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Analysis

The Ungrounded Turf Wars of Legend of Korra

Kylie

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The following contains FULL SPOILERS for Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1

We are so stupid.

No, seriously, we—Griffin and Kylie—your infamously overzealous Asami (and Kate Kane) fangirls are two of the biggest idiots on the internet.

See, two days ago we dropped a review on Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1, which we gave a 4/10. We personally felt frustrated by it, and actually found it somewhat offensive thanks to our own unique backgrounds and experiences. Though we did our best to explain why, while also trying to celebrate its net-positive in the world and acknowledge its validation of other readers, we kind of got lost in an overjustification for our reaction and forgot to explain one crucial thing: we actually liked it. We just…forgot. Kind of.

Yeah, yeah, we know what this sounds like, but hear us out.

We should have made it clearer on Wednesday, but the place we were coming from was nothing but overenthusiastic love for this franchise and all of its characters in it. We’re not sure it’s possible for us to have thought about this world as long as we have and as in-depth as we have without coming to adore every aspect of it. So when we saw one page—just one page—that in *our view* not only derailed the entire quality and messaging of the comic, but also clashed with the world on a fundamental level, it was kind of…all we saw.

It’s difficult for us not to. For one, and we’re sorry but you’ll have to allow us a good deal of personal bias here: the page we’re talking about? It’s the one that introduced institutionalized homophobia into the world. The one where we found out that Kyoshi never elicited lasting change, and the one where Nazi imagery was explicitly and purposely evoked to show how queer individuals had been persecuted in the past.

We’re jews, okay? It’s impossible for us to look at people being led out of their house in handcuffs in the middle of the night by soldiers heavily evocative of the Gestapo, likely to camps, and not connect it to our people’s history. We’d both have gotten pink stars, you know? So this was viscerally upsetting for us to see and think about as now being a part of the Avatar-verse.

We know that this is our own personal reaction, and there’s really no way we can explain how culturally abhorrent this is to us to a point where it would be compelling to others at large. Not that we think anyone who doesn’t have the same reaction has any sort of moral failing, of course. Just a different frame of reference. We also don’t claim to speak for all jewish people, nor would we criticize any jew who didn’t feel as strongly as we do; for us, it simply came at a really really really bad time. Not that any time is a good time for Nazi imagery, but now specifically is pretty bad.

However, if we can move beyond that inescapable baggage, there was another thing about Turf Wars that slanted everything in the negative review you read. We don’t think it fits with the canon of the shows. Like, at all. And yes, it’s still because of that one page. Because this isn’t only homophobia on a case-by-case basis. If it was simply a general warning from Tonraq without having seen institutionalized oppression, that would be fine. It might not have been our penchant, but it would have been fine. Good, even.

The thing is, with that page, it’s still fine (minus the Nazis)! It’s just not grounded in the franchise’s canon. So our entire frustration was because we couldn’t articulate that while we like this comic in a void, we don’t feel this aspect worked and personally view it as something disconnected from the main canon. We also do still believe that a comic could have been produced that would have been just as validating and positive that also fit within the universe, so the harshness of the review is partially because of that. In short though: rip out the page, it’s all fine, and we could all be enjoying ice cream together.

Instead, we recommend you order yourself a nice pastrami on rye (with brown mustard of course), because we need to neurotically explain why we don’t view this as fitting in the Avatar-verse, and we really don’t want you to go hungry. Seriously, eat. And we’ll even throw in some Seinfeld jokes in our efforts to entertain you.

Us at literally everything ever.

One more thing before we dive in. We want to emphasize that everything you’re about to read are simply conclusions we came to. As two random nerds on the internet who hold a little bit too much enthusiasm for finer business details and the politics of fictional settings. That’s it. That’s who we are. If you come to different conclusions, or land in a different place, we’d love to hear about it and discuss it with you. Even though we want to keep the tone light, we do view this as a really important topic, and something worth discussing in full. If we’ve ever written something that conveys a different attitude, we offer our sincerest apologies. We hold zero ill-will for anyone who disagrees with us about any aspect of the comics, Avatar, or really anything ever.

Except Nazis. Fuck those guys.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Yes, this whole piece…it’s about the homophobia. It’s about the fact that Korra and Asami were cautioned about telling the world they’re dating, along with the exposition dump by their friendly neighborhood Font of Gay Knowledge, Kya II. We already tried to briefly explain why there can’t really be this prejudice in this world on a systematic level (and why therefore it eminently frustrated us), but we’re going to go into full detail now.

See, throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) and The Legend of Korra (LoK), there *were* moments here and there, where we saw characters being sexist or making gender-based comments. So we don’t want to pretend that this world is completely free of prejudices beyond the obvious foregrounded ones surrounding nationality and bending abilities.

“Now watch this mover that exploits my own culture!”

When it comes to homophobia, the root of this prejudice is sexism. The backlash against two people of the same gender entering into a romantic relationship directly relates to their lack of adherence to the prescribed societal gender roles. In a patriarchy, women are oppressed, with men as their oppressors (this is speaking quite broadly, of course), and the enforcement of that hinges on compulsory heterosexuality.

The thing about sexism and homophobia, or any prejudices for that matter, is that there doesn’t necessarily have to be malicious intent for it to exist and be enforced. Sokka saying that women shouldn’t be fighting and are good at sewing was an example of what we’d call “benevolent sexism.” It’s nicer than him saying “[gendered slur], make me a sammich,” but it’s derived from a protective paternalism, which is infantilizing and restrictive to women.

Where homophobia fits in is that there are three general “subfunctions” of sexism, or rather, functions that serve to enforce sexism:

  1. Paternalism: women are viewed as less-developed, and thus in need of protection (at best) or having decisions made for them
  2. Gender differentiation: the assumption that biological differences between males and females justify adherence to set gender roles
  3. Heterosexuality: ranging from tropes based on a desire for intimacy (at best) to fear of women attaining power through their exploitation of sexual attraction

This framework is known as “ambivalent sexism,” because it can manifest in both benevolent and hostile ways. Let’s break it down:

  • Protective Paternalism (benevolent): men should care for and protect women
  • Dominative Paternalism (hostile): men should control women
  • Complementary gender differentiation (benevolent): adherence to traditional gender roles for women is important/needed by men
  • Competitive gender differentiation (hostile): men are superior to women
  • Intimate heterosexuality (benevolent): women are sexually pure and romantic intimacy is necessary to complete a man
  • Heterosexual hostility (hostile): women are sexual objects for men’s benefit, but should be feared in their capacity to manipulate men with their sexuality

Homophobia should really be thought of as “heterosexism.” It cannot exist in a void from wider sexism, because it’s a gender-based prejudice. It’s also something that exists in smaller, more insidious ways. Ever joke about a guy being “whipped” by his girlfriend? That’s some (admittedly benign) heterosexual hostility there, which stems from the anxiety of a man being subordinate to a woman. It’s also dominiative paternalism and complementary gender differentiation. What fun!

“But wait, Grifflie,” we’re sure you’re saying, “There was sexism in the Avatar shows, so all this still works. You are defeated!”

We know, Jeffrey. Just give us a chance, because we’d love nothing more than to go through the cases of sexism in these shows, which are as follows:

1.) Sokka had some very weird views about women, until the Kyoshi Warriors explained his sexism away in 30 seconds of screentime.

To be perfectly honest, we’re just as confused where Sokka’s sexism came from as we are about his literacy and advanced knowledge of physics. As far as we could tell, he was the sole teenage boy in a rather isolated village where the women were running things. You’d think that would have led to him being a bit more open-minded about their roles in society and his personal conception of strength.

Still, it’s true that it was the men of the Tribe who went off to fight the Fire Nation, probably because there were no benders in the South so fighting physicality was a factor. It’s not rare to see wartime necessity create gendered roles like this, even if we think Sokka’s “haha women are useless” attitude is a bit of a stretch. But in fairness yes, it actually makes sense for there to have been a degree of protective paternalism in that situation. In fact, that’s more or less exactly how Hakoda framed everything to him when Sokka had wanted to go fight:

It equally makes sense that Katara hated and pushed against Sokka’s attitude, finding it infantilizing and quite the broad-brush mentality. We’ve kind of rationalized the way it manifested in him as a result of Sokka having no frame of reference with no other men around. To him, if he’s shitty at sewing, it must be because women are better. And he hasn’t seen any female fighters, so they must not exist!

We’re glad all it took was him meeting a girl that wasn’t his sister to come around. It was blindingly clear that this is attitude wasn’t accepted on a larger scale, probably because the other men understood the importance of the women’s roles during the war (even if they were gendered in the assignment). So of course by LoK, the Southern Water Tribe is run by a Council of Elders, and women can casually participate in poorly-conceived rebellions if they so choose.

2.) The Northern Watertribesmen were sexist asshats (and Katara punched them)

In this case, there is actually quite a good reason for why there was institutionalized sexism: the dichotomic nature of waterbending. It can be used for both healing and fighting. Probably as a result of the time of war, there was some heavy protective paternalism that led to those roles becoming gendered in practice.

Wait, should we explain this more? We don’t want to get too in the weeds here, but women have babies and then typically care for said babies, so when there’s an external threat, this is when the maternal role is more encouraged to protect the longevity of a culture. The sister tribes both subscribed to this during the Hundred Years War, from what we can tell.

Katara tried to decapitate the patriarchy Pakku, and it made him realize that perhaps those womenfolk can fight and should at least have the option of learning both aspects of the bending discipline. Also his hopes of reaching first base had died because Gran Gran didn’t like their stupid patriarchal arranged marriage system. It’s not a shock that it went away right after Katara pointed this out to him, immediately followed by the crown princess breaking down into sobs over how much it sucked for her too.

Of course some remnants of this patriarchy remained, like the bethrothal necklace system, but there’s no indication any sexism stayed particularly intact on a structural level beyond that. By LoK, not a single person second guesses Eska co-ruling with Desna (even though they should have, because MONarhcy), the most terrifying waterbender we meet is Ming-Hua who is taken very seriously by everyone she encounters, and male healers are rather commonplace in Republic City. There seems to have been a clear breakdown of those wartime patriarchal roles within the Water Tribe. Thanks, Katara!

“YOU’RE WELCOME” (art source)

We should point out Korra’s throwaway line at Bolin about betrothal necklaces, since it gets tossed out a lot when this topic is brought up:

“I’m pretty sure the guy is supposed to give the girl the betrothal necklace.”

We don’t think this comment of Korra was her shaming Bolin for not fulfilling the proper gendered duty, so much as finding amusement in the situation with her creepy cousin, and potentially the entire betrothal necklace practice. Hell, Tonraq’s from the North and he didn’t bother foisting one of those dumb things on Senna (or if he did, she rejected it). Really not suggestive of anything grander here.

3.) The Fire Nation/Earth Kingdom Soldiers/Generals/etc. were all male & same-gender couples were never shown on screen

We admit, this was an issue in the show at points—most notably the start of ATLA. Ozai’s entire war council, there’s every Earth General we met, every single background soldier in Book 1…were there even female Dai Li (not counting the Joo Dee’s)? But the way we look at this is that it’s more of an issue on the production-side of things than any actual intentionality within the narrative.

See, as time went on, women just started casually popping up in the background. There’d be female Fire Nation soldiers serving as guards, and we had the intentional foregrounding of the Kyoshi Warriors as a major fighting force within the Earth Kingdom Forces. This isn’t touching Azula’s squad.

If we ignore that change in pattern and say that in this universe, fighting and military strategization are typically viewed as the men’s jobs, we still struggle to see paternalistic practices like this entrenched anywhere else. Women are not denied access to political participation, nor are they even particularly denied access to fighting if they demonstrate an interest. Even the prominence and clout of characters like Li and Lo paint a broader picture of the general acceptance of, and respect for, female authority figures.

Did we mention she’s fourteen?

LoK was light years beyond ATLA in its representation of women in power, from the United Republic Councilwoman in Book 1, to the Earth Queen, to Fire Lord Izumi, to Lin, to Suyin, and of course, to Kuvira. (We’re leaving Korra out since her figuring out her role as a leader to the world was, you know, the entire story.) No one ever questioned their authority on the basis of gender, because why would they? Whatever institutional barriers the background male soldier models might have implied, it is simply not in evidence anywhere else given how female characters are treated and advance in-verse.

Not to mention, having all male background models was a well-documented problem, to the explicated chagrin of showrunners Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino (Bryke).

“I made a point of having several female officers of all different ranks designed for Kuvira’s military. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they were largely left out of the final animation. I didn’t supervise the background character assigning, but as the art director I ultimately have to take the blame. So, I’m sorry! We made them, but you don’t see them enough. Sigh…” —Bryan Konietzko, Book 4 Artbook

The man literally typed “Sigh” into the artbook. So with this, and the way that the characters are actually treated, we really don’t find extrapolating too much meaning off of it to be particularly logical.

We should note that this is also the case for the argument that “there’s no same-gender couples on our screens, so that suggests oppression.” It’s not unreasonable or anything, but again, this just seems to be the result of a restricted medium (or restricted imaginations of animators, at times), than established societal tensions. We know that Bryke perceived restrictions on openly depicting a romance between Korra and Asami in 2014. In fact, it wasn’t just a perception:

“We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced.” —Bryan Konietzko, “Korrasami is canon

So yes, ATLA and LoK were both restricted in terms of the open depiction of same-gender couples. This is because they were both Y-7 cartoons that also aired internationally, in countries with very strict rules on this. Korrasami was considered “groundbreaking” for a reason, and it’s only been since then that we’ve seen that “significant inching forward” continuing in children’s media. Mostly thanks to Steven Universe. (Come on, Adventure Time, work with us!)

Given the hoops Bryke jumped through just to make sure we could have a Korrasami hand-hold, we don’t really view the lack of background couples or explicit mentions of non-heterosexual proclivities as anything other than a reflection of the reality of the times in which they were produced. Again, we view it as more reasonable to examine the treatment of the characters on the basis of gender to determine where the society would land on its acceptance of same-gender couples. In other words, we’re dismissing a Doylist issue within our Watsonian framework of analysis.

4.) There are sometimes gendered jokes, comments, and advances

Okay, this stuff is difficult, because these kind of things aren’t really about institutionalized sexism. If we’re talking about a pervasive overarching societal attitude, well… past Iroh (sometimes), Sokka, potentially Tahno (was that necessarily gendered?), Meelo, and Grandma Yin, does anyone else subscribe to even a vaguely sexist mentality?

Prince Wu can be creepy, we suppose. He did call Kuvira “pretty easy on the eyes, for a military type.” But did anyone give him the time of day? Didn’t he get shut down over and over by literally everyone in the narrative, including right in that moment?

And this one too.

The worst sexist attitude we can think of besides Sokka (for four episodes) was Uncle Iroh, since he creeped on June the bounty hunter, and also gifted Azula a doll when he gave Zuko a knife. We don’t really have a lot of answers for the June thing other than “this isn’t a joke Bryke thought through.” Don’t touch victims of paralysis without their consent, okay? We can also think of several reasons why Iroh might have been hesitant to give his turtle-duck-mauling niece a knife to play with, but if the idea is that Iroh is *sexist* and it’s reflected in *society* we just…don’t really see support for this, for the character or the setting.

Overall, Iroh took the threat of Azula quite seriously, and never had a moment of hesitation in accepting the competency and capabilities of Katara or Toph. Was this an about-face at the end of Book 2 because he was humbled by Azula accomplishing what he failed at for 600 days in under a week? If so, thanks, Azula! But more to the point, the larger pattern of Iroh’s portrayal is not one of a dude who’s got prejudicial attitudes towards women.

For the setting, you know…see points 1-3. Or think back to shows we watched and the treatment of women within them. A single old creep does not a sexist/homophobic society make. We truly don’t recall Korra being the recipient of a single sexist remark, with the one possible exception of some octogenarian telling her that she was “muscular for a woman.”

WHICH SHE IS. Thanks to nonbenders being more prevalent than benders, there’s probably “typical body types” that fall more into what we’re used to seeing in our world, so the comment makes sense. Korra being so muscled is likely a rare case when it comes to benders too, now that we think about it, since they don’t necessarily require that kind of physique. Remember this?

Go deadlift him, Korra.

Plus, up yours, Granny.

We also need to say something that we’re a little hesitant to bring up: these shows were penned by two American dudes (and a few other helpful writers) in between 2004 and 2014. We’re not trying to “death of the author” anything (we actually think people misuse and overuse that concept), but there is the Doylist reality that they’re contemporary authors writing for a modern audience. This is speculative fiction, and we think Bryke did fabulously overall at creating such a consistent world that feels quite real. But on occasion, there’s jokes and one-offs that aren’t the most organic, nor do they fit within the larger pattern of the shows.

Meelo being an incorrigible little jerk who doesn’t answer to any “girl” is one of these examples. Though we should note he also doesn’t answer to any “man”, by his own assertion. We think Meelo has a lot of red flags, most of them having nothing to do with anything gendered (he weaponized the entire lemur population of an air temple). But in general, forgive us for not reading too much into his scripting, since it literally affects nothing, he’s shown completely respectful of Korra’s authority without the slightest hesitation (yet not Bolin’s), and no one even particularly reacts to him. Who’s leading the airbenders after Tenzin fails over and over? Jinora. Obviously the Air Nation isn’t walking whatever talk Meelo’s going on about.

We have to assume three more years and Pema will stop finding it cute too.

And that’s it! That’s the sexism in the shows!

Let’s talk about egalitarianism, now. (No, sit down, Amon.) See, we can’t list every example, because it’s the fiber and structure of the entire Avatar-verse.

We said this before, but take things like the random female Fire Nation prison guard in ATLA, or how no one said anything when Azula became Fire Lord. Or when Izumi was. Or when there was queen in the Earth Kingdom. Or when Suyin built her own matriarchy. Or when Toph single-handedly created a modern police force and multiple statues of herself just because she could.

Our point is, women are just like…there in this universe. They’re not even treated any differently, barring the few exceptions we described above.

Therefore, it’s the pattern we have to take into consideration for the worldbuilding. Because seriously, where was the negative feedback on the basis of gender for Toph, or Katara, or Azula, or Korra, or Asami, or Avatar Kyoshi, or Earth Queen Hou-Ting, or Suyin, or Lin, or Kuvira, or Jinora, or literally anyone?

It didn’t exist. Any character who said something sexist got immediate, negative feedback, or was ignored, because that’s super weird of them. They were outliers, because sexism is not institutionalized on any level in this universe, with the exception of the Water Tribes during the war.

There’s a really good and logical reason for why sexism isn’t systemic, by the way. You see, this world has a spiritual leader with the powers of a demigod, and the ability to bend space, time, and everything else. They look to this person as a kind of Dalai Lama-esque figure (or Pope, if that’s more your understanding). And there’s a 50% chance that it’s going to be—wait for it—a woman! Sometimes a woman who lives for 230 years, murders her foes without hesitation, and establishes the laws and structure for the largest nation on the planet.

We are, of course, speaking of Avatar Kyoshi who, in a comic was revealed to have established the Dai Li. Yes, we believe show canon trumps comic canon, but when comic canon works and expands logically based on the established rules of the source material, we will point to it and gladly champion it.

Either way, this was the role model for the world for over two centuries:

Kyoshi: Chin the Conqueror threatened to throw the world out of balance. I stopped him. And the world entered a great era of peace.

Aang: You didn’t really kill Chin. Technically, he fell to his own doom because he was too stubborn to get out of the way.

Kyoshi: Personally, I don’t really see the difference, but I assure you, I would have done whatever it took to stop Chin. I offer you this wisdom, Aang: Only justice will bring peace.

What structural sexism could exist with this history? Especially when her male predecessor was a moron who got himself killed at thirty fighting his spirity white whale when his girlfriend got her face stolen. Yeah…we really have to scratch our heads to figure out who would have been more inspiring to the people of this world.

So about that homophobia (heterosexism)… It’s not that we couldn’t imagine a joke here and there, or some confusion by people who aren’t particularly good at looking outside their own experiences. There’d be gal-palling, for sure.

But when you have a world where women have such a high degree of autonomy and social mobility, that goes hand-in-hand with sexual autonomy as well. The whole thing with heterosexism—be it benevolent (intimate) or hostile (competitive)—is that it rests on the notion that women exist for men. Homosexuality is distressing for [hetero]sexists, because it allows women to escape their roles in relation to men, while gay men neglect their duty to uphold their dominance over women.

But…there’s no societal dominance that men have over women in this world to be upheld, at least not on a broader scale. If there was, we couldn’t have had characters like Toph or Kuvira get the general reception that they did: full acceptance and respect.

That boy’s not oppressed by any patriarchy…

With this, the idea that Korra—the current spiritual leader, who saved the world on multiple (and heavily publicized) occasions, including an instance less than three weeks prior to the events of this comic wherein she ripped open a portal to another dimension in the middle of the world’s cultural hub—would be hesitant to live openly because she’s dating someone who happens to be a woman is beyond absurd. Even when she was polling at 8%, this would be absurd.

We’re not sure about -3% though…that’s Raiko’s problem.

Please, tell us how the concern over Korra not being accepted fits with the world we just described. Who would challenge her? Who would be stupid enough? And how would the potential for that feedback be great enough that she actually needs to navigate cautiously? What are she and Asami in danger of, exactly? Also if this had been such an issue, wouldn’t Asami have exhibited slightly less than the extreme thirst for Korra that we witnessed in Book 3? Girl was heavily flirting, regardless of who was watching (right, you go find those airbenders ~~in style~~). Acceptance didn’t register as even a vague factor here.

This is not a case of “oh, we wish this story wasn’t being told.” We’d have rather it wasn’t, for sure. But for us, the story does not work on a fundamental level, and we find that it falls apart when placed under scrutiny, especially given how entrenched the homophobia was described in the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation.

In fairness, we could see a degree of heterocentricity, perhaps just because straight couples are more commonplace (which…because…babies). In that vein, sure, characters might not immediately realize Korra and Asami are together. But other than that…no. Just no.

“It’s like an onion, Jerry.”

That is the background. That is why, in a general sense, homophobia cannot exist on an institutionalized level in this universe, and certainly not to a degree where the spiritual leader would feel unsafe being openly bisexual.

Yet homophobia was introduced in this comic—more or less immediately after Korra and Asami returned to the “real world.” (As an aside, we’re really not fond of *that* particular messaging.) Tonraq cautioned Korra from telling the public about her relationship, because people might not be accepting. In fairness, we appreciate a father telling this advice to a daughter in a world where negative feedback is possible, like ours.

This thread continues, and Korra and Asami keep their relationship under wraps once they get back to the city, Korra even conceding that her parents have a point, and Asami telling Korra that what they have isn’t likely to be understood by the world at large. Again, for the reasons we’ve explained, we cannot accept this as fitting with what we know to be canon, since it goes against the setting’s foundation.

However, the way they went about explaining its existence was nothing short of bemusing.

Remember when Shrek pulled a Costanza?

See, if you twisted our arms and said that we had to include homophobia on a broader scale in this universe, we would fight you, but ultimately concede that okay…okay. If we had to, then in a certain context, the Northern Water Tribe could still be a bit unaccepting, perhaps a la America in 2014 before there was marriage equality. Nothing too horrible, but maybe not perfect protection under the law. We could even see some heterosexism as having been a part of the Air Nation’s history as well, given their gender-segregation and strict/probable-ascetic lifestyles. We’re not saying this stuff is likely, or makes for the best story, but it wouldn’t be too far a stretch. However, we’re mad at you for making us do this, and please let go of our arms, because we’re very sensitive.

Instead, Kya Mike expo-dumps with the following:

  • The Fire Nation was completely tolerant for “most of history,” but then everything changed when Sozin went full Gestapo and randomly decided to outlaw gay relationships to the point where people were getting rounded up in the night to be taken to who-knows-where
  • The Earth Kingdom had a fair amount of homophobia, so Avatar Kyoshi, who loved both men and women, never found acceptance because her nation was the “slowest to change” and the “most militaristically repressive”
  • The Air Nation didn’t care in the slightest. Free love!
  • The Water Tribe likes to keep family matters private, and even though coming out wouldn’t ruin anyone’s life, they advise against it, even today. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!

To put it bluntly, we find all of this incomprehensible given what we know from ATLA and LoK. Literally everything is backwards.

Okay, mostly backwards. We suppose a ~free love Air Nation~ makes some sense, especially because these were the guys living in gender segregated temples—there’d be some canoodling, right? But from what we know, monastic lifestyles don’t typically lend themselves towards progressive ideals or freedom of [any] sexual expression, especially when there’s already heavily gendered roles in place. This can work, in a super idealized kind of way. Though like we said, if there’s a nation where full institutionalized homophobia might make some sense, it’s here.

The description of the Water Tribes is more confusing. We wonder if Mike remembered that the Water Tribe was you know…a tribe. Family units are almost always deemphasized in such society, and we know they were in the Southern Water Tribe during ATLA’s run, because we saw it. It was one village with everyone having a collective responsibility to one another.

We did mention how the Northern Water Tribe could maybe have some non-progressive views given their patriarchal practices at the very start of ATLA. But to structure it around privacy and the family itself still doesn’t seem quite right, especially given the Inuit influences of the tribes. From our perspective, we immediately thought “oh, here’s the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ nation.” Probably because it’s on our minds a lot. (Particularly this week, sadly.) Maybe that has a present-day value, especially since there are cultures with a similar familial insularity as described. It just felt out of place to us, within this setting.

And then it only gets exponentially worse. Because we get to that page that makes us want to, well…

Let’s start with the Fire Nation. We already explained that it was quite canonically egalitarian. Azula was treated incredibly seriously and respectfully by everyone she interacted with, be it the governor of New Ozai, or her ship’s captain. There were both male and female fire sages, women serving casually in the military (by Book 3 of ATLA, anyway), and there was simply no indication that a ‘Fire Lord Azula’ would have been met with a single eye blink. Heck, by Korra’s time, a woman is not just the Fire Lord, but decidedly in-charge of international politics. Izumi speaks literally two sentences in “Beyond the Wilds,” and that’s that. That room capitulates.

Look, homophobia can’t just spring up out of a hole in the ground, unlike dwarves. The root cause is sexism. So the implication here is that Sozin was heavily, heavily sexist, right? Because he can’t just be homophobic in a void. Even if he had gay-panic over his relationship with Roku and that’s what made him want to outlaw gay couples, it would be a gender-based panic (a fear of not seeming ‘manly’), so…sexism. Heterosexism!

But any systemic sexism was gone by Ozai’s time given what we saw in ATLA, so… Was Ozai a wonderful feminist reformer for the Fire Nation’s military? Was Azulon? He did seem pretty fond of his granddaughter, we guess. Or are we completely wrong and it’s still there, we’ve just never been shown it? After all, Kya didn’t say if gay relationships were legal again. We have to assume given what we know of Zuko and Izumi that they would be, but…when? Or is it possible that it’s still illegal, since there’s such bad homophobia that Kya, Aang’s 60-year-old daughter, still is hesitant to tell others about her sexuality? Are gay couples somehow targeted without women’s rights being an issue at all? We certainly can’t think of many examples in our world where this was the case.

It just…none of these possibilities make a ton of sense.

And okay, maybe we can rationalize it by saying that Sozin’s Magically Appearing Patriarchal Practices™ were actually implemented because he wanted a lot of Fire Nation babies, so therefore non-procreative couples wouldn’t be very helpful to his Imperialist aims. It wasn’t especially about homophobia as much as pragmatism.

Ye—yes, we know. Thanks.

Except this is literally the least efficient way to get a population to follow you. He was trying to wage war on the biggest kingdom; he was seriously going to begin oppressing his own citizens, all of whom would probably take issue with his out-of-the-blue hyperfocus on gay couples? What, had he been scapegoating them for years, laying the groundwork? Kya said relationships were outlawed as soon as he took power (well before the war), so…was this part of that strategy? Did Roku not notice? Like, it’s so bad that the comic showed us people being grabbed in the night, probably to be led off to the gulags or something. Kind of an oversight.

More to the point, if this shit was happening, there would be rioting! Civil Wars! At the least, wouldn’t some people have resisted these orders, especially because using resources to do this during a massive global war isn’t exactly easy or strategic? Even if we’re really, really generous and equate this to World War II and the holocaust happening together (we just love when our media reminds us of that for a quick puppy-kicking moment!), we refuse to believe that this wouldn’t have been an issue EVERY SINGLE AVATAR would have dealt with until it was fully rectified.

Which yes, we know that list is just Roku, Aang, and Korra. But even with Roku being unable to stop Sozin and Aang being frozen, when The Hundred Year War ended, had the targeting of a vulnerable population occurred to this degree, wouldn’t Zuko and Aang have made a point to liberate the arrested, while also working to promote tolerance and begin a healing process? Maybe they would have even rewritten the Fire Nation’s constitution to create protections against anti-gay rhetoric, and to implement a system of checks and balances whereby a fascist would never again be able to turn on his population like…wait, sorry, that was Germany.

Even accepting the premise that Sozin was just a shitty leader and completely insane, (which…yes he was, though to the meta-degree of fixating on a new prejudice?), we’re still left with the questions about feminist-reformer-Ozai, who went on to champion his own daughter (and a younger sibling to boot) as his successor, so…? #ItGetsBetter? Then why can’t Kya be out? Or Korra!

Also, did we seriously need another reason to hate Sozin? He’s a genocidal maniac who was conquering the world. Adding on a contemporary negative trait just feels lazy, especially since we were told everyone in the Fire Nation had been accepting before this. It’s like if Kya then went on to explain how Sozin also hated the Jews. That’d be bad for sure, but boy does it not rise from the setting. At least we had Korra telling us “he’s the worst,” or we might not have known what to think.

Oy yoy yoy. Earth Kingdom time, and here is where we lose whatever chill we had.

“Even Avatar Kyoshi—who by all accounts loved men and women—was unable to effect any kind of real progress. After all, the Earth Kingdom has been the slowest to accept change, and the most militaristically repressive.”

Yes, the Earth Kingdom is massive. Absolutely 100% the most difficult to reform. Credit to Mike where credit is due. It’s overrun with orphans (oh hai, Kai), centralized power is completely useless outside of Ba Sing Se, there’s roving gangs of teenagers living in trees (oh hai, Jet), and Mad Max bandits just seem to exist, everywhere. Fuck, the Earth Queen couldn’t even collect taxes without Korra’s help! This is why Kuvira had her work cut out for her. How do you possible unify and modernize a nation of this size, and do it in a way where progress sticks?

So with that, please explain to us how this land was the most militaristically repressive? Jet didn’t seem particularly militaristically repressed. Omashu had its own king until the Fire Nation came in and militaristically repressed it themselves. Sure, heavy military control was the case for last three years of canon in LoK, but you can bet your bottom yuan that Kuvira wasn’t prejudiced towards *the gays* and using her military to make their life difficult in any way. She’s a ruthless pragmatist (no Kuivra apology, please) and took every body she could find. Except those damn immigrants.

Besides, the homophobia that Kya is talking about was before Kuvira’s time. And we’re told that it was so bad, the 7-foot-tall 230-year-old demigod who destroyed Chin the Conqueror and created peace in the Earth Kingdom by stopping peasant revolts never found acceptance in her own home.

Sucks to have been her!

There’s just so many issues with this.

First of all, even if the Earth Kingdom had been the most militaristically repressed (which it wasn’t and that’s why Kyoshi had to stop Chin by herself in the first place…the problem was that the military was useless), Kyoshi is the person who established the Dai Li and literally took control of the military. If there had somehow had been homophobia present on a large scale, we can’t imagine that Kyoshi, being queer herself, would have allowed this to continue. In fact, wouldn’t she have used the Dai Li to eradicate it, at least to the point where she could find acceptance? It’s Avatar “only justice will bring peace” Kyoshi. She would have had the Dai Li murdering and brainwashing homophobes if she had to, especially since this is something that was threatening her people and the stability of the nation (if she couldn’t find acceptance, how was everyone else possibly faring?). Which is exactly what the Dai Li are tasked in protecting!

You know…prejudice is not very good for a sustainable society. Just saying. We assume Kyoshi would know this, since she created an island just to ensure the protection of her people from some asshat with a Napoleon Complex. It’s very difficult for us to accept with what we know of her that she’d just stay there the rest of her life, tail in between her legs. Especially when she more or less created the entire governmental structure for the damned Kingdom. It’s not like she could have made every single person in the Earth Kingdom accepting, but we have to imagine she’d be able to have influenced the laws and protections to at least have “found acceptance” and “effect change.” Especially being the spiritual leader of the world.

Secondly, you can’t have a nation be both the slowest to change and the most militaristically oppressed. This is a contradiction. Guess what happened when Kuvira oppressed the Earth Kingdom with her military? There was immediate, sweeping reform. She updated the entire infrastructure in a three-year time span, to the point where it became more advanced than the United Republic in many places. (Thanks, Varrick!) Heck, she even reformed everyone’s haircut! This wasn’t slow change. Pick one, Mike, but you can’t have both, sorry.

But the problem is that you can’t pick one and still have institutionalized homophobia exist to the degree where Kyoshi didn’t find acceptance. See, if you pick “most militaristically repressed,” then Kyoshi sweeps across the nation with an army of her own personally trained warriors and terrifying officers, eliminating any institutionalized injustice root and stem. If you pick “slowest to change,” then we have to go back to how it’s depicted in the show up until Book 4 of LoK: completely decentralized, with different factions that are basically autonomous. See the matriarchal city-state of Zaofu for more detail.

There literally can’t be large-scale and widespread homophobia in a place with such an ineffectual centralized government. There could maybe be a region that cracks down on it in a Chechnya kind of way (that is, if it was led by someone similar to Sozin), but it’d be a huge outlier—certainly nothing threatening to Korra and Asami being open about their relationship in a completely different country. And you think that shit would have scared Kyoshi from “finding acceptance”? Or that she couldn’t have made “real progress”?

Do we even need to talk about the beloved Kyoshi warriors? The Kyoshi warriors that even the entire Fire Nation seemed to know about, since Azula used their uniform and credibility to walk right into Ba Sing Se’s throne room and take over the country in a bloodless coup? It’s just… There’s nothing to indicate Kyoshi failed to find acceptance for who she was, and plenty of evidence to the contrary, since she is remembered quite fondly and her legacy continues as one of the most celebrated Avatars—that one weird village from “Avatar Day” notwithstanding. 

But wait, there’s more! Because thanks to that one page, we started thinking more about Kya. This is something we absolutely wouldn’t have even considered had this page not existed but, why is her queerness even semi-private at all? Why does Kya…you know, daughter of Katara and Aang, 60-year-old, fought Zaheer to a standstill…even have this concern in the first place? Well to us, given what follows when she admits this, the implication is clear: she fears being out. In the same way it’s a very valid choice for people in our world to fear being out, or to be cautious about who is told. Things can be horrible, and downright dangerous.

The issue is that with a (mostly) closeted Kya, it means the Avatar-verse is actually worse than our own world. She’s like a celebrity (secluded acolytes with Air Nation blinders on excluded). She’s the daughter of one of the most famous people who ever lived, ever. Two, actually (though where’s Katara’s statue?). Okay, we’ll give you that we could have been overstating the egalitarianism of the world, but this is just ridiculous.

Even ignoring any special celebrity status, are we seriously expected to believe that Aang would have let his daughter feel unsafe to be herself? We’re expected to believe that Katara—KATARA—would have let such an injustice stand?

“YOU’RE WELCOME”

Also, at this point in time, who is going to judge Kya? Is it still off to the gulags in the Fire Nation? Are Water Tribe people still squicked by hearing about it? Kya sort of implied that. Is the Earth Kingdom still militaristically repressed into not accepting queer world leaders? And then how can the city that serves as the world’s cultural hub be pretty accepting according to Asami, but it’s still a situation where the daughter of the world’s former and beloved spiritual leader cannot live honestly, at least not without major hesitation?

This cannot work. It completely counters what we know about the universe as depicted on ATLA and LoK, and worse still, it counters itself.

“I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism purely for the jokes!”

There’s one more point about this whole homophobia thing that isn’t sitting quite right with us on a worldbuilding level. The thing is, the Avatar-verse is more or less built with East Asian and Inuit cultures in mind. The Fire Nation is loosely based on historical Japan, the Earth Kingdom is China, The Water Tribes represent Inuit populations, and the Air Nation stands for Tibet. They’re not perfect parallels, and we’re not trying to argue that this is a documentary that needs to be completely accurate to these countries’ and cultures’ societal structures. In fact, it shouldn’t be. This is speculative fiction.

That said, we have a discomfort about just plucking these “Eastern” influences, and then wallpapering over them with contemporary and more “Western” manifestations of homophobic attitudes. Now the “East” is not at all a monolith, no more than “China” even is, and we’re not saying the “West” has a monopoly on homophobia. Just…the way it was portrayed raised our antennas, and we did feel that it was worth some examination from a historical framework.

We decided to ask an expert. Luckily, our friend Sarah was available to provide us with some information. She holds a bachelor’s degree encompassing world history, classical studies, comparative religion, sociology, and gender and sexuality.

Here are her quick historical overviews of homosexuality within the cultures/countries mentioned:

China

Male homosexuality was present and noted in China well throughout its history, from the Shang when written records first emerged, to the Qing, which gave way to the short-lived mainland Republic of China, so much so that there were multiple poetic terms for such, including “the passion of the cut sleeve” from the Han Dynasty figure Dong Xian (also the name of a 1990 book on the subject by Bret Hinsch); “the divided peach,” derived from the Zhou Dynasty figure of Mizi Xia; “the passion of Longyang” (a reference to a prominent figure from the Warring States Period); and “southern wind,” arising from the notion that male homosexuality had been introduced from a mystical land to the south of China.

Chinese folklore had Tu’er Shen, a god whose sole purpose was managing the love lives and sex lives of homosexual men (do note that male and female homosexuality were considered entirely separate, and because of the comparatively reduced social status of women in imperial China there is much less literature about female-female sexual and romantic relationships). The subject of a legend circulating as early as the 16th century, the human Hu Tianbao, was deified after his untimely death as Tu’er Shen, the rabbit god, emblematic of male homosexuality, and his depictions are either that of a rabbit or of a man in embrace with another man. So strong and widespread was the legend that homosexual men were commonly referred to as rabbits when the Qing Dynasty was in its later years. Such reverence of Tu’er Shen, as well as descriptions of analogues for arranged marriages between men, is well attested to in Hinsch’s 1990 Passions of the Cut Sleeve.

On the female side of things, there existed in popular myth a “women’s country,” situated depending on the storyteller either on the southern part of the Tibetan plateau or on an unreachable island (please hold all jokes about the “cheap Chinese knockoff of Themyscira” until the end) populated solely by women, who ran the society, managed public affairs, and also had relationships with one another. Although the place was (probably) fictional, it does demonstrate that the idea of female-female sexual relationships was not out of all conceiving.

We’re not SAYING this was the inspiration, but…

Japan

As in nearly all other matters, ancient Japan was hot on the heels of ancient China when it came to homosexuality. In Shinto mythology, the “invention” of male homosexuality, as it were, is attributed to two servants of the sun goddess Amaterasu, Shinu No Hafuri and Ama No Hafuri, rather than the “southern wind” popular in Chinese conception. Continuing with the matter of the gods, one of the most prominent events in Shinto is Amaterasu retreating to a cave after an argument with her brother, depriving the world of sunlight and warmth. To remedy this, the goddess of humor and dance, Ame No Uzume, gave a bawdy sexual performance to coax her out while the goddess Ishi Kore Dome (herself consistently depicted as transgender, as an aside) hung a mirror from a nearby tree. So enthralling were her own reflection and the dance that they were finally able to get Amaterasu out of her cave. One of the more apocryphal Shinto deities, Shudo Daimyojin, performs much the same function as the above-mentioned Tu’er Shen, managing male homosexual love and relationships.

On the more mundane side, the Japanese term for male homosexuality, nanshoku (男色), meaning “male colors,” is again well attested as early as the Heian period’s Genji Monogatari and courtier’s diaries from the same period as simply a matter of course. Additionally, the Chigo Monogatari (“acolytes’ stories”) has no shortage of descriptions of homosexual relationships between Buddhist monks and their acolytes alongside descriptions of heterosexual encounters.

Relationships not dissimilar to the pederasty of the ancient Greek city-states promulgated among the samurai class throughout the imperial period, and gradually grew to encompass relationships between men of smaller age differences (though the structural and educational components were retained to some degree). Male prostitution was far from unheard of, and there are bisexual and homosexual male main characters in Japanese literature from the late 17th century on (Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Man (1682), Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain (1776), etc.).

Inuit Tribes

There exists a smaller body of literature on the subject of same-sex relationships in Inuit culture, and while full-fledged relationships are not attested to, same-sex sexual activity was not unknown or spurned according to tribe elders, especially during extended periods of gender segregation (long hunting or fishing trips, for example). There are even direct, if lengthy, words for gay men and lesbians in the Inuktitut language: “anguteqatiminoortartoq” for gay men/male homosexuality (lit. “two hard things rubbing against each other”) and “arnaqatiminoortartoq” for lesbians/female homosexuality (lit. “two soft things rubbing against each other”).

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist monastics (as opposed to simple laypeople) generally operated under some proscription of all sexual activity, including heterosexual relations, homosexual relations, and even masturbation, which would fall under nebulous and ill-defined term of “sexual misconduct.” Such restrictions are intended to limit the formation and importance of earthly attachments and promote a state through which enlightenment can be achieved.

Bear in mind though that the Air Nomads, who take their cultural inspiration from these Tibetan Buddhist monastics, don’t quite make sense as an entire culture unless there was an unseen laity responsible for maintaining the population; if the temples and monastics themselves were truly the extent of their civilization, then such restrictions may have been less stringent or simply non-existent.

***

Thanks, Sarah!

She did note that this information is readily available from just a few minutes of online searching. For those interested in further reading, she recommends the following:

  • Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Lore (Cassell Sexual Politics Series) (ISBN: 0304704237)
  • Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China by Bret Hinsch (ISBN: 0520078691)
  • Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary Leupp (ISBN: 0520086279)

Now, this is one snapshot overview, we should point out. The fact is, the acceptance of same-gender relationships is something that’s never been stagnate in history, just like the actual forms of the prejudice. There was a really interesting conversation in the comment section of the review about “Eastern” views on homophobia and the way it’s shifted and manifested. What is clear is that there was, more generalistically, a contrast in viewpoint from the “West”, particular with personal vs. institutionalized oppression, even if today things look a lot different.

Things have changed over time. Even though it makes a ton of sense to us, reading in the 21st century, that Sozin would have been anti-gay because militaristic authoritarian movements are so strongly linked to that kind of persecution, that wan’t always the case. The “acceptance” of gay couples historically wasn’t particularly indicative of a “free and progressive society”, and any periods of crackdowns on homosexuality didn’t correlate to the relative tyranny of the ruler, either.

Again, there’s no one way this has ever looked in any culture across the centuries, and we aren’t saying there was the “accepting and tolerant East” historically, or that homophobia is absent in the East Asia today. There’s just…a different manifestation of homophobia across regions and time.

We didn’t need, expect, or even want a copy-paste of any particular historical depiction for Turf Wars. But it does seem as though DiMartino simply slopped today’s American mores onto a world based around Eastern philosophy, history, and culture with little consideration to those roots. This was sort of always the case, even in the shows (compare the portrayal of the Northern Water Tribe to Inuit cultures, even in times of war, for instance), but with such a heavy focus on the prejudice within the comic, it sticks out.

Really, our point is that there was no particular reason why this tension should have been present at all, and the way it was portrayed feels like a story that was told to make a point today rather than anything arising organically from the setting. Maybe that’s all that should matter since media is, you know, not consumed in a cultural vacuum. But to that point, well…we personally take issue with its handling.

“That’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there…”

We have to assume that the reason homophobia was injected into these comics was so that they could tell a story with progressive takeaways. As of the end of Part 1, Korra and Asami are only “out” to their friends and family, but the reception has been universally positive, except for a moment of silence from the guy they both dated. Savage.

We also have to assume the natural end of this specific arc is going to be that they come out to the entire world, and it’ll be fine. Heck, maybe Korra will usher in marriage equality! We don’t really see another outcome, because we know this is done with good intentions, and it’s done to validate rather shitty experiences that queer people deal with today and provide an uplifting message to everyone.

However, in doing so, there’s some unfortunate implications. Which we hate to point out, DiMartino is no stranger to. That said, we’ve always applauded Bryke for their ability to course-correct, and we’re not trying to paint anyone in a negative light. We understand the beneficial intent behind this, as well as the outcomes, and we can’t stress that enough.

On a Watsonian level, the implication of this portrayal (where Korra and Asami need to proceed with caution) is that this homophobia exists on an institutionalized level, presumably mostly in the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation, which therefore means there’s institutionalized sexism as well. It’s impossible to separate those out. And…this is why we can’t see the comics really being all that connected to canon. Because if you try and shove sexism into this world on that level—“that level” being where Korra and Asami are not comfortable being open about their relationship on the basis of their genders, just like Kya—then characters like Toph or Azula or Mai or Lin or Suyin or Kuvira can’t really exist, at least not without getting a ton of gendered feedback all the time.

Toph invented metalbending and established the law enforcement for the world’s cultural hub, for fuck’s sake. There’s just no way we can pile sexist barriers onto these characters, because it doesn’t fit. At all. Not with the actions they took, and not with the feedback they received.

The homophobic and militaristically oppressed Earth Kingdom allowed a metalbending matriarch to build an entire city and basically run it autonomously? 

The thing is, even if we could take the described homophobia at face-value, it raises a host of issues, and retroactively creates problematic content within the shows. Take Homophobe Extraordinaire Sozin, for instance. This happens to be our favorite unfortunate implication, and not just because it gives rise to Feminist Reformer Ozai. See, we know Sozin’s aim was to spread Fire Nation culture across the world, since they were thought to be superior. Oops! Guess that now means an entire military campaign targeting gay people, especially since we know this started immediately after Sozin took the throne. What a really fun way of fleshing out the show, especially for kids!

Even small things, such as Kya’s betrothal necklace, suddenly have a dark pall cast over them. Prior to these comics being released, Kylie’s interpretation was that Kya had a serious relationship with a Northern Water Tribe girl that she ended up blowing (thanks to her canonical fear of commitment), and the woman still held importance to her, so she opted to wear it. Griffin had assumed the woman she had been betrothed to died, and she had been unable to move on afterwards. But now, knowing that Kya’s hesitant being open about her sexuality, a reasonable interpretation is that her necklace is for survival. She fears being outed, and wearing it averts suspicion that would otherwise be placed on a single woman her age. Especially since we doubt there’s any marriage equality in the Northern Water Tribe (or anywhere?) after hearing that description. And especially after the page showing same-gender couples being rounded up.

Boy oh boy do we love thinking about our faves letting their daughter live in abject terror, and the shit Kya herself must have gone through!

Eyyyyyyy

It’s easy for us to dismiss these Watsonian issues, because it’s just a matter of “oh, this comic doesn’t quite work with the shows’ canon.” We’ve taken that attitude before with some of the ATLA comics (out of necessity), and while it’s disappointing, it’s not like reading it hurts anything. However, there are Doylist concerns we personally have as well.

The biggest one we see is that by injecting homophobia as a tension in what we consider to be a hamfisted manner, it perpetuates the message that Homophobic is the Default Society. It’s apparently so difficult to imagine a setting with no systemic homophobia, that even when there’s one that completely 100% lends itself to it—and may as well define itself by it—it’s not depicted. The issue here is that it sort of rests on the assumption that man is just inherently evil, or queer individuals are inherently doomed to suffer. Even female demigods who are looked to as the spiritual leader (again, like the Pope, if the Pope is continually reincarnated and physically stronger than everyone)…they will still get shit on if they dare kiss another woman.

No thanks.

The other implication, and this is a milder one (and definitely one that’s more personal to us), is that it further drives the idea that there is no conceivable storyline for two women dating that isn’t about their struggling for their right to exist. It’s no secret that wlw characters have been piled on over and over, to the point where in 2016, we had to call the string of their corpses on our TV screens the “spring slaughter.” Obviously, DiMartino’s story is miles better than this and not even comparable.

But at the same time, we’re sorry—there’s more imaginative tales to tell. There’s more aspects to navigating a wlw relationship than being hated and getting pooped on. Sure, it happens, but why the fuck do we always need to be reminded of this? And even though we praised this story for existing given that it’s aimed at a younger audience than typical comics allowed to address such things, is it actually progressive to show kids that they are different and this is always going to be a tension? That even a badass like Kyoshi failed to change anything and find acceptance?

Just remember…her life was shit!

It’s great that we see Korra and Asami’s friends and family reacting with nothing but smiles, but there’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been the default reaction, for their reality or ours. Hell, Bolin’s response would have played exactly the same, even absent of Tonraq’s warning, or Kya’s expo-dump.

You know, when Korrasami was called “transgressive” by Vanity Fair back in 2014, it wasn’t because we were told on the show that Korra and Asami were both women. It’s not because there were any obstacles for them getting together, or any internal angst when they realized that this was something they wanted to pursue. It was transgressive because it simply was.

We didn’t need the concept of homophobia beamed in from Burbank in 2017 for us to see that Korra and Asami make a strong couple and can be supportive of one another, or that others would have responded positively to their relationship. Wynonna Earp manages to walk this line beautifully, and that’s for a show set in a contemporary setting, so we know it’s possible. Not to mention, this exact story could have been told so easily in allegory, like we suggested in our review.

Again, we’ll admit to heavy subjectivity here. Perhaps since the target audience is so young, it’s unfair of us to hammer on this point. After all, do kids even have pieces of media that deals with homophobic feedback so explicitly? But we don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to be tired of it, or to question the value of it against the host of other options Mike had when approaching this. Especially given that Turf Wars suggests a worse world than our own with regards to homophobic feedback. You know…for kids!

Yay, now we can pretend this deeply-rooted fear is because it might mean her life if she admits any attachment!

It’s not like kids should be raised blind to what’s out there, nor is that what we’re advocating. But we really fail to see what institutionalized homophobia adds that’s of particular benefit. Fine, leave Tonraq’s warning and the bit about the Water Tribes (even if we’d have nits to pick there)… Would anything really be lost in message or impact had the page about Sozin and Kyoshi been removed?

“These pretzels are making me thirsty!”

May we be a good deal subjective for a tiny bit longer?

The Kya conversation didn’t land for us, not just because it broke from the canon of the franchise, or because it began with a 60-year-old woman Korra and Asami are not particularly close to offering an uninvited remark about how beautiful of a couple they are (are we alone in thinking that this would be weird??), but because the entire premise of the conversation is a little cringe-worthy in our opinion.

First of all, Kya lives in the Southern Water Tribe with her mother. Yeah, she’s not glued there, and we know she’s helping with relief efforts at the evacuee camp, but our point is that a conscious decision was made to warp her to the United Republic, simply because “who else could offer gay advice but another gay?” (Yes, we know Korra and Asami are bisexual. We’re using ‘gay’ as an umbrella term to comedic effect. Did it work?)

Only Kya could have been used here, obviously. We’re sure Tenzin wouldn’t have wanted to help Korra and Asami navigate what could be a tense situation, especially with his protectionism towards Korra and his extensive knowledge of history that his father pushed into his brain. Though in fairness, he’d totally be the first one to gal-pal them.

Perhaps if everything else had landed, we would have been happy to view this conversation as a nice moment with a kind of mentor who had a shared intersection that allowed for better mutual understanding. But because of these other issues we had, we’re now finding ourselves a little more pissed off at the tacit implication that straight people wouldn’t be able to empathize or offer guidance. Use Pema instead! She loves giving unsolicited (and heavily questionable) relationship advice!

As a quick aside to that point, we also really could have done with someone other than Kya understanding that two women in their twenties going on a vacation alone together might be an indication of something a bit more than friendship. Gal-pal syndrome makes a little bit of sense here, but not to the point where only gay characters can tell because of magical gaydar. We bisexuals, contrary to popular belief, are not particularly special.

No, shut up Asami! Look, we ship it too, but it’s NOT.

Honestly? We didn’t talk a ton about what “benevolent homophobia” would look like, but this sort of fits the bill. The idea that queer individuals are so different and their love is so unique, only another queer individual could possibly understand. Maybe that’s not how anyone else read this moment, but it was just a tone that was hard for us to shake.

Secondly, why is Kya saying these things? We don’t mean her motivation, because it’s clear that she wants to help them out with such potential difficulty ahead. What we mean is: she’s telling them rather obvious political and historical information about what is apparently a major prejudice, which they should already know by the very nature of being citizens of this world. They’re not bisexual tourists from Burbank in 2017 (or are they?), and would surely have learned how Kyoshi was received or the type of oppression that Sozin inflicted on his own people. Korra had personal lessons from the White Lotus, one of longest-standing orders and therefore witnesses to history, and we have to assume the rather affluent Hiroshi Sato got his daughter education that included these basic lessons.

We know these are nitpicks, because sure, Kya probably would have paid more attention to how this issue manifested since it affects her person (and clearly no one else would give a shit, because it’s not like her brothers care about her well-being or anything). But there’s something that rubs us the wrong way about the way Mike went about scripting this: the magical gay unicorn with her magical gaydar being the only person who knew they were together, popping up in a city she doesn’t live in, just to vomit information that they should already know. It feels incredibly infantilizing and pandering to us, even though we can recognize it was meant as nothing more than a nice moment of advice from someone who understands, and was probably very uplifting to readers who would have (or already have) strongly benefited from a Kya of their own.

Why can’t we just like it? What is wrong with us?

“It’s happened. I’ve become George. I’m George!”

We’re not sure we can impart just how much we realize what we sound like. Petty, whiny, and a good deal too intense. It’s to the point where we were doing Plinkett impersonations as we were trying to lay out this argument, calling out our own ridiculousness because of how deeply felt our dissatisfaction was with a comic that’s…mostly nice.

At the end of the day, we don’t see our issues being mere nitpicks. Comics based on a TV-show have one job to do: work with the TV-show. Expand on it; don’t throw its foundation into the toilet. But in our eyes, this just pushed the flusher.

We do think overall the existence Turf Wars is a positive in the world. It’s a comic for kids that shows two women in a relationship loving and supporting one another, while their friends and family do the same. What can we possibly object to? (Except for everything we just did.)

Sure, it greatly upset and angered us, but we know that there are those who felt compelled and validated by it too. Especially since while the portrayal of homophobia didn’t land for us, we’re pretty lucky in this department. We both come from accepting families (at least, with time) and had almost no internal difficultly grappling with our understanding of our own sexualities. What Korra and Asami are up against in this scenario and how homophobia was described? That’s lived experience for many readers.

What’s fun about engaging in fandom and media analysis is that we all have our unique backgrounds and identities that inform our opinions, reception, and takeaways. Media provides us with a really cool platform that can put those different experiences into a common language and enable us to reach mutual understandings or see things in completely different way. We both love this aspect, which is why we’ve been writing about nerdy shit for as long as we have, and we’re excited to do it with Turf Wars. It’s just that we can’t consider it as being grounded in canon. So we won’t!

But that’s okay, because we personally don’t need to. We can still have a ton of fun analyzing it (and plan to…Varrick’s behind it all!), and frankly taking the setting for what it is, we like a lot of it. Something that got lost in translation in our review was that we found the way Korra and Asami interacted with each other to be damn near perfect, and we could write odes to their tent-scene debating the meaning of “practical”. We were just…such sticklers about what we view as clashes with the show that we kind of forgot about the characters. It’s always the characters. So yeah, giant idiots, like we said.

By the way, there’s no issue if you do think it fits with canon and works well. Analysis is the most fun with different viewpoints and debates, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. There’s no objective truth here because…this is interpretation of fiction. Speculative fiction at that. So let’s just enjoy what we have.

For us? Well, sometimes you can’t be afraid to mix it up.


Images courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, Viacom, and NBC

 

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

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STGJR
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STGJR

The Fire Nation reveal would have made more sense if it had been Azulon doing so during his reign, possibly in response to the realization that the Fire Nation lacked the manpower to effectively control the Earth Kingdom, and as a solution to this problem. And it should have been relatively later, after a generation or two of Fire Nation citizens had become so militarized that the repression was seen as another “wartime measure” and not a permanent change. The same could have justified why we didn’t see women in the Fire Nation military on the front lines but only… Read more »

Yann Steunou-Murray
Guest
Yann Steunou-Murray

It can possibly be explained away as an example of ‘bending bloodlines’- that is benders having children in the hope of producing stronger benders hence Azulon’s desire to wed Ozai to Ursa to produce stronger offspring as she was Roku’s grand daughter. There was also Zhao claiming that fire was the ‘superior element’ and Piando apparently being orphaned by his parents due to being a non-bender. So non-procreative couples could be frowned upon. But again… yeah Kya’s speech seemed manufactured and unnecessary. As a queer person myself, I think my disappointment stems from the fact that Korra is a. The… Read more »

Griffin
Guest
Griffin

In all fairness, the reason we might not “see” FIre Nation front-line infantry could be because their armor isn’t really gendered. Just like actual armor is supposed to be. If you look closely in the background of Earth Empire shots, some of the soldiers in helmets and tunics are female since they’re not wearing battle armor but rather fatigues.

sr240 (gettheeatumbler)
Guest
sr240 (gettheeatumbler)

Hmm, that’s interesting. I see it differently. I have to say that I definitely don’t think that leaders who want to imperialize other nations are doing it from a place of “I LOVE MY NATION AND PEOPLE SO MUCH I JUST WANNA SHARE!” Call me cynical af, but I honestly think folks like Sozin (and Hitler, and Lenin, and 45) are just megalomaniacal power-hoarders who want to rule the world for their own personal gain. They couch it in “love for the nation,” but really they’re just out for themselves. Those leaders have definitely oppressed their own people. Throughout history… Read more »

Sannom
Member
Sannom

“Granted Sozin probably wasn’t as gross as Ozai”

Personally, as the originator of the Fire Nation’s imperialistic agenda and the one responsible for the genocide of the Air Nomads, I consider Sozin to be the grossest of them all. Ozai wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect as he did if it wasn’t for Sozin.

Griffin
Guest
Griffin

“The Avatar and the Fire Lord” went out of their way to have Sozin explicitly say that the Fire Nation was experiencing a period of prosperity and that he wanted to share it with the world. It’s fucked logic, but it comes from a place of patriotism (read: jingoism) rather than…something else. Sure, it became more about world domination with his son and grandson (since how else were they supposed to see this?) but even then…? Uncle Iroh didn’t seem like he thought he was conquering the planet JUST to conquer the planet when he was a General trying to… Read more »

sr240 (gettheeatumbler)
Guest
sr240 (gettheeatumbler)

True. And yes, it does seem that the majority of the assholery did come more from Ozai than Sozin. That said, I still think it’s pretty likely that any dissenters within the Fire Nation were probably squashed like bugs, and quickly. I don’t think they would’ve hesitated to oppress and silence their own people, if those own people were trying to stand in the way of what he wanted to do. In a way, such imperialism is dependent on that – the oppression of those who say “no.”

Griffin
Guest
Griffin

But if everyone is was tolerant of gay couples before Sozin took power, and we’re talking THEIR ENTIRE NATIONAL HISTORY, there would be, like we said, revolts far larger than any military could really hope to squish because, well…the military would probably be part of it! Again, this relies on a magically appearing predjudice being accepted carte blanche by an entire country with a history of not giving a shit about this.

sr240 (gettheeatumbler)
Guest
sr240 (gettheeatumbler)

Oh no, I agree with that. I wasn’t really talking about the tolerance of gay individuals; I was more talking about the March of Civilization and imperialism in general. The idea of taking over and conquering the rest of the world to turn it into one big Fire Nation.

Morty
Guest
Morty

As far as Air Nomads go, the whole culture always seemed to hold together on chewing gun and prayer, and relied heavily on all but one of them being dead for a century by the time ATLA started. Like… every one of them was a monk? What?

Still, making them the most progressive and accepting group kind of smacks of painting them as the “good guy” nation, as opposed to the Fire Nation, which was the “bad guy” one, until Zuko took charge.

Mytly
Member
Mytly

The Air Nomads as a culture were really poorly portrayed in ATLA. Obviously, the major reason for this was because they didn’t exist any more, and all we saw of them onscreen was through Aang’s memories – and considering that he was a child, it’s understandable that his knowledge of the culture was limited to his own experiences of it, and not to mention, highly rose-tinted. But there were some pretty major glaring gaps, even taking the above into account. As you said, all of them couldn’t possibly have been monks. At least for the sake of making more Air… Read more »

Morty
Guest
Morty

Pretty much. It’s like the article says – a theocratic society based around monks would need a numerous laity to actually keep things running… so, basically like the Air Acolytes. Except all Air Nomads were airbenders. Which is a whole other thing.

sr240 (gettheeatumbler)
Guest
sr240 (gettheeatumbler)

First off, since I know you two are probably anxiously holding your breath over this: your tone here was perfect. The Seinfeld Jokes were awesome! LOL. Beyond that: this was a great piece and really helped clarify where you’re coming from much, much more succinctly. While I personally interpret the instances of sexism and patriarchy in ATLA as much more systemic and indicative of that attitude worldwide than you did, and I don’t necessarily think that awesomely strong women in power indicates a less sexist/non heteronormative society, you definitely made good points about why you interpreted them more to be… Read more »

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

Hey, analysing and nitpicking on deeply beloved fiction to a point where it starts sounding like you dislike it, is what a fan does. At least every fan who’s into analytical stuff. I definitely agree that the way the comics present homophobia just doesn’t fit into that world. Also, yeah, calling the Earth Kingdom heavily militaristic is just a tad strange. It’s really so incredibly decentrilized, it makes me think of pre-empirial China more than anything else, even if visually the Earth Kingdom is clearly inspired by (late) empirial times. Sure, we see it in war times in ATLA, but… Read more »

Bo
Member

Seriously, the Earth Kingdom before Kuvira was very clearly shown as a loose collection of nation states, basically. Maybe Ba Sing Se has some authority over them, but not a great deal. There’s no possible way for a repressive military to have any real control over the Earth Kingdom we see in either show.

Lilian Halcombe
Guest
Lilian Halcombe

I think the problem with a lot of books/shows that insert real world homophobia into their imaginary worlds is that they don’t make a case for it’s existence. The comic says that Sozin banned same sex couples, but he doesn’t say WHY they were banned. Without knowing the why the decision to make the Fire Nation homophobic doesn’t make sense. Even the Nazis had a reason why they persecuted gay men and lesbians, i.e. homosexuality = less babies, Germany needed more babies, and as bad a reason as that was it was still a reason. This comic doesn’t tell us… Read more »

Bo
Member

Which, it makes me sad that Bryke’s idea of tackling Korrasami was that homosexuality is always oppressed so now it must exist in our world. Their default is that loving the same sex must be opposed by the majority of people in a world, even if they don’t agree with it. I know they mean well but I cannot like this change to the world they created. And it is most definitely a giant change.

Griffin
Guest
Griffin

Thank you. That’s exactly what we were trying to say. Also, we actually talked about that German baby thing, and we couldn’t figure out how it made sense with Feminist Reformer Ozai and/or Azulon.

Bo
Member

Ultimately I think the issue 100% comes down to everyone wanting to tell a story relating to the audience more than they wanted to expand the existing narrative. Which, if that’s the main audience then they will love this comic. I haven’t checked the general opinion yet, but I do assume most people will love this because they do want a story like this. The effect on the rest of the canon was simply a distant priority, or not a priority at all. And how much that bothers you depends on you. I personally think it’s a shame because strikes… Read more »

Bo
Member

If I were to be extremely generous about explaining Kya’s fears of coming out in a way that somehow fits, I would say it has to do with some residual effect of being Aang’s daughter and pressure to have babies. I’m pretty sure it’s not even possible for her to have an airbending kid, and everyone would know this and therefore not put that pressure on her once she was known to be a waterbender, but that’s the best I have.

Morty
Guest
Morty

That’s actually something I’ve wondered about. Tenzin and Pema’s kids are all airbenders, with the possible exception of Rohan (who is too young for us to know). Tenzin is an airbender, but would Bumi or Kya (a non-bender and a waterbender) be able to have airbending kids, since their father was one. What if Lin had agreed to have Tenzin’s children? Would some of them be earthbenders? I get why they didn’t delve into heredity of bending too much, but I really can’t help picking this apart.

Bo
Member

I can’t recall if this is ever addressed in either show. It is at least implied by Tenzin’s burden that only an airbender can pass it on, and it’s not something latent that can skip a generation, so there’s no “my mom or dad was an airbender and I can have an airbender baby even though I can’t air bend.”

But honestly outside of some previously completely unseen extreme homophobia complete inconsistent with the setting, and completely inconsistent behavior by Aang and Katara, there’s nothing else I could possibly use to explain Kya.

Eliza
Guest
Eliza

I agree with your points on homophobia but I have a really hard time seeing the world of Avatar as sexism-free in any way. You listed a ton of examples of in universe sexism in your post. Yeah there are women in power, but there are women in power in our own world too (since ancient times; some of whom were extremely competent) and we have females who are considered to be divine incarnations, and it doesn’t do much to help everyday women. Would magical powers help women? Maybe, but even then these magic powers are only given to Benders,… Read more »

Hyrkoon
Guest
Hyrkoon

Just read Turf Wars after vacation stuff was distracting me. So I’m responding a bit late and hoping this doesn’t fall onto the wayside, so to speak, but I’m not so sure if I agree. Or, to the extent that I couldn’t accept this in terms of worldbuilding. Let me clarify: I will always be too lenient when the Avatar franchise makes a misstep. Since I was about 6 or 7, I fell in love with this series and its interesting characters, concepts, and the world and plot. When I was 12, I rushed to defend LoK at every opportunity.… Read more »

The Dragon Demands
Guest
The Dragon Demands

Dude….I took a Medieval Japan course with Prof. Gary Leupp back in my undergraduate days. I was a real moron then, though, it was interesting but I didn’t turn into a more serious historical academic even for medieval Europe until I was in graduate school somewhere else. I lost my notebook from back then, which is a shame because he gave very detailed lectures. He had this amazing story once about how he was researching with the local population on the Mongolian plain, when he fell off a horse and broke his arm, only to randomly run into the Chinese… Read more »

Rizmah
Guest
Rizmah

Korrasami was a flawed relationship because of the AWFUL writing that went into it. Asami started out as a romantic interest and ended as one, again with someone who was one of the main characters. Korra and she hardly talked and were not even great friends. Even if they started dating to explore the relationship, which Makorra did and was romantically a staple in Books 1 and 2, then evolved into an intense relationship later on in Books 3 and 4, Korra and Asami began and ended in the series quite blankly. Asami is a flat character but she was… Read more »

Analysis

Game of Thrones 2×09 Rewatch: Best Waters

Kylie

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Welcome to the penultimate Season 2 chapter of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch project that for once, is going to be glowing and effervescent about HBO’s flagship program by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). Last week we rolled our eyes through a thoroughly modern romance and were confused at the lack of build-up to the big big battle. This week, George R.R. Martin takes up the pen for said battle “Blackwater,” and Kylie, Julia, Jana, and Griffin dig in.

Episode Recap

War is upon us! All of King’s Landing is in a tizzy as Stannis’s fleet sets sail for Blackwater Bay. In that fleet is none other than Davos Seaworth and his son Matthos. Davos knows the smallfolk of King’s Landing will hardly be glad to see them and dreads the coming battle, but Matthos is undeterred as a true believer in the Lord of Light and his ‘chosen champion’, Stannis.

Would that the people of King’s Landing have the same courage. Tyrion lies awake worrying about what seems like his certain doom, as Shae tries to comfort him. Pycelle, meanwhile, provides Cersei with poison for herself (or children) should the city fall. Bronn, on the other hand, tries to live it up in a brothel, though his mood is soon spoiled by Sandor Clegane, who points out that he’s a killer first and foremost.

The bells begin ringing as Stannis’s fleet is spotted. Varys is introduced to Pod, Tyrion’s squire, preparing the Hand in his armor. Varys shows Tyrion a map with tunnels leading out of the city should he want to flee, though Tyrion remains steadfast. Varys then reveals his loathing for magic, and thus Stannis’s devotion to the Lord of Light.

As Stannis’s fleet draws nearer, the Baratheon king orders his drummers to begin their cadence. Tyrion finds Bronn in the Great Hall and reminds him to wait until the ships are far enough in, before saying his goodbye. He also says his goodbye to Sansa, and then Shae, both of whom are in the Hall as Sansa was summoned to see Joffrey off. She does so, slightly goading him that he should be in the vanguard, before heading off to the Keep where Cersei has summoned her.

In the Keep, the highborn ladies pray, though Cersei immediately makes it clear that she hates playing host, and potentially hates everyone there. She continues to drink wine and say inappropriate things to a horrified Sansa, including how everyone is likely to get raped, how Cersei should have been born a man, how the best way to rule is with fear, and how the best weapon a woman has is seducing men. Sansa also sees that Cersei summoned the King’s Justice, Illyn Payne, to “protect everyone.” When he is ordered out for a moment to kill fleeing smallfolk, Sansa questions his role. Cersei later reveals that she intends to have Illyn Payne kill all the ladies in her protection should the battle go poorly to save them from a “worse fate.”

Meanwhile, outside, Tyrion sends just one ship to meet Stannis’s fleet. Joffrey and others are confused, though it soon becomes apparent that the ship was packed full of wildfire. Bronn waits for Stannis’s ships to get closer before shooting a flaming arrow at the ship—igniting everything around it, including the water. Hundreds of Stannis’s ships sink and men die, including Matthos Seaworth. Stannis remains undeterred, however, stating that it was a trick that could only be done once. He prepares to land, understanding the death toll in storming King’s Landing could be thousands.

Stannis targets Mud Gate, and Tyrion orders the Hound to form a “welcoming party” to fend them off. However the Hound, triggered by the fire all around him, runs off after fighting through the first wave, declaring “f-ck the King” on his way out. Lancel brings news of Stannis’s fleet having landed to Cersei, who orders him to pull Joffrey back inside. When Lancel reports this to Joffrey, he agrees to go, despite Tyrion’s protests that it will demoralize everyone else. Left with no other choice but to lead, Tyrion makes his best attempt at a battle speech before leading men through the tunnels to attack Stannis’s men at the Mud Gate by surprise.

Back inside, Lancel tells Cersei that the fighting took a turn for the worst, and Cersei storms out. Sansa calms the room, but when Shae points out that Stannis won’t hurt her whereas Illyn Payne surely will, Sansa slips out to hide in her own room. She finds Sandor there, who offers to take her home to Winterfell and keep her safe. Even though she declares that he won’t hurt her, she refuses this offer and remains in her room.

Outside, Tyrion’s surprise attack to those holding the battering ram at Mud Gate went well, earning a cheer of “Halfman” from the King’s Landing soldiers. However it is short-lived when many more soldiers of Stannis’s come racing around the bend. In the heat of battle, the kingsguard Ser Mandon Moore takes an unexpected swing at Tyrion, splitting open his face, until Pod kills the knight from behind. As Tyrion begins to lose consciousness, he sees calvary forces arrive.

Inside on the Iron Throne, Cersei tells a story to Tommen to calm him as she tries to give him poison. But luckily before he drinks any, the doors bang open. It’s Ser Loras and Tywin—the cavalry that had arrived had been a combined force of Lannisters and Tyrells. Tywin declares they won, and Stannis gets dragged away in protest by his own men.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: This episode is so good it makes me angry at what this show should have been. Everything I’d been saying about lack of build up to this moment…it didn’t matter. Stakes felt real here, and it was just fully engaging.

Jana: I know, right? This episode might just be the best thing the show has ever done, and it’s so frustrating!

Griffin: This episode was actually both competent and enjoyable! It was extremely surprising, and kind of what I assumed y’all meant when you said that this show “used to be good.” Y’know, like, the past 1.9 seasons were supposed to be but inexplicably weren’t, at least for me.

Jana: Honestly, I think this episode might be single-handedly to blame for many of us being fans of the show for as long as we were. It is so good. It feels like it comes from a better season than it was, too. As you said, Kylie, the lack of build up suddenly didn’t matter anymore because somehow, the episode managed to feel like it had been set-up for the entire season.

Julia: I was thinking as I was watching, this is the only episode we’ve watched so far in this rewatch that I can see myself putting on at some point in the future, just to enjoy the experience of watching it. Everything else, even very good stuff like the pilot, is too tainted by what the show’s become for me to earnestly enjoy it, even if I see it’s good qualities. This episode’s goodness stands on its own.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: My highlight was Cersei bein’ Cersei this episode. I just love her as a character, and god knows we never get A Feast For Crows Cersei in her finest form. This is the closest we’ll ever have, and Headey can really kill it with actual substance in her writing. Then having Sophie Turner play off of her…it was just so enjoyable all around.

There’s not many lowlights to choose from if I’m being honest—the easiest target I have is Bronn’s plucky pluckyness, but I’m thinking I’m just sick of his archetype within this show. Still, I didn’t need a solid few minutes in the brothel prior to Sandor showing up.

Jana: Same here. The scene with Bronn and Sandor was completely irrelevant to anything, and didn’t tell us anything new about the characters, except for maybe that Bronn has a nice singing voice. At least the song choice was appropriate here—and foreshadowing, kinda—unlike, say, singing The Dornishman’s Wife in the middle of Dorne. Ugh.

I also have to agree with you on the highlight. We’re missing central beats of Sansa’s characterization, sure, but goddamn those scenes were great. Though why was Shae even there if not to have Sansa vocalize her more important thoughts? Disparaging Joffrey in public is a-okay with Shae, but quietly contradicting the queen in a corner isn’t? Ah well.

Griffin: Agreed, thrice over. Cersei being shit-faced through the entire episode was both hysterical and just genuinely evocative. She’s terrifying everyone around her, throwing down life lessons about the bullshit system she and every other woman must exist in, and seems to be arguing with herself internally if she even cares or not for anything other than her own children. So great.

Lowlight had to be…wow, I’m having trouble thinking of one. That’s weird. I guess…that bit with the hound and Sansa? Because we didn’t really have the character beats from the book to actually have that make sense? I guess I was also wondering as to why anyone would be stupid enough to go fight outside the gates before they are breached. The stone walls create a natural funnel for enemies that would make maneuvering basically impossible if you killed enough of them at the door to cause a literal clog of corpses—look, this is basic warfare that applies to basically every era of ground combat. It looks cool to have sword fights on the beach, but when you pair that with the rest of Tyrion’s logical tactics and tricks it really stands out as stupid.

Julia: I think I agree that the Hound is my lowlight. Just, like, more or less everything he does with the exception of his “fuck the king” moment. That was good. The “so you think you’re a tough guy, Bronn?” thing was odd. My only comfort is that I’m quite sure I heard that the scene was put in late to satisfy the “boob quotient.” I’m gonna go with that. His little encounter with Sansa was okay…but it was no “little bird” scene from the books.

Yeah, this was pretty great.

Highlight? Wow. I mean, obviously Cersei is everyone’s highlight, but I need to point out how awesome all the stunt work and practical gore effects were. I know that Kylie had her eyes closed whenever there was blood, but trust me, they were exceptional.

The whole battle had a wonderful tone that, like, didn’t glorify violence but was also not as simple as, “this is terrible! Why can’t we all just get along.” I think they call it: nuanced.

Also a highlight: that sick beat Stannis’s drummer was laying down.

Griffin: Believe it or not, Kylie did not actually shield herself from all of the gore. And yeah, some of that was gnarly.

Kylie: It’s complicated. I knew I watched this episode before without being dizzy, so that means it’s gore I can handle. I might have anxiety or something.

Quality of writing

Julia: We never can trust ourselves with a GRRM episode, can we?

Jana: The real question is, would we still be praising this episode so much if the writing of the previous episode hadn’t been so…troubled?

Kylie: I mean juxtaposed to what we’ve gotten, it’s certainly a stark contrast. And Vanessa Taylor is just lucky we weren’t immediately coming off 2×04.

However, I honestly think it holds up by itself, mostly because it is so self-contained and character driven. It’s like we were saying: stakes to this point felt rushed and not particularly in any focus. Yet the sense of doom and what this meant for everyone was clear in what? The first ten minutes? Not to mention Sansa appears again after however many weeks of her not being around, or barely being around, and the spotlight on her still works quite well.

Yes, it’s clear it was making up for some slack. But the fact that it did so successfully actually demonstrates how much stronger it is for that, since it still has its own plot, pacing, themes (not to jump the gun), and so on.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: War is hell! Leadership is important and can come from unlikely places!

Kylie: Even the smallest person can change the course of the future! Those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it!

Griffin: I posit, “War: What is it good for?” With the answer being…blood and trauma. War never changes, and it’s bad. Quoting other things aside, that is it. It’s mainly the story of Davos, Tyrion, and Sansa (duh…POV characters) and the roles they play in just this horrible, horrible circumstance. Sansa and Tyrion especially parallel each other rather beautifully here.

Jana: Too bad Sansa’s part of the “unlikely leadership” theme was immediately cut short. That was a bit awkwardly paced. Other than that, yeah, all those things. The episode was pretty clear on that, and actually took some time to go into detail about how much war actually sucks for everyone, rather than just focus on the battle like the later ones do.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Jana: Today on, “What even is a timeline”: Sansa has been menstruating for four episodes and through several troop movements! She should probably get that looked at. Though maybe not by Pycelle. Ew.

Kylie: Jana, she clearly stopped menstruating, got it again next cycle, and told Cersei about it off-screen. Smh at people needing their hand held for every little thing…

Griffin: All of the heavy lifting Martin had to do with the Hound and Sansa and Cersei was a little distracting, since it was an entire season’s worth of characterization, if not more, in one episode. That, and how the Battle of the Blackwater itself basically wasn’t built up like at all outside of the previous episode. Kinda feel like this looming fleet should just be gathering the entire season and it getting more and more tense, because nobody has any idea how the hell they’re going to repel that many ships?

Julia: Yeah, and there’s only so much heavy lifting he can do. There’s no way he could have had Tyrion’s chain appear from nowhere, or magic Sandor and Sansa’s relationship into existence. In fact, the restraint he showed in not having the chain pop up from nowhere as a shock, as it clearly would in season 6, say, is like someone coming to smear some plaster over the crack.

The Lannister/Tyrell alliance did totally pop from nowhere, though, didn’t it? They had Tywin leaving Harrenhal and they had LF talking to Tyrells… I guess it popped up in the books too.

Remember adaptation?

Kylie: Obviously we have GRRM himself writing this episode, but it’s still an adaptation nonetheless. I know the biggest change that garners attention in the fandom is the lack of Tyrion’s chain. To be honest, I’m skeptical how well that could have translated to a visual medium.

However, one thing I did notice was how hard Martin worked to sort of inject the same general takeaways or character beats even when the context had been written around up until this point. The best example I have is the Sansa/Sandor scene. It was like taking their all of their book interactions and distilling them into one scene, while removing any sexual overtones (which I’d call a good choice giving the actors cast). Another example would be Varys and Tyrion’s relationship (with hints to a more interesting and scrapped Varys backstory).

Jana: This is pretty much the only Sansa/Sandor scene that worked sort of like it did in the books. However, without Dontos and his plan in the picture, Sansa not going with Sandor seems like a really, really stupid choice here. Especially considering that Sandor on the show is a lot more…restrained than his book counterpart.

Griffin: I’m with Kylie on the giant chain. That would have looked extremely silly. Even if it was this massive chain-link net or something that they waved around along the edge of the walls to smash ships, I just don’t think that would have looked good. It’s the same reason Stannis isn’t wearing a helmet, yet Tyrion does: he’s easily recognizable. Stannis meanwhile isn’t exceptionally tall like Brienne, or the Hound, or the Mountain, so if he had a helmet he’d just blend in to the crowd. Well, unless they established him wearing fancy red armor for the Lord of Light or something like that. We could pick that out.

Jana: Completely unrelated, but since you brought up the helmet issue—there is a comment track by GRRM where he spends basically half the episode lecturing people on why actors, under all circumstances, should always wear helmets during battle scenes, and actually yells at Tyrion for taking his off in the end. It’s delightful. Almost as delightful as Michelle Fairley suffering through the Robb x Talisa sex scene after casually discussing kilts with Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

And that’s why…you always keep your helmet on.

Julia: Like I was blabbing about earlier, I think the issue with the chain was less that it would look silly (though, sure, maybe it would) but more that it would be silly without it being built up and planned for the whole season, like the chain in aCoK was. At least there was some build up with the wildfire, though not nearly enough in my opinion.

I think his bravest desperate back-tracking was Sansa in Maegor’s and trying to get back to how she has an arc where she sheds idealization about being a wife and a queen in this feudal patriarchy. Other than that one scene where she gets her period (like, 2 days ago, I guess) there was very little of that this season.

Also, when did Cersei ever call Sansa stupid even once before this? I can’t remember any examples. Except maybe once Joff said Cersei said she was stupid?

Kylie: It was off-screen when Sansa told Cersei about her second period.

Martin did his best to give Sandor his aCoK arc in about 2.5 scenes too. The results were more mixed there, but at least it was nice to see him written as something other than the gruff and surly chicken meme that’s to come.

Griffin: …surly chicken? What.

Julia: Oh, sweet summer child.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is the most Cersei Cersei that ever Cersei’d. And like…big shock. Martin wrote it. He mostly sticks to that until 4×02, when he shrugs and tries his hand at writing a sitcom, because why not.

Jana: I felt that maybe the fairy tale scene with Tommen had some Carol vibes to it. Whether Carol would poison precious little Tommen how did anyone ever buy the age-up three seasons from now to spare him from all the ugliness that would follow Stannis’s victory is debatable, I think.

Julia: I guess you can argue that Cersei sees her children as extensions of herself, so if she’s gonna die, it’s only right they do too?

I enjoyed drunk Cersei very much. She was just such a terrible person in every way. She has internalized misogyny! Other women are dumb and she should have been a man! Let’s tell this twelve-year-old about my seduction strategies and my odd execution fixations! MORE WINE!

Kylie: I’m just trying to envision Carol in this episode, now. Probably the women she invited to stay in the room with her would be cattily excluding her while she looked sad.

Hey, is this where Sansa is supposedly “learning a lot” from Cersei and admiring her?

Julia: I mean, it is sad. Cersei literally has no friends. Here she is thinking she’s going to be dead by morning and the only person she has to talk to is this twelve-year-old she thinks is a total dumb-dumb.

Poor Cersei!

Uh…

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Jana: I felt like Davos’s son went on a bit too long summarizing what should have been established about Stannis’s forces all-throughout the season, but I guess word vomit from a young, inexperienced guy on the eve of battle can be excused. Other than that, uh, what else would count as exposition, really? The singing was basically the opposite of that, a nice song that is associated with the Lannisters that sets up the chilling end credits, but won’t be explained until Cersei and Margaery start their… thing. I suppose everything Cersei said this episode could count as exposition, but it felt pretty natural. Almost like someone competent wrote the episode or something.

Julia: Oh poor Matthos. His naivete was a little adorable. He was like Billy Bones as Dickon Tarly several years too soon.

And taken from us too soon.

I guess Cersei explaining why she invited all these dumb hens to her party counted as exposition. Although, I don’t think they’ll go back to their cocks talking about how inspiring Cersei’s drunken antics were.

How was the pacing?

Julia: Great? The episode felt half as long as I knew it was.

Kylie: I was never bored or restless. That’s a success. The only scene that had an edge of “get on with it” was the aforementioned Bronn one, but even that builds the tension of what’s coming.

Griffin: I have wondered aloud, for every single episode up until this one, how anything could be so boring and long. And yet also confusing. I didn’t feel that at all this time. I doubt I ever will again.

Jana: Nothing that wasn’t the Bronn scene felt superfluous or like it dragged everything to a halt. Focusing only on the King’s Landing theater helped a lot with that; imagine what this episode would have been like with the occasional cuts to Jon or Dany. But nothing of the sort happened, so the pacing for once felt tight as a drum and kept you on the edge of your seat. Technically. Unless you’re watching this in bed like I am, I guess.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Let’s see…Shae trying to bang Tyrion since he was worried about dying, and Bronn stripping the sex worker we’ve seen a few times before. I don’t begrudge either of those scenes, even if yeah, nudity was not exactly needed for the message to get across. It was the calm before the storm, with this feeling of doom hanging over everything. It felt kind of real, if I’m being honest.

Jana: I feel like they dragged the scene in the… tavern? Brothel? Wherever it is that Bronn can have a naked woman on his lap and Sandor would casually stroll into to get a drink before battle. That scene. That was the only part of the episode that had me asking myself “Why is this happening? What am I even watching?” which makes it the definitive low point of the episode, but also like, the only moment like that, which is one hell of a good quota.

Ah, well, and regarding Shae…I kind of feel like her calling Tyrion “my lion” doesn’t work as well once you’re supposed to take it at face-value rather than knowing she’s doing it because she’s paid for buttering him up. That just made that scene with them additionally cringey to me. They’re so happy and in love!

Julia: She not only calls him “my lion,” she tells him she’s going to physically protect him or something? And she’s packing. Yeah, Shae definitely has “strong female characters must be fighters” syndrome.

Cersei speaking with relish about how everyone’s going to be raped counts as sexual content, I suppose.

Kylie: That’s just Cersei bein’ Cersei. Like…actually, in this case. But I guess there’s the element of framing rape as “fate worse than death” (since she has Illyn poised to murder everyone instead) that may later lead to the sensationalized, exploitive garbage we get involving sexual violence later?

In memoriam…all those soldiers, Matthos Seaworth, Mandon Moore

Kylie: War is hell, guys. I have to be honest, it was very hard to feel much towards Matthos, since he was given two scenes and seemed kind of like a jerk. Then with Mandon Moore, I found myself wondering if Unsullied followed that. We’ve seen the Kingsguard of course, but they’ve been so heavily deemphasized to this point that I could also see a first-time viewer just thinking it was a Stannis supporter. I’m probably over-thinking it.

Julia: Yeah, I think the Kingsguard thing was one of the things GRRM was trying to quickly fix, but he can only do so much. It was kind of there in season 1 when Barry the Scary did his strip-tease, but I don’t feel like much of the mythos of the Kingsguard has come across.

That being said, they’re definitely not yet the Generic Guards™ they’ll become by season 5, when poor Arys Oakheart was swallowed by the sea and then replaced offscreen.

Poor Matthos was kind of a tool, wasn’t he?

This is GRRM writing Stannis so maybe the answer isn’t obvious, so what are we to make of the “Hundred will die!” “Thousands” thing?

Jana: …Stannis is good with estimates? I don’t know, that seemed weird to me, too. Wouldn’t Stannis be the one concerned about preserving resources aka lives?

Following who was on what side during the all-out battle scenes wasn’t easy, to be sure. Though at least sometimes there were Lannister men with red coats around, or at least I hope they were Lannisters. Given how much less they start caring about colors later on, it’s probably a good thing that most big battle scenes involve conveniently dressed wildlings and/or ice zombies. Just imagine the confusion!

Kylie: I took that line as just showing how committed Stannis is to his cause. It is damn hard to cheer for him, though.

This is where we have to cut it for this week…it really flies when there’s nice things to say. Are we overhyping it? Were there better lowlight contenders? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll close out Season 2 next week in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

I like my women… mysterious

Patrycja

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Portraying women can be hard. Making them mysterious without being grotesque or comicky is even harder. Thankfully the writers on NCIS Los Angeles got it right. Developing a group of versatile female characters with one common characteristic. All of them were mysterious.

Badass Blye

Kensi Blye is shown as a strong, independent, competent women who always fit better with the boys than the girls. Maybe because she lived with her father growing up.

Donald Blye taught her everything she needed to know as far as survival goes. In her own words he wanted a son so Kensi learned every skill a boy with a marine as a father would. She is trained in hand to hand combat, can use a knife, read tracks, rides a bike and is a sniper.

In the beginning we know very little about her. We get to know her better simultaneously to the progress of her relationship/ partnership/ thing with Deeks or when a case requires some kind of information. For instance the episodes Blye K part 1 and part 2 supply the information on why Kensi joined NCIS- so she could solve her father’s murder case. Offering us precious background on her relationships with her father and mother.

The White Ghost plot line revealed her complicated story with ex fiance Jack. During a case we learn that she lived on the streets.

Most of the information about her character is scattered in tiny bits through episodes.

The majority of her emotional growth comes from her thing with Deeks. Kensi was rather closed off and liked to keep everything bottled up before her partner came into play. It is Deeks who opens her up. He was the one who encouraged her to repair the relationship with her mother.

The relationship between the agent and detective is one of my favourite aspects of the show, in all honesty they were probably my very first ship ever, but it irks me a little that to see Kensi grow as a character she needed Deeks as a catalyst.

Although most of her character growth came from or was influenced by her relationship with the detective she has overcome quite a few hardships-the loss of her father and previous partner, the torture in Afghanistan and paralysis.

Even though the agent is portrayed as strong, loyal, kind and competent she is in no way flawless. She is stubborn, often thinks she knows better even if she doesn’t. She always has to lead and everything is a competition for her. She’s very ambitious and always has to win or be the best.

Her character needs to dominate which adds a new facet to her relationship with Deeks. It’s also one of her most annoying characteristic second only to her communication issues which caused quite an upheaval in her relationship. In her defense her partner has the same issue.

Kensi Blye can be quite the role model for ambitious women who want to have a professional career, even if she still has to grow up to have a family of her own (and there’s nothing wrong with it). Thankfully that leaves room for character development.

The intelligence analyst with spunk

Penelope ‘Nell’ Jones starts as the new mysterious kid on the block in season 2. She has some trouble fitting in with the makeshift family in the beginning. Especially since Hetty doesn’t like intelligence analysts. That could have been the reason why she came off as shy and timid. Thankfully it was just nerves. That provided a comical relieve for a short while. She quickly became a valued team member. Often crucial to solving a case.

Even though Nell was always honest while answering questions about herself we know very little about her. Especially about her family. They appeared briefly on the screen of OPS and we met one of her sisters-which was an interesting dynamic to show and play with. During that plot line Nell was portrayed and treated like the stereotypical little sister. It also showed in her behavior. I especially enjoyed how she stood up to her older sister.

Nell is whip smart and good with technology. While talking about her areas of expertise she is confident. She can also get very sassy at times. That’s one of her most endearing qualities.

What I also enjoy is that her slow burn relationship with Eric is completely different than the slow burn between Kensi and Deeks.

What’s also satisfying about it is that Nell can and did grow as a character without the relationship.

Her journey from analyst to field agent is also an interesting aspect. Her learning experience shows that she can take the lead when she knows what to do. She’s also not afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something or has questions. It shows an eagerness to lern.

The transition wasn’t always smooth sailing. Nell had quite a few mishaps along the way. She was kidnapped, had her first kill while undercover as Hetty and dealt with the aftermath of that.

Nell’s character and journey show that smart women can and will make careers in various men dominated fileds. Giving all smart girls an example how to succeed.

The tea sipping Svengali

While talking about mysterious women one simply must mention Henrietta ‘Hetty’ Lange. She’s practically the embodiment of mysterious. There are few people who really know her or even about her, if she doesn’t want them to know.

While she strives to be honest she has no problems with bending and manipulating the truth to suit her agenda. And you better believe that she always has an agenda, more or less hidden. Which is understandable since she’s the operation menager at OSP.

Hetty is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma enclosed in mystery and secrets. Of all the characters on the show she can well be the most dangerous one.

The operation menager is a skilled operator, speaks several foreign languages and has a wide net of contacts and connections in sometimes the weirdest places. She often deals in a unique currency known to all politicians… favors.

Probably one of the most impressive of her talents is the illusion that she knows all and hears all. Often foreseeing events or having people search for information that’ll be needed in the next steps of an investigation, while her team didn’t get to that clue yet. In her own words, she’s a fast reader. Leaving her seemingly omnipotent.

While I understand that she can’t disclose all the information to her team on everything. It started to really annoy me how she manipulates the other team members like chess pieces. Although she herself states that she rather than moving pieces moves boards. Her constant intrusions and plotting got to much for me with the White Ghost story line.

She justifies her actions with the good of the team or mission but I find hard to believe after the 5th season. She played God in the lives of the other team members to many times.

One can’t deny that she’s skilled, patriotic and has great accomplishment. On the other hand she seems to dodge any consequences to her actions and her mistakes often go unpunished. Even her supervisors can’t or won’t control her letting her run everything as she pleases. Which is one of the reasons why I started to dislike her character.

Hetty is the perfect example of a brilliant dictator distinguished as an older motherly figure to a bunch of talented operators, that runs her show silently enjoying the outcomes. We all should be happy that she never decided to cross over to the dark side.

Perhaps portraying women isn’t as hard as I thought.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Humor

Dragonstalled Part 1: Revolutionary Ruin

Julia

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Someone tell the story, someone sing a song. Every now and then a love story, comes out a little wrong. Every now and then emotions, fail to seem real strong. Doesn’t change the story—they’re stringing us along. Doesn’t change the cliché.

Hello and welcome to the big one: the Season 7 retrospective piece for Game of Thrones that we (Julia and Kylie, known as “Julie”) have been procrastinating to write. Because while it’s certainly the main event, it’s also the one that’s most devoid of content.

That’s right, we’re talking about the plotlines that center on Dragonstone, or “The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension” as we’ve dubbed it, with the three main characters of David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s show. As usual, we’ve decided to watch and analyze just this one plotline, so that we can truly unpack the masterful narrative crafted by these two titans of the industry. And masterful it must be, as its netted them a record-breaking 26 Emmy nominations.

For anyone who didn’t have the pleasure of watching this season of Game of Thrones, Julie is here to sum up what happened for you the only way she knows how to cope: with a ~~high level~~ humorous recap. The more serious analysis that yes, will cut out the nicknames (we promise), is going to be in Part 2, discussing the arcs of Queen Daenerys, Tyrion the Hand, and King Jon. King Snow? Well that doesn’t seem right!

And in fact, it won’t be for the time being, as this is how Julie thinks of the characters:

The Players

And also featuring…

Please note that Faullaria and the Sand Fakes rule in a wacky, hedonistic place known as “Porne,” and the leader of the Army of the Dead is “Shogun.” If any other names confuse you, or you’d like a fuller explanation of the Extreme Cleverness behind these jokes, we direct you to the world-famous Book Snob Glossary.

And now you’re armed with lingo, and ready sit back as we present a…

It’s Tough to be King

Things start off with our romantic male lead, King Jonny Cardboard, First of his Name, King in the North, chairing what looks to be an incredibly unruly meeting. No one’s even taking notes, and it seems as though the king didn’t once talk to his advisor (?)/sister(?)/lady of his castle(?)/heir(?) ahead of time.

Jon just wants to focus on the war that’s coming and on his social program of promoting gender equality. He asks the Wind-Vane Lords to turn in any dragonglass they might have, and explains to them that their daughters will be fighting along with their sons. They all clutch their pearls and yell, “But magically appearing patriarchy!” “Patriarchy is smashed,” Little Lyanna Mormont declares. She speaks last and with great force, so everyone agrees with her.

Yeah! F-ck army provisions!!

Jonny is also very concerned about shoring up defenses, because he’s read the script and knows the Army of the Dead will breach the Wall this season. In fairness, we guess his concern is totally justified. Jonny’s first act is to protect the Wall in declaring that the Wildlings, led by Beardy (we think), will be manning it now. It’s actually kind of thematically apt! Also probably useless, since only about 20 of their people survived the Battle of Bastards before the Vale Lords came to bail them out.

However, the real question is what to do with the castles of UMBER and KARSTARK. Though Jonny gets some great suggestions such as “tear apart the establishments brick-by-brick” and “reward them to people loyal to you,” he decides to grant them instead to children liege lords, because we can’t punish children for their fathers’ crimes. This is…not dumb, certainly, but also not smart.

Brittany tells Jonny as much outside, but Jonny is more upset that she dared second-guess his decision in front of the Wind-Vane Lords. Maybe you two could have gotten on the same page beforehand and this wouldn’t have been an issue? Brittany apologizes for Jonny’s hurt feelings, but insists that he needs to be smarter than past Stark family members who were apparently all big dumb-dumbs. But wait, wouldn’t that mean he’d have to listen to her suggestions?

Turns out she might have a point, since they receive a threatening letter from Cheryl, demanding that he bends the knee. Jonny dismisses it though, saying it’s wintertime and she won’t come North. When Brittany remains worried, Jonny tells her that it sounds like she admires Cheryl. Uh.

Elsewhere, Deadpan Stormborn, after sailing for an undisclosed amount of time, reaches shore. There, she finds Abandoned Island with an abandoned castle. She opens the doors and walks through it. “Shall we begin?”

Deadpan Begins

Now it’s time for the romantic leading lady to have a staff meeting of her own, since these characters are so beautifully paralleled. To be fair, this one is a lot better run, and Missandei has a perfect memory, so that basically counts as note-taking. It’s also slightly better-written because this is a Bryan Cogman episode.

In fact, it really is noticeable, since there’s about five minutes of exposition making up for everything D&D never bothered to explain. Like, Deadpan Stormborn being born in a storm. In Weisseroff, not some foreign land mind you. (But who would ever hold that against her? That’d be silly.)

Deadpan doesn’t like Abandoned Island. She needs more sexual tension in it. Also, apparently all the Lords don’t like Cheryl, as is explained to us by Saint Tyrion and Varys Marx. She only controls half the Kingdom thanks to Deadpan’s alliance with Porne, The Dowager Sasstress, and Yara, so taking out Cheryl should be easy. But not too easy, because there’s two seasons left.

“Conquering Westeros would be easy for you, but you’re not here to be Queen of the Ashes.” —Tyrion, “Stormborn”

Reasonable. Deadpan takes this opportunity to finally ask Varys about that time he tried to have her killed. What’s up with that? It’s almost like he had totally different motivations in Season 1 than he does now. Varys shrugs and basically explains that he was trying to murder her for the good of the people, which she calls bull on. But he chooses her now, because of her stunning charisma and revolutionary social-justice platform?

We don’t have any answer, but Deadpan says that he can hang, as long as he tells her to her face if she’s ever failing to be the ideal Dictator of the Proletariat. Also if he fails or betrays her, she’s going to burn him alive. Even more reasonable!

As is her wont, a wild Meli-sans-bra Meli-sans-plot pops up. She’s doing her civic duty by telling Deadpan that she liked the whole slavery bustin’ thing. This is good practice, guys. Call your elected representatives when you like what they do, too.

This also gives Varys Marx an open shot to point out how she served Stannis. Hey Varys, remember when we just discussed you serving Robert? Deadpan remembers and shuts him up with that. Then Mel awkwardly brings up “the prince that was promised,” and Missandei even more awkwardly decides it’s a great time to discuss issues in translations when some languages have gendered nouns and others don’t. It’s The Last Jedi plural debate all over again!

Also, Mel isn’t really that into Deadpan. She’s a fan of King Jonny, which she tells them. This apparently informs Tyrion that Jon Snow is the King in the North, and maybe he should reach out to him. What did they think was happening there? Log onto Weisseroffi Twitter like everyone else, jeeze! Cheryl already sent him mail.

Fortunately for Team Deadpan, Tyrion’s own letter travels through a wormhole to reach Jonny and Brittany in no time at all. They discuss it while observing a co-ed archery lesson. Brittany thinks it’s obviously a trap, and even folksy ol’ Davos notes Tyrion’s humble-brag about Deadpan’s massive army and dragons. But Brittany points out what an unproblematic fave Tyrion is. Also hey, could dragon fire be used on wights? Imagine the possibilities!

Speaking of those possibilities, apparently one thing that isn’t on the table is dragons being used in a battle to defeat enemies. Because that is really, really bad optics. You see, Deadpan has gathered all her allies so that Tyrion can tell them her battle plan: divide your troops for…reasons.

They clearly can’t attack Cheryl’s Landing with one surgical strike that’d take maybe an hour, because that might scare the smallfolk. A much better option is to lay siege to it for months, and possibly years, slowly starving all of its inhabitants. Then they’ll really love Deadpan, along with the Pornish and Ironboors now tasked with besieging them. They just need to swing by Porne for some duel-wielding troops. Meanwhile, the Unsullied won’t just sit on their hands—oh no. They’re going to circumnavigate Weisseroff so that they can sack Casterly Castle, the most important strategic stronghold, obviously.

Deadpan thinks this is great. She’s not here to be queen of the ashes. Faullaria grins evilly in agreement. Yara is speechless in admiration for Tyrion’s brilliance. Theon is also there. Deadpan dismisses everyone but the Dowager Sasstress Olenna who tells her that all men are idiots, and if she wants to win, she just needs to “be a dragon.” Um. Tangibly, what does that entail? Is this her way of criticizing Tyrion’s plan? Could she have like, said something? Or is she just being some sour grapes?

Only book readers will get THAT one! Zing!

Elsewhere on The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, the couple who we don’t understand being not the romantic focus this year, Grey Worm and Missandei, have meaningful, tasteful, sex. Then they never interact for the rest of the season, despite the reason for said sex being fear of losing one another. The end!

Speaking of endings, Jonny received a letter that Sam just remembered about the dragonglass on Dragonstone, which reminds Jonny that he had been told about the dragonglass on Dragonstone in Season 5. This makes us distressingly nostalgic for a time when there was at least a facade of logic.

This makes up Jonny’s mind for him: trap or no trap, he must go to Dragonstone himself to meet with the queen there, and ask for dragonglass. He informs literally everyone of this in the Great Hall, again not giving his sister forewarning. …Half-sister. The Wind-Vane Lords rabble rabble about this call, and Brittany again has to patiently point out the risks, especially given the last two (or three, kinda) times a Stark went south. She also points out that he could send an emissary, like kings do, but he refuses. Only a king can convince a queen to help. We’re pretty impressed. Not with what Jonny is saying, but that Brittany manages to hear it without thudding her head into the table below.

It’s all okay though, because he’s leaving her as the regent. Which he also springs on her in front of the entire audience. The Wind-Vane Lords seem chill with that. What amazing leadership.

Speaking of people who are amazingly good at their job, Littlefinger. We’re not even sure what his job technically is right now, but he at least still makes a buck or two by being Bryan Cogman’s part-time exposition mouthpiece. He finds Jonny in the crypts and after telling him about the delivery of Ned’s bones, launches into a touching speech about how much he is into Jonny’s female relatives. Jonny attacks him and slams him against a wall. You don’t touch his property!

Then Jonny leaves with like, three dudes. Brittany waves goodbye. We’re sure it’s going to be smooth sailing for her. Let’s hope there’s no horrifying family reunions coming down the pike.

Though Julie plans to cover in great detail the Pornish and Ironboor ship movements in a future retrospective, it is important to note that they get attacked by Eurovision Greyjoy, and they all die or get captured. Sucks to be Deadpan.

Dems da berries!

Worst Laid Plans

Deadpan may have just lost 35% of her allies, but she’s about to get a new one! That’s right, Jonny made it to The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, and takes his ONE kingly rowboat ashore.

Thankfully, there’s a welcome party to acclimate him to this beach resort business conference.

The first thing Jonny does is surrender all his weapons when Missandei asks him to. “Of course,” he answers her, almost apologetically. Dude, you’re a king. He and Tyrion are super folksy and happy to see each other. Tyrion makes sure to explain that he didn’t tamper with his property have sex with Brittany, and Jonny is like, “I didn’t ask.” They then both marvel at how they got into the positions they’re in. A Lannister as a Hand to a Targaryen —completely unprecedented!

Jonny then also admits that the Wind-Vane Lords had misgivings about his trip. Tyrion agrees, saying he would have advised against it, too. Then Drogon dramatically divebombs the party.

Above the procession, Meli-sans-plot and Varys watch. Varys Marx doesn’t like Mel much, and keeps trying to stir up drama by basically threatening to tell Jonny that she is there. However, she’s just a shipper. She brought ice and fire together, so she’s done here. Time to jet off to Essos. She tells Varys Marx that she’ll be back for Season 8, and they’ll probably both die. Thrilling.

And boy do ice and fire have instantly crackling chemistry. Jonny is brought into Deadpan’s Throne Room, where her titles are listed. Davos is so hilariously folksy that he just goes, “This is Jon Snow. He’s King in the North.” Oh man, now Deadpan looks like an egotistical jerk! It’s not made better by the fact that she refers to Jonny as “Lord.” When Davos corrects her, she explains that she read the World of Ice and Fire and knows about Torrhen Stark kneeling.

What follows is then an entirely cyclical argument about whether Jonny kneeling is appropriate. The answer seems to be, “nah.” He doesn’t have time for kneeling with the Army of the Dead approaching! Davos nearly slips up and tells the room that Jonny was dead once, too.

The conversation ends with nothing decided. Also Jonny is kind of a prisoner, or at least in a state where he’s able to formally become one at any moment. Who could have seen that coming!?

Jonny: Am I your prisoner?

Deadpan: Not yet.

Also in the realm of “who could have seen that coming,” Varys arrives with news that the brilliant plan of splitting up Deadpan’s forces backfired.

Later outside, Jonny broods. Tyrion finds him and comments on his brooding, because he’s in the fandom and likes memes. He also tries to talk about the Greyjoy attack, but Jonny’s all upset that no one wanted to listen to him about dead people attacking. Then he realizes it might sound slightly outlandish. You don’t say! Tyrion politely gives him a lesson in governance, explaining that fighting the army of the dead was too big an ask. Jonny, slow on the uptake, takes that as an opportunity to talk about how he’s not learning from his father’s mistakes.

“Everyone told me to learn from my father’s mistakes. Don’t go south. Don’t answer a summons from the Mad King’s daughter, a foreign invader. And here I am, a Northern fool.”

Ignoring that Deadpan is not foreign, and it was his grandfather and uncle that rode south on Targaryen summons, Tyrion wisely points out that children are not their fathers. Definitely not Tyrion Lannister in any way. But also not Deadpan, who protects people from monsters, just like Jonny. So again, is there anything smaller he can ask that will help against these monsters? Perhaps the one thing that only a king could ask her for in the first place, according to Jonny Logic?

Tyrion then has to go give Deadpan a governance lesson. Since she could not give fewer than no craps when asked about the dragonglass, Tyrion explains that she should let the dumb-dumb dig in the rocks for a little, since it costs her nothing and she just lost some allies. Deadpan seems fine with that, but wants to know what was up with Davos saying he took a knife to the heart. Weird, right?

Emboldened by Tyrion’s wise words, Deadpan goes and chats with Jonny. They both have brothers. How many, they’re not entirely sure. Also, Deadpan says that people thought dragons were gone forever, but they’re not, so maybe assumptions about zombie armies are wrong too. Jonny realizes she’s only saying this because she spoke with Tyrion. They have another circular conversation about kneeling, but it ends this time with her letting him poke in the rocks for a bit (and even providing him with her own men to do so). Jonny wants to know if this means she believes him about zombies. She gives a noncommittal answer.

Also, we failed to note this, but apparently that scene was dripping with sexual tension. Just…somewhere in there…

Later, in the episode that will not f-cking end, Deadpan has another war council, since Euron’s ships could be “anywhere or in more than one place.” With this ambiguity, and the great loss she just suffered, she wants to go burn the ships with her dragons. Everyone jumps on this and points out how crazy it is, since she could get shot with an arrow on the back of the dragon.

Was this just like, not a concern during the Battle of Mereen? Did she have a close call we didn’t see? Are there no armorers on Dragonstone? Could she try spraying her body with the same heavy-duty stuff she sprays in her hair? Just our thoughts.

But no, they’re sticking with Tyrion’s dumb plan to sack Casterly Castle by sea. And it’s an attack by voice-over, as the brilliant Hand narrates his brilliant plan: they’re going to use his secret sex worker tunnels that he had built when his father erected the castle, apparently. Luckily, the Unsullied have lots of experience sneaking through sewers at this point. However, his voiceover failed to predict how cunning Larry Lannister was by pulling the Lannister troops out of Casterly Castle and running across the map to sack Highgarden off-screen.

The Dowager Sasstress sure was shocked. Then she wolfs down some poison Larry offers her while we watch with envy. Bye!

But it’s worse! Euron’s ships magically appeared at Casterly Castle to burn the Unsullied ships. Now they have to trek across Weisseroff to get home. It will probably take them all season. To, you know, walk to the island.

Dragons Change the Calculations

The next episode opens with poor Missandei worrying to Deadpan about whether or not her boyfriend survived Tyrion’s dumb plan. However, there’s no room for actual emotional resonance, so Deadpan high-fives her about getting laid instead.

Speaking of no room for actual emotional resonance, Jonny shows up and has something he needs Deadpan to see. He leads her into the caves where he’s mining dragonsglass on a poorly lit set, and proudly shows her his finger-painting project. Errr, we mean, it was totally the Children of the Forest’s project, and they conveniently drew their battle against the White Walkers that they fought alongside humans.

Who wouldn’t be convinced?

Deadpan is in awe of this and short of breath. Or else, she’s out of shape and/or turned on by Jonny. It mostly comes across as out of shape. Compelled by the way the Children and Men put aside their differences, she says she will fight alongside him…if he bends the knee. He’s pretty chill with it, but he thinks his Wind-Vane Lords won’t be. Dude, just get Lyanna on-board. Or speak last, aided by swelling music. They’re easy sells.

Deadpan asks him if everyone’s survival is more important than his pride. We suppose her pride is irrelevant?

Outside the Cave of Wonders, Deadpan receives even more war news. This time, she’s so pissed off about Casterly Castle that she doesn’t even care if Jonny and Davos overhear it. Everyone kind of shuffles around awkwardly.

Apparently, Cheryl took “all the food” from the Unsullied ships, and all the provisions at Casterly Castle were destroyed, so her Unsullied are in a pickle. Tyrion is still into his blockade plan for reasons we don’t understand. The Pornish and Ironboor who were supposed to be doing that blockade are now dead, and Cheryl just scored a bunch of food for her city, so who is exactly enforcing that and how?

For these reasons, or just impatience, Deadpan points out again that she has a dragon and could just kill Cheryl. Right now. Tyrion tells her it’s still bad optics. Then for absolutely no reason we can think of, Deadpan asks Jonny what he’d do. Maybe it’s because they’re in love already.

Jonny says that if she uses a dragon to attack the city, it’ll be “just more of the same.”

Unlike that radical, system-changing blockade, of course.

This gives Deadpan another idea, somehow.

An undisclosed amount of time later, Jonny and Davos are goin’ for a walk and talk. Davos tells Jonny that he’s been looking at Deadpan’s boobs. Jonny points out she’s wearing the thickest battle dresses known to man, but cool. Then he awkwardly words a question about how many men they have in the North so that Davos can correct his grammar. Callback!

The important takeaway here is that Davos thinks Jonny needs to get laid, and that it will make him less grumpy. Of course, it could also just be projecting, since he seems to then quasi-flirt with a very dignified and professional Missandei. She’s probably used to this, as tour guide of this business resort. She deflects by extremely inorganically talking about bastard naming conventions and how she used to be a slave.

The whole thing becomes uncomfortable, and reminds us of a North Korean tour guide talking about how wonderful the Dear Leader is. Deadpan is the best, you see, and would totally give Missandei a ship to go home if she didn’t want to be there. But she does. Because Deadpan is the best. She once played golf and got 18 holes-in-one. This is pretty convincing to Jonny, though. Deadpan protects people from monsters, just like him!

Theon Strayboy suddenly washes up on shore, and Jonny greets him, since that’s clearly his place now. Jonny says he would kill Theon on the spot if it hadn’t been for Brittany putting in a good word. Theon asks for Deadpan, but “the queen is gone.” Where is she?

Well, she’s burning the “loot train.” Meaning she takes her dragons and her Dothraki, teleports them to the mainland—all her ships burned, if you recall—and has them attack the Lannisters marching back to Cheryl’s Landing with gold and provisions. Oh good, she’s going to try and take the food back, right?

Uh…

Oh, did we say gold? Nah, it’s already safely inside Cheryl’s Landing.

There’s a small moment of drama when Drogon gets hit with a big arrow from a big crossbow, but he recovers pretty easily. Then some idiot on a horse charges Deadpan, only to be saved at the buzzer by another idiot. Tyrion watches them from a hill and calls them “idiots” in case we missed the idiocy.

Gumbo Recipe

Well, it looks like dragons are a really effective thing to use in a military campaign! However Tyrion is bummed out about this, since there’s now a lot of burned corpses. If only they had been given the opportunity to starve to death in a besieged Cheryl’s Landing.

There were a few survivors, who oddly zombie-walk over to where Deadpan is standing with Drogon on a hill.

We wonder if Ed Sheeran made it.

Luckily for them, Deadpan is not here to murder, as she explains on the battlefield of corpses. What she’s here to do is break the wheel and reform the world. Step 1: they need to swear allegiance to her as absolute monarch. Oh, and “refuse and die.” Which is somehow…not murder? They begin to bend the knee; then Drogon roars, terrifying them all to bend even quicker. Great optics! What a real choice they had!

Only Randyll “Wildling Hater” Tarly remains standing, because he already has a queen. “Oh, the one who murdered your other queen, Margaery?” Tyrion asks. There’s no easy choices, though. And he really hates “foreigners” like Deadpan. So Cheryl wins by default in his scale of honor.

Which, of course, is a good way of reminding us that honor gets you killed, as Deadpan points out to him.

“Will you not trade your honor for your life?”

Well not when you put it like that, ya dill weed.

Tyrion is suddenly distressed by the elimination of political enemies, and suggests allowing Randyll to take the Black. But Randyll, who is very determined to die at this point, disputes the legality of such an order. “Only a queen can send a lord to the Wall, and the Tarlys know no queen but the queen in the south, whose name is CHERYL!”

However, things get a little weird when his sonion Dickon also says he’s going to die with his dad. Randyll suddenly gets very upset, because apparently he had been hoping Dickon would kneel to Deadpan and keep his life, we guess. So what is the point of Randyll protesting?

Tyrion tries once more, suggesting that the Tarlys get taken prisoner. Who doesn’t love political prisoners? You can exchange them for money, and use that money to buy provisions for your slowly marching army. You could also force them to marry a relative. So many options! “I’m not here to put people in chains.” Uh. Is Deadpan seriously equating a prisoner to a slave? Also why couldn’t she just stick them in a nice tower somewhere? Or let them wander around her abandoned island like her current prisoner, Jonny. No chains needed!

But clearly with all options exhausted, Deadpan roasts the Tarly boys alive. Tyrion seems disturbed by this. D&D say the audience should make up their own minds about who’s right here.

Back on The Abandoned Island, Jonny is still standing on a cliff brooding. Deadpan swoops in on Drogon, who decides to say hi to the King in the North teeth-first. Jonny whips off a glove and puts it on the dragon’s nosey. Deadpan is so amazed, her face muscles move! Or maybe she just thinks from her vantage point that Drogon ate him.

We’re sure it’s fine.

Once she dismounts, Jonny asks her how it went, and also seems disturbed that this leader of an army who is trying to depose the current ruler has killed some opposing troops. Deadpan points out that he just killed a bunch of Boltons, like last week, so maybe he should chill with the judgement. Then she asks again about the whole “were you dead” thing. Jonny says Davos exaggerates. What a bold-faced lie! At least the inability to lie surely won’t become a defining character-feature at a crucial time for Jonny.

Speaking of bold faces, Jorah arrives with his magically free of greyscale. Good thing Sam figured out the magic powers of exfoliation. All things considered, Deadpan is rather casual about this improbable cure, even if the answer was just a good pumice stone.

Jonny introduces himself and mentions that Jorah’s father once existed, back when this show was reasonably watchable. Then Jorah and Deadpan hug. Jonny gets a poo-face, because he’s so jealous with all the love he developed in the past two episodes.

Elsewhere, D&D make up their minds about who was right in Deadpan’s previous decision. At least, we assume so because Tyrion and Varys Marx are sitting in front of the…Sedimentary Rock Throne, wringing their hands about all the warning signs around them that Deadpan is Aerys 2.0. Have they been hanging out on Westeros.org forums? We bet they get along with Arya pretty well.

Tyrion tries to absolve himself from guilt of this clearly heinous crime, while Varys says that’s exactly what he used to tell himself while serving Aerys. “It’s not me.” No Varys, you’re as pure as driven snow and would never cut the tongues out of children for your own purposes. Tyrion says that Deadpan isn’t her father, and Varys agrees…so long as she listens to her men advisors. Specifically, Tyrion. Boy, it’s an even harder quest that Varys just set for him this time!

Varys then awkwardly holds up the scene transition. It’s a letter from Branbot 1000 to Jonny. Apparently Jonny thought he was dead, despite having been told by Sam that he wasn’t. And despite telling Deadpan that he lost two brothers rather than three, unless he also forgot about Rickon. Or Robb.

The letter explains that the Army of the Dead was coming. What brand new information! He decides he needs to jet off home and “fight with the men we have.” That went so well for you last time!

Actually, it did go well because he had a woman to bail his stupid ass out. We wonder if that will happen again…

Not so easily, because Deadpan can’t just come with him. Not only are there more possible stray arrows, but it would mean “giving the country” to Cheryl. Because she has oh so many strongholds to lose at this point. Hell, if she went North and made nice with Brittany, she could probably still work out something for Karhold.

We should note, this entire conversation is taking place with Jorah and Davos and Tyrion all around too. Upon hearing this dilemma, Tyrion gets the brilliant idea that if only Cheryl knew about the army of the dead in a way she couldn’t deny, then she’d totally agree to not “take the country” from Deadpan, who is clearly holding it in the first place. Then again, is Cheryl? Didn’t all those Lannister troops just die? We actually have no idea what the military situation is in any quantifiable or tangible way. Who the hell is ruling Porne right now?

But more about Tyrion’s wonderful plan: bring the dead to her! Damn, if only Jeor Mormont had thought to send someone down south with the hand Jonny cut off a wight in Season 1, maybe none of this would have happened.

However, everyone knows Cheryl is an unreasonable woman, unlike everyone on Team Deadpan. She’d never listen to Tyrion. But Larry might, and she might listen to Larry. So clearly what needs to happen is Davos smuggling Tyrion into Cheryl’s Landing to meet with Larry in a meeting that’s arranged telepathically via Bronn, and then Larry will pass this information along, and they can set up a wight moot, at which they can present Cheryl with a freshly captured wight.

But wait…who captures the wight? Jorah volunteers and Deadpan moves even more face muscles. Jonny then volunteers himself as a one-up, and because he’s the “only one who’s fought them and knows them.” Ouch, Beardy.

Deadpan balks at this, because she wanted to bang clearly cares for him so deeply, but apparently he doesn’t need her permission, being a king. You see, it was really generous of him to march his face into yet another trap, and she should appreciate how willing he was to become her prisoner. She oddly seem to respect that. Let’s call it “growth.”

This officially kicks off Operation Gumbo. First stop, Cheryl’s Landing, with Davos and Tyrion in a rowboat. They park on a random shore. Rather than guard the boat, Davos says that he has gumbo-related business of his own. “What if someone takes the boat?” Tyrion asks. “Then we’re f-cked,” Davos quite literally says. Okay! It’s not like the fate of humanity hinges on this. No seriously, it’s not like that.

Luckily for Tyrion, Bronn is a true bro to all Lannister men, and arranges the secret meeting. Larry gets very mad when he realizes he was lured into a room with Tyrion, but Tyrion has his hat in his hands and no reason at all to be upset with Larry himself.

Nope, we’re still not over it.

Well, no one else does.

Tyrion attempts lame smalltalk about the nonsensical military strategy that has become all of Season 7, but Larry isn’t interested since Tyrion did kill their father. “What do you want?” If only we knew. Tyrion then points out that Deadpan is going to win. Like it’s so obvious, and she can have Drogon munch up Cheryl in one surgical strike at any minute. You know, if not for the optics. But Deadpan may be willing to “suspend hostilities” because of a “more important request.” The scene cuts before Larry reacts at all.

We must be going to something very important to have not seen the conclusion of that conversation. And important it is! Davos wanders to the same exact armor shop Gendry worked in during Season 1 to…find Gendry there again!

Okay, pause. 1.) Gendry? 2.) Why would the blacksmith have even taken him back? Wasn’t his life threatened? 3.) Gendry? Just..why? He really wanted his old life back? The danger had all been imagined? Cheryl lost interest in Robert-bastards?

As it turns out, Davos is a huge Game of Thrones fan, and loves the Gendry rowing meme. That’s why he came back to find him! Gendry, meanwhile, has embraced the fact that he’s Robert Baratheon’s illegitimate son, because who wouldn’t have wanted that guy as a father, especially given how present he was in Gendry’s life. He even made himself a warhammer, just like Pa! The antlers helm is on-deck, we guess.

Davos then asks Gendry if he wants to go on an adventure. Gendry up and Bilbo’s.

And that takes us to the most crucial scene of this whole plotline, packed with meaning and narrative necessity.

Gendry and Davos are waiting at the boat for Tyrion, but oh no! It’s two members (and only two) of the City Watch. How will they get out of this pickle?

Well, speaking of fermentation, the answer to that is a giant open basket of pickled crab meat that Davos had hidden under a blanket, presumably for this exact situation since it’s such a great cover story. You see, there’s been no mention of brothels for about five minutes, so this was the perfect place. Davos tells the idiots that he’s selling fermented crab meat, as it gives people instant boners. He offers a sample and then tells them they’re going to bust through their metal pants in about five minutes. He also bribes them or whatever. Inflation sucks.

Just as they turn to go off and get their erections that totally happen from fermented seafood, Tyrion turns up. Oh no, he’s the most recognizable dwarf in the world! Literally! Especially with his giant facial scar. So of course he sighs and walks straight at them, passing by several bushes he could have at least ducked behind or something. They spot him in the wide-open. Gendry kills them with his hammer. End scene.

We need more Gendry, so the next scene is Davos preparing him for who he’s going to encounter on the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension. He says he must not tell anyone who he is. Gendry then meets Jon and immediately introduces himself as his dad’s best friend’s son. And they’re both bastards! What a world! Jon invites him north, because he is some SPICE for this gumbo.

Then we get a lovely, drawn-out, “preparing to leave sequence” where we can feel ourselves aging. Jorah gets a significant goodbye with Tyrion, where the reminisce about that time they were slaves for five minutes. Tyrion even kept a souvenir coin of Significance™, which he gives to Jorah for luck! Now it’s time to say goodbye to Deadpan. “Well Your Highness, I guess this is it,” he tells her. “That’s right,” she answers, shockingly moving her face. Then they point out that they have said goodbye to each other a number of times, usually in the context of “get your creepy stalker butt out of here.” Awww. Jonny watches with poo face.

Then Jonny says goodbye, and the sexual chemistry is off the charts. We will be devastated if they never see each other again. Gosh this gives us buy-in to this mission.

Show this in high schools to promote abstinence.

Some amount of time later—long enough for the King in the North to breeze past the North—the gumbo roux arrives to meet their proteins at Eastwatch. Interestingly this naval base of the Night’s Watch doesn’t have a harbor. Weird stuff.

Beardy greets them, and gets mad at Davos for not talking Jonny out of this obviously terrible plan. But mostly for not bringing Brienne because he likes her. We’re in stitches.

Davos then tells everyone he can’t go out there with them, because he aged, or he has 4 shortened fingers, or something. Why did he come then?

But hey, in his free time, Beardy has been imprisoning travelers to Eastwatch, since The Night’s Watch has a zero-tolerance policy for…people. He leads Jonny to a cell where Sandor and the Brotherhood without Banners with Vague Continuity are locked up. They play this very silly game where they find out that everyone knows each other already. Jonny recognizes Sandor from Winterhell. Gendry recognizes the Brotherhood who sold him into slavery. Jorah recognizes Thoros from the Greyjoy rebellion (where Larry led the charge). Tormund hears the name “Mormont” and recognizes that Jorah is the son of the guy who led the Night’s Watch. Beric sits back and is all like, “OMG, what are the odds, guys?”

So they all jump in a soup pot together and form the dramatically satisfying character gumbo that sets out beyond The Wall. With no hats.

Vincent Expendable’s Very Long Day

Oh god, how do we even talk about this?

The gumbo elements break off into various pairs, or sometimes small groups, and talk. In the background are about 5 men that we’ve never seen before and who aren’t addressed in any way, who silently lug around the junk of the characters we recognize. There. We saved you 50 minutes.

No, seriously, this is what happens:

  • Jonny asks Gendry if he’s okay because he’s the only member of the party with a hood on
  • Beardy laughs at Gendry for being cold and wanting to wear a hat. Then he calls him “dumb” to Jonny
  • Beardy and Jonny talk about how Jonny won’t kneel to Deadpan because he had a taste for the free folk lifestyle, but also Mance was a terrible king for not kneeling (?)
  • The Brotherhood With Vague Continuity can’t understand why Gendry doesn’t just put it behind him that they sold him to a crazy lady who sexually assaulted and tried to kill him
  • Sandor tells Gendry he’s “whinging” for being upset about his sexual assault
  • Jonny and Jorah talk about how honorable Jeor was, Jonny offers Jorah Longclaw for some reason, and Jorah rejects it while also giving Jonny permission to have sex with Deadpan

Then we cut to another plotline only to come back to:

  • Beardy and Sandor talk about gingers, synonyms for schlongs, and #nohomo
  • Beric and Jonny talk about both having been dead. Jonny quotes his Night’s Watch vows that he gave up on

Then they arrive at Mt. Arrowhead, the mountain fire-reader Sandor saw in the flames as being the place where the army of the dead is. Don’t worry, we’ll have a 10k word analysis on the intense meaning of that development in our final retrospective.

What an improbable mountain shape!

Back on the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, Deadpan and Tyrion are getting day-drunk. Deadpan talks about how she likes that Tyrion isn’t a hero, because bravery, like honor, is for dumb-dumbs. Tyrion tells her Jonny is in love with her because he stares at her boobs. Deadpan says he’s too short. Deadpan, that’s quite insensitive.

Then they talk about Wight Moot strategy. You see, Deadpan needs to break that wheel, so they’re going to show up with their full army so that if she is killed, then Cheryl’s Landing burns. They’re expecting Cheryl to be super deceitful, but they will be morally upright, because that’s how they break that wheel. Also, two armies and three dragons. And honor!

Deadpan kind of calls bull on all of this, pointing out that all war is inherently violent, but Tyrion did promise both Larry and Varys to restrain this hysterical woman, so he scolds her for losing her temper with Tarly. “That was not impulsive. That was necessary,” she tells him. Yet he continues to explain to her about her ~vision~ and how she must preserve it in the manner of a father explaining to his five-year-old why she shouldn’t throw plates at Denny’s.

“You need to take your enemy’s side if you’re going to see things the way they do. And you need to see things the way they do if you’re going to anticipate their actions, respond effectively, and beat them. Which I want you to do very much. Because I believe in you and the world you want to build. But the world you want to build doesn’t get built all at once.”

Then he mentions the line of succession…

…and how as a hereditary monarch (or Dictator of the Proletariat?), she needs to think about who she wants to follow her. Deadpan gets weirdly paranoid and says he’s planning to replace her. Tyrion defends it by saying he’s thinking about the long-term, but she points out that his fakakta plan cost them everything, so maybe he needs to think about the short-term.

Speaking of short-term, we’re back for even more with the gumbo.

  • Now they’re in a blizzard
  • Look! A wight bear! Gendry sees its eyes from like 200 meters away
  • A bear! A bear! All white and wight and covered in hair! It takes absolutely forever. It kills one of the extras schlepping the sled.
  • Beric lights it on fire, and Sandor is scared, so Thoros saves him. Jorah finishes it with a dagger smaller than the one Tyene used on Hotah. It must be DRAGONGLASS from DRAGONSTONE!
  • Thoros’s wounds get cauterized

New scene.

  • Jorah asks Thoros how drunk he was during the breach on Pyke. Blackout, apparently.
  • Tormund spies one White Walker leading a field trip of wights, which FINALLY brings us to the point of this damn excursion.

That’s right, the plot arrived in the form of Skyr! Why are we calling a White Walker Icelandic yogurt?

It’s from Spaceballs. You’ll have to Google it like Sophie Turner.

Moving on, Skyr is the best troop leader. He even makes sure that all his wights have little hats. For anyone totally lost, it’s literally a White Walker with a single-file row of dutiful wights. The Gumbo Goobers spot them and figure this is their best chance to snipe a wight. Thus Operation Stick a Bag on a Wight begins.

It’s a fight, and it takes about four seconds. Jonny kills Skyr really quickly with Longclaw, and every single wight but one crumble into non-existence, much like our engagement in this episode. Apparently it’s because he personally resurrected all the wights but that one. Then it takes the entire gumbo party to shove the wight into a bag. It screams, and its scream may have summoned the entire Army of the Dead. That, or another White Walker noticed that one of their wights, who had been raised by Skyr, randomly collapsed.

Therefore, a storm suddenly comes over Mount Arrowhead, and it’s time to run like hell. Why Skyr didn’t have a mini-storm following him is anyone’s guess, but maybe they need to all combine their rings of power or something.

It suddenly dawns on the soup pot that they can’t outrun this army, especially not with a bagged and struggling wight. So Jonny orders Gendry to run really, really fast back to Eastwatch so that he can send a raven to Deadpan and tell her what’s happened. Beardy even takes his hammer away so he can run faster. Why Gendry? Because he’s the fastest runner, duh.

Gendry runs in one direction, and the rest of the gumbo gang runs in the other, dragging the wight. They magically come across the Plot Convenience Pond, which has only been recently and superficially frozen, despite them being in the very far north. In winter. Team Gumbo makes it to the island in the middle of Plot Convenience Pond, but the ice breaks behind them. As we all know, this is an impenetrable barrier to the dead zombies, who not only can’t swim, but can’t even think to make some kind of weird skeletal bridge. So they just stare at Team Gumbo.

Shogun is also there, but lacking any kind of ranged projectile, stares as well.

Elsewhere, Gendry is booking it. In fact, it’s barely dusk when he trips and falls right in front of Eastwatch. We suppose all that walking and talking took place within four hours. Davos greets him, and thank god for Shireen’s School of Conveniently Placed Illiterates, since that letter can now be written.

It’s morning at the ~Plot Convenience Pond~. Thoros died, but only Thoros, because everyone else is immune to hypothermia, despite their lack of hats. We don’t know, shouldn’t Jorah have at least lost an ear or something? Sandor takes Thoros’s booze. Beric lights his sword and burns Thoros. If only he had lit a fire earlier to keep his friend warm. He also tells Jonny that if he wants to end the war, he just needs to kill Shogun, and then the whole Army of the Dead would collapse. Why he knows this with certainty is beyond us.

At the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, Deadpan gets improbably possible mail from a raven that arrived via wormhole. Tyrion tries to tell her that she can’t go save her boyfriend, because if she dies, everyone’s lost. No one can break the wheel like her. However, she’s done listening. Us too.

Back North, Sandor decides that he is very, very mad at the Army of the Dead. Or maybe he’s just drunk on Thoros’s booze. Or maybe he’s starting to suspect their ride isn’t going to show up. Either way, he decides to fling rocks at the zombies. One of his throws is short and skittles on the ice. THE ICE!!!

The zombies are smart enough to realize that the rock scooting on ice means the water refroze and they can advance. But they were not smart enough to realize that it clearly would have refrozen by now, and maybe someone should have been testing this the whole time. Whatever, they just all rush towards the Team Gumbo. Beric turns on his lightsaber.

They fight, and they fight. Since this is a character-driven battle, Sandor has a specific rivalry with the one wight he threw a rock at. Apparently he’s a “dumb cunt.” Jorah saves Jonny at some point, but there’s so much shaky cam that we can barely keep our cookies in as another spare dies. “Fall back!” Jonny says. To what? They are surrounded!

Apparently it’s falling back to the weird Pride Rock-shaped thing that’s right there. Tormund almost dramatically dies, and there’s an entire group effort to save him. Also, the wight in the bag is being passed around. Then Vincent Expandable horrifically dies and gets dramatic music.

But wait, on first light of the fifth first day (literally), they look to the east. It’s Deadpan! She arrives jussssst as the wights…climb the hill they were on. She’s able to immediately burn the wights near them, and most of Team Gumbo gets on Drogon’s back with her. Jonny, however, gets super distracted by one single wight that almost definitely can’t climb the dragon, so he just wanders off.

Meanwhile, Shogun acquired some ranged projectiles, and throws one of his javelins at Viserion. Not Drogon and the entire party on his back, but Viserion. The dragon gets hit, and his death is super sad even though we don’t know anything about this one and heard his name a grand total of once, maybe. The battle pauses so we can watch the main characters be sad too.

Then Jonny, who is now separated by a good bit, realizes that Shogun is teeing up to throw yet another javelin. He yells in a panic that these fools need to fly, before falling into some cracked ice and going down into water. Oh no, is this the end of our hero?

Well, Shogun, being horribly genre unsavvy, assumes as much, so in less time than it takes for a grown man in full layers of fur, leather, and chainmail to drown in a frozen lake, he turns the Army of the Dead around and they high-tail it away. Not to bury the lede here, but yeah, Jonny survives and drags his stupid, wet butt out. Some of the retreating wights spot him and look vaguely interested. However, fear not…he’s saved at the buzzer by none other than Uncle Benjen Coldhands!

Pause. We’re just curious: anyone who didn’t watch Season 7…do you think we’re making stuff up right now? Or like, exaggerating? Because we have watched this more times than we’d care to admit at this point, and even we still can’t believe what this is. Let us know in the comments below! And while chatting like this, have you heard about our Fandomentals+ subscription service? For less than the price of one latte at Peet’s a month, you can gain access to editor exclusive essays, hang-out sessions, and podcasts, while also getting a discount on our store items. Fandomentals+…For highly engaged readers like you! (No, actually.)

Anyway, Benjen Coldhands gives Jonny his horse and heroically sacrifices himself for reasons. We guess maybe it bought Jonny time to get away, because the entire Army of the Dead was so distracted by the mostly-dead dude.

Back at Eastwatch and the boats, Beardy and Sandor headnod at each other. Beric decides he’s going to stay with Beardy, because his top-knot friend is gone now. He tells Sandor they’ll meet again though. Thank the gods.

Drogon and Rhaegal circle around the air sadly, because their bro is gone. Deadpan is watching sadly, because Jonny Snow is gone. Jorah says they should go, but jusssst as she turns around she hears the horn. One blast for rangers returning. Be still, our hearts.

Yeah, it’s Jonny, and we cut to him getting stripped naked and put under furs on the boat. Deadpan spies his multiple stab wounds. Or maybe she’s just impressed by his glamor muscles. Or that a near-corpse is clearly flexing.

Somewhere during what must be a five-minute boat journey given how fast it took the raven to make the same flight, Jonny wakes up and apologizes to Deadpan for Viserion dying. She tells him it was worth it so that she could understand the true threat now. Then she tells Jonny that the dragons are the only kids she’ll ever have. So you know, they don’t need to worry about birth control or anything. Winkety wink.

Are the stab wounds a turn-on?

Deadpan also says she’ll side with Jonny in his monster hunt. “Thank you, Dany,” he answers. She points out that no one has called her that since her brother in Season 1, so…is he enjoying The Wars to Come rewatch project on TheFandomentals.com too?

Then, out of nowhere, he says he’ll bend the knee. Like, not now now, since he’s still half-dead, but later. The Wind-Vane Lords will “come to see you for what you are.” A barely emotive, inconsistently written wig that vacillates between progressive socialism and paranoid autocracy? They hold hands.

Remember when Shogun turned the Army of the Dead away from Jonny because there were important Army of the Dead things to do? Well, apparently that was to go to the spot where Viserion fell. You know, like 20 feet away. Or maybe they had to go back to White Walkerville and get the largest chains anyone has ever seen, as well as some SCUBA gear, because as we all know: wights can’t swim.

So wights swim down and wrap these giant chains around Viserion’s underwater corpse. Then a bunch of other wights pull said chains, and drag his skeleton out. Shogun touches him, and he rises with blue eyes. Neat!

Oh Détente, Oui Détente, Zats what Everybody Wants!

Speaking of neat, all our heroes and their supporting forces magically arrive at Cheryl’s Landing at the exact same time, on the exact same day. We assume this was the plan, but how the Dothraki timed it so perfectly with Lady Brienne is beyond us.

Side note #4526: if this meeting hadn’t been called, where were the Unsullied marching? To all those ships Deadpan has to ferry them back to the island? To all those Deadpan holdings that Cheryl will soon take back should this détente somehow fail?

Doesn’t matter. Also not mattering for our purposes are Larry and Bronn talking about schlongs. Much more important is the fact that Tyrion, Jonny, Jorah, Missandei, and Sandor are all on a boat. Jonny doesn’t like cities: who wants the worry? The noise? The dirt, the heat? Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street?

According to Tyrion, the sex workers are better. But what about what they say about Northern girls?! Also, their population figures are highly suspect. As is the way they transported the zombie: in a wooden box that Sandor checks on lovingly. Still making that really annoying scream sound effect, all good!

This very important party consisting of a king, a Hand, and crucial advisors, is met in the middle of an abandoned, poorly kempt country road by about twenty dudes. But one of them is Bronn, so that counts for at least another fifty. And oh look: Brienne and Pod made it around Moat Cailin to be there! Again! No one questions this or asks where Sansa is. We suppose more than an acting Wardeness can talk to a queen.

This sure is dignified.

History-nerd Missandei wants to know about the dragon pit, where they’re all supposed to meet. Luckily Jorah is here, with all his talent in expositing at women. To be fair, Tyrion does join in too. They tell her how once the Targaryen dragons were locked in the dragon pit, they started to get smaller and smaller. Very good, D&D, you watched Season 1. We get it. If only they had also read The World of Ice and Fire so we could have gotten the anecdote about the townsfolk killing half the dragons that one time.

But guys, hold onto your hats, because it is time for YET ANOTHER WALK AND TALK! Everyone, pair off!

First up is Pod and Tyrion with a touching reunion. Bronn jumps in to mention Pod’s “magic cock.”

Next is Sandor and a Lannister guard. The Lannister guard tries to be mildly sociable and asks what’s moving inside that box and making weird sound effects. Sandor tells him, “F-ck off.” We’re just glad Ed Sheeran didn’t draw straws for that shift!

Next is Sandor and Brienne. They both knew Arya. She’s alive. Haha they fought. Good times.

Then we get to Bronn and Tyrion’s walk and talk of significance. To be fair, they do have their telepathic connection—excellent for arranging meetings. Maybe that’s how they know what day to schedule this one on. Bronn insists that he’s totally a mercenary with no emotional attachment to anyone. Especially not that beautiful Larry he’s been serving for so long.

We need to mention that this scene is paced exactly the same way we would choose to portray purgatory.

Finally, Sandor finishes off his meaningful relationship with the Lannister guard by threatening to kill him if he touches the box. Sometimes, being a Lannister guard is just no fun at all.

Then we get to the pit scene, and have a minor meltdown because how many times are we going to have to watch this?

No, seriously, click here, scroll to the subheading “Possible Alliances and Impossible Break-ups,” and that right there is half of this endless episode.

Though we should note, we brought our stopwatches this time, so here’s our insightful notes:

After the solid minute of Tyrion and his buds walking to their chairs, there’s 20 seconds of silence before Sandor calls everyone “cunts.” Then there’s another solid minute of everyone walking to chairs once Cheryl’s people arrive. After they stare at each other for an inordinate amount of time, Sandor decides it’s a great idea to walk up to his brother and yell his pitiful scrap of a character arc in his face. He’s gonna get that revenge.

Cheryl is upset that Deadpan is late, and after 15 seconds of silence that is apparently a tension-filled love triangle stare, Deadpan arrives on two dragons. Cheryl is annoyed at the theatricality. Drogon lands, 45 seconds pass, and Drogon takes off. Then the next 30 seconds are spent with Cheryl telling Deadpan that she was late, and Deadpan nodding at Tyrion.

For anyone who didn’t click back to Cherry Bomb (how dare you!), the mile-high recap is:

  • Euron the hooligan tells Theon he has Yara
  • Tyrion gives a humble opening monologue about how they’re all enemies…awkward!
  • Cheryl refuses to “pull back my armies and stand down” from all the places that she totally controls
  • The wight in the box is brought out. This takes a literal minute for Sandor to walk up the stairs and open it.
  • The wight lunges at Cheryl, and she’s scared. Or is she? Scared in the scripts, but not later in the scripts, so…
  • Euron says he’s scared and wants to go back to his islands. Cheryl is “taken aback” in the script. But then not taken aback later in the script.
  • For some reason this doesn’t prompt Deadpan to just immediately leave because “lol the war is decided” seeing as Cheryl is out of allies now
  • Cheryl says she’ll agree to the terms if Jonny doesn’t take a side after the monster hunt
  • Jonny cannot tell a lie and says he already kneeled to Deadpan. Cheryl storms out. Brienne yells at Larry that he should “f-ck loyalty” as he leaves too.

And that’s where we pick-up in this retrospective, with all of Team Sexual Tension telling Jonny that they’re done for, because he wouldn’t lie. Just like poor ol’ dumb Ned.

Hey, remember when he confessed to stuff he didn’t do 3 seconds before this? AKA a lie?

This is our fourth time watching this stupid scene, and we still can’t figure out why they think they’re all “f-cked” to the point of repeating it about 6 or 7 times. The Lannisters have literally no troops left. The Ironborn, to their knowledge, just ran off with the last bit of…anything. We don’t know what Deadpan is supposed to be “holding” that she’s scared of losing, other than the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension that the Lannisters never bothered to take for four years, and we don’t know where Cheryl is supposed to be pulling back from, or even what she’d be pulling back. As far as we can tell, she only controls Cheryl’s Landing. And maybe the now-ransacked Highgarden. They don’t need her for anything.

But Tyrion, because he’s super brave, and perfect, and where would we be without him, offers to go into the Lion’s den, and speak to Cheryl who is clearly a murderous, insane person. We mean, she is, but not especially more so than anyone else in this stupid story.

So of course, Tyrion walks down a hallway for another literal minute, and then bonds with Larry about how Cheryl is a murderous, insane woman and they’re both idiots.

Inside Cheryl’s office, Tyrion tries to change his sister’s mind or something. She yells about how he’s destroyed their family, he yells that she should kill him and Tywin sucked eggs.

There’s lots of emotion, and Cheryl makes a fair point about how Deadpan seems to be a murderous, insane person too. But don’t worry, she’s kept in check by listening to Tyrion. That’s, and we quote, “what the difference is between [them].”

During this, Cheryl folds her hands across her stomach, and Tyrion notices the barely perceptible movement of Cheryl’s bottom hand over her belly. She’s pregnant! This changes everything!

Then, off-screen, the ~convincing~ happens.

Meanwhile in the pit, everyone is still piling on Jonny for being an absolute idiot. Jonny’s all sullen.

“No one is less happy about this than I am.”

Deadpan at least respects him for telling the truth, and then they flirt(?) by talking about the bones of dragons that are just unceremoniously scattered on the ground. Didn’t these used to line the throne room? Aren’t they super-duper valuable?

Deadpan tries to talk about the pitiful scraps of a theme in her arc to Jonny. You see, the dragons being in the dragonpit was bad for the dragons, because they were denying who they were. Without dragons, the Targaryens were just like everyone else. Not her, though. She’s going to break the wheel.

Jonny flunked eighth grade, probably, so he just gapes open-mouthed, and only manages to latch onto the thing she says about being the last Targaryen. “You’re still here.” She tells him “the witch who murdered her husband” told her she’s infertile, and footage not found. Unless this is booksnob!Deadpan. Though Jonny, for once in his life, makes a good point: maybe that wasn’t a credible source of medical advice. Deadpan tells herself off for not trusting him from the beginning about the dead people, because that would have changed so much. Look at them now—all that hope, dashed without Cheryl’s massive troops.

Or are they? Tyrion returns, expressionless and alone. Cheryl enters behind him, and Julia breaks and runs because her dress has a farthingale and it’s just too much for her. However, Cheryl then not only agrees to the détente, but is pledging her own troops to join them up North. She just hopes they remember this act of kindness. Well, they’ll probably remember this promise, if nothing else.

Then she heel-turns and heads back inside, because that’s how you say goodbye to allies, and everyone looks at Tyrion. He meets their gaze with a subtle expression: Tyrion Lannister, motherf-ckers.

Actually, kinda…

One worst-worst-worst motives game later, Jonny and Deadpan have already warped back to the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension. They have a war to plan. First and most important decision, how will Deadpan travel North? Will it be on a dragon? Over land? Will it be on a sex boat? So many options, that this is very worth discussing.

They land on sex boat, because Jonny tells her it sends a better message. Like they’re equals, even though he kneeled to her. Jorah nods in deference, but he’s not smiling at all. F-cking punkass little shitburger stole his khaleesi.

Then Deadpan looks back to the map, and we quote, “in a shot reminiscent of the end of episode 701.” Yes, “no plot or character progression” was a very good theme in this season. Well spotted, D&D.

Before Jonny can have boat sex, Theon comes up to discuss the implications of his pitiful scraps of an arc. We shall detail this at a time TBD in a retrospective, entitled “what the hell are we still doing here?”.

Then, at last, one confusing trial later, it is time for the amazingly built-up boat sex. And that’s it. Jon and Deadpan have sexual intercourse on a boat. Tyrion stands outside of their room listening to them and “looking troubled for more reasons than one.” One of those reasons is apparently his love for Deadpan, and the other is…what? A really strong political alliance is forming?

Elsewhere, a voiceover discusses Jon’s lineage and claim to the Iron Throne, which really only makes this an even better political alliance, but whatever. We’re sure it won’t matter when the wheel is broken. When have your auntie and nephew pairing ever?

Finally, at Eastwatch, Beardy tells Beric he’s scared of heights. At least this isn’t another joke about wanting to bang Brienne or something. Then the Army of the Dead shows up. Shogun is bouncing up and down on the resurrected or zombified (it’s so unclear) Viserion. He breathes some hot blue fire at The Wall and melts it, possibly killing Beardy and Beric. So sad.

That 7-year-old Umber better watch out! His castle is first!

With that, the plotline ends. While I’m sure you’re as on shpilkes as we are for Season 8, we first need to dive into the meaning of all of this…which we’ll do in part 2 next week!


Images courtesy of HBO

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