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Game of Thrones 3×07 Rewatch: The Bad and the Mostly Fair

Kylie

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We are back with The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch of the first four seasons from the days when we could get through an episode without screaming. Or rather…thought we could. Last week’s “The Climb” by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss certainly made us scream, though this week none other than George R.R. Martin holds the pen in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. The results will be great, right? Kylie, Julia, Jana, and Cat are here to discuss.

Episode Recap

Sansa and Tyrion’s upcoming wedding is the talk of the King’s Landing! Sansa cries to Margaery about the arrangement, though receives the advice that she should make the most of it. The shrewd Tyrell hints at her experience in bed, though Sansa misses it. Tyrion, meanwhile, complains to Bronn only to receive similar advice. Elsewhere, Joffrey tries to put Tywin in his place by complaining about the Small Council meetings being moved to the Tower of the Hand, but Tywin makes it clear that he is very much the one in charge.

Just outside of the city, Melisandre and Gendry sail through Blackwater Bay on their way to Dragonstone. Mel reveals to Gendry that he is a bastard of Robert Baratheon.

In parts still undisclosed, Theon is removed from his shackles by two women, who proceed to encourage him to engage in a threesome with them. Theon senses it’s a trap, and is correct; the horn-blower emerges, and tells Theon that he plans to castrate him.

Over in the riverlands, Robb’s army hits heavy rain, slowing down their travel time to The Twins. Robb doesn’t seem concerned, though Cat remains adamant that they’re already on thin ice with Walder Frey. Later, Robb and Talisa make love, and Talisa reveals that she is pregnant with Robb’s child.

Elsewhere, the Brotherhood without Banners also get delayed on their way to the Twins, as they learn of Lannister soldiers to the south that they want to attack. Arya yells at them for only caring about gold, and when she finds an opportunity, slips away…only to be immediately found and captured by Sandor Clegane.

Also in the riverlands, Jaime prepares to set out from Harrenhal at the same time as Roose. The Bolton informs him that he is on his way to Edmure’s wedding (Jaime sends his regards), and that Brienne is being handed over to Locke. Out on the road, Qyburn treats Jaime’s hand, and Jaime learns that he was a maester stripped of his chain for human experiments. Qyburn also tells him that Locke rejected Selywn’s offer for Brienne, because he believed she was worth more with all the Tarth sapphires. Jaime forces the Bolton men escorting him to take him back, threatening to tell his father that they cut off his hand instead of Locke if they refuse.

Once back at Harrenhal, Jaime finds Brienne in a pit with a bear. He jumps in, and the Bolton men tasked with getting him to King’s Landing attack the bear, giving Jaime and Brienne the chance to climb out. Jaime then declares that Brienne will be headed with him to King’s Landing.

Also on the road is Bran, who has been talking about his dreams with Jojen. Osha finally loses her cool about this, worrying that Jojen can’t be trusted and that his powers are suspect. Jojen worsens her fears when he says that he and Bran need to go much further north than Castle Black, and that Jon won’t be there anyway. Osha tells the party the story of her lover who was turned into a wight, and how she had to burn him and their house down in the end. However, Bran seems to agree with Jojen that they need to continue even further north.

Jon, meanwhile, is not at Castle Black, but now on the southern side of the wall with the wildling party. Tormund tries to give him sex advice, while Orell cautions Ygritte about Jon’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch, while also hinting at his own feelings for her. Later, Jon and Ygritte flirt, until Jon points out that the wildlings have never been successful in sieges on The Wall. They’re both struck anew with the realization that they’re on opposite sides, though neither one seems prepared to deal with that.

Finally, in Slaver’s Bay, Dany arrives at Yunkai. Jorah tells her it has no “strategic value” and that they should move past it, though Dany points out that all the slaves living in the city who she wants to free are the value. Yunkai sends an emissary Razdal mo Eraz to treat with Dany, and he offers her gold and ships if she takes her army and sets sail for Westeros. However, Dany is adamant that they free their slaves, and she keeps the gold presented to her anyway. Razdal mentions friends of Yunkai, and Dany asks Jorah and Barry to investigate.

Who are these friends? Where is Sandor taking Arya? And is Robb mad that Talisa is pregnant with his baby? We’ll find out next week in The Wars to Come, but first, let’s break down what we saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: This episode finally ended on a high note, unlike the last couple where King’s Landing was the parting taste. That said, it’s pretty apparent that most characters don’t have enough to do this season, and this episode fell victim to it. I’m getting tired of describing the show as “uneven,” but I am either cringing during a scene, or somewhat enjoying myself. This week was right in that pattern. I really thought GRRM would be able to bring it together a bit more, but the butterfly effect yielded some interesting results, so now he had to write to an earnestly in love Shae, an earnestly sweet and sexually liberated Margaery, and Talisa of Volantis. He just…works with what they give him.

Julia: Even though we know that GRRM didn’t write that scene, I can’t really say this episode was much of an improvement from the stuff that came before it. Not better than Cogman, anyway. Also, like maybe two things actually happened and the rest was just two people talking. Which is usually my jam, I know, but considering how I feel about most of these characters…

Cat: Having not seen this show in a LONG time I forgot how often it switches back and forth and just how much is covered in an episode. This kind of felt like a “okay everyone, places please, we need to start wrapping this up soon start going where you need to be” kind of episode. Which, when you only have 10 episodes, I guess at some point you really do need to jump around a lot. But if they hadn’t spent so much time in King’s Landing we could have seen more of the other threads.

Jana: If not for the last few scenes, this might have been the worst episode I’ve covered in this rewatch yet. Maybe I missed the truly bad ones, but good god, was there a lot of bullshit to go around this time.

Also, why not end this one with the folk rock cover of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”? Would have fit better. And ending a triumphant moment for Jaime on Tywin’s theme is… I mean, efficient in reminding us it exists (though didn’t Cersei just tell Marge about it?), but just so thematically inappropriate… Sorry, sorry, getting ahead of myself here.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I’ll get the lowlight out of the way, and it’s the easiest one I’ve ever had to pick: Theon’s torture scene. Yes, D&D ~went there~ with castration and that was so bold of them!! And boy are they obviously delighting in it. Martin has gone on record that he did not write that scene, and frankly we didn’t need to be told. It’s the 101 definition of ‘gratuitous’.

When I say I was either cringing or enjoying myself, I genuinely did enjoy the writing of a few scenes. With Jon and Ygritte, you can see that they see how screwed they both are and that their situation is hopeless, but they try to avoid it. Osha’s scripting worked this week because it tapped into her motivation, rather than her random competitive skinning. People were people, once again.

But I’ll actually give Tywin and Joffrey the gold star this week. Here’s Martin writing two non-POVs in a scene that couldn’t be in the books, and I think genuinely showing us the benefit of the visual medium without that structure. This can hang with the Viserys tub scene, really. Joffrey is so obviously out of his league, while there’s also the dramatic irony of him being right about the dragons. And then Tywin’s “Your Grace” at the end…just perfect.

Julia: Yeah, that scene was well written and excellently acted. Tywin didn’t have to climb those stairs to tower over Joffrey.

I’m going to stan for Jon and Ygritte again. (How did this happen to me!?) I think it’s just that Rose Leslie makes Kit Harington seem like he’s an actual human. It’s kind of amazing. And thank you to Beardy for that great sex advice.

I’m going with the Marg and Sansa scene for my lowlight. I think there was some attempt to address the patriarchy with the whole “we’re all doomed to marital rape but we can make it slightly less horrible through the power of positive thinking” think, that does have something to say about how someone like Marg would be navigating it, but the Butterfly Effect kind of made any point impossible, especially since said Patriarchy Navigator who is resigned to at most being an influential mommy is actually a sex-pot.

The Shae and Tyrion scene pissed me off mightily, but that’s for a later section.

Cat: I’ll join you on Jon and Ygritte, I always loved them. The Wildlings in general offer such great counterpoints to Jon’s rigid thinking and honestly just the traditional fantasy setting in general and Ygritte is very unapologetic about that: she has fun with it.

That Tywin and Joffrey scene was fantastic, I love the way Tywin was presented in the show.  

Can we spoilers? If we can spoilers: the whole pregnancy and happy relationship with Robb and Talisa bothers me so much. I remember watching the show, then reading the books, then watching season three and just… it’s only here to make it hurt more later. It completely takes away the point of the marriage in the books which is Robb’s honor mirroring Ned’s as an undoing. And to watch them be so happy and in love and hopeful knowing what’s coming… it’s just for shock value later and I think it is exceptionally cheap.

Jana: I think we can spoilers. I do it all the time.

Guys, uhm, while I do agree that the scenes with Jon and Ygritte were really good, and the Tywin scene was finally putting Charles Dance’s existence to good use in ways that aren’t stupid, I’m gonna have to stan for the bear here. Well, not the bear per se. The cut down a lot of the significance by banning dreams and all that, but the Jaime and Brienne bits were still excellent and I love them. I don’t even know if the show made it more or less romantic by cutting out the dream and Jaime changing his mind very, very quickly, and I don’t care. It’s still a pretty good scene to project the books onto and I liked it. I feel sorry for the bear though.

The Theon scene had me begging for mercy right along with him. Somehow I had repressed most of that. Sansa and Margaery had me yelling. And Gendry and Melisandre had me yelling because for a minute there I thought the dick leeching would also be happening this episode, for thematic cohesiveness.

Quality of writing

Julia: Maybe it’s in my head, but I feel like the world-building was more on point this week.

Kylie: Well, it existed this week. Jon talks about the Wildling history of invading the North for the first time, Yunkai’s political situation sort of had to be explained, Jojen got into the green dreams and “rules” a bit, and Jaime pulling rank was pooped straight out of the feudal order’s butt. I do think Cogman may have done the same with these beats as Martin did, but there was a cause and effect, and it tied into the systems of the world. That’s not the case when D&D write, plain and simple.

Cat: You ever wonder if Martin just tries his best to keep the story with some kind of relevance to the work that he does so that’s why we got all the info we did this episode? I’d work hard to put it anywhere I could if I only got a few episodes a season.

Jana: I think the fact that suddenly, there was character banter that was actually enjoyable is the biggest sign that the writer was a little different than usual. I actually enjoyed Ygritte. The scene where they talk about castles and windmills and swooning was cute and well-done.

Kylie: I liked that he leaned into Talisa, the Volantine. Like sure, it birthed all the conspiracy theories, but he actually had her reference her family and that she was writing to them, which is frankly more effort into her character than I’ve seen even Vanessa Taylor give.

Jana: Oh, yes, that also helped. I find her writing her mother and playing a little coy with Robb a lot less grating than the sassy field nurse. Which we got a hint of, but still.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Wow, GRRM, you’re giving me nothing here… something about identity?

When we consider the title… like, the whole Bear and Maiden Fair/Beauty and the Beast thing is such a prominent thread through so many characters and relationships in aSoIaF, but the only one here is kind of the literal one. Unless you count Marg telling Sansa that maybe she should try to give Tyrion’s sexiness a chance?

Jana: Well, if they’d put Gendry’s dick leeching into this episode…

Cat: If you zoom out a bit I think we can make it about idealization vs reality? There’s an undercurrent in a lot of this series about the difficult between the stories/songs and real life. We see it a lot with Sansa, but we also see it with Jon and the Wildlings. We see it was Bran and that magical plotline being out of the stories. We see it with Dany and her dragons. And we see it with Brienne and Jaime. Two knights, both trying to do the right thing, both perceived differently because of it. This can be said a lot better, but for an episode titled after a song referenced in only the ending scene (and barely referenced at that), I really want there to be more going on. At least if I was writing a book report.

Kylie: That’s going to work better than anything I can think of. I was considering “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” That at least links to Tyrion’s conversation with Bronn, Jon and Ygritte, Yunkai (I think), what ends up happening to Arya, where Bran’s party is headed (sorta)… I don’t know, it breaks down with Jaime and Brienne, but it seems at least vaguely toyed with.

Julia: Yeah, some kind of vague, “no way for this not to be shitty” theme? That works with Sansa too. I suppose you can count Dany in there too, since she would feel shitty about not freeing all those slaves. And it’s kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t for me” because I’m stuck between agreeing that slavery is a big deal, and being annoyed at Dany and her coming White Saviour moment.

The Butterfly Effect

Kylie: Okay, so this episode is the kind that makes me worry I’m reading ASOIAF all wrong. Because…George R.R. Martin wrote a sexually liberated Margaery. Like, a very, very sexually liberated Margaery who is so into sexual agency that she thinks it’s just dandy for Sansa to get an “experienced” husband with a handsome scar. There’s so many butterfly effects going on just in this one scene, not only with how women’s sexuality is treated, but also in terms of how Tyrion has to be presented so desirably (it’s never mentioned that Sansa is a political prisoner and Tyrion’s family is at war with hers), as well as Margaery still wanting to be Sansa’s friend and see her being happy. This is not how the Tyrells were in the books, at all.

My only thought is that maybe Martin saw what had been scripted already, and leaned into it?

Julia: The “wet shit” convo is leaning in pretty damn hard.

Cat: When do you think he realized the show was going to be drastically different?

Jana: In those DVD commentary tracks I keep mentioning, GRRM did sound very apologetic throughout, so I’m going to agree with Cat here, he probably just tried to go with the flow. I’m looking forward to next season, when we’ll probably be here wondering if he’s actively taking the piss out of the show with his scripting. So let’s be carefully optimistic?

Julia: I’m so looking forward to “The Lion and the Rose”.

One thing I did notice and appreciate is that Martin seemed to be doing some damage control with Osha and her story about her dead BF. Like, if she’s been so terrified of going back north this whole time, that makes her terrible behaviour to Meera make a little bit of sense.

Can we use this opportunity to discuss my old bugbear about Shae? Especially given Martin’s comments (which still confuse me…) that he likes the show version of Shae more than his own. Here we have her basically refusing to be retconed into her aCoK plotline with a house in the city and payment-by-bling. I’m really annoyed by how anachronistic her nagging of her highborn patron his as much as anything and don’t know what to do with it in general.

Jana: I mean, this Shae is, usually, a lot more likable as a person than book!Shae, at least to your average viewer. Maybe that’s what he meant? Also he’s friends with the actor, so giving her more to do was probably also a plus. And maybe she plays the nagging girlfriend better than the girlfriend experience? Who knows! Too bad it’s all going to amount to nothing.

And while we’re at it, can we just mention that, even though it was buried by all the other gross stuff this episode, the conversation between Bronn and Tyrion about how fuckable Sansa is was really, really bad?

Julia: I choose to see it as a desperate attempt to make Tyrion a little more flawed.

Kylie: Okay, so clearly there’s no Jeyne in Robb’s plot. And we’ve got this time-traveling field-nurse that Martin is now tasked with scripting. Was he purposely writing her to be as anachronistic as possible when she asked Robb if he was mad at her for being pregnant? Like…she understands how hereditary feudalism works, right?

Maybe not…

Remember adaptation?

Julia: Let’s list the major things that have been changed and start from there. Sansa knows about her wedding ahead of time, Marg is still her friend after that knowledge bomb is dropped. Shae is not at ll mercenary and sees her relationship with Tyrion as, like, an actual relationship. Gendry is going to Dragonstone to serve a similar function as Edric Storm and he knows who his father is. We see Theon’s torture in detail and his castration is made pretty explicit. Osha and Rickon are still with Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds as they head north. Orell is into Ygritte for some reason. (Very minor, but I think this need to be mentioned because it’s weird.) Robb is married to this random chick from Volantis called Talisa and she’s preggers.

So, Dany’s plot, Jaime and Brienne, and Jon and Ygritte are more or less what we can recognize. All the other plots are majorly changed.

Jana: I think all this extraneous filler material is only here because they mistimed the season a bit. Sansa’s and Tyrion’s wedding happens a great deal earlier than it does on the show, and Tyrion is greeting Oberyn before the Red Wedding even happened, but Sansa has like two chapters before the wedding, and we need the Red Wedding as the season climax, so damn it all, let’s just have Margaery talk about sex with her a lot and maybe throw in some queerbaiting while we’re at it. Just a hint.  

Cat: EXCELLENT point about how needing the Red Wedding as a climax really messed with the pacing, I hadn’t considered that and you’re so right.

Julia: To be fair, I think aSoS is too much material for one season, though not enough for two. And I suppose they were married to a ten episode season at this point? And casting/budget related there-to probably had a lot to do with the delay of the Dornish being introduced. I think I would be willing to forgive most of this stuff if I were better disposed to the show, and if their choice of filler didn’t annoy me so much.

Kylie: I think it’s also worth noting that this is the first time, but not at all the last, they mess with the pacing for a false sense of a “climax” at their beloved episode 9 slot. Next season is even worse with Jon and Bran, because they wanted a ~BATTLE~ to close out the year, rather than a slow, relentless onslaught. Why was that deemed the climax over a Lord Commander Snow? No clue! But it seems blatantly clear why they’d force the Red Wedding as the climax, at least.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Cat: A bit of both, but I’m honestly not sure where else they would have put it with the way this season was structured. And I appreciate the attempt to add all that info in. See earlier comments about the likelihood of Martin wanting to make sure we had it.

Jana: Jon bringing up the history of the kings beyond the wall was well-done. A very convincing argument to bring to a debate, unfortunately Ygritte doesn’t care much about precedent. Does Qyburn introducing his character count as exposition? That worked, too.

Kylie: Jaime asked him, which helped a lot. I think it was mostly well-done, like with Osha’s backstory too. But the episode’s unevenness sort of eclipsed what worked there.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: The beginning of the episode was paced just horribly. So many scenes devoted to discussing Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding. Can you tell King’s Landing is plot-thin this season?

Julia: Or the endless scene I for some bizarre reason did not skip over that felt like it was from some cheaply produced porn. You know the one.

Kylie: I was determined to watch every second, but then Griffin grabbed the remote out of my hands yelling, “No! No! We’re done! We’re done!”

Cat: I managed to not skip any scenes but I definitely conveniently checked my phone a few times.

Jana: I was knitting! But honestly, for most of the episode, it felt like a very, very slow relay race, and every time they passed on the stick, it got worse somehow. And also slower. Except for Jaime and Brienne, Dany, and Jon and Ygritte. And when are Jon and Dany ever the high point of an episode?

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Cat: I forgot how much sex was in this show. Which probably speaks to how unnecessary a lot of it is.

Kylie: Did you guys find Robb and Talisa gratuitous? I mean, butt-shots aside, I actually do buy their dynamic, which is something.

Jana: I think that part would have worked better if Robb didn’t keep bringing up how he was going to ravish her if she kept on existing nakedly in his peripheral vision. Bit of a turn-off. Other than that, they were okay. I have no idea why anyone would voluntarily stay naked and exposed like this in that kind of weather, but hey, what even is temperature.

Cat: They just made me miss my boyfriend, honestly, I loved that scene. They’re so into each other. I think it was gratuitous because I know what happens to them, though.

Jana: Speaking of which…Talisa goes from just announcing her pregnancy this episode to being visibly stabbed in the baby two episodes later. Does her baby time travel with her, or do they really take five months or so to travel the Riverlands?

Julia: The Freys heard about it on Weisteroff Twitter.

Jana: …And the visible baby bump was just a big lunch she had before arriving there?   

Julia: Was there a visible bump? I’ll take your word for it. I don’t think this show has a very good grasp of the female reproductive system. Remember when Sansa’s period lasted a month?

Kylie: Bumps aside, we know exactly why she’s pregnant. Because it becomes that much more messed up when she gets stabbed in the uterus, and if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

In memoriam…of no one!

Julia: I just hope that bear was okay.

Kylie: It was a bolt to the shoulder, Julia. That’s basically a scratch.

Cat: In memoriam of the Lord of Light, Arya’s answer about her one true god was too good.

Jana: Hah, nice one. In memoriam of whatever shreds were left of Joffrey’s dignity before Tywin roasted him.

Julia: In memoriam of GRRM’s good working relationship with the show?

Kylie: No wonder he tries his hand at a sitcom in Season 4.

We must leave that for the nonce, however, as well as this rewatch. What did you guys think? Are we somehow not giving Martin enough credit? Is the King’s Landing pacing as tedious for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and we continue to wish you good fortune here 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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MCB
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MCB

Again looking back at my notes, this was the episode where Ramsay and Theon soured on me – it had gone on long enough, they’d established Ramsay’s character, was I going to have to watch two full seasons of nothing but Theon’s torture? Unlike you guys, I kind of hated Osha’s speech. She declares that the gods don’t care about us… how does that mesh with the first season, where she teaches Bran to listen to the voices of the gods in the trees? It just struck me as yet more of the show’s “religion is stupid/evil” message. Mostly, though,… Read more »

Kevan
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Kevan

It must be noted that GRRM had to rewrite the script twice to make it according to show pace and continuity. At first, it was named “Chains”, then “Autumn Storms”, Then that. So, it’s not surprising that the tone is all over the place and that some scenes were probably “thrown in”.
Of course, I’m a big GRRM’s apologist, so take it with suspiscion ^^

By the way, I love reading those review. I just have an eternal case of “hey, what happened to Musa/Danzie/Jana” every week 😀

Jana
Member

Only Kylie and Julia have the mental fortitude required to make it through the show every week and then still be able to write about it semi-coherently. The rest of us mere mortals occasionally need a break 😀

Spoiler
(she said as if she hadn’t signed up for next week)

Ann Taylor
Guest

Looking from the present point of view, it’s a good thing Willas doesn’t exist here. He would be fine for the season 3 Sansa’s plot, but not then. Only mention him, fine. Never show him, fine. Let him stay in Highgarden during Marg’s imprisonment, fine. If you say he has a bad leg, it even makes sense why he isn’t at Dragonstone and they could go with the false feminist, in fact Tyrion ruling block. But then what happened? The sack of Highgarden – and there are two options. 1. Willas is the one who talks with Jaime, completely unknow… Read more »

MCB
Guest
MCB

But that’s assuming the plot was always going to go to where it did in seasons 6 and 7, which is far from a guaranteed thing with showrunners who were increasingly making things up as they went along and ignoring the few notes they’d taken on later books. Had they kept Willas and put Loras in the Kingsguard where he belonged, things might have gone rather differently.

Ann Taylor
Guest

I don’t hold hope they would put him into the Kingsguard – or that him in the Kingsguard would change his next “plot” in any way, he was just chilling in King’s Landing anyway. Nor do I hold hope they would change anything if Willas would exist only in few sentences of other members of his house until it’s time for him to die. After all, the plot of seasons 6 and 7 is more or less independent on minor characters or any subplot except “Cersei bad, Dany badass, Jon good, skeletons scary, dragons cool, we clever”, so no need… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

This was an odd episode. Two of the best scenes are not in the book. Osha talking about her lover who was killed and wighted by the the White Walkers was a nice bit of characterization and reminder that the Wildlings are migrating south not out greed or malice, but to flee the very real threat of ice monsters. Tywin and Joffrey was also well done. Charles Dance and Jack Gleason were great as usual and Tywin’s dismissal of the possible threat of dragons makes for a nice parallel to the similar dismissals of the threat posed by the White… Read more »

Foxxx
Guest

“What’s the point of Locke” Hey, you said it yourself – they didn’t adapt the bloody mummers and they needed someone to cut Jaime’s arm and then stick Brienne in the bear pit. For what it’s worth, he was pretty entertaining.
“Beric’s duel with Sandor and his speech about his repeated resurrections was good, but the rest was boring filler” I disagree, the Brotherhood’s first scene and the scene in the tavern were good too, mostly because of Thoros and his banter with Arya.

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

For sure, but why not just adapt the Bloody Mummers rather than creating an original, worse group of characters? The biggest problem for me was the omission of the Lannister connection. In the book, Jaime is crippled by a gang of violent criminals his father brought to the Riverlands specifically to cause as much damage as possible. Tumblr user @racefortheironthrone put it best when he described Jaime losing his hand on the show as “an asshole getting hit by a bus” rather than the tragedy it is in the books. I also find it hard to believe that Tywin would… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

The BwB and Arya’s season 3-4 plotline are so badly adapted – they’re at season 6 levels of ‘missing the whole goddamn point’.* In the books, they provide a crucial insight into how the war affects the smallfolk and how devastating it has been for the Riverlands as a whole. The Book!BwB also provide a good example of why an ‘ends justify the means’ morality is ultimately hollow: the BwB set out trying to sincerely help the smallfolk and other victims of the Wot5K. But their means are not above-board – for example, they kidnap Arya, steal the Hound’s money,… Read more »

Foxxx
Guest

Heh, funny thing – while the show does not show enough of the riverlands and their devastation, Martin, on the other hand, spends too much time exploring them. Like, to the point where you kinda understand why D&D thought Brienne’s AFFC was not worth adapting, ’cause the whole “destruction of the Riverlands” thing was covered pretty extensevily in Arya’s ACOK and ASOS storyline.
PS: But then again, the show didn’t adapt any of it, so idk why i wrote all of this¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Doremus Schafer
Guest

Personally, I think the most anachronistic moment in the entire Talisa storyline is when she (with sincere concern) asks Robb “Are you angry with me?” after revealing her pregnancy. This is right out of a modern context where even married couples are expected to use birth control and not get pregnant without a deliberate decision – in the show context, there is absolutely no conceivable (no pun intended) reason why Robb would be “angry” with Talisa. First of all, although there are some cultures in Asoiaf that use birth control systematically, this is completely absent from the show-verse (except from… Read more »

Drew
Guest
Drew

According to the episode commentary, large amounts of this episode were not written by Martin. IIRC, he outwardly states the Talisa/Robb scene was not him, nor the Theon stuff, nor the Tywin/Joffrey scene, nor Margaery/Sansa, nor Osha, nor the Bear pit, nor something else. The Dany scenes in next episode were him, as was the Sam and Gilly stuff.

Foxxx
Guest

Wait, Jaime and Brienne scenes weren’t written by him? Strange.

Joanna
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Joanna

I appreciate the Wildling love illustrated here. It makes me sad the show never had a Val, so there would at least be one other named Wildling besides Tormund, who has lately been reduced to suggesting Jon Snow kneel (wha?), instead of perhaps trying to boost a dragon. Val would also cut through the romance of no chemistry or point we endured. They really do cut through some of Jon’s mopiness and call out some of the nonsense of the realm. Also, they could be used to explore the idea of refugees from a destroyed civilization. And maybe it’s true… Read more »

Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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

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

So, What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

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

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

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

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

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

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

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

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

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

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

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

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

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

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

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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


 

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre

Kylie

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

Episode Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial, quick reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights/lowlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

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

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

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

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

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

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember adaptation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

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

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

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

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

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

Julia: They talked about jumping off a cliff once.

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

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

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

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

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

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

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

How was the pacing?

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

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

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

Another week of no sex, baby

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

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

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

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

In memoriam…those Frey soldiers

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

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

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

Julia: I remember there being a chart.

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

And I just remembered, the Pornish are coming soon!

Kylie: OH MY GOD.

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

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


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

What We Ask from Stories

Alejandra

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Media as a teacher, part 2 (part 1 here)

In the last part of this series I discussed whether media is obligated to teach us something or not. This time, I will focus my attention on the other side of this interactions, the audience.

Whenever we start watching or reading something new, there are a certain list of filters that the content must pass through for us to continue. A checklist, if you will. Everyone has their own checklist, depending on our idiosyncrasies. We tend to be partial to certain genres and formats: Do you like soft Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Series or serials? Procedural, monster-of-the-week, long arcs? Then there come the finer details, like world building, very specific types of comedy, tropes we enjoy (blonde and brunette wlw, anyone?) or don’t enjoy (love at first sight makes me roll me eyes to infinity), and where the line is drawn on our suspension of disbelief.

We all have a little gatekeeper inside our brains. Creators know this, and they will attempt to pander to whichever audience at which they’re aiming their product.

What we expect of content in terms of styles and genres varies immensely. We’d have to discuss a particular segment of the market if we were to talk specifics. Our little gatekeeper however, is usually not only interested in whether we like the world and the characters. There is a deeper level, especially with the content we don’t consume casually, that demands certain standards to be met.

Moral, idealistic standards that have a lot to do with our context, our culture and our education. This, of course, is also very different for everyone, especially those from different cultures and, as I mentioned in the last article, different generations.

Generationally, it could be said there is something all of us want. A standard we all want to see met.

What do we demand?

Equality!

And… that’s it, really.

It sounds repetitive, but this is the biggest push in fandom right now in terms of moral standards. There isn’t really a call for “family friendly” content demanding less violence or sex in a general sense, for instance. But there is for more male frontal nudity, for example. Racial, sexual, ethnic, religious, disability, neurological, and body diversity is the topic around which most discussions on fandom platforms like Tumblr and Twitter revolve. It has been going on for a while now, so it has seeped into the mainstream.

For multiple years in a row, The Hollywood Reporter’s round tables have broached the topic of equality, especially int their “Actress Roundtables.” Most prime-time and prestige awards in Hollywood have incorporated this into host monologues and winner speeches, and TV especially incorporates it into their narratives. As it becomes the mainstream, the discussion becomes more open and bolder. Like this actress conversation published by Porter, in which Ellen Pompeo (a.k.a. Meredith Grey) openly called out the magazine for lack of diversity on set.

The industry has taken some steps. Achieving equality—and more importantly, intersectional equality—in media is no easy feat though, especially given the power structures involved in their machinations. Part of the job is the audience’s in demanding that equality or else, but much of the heavy lifting must be done from inside, where the Ellen Pompeos of Hollywood must take a stand to be allies and defenders of the minorities who have been left behind. And that is just Hollywood. The state of other, smaller industries must be addressed locally as well, but that’s really a story for another day.

Whenever something comes out that is considered a good example of diversity, there will usually be praise on fandom platforms pointing out the impact it has. Like so many wonderful videos of little girls dressed up as Wonder Woman or Shuri, with parents excited their little girls have a positive role model. Or little boys idolizing Black Panther, the first mainstream hero who looks like them. The word positive comes out to play, and those examples are undeniably positive. Sometimes though, the lines do get blurred about what is positive and what isn’t.

Put in fandom terms, we want positive messages in the stories we consume. In today’s world, that constitutes fair representation across the board. Or wait, do we want fair messages and positive representation? Are they the same?

Fair and/or Positive

It gets a wee bit tricky here, as what is fair and what is positive differs from little gatekeeper to little gatekeeper. Which is better? Shouldn’t representation be fair and positive? And what constitutes a positive and fair message?

My head hurts.

Characters, their arcs and their resolutions, as well as the broader social subjects a story deals with are how these messages get across to us. Most content creators try to keep their shows relevant by keeping them topical, some more subtly, some more ham-fisted. For example, the latest Supergirl season’s giant in-your-face migration allegory (so far so good) or The Handmaid’s Tale’s radical take on a world where sexism takes over.

There seems to be a consensus that the representation of both these things is a good thing. Whether it is fair or positive, it’s harder to say. Some would argue the aliens as a metaphor for today’s migrants might constitute unfair whitewashing. Many would say The Handmaid’s Tale takes things way too far to be positive. It might be well and good to paint a brutal picture of how far sexism can go, but there does—there must—come a point where it might turn into torture porn.

A more extremist part of fandom takes the word “positive” at absolute face value. This portion of fandom will demand that the representation of the minority in question be positive in the “always good and right” sense, and the message fair in that “nothing bad must ever happen to this person.” I wish I could believe no one means it seriously, but I have witnessed how high emotions run in regards to this topic.

The idea that everything that happens in fiction needs to be squeaky clean is frankly egregious. There needs to be drama, conflict, and that cannot happen if only good things are represented on screen—good characters, healthy relationships, happy outcomes. That would lead to the antiquated and simplistic Pure Darkness vs. Pure Light conflict. We might be able to consume that from retro content knowing its context, but the reality is that it doesn’t fly with modern audiences, at all.

It’s impossible not to think about the fact that many of the marginalized groups seeking representation have been misrepresented and even exploited in media for so long that it may physically hurt to see negative aspects of their lives and relationships. I understand, to a degree. Stories are not personal, except they are. But if we presume to sincerely analyze or seriously critique a piece of work for its ethics, we should take a long hard look into ourselves and see just how much of the argument is raw emotion and how much is actually rational. I am a believer that we need a balance of those two.

For starters, we need to be able to differentiate reality and fiction, not just in practice, but in our emotions as well. That takes something that not all of us have: media literacy.

We Don’t Get It

Media has grown at exponential rates in the past century, and there is simply no way its study and especially education about it can keep up. And so, media keeps growing, and we are five steps behind it. Media literacy is basically the ability to analyze the different types of media and understand the messages being sent through them, with their undercurrent and context, to a point where we’re able to generate those messages effectively.

Suffice to say, this isn’t something that’s widely taught in basic education just yet. Even less so for those who went to school ten, twenty years ago. It is enough to see how a tweet about a rumor can cause an uproar and forever stain someone’s reputation. This is an obstacle both in our understanding of the messages sent through media and our understanding of the best way to send the messages we want or need from media.

It is how we might confuse the representation of something with its endorsement, or not realize its endorsement under the guise of representation. The idea I touched on in Part 1 was that of “Healthy Ships” for example, wherein fandom demands the relationships depicted on TV especially, be healthy. While I would agree that the portrayal of a toxic relationship as desirable (endorsement) is a big no, I’m not against them appearing in stories (depiction). As someone said in the comments, if the toxic aspects of that relationship are dealt with accordingly, there is nothing negative about representing it. Especially given that toxic relationships are a thing in real life.

Now, if the creators of a show are portraying a toxic relationship as desirable and good (*cough* Gossip Girl’s Chuck and Blair *cough*) it really does take a strong media education to be able to resist that pull. Narratives are entrancing, and no one is immune to giving into their pull. And since awareness among creators is spreading spectacularly slowly, it should be a priority. This is especially tricky for fictional or fictionalized stories: film, TV series, comic books, video games… Since they are also entertainment, many still refuse to see that what they showcase has an impact in real life.

Those of us who do are still trudging through muddled waters, trying to decipher what it is we need from it, and what really is the right way for media to behave in order to teach us, or society, something good, positive, and fair.

Going back to our little gatekeeper, these ideals get intermingled with our personal microcosms. So what we want, as a gut reaction, may be a little more biased than we initially realize.

What We (Secretly) Want

We want to feel individually represented.

To feel satisfied with the resolution of the stories we care about.

For the moral resolution of plots and character arcs to coincide with our moral code.

To have the characters we personally identified with treated fairly. Scratch that. To have them treated like we’d like to be treated or have things happen to them that we would like to happen to us.

We want to feel personally vindicated.

Are these wants fair? Who knows. In my honest opinion, a lot of what we want out of pure instinct for ourselves tends to be irrational. Like watching someone get something for free and secretly wishing it were you, even if you really are happy for the person who benefited. We’re complicated beasts. Complicated beasts who just so happen to live in a world of instant gratification. A lot of us aren’t used to not getting what we want when we want it, most especially in the case of information and entertainment.

Our individual desires are also mixed with our desire to be part of something. Culture, and in this case fandom culture, is a big part of it. At this point, either you are part of the equality conversation—for or against—or you aren’t part of fandom. Or you may constitute that portion of the Internet that bemoans an inability to enjoy anything ever because other fans won’t let you.

A while ago I wrote about the common conflation between calling something out for considering it problematic in general versus complaining about something we feel displeased about. When it comes to media as a teacher, this conflation can happen when it comes to demanding what media should be teaching us and especially young people.

Think of the Children

This is a bit of a segway, but I didn’t feel like I could leave it out of the conversation:  When we talk about media as a teacher, the subject of children, teenagers, and young adult audiences comes to the forefront. “Children are like a sponge,” my mom always says. What we demand in terms of media teachers is often in regards of the molding of young minds.

It is true that our brains are more bendy and malleable when we’re younger, and what children are seeing and reading is undeniably important for their formation of ideas about the world. I don’t have children of my own, but from what I’ve observed in the children I interact with, I’d say what they “absorb like a sponge” from media is much less what’s good and what’s not, and much more who’s cool and who’s not. You might argue that these two things can intermingle, and you’d be right, but media literacy has a lot to do with what they absorb into their behavior. A youngster with a solid basis may think Slytherin is much cooler than Gryffindor, but they won’t start bullying people or legitimately planning world domination (this is how Slytherin was portrayed), they’ll just wear T-Shirts.

More importantly, “what’s cool and what’s not” is a much, much more crucial lesson than we’d initially think. It has to do with that is desirable. If a show makes skating look cool, a kid might well pick up a skateboard and give it a go. This isn’t myth. Guitar sales in Mexico spiked after Coco was released last year. Children begged for them for Christmas. Even a friend of mine, what you might call a grown-a** man, bought a guitar as a direct result of watching the film (and he hasn’t picked it up since).

So yes, it is very important to take special care of the “messages” included in young people’s media. More than moralistic messages, asking for the normalization (and “cool-ification”?) of more diverse people should be a priority. Even so, each parent wants the screens and the pages of books and comics to relay the same messages they are trying to teach their child. Like an extension of them.

What about us?

If we put the children discussion aside, the question it leaves me with is this: Do we want media to teach us something? My instinct would be to say yes, I do. Because I have become aware of issues and experiences far from my own through stories in media (real or fictional), I would say yes.

Fandom seems to agree that media should teach. The what, generally, I’ve covered. Whether media has a responsibility to do it has been discussed in the excellent Ethics of Storytelling series. But who does fandom want media to teach, besides children?

Even if I personally think I want media to teach me, I do find I am still closed off to accepting opinions and perspectives different than my own. As an example, when I was younger I used to have a really hard time finding drunkenness funny. Part of it is due to my own real-life experiences, but I also do hold a very old-fashioned belief that intoxication, especially in minors, should not be taken lightly. As I’ve grown older I’ve found myself more open to other people’s opinions on the matter, that come from their own experience. Having my own experiences as an adult has helped, too. But it took me a long time to accept that my perspective was not the only valid one.

The thing is, I didn’t learn that from TV, I learned it from people. It takes me back to my response to cheesy Hallmark movies. I find it pedantic when media tries to teach me something. So, despite my initial answer, I find that no, I don’t really want media to teach me things. Not in the straightforward sense of the word. I don’t want it to preach to me because I, as do many of us, already have my own standards of good and bad. So here is my conclusion:

We don’t really want media to teach us anything, we want it to teach others what we (think we) already know.

We need it to show us perspectives we hadn’t considered, so that then we might want to learn something. But learning is not an inevitability; you must be open and willing to learn.

Media Doesn’t Teach, We Learn

Ultimately, media simply isn’t a teacher.

Educating people is not and should not be media’s aim. That’s up to parenting and the education system. Narratives can’t be masterclasses on anything because they usually have a limited point of view. One single film or even a long-running TV show cannot teach you everything there is to know about LGBT+ experiences and/or rights, or the ethnic diversity within Native American peoples, or Philosophy, or anything. It can give you glimpses into these things, pique your interest, leave you hooked. But if it tries to do much more it wouldn’t be entertainment anymore.

Coco is a great example of this. The film shows you a glimpse of Mexican culture, respectfully and accurately portrayed on screen. It does include tidbits of information about the tradition of Día de Muertos, like the use of the cempazúchitl (that yellow flower), the alebrijes (colorful spirit guides), and a brief explanation of some elements of the altar. But it never goes into detail. There are many elements and details about just the altar that the film left out. Every element in an altar has a meaning, or many. The writers and producers journeyed in Mexico, learning and absorbing information to make the film as respectful as accurate as possible, knew about every element of the altar, proven by the fact that it is there in the film.

They did not need to include every explanation. Having it would make it a bit overbearing and even boring. And a boring movie with accurate information that no one sees would be about as useful to representing Mexican culture as getting drunk on bad Tequila on May 5th.

What media can do however, is prompt you to want to learn. About science, screenwriting, aerodynamics, history, and, above all, people.


Images courtesy of Disney Channel, Disney Pixar, and NBC

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