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Game of Thrones 3×08 Rewatch: Satisfactory Sons




Welcome one, welcome all, to the latest installment of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch of Season 1-4, so that we may better understand the most outstanding drama on television’s roots. Last week, we were disappointed by George R.R. Martin’s Season 3 outing, while this week in “Second Sons,” showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) take back the reins. And give us the Reynes. Kylie, Julia, Caroline, and Jana offer their thoughts.

Episode Recap

We’re quick to learn of titular Second Sons on this week’s episode, and they are none other than a sellsword group hired by Yunkai. Dany decides to meet with their captain, Mero, along with two other officers, Prendahl and Daario Naharis. Dany tries to persuade Mero to join her side, giving him wine and two days to think it over. However, Mero has a different plan. He thinks Daenerys must be killed, and it is decided that Daario will be the one to do it. Daario disguises himself as an Unsullied and successfully sneaks into Dany’s tent while she bathes, but there it is revealed that rather than murder Dany, Daario killed Mero and Prendahl, and pledges the Second Sons to her cause.

In the riverlands, Arya thinks about killing Sandor to get away, though doesn’t. This ends up being a good choice, since Sandor soon reveals that he does not intend to take her back to King’s Landing, but rather to her Uncle Edmure’s wedding at the Twins.

Gendry, meanwhile, arrives at his new destination: Dragonstone. There, Stannis confirms that he is, “half Robert, half lowborn.” He’s taken away, and Melisandre makes it clear to Stannis that she intends to sacrifice him. Stannis seek’s Davos’s council, who is still in the cells, teaching himself to read. Davos tells Stannis not to sacrifice Gendry, pointing out that the only reason Stannis came down there is surely because he wanted to hear that too. Stannis releases him so long as he promises not to try and kill Melisandre again. Later, Melinsandre seduces Gendry, though abruptly ties him to the bed and puts three leeches on his body, while he protests. Stannis and Davos come in, and Stannis burns the now blood-filled leeches, saying the names of the surviving kings for each one: Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey Baratheon.

In King’s Landing, it’s finally time for Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding! Tyrion tries to console Sansa beforehand and tell her that he won’t ever hurt her, though it’s clear Sansa is not happy with the arrangement. Margaery tries to ingratiate herself with (or just annoy) Cersei by saying they’re soon-to-be sisters, though Cersei responds by telling Margaery the history of House Reyne, and then threatening her.

At the wedding itself, Sansa is walked down the aisle by Joffrey, the “father of the realm.” He removes the stool meant for Tyrion to stand on to drape his cloak over Sansa, but Sansa kneels for him, avoiding incident. At the reception, Tyrion is very, very drunk, to the irritation of his father, who reminds him that he must be prepared to “do his duty” that night. Sansa walks off only to get threatened by Joffrey, who says he plans to rape her once Tyrion passes out. He also tries to insist on the bedding ceremony, though Tyrion threatens him.

After a tense moment, Tyrion plays up his drunkenness to avoid things escalating, and leads Sansa off alone. Once in their room together, Tyrion realizes he cannot go through with the consummation of the marriage, and promises Sansa he won’t touch her unless she wants him to. The next morning, Shae discovers Tyrion sleeping out of the bed and realizes nothing happened between them.

Finally, beyond the wall, Sam and Gilly try to hide in an abandoned house during the night. However, they are soon interrupted when a White Walker comes, trying to take Gilly’s baby. In desperation, Sam tries stabbing it with the dragonglass he found at the Fist of the First Men. This works, and the white walker shatters, while Sam and Gilly run off.

Initial, quick reaction

Jana: There was a lot of book dialogue in this. Arya and the Hound, Daenerys, and even large parts of the wedding had entire exchanges lifted almost verbatim. That doesn’t happen that often anymore this late into the game. Most parts of this episode were even somewhat enjoyable… And then there was the dick leeching.

Caroline: It’s nice to watch some of these early episodes and moderately enjoy them. Like, I still see the cracks in the plaster and the problems, but now knowing the shenanigans to come in later seasons the problems seem like small potatoes. Or small dick-sucking leeches. Whatever metaphor works!

I appreciate the book dialogue in a pining kind of way—like oh, I wish I was encountering this dialogue in the books, I wish I was reading the books right now. I find the use of book dialogue sad most of the time. But overall this episode was a solid “fine.”

Kylie: I wish that the scenes I didn’t like in this episode wasn’t as egregious as I found them (I once centered an essay on Sansa kneeling), because I do think overall this was a pretty decent episode. Or rather, I wasn’t sighing, yelling, and looking at the clock too much; most of it worked. Plus, you could knock me over with a feather that this was a D&D episode, because aside from a few choice lines, it really didn’t sound like their usual tone. Also, I’m suspecting no Theon or Jon did wonders for the quality of this episode.

Julia: The dick leeches were very, very *them*, though. I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about that later, but talk about a pointless scene…

I’m really upset that this week’s episode was so obviously better than last week’s. You know, given the circumstances. At least one things actually worked for me, which is one more than usual in the later seasons.

Kylie: Well, according to our commenter Drew, Martin may not have written more of that episode than we realized. I may need to hunt down the commentary track just to confirm that though—sadly there doesn’t seem to be a transcript anywhere.


Kylie: I genuinely enjoyed Olenna musing about Loras being slated to become Marg’s father-in-law, though I’m not sure I’d call that a highlight. I think I do have to pick the ending for that. Sam’s tone with Gilly kind of irks me, but they did such a great job of building that atmosphere, and you really felt just how terrifying it was for those two. It’s the kind of scene that makes you glad visual adaptations exist.

I’m barely stretching my arm up for this low-hanging fruit, but good god was dick leech a lowlight. It definitely didn’t drag on the way Theon’s scene did, but it wasn’t exactly short, either. I’m guessing a lot of my annoyance is thanks to book knowledge; Edric Storm was leeched without sexual assault, so I know there was no necessity in this at all. Add to that the way it gets played for laughs by Season 7, with Sandor telling Gendry to stop “whinging” about it, and we’ve got a real winner here.

Julia: I’m going with Cersei (Drunk!Carol?) and Marg’s absolutely awful grade 9 Creative Writing style conversation before the wedding for my lowlight. My only comfort is that I think good ol’ NatDo was having trouble being a pro during it too. Just… seriously, it’s called subtlety. Even if I’m supposed to think Cersei is just that dumb and unsubtle it was still really annoying to sit through. It also annoyed me that they change many details of the Rayne’s story.

Also, Marg. That dress is not appropriate for church.

I think we’re all going for the last scene for our highlight, and I don’t think we should be ashamed for matching. Even the conversation beforehand didn’t irk me like Sam’s patronizing tone usually does. Last names might actually be a concepts she needs explained to her after all. And Gilly was so cutely supportive about Sam clearly being triggered by the thought of his father. God, I want to root for these two.

Jana: The dick leeching was just so goddamn egregious. They could have stopped at any point earlier than when they did. They didn’t even need to start turning it sexual. But no, someone thought it was actually necessary to go there, and then put a leech on a dick. So yeah. Really easy lowlight right there.

Highlight… Hm. Olenna talking about future relations was fun and all, and the atmosphere for Sam and Gilly worked as well, even though it felt like they were playing hot potato with the little bit of lore that free folk babies aren’t named until they’re two years old. Nevertheless, and I feel really ashamed for this, I think my highlight was actually the first part of Dany’s negotiations with the Second Sons? You know, the part straight from the books. They somehow forgot to adapt her really, really good plan for the fight, and the scene with only the commanders really dragged, and the scene in the bathtub… Still, that initial meeting was good. Yes, she deadpanned a lot, but at least here you can believe it’s supposed to be to a point. Yes, the guy was gross, but he was very book accurately gross. I’m gonna go with this one.

Caroline: There is no contest—dick leeching is the lowlight. It made zero sense in-verse that that was necessary. One, we already know Mel intends to kill Gendry, so this whole leech business is stalling to start with. Two, blood from the abdomen is the same as blood from the penis, so there is really no reason. I hope show watchers caught onto the egregious violence of this scene.

I agree with Jana that some of the Dany scenes worked very well, especially with the gross Titan’s Bastard (I think that was him? Pretty sure there was a name drop). However, my highlight is definitely the ending scene with Sam and Gilly. Not the part where they talk about random crap—though I’d like to see a five-paragraph essay on the philosophical difference between winking and blinking—but the end where the white walker appears. The scene is frightening, as it’s supposed to be, and the intense power of the white walker (and the significance of Sam’s slaying of it) truly comes across on screen. It worked all around for me.

Julia: My true highlight might be Gilly shutting down Sam’s philosophy 101 bull about how winking and blinking are the same? She’s just, like, “Intention. Mic drop!”

No it’s not!

Kylie: A wink is just not a sort of blink. What a terrible argument.

Quality of writing

Julia: Ugh, it wasn’t bad overall. Not excellent, but, like, competent. The King’s Landing stuff, as usual was the most amateur hour, and was the only time I was angry at the screen, but it was fine, dammit.

Jana: Nothing about the dick leeching was fine, though. Nothing. Well, and I found the scene where Tyrion and Sansa talk before the wedding pretty grating, too. It’s just…No, you guys. No. Not how any of this works.

Julia: Okay, you’re right about that.

Kylie: I think their writing betrays, if nothing else, a fundamental misunderstanding of the setting. This is especially the case if Martin really was the writer of the Dany and Sam scenes in this episode (which I’m still trying to source), since those were the set pieces that felt like they had the best grasp of world. But things like the Marg/Cersei scene, or Olenna joking about the family marriages, or Tyrion and Sansa’s chat don’t really feel like anything that could have worked in the context, even if the scenes themselves weren’t terrible and the dialogues were actual back-and-forths.

So I guess what I’m saying is, they wrote as well as they can write here.

Caroline: The writing was fine. Nothing was too egregious. I agree that basically anytime Tyrion is on screen the writing takes a bad turn (because it’s warping around his Good Guy persona). Some of the Arya/Hound stuff felt very basic. I don’t know who wrote the Dany scenes, but I found them to be some of the best this episode. I also enjoyed Cersei telling Marg the Castamere story. Overall, fine. Not necessary logical, but fine.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: The title is infuriating, because it’s the perfect title to have a theme, and one that Martin sometimes plays with, what with “second sons” often being aimless black sheep who feel “second best,” but nope, it’s just literal because of that sellsword group.

Like, you can try very hard and say that Stannis and Tyrion both are dealing with their sense of inferiority, I suppose. And Sam being a “second son” in terms of his father’s regard even though he’s technically first born, but man is it a stretch.

Kylie: The title doesn’t work, and I’m assuming it was incidental. Had “Stormcrows” won out in the writers’ room, that’d have been the name of the episode here. It actually reminds me of Seinfeld episode naming conventions this week. That doesn’t ramp up fully until Season 5 though.

The best I’ve got for a theme this week is subverted expectations for our characters. Arya is really getting taken to the riverlands, Davos is suddenly set free, Gendry is really being mistreated, Daario is really going to pledge to Dany, and Tyrion is really going to be respectful of Sansa’s sexual agency. It’s not great, but it was a bunch of scenes were things take shape in ways the characters couldn’t have imagined them to at the start of this episode.

Jana: Was this the first time Sam killed an Other on the show? Or was Sam the Slayer a thing? Because if not, then you can add that to subverted expectations as well. Both themes work for the episode, as well as they ever do, of course.

Julia: I think he just ran away from the Other’s the first time and then Mormont burnt that wight? Remember when Sam made eye contact with an Other and it let him live for… reasons? I feel like we let that go too easily.

The Butterfly Effect (Cracks in the Plaster)

Kylie: Tyrion has been a good deal of a nicer character for some time now, but I want to think this is the true beginning of his stagnation. It’s not so much that he doesn’t grope Sansa a little before stopping (I actually don’t see that working in a visual medium to convey the same choices as the character on-page), but rather his reaction to her asking what happens if she never wants him. He’s not hurt in any way, and his response is a joke about abstinence, rather than his book answer, which is basically, “I’ll just bang sex workers, no worries.”

It’s one thing to make him less flawed than his book counterpart, but they give him nothing here. There’s no complexity; he’s just a good guy who totally understands where his prisoner wife is coming from, and doesn’t have any expectations or hopes of her coming to care for him.

Jana: They’re almost friends when he walks her out to the sept. Ugh. Also, horrible thought—if they actually built up what a nice guy he has always been to Sansa in the last few seasons so they could, uh, rekindle this marriage in the end (before Tyrion’s dramatic heroic sacrifice, probably), and he then utters the words, “And now my watch is ended” I might actually throw something. Please tell me this is just my imagination. Please tell me this isn’t going to happen. Please.

Julia: If it makes you feel better, spoilers imply you have nothing to worry about.

The kneeling thing is not pissing me off any less all these years later. Sansa is just such an non-entity through the whole thing. And you’re right, Jana, they seem like friends by the time they leave her room. She even chuckled at one of his jokes. And then it’s just her standing there and doing what’s asked while Tyrion and Joffrey play off her. The most she did to express herself was have a drink before she got ready to lie down and think of Westeros. And it’s not that I think this behavior makes her weak or anything, it’s that, like, this whole marriage thing is about her, not about Tyrion and that is totally lost in the adaptation of this plot line. Let me say that again in all caps. THIS THING IS NOT ABOUT TYRION, HE’S NOT THE EFFING VICTIM HERE.

There. I feel better.

Kylie: This is a case where the visual medium can easily obscure that point. In the books, it was all Sansa’s POV for damn good reason. TV gives us a neutral point of view, so we’re not privy to Sansa’s thoughts. Of course, there’s still ways we could have seen a window into her feelings better, like with the camera focusing on her expressions, or even sticking Shae there as a confidant, as messy and weird as that scripting can sometimes get.

Instead, the focus was on Joffrey purposely trying to humiliate Tyrion (and how Tyrion handles it/Joff), and Shae and Tyrion’s relationship when Shae realized Tyrion didn’t sleep with Sansa. This is not made better by the fact that earlier in the season, they tried to shoehorn in Shae’s jealousy of Sansa, because who doesn’t want a love triangle?

Julia: I think we can also see the changes to Sansa’s relationship with Marg as butterfly wing flaps. If only because it highlights the fact that the wedding not being a surprise just makes it silly that Sansa has done nothing to try to get out of this, when she clearly should at least make an attempts, seeing that her good friend Marg and LF, who said he wants to help her, are both still there and having regular conversations with her. Or did LF leave? Whatever. But are we supposed to think she didn’t ask Marg or Olenna for help, or that she did and they said, “Nah, but here’s some sex advice?”

Jana: I think the implication was that LF left when Sansa sobbed and looked at his ship leaving at the end of The Climb? Now, admittedly, he was also dramatically monologuing at Varys in the throne room at the time, but, well, timelines.

Caroline: Part of Sansa being a non-entity in her resistance to this marriage is that, the way it’s filmed, when Joff removes the stool it is unclear if Sansa sees that action. On the re-watch I realized that she didn’t react to Joff taking the stool away; it’s a perfectly fair interpretation that she didn’t know, and so she wasn’t kneeling out of ignorance, not resistance or embarrassment. But in the totality, Tyrion as the consummate Good Guy is the biggest crack in this episode.

Kylie: I 100% only saw that as her not kneeling because she didn’t realize the issue.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: I think I’ve made my opinion about the KL stuff pretty clear. Otherwise…the Gendry/Edric merger is not necessarily stupid as an adaptational decision, but I think this episode proves that the execution was lacking. And I don’t think it was especially efficient, given it necessitated Mel getting her butt to the riverlands.

The stuff in Slaver’s Bay is still pretty much just straight book content still, and it’s working fine. Even notwithstanding all these sellsword company names being mixed and matched in a way I find very confusing.

Jana: As Kylie mentioned before, did we either need or want Tyrion to fondle his child bride’s boob in a visual adaptation involving a still underage actor? No. Nope. Absolutely not. But what would have been nice is if they, I don’t know, kept him even somewhat close to in-character? “I want you, does that scare you, because it scares me,” would have given the scene more nuance and made it resemble the books more. They even set it up with the really, really bad conversation he had with Bronn last episode. And the meaningful glances exchanged with Shae when she brings breakfast and changes linens the next morning would have worked better, as well.

Which is, you know, not even mentioning the fact that Sansa was turned into a prop for one of her most significant acts of resistance. Which they also robbed her of.

Kylie: It’s beginning to be perfectly clear who the writers take an interest in, though interestingly Arya has been almost as sidelined as Bran this year. I guess that’s just a case of her not having enough to do?

Jana: Well, what Arya does get to do is bond with Sandor Clegane, waaaay more than her book counterpart ever does. Their scenes already are a lot less volatile than they are in the books, and this will only get worse. So much worse.

Kylie: Stannis is another example of characters they didn’t bother to think about in adaptation. Davos may have done well explicating why Stannis chose to visit him in his cell, but Stannis’s speech before that, when he’s trying to justify killing Gendry and his position as the chosen one, is utterly unsympathetic. I can’t imagine a single show-only viewer liking this guy.

Add to that the notable choice to have Robb’s name spoken first with the leeches, and without hesitation. I’m wondering if the original plan had been for Balon to die before Joffrey, so they said it as is for chronological purposes, only for that idea to go out the window. It’s the best I’ve got.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: I think this is the kind of Cersei scripting people point to when they say we exaggerate the Carol stuff, you know? She threatened to have Marg strangled, after all. But to me, this is just a very drunk Carol who is Done With It™. She doesn’t actually have Marg strangled; she just can see the obvious social-climbing going on. And then later, when Joff wants to go antagonize Sansa, she tries to stop him (even telling him to talk to Marg instead). Plus, her response to Loras was just plain funny. Smalltalk is the worst, Carol!

Jana: That’s just what I was thinking. Poor Carol trying to contain her son! And yes, those five seconds with Loras were awesome. And kind of fit in with the drunk wine mom aesthetic, even.

Julia: I tend to agree. This is Carol being sad that she obviously has no control over the situation at all anymore. She’s being forced into this marriage, she can’t rein in her son, her dad stole all her political power, damn if she’s going to be nice to the scheming sex-pot who’s going to make her totally irrelevant.

Kylie: It’s also the heart and soul of Carol’s scripting. We get told she’s the most evil person ever, and she’ll have these random lines about extreme violence, but then she’s sad and reasonable in all her actions. Sometimes being Carol is just no fun.

Julia: And can we talk about her mini-burrito dress?

Caroline: I am a big fan of Carol’s burrito-inspired dress. If you’re gonna do a burrito dress, ladies, this is the way to go!

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Jana: The scene where Cersei explains The Rains Of Castamere to Marge was… Clumsy. I actually thought they did this earlier this season, too, because at this point it is almost comical in the blatant attempt to explain the next episode, too.

Kylie: It’s a little weird they didn’t explain it earlier, since the song closed out the bear pit episode. But it really was clunky, especially since Margaery would certainly know this story, as would every other highborn in Westeros.

Jana: And you can’t tell me this particular story wasn’t a major factor for the Tyrells to join the Lannisters in the first place. Come to think of it, they could have mentioned it as a reason for Roose Bolton to send Jaime home, too. It’s the epitome of Tywin’s reputation and would have explained a lot about other Lord’s actions so far. Oh, well.

Kylie: I guess the good news is there wasn’t a ton of exposition otherwise. We have Jorah once again telling Dany about something Essosi (he rivals Littlefinger in that department), but you know, she doesn’t know who the Second Sons are and they need to explain the sellswords to her. It was pretty well done all things considered.

Julia: Ditto for Sam explaining last names, I guess. But it is shocking that we’ve gone this long without learning the story of the Rains of Castemere. Characters in the books never shut up about it.

Kylie: Props to the scripting of Gilly this episode, too. She actually calls Sam out as being condescending and asks if it was on purpose. Would that it’s mentioned again, especially in Season 6 or 7.

Jana: Also, again, I just feel like I have to point out that part of Sam and Gilly’s conversation was made so awkward by one piece of exposition notably missing—the fact that free folk kids aren’t named before they turn two because it’s bad luck/infant mortality is a thing. This way it just seems like Gilly is too dumb to think of names, even if Craster is the only man she has ever met. She’s named after a flower. The logical consequence would be to name the kid after something in nature. Like Rock, or Tree, or Sun, or something.

Caroline: I actually found the exposition on the Rains of Castamere pretty compelling, though of course Marg would already know the story. And it really should have come earlier. But hey, if you turn off your brain and just watch Lena Headey’s performance it’s all good!

How was the pacing?

Julia: Not one of the episode’s major flaws?

Kylie: I actually thought the pacing was excellent. Other than dick leech scene, everything moved, and I was shocked we reached the end when we did. It was more focused, and we didn’t have Jon or Theon dragging it down. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best paced episode of the season so far.

Jana: Seconded, wholeheartedly. Things were happening, and in quick enough succession that you didn’t really think about the pacing at all, which should be the goal, like with good exposition.

Caroline: Agreed!

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Julia: I suppose this is the place to talk about the dick leeches in details. Specifically, what did the sexiness of the scene add to, like, anything?

Kylie: In two years it’ll make the reveal of old!Mel that much more incredible, I suppose.

Jana: If the goal was to show off Joe Dempsie’s physique again, fine. If they feared Carice van Houten’s contract for nude scenes would expire if she doesn’t get to take her clothes off every other episode, fine. That’s, by the way, also my thesis on why Dany had to stand up from her bathtub so dramatically.

Why exactly we needed Gendry seduced at all, I have no clue. Just, bathe him or give him new clothes or put the leeches on his hand. Convince him to try a new and hip medical treatment, it’s all the rage in the north. Uh. One particular part of the north. And even if seduction is the easiest and most on brand way to get him naked, why did actual intercourse have to be initiated? And why did they have to leech. His. Dick?

Kylie: Cause blood’s there, and oh my god they’re so edgy.

Sue me, but I found Dany’s nakedness in her scene effective and not voyeuristic in any way.

Jana: It’s by no means the most gratuitous nudity on the show, or by Dany, or in this episode, that’s for sure. But isn’t it also the last nude scene before Emilia Clarke said she wasn’t going to do that anymore for a grand total of two seasons before she nuked Vaes Dothrak?

Julia: I actually thought the nudity kind of worked there? Like, he’s trying to put her into a position of vulnerability and she won’t let it be one? I have little faith that that was the actual intention since, ya know, the pattern, but it was alright.

Kylie: My thoughts too.

Jana: Eh, it made me chuckle a little. But anyway, do we have anything more to say about the sex that very explicitly didn’t happen this episode? The meaningful glances? The fact that Shae had to check the sheets rather than putting two and two together when she saw Tyrion still in his wedding clothes and on a chaise lounge?

Virgin proof!

Julia: Oh Shae, never change. I feel like I should just go find that book quote where Shae tells Tyrion she’s not worried about his marriage because he’ll just knock Sansa up then lose interest. You know, just as a contrast.

Jana: Don’t forget when she suggests they drug Sansa and have sex right next to her in the wedding bed. Book!Shae is really hardcore.

In memoriam…Mero and Prendahl na Ghezn, the White Walker

Kylie: I really want to say something about Daario’s introduction, but I’m honestly just so distracted by Ed Skrein in the role, especially with him being replaced by someone who looks nothing like him. I think his scenes were mostly effective? But I honestly don’t have a ton to say about the captains’ deaths. Mero was suitably awful.

Julia: As a former regular on the boards, I feel obligation to make a joke about poor Puddles and his unjust death. He just wanted to congratulate Gilly on the baby and give her the gift card for Snuggle Bugz he got!

Kylie: OH MY GOD, Puddles! Takes me back to the good days with Apple Martini posting about how Sam must pay, and other posters arguing for a name change to “Shards.” Good times.

Caroline: The fact that he was called Puddles has changed my life for the better. This is my new favorite thing!

Jana: Let us also never forget the three innocent leeches that were sacrificed. Their role was very limited, but damn if they didn’t make an impression.

Kylie: Balon Greyjoy died like 2.4 minutes ago, so the leeches can suck it.

For us, however, it’s goodbye. What did you think of this episode? Was it a step up over last week? Let us know in the comments below, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.

Images courtesy of HBO

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


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About the Rains of Castamere, a digital search of the books reveals all of 15 results, which only start in book 3. So this isn’t too far off for the show to introducing it. Likewise the exact story of how the Reynes were destroyed weren’t revealed until A World of Ice and Fire, which came out after this season. I suppose the showrunners could have asked Martin for details, but maybe he hadn’t decided on them yet either. That doesn’t justify all the other changes. I was okay with much of this episode, even liked parts of it, but then… Read more »


Oh god, right, Davos and his sudden atheism. We forgot to mention that. But seriously, he starts this book by having the gods talk to him. Which is what motivates him to act against Melisandre. He’s probably one of the most genuine believer in the seven in the entire series. But, sure, he’s a reasonable dude, so he has to be an atheist. Regarding the Rains of Castamere, all of that is true for the books. On the show however, they had this song sung by soldiers in preparation for the Blackwater battle, used it as an ending theme in… Read more »


*used it as an ending theme in the same episode I mean.


Gotcha on the book vs show thing. As for Davos, in my notes I call out the anachronism that he’s “a 21st century internet forum atheist, ready to tell you to your face in a smug tone that your religion is a fairy tale created for children.” If you premodern works by nonbelievers they tend to be more of the “maybe there are some supernatural forces in the world to explain its existence, but they obviously either do not care about us or can’t do anything to help us, so why bother with them?” Which is more in line with… Read more »


I feel like this would be a great place for a gif of that scene in Community, where Jeff says he’s agnostic and the rest of the study group boos him. Maybe D&D took that to heart and think agnosticism will get the same reaction from their audience?

Maidens and Mules
Maidens and Mules

The lack of Rains of Castamere pre-ASoS is likely a function of GRRM’s gardener approach to writing. Much like the sudden appearance of Dolorous Edd in ACoK or the conspicuous non-mention of the Blackfyre Rebellion in The Hedge Knight.


I don’t think either of those things were ‘conspicuous’ or ‘sudden’. I mean, from the Doylist point of view, yes – GRRM probably had not thought up that backstory/character at the very beginning of the series. But nonetheless, their absence makes reasonable Watsonian sense as well. Dolorous Edd, being an older recruit, but not one of the management at Castle Black, probably didn’t come much in contact with Jon until they were thrown together during the great ranging in ACOK. And there’s no particular need to mention the Blackfyre Rebellion in THK – the story doesn’t involve people who fought… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Maidens and Mules

Minor quibble: I don’t think the leech ritual actually caused the other kings’ deaths. The Red and Purple Wedding conspiracies and Euron’s return to the Iron Islands were in the works long before the leeches were burned. Rather, I think Melisandre saw their deaths in her flames and built a ritual based on it to win Stannis to her faith.


Agreed, I’m just giving things from how they looked to Stannis. The only death she seems to have actually caused is Renly’s, which Stannis is in denial about in the books, because it’s kinslaying, which the show consistently forgets is a Big Problem.

Jordan F

Oh my lord the last Apple Martini reference just threw me back a few years! Their posts on that board were always entertaining.

Maidens and Mules
Maidens and Mules

I couldn’t find any sources confirming that GRRM wrote Dany and Sam’s scenes in this episode, but whoever wrote them, they were the highlights. Having only one sellsword company outside Yunkai instead of two is simplifying the narrative done right. I do question whether it was really necessary for Dany to be naked when Daario returns with his erstwhile comrade’s heads though. She isn’t in the book. Similarly, having Sam only get attacked by a White Walker once was fine. I do think the narrative loses something by not having his brothers witness it though. I suspect that Sam’s bragging… Read more »


“Stannis’s speech before that, when he’s trying to justify killing Gendry and his position as the chosen one, is utterly unsympathetic” Uh, wasn’t it word-for-word from the book, Kylie? And honestly, this moment, alongside with him talking about the siege of the Storm’s end, were the only moments that i thought reflected Stannis of the books well. The problem was everything around it, from Stannis giving no fucks about Gendry’s fate, to him sentencing Davos to death in ep10 for helping Gendry.


I really liked Dany’s scenes this episode, just because of the contrast to the way she acts around the Yunkai slavers. I always took it as her playing the dumb girl being informed by her male advisers on purpose to fool the Second Sons (like do they really expect us to believe she doesn’t know the numbers of her own army?). I can’t even give D&D that much credit though.


Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight




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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Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre





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?


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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What We Ask from Stories




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?


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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