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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 2×04 Rewatch: Garden of Groans

Kylie

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Good fortune and tidings as we return to The Wars to Come! We can’t wait to dive into yet another chapter of our Game of Thrones rewatch series, seeking to explore the path that took the show from engaging and competent to…wormholing ravens and confusing trials. This week we’re in for a special treat: the only woman to ever grace this show’s writers’ room, Vanessa Taylor, is credited as penning “Garden of Bones.”

While Kylie, Julia, Danzie, and Griffin can’t wait to discuss what’s clearly going to be a jump in quality, we first need to go over the events for anyone who missed.

Episode Recap

Things are grim and grotesque in the riverlands! Robb earns himself a victory on the field against the Lannister forces, yet after the battle we see many injured. He helps a field-nurse from Volantis name Talisa amputate a man’s foot, and she points out to him that the smallfolk are the ones paying the price for his war.

Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie, and their fellow travelers arrive at Harrenhal as prisoners, only to discover that the guards have been selecting one a day to die. They witness the torture of an unlucky man, who has a barrel containing a hungry rat strapped to his chest. He is asked questions about “the brotherhood,” but cannot answer any. The Lannister guards hold a torch to one end of the barrel, giving the rat only one place to go… Gendry is selected the next day for this grisly fate, but is saved just in the nick of time by Tywin Lannister’s arrival. He immediately chastises his guards for wasting good men, and once recognizing Arya as a girl, selects her to be his next cupbearer.

Down in King’s Landing, Joffrey is not behaving a whole lot better. First, he reacts to Robb’s military victory by ordering Sansa to be beaten by his kingsguard. Tyrion intervenes and put a stop to it, even giving Sansa a chance to ask out of her situation. However, she tells him she is loyal to her “love.” Bronn and Tyrion discuss Joffrey’s disgusting behavior, and Bronn suggests getting him some sex workers to work frustration out on. Tyrion does that, but Joffrey instead commands one of the sex workers—Ros—to brutalize the other as a message to Tyrion.

Tyrion receives another message from Lancel, who asks him to release Pycelle on Cersei’s behalf. However, Tyrion quickly turns the tables when he corners Lancel about being in a sexual relationship with Cersei. He promises not to tell anyone so long as Lancel reports to him on the queen’s comings and goings.

Other royalty is busy over in the Reach. Littlefinger arrives in Renly’s camp, but the self-fashioned king holds no love for him. Yet if the time should come when Renly reaches King’s Landing, Littlefinger makes it clear he’s willing to flip sides. He then meets Margaery Tyrell, who he attempts to grill on the details of her marriage to Renly. This queen doesn’t reveal much. Littlefinger finally gets to speak with Cat, who is furious with him. He does manage to present her with Ned’s bones, and slips in a lie about the Lannisters holding both Sansa and Arya.

Renly and Stannis treat with each other, and despite Cat trying to encourage them to get along as brothers, neither will step aside to acknowledge the other as king. Stannis tells Renly that he has one night to reconsider. Later, Stannis asks Davos to smuggle Melisandre for him. Turns out it’s so she can give birth to a shadow in the caves below Renly’s camp.

Finally in Essos, one of Dany’s bloodriders returns with a gift from the Elders of Qarth, called “The Thirteen.” Her party turns to head there, understanding that outside the walls are referred to as the “garden of bones” thanks to all the skeletons from those who had been turned away. She meets the Thirteen, and when she refuses to show them her dragons, nearly gets refused from the city herself. However one of the Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, invokes “soumai,” vouching for her and taking legal responsibility for her party. The uncertain group head into the city.

What will greet them in Qarth? What is the shadow that Melisandre gave birth to? And is there gold hidden in the village? We’ll find out next week, but first…a discussion of what we saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I had to triple check that this was written by Vanessa Taylor and not D&D. And yes, I know that it’s a writers’ room, and individual credit only goes so far, though I’d argue that with GoT, we can usually tell notable differences and the process comes across as more siloed than it does for other shows.

Still. The first half hour of this was easily as bad as Season 5, with a small exception that the words spoken in between the gay/fart jokes, the torture, the abuse of sex workers, and the gore were mostly shaped by George R.R. Martin’s prose. The best I can say is that the second half of the episode became moderately passable, albeit still lacking in the tension as discussed last week.

Julia: Yeah, this episode felt like it had all the worst aspects of GoT all shoved together, especially in the first half hour, and I came away with the feeling that I was just watching trash. A few ‘fros and bell bottoms and it could have been a 70s exploitation movie.

Even this rewatch write-up is so painful because I feel like I had nothing to say beyond, “god that sucked.” And explaining in detail why things are bad is kinda my thing!

Danzie: Lordy, what a pile of crap that was. I had blocked everything but the Stormland’s scenes from my memory. You really get the full GoT dumpster fire potpourri here, though. Juvenile humour, sexual violence, torture porn, disappearing and reappearing medieval patriarchy, hammy acting… the list goes on. It’s a handy little episode to use as evidence to back up the claim “Yes, this show really is that bad. No, I’m not overreacting, Shannon!”

I am going to use this gem to win so many arguments.

Griffin: All of this. It was gratuitous. Gratuitous and bad. I kept waiting for it all to end. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say, or what was supposed to be appealing about this show after this.

Highlights/lowlights

Julia: Oh boy, oh boy. A highlight. The first thing that springs to mind is a little weird because it’s not usually me, but… I think I really liked Renly this episode? I’m a sucker for any time someone tells Littlefinger what a slimeball he is, and that ham line was genuinely clever and even a little funny. It’s painfully obvious how much more the writers like him compared to Stannis, but hey, maybe he’s not so bad?

As for a lowlight, um, everything else?

Griffin: I’d honestly have to go with the one singular moment that had me cracking up: cutting straight to the throne room with Joffrey aiming a crossbow down at Sansa. The framing of it was just so ridiculous and weird that it honestly looked like self-parody. The more they took it seriously in the scene, the funnier it got. What the hell was he going to do? Just start shooting people with a very slow to reload weapon and not expect to get gutted by, like, the third Kingsguard he cuts down?

As for lowlights, again, the crossbow. Really should have cut away from that “let’s mutilate some sex workers aren’t we trendy???” scene when he started screaming “harder”…and before he got the garden weasel looking thing out.

Kylie: My highlight was the burrito dress. I screamed and clapped. I wish I had a non-ironic highlight, but this is truly what warmed the cockles of my heart the most.

It’s so hard not to pick the Joffrey & sex workers scene as a lowlight, especially knowing what that “sets up” in Season 3. But there’s plenty to go around. The general levels of gore were really distressing for me, since I’m already not great with that. The Talisa cutting off a leg scene was one that I didn’t look at, but thank the gods her feminist candor was spoken clearly.

I don’t know—the protracted torture scene at Harrenhal? So glad we had a full five minutes of the guy we never met before getting eaten by a weasel. Do we think these Lannister folks are bad news, or something?

Julia: It was a rat, Kylie. God. Clearly all your criticisms are invalid now.

Danzie: One of my favorite chapters in the entire book series was (lucky for me) the only truly decent scene of the episode. Renly is at his best in the entire run of the show here. I’ve always said that I could watch Renly troll Stannis for hours and not get bored. It’s his social intelligence that I love about him. He understands exactly what it is that the masses love about him and hate about Stannis. I’d like to have seen the inclusion of the peach, and for him to have been unarmed, but other than that, yeah, this is peak Book!Renly.

However, my other Baratheon darling didn’t shine here like he does in the books, and that’s a shame. Loads of good personality things they lost out on here, like Stannis showing up to the parlay exactly on time and having to wait around for his self-centered little brother to finally feel like showing up. Also missing is Stannis promising Catelyn to try and reunite her with her daughters as soon as he is able. But most importantly what’s missing is Stannis’ guilt over killing his brother, an act that near mentally destroys him in the books. It’s minor stuff now, sure, but it’s things like this that go on to utterly destroy any chance at Stannis’ likability.

Lowlight: The shadow baby. Okay, I know there was loads of stuff that was worse in this episode, but I really feel like I need to point this out.


Davos rowing Mel ashore makes no goddamn sense under these circumstances.

The reason he does it in the books is because she is trying to kill Cortnay Penrose. However, because he’s inside Storm’s End (which has magical wards within its walls), Davos has to bring her in underneath the castle via his old smuggling run. It’s then that he puts two and two together about Renly’s death and she admits that Renly was much easier to kill because he was totally unprotected (from magic anyway) at his camp.

So why does she have to do this from shore? Why do we need to be in this tunnel? Where is this random tunnel? In fact, where even are we right now? The Reach? The Stormlands? Renly certainly isn’t in Storm’s End.

Julia: My random quibble: who were those 4 women following Sansa around and why do we never see them again?

Quality of writing

Kylie: I’m sorry, Vanessa, but the extended gay joke with a fart punchline is about as bad as it gets. Maybe I shouldn’t hyperfocus on it, but there was something about this episode that was so unrefined, that it comes across as utterly amateur.

Julia: Like I said in my initial reaction: it was just trashy this week. The “humor” was on par with the worst of seasons 5-7 and it revels in all the abuse and torture that’s going on.

Griffin: It kind of felt like an entirely different show to me. I mean, with the exception of that one episode Martin wrote, and to a lesser extent 2×01 (which was helped considerably by the fact that very little needed to be established, and they could just go) this show has never been written that well from my point of view. But still, this was a new level.

Danzie: There’s just not much that is salvagable here, and (all jokes aside) I’m someone that really tries to liberally give snaps to the stuff I like. In so many ways I think this was the first major warning sign of what was to come. I still prefer this to seasons 5-7, because at least at this point they still sort of care about telling a story, but damn. This is the first episode of this rewatch where I actually felt ashamed for liking this show once. It’s made me question my entire relationship with this show.

(This picture belongs in a museum, though.)

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Pass. Unless you count “everything sucks and aren’t we edgy.”

Griffin: How about, “Everything sucks and aren’t we edgy and also surprise feudal feminism!!!!”

Kylie: I love how those concepts seem like they shouldn’t go together at all, but they sort of represent the building blocks of this show.

Okay, I’m going to make an earnest attempt: everything comes with a cost. Talisa kind of delivers it to Robb in a neatly packaged thesis statement. Granted, this theme doesn’t really mean anything. The cost of Robb’s war was Sansa being brutalized, the cost of Tyrion sending sex workers to Joffrey were the sex workers being brutalized, the cost of the war in the riverlands were the brutalization of the prisoners…

Um. Typing that out, the theme was maybe just brutalization. And also the titular “garden of bones” didn’t really tie into this, because Dany didn’t get any sort of negative repercussions for violently threatening The Thirteen of ”Kwarth.” I guess the more central point of this episode is that…violence is a necessary part of this world? Which is more a feature, but damnit, Vanessa Taylor isn’t giving me much to work with.

Then we have the inserted ~feminism~ of Talisa, and I’m starting to suspect Ms. Taylor is not the world’s best sensitivity reader.

Julia: I think maybe the theme is “Damnit, Vanessa Taylor!”

Danzie: I want to somehow tie Renly’s line of “a man without friends is a man without power” to something. Robb makes a new friend in Talisa. Dany has trouble getting in to Qwarth (sic) because she doesn’t have a friend to vouch for her. Stannis’ power comes from his gal pal, Mel. Tyrion thinks Joffrey having some “adult friends” will help him chill out. LF wants to be friends with the cool kids, but they all tell him to fuck off.

The Garden of Bones is also a metaphor for friendship.

…okay, not really, but this episode broke me in a way I wasn’t expecting and quite honestly I’m just tired of trying.

Kylie: We are all bones in the garden now. The title fits!

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: The cracks are just the plaster coming off the wall in sheets in this episode. The scene with Joff and the two sex workers is as bad as anything in season 5, and that rat torture scene is as bad as Theon in season 3 so… congrats, you’ve reached peak GoT.

Kylie: Then there’s also the worldbuilding. We discussed the magically disappearing patriarchy (in so many terms) with the sexually liberated Margaery last week as a crack. Well, Talisa is the fucking Kool-Aid man busting through. Julia and I have joked so many times about the “unchaperoned field nurse sass-talking a king” that the phrase almost means nothing to me, but…yeah, it’s a fucking high-born (I think?) woman walking around alone on a battlefield, sass-talking a king. The patriarchy is truly destroyed here.

Of course, it will magically reappear when there needs to be a justification for violence against women, or random bullshit like making Lyanna Mormont’s stand against socks seem very Progressive™. In my mind, this hole in the wall is everything that becomes wrong with Game of Thrones, because it certainly connects to the brutalization Julia just mentioned too.

Julia: Just, like… let’s think about this character for half a second.

She’s from Volantis. (Show-only peeps have no idea what that is, but it’s a giant city in Essos that has slavery and thinks highly of itself.) For reasons of being so sassy and feminist and ahead of her time, she decides that slavery is bad and that healing people is good. Okay. So then she thinks her best plan is to go to this fairly barbaric and benighted part of the world and be a field nurse. Like, was she already a traveling healer type around the riverlands and just thought this war was an excellent opportunity for more service? Did she hear about the war and come running from Essos? Her mastery of the Common Tongue suggests she’s been chilling there a while. Where did she get her supplies of opium and silk bandages? Is that family money she’s using to buy them, or does she have a local benefactor? Where did she gain this medical expertise?

Why do I suspect this is more thought put into this character than the writers had?


Danzie: I like to think that it was all a mailing error. Talisa was supposed to be the sassy new resident doctor on a medical drama but the character pitches got mixed up and now Grey’s Anatomy has a mild-mannered girl from the westerlands.

Kylie: Another crack in the plaster is the torture porn, which only gets more and more drawn out as the series goes on. Edginess is a distant horizon they’re constantly chasing, I guess.

Remember adaptation?

Griffin: I remember Davos being a much, much more sympathetic and likeable character. Now he’s…just sort of there? I dunno, but he seems pretty one-note and flat to me so far. I’m pretty sure that Melisandre was supposed to be that in the books, so it works here (I guess?) but…that birthing scene. With the shadow.

I’ve seen some stupid things in my time, but I’ll admit that there was just no good way to shoot that. Seriously, I feel like that’s something that just was never going to translate well to the screen no matter what they did, since you can’t cut away from it or it doesn’t work. Maybe if they’d done the sequence more like a monster movie? That might work.

Kylie: The best I’ve ever seen a shadow of death translated was in the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I think it was watching the literal squeezing out of the shadow that made it so odd. And it kinda gets a face next week…

Alright, I have to bring up Tough but Fair Grandpappy Tywin. Because he’s apparently so awesomely awesome and Fair that he will reward a random peasant girl for disguising herself as a boy. Yes, Tywin of the books wouldn’t have wasted working bodies on senseless torture. But the idea that he’d give a shit about any one of them, let alone enough to call Arya “smart” and select her as a personal cupbearer, is ridiculous.

Julia: I mean, it was really dumb of them to kill blacksmiths. Tough but Fair Grandpappy needs to be frugal; I would say why, but that would spoil the cleverest twist D&D ever pulled off.

It’s almost weird saying this, but so far they’ve done alright with Renly. And Stannis is still perfectly salvageable. Obviously the gay punchline stuff was horrible and out of place, but PLOT wise, it’s all pretty here? Like, Stannis has the best claim, legally speaking, but no one likes him. Renly’s claim is bull, but he’s popular. That’s minimally sufficient at least, which is more than we get in later seasons.

What do we think of the direction they’re going with Qwarth so far? It’s a change from the parade they threw her in the books.

Danzie: I dunno, but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of whoever played the Spice King. He seemed to be the only actor who knew the ridiculousness of the show he was in. He was just having so much fun!

Julia: It’s a sense of awareness we won’t see on the screen until Ian McShane’s Ray in season 6.

Kylie: If I can seriously try to answer Julia’s question (though agreed about the Spice King), I think it’s part of D&D’s general misunderstanding that struggle is necessary in every facet of a journey to make any end triumph meaningful. Maybe this is thinking it through too much, but I’m just remembering the way the summarized Jon’s arc in Season 6 as, “well he began the season dead and now he’s king, so he’s doing well!” Keeping in mind they bend over backwards to aid Ramsay at every turn. It turns into “no one is nice to anyone anywhere,” and I honestly do think these are the beginning signs of it.

Or maybe they just didn’t want to spend money on a parade.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Cersei/Carol, she was only mentioned this week. Sending Lancel to Tyrion could have been a move by either of them. So, I say we skip this section for this week.

Julia: Joffery’s actions do suggest Cersei’s parenting, though.

Kylie: Sure, even if the more Carol comes out, the less that much tracks.

Danzie: Another question is was it Carol or Cersei who commanded the Lancel sexytime? I wanna say Cersei, because Carol, as we know, wouldn’t dare sleep around on Larry.

Julia: Yeah, but Larry’s in jail and she’s SAD.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: Jorah got to explain Qwarth and the Garden of Bones! He must have been so happy!

Griffin: Yeah, that was like, literally all he did in the episode. I remember saying something along the lines that his description of the Garden of Bones isn’t really different from any other city with walls and gates. If they only had graveyards surrounding a massive city, with no suburbs, okay, that would be pretty freaky and one hell of an image, but…nope. Just a desert. Why not make it a point to mention sandstorms? Maybe they kick out prisoners or beggars or something into the sandstorm when it goes so they can die in the desert.

I think the rest of it was mostly fine; nothing really stands out to me as particularly egregious, though everything with Littlefinger was kinda “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M DOING THINGS!!!!”. I don’t know if that’s just who he is in the show, or silly. Is it both?

Kylie: He overstates the case a ton on the show, and is also the official expositor, so it’s kind of hard to tell where the character ends and contrived writing begins. I think it read fairly organically considering some of his other scenes, and it helped that both Renly and Cat were not about to give him the time of day.

Julia: Speaking of overstating the case, Dany. God she likes to yell about all the people she’s going to kill. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wrote off this character as an annoying, entitled asshole.

Danzie: Yeah, she really does just yell and stomp her feet… which I guess Xaro found charming? Because it’s only after this that he decides to let her in.

Julia: Ah, arbitrary laws and oaths based on cutting your hand with a sword. I was wondering when the blatant Orientalism would show up.

How was the pacing?

Julia: I think it’s pretty safe to say there were a few scenes that dragged on too long.

Griffin: Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.

Kylie: Griffin is understating his reaction to this, I might want to point out. He was next to me yelling, “Why is this still going on?” in at least three different spots.

To say something vaguely nice (?) the second half of the episode moved a lot better. Or at least, I wasn’t viscerally uncomfortable and mentally begging the scenes to end in my mind.

Danzie: The actual script on paper was way shorter than other episodes. A big chunk of what made up the screen time was just people being beaten or tortured.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: The sexworker scene was so horrible that I feel as if we’re not even willing to talk about it. Yes, Bronn suggesting Joffrey needs sex workers was in the books. Actually making us watch a scene of him ordering Ros to beat up her coworker while he sits and grins for as long as we did was just plain gross. We get it. We would have gotten it had the scene ended three minutes beforehand, too. We don’t need this insight for Joffrey, and it pushed into gratuitous somewhere around the belt smacking.

Danzie: The scene just flat out wasn’t needed. Joffrey is a monster, and as you said, we get it. We have tons of examples of it already. We don’t need a scene of Cruella de Vil drowning a cat to know she’s evil when literally all she does is try to kill puppies all movie long.

The only thing I can think of is that now we are supposed to feel even more terrified for Sansa? “Be worried that Joffrey will brutally rape Sansa, audience!” Good thing she eventually gets out of King’s Landing so she is safe from that sort of thing.

Oh wait.

Kylie: Thank you, I’m mad all over again. Great analogy though.

The other sex was the off-screen Lancel and Cersei sex that Tyrion calls out. Lancel is like, clearly being coerced, right?

Griffin: Yeah, that sexworker scene, as I mentioned above—what even was that garden weasel thing? Half of a candle stick? Very disturbing and way, way, way too long

I’m pretty sure Lancel is supposed to be…are we supposed to sympathize with him for being coerced? I’m not totally sure that we are since Tyrion makes a point to explicate that Lancel clearly didn’t hate shtupping his sister. Doesn’t make it better, but it’s kind of hard to see the merit of that sequence aside from Tyrion being by far the most entertaining character on the show. Maybe it was just a showcase…?

Julia: I’m mean, it’s not rape if you enjoy it. Especially if you’re a teenager and she’s a hot 30-something.

What is there to say? I think the last time we saw sex between two people who liked each other and both wanted to be there was Ned and Cat cuddling in episode 1. Renly and Loras too, I suppose.

Kylie: Hey now, the ship captain’s daughter seemed to be fine fucking Theon. And his view on it was clearly free of issues…

In memoriam: 2 homophobic Lannister guards, 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours, random prisoner, and Stafford Lannister

Julia: Does Stafford Lannister count? He died off screen and we never even met him. I’m still not done mourning for those 2 homophobic guards, though. What a loss to the art of comedy.

Kylie: The site that has this list put him down, so he counts! But in terms of who we saw die, I guess the tortured prisoner eaten by a weasel was the most…effective? Which again, we did not need to see all of. We knew they were dying from the first scene with that old lady.

Talisa has sassy words to say about 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours. Death is bad! The smallfolk are the ones paying! I mean, she’s not wrong, but I’m kind of remembering when Weiss tried to get all deep after Shireen’s death, saying audiences were hypocritical for caring so much about that moment, but being okay with Stannis killing people in “Blackwater.” There’s a dang narrative, Talisa!

Honestly though, most of my annoyance there is that they’ll float the plight of the smallfolk as an edgy, messed up feature of the world, but then not bother to give their point of view any consideration.

Danzie: Silly Kylie. Sex workers and smallfolk are only there to get tortured and killed. Getting their perspective wouldn’t be dramatically satisfying.

Julia: That random old lady earned her SAG scale, though.

Wow, this is shorter than usual. We really hated this episode.

Kylie: No argument from me. But what about everyone in the comments? Was it really, truly this horrible? And what the hell, Vanessa Taylor? Let us know your thoughts, and next week we’ll get the good ol’ boys back as the writers, continuing The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

Tragedy in Lady Knight

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Image courtesy of Random House

The dedication to Lady Knight reads “To the people of New York City, I always knew the great sacrifice and kindness my neighbors are capable of, but now the rest of the country knows, too.” It’s a somber beginning to a book about the tragedy of war. Obviously, it talks about the events of 9/11, and the book was published in 2002, barely a year afterwards. It’s the grimmest of Pierce’s books so far, but like the dedication, it also shows the most kindness.

Spoilers for Pierces previous work. Warnings for mentions of abuse and the murder of children.

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Analysis

Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream

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Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, also known as the Cornetto trilogy, is a trio of movies that stand in a league of their own. Each movie is its own story and any of the three could stand on its own without the others. Yet they’re all linked by their craftsmanship, themes and, of course, Cornetto. They’re all top class comedies, while also being well-executed character-driven action movies. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End each focus on the friendship between their protagonist and deuteragonist (each time portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively). They delve into the deeps of friendship and the aspects, both negative and positive, that can exists in relationships.

It’s not you, it’s the Zombies

Before the zombie apocalypse, Shaun was living aimlessly, while Ed, his best friend, loafed around on his couch playing video games all day. Shaun had a serviceable job, a stable relationship with a girl he loves, good friends, and pub to go at the end of the day. He was hardly living a full life, but he was living. Sure, he had plans for the future—get a better job, commit more to his relationship, and get Ed off his couch—but he never acted on them. He made promises to his girlfriend that he’d do better, but had no follow through. When anyone pointed out that Ed was a hindrance to him, Shaun would always defend his friend.

Ed’s antipathy to development is even worse than Shaun’s. He doesn’t have many expectations for himself. Instead, he’s content to let Shaun defend him while he plays games and does a whole lot of nothing. Ed only helped keep Shaun stagnate.

It’s almost like a visual metaphor for something standing in-between their relationship.

Everything changed when they found zombies in their backyard. It takes the z-word to get Shaun to act on his plans. With the undead knocking at the doors, he firmly decides what’s important to him and sets out to protect it. He finds not only is he good with the follow through, he naturally assumes the leadership role, adjusting quickly on the fly to keep his friends and family safe when their lives are on the line. When disaster strikes, he makes decisions no one should ever have to make, zombie apocalypse or not.

And Ed, well, actually, Ed doesn’t change all that much. He’s more interested in getting to drive the cool car than he is about the zombies in the street. In the few minutes, Shaun takes to get his mom and stepdad he manages to crash the car. When they’re surrounded by a horde he nonchalantly takes a call (from a guy he occasionally sells drugs too).

Shaun’s willing to forgive and ignore Ed’s apathy until this moment. It takes the world ending and their lives at stake to Shaun to finally confront his friend. The apocalypse becomes the catalyst that pushes Shaun to making decisions. One of those decisions is letting go of a friendship that had been holding him back.

But it’s not all sad; Shaun gets the girl and still finds time to play games with Ed occasionally.

Nevermind Ed’s a zombie.

They’re not Bad Boys

Nicolas Angel is kind of cop who’s good at his job. Every part of his job, including the paperwork, but everything else in his life suffers. He breaks up with his girlfriend. The other officers are all too happy to get rid of him because he makes them look bad by comparison. The only constant in his life before moving to Sandford is his Japanese Peace Lily.

They even make the paperwork cool.

Danny, on the other hand, is the kind of cop who never had to be good at his job. He lived his whole life in a small village where the most work the cops had to do was deal with ‘accidents.’ His father is the inspector. Everything he learnt about his job was from action cop movies.

Friendship in Hot Fuzz goes in a different direction. Nicolas and Danny aren’t the lifelong friends Shaun and Ed were. In fact, a drunk Danny almost runs overs Nicolas when they first meet. Danny actually learns what it means to be a cop from Nicolas. Nicolas learns there’s more to life than the service and there’s more to service than enforcing every law. For Nicolas, Danny becomes the person he cares about more than the job.

By learning more about Sandford from Danny, Nicolas becomes more willing to let smaller infractions go when working to keep the greater peace. By the climax, he even enlists the help of some vandals he’d been suspicious of on his first night in the village. Danny, on the other hand, learns that being a cop isn’t about the big action shootouts, and even when the big action shootout happens, he and Nicolas fight their way out while only using non-lethal takedowns. In this view of friendship, each one makes each other a better cop and a better person.

The Crowning Glory of the End of the World

Gary King is the king in his mind and every king needs a court. For Gary, his court is made up of his friends or, to be more accurate, his enablers. Like so many, Gary found his adulthood paling in comparison to the glory of his youth and has been trying to regain that feeling. The height of his youth had been trying to conquer the Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl with four of his best friends. They never finished the Mile, but that night still left a mark on Gary. For him, it never got better and that’s where the problems start.

He keeps searching for that same high in the substance he linked with the first: alcohol. Never finding it, he makes one last ditch attempt to regain his crown by reclaiming the Golden Mile and finishing what they’d started all those years ago. He rounds up his old friends, who have all grown up and progressed in their own ways. Among them is Andy Knightley, who used to be Gary’s right hand but has been sober since the very night Gary is trying to reclaim.

Amidst the discovery that their hometown has become a hub of alien activity, Andy learns just how deep Gary’s addiction goes. Of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, Gary King is the most tragic protagonist. His addiction sends him on a dark spiral. Even as he tries to regain his youth with his friends, he keeps them at distance emotionally. He thinks he needs drinking buddies more than he needs true friends who will help him.

Gary’s inability to say no to a drink inevitably leads to the World’s End, both the name of a bar and the actual end of the world. But when he hits rock bottom and realizes Andy was willing to follow him there for his sake, that’s when he finds the strength to stop living in the past.

It’s another visual metaphor.

Be it the heartbreak of losing good friends, the surprise of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of persons or wanting to help a friend who’s not ready to help themselves, the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy portrays the complexities of platonic relationships. Best of all, it shows how they evolve as we grow and change.


Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

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