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Analysis

Marvel, Thanos, and Exploring the Cycles of Abuse

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Content Warning: This article discusses abuse, both real and as mentioned in the MCU films. Also, spoiler warnings for Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War came out a little bit ago, and wow, was that a big movie. A lot happened in there. I’m not going to lie, I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and really enjoy the franchise. It’s not perfect, of course. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say all of their movies are good, let alone great. More than a few are mediocre, and one of them is on the short list of movies I loathe and actively avoid watching. Their handling of social issues has been…problematic at best. They’re working on it, but still, it’s not perfect. And given that Infinity War is in many ways a celebration of the first ten years of the MCU, it is a microcosm of those issues.

By and large I enjoyed it enough to have seen it three times so far. I wouldn’t say it got deeper with each rewatch the way Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did, but it didn’t get worse either. And there is quite a bit to talk about. I could talk about why the ending didn’t bother me, since though I know almost everyone who died will come back. I could talk about the deaths themselves—which I found the most meaningful, or which was the most sad. I could talk about how Nebula should be the one to kill Thanos, but that it will most likely be Tony. I could talk about why I am okay with Peter Quill freaking out on Titan…okay, actually probably not; I don’t think I could do that in more than five hundred words.

…Or I could talk about abusive parents. Fun.

So, yeah, this is an article analyzing the way that the MCU portrays abusive parents, specifically Thanos, who somehow manages to find a way to encapsulate three different forms of abusive parenting. The Neapolitan ice cream of abusive parents if you will. We will not be talking about the many, many other bad dads in the MCU, or the comparative lack of bad moms. That’s a whole other discussion that we don’t have time for.

The Children of Thanos and Neglect

Alright, this is the weakest and most tenuous comparison, I admit. But I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss, at least briefly, the four children of Thanos introduced in Infinity War. They are, from left to right in the picture above, Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, and Cull Obsidian. And yes, they’re pretty bad characters on screen, with little backstory and not much in the way of given motivation. One could, and I would, make the argument not every villain needs to be deep, especially enforcers like this, but the quality of them as characters is not the focus of this section.

Instead, I want to discuss how they relate to Thanos’s truly bad parenting skills. And yes, unlike Nebula and Gamora we don’t know explicitly that Thanos raised these four from childhood. However, they call themselves his children, and Proxima even refers to him as ‘Father’ in their one scene with him. It’s also true that they only have one scene with Thanos, and only Ebony Maw mentions him explicitly very much. Probably. Cull Obsidian doesn’t speak English, so maybe he’s just singing Thanos’s praises the whole time—who knows.

Regardless, Thanos doesn’t seem to care about his four loyal children very much. All four die by the end of the movie, and yet Thanos only comments on one of their deaths. Even the one he does acknowledge, Ebony Maw, is brushed aside fairly quickly. He seems unhappy that it happened, but saying that it made him sad feels like an overstatement. His reaction certainly pales in comparison to his reaction to Gamora’s death (We’ll get to that, I promise. I have thoughts).

Now, let’s be clear, at least some of this is entirely due to the flaws in the setup of Infinity War and the fact that these four were never introduced beforehand. I don’t think the Russo brothers or the writers spent a whole lot of time thinking about these four. It is entirely possible that Thanos had a very warm relationship with them that we never saw and he was just too emotionally exhausted to react. But I kind of doubt it. These four call themselves his children, call him father, and he appears to not care in the slightest. Given where the final fight (if you can call it a fight) takes place, he most certainly had to have seen Corvus’s body, and he does not comment on it. He does not even pause.

So, yes, calling his behavior toward them neglect is a weak connection to make, largely due to the weaknesses of Infinity War, but it is something and I wanted to point it out. Now, let’s move on to more meaty subjects.

Nebula and Malicious Abuse

Oh Nebula. My precious blue and purple baby of rage. How I love her. Seriously, it made me inordinately happy to see her on the poster for Infinity War, and her survival was the one true bright spot of the end of that movie. Fortunately for all of us (or at least for me and my article), Nebula’s connection to the subject of Thanos and parental abuse is much, much stronger than that of her previously mentioned siblings. It quite frankly defines her as a character. Just about every decision she makes in every movie she appears in ties into her relationship with Thanos.

First, and most powerfully, is how her relationship with her ‘father’ ties into her body. Unlike Gamora, we don’t get a flashback of how and why Thanos took her in. So, we don’t know exactly what Nebula looked like before. That random purple streak in the middle of her face could be natural. But that metal you see ringing her eye, the plate on the top of her head, and her left arm? All decidedly not something she was born with. And that’s just what we see in this picture. There’s a scene in Infinity War in which her prosthetics are broken up into segments, and there’s less flesh there than there is in Anakin. Hell, from the looks of thing about half of her brain is missing!

The thing is those prosthetics, as far as we can tell, are not the result of some tragic accident, nor were they necessitated by her being maimed in combat. Nebula is likely a very unreliable narrator, but from what she says, every single one of her robot bits was placed in her by Thanos as punishment for losing fights against Gamora. Her word choice makes it a little hard to tell if Thanos ripped the pieces of her out personally or just had someone else do it, but either way, this was her adoptive father causing that pain. To add insult to very literal injury, Gamora is a cyborg too. It’s stated quite explicitly in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie that Gamora has cybernetic implants that help make her stronger and more durable. But if you look at the differences in the two’s appearances, Gamora’s are either drastically less extensive, or Thanos spent more money on making sure his favorite daughter would look like herself. Possibly both.

Probably both, in fact. While the exact amount that the work on Nebula cost is never stated in the films, she makes it quite clear that she is in pain every moment of every day. She is occasionally seen doing her own maintenance work on herself, and the robotic arm she got from Thanos (the most powerful being in the galaxy who has his own army and fleet of ships) is remarkably similar looking to the arm she got from the Ravagers, a small pirate group with no discernible need for a robotic arm, which means it was likely stolen cargo. Maybe I’m reading to much into things, but it feels rather a lot like Nebula’s parts are durable, but cheap and uncomfortable.

And then there’s her relationship with Gamora. The relationship between Nebula and Gamora is made quite clear: the two were taken by Thanos at roughly the same time and pitted against each other in the name of training. They definitely knew about the other four ‘children’—Nebula references the existence of other siblings in the first Guardians movie—but their relationship with them is never discussed.

Nebula and Gamora’s relationship, on the other hand, is discussed, a lot. In the first movie, it mostly just comes off as sibling rivalry. Though there is a telling scene in which Ronan and Nebula are sitting on an asteroid talking to Thanos in person, and Thanos specifically addresses Ronan, who he disdains. By contrast, he acknowledges Gamora, calling her his ‘favorite daughter’ (in fact, he considers alienating Gamora as big of an issue as Ronan failing to retrieve an Infinity Stone), but does not even look at Nebula.

Still, the meat of their relationship issues are in Vol. 2. And not just in the obvious ways, like their two solo conversations in the second and third acts.

It should be noted that, about halfway into Vol 2, Nebula gives a speech, detailing her plans. It really just boils down to wanting to get every weapon in the galaxy and use them to kill Thanos. As noted above, she’s in a lot of pain all the time, so it makes sense. However, it should also be noted that the minute Nebula gets a ship, the first thing she does is take that ship, track down Gamora, and try desperately to kill her. And not just with the ship’s guns; she purposefully crashes her ship, utterly destroying it and stranding herself on a strange planet, for a shot at her sister.

This isn’t an unrealistic decision. I don’t just mean that it’s consistent with Nebula’s character, although it is. This is actually a something that happens in homes with abusive parents and more than one child. Intellectually Nebula knows that Thanos is to blame for her suffering, but emotionally that’s hard to work on. There’s a tendency for younger children who are victims of abuse to put the blame on older siblings or another parent who failed to stop the abuse. Especially given that much of Nebula’s pain comes from being punished for not being deemed as good as Gamora. That’s a hard thing to live with. And no, it’s not fair to put that on a child, but the mind isn’t always logical, especially when dealing with pain. By the end of the movie, Nebula does manage to overcome her issues with Gamora and the two even make up. It is notable that only once she has made peace with her sister does Nebula go after Thanos himself.

Which brings us finally to Nebula’s actual relationship with her father. As has been surmised, it was not a healthy one. Hell, even by the standards of Thanos’s relationships with his adopted children it’s unhealthy. Gamora’s attempt to murder Thanos is brushed aside. And I don’t mean just by the narrative; Thanos seems rather unconcerned that his favorite daughter tried to kill him. Nebula though? The immediate response is torture, turning her into a rather horrifying piece of forced perspective art, highlighting just how much of her body has been replaced with mechanical bits.

To top that off, in the climatic battle on Titan, Nebula arrives by crashing her ship into Thanos (something tells me that Thanos never taught her how to park) and then confronts him. She tells Thanos that he should have killed her, to which he responds quite nastily that ‘it would have been a waste of parts’; then he proceeds to thrash her.

We will likely never see flashbacks to Nebula’s childhood. I mean, maybe she’ll get shown if they decide to put more Gamora flashbacks in Avengers 4, but that’s about it. So we probably won’t know if Thanos always treated Nebula like this or if it happened later on in her life. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Thanos took in a child and abused her actively and malevolently until she became a pain riddled, anger-filled mess. Even if Nebula manages to make peace with this, even if killing Thanos brings her some level of comfort, she is unlikely to ever fully recover and become totally healthy. And unlike her four siblings that we already spoke of, Nebula probably knows this, which may be the most tragic aspect of all.

Gamora and Non-malicious Abuse

Now we finally get to the most controversial relationship of the set, Gamora and Thanos. And yes, you read that heading right: non-malicious abuse. Yes, I believe that is a thing. Please, hear me out.

I am the child of abusive parents. My parents were both physically and emotionally abusive, though far more emotionally than physically. My dad never broke any bones or anything, mostly just shoving, slapping, and punching. I lived through abuse, and while I don’t pretend to speak for all abuse victims, I know what speaks to me and my experiences. While I do feel that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the best depictions of the varied aftermath of abusive parents outside of films specifically about that, I must confess that Gamora’s story in Infinity War spoke to me more.

First off, there is Gamora’s behavior itself. Much has been said of a certain scene, roughly an hour into the movie, where Thanos tricks Gamora into thinking that she’s managed to kill him. As Gamora watches her abusive adoptive father bleed out, she sinks to her knees and starts sobbing. Not lightly either…full on ugly bawling. I’ve seen some people claim that this undermines Gamora’s abuse—that she should be happy, that she’s never shown this much emotion after killing anyone else, which means that the movie is trying to make it seem like Thanos wasn’t such a bad father.

For me personally, I don’t agree. Again, I’m not speaking for every survivor, just myself. I am twenty-three years old. I know that my parents were abusive. One of my most distinct memories from my childhood is my dad slapping me so hard I fell down and slid along the hardwood floor, because I lied and said I had stolen some of his special crackers to try to keep my siblings from getting in trouble. I know beyond a doubt that my relationship with my parents is unhealthy. And yet, whenever I end up arguing with my parents, even if they never shout, I will start crying. I can’t help it, the knowledge that I’m upsetting my parents is still that painful. I can’t even imagine the pain I’d feel if I was put in a situation where I had to kill one of my parents.

To me, Gamora’s sobbing is out of relief, but also out of pain. And that is okay. People are allowed to feel more than one emotion towards the same thing. It’s natural. Emotions are complex. From my perspective, Gamora sobbing after stabbing her father in both the throat and the heart does not undermine the fact that she is the victim of extensive abuse. Nor does the movie portray her as being forgiving or sympathetic of Thanos at any point. He is a bad person, his parenting methods were abusive, and she knows it. Again, not every survivor of abusive parents will feel this way. Your mileage may vary even among those for whom this is their lived experience. Still, I thought it important to offer an alternative perspective given what I’ve seen around the internet.

Then there is the second scene, and arguably the more controversial one. It’s the one at the very end of the second act with Thanos and Gamora on the top of a mountain with the Red Skull. (Yes, he’s there, no it’s not Hugo Weaving, and no it’s not important to this article.) Thanos learns that in order to obtain one of the Infinity Stones he must sacrifice that which he loves most. Immediately pain, brief denial, and sorrow dominate his face, and he begins to cry as he realizes what this means. Thanos has set himself on a path, convinced himself that it is the universe’s only chance at survival, and that stopping would be a moral failure on his part.

So he takes Gamora and throws her off of a cliff, killing her and retrieving the Soul Stone. Then, throughout the rest of the movie he expresses pain and regret at his actions, stating that while he achieved his goal, it cost him everything. The movie portrays his sadness and love for Gamora as genuine. If it hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have gotten the Stone.

This has upset a lot of people, for a number of reasons. Namely, that by playing Thanos’s love for Gamora as genuine, and his sorrow as genuine, the movie is undercutting his abuse. That by making him feel real love for Gamora they’re trying to make him seem like not so bad a dad.

Even with my experience, I cannot more strongly disagree. The way they portrayed Thanos in this movie struck a deeper cord with me than Allison Janney in I, Tonya, Mo’Nique in Precious, or just about any other abusive parent I’ve seen in media. That’s specifically because of the fact that Thanos is portrayed as having loved Gamora.

Media has a tendency to show abusive parents in a very particular way. Regardless of whether the abuse is physical or emotional or both, the abuser is depicted as being actively malicious and hateful. Sometimes angry, sometimes calmly cruel, and sometimes petty; the point is that the abuser is almost always depicted as hating their victims, or at best being a sociopath who feels nothing for their victim.

The way we depict abusers is important. Depictions help shape how we think of ourselves and our situations. And the overwhelming tendency for media to focus on physical abuse above emotional abuse is a problem. It can lead to children believing that only physical abuse is abuse, or even that only certain physical attacks count as abuse. But there’s another issue, and that is depicting all abusers as malicious. And no, I’m not talking about the need to show victims forgiving their abusers. That is garbage and not depiction I’m interested in.

What I mean is that not all abusers know that they’re abusers. This is something that many LGBT+ people with religious parents have experienced…including me. Maybe I’ve been thoroughly brainwashed or gaslit, but I fully and thoroughly believe that my parents do love me. The emotional abuse was, in their minds, attempts to make me a better person, as fucked up as that admittedly is. They thought they were helping to ensure that I wouldn’t ruin my life by coming out as trans, and that I wouldn’t be punished for all eternity after I died.

It took me years to realize how toxic my relationship with my parents is, and a part of that is because of how media shows abusive parents. Often times, media is how we learn what abuse is. Our parents aren’t going to tell us they’re abusive, and if we don’t realize what’s happening we won’t ask because everyone just assumes that their parents are normal until we see otherwise.

I don’t believe that the text of Infinity War ever attempts to downplay the fact that Thanos is an abusive parent. Yes, he genuinely loves Gamora. But never does the movie suggest that this love is reciprocated. Gamora declares that what Thanos feels for her is not love. She openly rejects food and tells him that she hates him after he’s kidnapped her. She blames him for everything she hates about herself. His statements that he is responsible for everything good about her are never validated or agreed with. Gamora defies him at every turn. She knows that he is abusive, and regardless of what he thinks, she is seeking to end her relationship with him.

But, I believe that showing that Thanos has an entirely different perspective on their relationship, and that he truly believes that he is benevolent is an important thing for them to show. For all of the many flaws demonstrated by Infinity War’s plot, I personally applaud and thank it for this aspect. It struck a chord with me and even if other victims see it differently, I found it valuable.


Images courtesy of Marvel

Gay, she/her. An unabashed Disney fangirl, who may or may not have an excessive love of shipping, comics, and RPGs. She's not saying. And anything you've heard about attempts to start a cult centered around Sofia Boutella is...probably true.

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Kate

Thank you for this article. I am a trainee counsellor and having just seen Infinity War I felt uneasy about the soul stone scene and thought there would be a lot of commentary saying it normalised/justified abusive relationships. Your article has hit the nail on the head for me, highlighting how complex humans and relationships are. I also feel that a lot of commentators have missed Thanos’ motivation- he is not selfishly after the stones ‘for himself’, he truly believes that he needs to obtain them all in order to bring balance to the universe for the benefit of everyone… Read more »

Alastarr
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Alastarr

This was a very good read, and one I’m sure to show people who discuss Infinity War. I connected with the golden child vs. scapegoat relationship between Gamora and Nebula (as Thanos is a textbook narcissistic parent this makes perfect sense) and how they were pitted against each other to quite literally fight instead of uniting against their abuser for so many years. And while Gamora does fight him, there’s still the twisted part of her yearning for his approval and well-being because of the gaslighting she’s received. This is why she would cry at his death, whereas I could… Read more »

Analysis

Game of Thrones 4×02 Rewatch: The One where Martin Doesn’t Care

Kylie

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Welcome back to the Game of Thrones rewatch project The Wars to Come, where we’re tackling the last of the seasons we used to consider competent on this heavily lauded, Emmy-winning grand-slam by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). Last week, we found the show to be a bit of a slog, while this week Kylie, Julia, and Bo are here to break down “The Lion and the Rose” penned by George R.R. Martin.

Episode Recap

It’s not quite the joys of a wedding for all on Game of Thrones. Beyond the Wall, Bran and his traveling companions still head North. Bran has begun warging into his wolf Summer far more, having dreams from his point of view as he hunts. Upon waking, Jojen warns him that he cannot stay in the mind of a wolf too long, or else he might lose his humanity. The group reaches a weirwood tree, which Bran asks Hodor to be carried to. He touches it, and a mysterious voice calls to him, saying that the speaker can be found to the north. Bran tells the others that he knows where they need to go.

Slightly south at the Dreadfort, Ramsay has turned his attention from torturing Theon to hunting down one of the girls formerly used to torture Theon. The other, Myranda, is hunting as well, appearing to enjoy the event as much as Ramsay. Theon follows after the party, praising Ramsay’s skills and watching helplessly when the first girl is finally eaten by Ramsay’s dogs. Upon returning, Ramsay finds Roose at the Dreadfort. Roose chastises him for torturing Theon into “Reek,” as he needs the son of Balon Greyjoy in his plans to secure the North. Yet Ramsay demonstrates “Reek’s” usefulness by having Theon shave him in front of Roose to demonstrate that he has completely submitted. Theon also reveals to Roose that he never killed Bran and Rickon. Roose tells Ramsay that he’ll need to take Theon and go to Moat Cailin next. If Ramsay can take it back from the Ironborn currently there, then he’ll have “proven” himself a true Bolton.

Down at Dragonstone, Melisandre has several of Stannis’s men burned at a stake, one of whom is Lady Selyse’s brother. Lady Selyse, however, seems overjoyed by the sacrifice to the Red God, while Davos voices his displeasure to an unreceptive Stannis. Later, Stannis has dinner with Melisandre and Selyse. Selyse criticizes Shireen, but Stannis defends her. It is suggested that Melisandre herself talk to Shireen, since Selyse “fears for her soul.” Melisandre does so, and tries to explain to Shireen why burning the men at the stake was not a bad thing to do, and that there are only two gods: one of light and one of darkness. Shireen does not trust Melisandre.

Finally in King’s Landing, the royal wedding has drawn near. Jaime and Tyrion enjoy a meal together first, but when Jaime knocks over wine with his golden hand, it’s clear that his disability is weighing on him. As a result, Tyrion arranges for Bronn to secretly train Jaime with his left hand, knowing Bronn won’t tell anyone.

On the way to Joffrey’s wedding breakfast, Varys tells Tyrion that a maid overheard his argument with Shae, and that Shae needs to be sent away for safety, as Cersei or Tywin would surely have her killed. At the breakfast, Joffrey is gifted the other Valyrian steel sword, which he names “Widow’s Wail.” Tyrion tries to give him a historical text, but Joffrey ends up slicing it up with his brand new sword.

After the meal, Tyrion takes Varys’s advice and asks Shae to leave. He yells at her and tells her he could have never truly loved “a whore,” angering her. Bronn confirms to Tyrion later that she then got on a boat and is headed across the Narrow Sea.

The wedding ceremony itself goes without a hitch. Afterwards, Olenna and Tywin chat about the money spent on the wedding, with Mace not able to get a word in. The reception itself is certainly extravagant, with a variety of performers. Jaime and Loras discuss his own planned nuptials with Cersei. Jaime threatens Loras if he does marry her, though Loras responds by indicating he knows about the siblings’ relationship. Brienne exchanges warm wishes with Margaery, and after, Cersei discusses Brienne’s recent adventure with Jaime. She tells the Maid of Tarth that she (Brienne) loves Jaime, though Brienne does not respond.

Olenna futzes with Sansa’s necklace as she invites her to visit Highgarden. Margaery then announces that the leftover food from the feast will be given to the poor in King’s Landing. Cersei finds Pycelle and tells him to undo this order, as she is still the queen, and that the food will go to the dogs. She then runs into Oberyn and Ellaria alongside her father, and after trading veiled insults, Oberyn remarks that it’s fortunate Myrcella was sent to Dorne, since they would not do something as horrible as what Gregor did to Elia and her children.

D’oh!

Joffrey announces a surprise entertainment act: a “joust” between five little people representing each of the five kings in the war, with particularly offensive portrayals of all the non-Joffrey players. Loras storms away and Sansa is clearly shaken by watching a reenactment of her brother’s death. Tyrion is the most angry, however, though notes that he wants the performers to be given a nice tip, since it’s not their fault.

Joffrey tells Tyrion that he should join in, which he refuses to do, causing Joffrey to upend his goblet of wine on his head. He then commands Tyrion to act as his cup bearer, though Tyrion refuses to kneel in a tense moment. Margaery comes to the rescue by announcing the arrival of the pie, during which Tyrion and Sansa try to leave the reception. However, Joffrey calls Tyrion back over to serve him wine. He drinks some, and then immediately begins coughing violently. It gets worse and worse, and becomes clear that the king has been poisoned. Cersei and Jaime rush to their son, while Tyrion inspects the fallen goblet containing the wine. During the commotion, Ser Dontos appears by Sansa’s side and demands that she leaves with him. Once Joffrey dies, Cersei immediately accuses Tyrion of being the poisoner. He is arrested on the spot.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: This episode was absolutely hilarious in the King’s Landing theater. The rest was an unpleasant slog, but I’m glad Martin stopped caring and decided to try his hand at a sitcom pilot. Loras sure zinged Jaime! (Also, the inception of Larry-face was totally here.)

Fun fact: as this episode was airing, I remember rewatching the portion from Olenna’s conversation with Sansa to the moment where Joffrey was poisoned over and over, since there was a debate on whether Marg had been involved. Watching back now, I can’t believe I wasted my time genuinely engaging with this.

Julia: I think that by the time I was watching this the first time, I was more or less checked out, and only watching because I thought I really should. (Like Revenge of the Sith, you know?) So this time, I was focused on paying attention to the plot from a season-long perspective, since I remember almost nothing. My main takeaway is that the Shae thing was a little more seeded than I remembered, but still not nearly seeded enough, and that GRRM might be slightly more witty than the others.

I’m still relying very heavily on the head cannon that GRRM saw the monster that he had unleashed and just threw up his hands and embraced the silliness.

Bo: I know you’ll both hate on it, but I absolutely love this episode. At least half that love is completely ironic at this point, but I still love it all the same. And I actually think the period from the joust up through when Joffrey starts to choke is really good television. It’s definitely a level above anything Game of Thrones manages anymore.

And like, this was a damn good sitcom for around 30-40 minutes. A big wedding! Breakups! Hookups! Jealous lovers! Beach bonfire parties! Shireen’s new stepmom tried to bond with her! What’s not to love?

Kylie: No no, I get it. I was elated.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I laughed and seal-clapped when Ellaria said her line about “ten thousand brothers and sisters” just because of how much Julia and I have talked about it over the years. That was probably my highlight? As I said a second ago, I just genuinely found the Purple Wedding reception enjoyable to watch, since it was incredibly light-hearted. I’m sure I wasn’t quite laughing at what I was expected to, but at least it was a well-lit scene that didn’t make me wish for the slow release of death.

I do want to give snaps to Bran’s wolf-dream though. Why weren’t we getting these this whole time?

My lowlight was the hunting Tansy scene. It was another case of something being far too drawn out. Then on top of it, we have Myranda being motivated by jealousy that Tansy was attractive? Julia and I have certainly written our thoughts on Myranda and victimization, and you can argue that maybe this is what she saw as a means to survival in Ramsay’s service. But it’s a reverse honeypot, as we well know, and nothing that was ever intended to be explored. Women be catty.

Julia: Yeah, that scene was upsetting. There was a relish to it that made me want to barf. Contrast that to the little-people jouster scene, that also upset me to the point of nausea, but to an actual point. (Like, what a jerk Joff is to have such a homophobic portrayal of Renly when the guy everyone knew was his partner is right there.) That would easily be by lowlight if it were in season 7, and thus probably would have no context and be taken at face value. Such as it is, I think I’ll be going for Stannis and his poo face burning his brother-in-law alive for “being an infidel.” Not for treason, just for not liking his new imaginary friend. That makes all the sense for a feudal lord.

Funny because one of my contenders for a highlight is Mel’s conversation with Shireen. It was one of the few times in the show that the Rh’llorite faith made sense to me theologically in any way. I might even find it compelling if there wasn’t human sacrifice involved.

But I don’t care, my highlight was the introduction of Fat Walda, who will become my unironically favorite character in seasons 5 and 6, just by acting like a normal human being for the 20 seconds of total screen time she’ll have. Hi, girlfriend!

Bo: Kylie, I’m actually really tempted to name the Bran scenes as my highlight. They are faithful, well done, and informative. And they absolutely, 100% prove that Game of Thrones could have done wolf dreams without actually showing the wolves.

My highlight is the entire run from the joust up through Joffrey’s choking, though. The joust is upsetting, but it’s supposed to be upsetting. Literally everyone except Joffrey and Cersei are watching it stone-faced, realizing how horrible it is. It’s like that last bit of evidence for why it’s a really, really good thing that Joffrey is about to die. Here he is at a wedding to solidify an alliance, and he pulls that to upset those allies. Then you have his humiliation of Tyrion afterwards and Sansa’s stone-faced expression and it’s all so horrible, but I think it’s pretty great TV.

As usual, Ramsay is the lowlight. The hunting scene is stupid, drawn out too long, serves no purpose besides grimdark cruelty, and embodies all the problems this show has with women, sex, violence, and all of them together. Then you have the show trying to make us empathize with this monster during the Roose scene. Welcome to peak Game of Thrones, where Ramsay goddamn Snow gets more of a hero’s arc than the actual heroes.

Quality of writing

Julia: Ho boy. There are two things that worry me in terms of having to think about this being the product of a writer I really respect. The first is the opening scene with Tansy. But surely (surely!) this got into the episode the same way the Ramsay scenes in GRRM’s script last season did and I can just ignore it. I just can’t imagine him using Myranda being catty about how pretty Tansy is so unironically. So, surely.

The other is Lord Florent’s death. For being an infidel. Now, in the books…. Stannis doesn’t really give a hoot about his followers’ religion and values loyalty above everything. When Ser Axle was executed it was for treason, since he tried to offer terms to Stannis’s enemies behind his back. Stannis just used a method of execution consistent with his new faith. So, why was this changed? It would only take a line or two to explain. Just have Stannis say “he was a traitor” to Davos rather than “he was an infidel”. Wtf.

Anyway, other than that, and assuming our head cannon that Martin just decided to have some fun, the writing was alright. Better than usual. Some of the things trying to be funny actually were. My favorite was when Olenna said that Tyrion would have to sell his mule and last pair of shoes to rustle up the funds to take Sansa on vacation. That sounded like something someone in Westeros might say.

Bo: If nothing else, the character interactions are sharper and more engaging, even if they’re borderline to over-the-top silly. After learning about the Ramsay scenes last season, I wonder which scenes Martin did write and which ones he didn’t. Or maybe which ones were changed after he wrote them.

Once this episode gets rolling, the writing is good, it’s just hard to separate from what Game of Thrones used to be and what source material it came from.

Kylie: I have a theory that Martin wrote Bronn’s lines as needed, and then D&D went in with their red pens and added as many “fucks” as possible. He took Jaime to a discreet place to practice swords, which he knows is discreet because of that time he fucked a lady and she was moaning loudly, but no one heard! That’s just such…amazing and necessary writing.

Julia: I’m also not quite sure what to make of the infamous “ten thousand brothers and sisters” conversation. On the one hand, it’s far more subtle than D&D often manage to be. My favorite is Oberyn’s implicit “I hear you’re poor now,” when questioning why Tywin doesn’t have gout. On the other hand, everything coming out of everyone’s mouth is dumb. Cersei pretending she doesn’t know what having the name “Sand” means, the Lannister’s Laconian Lifestyle™, “bastards are born of passion” which is why they love them in Dorne, “ha ha, we have your granddaughter!” Ugh.

Bo: Eh, I kind of liked it just because of how silly it was and I like to think Oberyn is just being as over the top as possible.

I have to bring this up, even though it’s not a writing issue for this episode but one to come later; does anything come of Bronn telling Tyrion that Shae definitely left? Are we supposed to assume a Lannister ship caught up with her ship and took her? That Bronn lied? I admit I may be forgetting something.

Julia: I don’t think you are, but I’ve forgotten so much about this, as it turns out, I’m not willing to say for sure. All we have is Cersei and Tywin talking about it, Tywin saying “bathe her and bring her to me,” Tyrion telling her to get on the ship, Bronn saying he saw the ship sail away, then boom! Trial scene. Right?

Bo: I’m very sure that’s the next time we see Shae, and I don’t think anyone mentions her or anything we can interpret as relating to her. So it’s just this open question that would be interesting if the next 3 seasons didn’t reveal Bronn to be a Lannister fanboy who occasionally says he isn’t. So what exactly happened here?

Julia: A wizard did it.

I just realized how in character it was, for book!Tyrells, for Olenna to talk sweetly to Sansa about how she’s invited to visit their garden paradise while framing her for murder at that very moment.

Kylie: It was great, and I love that. The only aspect I don’t love is how Olenna decided to have the poison transported to the wedding in lightbulb-sized jewels. Sansa’s not going to get hives from that, is she?

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: “I give up!”?

I think there might be something in how everyone except his mom thinks Joffrey is literally the worst thing ever and yet no one says a thing. Maybe it makes a theme with how shitty Ramsay and Shireen’s parents treat them? Best I can do.

Bo: If even one other thing in the episode supported it, I’d say the theme is supposed to be consequences or something, since Joffrey confirmed every single reason someone would want his cruel ass dead. Otherwise I’d say there has to be something here about parenting. Ramsay’s scenes focus on it, the Dragonstone scenes focus on it, and the Purple Wedding at least shows the consequences of bad parenting on a child? I don’t know, something like that.

Kylie: I like that better, I think. Bran is left out of it, but his scene was tonally very disconnected already, so I’m not sure we’re going to find a way to work it in there. Parenting was definitely on display for Dragonstone. Mel really nailed that maternal thing, huh.

Bo: Mel has to be a good stepmom so we feel it more when she burns Shireen! Emotional stakes!

Parenting win!

The Butterfly Effect

Kylie: Uh-oh. Joffrey is dying in this episode and D&D need someone even worse to replace him! Guess it’s time to dial Ramsay up to 11 and give him a catty side-kick?

Bo: And like I mentioned above, Ramsay starts receiving more of a hero journey than the actual heroes. Lovely. I suppose Euron is the definitive proof of this show’s need to always replace its villains with an even worse parody of a villain, but Ramsay will always be the prime example.

At this point are any of the plaster-cracks actually cracks, or has the wall just started collapsing?

Julia: And Shogun’s just riding through on Azula-dragon?

I think in terms of Larry’s characterization the wall is fallen down, despite the effort that was made last episode with him. There’s just no way to redeem the fact the he’s even at the Purple Wedding. The Shae thing is making ominous noises but won’t actually fall on top of us until the end of the Trial. The Tyrell’s are… fine, if we accept that they’re all about the powerful sexually manipulative ladies in this continuity. They even had Loras show an emotion about Renly. Granted, they had him be flirty with Oberyn like five minutes before, but still. Though, as I recall, there’s going to be a huge butterfly wing flap next week with them…

Is this a good place to bring up the question of how much we can blame the director versus the writer for stuff? Like, I’m willing to bet money that the Loras-Oberyn look was not in the script. I’m also holding out hope that Oberyn and Ellaria admiring the contortionist’s vag was ad libbed.

Bo: I need Martin and/or D&D to sit down and reveal everything about stuff like this. Maybe if the final season’s reception is negative enough, one side will start tossing out blame and the other will respond. Because honestly, the Tyrells and Martells HATE each other. I don’t care how horny Loras and/or Oberyn are, they’d bang Cersei first.

Julia: Imagine how bad it would have been if Loras had a brother that Oberyn crippled in a tournament.

Kylie: I just spit.

Bo: Larry is part of a bigger crack displayed throughout the entire wedding, I think, which is how characters don’t respond to each other based on their previous actions. Brienne not having even ONE attempt to talk to Sansa is inexcusable. This is perfectly on display by season 7, where no one cares that Varys tried to kill Dany and so forth.

Kylie: Well she and Larry already talked through their vows, and there’s clearly nothing they need to do for Sansa, God!

You know, Brienne being there, but not actually being able to affect the plot in a big way because of certain timing decisions being made only gets to be a bigger issue in other plotlines. It’s just a reverse of the problem of, say, Sandor and Arya’s “plot” this year. But it’s eventually what’s going to lead us to Tyrion getting to Meereen early yet not actually having anything to contribute, for instance.

Remember adaptation?

Bo: No, I don’t remember adaptation. Is this episode supposed to adapt something? Okay, that’s cruel. I think the Bran scenes were really well adapted, and Joffrey’s humiliation of Tyrion as well.

Otherwise I just have complaint after complaint about this episode as an adaptation. Ramsay sucks, Larry sucks, Mace sucks, Sansa doesn’t pretend at courtesy, Brienne doesn’t even look at Sansa…I’ll just stop here.

And maybe you can turn your head to the right while you’re at it.

Kylie: Also, what are they still doing to Stannis? Weren’t we supposed to be on board with him realizing the true threat is to the north? Am I completely forgetting something from the books, or wasn’t Mance the first guy Stannis had burned alive?

Julia: No, he burns his Hand who was colluding with the Lannisters, and used it to get good winds to get to the Wall, if I remember correctly. But they are not doing anyone any favors by framing this as religiously motivated.

Everyone’s motivation and the context around the Purple Wedding is surprisingly intact.

Bo: Yeah, Stannis burns his Florent Hand after discovering his letter to the Lannisters. But I guess that’s not cartoonish enough for Game of Thrones. At least I know they treat Stannis this way because they admittedly hate his character and fanboy over Renly. It’s an explanation besides “they have zero awareness of the story they are adapting.”

Kylie: It’s worth noting that fire is Dany’s preferred method of execution now, and then just film it as is. The only conclusion I can come to is that they truly don’t want us to be on his side. Of course, it could just be so it’s a bigger shock when he arrives at the Wall (even though we know he’s headed there).

What do we do now? Spin the wheel of the poorly adapted? I might submit: Sansa being super nice to Tyrion and then sitting passively until Dontos pops up to spirit her away.

Julia: You know who’s wonderfully adapted? Mace. God, what a waste of Roger Ashton-Griffiths. I would complain about Olenna shooing him away to talk shop with Tywin, but what’s the point anymore?

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Other than her intervention with a good gyno recommendation, I think this was firmly Cersei that we saw. It’s no shock—Martin can actually write her, even if the context is outright telling Brienne she loves Jaime. I don’t really want to delve into the full stupidity of “we’re giving the leftovers to the poor!” (yeah…no shit; that’s the societal function of these feasts), but purposely undoing that is something that demonstrates her characteristic pettiness. Then we have her paranoia at the end with her accusation of Tyrion.

Julia: And her cruelty by having her laugh at the Mini-Tourney of Grossness.

I really wonder what that Scantily Clad Reach Lady’s medical complaint was.

Bo: I doubt Pycelle would need any reason beyond “ow, I stubbed my toe on the table,” before he suggested a full-body examination.

I really love how everyone is watching that horrible “War of the 5 Kings” with varying levels of disgust except Cersei and Joffrey. She was truly Cersei in that moment.

Kylie: Even though Nat Dormer can sometimes irritate me with how she plays Marg, I have to hand it to her acting here. She absolutely nailed being disgusted, while also understanding she was an important political figure who was now married to this asshole.

Julia: While also getting the distinct impression that there’s no way she’d be able to keep it up for 20+ years? Yeah, it was good. Go NatDo.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Bo: I thought it was solid. Roose establishes the difficulties facing the Boltons in a natural way, and Bran’s scenes explain the danger of warging. Oberyn and Ellaria give insight, kind of, into Dorne while sassing Tywin and Cersei. I can’t think of a moment where I felt a character explained something in a way functioning only to explain something.

Kylie: Not unless you count it as exposition when Ramsay and Myranda explained why they were hunting Tansy, though I don’t.

It was pretty seamless overall. Bran’s tree-flashes were also well done, and reminded me of the time the weirwoods were almost correctly adapted. You understand his visions, you get that someone’s calling to him, and nothing was too heavy-handed.

Julia: And we learned a lot about the faith of the Red God. And that the Ironborn still control Moat Calin.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: The pacing was much better in the second half of the episode, but the Dragonstone and Ramsay scenes stopped the episode dead. Why were we treated to an awkward dinner with Stannis, Selyse, and Melisandre, exactly?

Julia: So they can set up the scene where Mel talks to Shireen? And how Stannis once made soup from a book? Though, yeah, it honestly would have been fine if they went right from the beach scene to Shireen’s room.

Bo: Maybe they already knew about Shireen burning and were salivating to set up the nonsensical emotional betrayal to come.

Julia: This episode was short, though. Barely 52 minutes, even with that scene from the beginning that was almost certainly added by the showrunners. (Surely.) I’m wondering if there are a bunch of scenes GRRM wrote that they cut out for Butterfly Flap reasons? Maybe?

Bo: The wedding flowed rather well. I suppose it’s the benefit of staying in one location for once. I remember a lot of critics harping on GOT at this point because of the jumpiness of the episodes, so they always loved when one stayed in one place for extended periods.

You can’t possibly convince me that there were no better, more natural scenes to include besides the Dreadfort and Dragonstone stuff. Why not have Arya and Sandor talk about her list or something, since someone on the list will die at the end? Why not stay in King’ Landing and give Brienne and Jaime a scene discussing Sansa?

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Was there sex this episode? There was Oberyn and Ellaria checking out that contortionist’s bod, and Oberyn’s eyes at Loras, but otherwise I’m drawing a blank. Just more of that great bisexual representation.

Julia: Is your heart not warmed? There was that one mummer humping the Loras dummy. And Mummer!Stannis was humping a dummy Mel too. Ramsay and Myranda probably had sex off-screen at some point.

Bo: And “Robb’s” wolf head! Maybe this scene represented Joffrey’s latent attraction and admiration for Robb? Sounds like something I’d hear from someone on this show.

Kylie: Ugh. Make it stop.

In memoriam…Tansy, Lord Florent, Joffrey

Bo: Let’s also mourn the innocence of that poor girl Pycelle creeped on. She looked absolutely terrified.

Joffrey was the gold standard Game of Thrones has never, ever stopped trying to surpass, and they have never even come close to matching him.

Kylie: They definitely overdid it with Joffrey in some scenes—I think almost all as a result of aging him up—but for the most part they stayed fairly within the books. Jack Gleeson also did a fantastic job of being an absolute shit, but also with this childishness to him that at times made him pitiable. It was a great balance, and even after everything I still found his death to be along the lines of perverting wish-fulfillment.

I don’t know what to do with Axell Florent’s death (and others). Are we supposed to think the sellswords he hires later are all worshippers of the Red God, since he clearly can’t abide non-believers in his army?

Julia: Maybe they were just willing to tear down their idols.

Joff also murdered a whole bunch of pigeons when he cut the pie open.

Bo: They never have bothered establishing the whole King’s Men vs. Queen’s Men environment with Stannis, have they? Kind of hard to do when the King is a doofus Queen’s Man following her around like a lost puppy.

Kylie: Exactly. He’s just a wildly unpleasant man, and I can see nothing any show-only would find compelling here. Stephen Dillane’s salty interview was so on-point.

I hate to ask, but do we have anything to say about Tansy?

Julia: Her fault for being pretty, dude.

Kylie: Sounds about right.

And thus concludes our thoughts in this week’s rewatch. What did you guys think? Was Martin’s writing just plain silly? Does anyone know if there were certain scenes written by D&D? Please?? Let us know in the comments, and as always, may you have good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 4×01 Rewatch: Too Bored

Kylie

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It’s a new year, and a new season for our Game of Thrones rewatch project, The Wars to Come. We now enter Season 4, or what we used to think of as “the last of the good ones” before the quality from showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) took a nosedive. Will we still feel this way? Is it possible that Season 4 is mildly better at first, as Bo had suggested in our Season 3 podcast? Kylie, Julia, Katie, and Jess are ready to investigate the case with the opener, “Two Swords.”

Episode Recap

Jon survived his run-in with arrows! However, it’s hardly a Swiss picnic for him at Castle Black. Sam tells him of Robb’s death, and then Jon has to go before Thorne, Slynt, and Maester Aemon to try and defend his actions. It’s clear that Thorne and Slynt want him to be executed as a traitor, but Aemon seems to understand what happened, and tells Jon that he is free to go about his duties.

Ygritte’s party, meanwhile, meets up with a ferocious Wildling clan called the Thenns south of The Wall. Tormund and Ygritte are clearly uncomfortable with their cannibalism, though Tormund also has reason to doubt Ygritte; she lets it slip that Jon is still alive, and he realizes it’s because she let him get away.

Down in the riverlands, Sandor tells Arya that his new plan is to sell her to her Aunt Lysa. On their way, they come across an inn, and Arya recognizes Polliver among the few Lannister guards—the man who killed Lommy and stole Needle when she was taken to Harrenhal. They head inside where the Hound is quickly recognized. Polliver tries to make small-talk with the Hound, while his companions harass the innkeeper’s daughter who they plan to rape, but when it’s clear that Sandor is not on their side, a fight breaks out. Arya helps the Hound by killing a guard, before stealing back Needle from Polliver—and cruelly executing him the same way he did Lommy. They leave, Arya now with a horse of her own to ride.

Across the narrow sea, Dany and her party approach Meereen, now with the newly freed slaves of Yunkaii following as well. Daario tells her that she needs to learn the land before she can rule the people. As they approach, they find a corpse of a young girl strung up, a slave collar around her neck. Jorah informs Dany that there’s a dead child on every mile marker to Meereen. When he offers to have men ride ahead to bury them first, Dany refuses, saying that she wants to look at every child’s face they come across.

Finally, in King’s Landing, everyone adjusts to the changed dynamic in the war. Tywin has Ice melted into two Valyrian steel swords, one of which he gives to Jaime. He tells Jaime that he wants him to leave the Kingsguard to inherit Casterly Rock, but Jaime refuses out of some semblance of duty. Tywin lets him keep one of the new swords, saying, “a one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.”

Tyrion, Pod, and Bronn wait for the arrival of the Dornish Prince Doran, who is meant to attend the wedding. However, the Dornish party that arrives informs them it’s the younger brother, Prince Oberyn, who will be coming, and that he already is inside the city. This prince and his paramour Ellaria are at Littlefinger’s brothel, where they are about to have a foursome until Oberyn overhears another patron singing “Rains of Castamere.” A fight ensues and Oberyn stabs his wrist just as Tyrion walks in. Outside the brothel, Oberyn reminds Tyrion that Gregor Clegane raped and murdered his sister, and killed his niece and nephew too, and that Gregor takes orders from Tywin. He’s come to King’s Landing for justice revenge.

Sansa is still not doing well after the news of her mother and Robb, and will not eat, even at Shae and Tyrion’s behest. She goes to the Godswood to be alone, though Dontos Hollard—the drunken knight she saved before—finds her. He tells her that he’s indebted to her, and hands her a necklace that had belonged to his mother, asking if she’d wear it for him.

Shae tries to have sex with Tyrion while Sansa is still away, but Tyrion refuses. He seems to be struggling with their relationship. Another maid overhears their quarrel.

Meanwhile, Cersei gives Jaime a golden hand to cover his stump. He tries to have sex with her, but she refuses, saying Jaime was away for “too long.” The maid then interrupts them to tell Cersei of what she heard.

Later, Jaime discusses planned security for the royal wedding with Joffrey in the White Sword Tower. Joffrey pays little attention, and then flips through the White Book that details the good deeds of Kingsguard members. He makes fun of Jaime for not having anything on his page. Afterwards, Jaime and Brienne discuss what to do about Sansa. Jaime points out that there’s nowhere for them to take her, and there’s nowhere she’d be safer, though it’s clear Brienne disapproves.

She later visits Olenna and Margaery, who are trying to figure out jewelry for the royal wedding. Margaery makes it clear to her grandmother that she does not like Joffrey, though Olenna warns her to be careful. They are both pleased to see Brienne, and Brienne tells Margaery the truth of Renly’s death: that it was a shadow with the face of Stannis. She vows to avenge their king, but Margaery cautions her that Joffrey is their king now.

Will the wedding live up to the hype? Will the Thenns feast on anyone else? We’ll find out next week, but first, let’s discuss what we just watched.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Season 3 was a lot worse than I remember it, so when Bo mentioned on our podcast that Season 4 might be better overall at first, I instantly believed it. This episode though was an odd experience for me. I think it was potentially better in quality, but I found myself rolling my eyes so much. Even the stuff that worked was quickly overshadowed by what didn’t work, and by the knowledge of what everything was going to lead to throughout this season and series (Dornish portrayals, for instance). I remember watching this the first time, finally with knowledge of all the books, and being so excited for what was set up. Watching this, I felt drained by the end of it.

Julia: All my close friends, Kylie included, will attest to the fact that I was hype to start season 4. (“The Dornish are coming, the Dornish are coming!”) But now that I’ve actually watched it, man was this episode a slog. It wasn’t boring exactly, but it took me forever. Maybe because the Showberyn brothel scene fill me will so much shame that I kept pausing it to stalk about the room, exhaling huffily. I recognize that my emotional attachment to this fictional principality is not healthy, but it’s not going to change at this point.

Lord Blackmont, man.

God! I hate his stupid face!

Katie: You know, I’m not sure that there was anything as egregiously bad as there was back in 3×10, but this episode seemed filled with wasted potential and a bad tendency to meander. There were moments I enjoyed, but there were so many more bad moments that take on an ominous air knowing that they are the shape of things to come. I’m bored by Dany’s scenes even under the best of circumstances but when we have NewDaario saying “I’d rather have no brain and two balls” as if it were the most clever thing in the world, I just feel… tired? Defeated? Knowing that’s essentially the writer’s room thesis statement going forward really casts a pall over everything else.

Jess: I was almost anticipating worse at first, just because I just have it in my head that season 4 is the tipping point into the egregiously bad that is season 5 and beyond, so when we had that cold open that’s done pretty well I felt pleasantly surprised. However, I think just like when there were even more positives on the first two seasons of rewatch, it almost makes all the nonsense harder to swallow. It’s the frustration that to a base level they either understand some themes of the source material and just don’t even care about them, or they occasionally just hit on one by accident without meaning to. Either way, the episode did start to slog towards the end and I felt myself literally recoil whenever we started the taste of the Pornish and the massive fuck you to Jaime and Sansa’s arc.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I’ve got a lot of competition in my mind for the lowlight, but I’m truthfully drawing a little bit of a blank for what worked best. Oberyn’s introduction was such a mixed bag for me, knowing the hypersexualization of the Dornish on this show and how he’s going to spend his entire season living in a brothel. Though it was a mini-highlight to see Ellaria again, and an Ellaria who was actually not super into slaughtering all Lannisters on sight.

I guess the scene that worked best was the one between Jaime and Tywin, which is not exactly a shock given it was mostly from Jaime VII in A Storm of Swords. I did also like Oberyn’s monologue about Elia to Tyrion, even if a good deal of that sequence bothered me.

For lowlight, I’m going to settle on the final sequence with Arya, though the Shae/Tyrion scene gives it a nice run for its money. (Also Lord Blackmont or the cannibal Thenns.) It’s not just the chicken joke, or the background rape threat—frankly, it wasn’t exactly far from the books in tone there or anything. It’s more that the sum total of the scene was overly long, unnecessarily violent, and clearly done so in a way that we were meant to cheer on Arya. I found it tiring and gross to watch, and it’s a case where that visceral experience is winning out over my intellectual discontent with other aspects of the episode.

Also make note: this was D&D’s first attempt to adapt some of the Mercy sample chapter. Remember when Martin released it right before this airing because he was worried the dialogue didn’t work in that context?

Julia: Remeber when GRRM had f-cks to give about the show?

I think the cold open is by far the most effective scene in the episode. The music is as wonderful as ever, and I’m all about Tywin’s tiny little smile at the end of it. It’s almost like something the real Tywin would do.

I agree that the lowlight contenders are a crowded field indeed. I’d like to add the scene where Jaime (who I think is now officially Larry) is talking himself out of all responsibility for Sansa, even though earlier in the episode we sat through a scene that was about him being sad about his shit-for-honor.

If I had to choose the point where my spirits were the lowest, it would have to be the second half of the brothel scene, where Showberyn says “you Lannisters suck because you think you’re better than everyone!” Like, really? That’s the best you can do? You’re one of the most well-educated men in Westeros and that’s the best shit-talk you can come up with? I was just so disappointed.

Katie: I quite enjoyed the cold open as well, and I think it’s telling that it’s a scene where they let the visuals do the storytelling for them. For my lowlight I’ll pick the Cannibal Thenns, both because it’s a bad scene and kind of the antithesis of that open. There’s zero faith in the audience. Rather than giving some clear, simple shorthand about who these dudes are, we get an interminable scene where they monologue about how they are bad men, accompanied by an endless, obvious, dumb cannibal reveal. The scene drags on forever, topped by “you really ought… to try… CROW” as if it were this shocking, clever revelation. It’s poorly employed shock value, dragged out at the expense of any real narrative development.

I’ll also second Kylie’s highlight of the Tywin/Jaime scene. They both felt… like… people? Interacting with another person? It was a nice surprise and relief, that resulted in the my bar being far too high for the rest of the episode.

Jess: Definitely agree with the Tywin/Jaime scene as a highlight. Even if it felt lacking just because of its placement in the story/the weird shifting around of Jaime’s narrative. The Joffrey/Jaime White Book scene was also a highlight for me. It felt like a pretty decent and natural way to externalize Jaime’s internal thoughts about honor and his own legacy. If only that went somewhere and we didn’t have him shoving that same book off the table to fuck Cersei at the other end of this season. I truly don’t understand what they were trying to do with Jaime this entire season or any of the following. They tease at that book arc so often but always immediately backtrack on it.

For a lowlight there are quite a few. Pedro Pascal is so good as Oberyn it really hurts to even think about his intro scene as one, but just the overall writing and context of throwing him into a brothel as well as the weird bestiality jokes enraged me. I will say the dynamic between him and Ellaria was so refreshing. I would 100% agree it’s pretty great to see her as an actual character and not a mustache twirling villain. I think I’ll second Katie’s overall lowlight with the Thenns. It’s just writing at its laziest and there’s only more to come.

Also just the overall discarding of Sansa’s story is a lowlight and is especially felt in the episode that leads up to the purple wedding, but that’s pretty much too far gone at this point. But to see a random Dontos and be reminded of how much of her story is done to her and how little agency she ever has is just further proof on a never ending list that they do not care about Sansa Stark.

Quality of writing

Julia: The final scene with Arya and Sandor is a perfect example of that awkwardness that sometimes takes over the dialogue. It was just so inorganic.

Katie: D&D have this truly horrible habit of pacing scenes to highlight a line of dialogue that they think is terribly clever. It feels as if there’s an implicit “wait for it…” and “wasn’t that great?” built into scenes like the Cannibal Thenns, Daario and Grey Worm’s sword-off, and pretty much anytime Olenna talks. I’m biased by this point, but I’ve also become convinced that instead of telling a story D&D’s priority is to pat themselves on the back for how great they’re doing throughout their own script.

Kylie: The Cannibal Thenns should be taught in every screenwriting class as an example of what not to do. That was just…awful.

Katie, I think you’re right that they’re well into a self-congratulatory mode. Olenna’s scripting is the prime example of that, really, where it’s just “look how FUNNY she is!” She’s tossing jewelry into shrubbery and insulting members of her own house, but sure, that landed.

I also was a bit annoyed that Sansa told Tyrion she doesn’t pray and wants to be left alone. It’s not just that it ignores the whole thing about Sansa’s character (flying under the radar with a mask of courtesy and never confiding in her gaolers), but it was also hideously obvious. This episode is a great look at how D&D value the intellect of their watchers.

Jess: This episode had moments where clearly if they really try they can write (Tywin/Jaime scene) but so many more moments where there were kernels of something somewhere that they never really uncover. The Arya/Sandor scene is definitely a good example, Julia. It feels like writing. It was also SO LONG. Not to mention their continual, problematically positive framing of violence.

Kylie: I’m still a little confused why they thought the chicken lines were so amazing that they were worth referencing seasons later. It’s…humor?

Julia: Also a hilarious leitmotif? Eunuchs. Did you know the Unsullied are eunuchs? They have no balls. Gosh, I’d rather have no brain.

What. Who approved that line?

Kylie: Also, “How many Dornishman does it take to f-ck a goat?”. If you thought this was going to be an exploration of in-verse prejudice, you haven’t been paying attention.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: There was a beautiful parallel I found between Oberyn and Sansa, where they both described the gory deaths of family members in detail based on rumors. That’s a theme, right?

There might be something to the title that is more than literal? Tywin has mutilated and torn apart the Seven Kingdoms just like he destroyed Ice and forged it into these two swords that are clearly not its equal. And he gives them to his two “heirs” Jaime and Joffrey, who he doesn’t respect either. Swords that will ultimately contribute nothing at all to the show at large. It kind of highlights the pointlessness of the War of Five Kings.

Katie: Oh wow! Good job, Julia. I feel like you could build a really strong season opener off the first theme that you mentioned. There’s a lot of talk in this episode about the war being over (nearly always accompanied by someone saying it’s not). That seems like a good time for an episode centered on lingering resentments about the past bubbling up to effect the present, even after the “real” war is over. You could have a really thematically tight episode built around that, with Oberyn at the center! But this episode seems to sorta lose that thread by the second half of the episode. Brienne talking about Renly could have fit in (and even Arya and Polliver, I guess), but the episode felt too rambling and stretched out by that point for it to really work.

Kylie: That leaves the Wildling theater out of the theme a bit, but that’s been disconnected for a while. Dany too. But I’m sure not finding anything that really links them.

Jess: Yeah I think that’s the closest we can really get to theme here. There are hints at the repercussions of war and the devastation, along with the people left behind but overall it’s hard to really feel any of this as a strong point when we are supposed to cheer for the stabbing that ends the episode.

Kylie: Maybe “things that go stabby” is a better theme? We have the swords, Oberyn’s dagger, Ygritte’s arrows, Daario and Grey Worm balancing their weapons, Needle…heck even some of that Reach jewelry looked sharp. D&D: decent at motifs, thin on themes.

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

Kylie: I’d argue that the praise D&D already received at this point for “going there” and showing stuff that’s “so messed up” (Theon torture, for instance), is how we arrived at things like the cannibal Thenns. It’s not that there aren’t cannibal wildlings in the books, because we know there are, but why the one tribe they decided to fully characterize was this over-the-top and incredibly different from their book counterparts is not exactly a mystery. What do the Thenns even add to the narrative? That we like Tormund and Ygritte more by extension?

Katie: Honestly, I think they just missed having a Ramsey scene to write? Toss in some cartoonish cannibal villains instead!

Julia: I don’t know, maybe to raise the stakes for the battle for the Wall. We definitely don’t want those guys rampaging through Weisseroff, I guess.

I totally forgot this existed, but they’re trying to set up Shae’s shocking betrayal with Mini-Maid overhearing them arguing and then going to report to Cersei, right? Like, Shae is so mad that Tyrion won’t commit (though she wasn’t interested in a manse and possible secret family last year…) and that Sansa wouldn’t eat her lunch that she’s totally going to throw her under the bus and then fuck Tywin with Cersei’s encouragement, and the viewer should be able to put this all together later based on this one scene? Right?

Katie: Oh, yikes, is that really all there is? That’s… oof. Maybe that’s my lowlight. I’m not sure there’s any real way to make the end of Shae’s storyline make much sense with her show-persona rather than book persona, but… try harder than that?

Julia: Maybe they have another fight next week? I’m not sure.

Jess: Yeah there might be one more fight. Isn’t next week the episode he tries to get her to leave by telling her he could “never love a wh*re”? Don’t quote me on that. But still. It still doesn’t fix the issues with trying to make their love story real while still leaving the same outcomes of a version where their love isn’t.

Kylie: It’s a hot mess, is what it is. But kudos to Mini-Maid for procuring the star witness, I suppose. It’s shocking that she never ended up working for Littlefinger when all was said and done.

Also is this an appropriate place to yell about LORD Blackmont and the dudely dudes of Dorne? I don’t think it’s possible that this detail was just missed, since they went to the trouble of listing out sigils, so was it that D&D felt equal primogeniture would take too long to explain, or be ~unbelievable~ on their dragon show?

Remember adaptation?

Julia: I’m going to let the rest of you all speak to how the Dornish were adapted, because anything I can say will just be incoherent ranting, and no one wants to read that.

Katie: I’ll echo what Kylie said above, it was nice to see a glimmer of an Ellaria who is not just the Personification of Histrionic Revenge. Her desire to keep Oberyn from murdering the first overt Lannisters in King’s Landing is a good moment. But… everything else about their early scenes really does highlight all the problems to come, huh? It’s almost as if you set up an entire culture on the flimsy platform of Foreign, Sexually Aggressive, and Violent and never bother about character development from there, bad storytelling happens!

Julia: So, besides the Pornish, there are two plotlines left that we can say are still more or less faithful. Dany’s story is pretty on track and pretty intact. So is the main plot in King’s Landing. The one specifically that involves the Purple Wedding and the consequences thereof, but the characterization isn’t nearly as faithful as in the Dany plot. I suppose you can make an argument that Arya is still in her book plot, since they are chilling out in the riverlands in both.

Julia: Question. Is anyone else a pedantic enough nerd that when Aemon said he grew up in King’s Landing, you though, “huh, I thought he grew up in Summerhall…”

Katie: I was not, Julia, but I love and admire that pedantry, good job.

Kylie: Is this the best place to talk about Jaime’s characterization on the show, btw? We have the benefit of knowing that Jaime ends Season 4-6 doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down on how into Cersei he is, and how he’s going to step up to be the best dad to her kids he can. Feast-Dance, meanwhile, takes Jaime on a journey that is best characterized as “polar opposite.”

My main question here is: surely they knew Jaime was ending the season banging Cersei in the White Tower. With that, what did they view as being the point of this scene with Tywin? And then, why on earth did they have that scene with Jaime telling Brienne his vow didn’t matter much? If he wanted to stay in the Kingsguard because of some sense of honor and duty over his father’s wishes, shouldn’t that have affected other aspects of his scripting? Isn’t the point that his experiences changed him? Or is him ignoring his vow to Cat just seeding how much he commits to Cersei, and the Oathkeeper conversation was purely incidental?

Jess: Yeah I’d echo everything Kylie says. Especially with a question mark because it is truly a mystery. For some reason, they want to both have scenes about honor, legacy, and self worth and scenes of unhealthy damaging sibling incest. This is the season where his storyline starts to meander, and the further they get into the season, the less they decide they want to adapt his book plotline. It all feels like they had a bunch of storyline ideas written on pieces of paper, threw them up into the air and jumbled them around, then pasted them all back together. Nothing makes sense tangentially.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: God, I can’t even tell you what character this is. Cersei’s writing is so all over the place this season, which is how we get Jaime “forcing himself on her” in two episodes, only for her to double down on how much she loves him and doesn’t care about social backlash to the point that she confronts her dad about it in the finale. This episode isn’t a whole lot better. Jaime is back early, and D&D didn’t want them to have sex until the sept scene presumably, so she’s just…on her period? Hurt that he “left” even though he was quite literally captured and she knew that? Indifferent at his return?

What were the suspicious symptoms that Qyburn helped her with too? What was the point of that?? These two spend the next three seasons being super in love and committed to one another, until Jaime decides he’s not, so it’s not even like sowing the seeds of Cersei keeping stuff from Jaime has a payoff. It really just seemed like she had a gyno appointment she didn’t want to talk about.

Julia: I think the priority in this episode was Jaime and how sad he was and how no one loved him and his mid-life crisis. So, what was important is that she be unreasonably mean to him. Because we all know it’s impossible for writers to track two characters at once.

But hey, her recitation of her troubles was so relatable!

Jess: That conversation with Qyburn was so weird. Do we ever find out what that was? They were definitely going for empathy at times but overall it was not a very strong episode for her when we’re about to go into purple wedding. If anything, we should have had more of a Cersei focus this episode.

Kylie: I’m pretty sure we never find out the results of that. I remember people on westeros.org were all speculating that she had been pregnant via someone she slept with off-scene, and it was seeding Jaime breaking up with her. But then like…the rest of the season happened. Perhaps we’re just supposed to be happy that she found a less creepy gyno; I know there’s some comment about Pycelle regarding that in the next episode.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Julia: As I mentioned, Sansa and Oberyn both did a great job expositing on how their family members died. Arya reminded us of how Lommy died to season 2, so did Brienne about how Renly died. I suppose the Dornish introduction counts as exposition as well, since we learned so much about those characters and their culture. Ditto for the Thenns. Though maybe that exposition was just too subtle. (I believe the hidden subtext might be that they’re cannibals. It’s hard to tell.)

Kylie: I think the exposition was more good than bad, but where it was clunky, it was a goddamn elephant crashing through a glass floor. Pod listing the sigils was a good touch, and pretty organic in how it came up. The other side of that is pop-up Dontos. But in general there’s not too much to comment out outside of Oberyn’s monologue.

How was the pacing?

Julia: I mean, it probably wouldn’t have taken so long to watch if I could sit through certain scenes without breaking down.

Katie: I think it started out okay? There were… issues with some of the early scenes, but the Tywin/Jaime scene and the Dorne introductions at least move the plot along and set up genuine character motivation and conflict for a new season. Beyond that, though, we tread a lot of water. Jon tells us stuff we already know, and no one actually thinks he’s going to get executed. Arya sees Polliver, says she wants to kill Polliver, then… I dunno, what feels like 45 minutes later kills Polliver. Dany’s early scene with her dragons was interesting and could have been built upon, but instead she just powers up more aloof flirting and generic sadness about slavery. None of them are given anything new or pressing to worry about, and the plot/pacing flounders around them.

Jess: Overall started out okay, but then started to slow down. I second the Arya scene feeling like forever. I might have fallen asleep a little on rewatch and woke back up to it still going on. Why was that scene so long?!

Kylie: You know…dramatic tension or something. I agree with everyone else that its beginning wasn’t bad at all. It’s just that the effective scenes, even in King’s Landing, were front-loaded too. The Tyrell jewelry scene was certainly better than watching the drawn out fight, but it’s certainly where I began looking at the remaining runtime.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Oberyn likes it his way, and Ellaria is bored by timid sex.

Julia: Oberyn was kinda rapey with Olyvar, wasn’t he? No means Yes when you’re a prince, I guess. But can we talk about how Carol had an abortion apparently?

Katie: It was super rapey! Or, at very least, had really gross power dynamics in play for the first introduction of two important characters. Like, I very much want to be on board for a fun bisexual quadrangle! Have fun, guys! But of course they had to put it into a context where the non-Oberyn-and-Ellaria participants… are literally not allowed to say no, and are reminded of that when they attempt to. I dunno, just another example of prioritizing shock value over story and characterization. Instead of actually attempting to introduce these characters in a meaningful way (which could certainly include their sexuality!), there’s a long, long scene that basically conveys “wow, aren’t these new people exotic and sexually aggressive?!” Which… well, we know how this plotline goes.

(I do have to admit laughing at Tyrion walking into the room to Oberyn yanking his knife out of a Lannister wrist, though).

Kylie: I do also raise an eyebrow at D&D’s desperation to adapt Oberyn and Ellaria’s bisexuality so blatantly, early, and often. Actually…I don’t. It’s because they think what makes Dorne unique is fighting and fucking, and even if it’s not so egregious yet, it’s the start of it. However, it’s worth the note that in the books it’s basically only brought up once to Tyrion that Oberyn and Ellaria might want to have a threesome with a blonde chick, and a lot of that was Oberyn doing all he could to freak Tyrion out in the context.

Jess: Oh yeah that Oberyn scene is all kinds of questionable. Why was the non-consensual sex work even thrown in there? We already had five minutes of them picking out a girl to sleep with. At that point if we were trying to show bisexuality in the most hamfisted way possible, why couldn’t it just be a lineup of both male and female sex workers? It is insanely obvious however that they failed to read beyond the skewed perspective Tyrion has of them in the books.

In memoriam…Polliver & co., children on the mile markers to Meereen

Julia: Where’s that chart we made of Arya’s kills adapted?

Kylie: I got you covered:

Worth noting we made that after Season 5, before we got the wonderful Walder Frey murder. The insurance salesman is still kicking, though.

That chopped up Mercy dialogue was pretty bad. I don’t remember it sticking out that much.

Katie: RIP Ice! You were a good sword, don’t listen to Tywin insisting you were “absurdly large.”

Kylie: It’s not like Tywin would understand the military applications of a greatsword or anything.

I thought the children on the way to Meereen were effective, and not lingeringly gratuitous in the way say, Olly’s death ends up being. But “Mhysa” really only made any struggles I’ve had with Dany’s character worse, and I just wish anyone else was the focal point in this theater.

However, we’ll have to wait for the next few weeks for that discomfort to get ratcheted up even more. What did you guys think of “Two Swords”? Are we overstating the Polliver scene? Please let us know in the comments below, and otherwise we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Sam Drops Out of School & Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Part 2

Kylie

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Happy New Year! What better way is there to ring in 2019 than to ring out the final Game of Thrones Season 7 retrospective piece by Julia and Kylie? That’s right, their fusion is back and ready to dive into the plotlines of the many miscellaneous characters whose arcs could not fit into the previous analyses. While last time we were treated Sam’s semester in college, Jorah’s love-fueled journey, and some random yet highly-detailed fire reading, this time “Julie” will break down and extract the meaning of the show’s Dornish theater, the Greyjoys, and Olenna’s final days. We’re sure showrunners Benioff and Weiss (D&D) have something essential and weighty packed into them.

That’s what you get for loving your family!

Nicknames of note:

It is far past time that we concluded the Dornish chapter of this show. And this time we really mean it, since last year we had that fake-out in 6×01 where it seemed like they were never coming back too. We could be wrong; maybe next season we’ll see Elia Sand (Uller?) plotting her reign.

For those who don’t remember, at the very end of Season 6, Princess Faullaria Uller (Sand?) decided to team up with Deadpan and bring Olenna along with her. This was apparently such a great alliance for Deadpan that Varys, her emissary, was even willing to hide behind a curtain and get summoned with a bell. And for those who really don’t remember, or blocked things out, Faullaria and her “brood of bitches” murdered their own family members in the name of revenge for the deceased Oberyn Martell.

This year, we catch up with Princess Faullaria at that particular war-planning meeting where many mismatched plotlines converge. She agrees with Yara (and anyone possessing half a brain) that their best move is to use their overwhelming military presence to win the war. Right now. Go. Tyrion doesn’t want to win the war though, because it’s bad optics to have people die. Faullaria points out that it’s just kinda of the way of war, and Tyrion responds that of course she’d say such a thing…she murdered his niece!

Faullaria doubles down, saying Lannisters are guilty, until Deadpan tells them both to stuff it. Apparently Faullaria is to treat Tyrion with respect, and Tyrion is to lay out his master plan: a humanitarian siege of Cheryl’s Landing, carried out by the non-foreign troops of Dorne and Highgarden, with Yara and her fleet providing the transportation.

Faullaria is pleased enough with this, since it’s something action-y to do, we suppose. Also revenge!

Later, somewhere in the Narrow Sea on the way to Dorne, the Sand Fakes lie in hammocks together, discussing the upcoming siege and how dumb Tyene is for liking her mom. They’re trying to take dibs on who gets to kill whom, but shockingly they don’t come to an agreement, since they all hate each other. One of them also threatens to kill another, but it literally doesn’t matter who.

In a different room on the boat, Faullaria complains about the booze, since she only likes her Dornish Red. She then fishes for Yara’s sexuality, which turns out to be both-sexual. Kylie’s heart warms at this representation. Faullaria then tries to order Theon to refill her drink, and Yara tells her not to be an asshole. For some reason Faullaria takes this as a cue to start flirting more intensely with Yara, to the obvious discomfort of Theon. Part of this flirting includes her describing her moves up Yara’s leg as “a foreign invasion.” But wait! We thought the Dornish weren’t foreign, which is why they’re participating in this humanitarian siege! We’re so confused…

Mercifully for everyone, the foreign invasion is cut short by an invasion of Euron’s fleet, who no one saw coming. There’s a big, stylized battle on the boats, and Obara and Nym are both killed with their own weapons by Euron. Tyene and Faullaria are taken captive, despite them asking to be killed.

The next we see them, they are being led through the streets on leashes, to the cheering of the denizens of King’s Landing, who now very much like Euron Greyjoy. Or maybe just parades. Faullaria and Tyene are brought before Cheryl as a gift (not the gift, mind you), and Cheryl almost seems turned on by this. Neato.

Then, she decides to have Tyene and Faullaria chained up in the same dungeon across the room from one another. She comes in wearing the brightest lipstick known to man, and proceeds to monologue at them about various topics, which we have covered in depth in our Cherry Bomb retrospective. Relevant here is the fact that Oberyn looked super hot, Faullaria murdered Madison, and Cheryl thinks Tyene is a “perfect Dornish Beauty.” Then she kisses Tyene on the lips with whatever that poison is and leaves the room so that Faullaria will have to watch Tyene die in 5-35 minutes. Or if she gets sexually aroused, we suppose, like Bronn.

And that’s it! No more Dornish for Season 7.

So, we’re kind of known around these parts for liking Dorne. Therefore, the fact that we not only don’t want to talk about this, but have basically nothing to say, should be rather indicative of how this landed for us.

Taking this into consideration, the overarching arc of the Dornish (read: Princess Faullaria) is that she was consumed by revenge to her doom. She killed Doran and had Trystane killed in the name of exacting revenge on the Lannisters, she murdered a young girl just for being a Lannister, and she threw what we guess is her whole kingdom’s support behind Deadpan just to have a shot at bringing down the Lannisters. Because if there’s one thing the Martells (and quasi-Martells) do, it’s create speedy alliances and get rid of family members for their own selfish interest.

And yeah, futility of revenge: they failed, and failed so badly, they all died to their own weapons, other than Faullaria who was forced to watch.

We kind of like stories that examine the futility of revenge. The issue, is that…this was in service of Cheryl’s revenge. We guess she’s at least the bad guy this season, but it’s framed as her “winning,” just like Olenna coming clean about Joffrey’s death was her “winning” the scene with Larry. Revenge, no matter how monstrous, is still the one valid motivation that is often successful on this show, and we honestly don’t see anyone particularly consumed by it in a negative way. Revenge is Arya’s whole thing, right? And the scripts say we were supposed to be at least somewhat on her side this year.

In some ways, this Dornish plot is a counterpoint that makes the case we’ve been trying to make: revenge = no good. Yet we have a really hard time with the treatment of the Dornish on this show, because them “getting theirs” seemed less about any action they took, and more about audience wish-fulfillment for offing hated characters. People found Nym’s whip annoying? Well let’s have her strangled by it. Obara gets impaled. Tyene gets poisoned.

Warning: a mildly gory picture to show what we mean

We know this is weird, but it feels like we were given audience revenge at the same time our antagonist was getting revenge. So…who exactly was shedding a tear for anyone in this case, or at least enough to learn a lesson about the caustic cycle of revenge?

We also need to talk about the “foreign” thing. And yes, this is something we’ve talked about ad nauseum. Our biggest issue this year was that the show could not decide who was foreign and who wasn’t. Deadpan is a “foreign whore,” despite being from the family with the longest-standing monarchical tradition in the country who were deposed well within living memory. Faullaria and the Dornish are not foreign when they need to participate in a siege over the Unsullied and Dothraki, but are foreign when they need to make racialized sex jokes. We could try and discuss that perhaps Faullaria feels more othered by the systems than someone like Tyrion would consider her to be? But that’s really, really stretching it given that A) this was never explored at all, B) the Dornish are about as othered as you can get on this show, and C) we doubt D&D gave that exchange two seconds of thought.

Our point is, this didn’t land, and the discomfort we have with the racialized aspect of this plotline is always present. Hell, Cheryl even called Tyene a “perfect Dornish beauty.” Do they not hear how this sounds?

There’s really nothing more we can say about the Dornish, unless we just want to cry into our copies of A Feast for Crows. It’s a really, really good theater in the books if you allow yourself to focus on the fraught family dynamics. Read it, and let’s ignore this pig slop.

Theon Gets His Arc Back

Nicknames of note:

Theon has been a bit of a head-scratcher for us. For those who may not remember, last year, Theon scrapped about five years worth of development to go support his sister’s claim to the Iron Islands and also to get screamed at by her. This was obviously much more meaningful than helping the person he had grown up with as a sister (Sansa) and with whom he shared a trauma.

The other meaning to be found there was that Yara told him (in an episode titled “The Broken Man”) to either stop having PTSD or to off himself because he’s not useful anymore. According to D&D at the time, it was the “tough love” Theon needed, and we even got to see a glimpse of the “old Theon.” Let’s check in on how that “cured” Theon is making out now.

The first we see of Theon and Yara is at the wonderful plotline convergence meeting where Yara forcefully (very good part) tells the room that they should attack King’s Landing with their overwhelming military advantage. As we’ve detailed before, this gets dismissed, and Yara seems chill with the new plan involving her ferrying Dornish troops to a humanitarian siege. Theon is also there and says nothing.

Next, Yara does indeed ferry said Dornish, and we really, really wish that no one said anything at all on this trip. But no, it’s the f-cking foreign invasion scene again (please don’t make us re-describe it). The one thing to note in terms of the Greyjoys here is that Yara is very defensive of Theon, and you can legitimately tell there’s affection between the siblings. This is especially apparent since it’s juxtaposed to the Sand Fakes threatening to murder each other and making fun of Tyene for liking her mom. But even without that charming context, it very much tracks that Yara and Theon look out for one another. Does that mean we’re chill with Theon dropping Sansa like a hot potato to warp to Yara’s side when their interaction was ostensibly the whole reason Sansa took the place of Jeyne Poole? No. But this is…nice? Better than the Fakes?

Too bad it only lasts about five seconds, because you’ll never guess who attacks: Euron! In the middle of the—you guessed it—overly stylized fighting, we see both Yara and Theon holding their own fairly well. However, they lose, and things take a major turn for Theon when Euron captures Yara and holds a blade to her throat. Euron purposely taunts “Little Theon” to try and save Yara, and Theon, clearly triggered by the surroundings, jumps overboard as Euron laughs.

Now, to be honest, we’re slightly confused by this. We’re not confused why Yara yelling at Theon didn’t actually work as a magic cure to PTSD, and frankly relieved that it didn’t. However, we aren’t tracking this portrayal of trauma. We 100% get that PTSD doesn’t make narrative sense in real life, and we don’t want to argue that it should. It’s just…this is PTSD D&D very purposely re-included this season for Theon to re-get-over-it (spoiler). And it’s also clear that Alfie Allen was directed to act in a triggered manner during the confrontation with Euron, but not beforehand in the midst of the fighting.

As a result, given the way it’s framed and the moment he breaks, it’s almost like we’re supposed to view Euron as Theon’s primary abuser. Or maybe it’s that any asshole reminds him of Ramsay—that mildly works, right? But more and more by rewatching this, we just see it as setting up Euron to be some kind of weird big-bad for Theon to take down as a proxy for Ramsay. That’s certainly how his arc gets set up for next year, as we’ll discuss shortly. To that…Ramsay never needed to be “his kill” in the first place, or anyone’s in particular. Because it’s possible to heal without violent revenge, amazingly. We don’t see why setting Euron up as this bad for Theon to topple is necessary, especially when it involves so many forced moments and teleporting fleets.

In fairness, Yara being threatened by Euron could have reminded Theon of Sansa in duress and served as a trigger. That’s fine, we guess. Again, the framing was more about Theon’s relationship to Euron, but fine. What’s really bothering us is that the portrayal still conflates PTSD with cowardice, and certainly continues the whole “oh this is inconvenient and unhelpful” aspect of it. That’s the very explicit framing. Yara even has a reaction shot of her looking put-out and disappointed by the whole thing.

Continuing on—and since this is technically our recap of both Theon and Yara—we should note that Yara gets captured, put on a leash, and paraded through Cheryl’s Landing, where she mildly rolls her eyes at Euron shit-talking her brother. Then she disappears for the rest of the season.

Theon, meanwhile, gets fished out of the sea by a boat of grumpy Greyjoy men who were loyal to Yara apparently? They get very mad at Theon for being alive and deduce that he must have run away or not really tried to save Yara, rather than any of the other thousand possibilities for why someone could end up in the ocean after a battle on ships. Also, these assholes are alive, so are they admitting to being cowards? Were they some kind of weird rear flank? Do they have names? Apparently, yes. The one who speaks with forceful dialogue (good part) is “Harrag.”

So Hagrid takes Theon and the grumpy Greyjoy men back to Dragonstone, where Theon is greeted by…Jonny Cardboard? The kinda-prisoner and also king of a different land?

He stomped ahead of Missandei, so Theon didn’t get the usual Dragonstone welcome…

Jonny is not happy to see Theon, but Theon kind of head-nods at him and asks if Sansa is okay. Jonny tells him that Sansa is the only reason he’s not going to kill him. We suppose this is reasonable on some level, even if we think the anger is a click above Kit Harington’s acting range. Theon tells him that he wants to talk to Deadpan so that she’ll help him rescue Yara.

Several episodes later, Theon has made no progress on this front and didn’t even try to interrupt Deadpan and Tyrion’s conversation about how she doesn’t like to date short dudes and should make a will. Instead, he patiently waits for the day of the wight moot, where he doesn’t participate in the pre-moot walk and talks. So much for him catching up with Brienne.

We don’t want to recap the pit scene ever again, and luckily Theon mostly just stands in the background, so we don’t have to. However, at one point towards the beginning, Euron just stands up and interrupts the meeting to yell at him that he has Yara and will kill her if he doesn’t submit to him on the spot. Everyone exchanges annoyed glances, and we suppose Theon didn’t really take that threat seriously, because he just looks confused and vaguely uncomfortable.

In fact, Tyrion even tries to move on by saying, “I think we ought to begin with larger concerns.” Ouch, Yara.

Later, everyone’s back at Dragonstone and getting ready to board the S.S. Boatsex. Theon decides this is a great time to talk to Jon about his character arc, since Jon has been so intimately involved with it. Like that one time Theon and Jon were both in the room to get a shave and a haircut. Or that other time when Theon pointed out that the smallest puppy was Jon’s.

Theon begins by talking about the internal conflict that was always raging inside him, and not at all resolved in any way when he risked his life to save Sansa, or when he warped back to support Yara’s election. Frankly, if we had been given his arc as scripted, we’d probably need to hash it out too. He also notes how impressive Jonny is because he never has any moral dilemmas, and never tells lies.

Jonny is more humble than anyone and kind of dismisses that praise, but tells Theon how he should have been more appreciative of the people who were holding him hostage, because they were good people. Ned would even slow clap for his daughters sometimes. Then Jonny, working hard on his 8th grade book report, decides to resolve the whole thing for Theon: he tells him he’s not a Stark or a Greyjoy, but a Strayboy who doesn’t need to choose! Theon is touched.

This also somehow leads to the revelation that he has to go save his sister, who he already wanted to save, because she was nice to him, just like the people who had been holding him hostage. And this is only possible with his new mixed Stark/Greyjoy identity? Yara didn’t have that, and she still decided to try and save Theon in Season 4, but whatever. Only Starks love their family, don’t ya know?

Not now, Arya!

Theon decides that to save Yara, he has to convince Hagrid Harrag and all of his buddies to join him. They’re on the beach, getting rowboats ready to board their own ship so they can take up the traditional Ironborn values of raping and reaving. Theon finds this out and reminds them that Yara gave it up after Deadpan asked her to (but not before). Hagrid doesn’t seem to care since she’s out of sight, out of mind. Theon tries to pull rank and say he’s in charge and they’re going to go rescue Yara—you know, their queen. Hagrid still doesn’t care, man. Then they fight.

Theon seems to be getting his butt kicked, until… Ugh. Until Hagrid tries to kick Theon in the balls, but Theon was castrated and therefore doesn’t have them. So that naturally means he feels no pain at all when slammed in the groin area, and in fact seems to enjoy it. The pleasant sensation of Hagrid’s foot in his crotch empowers Theon to deliver the single greatest headbutt in the history of filmed headbutts. Then he proceeds to win the fight! Yay!!

He also symbolically washes himself in salt water afterwards, like any good Stark/Greyjoy hybrid would do. He then tells the rest of the men that they’re off to save Yara, and they all seem thrilled. We guess fights are the Ironborn equivalent of parades?

And there we go: that’s his arc. It seems oddly familiar to us, mostly because he decided that his actual loyalty should have been to the Starks in early Season 3, and explicitly said that to Ramsay at the time. Then we were also told that his rescuing Sansa in Season 5 was necessary to amend the “great original sin” of his life. And then, he had also very comfortably gone off to support Yara’s claim, and spoke for her eloquently (more so than she managed) at the Salt Moot, because you know…he figured he could be a Stark and a Greyjoy.

Oh also, he was magically cured of PTSD at the very end of Season 6, too.

Call us cynics, but we’re finding this to be a sloppy reboot just one season after everyone else’s sloppy reboot. Maybe Theon isn’t “cured,” and D&D know that too. We’re less skeptical that they realized it at the time, since there’s no denying that both Yara screaming at him in Volantis and Theon getting kicked in the crotch were both framed as these moments where Theon looks up and is suddenly empowered/back to form. And of course, getting kicked in the crotch is explicitly in the script as an “advantage from his castration,” which to us reads as some kind of reclamation of trauma.

Ew.

In fact, looking up D&D’s thoughts on the matter, (even though we do feel the show should be considered in isolation since that’s what audiences take in,) we were right! D&D totally thought they ‘fixed’ Theon in Season 6, but then writing for this season were like, “Oh huh, this seems to be an intense situation for someone given his very experiences.”

“We maybe fooled ourselves into thinking that Theon was out of the woods on his whole Reek experience, and as we were writing it, we realized that you don’t just get over what happened to him. That’s something that’s going to be part of him for the rest of his life. And this is a place that triggers the worst of that experience.” —Dan Weiss

And of course, let’s relish in how messed up it is that he couldn’t save one sister, and now can’t save the other. Boy, do they gush about the looks Alfie Allen is able to give the camera.

We really, really found this in bad taste—the whole arc, frankly. And insultingly boring, since it’s both a rehash, as well as just Jon vomiting his view of a character arc onto us. Why is Jon in any position to judge any of this? Because he can never tell a lie? And why was that framed as being more significant than Sansa already having forgiven him two season prior?

Also what the hell are they talking about that he’s a Stark and a Greyjoy? This didn’t influence anything! Theon wanted to save Yara as soon as he arrived back at Dragonstone following the battle at sea, and then still wanted to save Yara following his conversation with Jon. Was being told of his Strayboy roots the confidence boost he needed to talk to Hagrid again? And if so, why? It just seemed like this random conversation shoved in there, because Jon is a Stark proxy, and D&D wanted to show Theon being forgiven. Naturally Sansa’s forgiveness wasn’t good enough; she’s a girl.

But what does JON think about it?

What bothers us is that this moment really should have been impactful, since it’s not like we think Theon’s story in Season 1 and 2 was poorly done. In fact, we kinda liked it up until the torture porn. The issue is that this conclusion was already reached in Season 3, and everything else appears to be setting up some kind of crowning badass moment for him against Euron, which is simply not earned or necessary. Which is, coincidentally, the sum total of what we have to say about Theon’s arc this year.

Hooligan Without A Cause

What do you do when you have a villain who is *super evil*, but also wacky? Well, if you were D&D, you killed him off in faux-poetic justice via dogs who wait for dramatically satisfying moments. But now you have to one-up that with your next antagonist. So the only logical conclusion is to write a hooligan with a multiple personalities [sic] because that’s how “psychopaths” are.

All of this is very evident from the moment that Euron Greyjoy appears on screen this season, clad in a rockin’ leather jacket (completely with eyeliner), and doing what is very obviously a Jack Sparrow impersonation.

You see, Cheryl has invited Euron and his giant, enormous fleet (that he made overnight from all the trees on the Iron Islands) to make an alliance, because she is totally boned without more troops. Euron, instead of taking this opportunity to attack the completely defenseless Cheryl’s Landing and claim the Iron Throne as his own, decides to take a different opportunity and bitch about how his niece and nephew were so mean to steal some of his ships during his drowning coronation. He also feels apparently very secure that Cheryl won’t turn on him, because, while the throne room is full of her guards, Euron hasn’t even brought Priesty McBeardface as moral support.

Dignified.

Hooligan time! His new, unpredictable wish this season is to marry Cheryl, so that together they can kill Theon and Yara, and potentially Deadpan, who he now wants dead since she…sided with Yara? All this will make him feel “a lot better,” and he’s also decided that Cheryl is the most beautiful woman in the world—we guess he originally wanted to go after Deadpan before seeing Cheryl’s cute pixie cut.

Cheryl and Larry are not totally convinced, though. Larry points out how Euron is a shitty, kinslaying ally, and that they totally lost the Greyjoy rebellion too. Euron shrugs though; he had too many relatives anyway. When Cheryl notes that he’s a super annoying braggart, he fires back how she’s not humble either, since awesome people aren’t humble. For some reason unbeknownst to us, Cheryl then tells him that he’s too untrustworthy to ally with, which is why she invited his entire army? We guess she’s a hooligan too.

Euron, rather than now taking this opportunity after a slight to sack the—again—undefended city, says he must go off and impress Cheryl by bringing her a gift. Is it Tyrion again?

Evidently not, since the next we see of Euron, he’s attacking the Pornish/Yara conglomerate, and enjoying himself a lot. He purposely singles out Obara and Nym to kill with their own weapons (at least, we don’t think he did this to anyone else), before holding Yara hostage and taunting Theon, as we described. Honestly, we’ve never seen a man this happy in all our lives. Oh, and he ordered his men to take Faullaria and Tyene alive.

His ebullience continues at what seems like the next day, when he marches in a parade down Cheryl’s Landing, with Yara, Faullaria, and Tyene all on leashes. #WomenOnTop. He personally holds Yara’s leash, and as she looks done with it, he jokes around about how stupid Theon looked running away, and how he’s a “twat.” The people clap excitedly.

Once in the throne room, Euron presents Faullaria and Tyene as if he’s a magician at an 8-year-old’s birthday party who pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Cheryl seems genuinely happy/turned on by this, but is oh-so devious that she tells him they’ll certainly be married…after the war is won. Euron is 100% content with this. He even asks Larry for some sex advice! Because hooligans don’t care about incest.

Poor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

Some amount of time later that’s less than two weeks, Euron takes his armada and attacks Casterly Rock, on the other side of the continent. Our biggest confusion is how his armada hadn’t crossed paths with the Unsullied fleet already, but whatever. He was laser-focused on Yara’s people, we guess.

At Casterly Rock, he manages to prevent the Unsullied from escaping in their ships, so that they have to walk back across the continent. We suppose this means Cheryl is still in control of Casterly Rock? But we’re absolutely guessing.

Finally, it’s time for the wight moot, and for Euron to circumnavigate the continent once again. Now mild spoilers, but he has a ~secret meeting~ with Cheryl just before this moot, where they decide that he will fake-get scared of the army of the dead, fake-leave Cheryl’s alliance, and then really sneak off to Essos to ferry a recently secured sellsword group of Cheryl’s. That’s the most reasonable thing we’ve ever heard.

(Also what did this add to Cheryl’s benefit? Why does it matter if they think Euron left, other than potentially giving Deadpan and Jonny a reason to walk away from the table completely? Dead horse, we get it.)

At the wight moot, Euron decides to hooligan it up by interrupting at the start to taunt Theon about how he has Yara. He says that he will kill her unless Theon surrenders to him on the spot. Everyone exchanges annoyed looks and Cheryl tells him to sit down and be quiet. Then comes the time for his amazing feint! He does it convincingly, and hits on Deadpan in the process. Time to go to Essos!

And thus are the adventures of Euron Greyjoy in Season 7.

If we had to analyze this, which we suppose we do, it’s pretty obvious that Euron’s biggest motivator is getting revenge on Yara and Theon for…not standing around and letting him kill them after he was elected King. After all, the first we see of Euron this year is him complaining about how rude they were, so obviously this is something affecting him on a deep level. In fact, he even tells Cheryl how killing them will “make him feel better.”

We guess in terms of dynastic concerns and potential challenges, it’s not that dumb. And to that end, he’s on his way. He has Yara, he wants to taunt Theon (and make empty threats about it)…fine.

Then there’s the other aspect, which is that Euron wants a queen, and his sights are now set on Cheryl rather than Deadpan. We have to assume this is because Deadpan allied with Theon and Yara and that hurt his feelings, or made him think he wouldn’t be successful in pursuing her. In fact, he’s so committed to finding a queen that he’s willing to go to lengths to impress Cheryl, when she is the one who needs him far more. He controls the Iron Islands; it’s fine!

It’s very hard for us to reconcile these two competing drives, especially since he spends the lion’s share of the season warping around and catching troops as demanded by the plot. Perhaps it takes our extremely excessive and encyclopedic knowledge of Westerosi geography to truly appreciate how improbable all his movements are, but needless to say, it sticks out. And it’s stupid. The idea that Deadpan is just on Dragonstone and can’t see fleets coming and going from Cheryl’s Landing is stupid. That’s why Dragonstone is an important military position and no one would leave it abandoned.

Then we have to consider what Pilou Asbæk has said about the character he’s playing. For one, he says that Euron is “more of a hooligan” and that Ramsay was “100% evil,” whereas Euron is not. He’s fun-loving and thus “more conflicted.” Asbæk also has spoken on multiple occasions that Euron is a “different guy every scene.” He clarified this year with the following:

“Dan, David, all the scenes you guys have written, I love every single line of it. But can we recreate him? I want to make him rock and roll. I want to be a superstar…. All of the psychopaths I’ve met in my lifetime have multiple personalities. Not like they’re schizophrenic, but they can adapt to the people they are surrounded with. He’s a chameleon.”

Now, we normally have to take anything an actor says with a heavy salt-lick on this show, like how Nat Dormer was convinced Tommen was 17, and how Isaac Hempstead Wright compared Bran to an CCTV department. Actors do what they have to do with the role to give the portray that makes sense to them.

However, Asbæk credits himself with turning Euron into a “rockstar,” and he actually has been talking about how he’s a different character and a fun-loving hooligan for two years. So it’s not to blame him, but we’re blaming him. Also, it means his approach to this role is to be a rockstar with a different personality in each scene. That is his goal with these scripts.

Rockin’.

We don’t know what to do with this information. Because it seems to be a feature, not a bug, in the eyes of D&D that his actions make absolutely no sense and there’s no overarching character to even analyze. Like…okay, he likes Cheryl this year. He sure doesn’t like his niece and nephew and still wants to murder them. And he’s really good at repeatedly moving his armada around the southern coast of Dorne.

We can’t take this guy seriously. If we’re supposed to view him as somehow more nuanced than Ramsay, then that did not land at all. At least Ramsay had daddy issues and a semblance of an arc surrounding that, no matter how bad we found that execution. Euron is just some idiot who likes to complain that he had an opponent in an election one time. Maybe they think this is really cutting and clever Trump criticism, but all we see is some weird Jack Sparrow impersonator, and it’s not very effective at getting any point across at all, let alone a contemporary political one. Not to mention, D&D gush about how Euron is a character who can actually walk the walk, so…

Frankly, we don’t think D&D put any thought into this character other than what would seem “badass,” and what could build stakes for Theon, or maybe even top Ramsay. On both counts, they failed. However, they did succeed in making us want the Euron of the books, and that in and of itself is a smashing success.

Lean In, Deadpan

We wanted to close by talking about Olenna, because this is the close of the Tyrell saga on the show as well, which has been at least one of the more interesting components. Unless, of course we get some kind of Margaery Stoneheart in Season 8. (What would her driving motivation be? To make more catty remarks to Cheryl from beyond the grave?)

The thing is, we’ve never really liked Olenna as a character on this show. We mean, Julia loves Olenna Redwyne from the books, and has written fanfic about her teenage psyche, but on the show, she’s just been this anachronistic, pithy comment machine whose pluckiness has gotten really, really old. She also acts like a kindergartner sometimes, but we’re supposed to think she is this great political player because she wouldn’t let Carol sit with her that one time.

It’s a wonder she didn’t stick her tongue out too…

So imagine our shock when upon rewatching this stupid plotline for the 14th time, we rather enjoyed Olenna’s contributions. She’s in officially two scenes, and they are just fantastic.

The first is that infamous meeting of the Powerful-Women-of-Weisseroff-Gathered-to-Listen-to-Tyrion. Olenna seems aware of this confused messaging, and her first contribution to the conversation is to point out how Tyrion’s plan is basically to allow their armies (meaning the Tyrells, Martells, and Greyjoys) do all of Deadpan’s fighting for her, while she seemingly sits back. This is true. Even when Tyrion says the Unsullied are going to Casterly Rock, there’s no plan for the Dothraki, and certainly no plan for Deadpan to use her weapons of mass destruction. Because it’s uncivilized to win a war outright, or whatever.

Olenna then points out the limits of the strategy of Deadpan seeking out the approval of the people to grant her legitimacy (through a humanitarian siege, no less). After all, Marg was super popular, and the smallfolk still didn’t appear to give a shit when she got blown up. They even came and cheered for what they thought would be a slut-shame walk over her perjury.

After the meeting, Deadpan asks to speak to Olenna alone, since she knows that’s her one ally who doesn’t really care about Deadpan at all but just wants revenge. Frankly, the Dornish are operating the same exact way, but Olenna seemed clearly put off by Tyrion’s awful plan, whereas Faullaria came around. Deadpan offers Olenna some stupid platitudes about how she will grant peace in their time. Olenna, however, is an old lady whose entire family was just brutally murdered. She didn’t care about peace at the end of last year, and she certainly doesn’t this year.

But she does give Deadpan some advice about what she’s been observing during this meeting: basically, that Deadpan is letting Tyrion make all of her decisions, and he seems taken with his own cleverness. She tells her that she, Olenna, got as far in life as she did by not listening to “clever men.” Probably like how she overrode her son’s decision to marry Margaery to someone violent by plotting and executing his murder in a very surreptitious way. Olenna concludes by telling Deadpan to “be a dragon,” which in context means that she should trust her own instincts and be a true decision-maker. Lean in, Deadpan.

If we can sidebar for just a second, we’re actually kicking ourselves for not seeing this sooner. Up until this point, we wrote the conversation off as some stupid false empowerment (which…can you blame us?). “Okay, go be grapes, Olenna Redwyne.” This was especially not helped when later in this plotline, Olenna talks about the sigil of House Tyrell as if it’s the actual reason for the sack of Highgarden being so simple. But taking this scene into consideration on its own, she really is telling her to not be controlled by Tyrion, which is…exactly what happens. In fact, this point serves to muddy everything that happens on Dragonstone, since Tyrion’s “mission” this year is to curb Deadpan’s impulses, and it’s framed as something good and moral for him to do.

So, are we supposed to think Olenna is full of shit? That she’s the devil on Deadpan’s shoulder? Or does this just mean that Deadpan can “be a dragon” and trust in her instincts when those instincts allow her to bail out a different man?

We don’t get exactly what D&D were going for in the context of the whole season, but given how everything unfolds, we are 100% on-board with what Olenna is saying here. Tyrion is too taken with himself, Deadpan can do better than parroting his words (like when she says she’s not there to be “queen of the ashes), and frankly a ruler should recognize the fact that the buck stops with her. Also yes, the smallfolk are mercurial and unreliable, Deadpan should look to Marg as a cautionary tale, and peace is a sisyphean effort.

Good points, Olenna.

Later, Larry shows up to her cottage castle containing her giant army and easily sacks it while Olenna sits in her room. He then marches in so he can kill her in a humane/dignified manner. Most of this scene is actually about Larry. He talks about how he learned from the Whispering Wood (not really applicable here, bud), and how this genius military move was so important to his character growth. Olenna shrugs and says Tywin should have taken Highgarden years ago. We’re sure Robert would have been cool with that. (Okay, maybe he would have been.)

Olenna, probably for the aforementioned reason that she’s an old lady and her whole family is dead, is quite stoic about this about-to-be-killed thing. She reminisces on how she’s done some shitty things, but at least she’s not as vile as the monstrous Cheryl. We still say this is a bit of a pot and kettle situation, but we suddenly like Olenna this year, and Cheryl did blow up a societal institution and waterboard a nun for kicks. Larry offers Olenna some poisoned wine that he promises won’t hurt at all, and she gulps it down like it’s her favorite soda.

Knowing she’s dead any second, she decides to then exposit on how speaking of poisoned wine, she did that to Joffrey, lol. She says she wants Cheryl to know, and…fine. Take your revenge on your way out, Olenna—whatever.

The thing is, had she been adapted faithfully from the start and these were her final two scenes, we probably would have been fairly pleased. We think it’s gross that D&D framed this particular scene as being about how cool it is that Larry finally got to kill someone, but how Olenna “won” the scene all the same thanks to this Joffrey knowledge. Still, her motivations and attitude are actually making sense and tracking from previous seasons, and they make us feel for her.

This character in general has been a very reliable source of rage for us on this show since she appeared in Season 3. When we think of Olenna, we think of the scene where she threatens to beat the septa following Marg around, or when she stops her carriage so that she can comment on the poo smell from the city. Or when she calls Loras a “sword swallower” while officially negotiating with Tywin. Sometimes, in the right mood, we also think about the scene where she talks about stealing her sister’s betrothed by banging him the night before he had been slated to “propose”.

It’s stupid, and it’s clear they’ve never known what they were doing with her. They certainly never understood what Martin was trying to do with this character either, but frankly, join the club Olenna. This is the show with revenge-at-all-costs Ellaria Sand.

Still, Olenna’s scenes this year were fine, much to our shock. We might even miss her next year, because what she was saying is what we proceeded to yell at our screens the rest of Season 7. Anyway, lean in, Deadpan…lean in!

How ’bout that Season 7

We’re sure this will come as a shock to everyone, but after going through 4 retrospectives in 8 parts that covered 11 different plot lines (12 if you’re willing to separate out Jon and Tyrion a bit), we’re not all that impressed with the season as a whole. Sure, ending with a focus on Olenna was kind of like having an after-dinner-mint following a very nauseating meal, and we truly were happy that we were able to feel something in the ballpark of positive for a change. It’s just, considering the rest of the season…what a mess. The ~main tension~ was quite clearly a nonsensical military conflict featuring teleporting armies and confused holdings, just to get to a point where there could be a truce meeting because the fake-out of Cheryl helping was oh-so clever? Or because shoving the characters we’ve been following together is supposed to be meaningful?

Then on the wings, there’s Arya threatening to cut off her sister’s face and wear it (which we’re supposed to at least somewhat sympathize with), Sam coming across every plot-necessary bombshell in randomly-grabbed books, and Theon rehashing an already muddled and problematic arc. Suffice it to say, the other tales we just recapped did not exactly save it for us.

Season 6’s theme seemed to be wheelspinning. The characters almost all repeated everything they did in Season 5, and then three characters magically ascended to positions of power that were either unearned or made no sense for them to inhabit on a societal level. Season 7 is…we honestly don’t know. Knocking chess pieces off the board like a drunk cat because it’s hard to write so many characters? It’s driving towards some kind of ~big finale~ whose meaning is derived entirely from “we’ve known these characters for a while and they know each other!”, which is likely why Season 7 had so many Season 1 callbacks, as well as walk-and-talks where the scripts tried frantically to recall what shared history any of them had. But it just didn’t do anything in the long run, and that’s because the contrivances required to get anyone anywhere this season were so obvious:

  • Deadpan’s army needed to be reduced in size for a more even conflict with Cheryl, so it was
  • Cheryl and Larry needed to break up, but not before Larry could make those stunning military victories, so they just randomly did
  • Larry needed stunning military victories, so they happened
  • Sandor needed to begin fire reading, so he did
  • Sam needed to come back to Winterfell and team back up with Jon, so he did
  • Euron needed to capture Yara and raise stakes for Theon, so he did

The most earned moment was Bran getting back to Winterfell, because at least we tracked that journey and it didn’t involve Arya’s continent-crossing teleportation of last season.

We’re not surprised. This season was the best example of “creatively it made sense because we wanted it to happen” to date. We’re just glad we only have one more season of those creative sparks left to go.


Images courtesy of HBO

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