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A Hero Rises from the Ashes of Grimdark

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If you enjoy the cynical, grim deconstruction of beloved childhood characters and icons, or if you enjoy gratuitous violence with shocking twists and turns and character deaths, we’re sure this must be the golden age of film and television for you. Most of our current media seems to imply that we as a culture do not believe in heroes anymore, super or otherwise. We don’t believe that people can be fundamentally good and unselfish, that someone can do the right thing without being at least tempted to do the wrong thing first. We gave Batman guns, we stripped Superman of his earned humanity, and if that didn’t make you feel depressed enough, we also made Captain America a nazi for a little bit this year. We have sacrificed our heroes at the Altar of Grimdark, and most superhero media is going this way with precious few exceptions.

If this is what the people want, than far be in from us to tell them they’re wrong (though obviously that is precisely what we—Elizabeth and Gretchen—think), but we are personally deeply bothered by this trend and what it says about us as a culture. For women like us, 20s-30s LGBT women with histories of mental illness and emotional abuse, this has been one of the worst years in living memory. Between Acedia, The Spring Slaughter, the sexual manipulation of children, we’re tired and desperate for something delightful to grace our screens. Steven Universe brings hope for children’s media, but it seems too much to ask for an adult show that balances an honest, sincere exploration of darkness with an equal exploration of joy and light as well. Are we asking too much? Is optimism just too…optimistic?

It’s tempting to give up watching TV altogether (Elizabeth almost did), but we’re here to tell you that there’s hope. There is a feminist, optimistic, hopeful show with a diverse cast and strong, differently skilled female characters who use their positions of power to help others. The show explores female relationships, family, and what it means to be a hero. It’s a show that criticizes body shaming, sexism, racism, and xenophobia. Characters talk about their feelings and work out miscommunications without prolonged angst. Shit gets real, and shit gets dealt with honestly.

The show is Supergirl.

Season 2 premieres Monday October 10th, at 8pm on the CW. As a way to bring you all up to speed (and get you to watch it) we are going to be doing a series of articles recapping and discussing S1. We hope to convince you that this is the show we all want and need.

How It All Started

Elizabeth: I have been in love with this show since the first trailer was released. From the moment that I first saw the clip of Kara Danvers pulling open her shirt to reveal the House of El sigil, I knew that finally, *finally,* I had found the superhero story I had been waiting for. The costume design alone told me everything I needed to know about what this show was going to be like, and when the pilot was released early during 2015’s San Diego Comic Con, my lofty expectations were not only met, but exceeded. The first time I watched the pilot, I sat in stunned silence for several minutes after, not entirely believing that what I had just watched was real. Not since I was a kid had a superhero story left me with such a deep feeling of happiness, hope, and absolute wonder. The several months between the pilot release and the actual syndicated airing of the television show was one of the most agonizing waits of my entire life.

Once the show got rolling, it continued to exceed my wildest expectations, as you will see in this article series. I love this show so much, I see it as my personal responsibility to drag as many people into this fandom as possible. I went from not having read a comic book in about 5 years to having a House of El sticker on my car. I love this show, and it deserves a chance to be loved by you as well.

If you are like me, and are tired of the acedia-drenched, GrimDark, dystopian state of television storytelling right now, please give this show a chance. If you have any affection in your heart for the superhero genre, truly heroic protagonists, or even just female-driven stories, do yourself a favor and watch this show. At least watch the pilot. If this show doesn’t fill you with the same sort of happiness and hope that it did for me, that’s fine. Feel free to come back here and tell me why I was wrong in the comments. But I think I have a pretty good idea of what the fanbase of this website would enjoy, and I think it would very much enjoy Supergirl.

If you give her a chance, Kara Danvers will make you believe in superheroes again.

How can you say no to that face?

Gretchen: I blame Elizabeth. I didn’t really grow up with superheroes being a fandom I was drawn to. I wouldn’t even call myself a filthy casual, more like an occasional dabbler. My dad really enjoyed classic Superman, so I watched many of the movies (not that I really remember them). I watched the X-men cartoon, Batman the Animated Series, and Superman on Saturday mornings, but they never made into the temple of fandom in my soul.

As an adult, I was really turned off by Nolan’s new take on Batman, so I had zero desire to watch further superhero movies. I never got into any of the other Marvel or DC films (though I did watch, and enjoy, Watchmen, but that’s another story). Neither Grimdark vigilante justice nor conventionally good-looking men and women being violent for no coherent reason compel me. I assumed Supergirl was either much of the same or teen angst driven, like Smallville. My mostly silent Tumblr dash on all things Supergirl persuaded me that it wasn’t worth my time. Some of the harshest critics of it being not just faux-feminism but actively harmful to the feminist message that did make their way onto my dash, seemed to prove my instincts correct. I was wrong about the show, as were the criticisms I’d read. So very wrong.

Like Elizabeth, I sat in stunned silence after watching the pilot. I knew what to expect from the show, given her (long) rants about how good it was, but still. I didn’t think I could be surprised by television anymore, especially not surprised in a good way. Kara’s puppy dog enthusiasm and joyfulness, the focus on female relationships, the strong and healthy bond between Kara and her adoptive sister Alex, James Olsen played by a Greek god a man of color—all these and more made me fall in love. The criticisms I’d believed in had completely missed the point (that’s a subject for another article). Now that I’ve been hooked by it, I feel compelled to drag you all into it with me.

Quick Recap of Episodes 1-5: The Hero’s Rise

Recap might be generous. Summaries would be a better word. If you want a full break down, go to the interwebs and search recaps. Better yet, go watch them; all of S1 is on Netflix so you have no excuse.

Within the seasonal arc, these episodes detail Kara Danvers nee Zor-El’s rise as Supergirl. They encompass her ‘coming out’ (as the show calls it), her first baby steps and stumbles, key lessons about managing her dual identities, forming her team, and becoming comfortable with using her powers while taking down bad guys. They set the tone for what kind of hero she is going to be—an unabashedly optimistic, compassionate, and feminist one—and lays the foundation for key villain and antagonist arcs. They also establish the primary character dynamics amongst the main and secondary cast of protagonists.

Pilot

It opens with the obligatory origin story montage explaining that Kara Zor-El is Clark Kent’s cousin, sent to Earth to protect him but drifted off course into the Phantom Zone, which delayed her arrival to Earth until Clarke Kent was already grown. Dr. Eliza Danvers and her husband Dr. Jeremiah Danvers (who helped Clarke Kent figure out his powers when he was young) adopt her and raise her to be a normal human being alongside their daughter Alex.

Meet Cat Grant, the Voice of Feminism

In the present time, Kara Danvers is a personal assistant to powerhouse CEO of CatCo media company Anna Wintour Cat Grant in National City. Also working at Catco are James Olsen (formerly called “Jimmy”, yes the one who took pictures of Superman) and Kara’s best friend Winn Schott. Kara is smitten with James (who wouldn’t be, he’s a Greek god), but Winn is clearly enamored with Kara.

When Alex’s plane has engine trouble, Kara outs herself as a superhero by saving the plane. Cue a costume crafting/baby superhero antics montage with her best friend Winn helping her out. Cat jumps on the chance to brand the new hero Supergirl and claim her as CatCo’s headliner.

Alex reveals she works for the Department of Extranormal Operations (the DEO) and introduces Kara to her boss, curmudgeonly Hank Henshaw. She explains to Kara that when she left the Phantom Zone, her pod pulled a Kryptonian prison called Fort Rozz filled with the galaxy’s most notorious criminals along with it. All those criminals blame her mother Alura, who was a judge on Krypton, for putting them away. They’re now all out to get her in revenge. Kara fails to defeat the first baddie—Vartox—in their first encounter, but with the help of the DEO, she eventually triumphs. James reveals that he knows she is Supergirl. Oh, and the head of the Fort Rozz aliens turns out to be…dun dun dun…Kara’s aunt General Astra Zor-El, twin sister to Kara’s mother Alura!

Best Quote: “What do you think is so bad about “Girl?” Huh? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot and smart. So if you perceive “Supergirl” as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”—Cat Grant, on why Super‘girl’ is not anti-feminist.1

Episode 2, “Stronger Together”

To be fair, who WOULDN’T want to flirt with James Olsen?

Kara saves a tanker from a fire at the dock, but accidentally causes an oil spill. Cue smart, wealthy owner of Lord Technologies and all around douchebag Maxwell Lord smack talking Supergirl on the media and calling her a menace. Cat wants to scoop the Daily Planet and tasks James with finagling an interview with Supergirl. Obvie Kara is not on board with that, even if it would help her flirt with support James.

The baddie of the week is a Helgrammite (bug dude is all you need to know). Alex gets to kick Kara’s ass in a kryptonite lined training room (because Alex is a highly skilled agent and it’s fun). Cat gives advice to Kara about Supergirl needing to start small (which she follows in a pretty adorable montage) and forms a team around herself with James and Winn because she’s all about being stronger together. They eventually capture the Helgrammite but in the process, Alex is wounded and Astra reveals she has plans for Earth. She also claims she was trying to save Krypton and her sister (Kara’s mother) imprisoned her for it. Hank Henshaw has glowing red eyes and Kara agrees to do the interview with Cat to help James out.

Best Quote: “Part of being your own man is knowing when to accept help.” —Kara Danvers, to James

Episode 3, “Fight or Flight”

Cat interviews Supergirl without recognizing Kara, but Kara accidentally blurts out Superman (Supes from here on out) is her cousin. Kara gets adorkable when James sees her out with Alex and Cat almost has a panic attack about writing an exposé of Supergirl. Hank is mad about Kara slipping the info to Cat about Supes being her cousin (which was on the news), but his grump doesn’t stop Supergirl from helping out at a pile up. But *gasp* a villain shows up and blasts her! His name is Reactron and he’s mad at Supes because his wife died when a nuclear reactor melted down (that he survived) and Supes wasn’t able to save them both when he stopped the meltdown.

Cat & Maxwell: not into subtext.

Reactron takes Maxwell Lord prisoner to help fix his suit, which Kara damaged. Kara goes to rescue him, but is attacked by Reactron and Supes saves her because James called him with his signal watch. Cat has a party for her upcoming exposé, flirts with Lord (they clearly have a history and we want to know about it), and leaves. Reactron attacks the party and Kara saves the day by removing the reactor in his suit and wrapping it with lead as per DEO instructions. Kara goes to ask out James, but his ex, Lucy Lane (Lois’ little sister) is there. Kara has a chat with Clark, who cheers her up, and then has sisterly bonding with Alex.

Best Quote: ”I’m a writer. It’s like riding a bike or severe childhood trauma, you never really lose it.”—Cat Grant

Episode 4, “Livewire”2

Stressed out Alex calls Kara because their mother is coming into town for Thanksgiving. Alex thinks Eliza Danvers is mad about her ‘allowing’ Kara to come out as Supergirl; Kara (labrador puppy that she is) believes Alex is overthinking things. Winn gets invited to the Danvers family drama dinner because he has no family to be with. Meanwhile, “shock jock” radio commentator Leslie Willis is on air criticizing Supergirl. Unwilling to let one of her former protégés and employee attack the hero she branded, Cat demotes Leslie to the traffic-coptor while delivering one of the most meta lines of the show thus far.

“People don’t want your brand of negativity anymore, Leslie. They want optimism, hope, positivity.”—Cat Grant, to Leslie Willis

We were going to make a shocking joke, but decided to spare you.

Leslie’s traffic-coptor is struck by lightning and when Kara tries to save Leslie, she is struck by lightening, which is channeled into Leslie. Leslie falls into a coma but wakes up with electricity powers. The Danvers family have an Awkward Family Dinner. There are some flashbacks, the point of which is that the Drs. Danvers are really hard on Alex about Kara using her powers. Oh, and Hank Henshaw came to their house with DEO agents to arrest Kara but Dr. Jeremiah Danvers agreed to work with them instead.

Leslie, now calling herself Livewire, attacks Cat in her office but escapes. Kara and Cat talk about mothers and mentors. Cat helps Supergirl trap Livewire and Cat learns a valuable lesson about ‘raising the discourse’ in her media outlets. She’s done being petty, she wants to help people, not tear them down.

Best Quote: “Mothers, daughters, hard…not that I’m not grateful, everything I am, everything I have is because of her constant…’pushing’ let’s call it. She was never satisfied with me so I’ve never been satisfied with myself.”—Cat Grant, on her terrible human of a mother

Episode 5, “How Does She Do It?”

Non-DEO drones are chasing Supergirl! Oh noes! Kara learns Cat has been awarded the Siegel prize for journalism. Cat says she won’t go because her babysitter broke her leg and she needs someone to watch her special, shy, smart son Carter. Kara (of course) volunteers. Lucy and James get back together (see note for the last episode) and Kara stops a bombed building from collapsing. Alex figures out the drones are from Lord Technologies. Kara is late picking up Carter, but gets to have a classic superhero-changes-costume-in-the-bushes scene. Carter actually is special, shy, and smart (and not a spoiled brat), but he soon opens up to Kara when they start talking Supergirl and being nerds (also Cat is a great mom). Alex confronts Lord. He’s unconcerned about the drones (despite him saying otherwise). He also Distrusts the Government because his parents died due to government oversight. He tries to flirt with Alex but there’s a bomb in one of the labs! Kara leaves Carter with Winn to go rescue Alex and Lord.

While getting rid of the bomb, Kara is knocked out and as she’s waking up, she sees Hank’s glowing red eyes. Hank tells her they figured out who is behind the bombings, a disgruntled former employee of Lord Technologies named Ethan Knox. Kara has an awkward chat with Lucy about James and then encourages James to fight for his relationship with her. Lucy decides it isn’t going to work and plans to fly back to Metropolis. Kara heads to the train Maxwell Lord is unveiling to stop the bomber, Carter goes alone to the train to meet Supergirl, and a second bomb is found at the airport.

James, Alex, and Hank head to the airport to stop the bomb, which Hank pries open with bare hands and defuses while his eyes glow red. No one is around to see his deeds, so he tells Alex it was a fake bomb to cover it up. Kara tries to de-escalate Ethan on the train, but he refuses to back down. He has a sick little girl and believes this is the only way to help her. Kara saves the train, but can’t save Ethan because he chooses to end his life. We get good mom Cat (to Carter) and excellent mentor Cat (to Kara) when she returns from the award ceremony. Supergirl confronts Lord and confirms he set the whole thing up to test her abilities and limits. Kara vows to watch him. Lord smirks smarmily (and Gretchen wants to punch him, not for the first time, nor the last).

Best Quote: “Just because I look a certain way on the outside, everyone assumes it matches the way I feel on the inside.”—Lucy Lane

Characters

We have four categories of characters on Supergirl: The Fantastic 4 (primary protagonists), The Supporting Heroes (secondary protagonists), The Sympathetic Villains, and The Big Bads3. The latter two categories include recurring villains and baddies, rather than the ‘monster of the week’ variety, of which there are many. You’ll get one from each category every week because we’re stingy like that building up your anticipation You won’t get a Big Bad this week, though, since there are only three and this week’s piece is long enough (#sorrynotsorry).

The Fantastic 4: Kara Danvers

Kara Danvers is a young, educated, feminist minded woman with a heart of gold and a fundamental faith in the goodness of humanity. She embodies the original spirit of Superman in every possible way: she is not a hero because she has superpowers, she is a hero because she truly believes that it is her mission in life to protect earth from anyone or anything who would do them harm. She is kind, thoughtful, and brave. She’s adorably fumbly (especially when around James), honest, and real.

Given how Grimdark and revenge have infected our screens, her commitment to compassion, empathy, and inspiring others to be their best selves is shockingly refreshing and novel. Everyone gets a chance to redeem themselves with Kara, to choose light and life. She always begins with de-escalation, giving each villain several chances to change their course before wiping the floor with them. When she cannot convince someone to change their ways, she is visibly bothered by it, never gloating about her victories or dehumanizing her opponents. Even when she falls from heroism, she never kills anyone. Kara Zor-El has a code and she’s sticking to it, through rain or sleet or red kryptonite.

Speaking of falling and red kryptonite, Kara Danvers’ struggle with voicing and acting on her bad thoughts (Episode 16) is remarkably familiar. But even her fall does not keep her down for long. Like the villains she battles, Kara herself gets a second chance to restore humanity’s faith in her as a hero. But not before she has a moving sequence where she sobs about how awful it was to be consumed by her bad thoughts.

Someone hug her. Please.

Ultimately, her desire to save others from suffering the same pain she experiences by losing her family and planet as a child, and her refusal to believe that anyone is beyond her aid, is what makes her a hero. Like some of our other favorite characters (Sansa Stark, Steven Universe, Laura Hollis, Tara Maclay), Kara overcomes darkness with light, suffering with joy, and revenge with compassion. She uses her position of privilege to help pull up those who were not so lucky. Her optimism and hope do not negate the depth and poignancy of her own struggles at all, though. Instead, her relentless pursuit of empathy and kindness proves that she is strong in the real way and willing to get back up when she falls down.

She chooses strong family bonds, positive female friendships, the mentorship of an older and wiser woman, and a team to help her. She’s not a lone-wolf vigilante stuck brooding on her pain and heedless of the destructiveness of her so-called heroism. She’s neither a gritty anti-hero nor a fallen demigod. Then again, don’t we have enough of those anyway?

The show always makes sure to humanize Kara, rather than sticking her up on a lofty pedestal of ideals that she can’t possibly maintain. This humanization makes her seem that much more real, and counter-intuitively, that much more heroic. Characters require moments of weakness and flaws to be believable, and Kara feels very much like a real, complete person. We love her for what she is, and who she is, and that is precisely the kind of hero we need.

The Supporting Heroes: Winn Schott Jr.

Kara’s best friend made both of us squeamish when he first graced our screens. His conclusion that Kara must be a lesbian because she wasn’t into him (UGH) is cringeworthy. Stick with him, though. He gets better.

Winn is everything a superhero’s best friend ought to be. Understated, nerdy, a bit awkward, and invested in Kara as a person as well as a superhero. Winn is Kara’s biggest cheerleader. I mean, come on, the guy designs her costume and snags the empty office down the hall for her, James, and himself to use as their own small-scale batcave. For being an IT guy, he avoids pretty much all of the worst tropes about technology oriented white males. He’s really smart, but you’d never hear him brag about it. Unless it’s with the Flash in the crossover episode (Episode 18) and then it’s flat out adorable. He’s 50% floofy hair, 50% nerd, and 100% heart. If you are a fan of characters like Parks and Rec’s Ben Wyatt, you will like Winn. They even have the same wardrobe.

Though the Pilot might lead you to expect an entitled friendzone angst arc, the writers handle his unrequited feelings for Kara remarkably well. When she rebuffs his kiss and he admits how he feels about her, he accepts her lack of reciprocation without pressing her to return his feelings. Although he doesn’t talk to her for an episode because he needs space and time, they eventually restore their friendship and he finds another love interest. He eventually tells Kara she needs to go get her some James. Like. What?

His backstory episode (Episode 10) moved us to tears. In true Supergirl fashion, they explored the tragedy of broken parent-child relationships, narcissism, emotional abuse, and mental illness with deftness and clarity. What Winn says about his fears of becoming his father applies very well to any of the ‘scary’ mental illnesses.

“His genes are like ticking time bombs inside of me just waiting to go off and hurt people.”—Winn Schott Jr., on his father “Toyman”

Simultaneously, the episode condemns the idea that mental illness is to blame for violent acts. Winn’s father is obviously mentally ill, but the narrative makes a point of separating that from his actions. Winn’s choice to control and manage his illness, and form a support network to help him, distinguishes him from his father, not their genes. More than that, given a chance to go full Green Goblin/Hobgoblin, they veer left. Winn redeems himself from walking in his father’s footsteps by choosing a better way even in the face of romantic rejection. Conclusion? Winn won our love.

The Sympathetic Villains: Astra Zor-El

The twin sister to Alura Zor-El, Kara’s mother, Astra defies easy villain characterization. When you scratch the surface, she’s a good person pushed to extremes to protect the home and planet she loved. In the past, the greedy harvesting of Krypton’s core put it on the brink of ecological disaster, so Astra and her husband Non sought to save the planet by whatever means necessary. They were willing to do questionable things in the name of what they believed to be right, including terrorism and murder. Now they plan to ‘save’ the Earth the same way.

One can’t talk about her without her twin sister, both of whom serve as foils for Kara’s exploration of what it means to be a hero. They’re two sides of the same coin. Alura believes people are basically good, while Astra believes that they are weak and need guidance. Astra chooses law and justice, Alura chooses chaos and extremism. Alura believes humanity worthy of protection, Astra that they’re an infestation on Earth that needs to be stopped before they destroy the planet. In the final analysis, the sisters are more alike than not, both willing to do everything for their values. Only their values differ. Alura was willing to punish people with harsh justice to save her planet from chaos; Astra was willing to let people die to help save her planet from ecological disaster.

Astra’s not as different from Kara as she first appears, either. She shows mercy to Kara at every opportunity. Though committed to her cause, she refuses to permanently harm Kara even when she rejects Astra’s offer to join her cause. When Non puts Kara under the influence of a mind-altering alien being (a “Black Mercy”) to get her out of their way, Astra berates him.

“There is always another way!” —Alura Zor-El, regarding Non’s use of the Black Mercy

Sound familiar? Kara says that. More than once. It’s kind of her thing.

Tragically, Astra is killed in battle, so we don’t know how a deeper relationship with her niece would have played out. Kara believes she had almost succeeded in bringing Astra into the light, and we can’t deny the trajectory is there. Especially not when you compare her softening attitude to Kara with her husband Non’s willingness to use the Black Mercy to get Kara out of the way. Far from irredeemable, she’s on the road to redemption but her arc is cut short before it finishes.

It is important to note, however, that Astra doesn’t feel like she was Fridged. The circumstances surrounding her death were a believable consequence to Astra’s actions, and that is far rarer in television shows than it should be. Astra’s death hurts, but it’s the good kind of hurt; the kind that serves the characters, not the plot. While it would have been lovely to have Astra become a redeemed villain, we won’t fault the show for not choosing to take that path. The story as written is well-crafted and poignant, and to avoid Astra’s death would have required some seriously powerful Plot Armor.

The Big Bads

Come back next week for Livewire!

Theme: What Does It Mean To Be A Hero?

Supergirl is a very dialogue-heavy show, and it spends a large chunk of that dialogue driving home the point that it’s not having power that makes you a hero, it’s how you choose to use the power you’re given. This theme is not limited to superpowers, either; the human heroes also consistently wield their power for the forces of good, whether it’s Alex’s secret agent training, James’ inherent bravery and investigative journalism skills, or Cat Grant’s incredible media empire and cultural influence that comes with being “The Queen of All Media.” Supergirl takes that classic Spiderman quote, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and cranks it up to 11.

One of the greatest things about Kara is that she has the heart of a hero, even when she isn’t using the powers of one. Within the first ten minutes of the pilot, Kara tells Alex that “I went to work for Ms. Grant because I thought working in a media company run by a powerful woman who actually shapes the way people think would be the way that I could make a difference.” It’s clear that Kara Danvers is an educated young woman who is determined to use her privilege and power to lift people up, even when we are only using the phrase ‘lift up’ metaphorically.

This is an attitude shared by all of the heroes, whether they are saving people from burning buildings or simply choosing to put out positivity into the media world even when negativity sells better. (The meta-ness of this theme is right up our alley.) Across the first season, Supergirl makes a point of showing all different kinds of heroism, driving home the point that anyone can be a hero with the all the subtlety of a roundhouse kick to the head. This focus on the essence of heroism, rather than the literal practice of it, is in service to the greater theme of season one: superpowers can win the fight, but hope and optimism will save the day. In Supergirl, violence is not always the answer, and is quite often presented as the last resort when diplomacy and empathy have failed.

What makes a hero, then, is their choices, not their innate powers, skill, talents, or education. You can have all those things and still not to be a hero if you use your privilege to put other people down (see Cat Grant’s mother). No one can force you to be a hero any more than they can force you into redemption/salvation. Everyone has to make their own choices about who they want to be, even villains. When Kara asks why Superman never told her to become a hero like him, James tells her, “Because he wanted you to choose it for yourself. The same way he did. That’s what makes a hero, Kara.” Heroes aren’t born, they’re made by the choices we make. Choosing compassion, hope, and helping people, that’s what makes a hero.

Spotlight On: Cinematography And Visual Presentation

Classic Superman hover.

Don’t ask us how they do it, but the production staff managed to capture the essence of comic book framing and bring it to the television screen. Flying sequences appear to be lifted directly out of the pages of a comic book. Kara’s posture—classic Supes with arms outstretched while flying and the bent right knee while floating—the saturated color palette, the composition of individual shots and the cuts from one shot to the next could be translated frames and panels with little changing. Fight scene choreography mimics what you’d expect from the still frames on paper, which has the side effect of making this show extremely easy to screencap, since the shots are composed with both moving and still images in mind.

Alongside the incredible shot composition is the color palette, as mentioned above. This show is vibrant and saturated, and relies heavily on the colors blue and red in both background objects and character costuming. Characters are noticeably dressed in contrasting red and blue, especially in sequences that are light on action, to keep the visuals of the show interesting. In addition to being very deliberately organized to capture that comic book frame feel, the objects in the background are deliberately colored; we can’t speak to how much post-production color correction was done on the show, or if all these color choices were done in the original shots, but either way; they look fantastic.

The lighting also is deliberately staged to create color contrast; in shots where you have two characters talking with the camera focusing on either one or the other, the background lighting behind each character will usually be contrasting colors. Orange and blue is the usual go-to contrast for television and film, because it’s the heaviest contrast and people=orange, sky=blue. But Supergirl makes use, very frequently we might add, of red/green and yellow/purple contrast. It’s a delight to watch, because it gives the show a unique look, and you can very clearly see what the hell is going on in any given shot, even when the characters are being shown at night or in a dark room. You will never feel the need to turn up the brightness on your television or laptop while watching Supergirl, a low bar to set that most of television just limbos right under lately.

These vibrant color and lighting help showcase the solid CGI enhancements used in the show. The pilot is probably the most CGI intensive episode of the series, but it’s not winning by a very large margin. The amount of CGI used in the show is actually quite staggering, especially considering how good it all looks. The plane sequence in the pilot, and the first daylight flying sequence in the beginning of episode 2, set the standard you can expect from the CGI enhancements of the show. It’s not movie quality, but it’s definitely some of the best you’ll see used in television. The CGI is also nicely complimented by a collection of practical visual effects, whether they be costuming, makeup, traditional stunts, or even old-timey theater tricks like forced perspective.

All of this comes together with the script to create a show that not only has new things to say, it has new things to show you. We’ve talked about how much we’d like to see an adult show with the vibrancy and color palette of Steven Universe and Supergirl comes very, very close. Low contrast, blurry, greyed-out cinematography is quite popular on television right now, and Supergirl could not possibly be more opposing to that; it stands out like a red pantsuit at a stock broker’s firm (in more ways than one.) It is clear that the visual team on this show was as determined as the writing crew to bring its audience something new and different, and we very much appreciate the effort.

Extra Tidbits

  • If you pay attention to the background in the DEO scenes, you will notice that the extras are about 50/50 split male and female, and fairly racially diverse. The DEO also has one of the first truly unisex uniforms I’ve ever seen: black pants, tailored black polo. On a Doylist level, A+ attention to detail from the production staff, this is intentional. On a Watsonian level, it says a lot about the man in charge. Flashbacks to the DEO of decades prior shows all-male strike teams and operatives, so this was not an accident; the show knows exactly what it’s doing, and it wants you to notice.
  • Within seconds of Alex and Kara interacting, the strength their sisterly relationship shines through. Kara’s healthy relationship with her adoptive parents and Alex and the stability of their home live comes up again and again throughout the series.
  • In the first episode, Alex opens up about her feelings of insecurity growing up with Kara as her sister. She admits her jealousy and desire to keep Kara’s powers in the closet because it made her feel superior. Then they talk about it, Alex apologizes, Kara forgives her, and they move on. Not only is their sibling love #relationshipgoals but the ability of the story to deal with heavy emotional things and resolve it without dragging it out into angst impresses us both. The writers consistently handle the inter-personal communication and drama this way. Did we mention how this is like no other show on television right now?
  • In the Pilot, Winn bases his first costume design off of actual comic book designs. It looks hilariously like 80s Superwoman and Supergirl. It’s a nerdy reference, not a demonstration of his sexism. Also, Kara’s ‘yikes face’ in that costume should tell you everything you need to know about how the writers feel about this kind of costume.
  • Recognize the actor playing Dr. Jeremiah Danvers? He played Clark Kent in The Adventures of Lois and Clark.
  • When two women fight, they actually fight. No chick fights here. The punch-out brawl between Astra and Kara in episode 2 truly does feel like two Kryptonians fighting each other, with both of them getting thrown through cement walls and bending steel when they smash into it. While Alex can’t throw people into the stratosphere, she can give and take a punch with the best of them. The female fighters in this show look and feel appropriately powerful, whether they be human or alien.
  • The actor who plays Maxwell Lord plays Carlisle Cullen (Edward’s ‘dad’) in Twilight.
  • The show is really meta about potential criticisms, often bringing them into the show as part of the dialogue, like Leslie Willis mocking Supergirl’s lack of sexuality or Kara pointing out that ‘girl’ might be anti-feminist. They’re heavy handed about it, but we both like that. They don’t beat around the bush and are willing to face their detractors head on and even bring that into the show itself as a way of coping with haters. It’s impressive, really, and quite necessary considering the current environment of television. While those of us well-versed in feminist theory don’t need our hand held, the show is not trying to hold *our* hand through it; it’s for everyone else. For us, the show has plenty of other more subtle goodies to chew on.
  • Kara fiddles with her glasses and snorts when she’s nervous, adorable.
  • We didn’t like the whole ‘friendzone’ conversation in episode 5. Especially with two women, because this typically isn’t a conversation two women have. ‘Friendzone’ seems to be the lexicon of male entitlement, not female disappointment. It’s the only time in the first 5 episodes that the dialogue has been less than stellar, though. Consider this more of a nitpick rather than a genuine critique.
  • Parallelism in story lines in episodes is done really well, but not so overt as to make the audience feel stupid.

Stay tuned for next week where we’ll tackle the next phase of Kara’s superhero journey, “Flying High”! Also, feminism. Much feminism. Until then,


Images of Supergirl courtesy of CBS and the CW

1. If you’re at all annoyed about the name ‘Supergirl’ (as some people on the internet are), the Doylist explanation for using this superhero name is because Superwoman is a completely different character in the DC universe with a completely different backstory. ‘Supergirl’ is just the name of the character in the DC universe. To make a show about Kara Danver, it has to be ‘Supergirl.’ Superwoman is someone else.

2. This was initially meant to air the week of Thanksgiving as Episode 5 of the series. However, due to the Paris Attacks and the fact that the original Episode 4 (“How Does She Do it?”) had Kara protecting National City from a bomber, the episodes were swapped out of respect for the victims. Due to this, there are minor glitches in continuity, like Lucy and James’ renewed relationship. They get back together in what is now Episode 5 (originally Episode 4), and he goes with her family for Thanksgiving in what is now Episode 4. It can feel slightly jarring, but knowing the intended airing order alleviates the mild disorientation. The other glitch is Alex’s trust of Henshaw in the now Episode 5, which feels off since she learns about Hank Henshaw being involved with her father’s disappearance in what is now Episode 4.

3. This category title has been changed from “The Irredeemable Big Bads” to “The Big Bads”, as the authors feel that this best reflects Kara’s own perception that everyone deserves a second (and third and fourth) chance.

When not working on her degree or at her actual job, Elizabeth pursues her true passion of complaining at great length about pop culture on the internet. She serves as a Managing Editor for The Fandomentals. You can find her on Tumblr, Twitter and Steam @ohemgeelizabeth

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[…] It’s here. “Medusa”, the Thanksgiving episode of Danvers’ family awkwardness in all its glory. Gretchen and Elizabeth have been waiting […]

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[…] It’s here. “ Medusa ”, the Thanksgiving episode of Danvers’ family awkwardness in all its glory. Gretchen and Elizabeth have been waiting […]

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Analysis

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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There are so many factors that have come into play when I first heard about Image comics newest release, DIE, that it is hard to pinpoint the real reason it intrigued me so heavily. Who am I kidding, it was all the reasons. Most importantly the staff on it.

For one, it features two of my favorite Image Comics alum. The first being Kieron Gillen, the mastermind that gave us the brilliant comic The Wicked And The Divine,which is one of the best ongoing comics at the moment. On the art work is the incredibly talented Stephanie Hans whose realistic and beautifully shaded and colored panels were also featured in The Wicked And The Divine‘s 1831 one shot as well across other comic distributors such as DC with Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The two coming together again like in 1831 is a match that builds this comic up to be really something special.

Image, in the last few years has really been producing some special and important books in the past few years, among them being The Wicked and the Divine, some of the more acclaimed include Saga, Blackbird, Paper Girls,and Infidel, the company takes a proud departure from Superheroes that dominate the comic industry and opt for more fantasy or science fiction stories with adult and political themes.

Lastly, the plot was incredibly unique and original. When it was advertised as Jumanji meets It, I was instantly interested. While not being a player of table top games myself, I can certainly see the crowd this book is trying to reach while also showing the fun about these games with an added horror twist that is sure to be remembered after the first issue.

The story really does follow a similar timeline to the mentioned Stephen King novel since it follows a group of friends during two periods of their lives: as teenagers and as adults. As we are introduced to each member of the group, we notice nothing in particularly strange about their characters, other than a shared love for table top games and science fiction and fantasy themes. The group has gathered together to celebrate the birthday of their friend Dominic by playing an apparently hard to find game called Gormenghast.

We learn a little about each character based on their choice of created characters. Dominic himself creates a diplomat woman that’s apparently a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli, the Dictator. Matthew, a magical warrior of empathy, the Grief Knight. Angela, a cyber punk, Neo. Isabelle, an atheist with gods as pets, Godbinder. Chuck, a lazily created every-man. And Sol the dungeon master with D20 die.

As the game begins the comic cuts to two hours later as Sol’s mum comes to check on them and they have disappeared. Fast forward again and it’s two years later and the group suddenly appears on a random road nearly getting hit by a car. Angela is missing her arm and we can’t really make out what happened, they are now only known as the Stafford six a group of teenagers who went missing two years ago. Sol is the only one missing from the group.

The comic again goes in time to 25 years later where we get to see how this tragedy has affected the rest of their lives. Apparently they had all made a promise never to speak about what happened, not even to one another. Sol’s mother even after so many years pesters Dominic about the fate of her son, to which he avoids. Using brilliant dialogue we see just how dark this has made their lives. Dom seems not to keep in touch with all the others except his sister who has gone through a string of divorces. They have made the best of living with their memories but it is all destroyed when Dom receives a package at a bar, a bloodied D20 die.

It’s at this moment that he decides to reunite the group. After so much time, some have changed completely while others not at all…I’m looking at you Chuck. While some have new companions and some less. They decide as a group to finally discuss what happened that night and where they were for two years until the die calls out to them. The Grandmaster threatens the realm and a hero is needed it calls as they are all sucked into the die and land into a desert ruin. It’s apparent that they have all become their characters…why does Chuck look like Varric.

With the end of the issue the group bickers among themselves about being back in the game, something they’ve repressed for nearly half their lives until Sol appears as the new Grandmaster. What I took from his dialogue is that he was trapped by the previous one and during these long years he’s fought a war to survive or escape and eventually defeated him and became the Grandmaster himself. It’s not clear whether he’s sane or not at this point but it points to the latter as he tells his friends that they are not leaving until the game is over.

This first issue was great at establishing its main cast. While I kept most of those details out of this review, the book really fleshes them out individually and gives life to each of their personalities. Anyone who has read The Wicked and the Divine will know just how well Gillen handles diversity among characters as well as conflicting attitudes. They actually feel like a group of friends you might have been a part of in high school. I really loved this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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

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

So, What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

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

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

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

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

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

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

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

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

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

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

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

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

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

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

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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


 

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre

Kylie

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

Episode Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial, quick reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights/lowlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

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

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

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

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

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

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember adaptation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

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

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

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

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

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

Julia: They talked about jumping off a cliff once.

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

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

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

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

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

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

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

How was the pacing?

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

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

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

Another week of no sex, baby

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

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

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

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

In memoriam…those Frey soldiers

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

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

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

Julia: I remember there being a chart.

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

And I just remembered, the Pornish are coming soon!

Kylie: OH MY GOD.

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

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


Images courtesy of HBO

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