Sunday, June 16, 2024

Game of Thrones 4×08 Rewatch:  The Beetles and the Vamp Dress

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Well, we’re nearing the end of this Game of Thrones rewatch project, The Wars to Come. That’s right, just three weeks left, since the goal was to go back through the seasons we at one point might have considered “good” of showrunners’ David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s HBO juggernaut. Last week, things dragged as iconic lines got chopped up, where this week, Kylie, Julia, and Jana dig into “The Mountain and the Viper.”

Episode Recap

There may have been a heavy focus in King’s Landing lately, but a grim scene in Moles Town reminds us of the war coming to The Wall. Ygritte’s wildling party raids the town, though Ygritte herself spares Gilly, seeing her hiding in the brothel with her baby. When word reaches the Night’s Watch, Sam worries about Gilly’s fate. Grenn and Edd comfort him that she probably could have survived, but all the brothers feel helpless with their orders to remain at The Wall. Yet as Jon points out, this means Castle Black is about to get hit.

Still in the North, though slightly further south at Moat Cailin, Ramsay has “Reek” disguise himself as Theon Greyjoy to go treat with the Ironborn holding it. There, Theon offers Ramsay’s terms, that they be allowed to go home if they surrender. Their leader refuses, and begins to challenge Theon—to the point where Theon almost breaks down, muttering “Reek” under his breath. However, before it’s given away how broken he is, another Ironborn kills the leader and accepts the terms.

In the end, Ramsay flays them all anyway. He then presents his father with Moat Cailin. Happy with this accomplishment, Roose hands Ramsay a royal degree that he is now a legitimized Bolton. Ramsay tells Theon that they’re headed to their “new home” of Winterfell.

In Meereen, Grey Worm spots a naked and bathing Missandei. Missandei tells this to Dany, insisting that despite Grey Worm’s castration, he was definitely showing interest. Later, Grey Worm apologizes to Missandei, but she tells him that she’s glad he saw her.

One of Varys’s spies made it into Meereen and hands Ser Barristan a royal pardon for Jorah Mormont. Barristan confronts him, realizing that he spied on Dany for King Robert. Jorah insists that he be allowed to talk to her alone, but Barristan tells him he’ll never be alone with her again. True to this, Jorah is brought before Dany in her throne room, accompanied by Barristan, Grey Worm, and Missandei. He apologizes and tells her that he had loved her, but Dany doesn’t want to hear it. She banishes him from Meereen.

Back over in the Vale, Arya and Sandor reach the Bloody Gate. Sandor announces their true identities, and that they’re there to see Lysa Arryn, but they are informed that Lysa died a few days ago. Arya bursts out laughing at this news, and their sheer circumstance.

Up the road in the Eyrie, several Vale Lords have gathered, since they are suspicious about Lysa Arryn’s apparent suicide. Lord Royce in particular makes it clear to Littlefinger that they don’t trust him, and the timing of his arrival is a bit too coincidental. They call in Sansa to hear her account, and she reveals her true identity to them. She breaks down and cries, though begins to tell a tale of Littlefinger being her only true friend during her imprisonment in King’s Landing. She finally tells them that Lysa did indeed step through the Moon Door on her own. As Lady Waynwood comforts her, Sansa meets Littlefinger’s eyes with a hardened expression, showing that it had all been an act.

Later, Littlefinger tries to ask Sansa why she’d lie for him. She explains that the Vale Lords would have killed him, and while she doesn’t know the Vale Lords, she at least knows what Littlefinger wants. Later, Littlefinger makes preparations with Lord Royce to have Robin leave the Eyrie and tour the Vale. Sansa appears with a new outfit.

Finally, in King’s Landing, Jaime keeps Tyrion company in his cell before the Trial by Combat. Tyrion is anxious, and tells a story about their cousin Orson who used to crush beetles for fun. As a boy, Tyrion always wondered what any of it was for.

Soon enough, it’s time for the trial by combat. Tyrion worries about Oberyn’s light leather and how he drinks before the fight, but Oberyn insists this is not the day he dies. He opts to fight with a spear, and puts on a bit of a show for the crowd first. Once the duel begins, Oberyn is able to avoid Ser Gregor Clegane’s attacks with his superior speed. He tells Gregor who he is, and that he’s there for justice for his sister Elia. He continually repeats “You raped my sister, you murdered her, you killed her children,” hoping to draw a confession out of Gregor, as well as the answer of who gave the orders (if anyone). It seems that Oberyn is about to win when he manages to cut through Gregor’s armor and slice him enough that the huge knight falls over on his back. Yet when Oberyn stands over him and to yell about Elia again, Gregor grabs his legs, making Oberyn fall. Then Gregor lifts Oberyn with his hands, and breaks open his skull, while confirming the things Oberyn accused him of doing to Elia.

The episode ends with Ellaria screaming, and Tywin sentencing Tyrion to die.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Well, when it opened with the Mole’s Town sex worker burping out “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” I did not have high hopes. But I think overall, it was decently solid. There’s a lot that’s silly about how Sansa’s plot unfolded, but I would still call this one of the better episodes of the season, beetle monologue and all. It does help that a large swath of this is copy-paste from the books, and the main part of what isn’t—Missandei & Grey Worm’s burgeoning relationship—actually works for me more than not.

Jana: I agree that the episode was fine for the most part, though the beginning of MissWorm felt a bit skeevy to me back then and still does now. I don’t know, I’m just not into it yet. Not a fan of the whole watching someone bathe thing, and then it felt a bit silly because no one else seemed to care about the nudity anyhow, Dany included. Ah well. It was nice of him to apologize at least.

Julia: I agree as well, it wasn’t half bad, but this show hasn’t provoked any kind of emotional reaction from me in at least a season and a half. Even the parts that are dumb or make no sense are just, “yup, that’s what I signed up for,” these days. I didn’t have to take breaks, so yes, best episode of the season.


Kylie: It’s a bit hard as such a Dorne-stan not to pick the trial by combat. There’s changes from the books, for sure, but it was so refreshing to see Oberyn and Ellaria with their characterizations in-tact and not one mention of Littlefinger’s brothel. It was a well-choreographed fight too, at least as far as I can tell, and I found the horror that it ends on to still be affecting.

I think my lowlight has to be the beetle monologue, even if my own personal annoyances are probably higher with Sansa’s theater. It was boring, it brings the episode to a screeching halt, it’s the most heavy-handed goddamn thing I’ve ever seen (Tyrion picks up a literal bug in the middle of his speech), and we also know that it was a super clever dig at Orson Scott Card’s Season 1 review (which has aged phenomenally, I might add).

Jana: Oh wow, okay. That… doesn’t surprise me, somehow, but it doesn’t improve or explain anything, either. The beetle monologue is actually a bit of a microcosm of the most glaring problem with this season: we’re sitting around spouting a great deal of nothing for the sake of sounding smart while we wait for something more exciting to happen. It’s just. It’s a perfect summary, in a way.

My highlight. Oh dear. I know I am going to probably be alone in this, and I am willing to defend it further down the line, but my highlight? My highlight was the scene with Sansa and the Vale Lords. Before knowing where they were going with this next season, I loved it, and I still think it’s not the worst idea. And well-acted. And offers a degree of continuity (people are actually remembering Ned, and remembering him fondly!) that was rarely found before or since.

Julia: Yeah, I actually was less pissed off by the Trial by combat than I remember being/thought I would be. It was still a little silly that he was leaping and spinning all over the place, when the point was him tiring Gregor out, but, as Kylie said, it was just nice to see him out of the brothel.

Other than that, I think I most enjoyed the scene where Jon and all his bros are talking about how screwed they are when the wildlings attack. There was a tone of actual fellowship to it that’s rare. They’re decent people who care about each other and want to do their jobs and junk.

On the other end of the spectrum… you know who are never allowed to be nice to each other? Women! Well, I guess Dany and Missy were allowed to bond, but why was that random sex worker in Mole’s Town with poor hygiene so mean to Gilly? So we won’t be sad when Ygritte spears her through the gut?

Quality of writing

Julia: Um, the beetle monologue existed, so it wasn’t good.

Jana: So did the dialogue between Jon and the other brothers, though, which as you pointed out was surprisingly good. So we have a very mixed bag here, I’d say.

And then there’s the most deadpan of the Deadpan exchanges…

Kylie: The beetle monologue is the kind of silly that drags down the rest of the episode, but I do think overall, it was fairly strong. Like, as much as I disagree with their adaptational approach to Sansa, I found the actual writing of her “confession” to the Vale Lords to be quite good.

The worst offenders in the script were really Missandei and Dany discussing the Unsullied, beetles, and Littlefinger’s “Robin needs to leave the nest.” But those combined are a small percentage of everything else.

Julia: I don’t know, you kind of described a good chunk of the episode. The stuff in Mole’s Town and Arya and Sandor’s weird bonding wasn’t much better.

Kylie: I…kinda liked Arya laughing. Even if them just tromping away after makes no sense.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: The way the beetle scene was written, you’d think people as idle playthings of the gods would have been the theme. But no…I can’t really tie it into anything else. There’s a mild theme of deception with Sansa’s lying, Theon “playing” the prince and nearly breaking (plus Ramsay flaying the Ironborn anyway), and Dany finding out about Jorah’s pardon. The issue is, that doesn’t relate very well to anything else, including the theater this episode was named for.

Anyone else want to take a shot?

Jana: I had something about subverting expectations in mind. Sort of. In a very shock and awe B&W kind of way. The sex workers of Mole’s Town think Gilly is stupid. Gilly is the only one who knows what’s going on. Ygritte stomps around killing everything in her path. Seeing Gilly apparently makes her catch baby fever or something and spare her. Sam thinks Gilly is dead. His brothers convince him otherwise and are also correct.

Arya reacts weirdly by basically any measure to learning that her last living relative died, which clearly made the guard uncomfortable because who’d expect that. Sansa basically subverts everyone’s expectations of her in her few scenes twice or three times. Even the entire beetle monologue has an undercurrent of Tyrion trying to work through his expectation of what the cousin was like. And, well, it also kind of applies to the Oberyn scene.

I am of course aware that going forward, this will going to be the theme of everything, where things change in unexpected and unforeshadowed ways just to be a Shocking Twist™, but for now, it’s not the worst thing.

Julia: No bad at all, Jana. There’s something there maybe along the lines of “if you’re looking for justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.” The Night’s Watch bros talk about how much it sucks that they’re supposed to protect the world but can’t even protect Mole’s Town. The Iron Born thought Ramsay would keep his promises, but psych! Oberyn would have won that trial in a just world, both since Tyrion is innocent and because his grievances are legitimate. D&D probably think that Dany should have forgiven Jorah, since he’s proved his worth again and again. What the slavers did to Grey Worm was super unjust. (Which, yeah.) It’s mega unfair that Lysa died, since clearly no one else in the Vale would give a damn about Arya or be willing to pay money for her. You can also argue that Sansa behaves unjustly by lying to the Vale lords. I guess it does turn out to be the wrong decision for her.

My question is: what the hell did the writers think the beetle monologue had to do with anything?

Kylie: We may be reading too much into it. “How can we pad out this episode by another 5 minutes?”

Julia: I’m not ready to be that cynical. They thought it was as deep as the “nothing is nothing” speech, I’m sure.

The Butterfly Effect

Jana: Extremely low on the list, but what stuck out to me as weird is neither Dany nor Missandei knowing what exactly goes down during the castration of the unsullied. Didn’t they mention that last season? And if not, you’d think that’d be something you ask about before purchasing merchandise. Oh, also, “pillar and stones”… Does that count as changing more or less iconic book lines for the hell of it? It does sound a lot less sophisticated to me than “root and stem” does, but that might just be because the word pillar does sound pretty close to a German slang term for the same thing.

Also, the way Dany was looking for words, I can’t help thinking that she could have just said “cock and balls” and be done with it. You’re already having girl talk, why not just name things. Or is this terminology only for rough manly men?

Julia: Well… in the books, that asshole in Astapor does go on a long rant about why they remove the penis as well as the testicles. But you would definitely think Missandei would know, since she spent years translating for the masters and surely someone asked that question at some point.

Also, yeah, weird for Dany to use such an odd euphemism in the same scene where she talks about how sexually liberated the Dothraki are.

In other Butterfly Effect news, I think this is the episode where Ramsay became a protagonist. All the other scenes with him so far were mostly about Theon, or you can at least argue they were. But when daddy took him aside to pat him on the head for being a good boy, he had a story of his own.

Kylie: And it actually paints all of Season 4 in a different light, too. Silly us: it was never really about Theon’s struggle with identity—it was about if Ramsay could instill his will adequately enough for this political climax at Moat Cailin. He did, and he was rewarded for it. The set-up scene was when Ramsay let Theon shave him in front of his dad. Theon was only ever a pawn in all of it.

One of the bigger butterfly effects that came to a head in this episode was with Barristan being left out of the Small Council, and them scrapping the entirety of Artisan Whitebeard. What did everyone think of the way it was handled with the Spider getting a spy in there? Did it still work?

Julia: I’m sure they have Dornish sugar plums in Meereen, so why not.

Kylie: Oh god, now I’m remembering Qyburn handing out candy.

Jana: Tangentially related to that; can we talk about how they completely missed the point as to why Dany exiled Jorah? The way it is framed on the show, she actually just comes off as unreasonable. And Jorah comes off as really, really bad at arguing his case. Because he can make one hell of a case for himself, it’s not like he didn’t support Dany through and through for two and a half seasons here. Instead, she just talks over him, there’s no chance of redemption, and him overstepping boundaries and acting entitled is just… not a factor. Yay.

Julia: Again, we benefit from knowing the future…yeah, Dany was being unreasonable. Since her arc will be all about eventually accepting him back and him growing enough to tell Jon Snow he can have her. Which, barf. And reading comprehension fail.

Remember adaptation?

Jana: Okay. Okay. I know I have a lot to answer for here. And I’ll do so gladly.

Is the Darth Sansa dress silly and out of place and how the hell did she make one so quickly? Yes, absolutely. When the book mentioned her dressing in darker clothes, they meant more plainly and not like a villain from a sci-fi show.

Is this going exactly nowhere infuriating as all hell in hindsight, seeing what they did with all of this next season? Yes, yes of course, absolutely. I don’t think they’d been thinking this far when they wrote this season, but boy does it just feel like taunting in hindsight.

So why is this my highlight?

Okay, so, from an adaptational stand-point: if you don’t want to get into the whole Harry the Heir storyline and also confuse your simple viewers by doubling down on the Alayne bit, I do think having Sansa reveal herself to the Vale Lords is not the worst way to do that. Sure, that should just make them more eager to marry her to the heir of the Vale, but shush, that’s Sweetrobin and no one else.

I mentioned above that appealing to the fact that the Vale Lords would have known Ned and cared about him is a nice continuity nod that we hardly ever get on the show. It’s a little silly that these three people who saw little Ned grow up care so much more about him and his children than the northern lords ever have or ever will, but that’s in the future and not written at this point. And also hindsight.

It’s one of the very few instances that feels vaguely accurate to the book’s social structures and definitions of honor, is what it is. It’s also something I could see work in Sansa’s favor no matter the version. Though of course after experiencing what being Sansa Stark got her in King’s Landing, it would never occur to book!Sansa that she has the clout to pull this off. Yet.

So if your goal is to circumvent the identity theme and the Harry the Heir plotline entirely, but you still need to get Sansa in a position where she can come save the day with Vale lords later on, this is the way to do it. They could have just parked her there for the entirety of the next two seasons, it would have changed nothing and none of us would have had to suffer through the grossest part of season 5.

It is, in context of the show, also the first time that Sansa gets to show actual agency that she isn’t immediately punished for. The punishment is delayed until next season, that is, but that’s not what we see here yet. She asserts herself, while explicitly looking out for her own interests in her own way.

Even the scene in which she explains her choice to Littlefinger makes sense, in a way. I don’t quite believe her that she knows what he wants, but that’s mostly because neither the showrunners nor Littlefinger himself are clear on that on the show ever. The sentiment is still practical and understandable.

And then they put her in a goddamn sci-fi villain dress that clashes with all established customs around her, looks completely ridiculous and is supposed to show her big shift in character when what we’ve seen so far from her this season (smacking a little boy notwithstanding) was actually gradual and natural progression, as much as that can be said of anything on this show.

…Sorry. I have feelings about this scene. It made me believe the showrunners knew what they were doing with her for a hot second. It was a nice feeling.

Kylie: I think the “I know what you want” was solely about her, as his sexual desire. Which she does know, and that’s basically confirmed as his guiding motivation come Season 6. Oh, and also implicitly at the end of this episode. So I can buy that she feels “safe” understanding his use to her because she gets what he really wants (which is their exact dynamic throughout Season 7, too).

I’m nodding along with most of what you said. I remember when I first watched this scene, I had just finished going through Sansa’s chapters on a straight reread, and had also followed very closely the Pawn to Player reread project. I was very steeped in Sansa analysis, and very excited about where her Vale plot was headed in the books, as it’s clear she was becoming a political player, and on a trajectory for this kind of reveal to the Vale Lords eventually. I too saw this as a streamlined way to get her into the position to save the day with the strength of the Vale, without bogging the adaptation down by introducing a new player that may or may not go anywhere in the books anyway. Did it feel rushed? Yeah. Did it feel horribly out of place? Well, if you fill in the blanks with A Storm of Swords/A Feast For Crows stuff, then it really doesn’t.

The thing is, we can’t undo Season 5. The benefit of a rewatch is that we know what’s coming, and we can make comments in that context, right? And what we know is coming is that she is more or less put in her place for thinking she knew anything, and raped in the service of keeping Ramsay’s subplot intact, while also making her a Stark trophy for Theon (that will also go on to mean nothing for him).

Either they didn’t plan and this moment here in 4×08 was setting her up to be like the Sansa we see throughout Season 7, before they retconned and stalled her for 2 seasons in a pointless and exploitative rape/revenge arc. Or, they knew what was coming for her, and this moment is to set up false hope for the audience so that the rug can really get pulled out from under us come 5×06.

Oh look, they also set up a false sense of hope there too.

If I had to guess, I lean more towards the former, because this doesn’t even make sense as a set-up for the Ramsay plot to come. Why sprint her development forward like this, only to demonstrate that she needs a “painful experience” to be her teacher? But both are hideously unattractive options, and show at best, how shoddy their approach to adaptation is. At worst, it’s that they’re willing to do anything to these characters to shock the audience, so why anyone would hang on what happens in Season 8 as the way the book is going to unfold is beyond me.

Julia: I confess to being a little confused as to their decision to catapult Sansa forward like this. With all the wheel-spinning they do on this show, there would have been very little out of place if they had her stay in the Eyrie reading Robin stories and telling the servants when to fire up the bread oven until well into season 5. Like, Stannis has done nothing since season 2, why not?

Jana: Bran will literally not be around for the next season, too. They could have just done the same with her. And then maybe included, I don’t know, Griff maybe? Lady Stoneheart? Anything resembling Dorne?

Kylie: I almost suggested that the audience is more attached to Sansa’s character, but then I realized that this is the Game of Thrones fandom that we’re talking about. Given that Arya literally repeats her Season 5 plotline in Season 6, and has spent the brunt of this season doing nothing, she was a candidate for benching as well. But that would be crazy-talk.

Also speaking of Arya, what the hell was this? Oh, Lysa’s dead, so let’s just turn her and Sandor Clegane away?

Julia: And, like, two scenes after the Vale Lords talk about how much they loved Ned and would totally be willing to cross the crown to protect his daughters! I suppose you can argue that Arya and Sandor don’t know that, but… they announced their presence to the knight dude at the Bloody Gate. And there are a ton of dudes there. And no one passed this information on?

Jana: There’s a price on Sandor’s head either way, and you’d think after one Stark sister suddenly showed up in their midst, they’d at least be willing to take a good long look at the next one showing up and claiming to be one.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: She was not not Cersei? She also just sat and had reaction shots. I think a more intriguing question is if we say Jaime or Larry. Poor guy seemed to have trouble following the beetle monologue.

Julia: He wished Tyrion luck. That was Larry-like good nature.

Jana: He also looked pretty happy and entertained for most of the fight, which you’d think would be inappropriate, but I guess Larry just likes a good brawl.

Julia: Can I just use this opportunity to state: Trial by Combat is a really dumb way to decide anything.

Kylie: The High Grandpa agrees with you, Julia.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Julia: I suppose the tale Orson Lannister counts as exposition. Sidebar: what is with this show and OC Lannister cousins? There are enough Lannister cousins!

And I guess Sansa told the Vale Lords her story so far in a nice way.

Kylie: How else do they make a dig at a critic, Julia?

Sansa’s story does count as exposition, yes. It was a fairly light episode for any of that—a shame it was mostly taken up by the one monologue to ruin them all.

Jana: But does the beetle monologue even count as exposition, or just some sort of philosophy term paper?

Julia: Excuse me, philosophy is a serious academic subject. Maybe Tyrion’s professor would feel sorry for him and give him a week’s extension to rewrite. He did try so hard.

How was the pacing?

Julia: Usually, when I don’t notice the pacing, that means it’s good.

Kylie: I thought we were in deep, deep trouble with that first scene. A wildling raid is set up by burping games and unnecessary cattiness? But yeah, we reached King’s Landing and I couldn’t believe it was already time for the trial by combat.

Jana: The start was rough, and everything stopped for beetles, but for the rest of the episode, the pacing was fine.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Sue me, but I like MissWorm. I do think the camera is more linger-y than it needs to be with Nathalie Emmanuel, and there’s a large part of me that resents their aging up of Missandei in the first place, probably just so we could get these boob shots. But there’s something that seems very genuine about their dynamic, and it’s more or less a mutual healing arc.

Jana: And that’s fine, but the first part of their interactions still made me and still makes me too uncomfortable to be rooting for them just yet.

Kylie: I mean, okay. I guess there is something about Grey Worm staring and then lowering his head in the water. You may have a point there…

Julia: I feel like I should make an Apocalypse Now joke… but there isn’t one. Unless “the horror” is the adaptational decisions.

In memoriam…Oberyn Martell, Mole’s Town people

Julia: Alas, poor Showberyn. I knew him, Kylie and Jana… As dumb as most of the writing for him was, Pedro Pascal was a giant ray of sunshine this season. And there were moments of decent adaptation with him.

As for the poor folks of Mole’s Town, their lives seemed pretty miserable, to be honest. Does that town even have any economy outside of sex work?

Kylie: It’s always reminded me of Peter Jackson’s portrayal of Bree.

Jana: And boy are there a lot of sex workers in that brothel. And here I thought there weren’t enough men on the wall.

Showberyn was perfectly cast and amazing whenever he wasn’t in a brothel. And then he turned to Oberyn for like 1.5 scenes. That was nice.

Kylie: I agree it was nice, and I also think we shouldn’t under-state how much life he managed to breathe into the show almost instantly.

And now that that life has been crushed, we can prepare for next week, where we get an Olly headnod and half a battle. What were your thoughts on this episode? Was it a proper send-off to Sansa’s character for the year? Do you think what was to come for her was planned at this point?

We look forward to discussing in the comments with you, but as for what’s in store for us…it’s good fortune in The Wars to Come. We’ll see you for our penultimate episode next week.

Images courtesy of HBO

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