. She protects her son fiercely.
Paige is a college drop out. During the show she took some night classes in European history to finish her education. Although Paige isn’t a genius, she often contributes some useful ideas to solve problems or offers a comment that helps the others to find a solution.
Throughout the course of the show, she starts understanding and learning more of the science. Her main area of expertise is communication with clients and other people that the team meets. That’s why Walter hired her. She’s supposed to be their liaison to the normal world. She also often takes charge and helps the team to refocus as their minds tend to wander. Paige isn’t a mom only to Ralph—she has to take care of the whole team as they do things like forget to eat.
The waitress had some problems fitting in at the beginning. She didn’t really know her place or role, but with time she became a natural at her job and solidified her position on the team. She did have some trouble with Happy, but they worked it out while dangling on a broken cable in the air.
As wonderful as she sounds, Paige is only human and has flaws like any of us. She is stubborn to a fault and doesn’t like to admit defeat, which doesn’t always sit well with Walter. She can be overprotective of Ralph. Paige has abandonment issues. They can originate from her mother or Drew leaving her when Ralph was little. She was also cheated on. Even though she had abandonment issues, she often used her own fear against Walter who has the same problem. She left him at the end of season 1…which was understandable since Ralphs life was in danger but after that she did it again. Sometimes she lets her emotions cloud her judgement.
Paige is the epitome of a struggling single mom who pushes trough no matter what. Most of her actions are dictated by her heart and the love for her son. Although flawed, she is an excellent example on how to master life’s challenges
The mechanical prodigy
Happy Quinn is a genius mechanic with a rough exterior. She often seems as if she doesn’t care or feel. It’s not true because under the tough shell hides a loving women.
She grew up in a foster home after her mother died. She didn’t see her father until she grew up and found him. Her dad (Patrick) has an Auto repair shop, which can be viewed as the source of her mechanical talent. Repairing stuff is also how she bonds with him.
Her father isn’t the only special man in her life. She shares a profound bond with Cabe, who has kind of stepped up to the role of her father. He was the one who gave her away on her wedding.
Although she may not seem like it, she cares about a selected few very much. Especially team Scorpion. She nursed Walter back to health after he spent some time in the rabbit hole, showcasing her gentle side. She even married him so he didn’t get deported to Ireland.
Happy shared a special relationship with Toby. They got married after she divorced Walter and planned to start a family together. They tried to get pregnant but even then they met another obstacle. Sadly we’ll never know how that plot ended because of the shows cancellation, but I digress.
What I find special about their relationship is the strong foundation in friendship and how well they know and trust in each other. Toby is the only one who didn’t abandon or betray her.
Happy is a representation of every women who makes it in a field dominated by man and was hurt by life. Regardless of that she, was able to build a family and gain success.
The new chemist on the block
We meet Florence as the new chemist who moves to the building next door to the garage. She isn’t a genius, but she’s very smart. She started her own company but lost it. She then moved to start a new business venture.
She can’t really get along with the team in the beginning. Within the course of the show, however, their relationship starts to get better.
Personally, I didn’t enjoy this character. She was created to be a competition to Paige and to show a really smart individual who isn’t a genius but has the same problem as them. Sadly the character comes off as inexpressive and bleak. Her story and problems didn’t manage to get my attention or interest me.
I enjoyed her growing relationship with Sylvester, but it went down the drill since Flo had to have a crush on Walter. The character had potential and maybe with time she could grow on me but alas we’ll never know
The genius whispering sister
Megan was Walter’s older sister. She was a sickly child with a happy attitude. She was one of the few people who understood or tried to understand Walter and build a relationship with him no matter how different he was. She was very ill. She had multiple sclerosis (MS), which eventually killed her.
Even though she was deadly ill, she soldiered on and always saw the glass as half full. She was always kind and lived her life to the fullest. Megan inspired everyone around her, and comforted them when needed. This included Walter and Sylvester in the same episode, at one point (1×12).
She always supported and stood by Walter. Megan was her brother’s biggest cheerleader. Being ill didn’t stop her from having her own opinion. She didn’t want to be on a respirator and she got her way.
Something worth mentioning is her relationship with Sylvester. This particular romance was sweet like a middle school one—the feeling was strong and build on a foundation of trust. Megan gave Sylvester enough strength and courage to go against Walter’s wishes and marry her. Even if they only had a short time together, they were very happy and Megan died having lived a full life.
Megan was the character that showed us that even in the darkest times there’s always hope and a chance to be happy.
Although the woman of Scorpion are on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are united by one characteristic. Strength. Every female character showed strength in her life and soldiering on, making them prime examples on how to handle obstacles.
Images courtesy of CBS
Game of Thrones 3×02 Rewatch: Long Things, Dumb Words
Tuesday means one thing on TheFandomentals: we’re back with another installment of The Wars to Come, a deep dive into Game of Thrones early seasons in an attempt to understand what happened. Last week, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) penned a fairly competent opening to the third season. This week, Kylie, Julia, and Jana are ready for another of Vanessa Taylor’s finest, with “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”
Beyond the Wall, Mance makes it clear to Jon that he won’t hesitate to kill him if he finds out he’s faking his allegiance. After all, the reason he united everyone was to get them to understand they’d all die if they didn’t move south, so he is very focused. Mance then takes Jon to meet Orell, a skinchanger who entered the mind of a bird overhead. Once he comes back to, he informs the group that he spied “dead crows.”
Speaking of those crows, the Night’s Watch brothers began their slow journey back to the Wall. The exhaustion gets to Sam, who kneels down to give up after some taunting by Rast. Edd and Grenn do what they can to rouse him again, but it’s Commander Mormont who gets them all moving by assigning Rast to Sam. If Sam doesn’t make it back, then neither will Rast.
Heading up to the Wall meanwhile are Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor. Bran is still having his crow dreams, though in this one, a strange boy about his age appears, telling Bran he can’t kill the crow since it is him. Later in real life, the same boy manages to sneak up on Bran’s camp. When Osha threatens to kill him if he takes another step towards Bran, the boy’s sister holds a knife to Osha’s throat. He introduces himself as Jojen Reed, with his sister Meera. He explains to Bran that he does have prophetic dreams, though Bran is also a warg thanks to his ability to control his direwolf. He also says the raven is something else entirely, and that it “brings the sight.” Osha tells Meera it’s shameful that she has to protect her brother, though Meera just shrugs it off.
At Robb’s camp, news arrives from both Riverrun and Winterfell. The former is that Hoster Tully, Cat’s father, has died. The second letter explains about the burning of Winterfell, and no sign of Bran and Rickon. Robb tells this to Cat, who grieves and asks if she’ll have to wear manacles to her father’s funeral. Robb turns his army to march to Riverrun, though it’s clear not all the Northern Lords want to go. On the way, Talisa approaches Cat to try and talk to her. Cat makes it clear that she blames herself for everything that’s befallen her family and cites her treatment of Jon Snow as her selfishness that doomed them.
Someone whose self-blame is a bit more deserved is Theon, who finds himself tied up in a dimly lit room underground. He is tortured, while he is asked his motivations for taking Winterfell. However, it’s clear they’re not interested in his answer. A man sweeping the floor comes up to Theon after the others leave and slightly eases the tension in the device for him, saying that he was sent by Yara and plans to save Theon later that night.
Elsewhere, Arya continues her travels with Hot Pie and Gendry, the latter of whom teases Arya for her terrible choices in the three names Jaqen gave her. They are soon found on the road by a group of men who easily outnumber them, including Thoros of Myr and Anguy. They call themselves the “Brotherhood without Banners,” and quickly piece together that they escaped Harrenhal. The brotherhood buy the trio food at an inn, and Arya lies about their escape, saying that Gendry forged them weapons and they fought their way out. Thoros says they’re free to go, but just as they’re heading out, Sandor Clegane comes in, who instantly recognizes Arya and identifies her to the room.
Speaking of trying to avoid tension, Jaime and Brienne continue their travels, as Jaime tries to make conversation by figuring out Brienne’s former allegiance. He guesses that she was in love with Renly, though the mocking stops when an old man with a loaded horse passes by. Jaime says Brienne should kill him, but she refuses. Later, they have to cross a bridge together, and Jaime sits down, purposely dragging out the process. Brienne tries to rush him up, but Jaime manages to grab hold of one of her swords. They fight, and just as Brienne manages to best him, a group of men displaying the Bolton sigil appear. As it turns out, the old man did recognize them, and they are taken captive by the Bolton troops.
Finally, down in King’s Landing, Cersei tries to talk to Joffrey about his view of Margaery, no doubt concerned at her son’s fondness. She points out that Margaery had been engaged to Renly not so long before. Meanwhile, Shae tries to warn Sansa of Littlefinger, implying that he wants to have sex with her. Their conversation is cut short when Sansa is summoned by the Tyrells. Loras walks her to where Margaery and her grandmother Olenna wait. Olenna is very critical of the men in her family and makes it clear that she has a strong grasp of the political situation. The two women ask Sansa about Joffrey, since Margaery is to marry him. They promise no harm will come to her, and Sansa tells them that he’s a monster.
Margaery gets to see that fully on display, when Joffrey summons her and ask if the bedside of a traitor was her proper place. She quickly turns the conversation around, puffing up Joffrey’s ego and feigning interest in his new crossbow. She then hints at killing something with it and letting him watch her do so. Shae is also trying to sort out sexual interests in a conversation with Tyrion. She goes to him to try and figure out what to do about Littlefinger because of Ros’s warning, but quickly becomes jealous of Tyrion’s past purchasing of Ros’s services, as well as his comments about Sansa being attractive. However, they have sex, temporarily resolving that situation.
Does Tyrion want Sansa? Did Cat doom everyone? And will Margaery really have to kill something for Joffrey’s enjoyment? We’ll find out next week, but for now, let’s break down what we just saw.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: Well, there’s that cliff the show begins to fall off in Season 3. There were a lot of parts of this episode that worked well, and I genuinely enjoyed. But there’s just so much invented that doesn’t quite work, and it’s quite obviously done with the intent of “improving” the plots. The drop in quality is not subtle for those moments. In fact, just writing that recap the drop in quality is not subtle, but how the hell else do you frame that Shae conversation?
Jana: This is where you start getting whiplash from the draaaastic fluctuations in quality between scenes. I’d say about 75% of this episode was fine or even good, and then we have a self-flagellating Cat doing a crafting project on the road.
Julia: The one thing about this episode was how LONG it was. Seriously, it just kept going and going. There were actual highs this time, but my eyes hurt from all the rolling in other parts.
Kylie: Marg was my highlight last week, just for a pretty effortless performance that’s enjoyable to watch. This week that’s still the case, but my annoyance at her scripting has finally caught up. However, I will give a highlight to Jack Gleeson in his performance. I think the material is a little mixed in terms of how well it worked (and some of it is the result of trying to age up Joffrey), however he is such a talented actor that it makes up for a lot of it. He has this ability to turn the mood of a scene on a dime, and you see his entitlement, his cruelty, and his vulnerabilities all at once. It’s really brilliant.
My lowlight was the Reeds’ introduction. It wasn’t the most unpleasant thing to watch in this episode by a long shot, but just…why? What are we supposed to make of them from this? They’re mystical? Dramatic? It just came across as random, forced tension, when it would have been genuinely nice to have a pleasant interaction as an opening. A reminder why it is Northern Lords are so loyal and everything.
Jana: The Time Warp Trifecta was really working for it this week, at least for me. Though Margaery’s scene with Joffrey was supposed to be cringey, I guess. And Talisa was the least worst thing about her scene with Catelyn. That conversation between Tyrion and Shae, though… What even was that?
Julia: Omg, “The Time Warp Trifecta.” Thank you so much for being part of my life, Jana.
Jana: Nevertheless, nothing makes me scream more than Catelyn self-flagellating over… Not loving Jon enough? Even though in the same breath she mentions doing things for him most highborn women wouldn’t even do for their own children? And what’s this bullshit about wanting to ask Ned to legitimize him? And being jealous of Jon’s mother? Good god, what a mess.
(Never forget, three seasons from now, all of Book!Catelyn’s fears about Jon threatening her children’s claims will come true. Too bad Show!Catelyn had completely different concerns, apparently.)
Highlights… Hm. I mean, any scene that gives Sansa something to do that resembles her book storyline is nice, and Diana Rigg is a treasure. I feel like this Sansa maybe gave in a little too quickly, but other than that, I guess that’s my easy highlight to pick. Followed closely by Brienne and Jaime fighting on the bridge.
Julia: Lemon cakes is a very easy highlight. There were even some women doing needlework in the background! And cheese boy! Bless his heart. And it’s kind of all I can think of for an unironic highlight.
An ironic highlight might be the patriarchy magically appearing in King’s Landing, because god did it come hard. Wise women obey, guys! And what even is anal sex? Fun times.
The Cat thing was so horrible on many levels, especially the ones Jana mentioned. Legitimating Jon, Cat’s concerns being framed as primarily jealousy… but did we forgot the torture scenes? Maybe we tried to.
Quality of writing
Jana: Varied, is the word I’d use here. Some scenes were really well and tightly written and enjoyable, and then others, the quality just dropped. And there wasn’t even a Littlefinger around to blame! Though admittedly, the scene where Shae and Tyrion talked about him had probably the worst writing. Was anything Shae said even remotely coherent from one sentence to another?
Julia: Is she just really committed to the Girlfriend Experience or are we supposed to think this is a real relationship? Like, why is this sex worker upset that he once engaged the services of another sex worker?
I think it’s at least a soft original material-book scene dichotomy this week. The best written original scene was probably the one with
Carol Cersei and Joff, but then you had… all the other stuff. There were scenes that were just middling, I guess, like where Mance explains his backstory.
Kylie: The Jaime and Brienne scenes were some of the best writing in the episode, and also some of the only scenes that included book content as they were supposed to be. But Jana is right; we’d go from that one moment to the horror of Shae and Tyrion’s nonversation. Possibly the first true nonversation of the show?
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: Well the title is kind of appropriate because Robb got those two bad news ravens. Not that they quoted the proverb. Also, why is Lord Karstark delivering messages now?
I’m kind of nowhere in terms of overall theme. The best I can do is that people are bonding and consolidating relationships. I’m thinking especially of Marg and Joff, Cat and Talisa, Jamie and Brienne, and Jon and Mance. There are also new relationships that will be important later; Sansa and Marg, the Reeds and Bran, Arya and the Hound, (who never really interacted before, as far as I can recall) Ramsay and Theon (barf).
Jana: Yes, I was considering something along those lines as well. Uneasy alliances, maybe? False friends? Though that might be more hindsight than anything substantial in this episode.
Kylie: “People in groups of varying sizes doing things.” No, “uneasy alliances” is the closest at making sense, and it actually works fairly well. Don’t forget Rast and Sam, too.
The Butterfly Effect
Kylie: Biggest one I see in effect here is with Cat’s scripting. D&D made no efforts to sympathize with her or her viewpoint in Season 1, which is why we get Cat telling Ned to stay in Winterfell. The political advancement of her family? The legitimate concerns over Jon’s potential claim? Never in evidence, so now we get her mistreatment of him played as just…she was petty and jealous and couldn’t love a baby because he had a stranger’s brown eyes.
Jana: No kidding. If I didn’t know any better, you could almost say that Catelyn’s dynastic worries were completely taken out of the show to make it more palpable for the average watcher when Jon becomes king, and that’d be a great move. But that’s also assuming the writers planned more than one season at a time, and, well…
Julia: They just don’t see Cat as a political actor at all. Even when she went to talk to Renly it was only because Robb asked her to, remember. All this personal and political stuff goes right over their heads. The closest they ever got was with Theon, and we all saw how that turned out.
Kylie: It’s early Season 3 and we’re already at the point of legitimizing a bastard being painted as an unquestionably good thing. GAH.
Julia: Okay, I know I’ve been mentioning this every week, but why do they continue to dig this Shae hole? Now she’s defending other woman from sexual exploitation?
Jana: I actually kind of like the scenes with Sansa and Shae, at least right now. I mean, it is clearly a different Shae than the one in the books, and those moments at least make her somewhat likable. I also think that in theory, having someone for Sansa to bounce her inner monologue off of could have helped the show, a lot, with its portrayal of Sansa, buuuut that sure as hell isn’t happening here.
Kylie: I do think Sansa needs someone for that (and why Dontos couldn’t have fill the role is beyond me). But it’s not really in the service of Sansa at all. In fact, the scenes are mostly just Shae imparting worldly advice on the continually naive Sansa, and then whipping out some weird ‘empowered’ lines, like how she’s totally going to make Littlefinger stop. I guess because she runs around with daggers? Or goes to Tyrion with her problems?
I guess I’m torn on it, is what I mean. I like Sansa having someone she can be nice to, even if this is all going to get thrown out the window. But Shae’s scripting is a sore thumb for this worldbuilding.
Jana: They’re doing an all in all okay job with Jaime and Brienne. Yes, she’s more of a brute, and yes, maybe he goes on about Renly being gay a little too much, but other than that… Or maybe I’m just distracted by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (NCW) getting to actually do something again. God, he used to be so good as Jaime when he was allowed to be kind of clever and not just Carol’s beleaguered brother-lover.
Julia: You mean befuddled.
Jana: Larry was very much both beleaguered and befuddled.
Kylie: Agreed. And to be honest, I adore the way NCW and Gwendoline Christie play off of each other. This is what happens when you give actors actual content and motivation. From what I can tell NCW still tries to make sense of things. Poor guy.
Jana: Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here yelling about how they’re PERFECT AND THIS COULD HAVE BEEN SO GREAT AAAAAH but instead we try to normalize twincest for a few years, no biggie.
Julia: I just realized that the changes to Shae and her foregrounding have effectively made Sansa’s plot all about Tyrion even before they get married. But can we please indulge me and talk about why we think the stuff with Shae is happening?
Jana: My best guess as to why the Shae stuff is happening is basically that Tyrion, the precious saint-like audience avatar main protagonist hero, can’t just be fucking a regular sex worker who doesn’t care about him and his amazingness, which is why Shae is given a personality, traits that make her likable (see above points about caring for Sansa), and an informed knack for intrigue. And like, if it didn’t end the way it did, having Ros and Shae meddle with the politics of the big boys might have been a worthwhile plotline. Shae might have been a really nice example for how ladies-in-waiting are used to spy and all that. However, there was still an endpoint to get to, so all the crumbs we’re thrown here are completely meaningless in the long run.
Kylie: It’s so hard for me to understand what they were trying for with Ros in this. Because there is a bit of a throughline about maids and sex workers spying and having outcomes on the politics of the Highborn for sure. But yeah, it was a plotline without space for it, so it just ended up being this…weirdness that gets thrown out the window.
The most confusing part for me is how Martin has praised Shae’s scripting, and not an inconsequential number of times.
Jana: Eh, he is good friends with the actor. And to be fair, Shae is an actual character who at least occasionally seems to genuinely care about Tyrion and has character traits other than being out for self-preservation and good at playing the role she’s being paid to play. It paints Tyrion in a better light and make him more likable in the long run. But that only work if that was GRRM’s actual goal for Tyrion, which I doubt. I’m pretty sure Tyrion being flawed the way he is is very much the point of the character… Or maybe not. It’s hard to say at this point. The Shae thing is going to collapse hard next season, so for now it just seems like too much effort put into the wrong thing.
Julia: Right!? She just has so much screen time. Is it true or apocryphal that she has more lines than Cat this season?
Jana: I don’t have the numbers, but she definitely…does more than Cat. Has more agency than Cat, which is admittedly a low bar to clear, but nothing an ascended extra should be able to do next to a POV character.
Kylie: If it helps, Catelyn’s end tally is more than Shae’s across all their seasons? I feel like it doesn’t help.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: I’m leaning towards Carol. We had nice slut-shaming digs at Marg’s wardrobe that could have gone either way, but we’re beginning to get that sad mom who can’t control her wild kid framing of it all.
Julia: Yeah, I’m going for full Carol. She’s totally right about the sinister nature of Marg’s risque wardrobe. And the patriarchy!
Jana: No kidding. And Joffrey yelling at her about what wise women do is very much like how people are going to be mean to Carol in the future. What happened to the woman who slapped Joffrey for talking back to her last season?
Kylie: It’s official then:
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Julia: Um, Jojen gave us some myth arc exposition, I guess. We learn about anal sex? And FYI, Lord Karstark, it probably snows all the time in Dorne. They have mountains.
Jana: The guy yelling at Sam was kind of telling us What Happened So Far, but it made sense in context, I guess, and the only reason I noticed it was because I was looking for it.
If you’re generous, Joffrey tries to give us exposition about Westerosi views on homosexuality that are somehow not shared by anyone else making fun of Renly and Loras this episode. Did we mention that in the themes? People make fun of Renly and/or Loras being gay a lot this episode.
Kylie: The most seamless exposition was over lemon cakes, when Olenna was complaining about her various family members and her views on their political alliance. But we can’t exactly credit Vanessa Taylor for that one, can we?
I will say one bit of subtle exposition was that Theon is captive of the Boltons. He was on the wooden cross, and then we see the men displaying that later, which Jaime calls attention to with his, “a bit gruesome for my taste.” It was enough to preserve suspense, but it rewards a close watch, which is not anything I can say about the show now.
Julia: The problem with good exposition is that you don’t always notice it.
Kylie: Why do I feel like we should make that into a shirt?
How was the pacing?
Julia: This episode was 57 minutes long, so maybe it wasn’t the pacing that made it feel like it was taking forever. Though I do remember screaming, “am I seriously only 25 minutes in!?” at one point.
Jana: They had a LOT of scenes that were just going nowhere, or had especially frustrating content like the Cat Self Roast and Shae wildly fluctuating between actual nagging girlfriend and the girlfriend experience bought and paid for. Those scenes and the torture scenes dragged somewhat, the rest was fine.
Kylie: It was endless, absolutely endless. Griffin asked me, “Is it over now?” about three times, and I was just as horrified to discover it wasn’t too. It’s interesting, because the pace wasn’t slower in the way Season 7 scenes are slower, where people just walk across the screen for thirty seconds without saying anything. Instead, each scene itself felt pretty packed, but just packed with nothing.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: Most sexual aspect of this episode was Marg explaining Renly’s gayness to Joff, and then getting him turned on with a crossbow. I guess there was also Shae’s blowjob to Tyrion after yelling about his attraction to Ros and Sansa.
I don’t know what to do with Marg to be honest. It seems so sinister now, knowing that Littlefinger will give Sansa the advise of “make him yours” to Ramsey, and her failure to do so resulted in her brutalization (at least, the framing of it). Here, we have the successful “make him yours” campaign by Margaery, and boy does she just wield her sexuality so effectively. I understand Vanessa Taylor wrote this episode, but this entire plotline was scripted by D&D, and it’s clear they think women really can successful control “monsters” if they weaponize their womanly bodies properly.
Jana: I’m also just gonna call it— Natalie Dormer already looks way too old for these interactions to not feel an entirely different kind of creepy than they’re meant to be. I know the show is very vague on their ages and all, but there’s at least a 10 year age difference there and Joffrey is in his teens. Not a good look. Nothing compared to what comes later, but already not a good look.
Julia: Does Shae explaining to Sansa “the only thing that men ever want” count as sexual content? Why am I so effing obsessed with Shae?
Kylie: Someone’s gotta teach Sansa about the awfulness of the world, since she’s sure as hell not learning about it inherently or having a survival narrative. Isn’t this the year where we find out she doesn’t know the word, “shit”?
Jana: Well, remember how Sansa is such a slow learner? How could she have figured any of this out if not for the help of others? But yes, the sheep shift scene is in episode 10, newlyweds being nice to each other for some reason, juuust before the news of the Red Wedding arrives. I have no idea why any of that happened, but hey. Eight episodes to go until then.
In memoriam…Hoster Tully
Julia: Did anyone die?
Jana: Catelyn’s self-respect and self-worth. That died. And from what I recall, also her relevance for the rest of the season.
Oh and I guess we find out about Hoster Tully dying off-screen.
Kylie: Just Hoster Tully. I actually liked Cat’s lines about her manacles in relation to that, though may have been more effective if the guy had ever been mentioned prior to this episode. I miss the Whispering Wood monologue.
Julia: I just miss Cat.
Jana: I miss Cat’s plot.
Kylie: I miss Your Sister.
Maybe she’ll be back next week? We’ll have to wait to find out, but that’s a wrap for today. What did you guys think of the episode? Did the Cat/Shae/Margaery stuff overshadow everything else for you, or were they not as bad as we were making them out?
We certainly look forward to continuing on in Season 3, to see what’s in store for us in The Wars to Come.
Images courtesy of HBO
My First Queer: 90s Fantasy Novels
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!
Oh look, Gretchen is going to be writing about books, big surprise! Like Kristen before me in this series, I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up. Books were my escape, especially fantasy books. As conservative evangelical Christians, my parents were all about making sure our little child brains were as free from the ‘corrupting influences of the world’ as possible, hence why I watched so little TV and why it took me so long to figure out I was queer. Fortunately for me, my parents trusted my instincts with books. Granted, I was a compliant child who didn’t go out of my way to find anything subversive. If the cover art wasn’t scandalous and the dust jacket seemed free of ‘questionable content’, I could read it.
With literally hundreds of books passing through my hands over the first decade and a half of my life, if I still remember a scene from a book I read only once and decades ago, it meant something to me. Sometime last year, I reflected on these handful of books seared into my soul. Once you look at them, it’s pretty telling why these are the stories I remember.
The Eagle and The Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey (1995)
Sometime in late middle school/early high school, I picked up one of Mercedes Lackey’s books at the local library and proceeded to devour every available book of hers I could get my hands on. I can’t remember which book of hers I read first, but they left an indelible impression on me.
Part of Lackey’s Bardic Voices series, The Eagle and The Nightingales tells the story of Nightingale a Free Bard (someone who wields magic through music) tasked with finding out why the human king and churches are growing overtly hostile to non-human sentient beings and other classes of people they cannot directly control. She joins forces with T’yfrr a member of the Haspur, a race of humanoid eagles who has an angelic voice. Over the course of the book, the two become not only quest partners, but lovers.
So what? I can imagine you thinking. What does a bard and a bird-man have to do with ‘my first queer’? Fair point, dear reader. On the surface, T’yfrr and Nightingale are differently gendered and so seem to fit a heterosexual mold. However, as a young teen, an interspecies relationship felt as ‘forbidden’ and ‘taboo’ as anything overtly gay. There was something…queer about it even if it featured a female human and a male humanoid eagle. Especially in the story’s context of non-humans being persecuted by the church (*cough cough*) and interspecies relationships being considered taboo by the church but accepted in T’yfrr’s culture. Conversations Nightingale has with T’yfrr mirror conversations Vanyel, one of Lackey’s openly gay characters, has about being attracted to men.
Ultimately, it’s a story about discrimination against marginalized people groups and finding love in unexpected places that your society might find taboo but that’s just their (wrong, bigoted) opinion. That struck a chord with me that I couldn’t label. I just really, really liked it okay? And it made a lot of sense to me and made me feel seen for some reason. (Like I said, really telling looking back.) It was also a really well-written story, the best of the Free Bard series (of which this is the third book), in my opinion. We won’t talk about Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I like to pretend that book never happened.
Admittedly, certain aspects of The Eagle and the Nightingales didn’t age well. While the complicated politics and theme of acceptance are still relevant today, the entire Free Bard series features ‘gypsies’ prominently. Lackey’s characterization of the culture she calls ‘gypsy’ is positive, if a bit stereotypical. The real problem is her use of the word ‘gypsy’ at all. I know, I know. This is a fantasy book from the 90s. In that context, her free use of that word to describe a nomadic, Romani-like people is understandable. At the same time, understandable doesn’t mean problem-free and I would be remiss, even in my reminiscences, to overlook that rather glaring issue.
The Last Herald-Mage Series by Mercedes Lackey (1989-1990)
This brings me to the aforementioned Vanyel. The three books in this series—Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price—tell the story of Vanyel Ashkevron, the greatest Herald-Mage in the history of Valdemar. He presents at first as a bored, coddled, vain pretty-boy disinterested in running his family estate. That veneer hides the reality that he’s an emotionally neglected, highly introverted and intuitive, sensitive child who suffers from his father being overbearing and believing he’s ‘not a proper man’. His homophobic father, who fears he is shay’a’chern, the in-universe term for gay, sends him to train as a swordsman to ‘make a man’ out of him.’
Vanyel meets a Herald-Mage trainee, Tylendel, who is openly gay and sparks Vanyel’s understanding of himself. The two become lovers and lifebonded (aka soulmates), but in a magical tragedy, Tylendel dies (don’t worry, I’ll come back to this). The event also awakens Vanyel’s mage gift. In the aftermath, he learns he possesses all of the Heraldic gifts and becomes the most powerful Herald-Mage to ever exist. Eventually he meets another shay’a’chern couple from the mysterious human clan of the Tayledras, the Hawkbrothers known as Moondance and Starwind. Being gay in their society is not taboo, so they teach him to accept his orientation as normal and beautiful. He also meets a bard named Stefan, the reincarnation of his soulmate Tylendel.
Vanyel dies at the end of the series fighting against Valdemar’s enemies. However, that’s not the end for him. He’s given a choice to continue protecting Valdemar, so he, Stefan/Tylendel, and Vanyel’s psycially linked horse Companion Yfandes (it makes sense in context, I promise; she’s like a platonic soulmate who helps him with magic) become spirit protectors on Valdemar’s border.
Admittedly, Lackey killing of Tylendel to awaken Vanyel’s mage gifts doesn’t sit well after recent conversations about the representation of queer characters. Maybe I’m nostalgic and too kind because of what these books meant to me, but the events never struck me as Bury Your Gays (BYG), even as a kid. Lackey goes out of her way to normalize Vanyel’s sexuality, villainize his homophobic father, an even reincarnates Tylendel in the form of Stefan.
Vanyel’s heroic sacrifice at the end doesn’t feel like BYG either. His death isn’t intended to punish him for being gay, which is the root of the BYG trope. In fact, he gets a happy ending, even in death. He, his soulmate Tylendel/Stefan, and his platonic soulmate Companion Yfandes live forever doing what he wanted most in the world: protecting Valdemar.
Oh, and he has four biological children to carry on his legacy, though I honestly can’t remember how the sperm donor thing worked. Twins Brightstar and Firefeather are raised by the Tayledras shay’a’chern couple Vanyel meets. He also fathers Avren, the daughter of lesbian swordfighters in his older sister Lissa’s command. Most important is Jisa, daughter of Shavri, the king’s co-consort. Basically, the king is infertile but no one knows that, so Vanyel agrees to be the donor in secret. As Jisa ends up marrying the heir, the entire rest of the royal line in the Valdemar series descends from Vanyel.
Plus, Vanyel’s story is so central to the worldbuilding and history of Valdemar that without him, the rest of Valdemar wouldn’t make sense. So even in hindsight, I have a hard time labeling this as BYG. He’s just too important a character and everything else about the story resists being boiled down to, “he and Tylendel died because they were gay.”
Anyway, back to why these books were important to me. I related to Vanyel on a deeply personal level. He was introverted, misunderstood, and suffered from both neglect and direct emotional and verbal abuse. He’s deeply emotional and struggles with depression. He’s mocked by friends and family for being ‘moody’ and not fitting into society’s expectations for his gender. Because of the abuse he suffered, he both feared and desperately wanted intimacy yet denied himself the opportunities to open up for fear of getting hurt. Hey! That was me. Reading about Vanyel felt like Lackey had peered into my soul and put what she found on page. And that was aside from him being gay.
Even though reading these books didn’t immediately make me understand my sexuality, following Vanyel’s journey of discovering his sexual orienation deeply impacted me. I got to read it in real time, watch him figure it out, struggle with the implications, and learn to accept and embrace it by being told it was normal. He gave me the first glimpse of something I didn’t realize was true of myself. I just really, really liked and identified with him okay? I was a shay’a’chern…ally.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy (1994)
Before Lackey, there was Lovejoy and Cohen’s Seven Daughters and Seven Sons. I read this in 5th grade, having picked it off of my teacher’s classroom library shelf because it was based on an Iraqi folktale. I loved (and still do love) all kinds of folktales, myths, and fairy tales, especially non-Western stories. Buran’s story became my favorite, though over time I forgot the title and it took me years to track it down again.
Buran is the fourth of seven daughters living in Baghdad. Everyone in the city shuns her father for not having sons; her uncle—father to seven sons—especially like to throw Buran’s family’s poverty and seeming lack of favor from Allah in their face. Not content to see her family suffer, Buran disguises herself as a man, travels to Tyre, and sets up shop as a successful merchant while maintaining her masculine disguise.
Mahmud, the prince of Tyre visits her shop often, and Buran finds herself falling in love with him and he with her, though she’s still disguised as a man. Soon after he realizes his in love with Buran-in-disguise, Mahmud has a moment where he begins to wonder if she is a woman. So, he sets about testing her to prove her gender. Fearing discovery and the loss of friendship and her business she uses to support her family, Buran uses her wits to pass Mahmud’s first two tests. The third, to meet him at the baths, she flees from as it would reveal her identity. Donning women’s clothing, she heads home, encountering two of her male cousins, whose position in life has much diminished since she left. Her family, on the other hand, is rich and her sisters have married well due to her business acumen.
Her family pressures her to marry, but her heart belongs to Mahmud, though she cannot admit it. Rejecting social expectations of her, Buran determines to never marry and leave her fortune to her sisters’ children. However, Prince Mahmud eventually finds her and the two get married and live happily ever after.
Stories about women who disguise themselves as men and have a prince fall in love with them exist in a strange limbo between queer and heteronormative, depending on how the author frames the prince. Lovejoy and Cohen straddle that line in an interesting way. On the one hand, the story lets the prince believe himself in love with Nasir—Buran’s masculine name—for almost two pages. There’s even a highly sexually charged scene between the two of them told from Prince Mahmud’s perspective. But then Mahmud has a rather convenient insight that Nasir is actually a woman in disguise. It simultaneously feels less homophobic than it could have been and as heteronormative as people who don’t want to acknowledge that Li Shang in Mulan was totally in love with Ping and flagrantly bisexual.
Still, as a child, it was eye-opening to read a story about a man who falls in love with another man, only to realize she’s a woman. And Buran was definitely a character I both admired and identified with. I, too, wanted to be more than what my conservative environment said a woman should be. I admired her courage, her intelligence, and her unwillingness to submit to societal expectations for what it meant to be a woman. There’s a bit of Not Like Other Girls, but no more than Vanyel felt like Not Like Other Boys. They’re both characters who didn’t quite fit in and found a way to embrace and celebrate who they were. Once again, to not-yet-aware-of-her-queerness-Gretchen something about Buran and Mahmud struck home.
And then there was the scene where Buran strips naked and looks at herself as a woman after living as a man for years.
“When I got back to my room, my own safe little room in Jihha’s house, I bade the servant leave the candle, and then I dismissed him. I took off all of my clothes, every single piece, and then I stared down at my naked self. I saw the gentle swell of my two breasts, small, but firm and high, with smooth golden flesh giving way to rosy nipples. I saw the slight curve of my belly, which would never, ever be absolutely flat, no matter how thin and hard the rest of me might be. Beneath my narrow waist, my two hips curved like two crescent moons and between my legs, black hair curled in tiny ringlets.” (p. 151-152)
Poor little 10-year-old baby bisexual Gretchen did not know what to do with the confusing feelings reading that passage awakened in her. I’ll be honest, this was the scene that stuck in my mind for years. Until recently, I had no idea why. Looking back now, I can 100% label it as the first viscerally, “Oh shit, I’m queer,” moment of my life. It only took me 20 more years to unpack it, but this book is the piece de resistance of young queer Gretchen.
So these were my first queer inklings. Strange, I know. Two of the stories weren’t even explicitly queer and the other featured a gay protagonist, not a woman-loving-woman (wlw). But they meant something to me. They planted seeds in my repressed, survival-mentality brain that would only come to fruition many years later. For a survivor of CSA and abuse who literally had no framework for understanding being a wlw, these books were the only shreds I had of a part of myself I didn’t have words for. Yes, they were problematic in some ways. Yes, they were imperfect matches to my own experience. But they were literally all I had.
As I said at the outset, these are stories I vividly remembered years later. Even if I couldn’t remember the name of the book, I remembered scenes or interactions that felt…significant to me in some unnamed as yet way. However flawed they are, they hold a special place in my soul.
They’re also the reason why I write mainstream SFF novels. I know there are other kids out there who don’t know they’re queer just like I didn’t. Kids who wouldn’t think to pick up a book explicitly labeled as ‘queer’ either because they don’t think that’s who they are or because their situation at home wouldn’t allow them to. (My parents would have banned any book labeled that way on sight.) Kids waiting to pick up a book about mages or queens or space colonists and see a protagonist who loves in a way they didn’t know was possible.
So in the end, they gave me even more of myself than I ever could have imagined. This is why stories matter.