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Analysis

Rick Riordan’s slow escalation in diversity

Neele

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Here at the Fandomentals we usually try not to be too political, but often the media we consume is influenced by the political views of the author, and thereby inherently political. This has become more and more apparent over the last years, with several media creators doubling down on diversity and purposefully calling out problems that politicians either cause themselves or purposefully ignore. 

While several such creators exist, Ben Aaronovitch comes to mind—the man who used 2016 to undercut his mysterious supervillain “The Faceless man” by humanizing him (in the good way) with a name and face while affirming him as an ordinary alt-right white supremacist. But I’m going to talk about Rick Riordan.

Why Rick Riordan?

Rick Riordan writes children’s books, and popular ones at that. He created the character Percy Jackson for his son, who has ADHD and dyslexia, and after that first series’ success, he continued to write books featuring heroes for everyone. Over the years and over the series, which are all set in the same universe, his cast of characters grew ever more diverse. This was touched on already by Jana with regards to Percy Jackson in her movie analysis, and something I’d like to provide more detail on across Riordan’s works.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2005-2009)

Like many, Rick Riordan started small when it came to diverse writing. The series protagonist, the titular Percy Jackson has ADHD and dyslexia, as do most of the Olympian demigods, including smart girl Annabeth, daughter of Athena.

Percy Jackson

During the course of the five-book series he repeatedly depicts unhealthy or abusive family situations, yet while acknowledging them as bad, he never lingers on the traumas such situations might cause for his child-protagonists.

The second book introduces Tyson, a young cyclops who lived on the streets of New York, a fact that scarred him, literally and figuratively. However, after he goes to live with the other cyclopes in Poseidon’s palace his trauma is not mentioned again.

The third book features the only prominent people of color of the series, (I am European thereby my understanding of where white people stop and POC begin is blurry). The Italian di Angelo siblings both are later by word of god confirmed to be queer, Bianca is aro-ace as is usual for the Hunters of Artemis, and Nico is gay, yet only the latter case is ever spelled out in the books themselves, and not even in this series (the character´s Young age might be a factor).

Minor characters of color are Ethan Nakamura, Charles Beckendorf, who is depicted to be black only in official art and Chris Rodriguez whose only identifier as POC is his Hispanic sounding name.

Overall the series is mostly unremarkable in its diversity.

The Kane Chronicles (2010-2012)

From a series where almost everybody is white we jump to a series where almost nobody is white.

The protagonists Sadie and Carter Kane have a white mother and black father. After their mother’s death (the dead mothers are one of two things that really annoys me in Rick Riordan’s books), their maternal grandparents offered to take in Sadie, who passes as white, while Carter who doesn’t pass lives in a state of constant travel with their archeologist father.

Other black characters include their uncle Amos, who later takes them in, and Sadie’s unfortunately cursed crush Walt Stone.

As is expected of a series concerning Egyptian mythology, Egyptian characters are around, both human and godly. Among these are two of the Kane siblings love interests, the magician Zia and the god Anubis.

Yes, Sadie has two love interests, no this love triangle doesn’t resolve in the expected way. Because Walt is dying of his previously mentioned curse, Anubis offers to share and stabilize his body, so both of them can be with Sadie, ending in quasi-polyamory.

Other prominent gods are Bast, who occasionally turns into a cat called Muffin, and Bes, god of ‘dwarfs’ and protector of the innocent. He himself appears to have a form of dwarfism, probably achondroplasia and refers to himself as vertically challenged.

Heroes of Olympus (2010-2014)

Heroes of Olympus starts half a year after Percy Jackson left off, it is multiple POV and introduces a lot of new main-characters, most of which are not white.

In the first book we meet Piper McLean, Hollywood daughter, Cherokee, vegetarian; and Leo Valdez who is described as a “Latino Santa’s elf” and lived in the foster system since he was eight. He is also potentially on the spectrum.

Drew Tanaka, head of the Aphrodite cabin, is Asian-American, as is Frank Zhang, Chinese-Canadian in his case. We encounter him, Hazel Levesque, and Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano in the Roman demigod camp which is introduced in the second book. So far, he is the only demigod who explicitly doesn’t have ADHD and dyslexia…he is only lactose intolerant.

Hazel herself is a black girl from New Orleans who comes with all of the hang-ups that can be expected from dying and being brought back to life.

In Reyna, the author eventually does explore how abuse affects children; her father was a war veteran suffering from PTSD and grew controlling over—and violent towards—his two daughters, which resulted in Reyna killing him in an act of self-defense. She copes with the abuse by habitually trying to be in control of herself and never relying on others, while at the same time always falling for boys with heroic tendencies, who can match her in strength. When Nico, Hedge and her accidentally return to her hometown in Puerto Rico, she suffers a breakdown.

Her sister Hylla, so she tells Nico has developed a habit of searching positions for herself, where men are either excluded or controlled by women, completely changing herself for the sake of fitting in. Currently she is the leader of the Amazons.

Talking about Nico di Angelo, at this point he has been to hell and back, literally. I could list all the trauma this kid’s been through, from his sister leaving him to join the Hunters of Artemis and dying to his forced coming out in front of Jason on a quest in Croatia, let’s just say an eating disorder, depression and passive-suicidal tendencies are understandable.

Luckily, he has acquired Hazel as a sister. Late in the series he also befriends Jason and Reyna, and his crush Will gives doctor’s orders for him to stay in the hospital with him until he is no longer in danger of dying of over-exhaustion.

Magnus Chase and the gods of Asgard (2015-present)

Now we come to the Rick Riordan’s current series, Magnus Chase. The sixteen-year-old son of Frey has lived on the streets of Boston for the past two years, and even after he inevitably lands himself in Valhalla by dying, it shows. There are references to scrounging or begging for food, sleeping under bridges and in shelters until he is uncomfortable sleeping in beds and a “healthy” distrust of authority.

His hatred of wolfs goes into trigger-category, although with constant exposure his reaction improves from complete shutdown to a strong discomfort.

Magnus’s parental surrogates, who quasi adopted him while they were living on the streets together, are a deaf elf named Hearthstone and a black dwarf named Blitzen.

Blitzen, son of Freya, has trouble fitting in with dwarven society, which is awesomely matrilineal, because of his disinterest in most dwarven crafts. To study fashion, he designed his own university program, and excels at everything from chainmail ties to magical embroidery. With proper motivation, he can even build things that are fashion unrelated, like a sun bank for “his elf” Hearthstone, who would die without sunlight, as Blitz would with too much of it.

He considers himself a receipt, as his mother agreed to marry his father for a day in exchange for a pair of earrings; over the course of the different series the author begins to discuss the less then pleasant sides of mythology, which stands out in situations like this.

Hearthstone, meanwhile, is the first mortal magician in centuries, as both acquiring the knowledge and using it is physically and psychologically taxing. However, after he ran away from his emotionally abusive parents, he decides that he can handle anything, as long as Blitzen is safe.

With exception of his asshole father, all characters in Hearth’s surroundings have at one point learned sign language, so he can easily communicate with his friends. Even Samirah started learning between books one and two.

Samirah al Abbas herself is a Valkyrie and daughter of Loki, who she considers a powerful being, but no deity, as for her the only god is Allah. She tries her hardest to balance her life in Valhalla and her life as a devout Muslim, even going so far as to fashion a Hijab out of her magical swan-cloak, which she wears whenever she considers herself in public.

Further is she happily engaged with Amir, who she has crushed on for years and is looking forward to their arranged marriage.

Magnus’s own possible love-interest Alex only appears in the second book. She is Samirah’s half-sibling as her mother (not father) was Loki. Like Magnus she lived on the street, in her case because she identifies as transgender and genderfluid. Whether Alex is white or not in never stated; though her skin is canonically lighter than Samirah’s, her surname Fierro might indicate that she’s not.

The gender thing wasn’t what surprised me. A huge percentage of homeless teens I’d met had been assigned one gender at birth but identified as another, or they felt like the whole boy/girl binary didn’t apply to them. They ended up on the streets because -shocker- their families didn’t accept them. Nothing says “tough-love” like kicking your non-heteronormative kid to the curb so they can experience abuse, drugs, high suicide rates, and constant physical danger. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

“Look, some people prefer they,’ Alex said. ‘They’re non-binary or mid-spectrum or whatever. If they want you to use they, then that’s what you should do. But for me, personally, I don’t want to use the same pronouns all the time, because that’s not me. I change a lot. That’s sort of the point. When I’m she, I’m she. When I’m he, I’m he. I’m not they. Get it?’
‘If I say no, will you hurt me?’
‘No.’
‘Then no, not really.’
She shrugged. ‘You don’t have to get it. Just, you know, a little respect.’
‘For the girl with the very sharp wire? No problem.’
She must have liked that answer. There was nothing confusing about the smile she gave me. It warmed the office about five degrees.

When Magnus, who is pansexual, appears to have a crush on Alex, all his floormates assure him that they consider him liking her normal and tell stories about all the genderfluid people they knew in their lives. It is awkward but well-intentioned.

Both Alex and Samirah’s identities are respectfully discussed, Islamophobia and transphobia is mentioned, but not shown.

Side characters too are diverse, TJ son of Tyr who fought and died in the civil war and whose mother was an escaped black slave coming to mind.

Trials of Apollo (2016-present)

And again, we return to Camp Half-Blood. I must admit, I am not fully caught up on this series, as the second book has only come out this month and I had no opportunity to read it yet.

The series’ first book, however, continues the trend Riordan’s other stories have established. This time we stay at the Camp itself for longer, seen through the eyes of the Greek god Apollo, turned mortal for screwing up during ‘Heroes of Olympus’.

Meg McCaffrey

Apollo’s mortal form, a chubby, bad-skinned teenager named Lester Papadopoulos enters the service of Demeter’s daughter Meg McCaffrey and attends Camp at her side.

Meg (like Tyson, Magnus and Alex) has been homeless, her human father is dead (a dead father for once, fantastic—no I mean it, the dead mothers are a problem), and her only guardian, as it later turns out has been his murderer, who was emotionally abusive and constantly gaslighting her.

This mirrors Nico’s situation in the fourth Percy Jackson book, that was never really explored, which is later called out by Apollo.

Overall Apollo has a lot of calling-stuff-out to do, as spending extended time with his demigod children leads to his realization of just how shitty parents the gods are. The camps child-endangering tendencies too are only now coming to focus when Chiron agrees to a three-legged race in an evil labyrinth that “doesn’t feel as evil anymore”. This is paraphrased but the sentiment stands.

It seems Riordan has done some self-reflection over the years. Okay back to discussing the book’s diversity.

Apollo is canonically bisexual, which was mentioned off-hand in Heroes of Olympus, but becomes evident here. As he is an immortal god, and not a teenager, he has had plenty of relationships with mortals  of both genders and recalls them occasionally.

Will and Nico, too have started dating and seem to be doing fine. Furthermore, there are mentions of demigod children having LBGT+ parents. I heard there is a lesbian couple of ex-hunters in the second book, so looking forward to that.

Concerning race, the camp has grown much more diverse, Austin Lake and the sisters Laurel and Holly Victor are African-American; Alice Miyazawa and Billie Ng are Asian-American; Chiara Benvenuti, Italian; Paolo Montes, Brazilian…you get the picture.

Overall thoughts

As I said before, Rick Riordan starts out small when it comes to diverse writing. Maybe that is a pity, maybe that is a good idea; after all there might be conservative parents who don’t realize that they are getting their children into some of the most diverse children’s books around until it is too late.

Riordan’s characters are overall well thought-out and diverse heroes for everyone to identify with, and he seems of no mind to stop expanding his universe. His books are obviously written for children, which shows in terms of using simple language and grammar and might put off older readers, especially those who speak English as a first language.

Still, the only bigger problems I find with his stories are that people always mysteriously date the right people from the start and the almost consistently dead mothers, oh god, the dead mothers…


Images courtesy of Disney Hyperion books, character pictures courtesy of Rick Riordan´s website

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Kaesy
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Kaesy

Worth noting as the top step in the diversity climb imo: after receiving many requests to write on other world mythology, Riordan instead decided to start a publishing imprint for other people to write books on their own cultures: instead of appropriating or exoticizing their stories he usues his platform for POC authors to tell their own to a ready and waiting audience.

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

I don’t exactly understand what is appropriating when it comes to matters like mythology, which is more or less common legacy, like. idk, literature. It’s like saying ‘you can’t write fanfics on non-[culture name] authors, bc it’s appropriation’.
Exoticizing, though, that’s a real problem. And idk how to call it in English (in Russian it’s sarcastically called ‘arboreal cranberry’), but racial/natuonal stereotypes to the point of laughable unbelieveability. Not that Riordan is free of them altogether, though.

Matthew
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Matthew

Ok, so like, I love this article so much! For one, I was a huge Percy Jackson fan. Then, I read 2.5 books from The Chronicles of Kane and then all five of the Heroes of Olympus. The things is with RR: his writing makes me cringe so much. Like, I think I was 17/18 when I read the last HoO book and I was already feeling terrible reading it. My problem with TCOK was the prose – Sadie and her brother were supposed to be recording their stories and there were some details that felt like normal teenagers would… Read more »

Kalista Dohina
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Kalista Dohina

Percy was his crush, but he got close to will and over seaweed head by the time Blood of Olympus was done.

Matthew
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Matthew

I had to literally do some research because I could not remember him at all (tells you how much I sped through the last book jeez…. which is odd, though, because I did like Nico a lot), but, yeah, it’s cute that Nico got a boyfriend.

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Analysis

I like my women… competent

Patrycja

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Criminal minds is a show that I enjoy watching despite sometimes watching it trough my fingers. It never fails to get my adrenaline going. One of it’s many great traits is the selection and capability of present female characters, be it unsubs or agents. The lead women are versatile and different while still having a few common traits. Furthermore they’re always competent and do the job the best they can.

The leader

Emily Prentiss is one of member of the team that was with them from almost the beginning. She went trough all the career steps, finally becoming the team leader.

Her being in charge was one of my favorite story lines. She earned that privilege with exceptional service and field work with various agencies. Her character replaced Aaron Hotchner as unit chief in season 12 after he resigned. It’s wonderful to finally see a woman leading a team; it happens so rarely. She has a great deal of experience with many different cultures as her parents were diplomats. That’s also how she speaks a few different languages, and it’s a skillset that has helped solve quite a few cases.

While on cases, she’ s rarely upset or lets her emotions get in the way, which is one of the reasons why she makes a great unit chief. She is level headed and calm and always factors many different scenarios into her decisions. With that being said she is also quick on her feet and can make split second decisions when she needs to.

While being calm and collected she still empathizes with the victims and their families and doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself to protect others. She’s not only a skilled field agent but also an undercover operator, which was shown in her stint catching Ian Doyle. That particular unsub also forces her to fake her own death without informing her team, with JJ and Hotchner being the only exceptions. She eventually reunites with the team in season 7 after the whole Doyle debacle was over.

She isn’t with the BAU the entire time. As previously stated she also work with other agencies like the Interpol. Even if she isn’t always with the team, she is referenced and talked about or pops up for a visit. Her work as unit chief hasn’t always been smooth sailing either. She was reassigned after she pursued a case and went toe to toe with Linda Barnes, who disbanded the team.

The mother

Jennifer “JJ” Jareau is the only women on the team with a family. She has two sons with her husband Will, who was a police detective in New Orleans. The fact that JJ is a mother strongly affects the way she acts and responds.

Although she started working when she wasn’t a mom, she always sympathized with the victims and their families the most visibly. Since she started as a police and media liaison, JJ was often responsible for contacting the families of the victims or their loved ones. She always did a great job while consoling them.

Her early role as media liaison made her the “media face” of the bureau, as she often spoke at press conferences. She was also responsible for choosing the cases the team would be working on, so her job came with a lot of responsibility. Her excellent work in that position was the reason for her reassignment and classified assignment. After her comeback in season 7, she made the change to profiler and her responsibilities were taken over by Hotch and Penelope. She is a skilled profiler, as even before she was one she was often crucial to solving cases and did that job even without the title. Her transition was also easier because she observed the team as their liaison.

She was one of the two people to know that Emily didn’t die. As they are close friends. JJ was also the one who met Prentiss in Paris after her “death”.” That close friendship is a recurring theme with the two characters, as Prentiss comes back when Jennifer is missing.

JJ has been trough tough times including the suicide of her older sister, her classified assignment, not to mention the toll the cases take. While she can wear her heart on her sleeve, she is also a skilled operator who will do anything for her family and for the people she loves. As my choice of calling her “the mother” implies, Jennifer is the one who takes care of all the team members. She shares a special bond with Reid, who is the godfather of her son Henry.

Finally, Jennifer is also a great leader, which was showcased when she replaced Emily Prentiss in the role of team leader. Although she has the ability to lead she doesn’t aspire to be the BAU’s chief. She’s content being an SSA.

Baby Girl

The first thing that springs to mind when thinking of Penelope Garcia is her relationship with Derek Morgan, well, and her unique personality.

Penelope is a former hacker gone good who’s now a technical analyst. Out of all the Criminal Minds characters, she’s the most colorful one—literally. Garcia often offers comic relief and a sense of light and joy to the intense show, and is the one the audience can probably relate to the most if you exclude her computer knowledge.

She is very emotional and openly shows all of her reactions. It doesn’t surprise anyone that she can’t look at horrific crime scene photos; her office is filled with colorful and cute stuff because of the horror that fills her screens (that’s what Hotch says to Strauss while describing the analyst). She also often speaks a bit too intimately when talking to team members, especially Derek. She gives him nicknames like chocolate thunder, etc, and he, in turn, calls her ‘baby girl’. These would normally be considered sexual harassment (which was even addressed in a funny scene in episode 9×12).


But it never actually crosses that line because they have a mutual understanding that it’s a consensual conversational choice. In fact, Penelope’s special relationship with Morgan is what initially drew me to the show. There is just something in how different they are personality-wise while still being very close to each other and understanding the other perfectly that compelled me. And while my shipper heart never understood why the two never dated, I have to admit that sticking to a platonic relationship between these two was a great move.

She makes him laugh and calls him out on his BS. He grounds her and helps her focus and get the job done. Their close relationship is probably the reason why it took Garcia a long time to warm up to Luke Alvarez, who replaced Morgan after he retired. It was implied that Garcia and Morgan are still in contact despite him not being on the show; she is even the godmother to his son.

As previously stated, Garcia is a skilled computer expert and former hacker. Her work is often crucial to finding the unsub. While that is her primary job, after JJ’s promotion she also became the liaison for the team. A job she shared with Hotch till he retired. The best way to describe her is that Penelope’s character is the counterbalance we need to all the heaviness and seriousness of the show.

Criminal minds proves that we can have a show that perfectly balances it’s male and female characters. It offers us a selection of women who all are intelligent, skilled, competent, educated, professional, and strong while staying human and showing emotions.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×06 Rewatch: The Fall

Kylie

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It’s time for one of the famous Game of Thrones monologues in this week’s installment of The Wars to Come, our rewatch project looking back over David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s masterpiece to see where it slipped out of gear. Last week, we appreciated Bryan Cogman’s use of book dialogue. This week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Bo examine some of D&D’s iconic writing in “The Climb.”

Episode Recap

It’s a difficult week for our characters on Game of Thrones, and Sam and Gilly are no exception. They may have escaped the Night’s Watch mutineers, but they’re still a few days from The Wall, and traveling alone.

Bran is also traveling, though with his new companions in the Reeds; there’s also new strife between Osha and Meera. The two women bicker since both feels the other is rude to them; this is quickly interrupted when a sleeping Jojen begins to have a seizure. Meera takes care of him through it—apparently this is a common side-effect of his green dreams.

Also traveling up north are Jon and the wildlings, who are planning on scaling the Wall. Ygritte tells Jon that she knows he didn’t really defect from the Night’s Watch when he killed the Halfhand. She doesn’t mind that, but she tells him that they need to look out for each other, since they’re both just soldiers on different sides of wars who don’t truly matter to those leading the efforts. They climb the Wall with Tormund and Orell, though there’s a moment where it seems like they won’t make it, and Orell proves that he was more than willing to sacrifice them if it meant him making it to the top alive. When they finally reach the top, Jon and Ygritte passionately kiss.

Meanwhile, in parts still undetermined, Theon is yet again being tortured, this time by the man who pretended to free him. The man admits that he is a liar, and they “play a game” where the man flays one of Theon’s fingers. If Theon begs him to cut it off, the man wins.

At Riverrun, two Freys deliver Walder’s terms to make up for Robb’s broken marriage. Walder wants Harrenhal, which Robb agrees to give after the war is over. He also wants Edmure to marry one of his daughters in place of Robb. Edmure initially refuses, but this is the only way to get Walder to agree to support Robb’s efforts in taking Casterly Rock, so Robb, Blackfish, and Cat all persuade him otherwise.

Speaking of that now promised Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne dine with Roose Bolton, since they are now being treated as highborn prisoners. Roose tells Jaime that he’ll be free to go back to King’s Landing, provided that he explains to Tywin that it was Locke acting independently when he cut off his hand. Brienne, however, has to stay behind, since she holds no value to Roose and he considers her a traitor. Jaime argues against this, but Roose tells him not to over play his…position.

Elsewhere in the riverlands, Arya practices her shooting with the Brotherhood without Banners when Melisandre unexpectedly rides up. She meets Thoros and Beric, and learns about Thoros resurrecting the storm Lord numerous times. She then gets the Brotherhood to sell her Gendry in exchange for gold. Arya yells at them for this, but they don’t change their minds.

Finally, in King’s Landing, the weddings between Tyrion and Sansa, and Cersei and Loras, are finalized when Tywin tells Olenna that he’ll name Loras to the kingsguard—giving up all claims to Highgarden—if she refuses this offer. Loras likely won’t mind, since his attempts to converse with Sansa demonstrate his supreme disinterest in the match. Cersei and Tyrion discuss their upcoming weddings with each other, and how they’re unlikely to be able to get out of them. Tyrion asks once again about Ser Mandon trying to kill him, and it’s revealed that it had been Joffrey, not Cersei, who gave the orders.

Resigned to his fate, Tyrion tells Sansa about their engagement, made all the more awkward by Shae being right there. Sansa is crushed. Littlefinger and Varys discuss these events in the throne room, since it was Littlefinger who spoiled the arrangements anyway. He tells Varys that he thrives on chaos, which is a ladder, and implicitly informs him that Ros is now dead, since she informed on him to Varys. We are then shown Ros, who was murdered by Joffrey with his crossbow, presumably wanting to try out killing for the first time.  

Is chaos a ladder? We are absolutely going to discuss that below.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Aaaaand here’s the Game of Thrones I’ve been watching for the past three years. Holy bajesus did this episode plummet right off the cliff faster than Jon and Ygritte. There’s a few pieces that were fine, but the King’s Landing plotline (and climax) is just a comedy now. Then we’ve got the return of torture porn, Mel’s adventure of randomness, and a catty Osha and Meera. This was just…such a decline in quality.

Bo: They quadrupled down on the gratuitous violence here. It’s the only impression this episode left on me. The hard dive into torture porn was unrelenting. You can tell they really want this to define Game of Thrones, too. I suppose it does. In the end Game of Thrones is the show of gruesome violence that punishes viewers for caring about anything and simply tortures for torture’s sake, just like Ramsay. The ultimate example of which comes in 3 episodes.

Julia: I like the idea of show!Ramsay being some kind of personification of the show itself. The question then is, who are the Knights of the Vale?

The only thing this episode didn’t have, in terms of Classic GoT Moves™ was making you like a character and then killing them horribly.

Musa: I was seriously just bored throughout this episode. There was so little about it that I felt in anyway compelled to be interested in. Even the infamous speechifying at the end was not enough to save it.

Kylie: I remember it being funnier, and less like word salad.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I think my highlight was the Roose/Jaime/Brienne dinner. Those are three great actors, and you could tell that things were in motion with Roose that Jaime/Brienne were in the dark about. It also felt like there was tension, with Jaime insisting on Brienne accompanying him and such. There’s not much to say beyond that; a solid scene in a cruddy episode.

Am I allowed to pick everything in King’s Landing? I guess I’ll pick Sansa’s scripting if I have to focus in on one thing, where she’s so oblivious talking to Loras as he’s going on about fringed sleeves, and then is naively prattling to Shae who seems to know she’s being dumb, and finally she’s shown crying at the boat just as Littlefinger says, “Some are given the opportunity to climb, but refuse.” Everything put together makes her seem like this unobservant, imperceptive, superficial dolt. Which is a charming 180 from the books.  

Julia: In the interest of lowlight diversity, I’m going for the stuff with Osha and Meera. I think it’s quite indicative that they saw a plotline they thought was boring (their problem, in my opinion, not the plotline’s) and decided to fill it out with two women snipping at each other for no reason.

I would count the Brotherhood selling Gendry, but I think that’s mostly because I know what they’ll do with it by season 7. They did seed that they compromise their principles because they “need the gold” after all.

Highlight… huh. I agree about the Harrenhal scene, I guess. Though I think the direction was a little too willing to laugh at Brienne in a dress, rather than, like, using her discomfort with wearing traditionally female clothes to develop her character.

Bo: Meanwhile, Loras Tyrell, promising knight who represents a young Jaime, knows more about fashion than Sansa Stark. Of course he does. He’s gay. Get it. Everyone laugh because sword swallower.

I really don’t have anything that stood out as a highlight. The Bolton dinner scene was fine. From a purely spectacle level, the Wall climb was pretty cool. That’s all I have.

Theon’s torture is my lowlight. Ramsay says all there is to say. This scene exists just to exist. It’s just there to make us feel bad, just as he’s only torturing Theon to hurt Theon. It’s pointless, gratuitous, torture porn by every definition of the phrase. Ramsay also speaks the line that truly defines one of the key reasons I dislike the show so much, and the line that has caused millions to misinterpret what Martin wants to do with A Song of Ice and Fire. Shame on the torture scene. Shame on everything about it.

Musa: I’m going to have to double dip and say the torture stuff was my lowlight too. There’s a lot to be said about the poor handling of Theon’s torture. I’m sympathetic with the idea of not wanting to just leave the character and his story hanging for a whole season where he doesn’t appear (though it’s not like they wouldn’t do exactly that with Bran later) but there doesn’t actually seem to be anything worth exploring in what they show. Ramsay is a monster and Theon is being horribly brutalized after having done a lot of terrible things in his own way. That’s basically about the gist of this plotline and they spend ALL SEASON on it.

A highlight is significantly more difficult to really pull out of my hat here. Honestly, aside from all the nonsense of that scene itself, I actually do enjoy the back and forth between Charles Dance and Dianna Rigg. I mention the actor’s names instead of the characters because it’s honestly really just the actors showing off their performance chops in a scene together rather than anything meaningful for either character that they’re supposed to be playing. I don’t know whether I want to fully believe Tywin is just THAT uncomfortable with the topics of menopause and homosexuality, but I definitely felt that I was watching an old straight white man being confronted by things that are not his forte and thus terrify him to discuss them openly.

Quality of writing

Bo: “Chaos is a laddah.” “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

We could probably leave it there. This episode was full of grimdark nonsense that D&D love. I’m probably being overly harsh, but I just feel nothing but grimness and anger afterwards. The Tywin/Olenna and Varys/Baelish scenes are also prime examples of D&D thinking they’re more clever than they really are.

Julia: You forgot “A sword swallower, through and through.”

I think it’s kind of amazing how obvious it is that the split of A Storm of Swords leaves both Cersei and Tyrion with nothing to do this season. So Tyrion is just asking random people who tried to kill him and Cersei is…sad she can’t control Joffery? What Emmy worthy arcs.

Bo: Remember people saying they can’t adapt A Dance with Dragons because it would be boring to have Tyrion wander Essos asking, “where do wh*res go?” every episode? I guess this is different somehow. Tyrion sitting around Meereen drinking and telling jokes was different, too. Somehow.

Kylie: I guess Tyrion gets married on top of drinking. Though why that particular conversation was put off-screen is beyond me. It kind of seemed like the one bit of natural tension there to be explored, since Sansa and Shae were both in the dark.

FOOLED YOU

We have to talk about the climb monologue, since the whole damn episode is structured around it. Nevermind Varys and Littlefinger no longer bearing any resemblance to their book counterparts (this is why the spy vs. spy doesn’t work!), but the content of the speech itself was complete drivel. “Some think about climbing, while others don’t climb, and some only know the climb, and the realm is an illusion!” It sounds like some first year English major who just learned about post-modernism. The point is that chaos creates social opportunity, but he’s still climbing the social order very much within the feudal framework. So…it’s less “chaos” and more “unrest.” Or even more simply, “some people profit in war.” Menacing.

Bo: Which is exactly what I mean by D&D thinking they’re more clever than they are. They love monologues like these, even when they’re often complete nonsense. I suppose you could give them the benefit of the doubt in that this is only Littlefinger’s view of the world, and that it’s a view proven false when chaos does prove to be a pit that swallows him whole later. But do we really think that’s what D&D had in mind with this speech?

Musa: The biggest problem with all the Littlefinger and Varys stuff is that they clearly outright state to each other stuff that they’ve done to try and thwart each other. In the books, they don’t do that…because they don’t want the other one to know what they’re doing. And that, children, is how actual spies and political machinators operate. Littlefinger expositing to Varys that he KNEW ALL ALONG about Varys’ scheme to give Sansa to the Tyrells and that he’s also had Ros killed just gives Varys additional information.

Also another sighting of random Varys Marx, doing things “for the good of the realm,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. No wonder that sends Littlefinger off into his nonsensical monologue, it makes just about as much sense as Varys doing things for the good of the abstract concept of “the realm.”

Kylie: He was having Ros confide to him about Sansa boat logistics for the good of the realm. Duh.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: I’m having a really hard time linking what Ygritte said to Jon to anyone else. From what I can tell, the best theme is, “everything is bad, and if you think it’s good, you’re dumb.” In every plotline, maybe with the exception of Bran/Sam’s, people are not having the best go of it. Sansa, Loras, Cersei, Tyrion, Ros, Shae, Edmure, Theon, Brienne, Gendry, and even mildly Olenna are dealing with some kind of terrible news this episode. Jon and Ygritte maybe ties in with her words about how everything’s terrible, which is why they need each other, though they had a more uplifting ending to it. Still, acedia is in full swing here.

Julia: I think you can actually link the title and the speech with that, as eye rolling as the exercise is. And the Wall is a visual representation of this ladder that LF is speaking of, though why they chose to mix their metaphors here is a good question. Why can’t chaos be a wall?

Bo: Jesus, why wasn’t chaos a wall?! I doubt it helps the speech that much, but it would have been better than a ladder. I’d agree that the “chaos ladder” is the theme of the episode. We’re seeing everyone try to climb it and how well (or not so well) the climb is going.

Except Ygritte, who just wants to step off the ladder and take Jon with her? What a wonderful metaphor for my interest in this show.

Kylie: I keep think of Turtle’s “chaos is a catch-all.” Go read that one, guys.

The Butterfly Effect

Bo: I’m not sure this fits here, but let’s remember how Melisandre banged the audience over the head with foreshadowing about Arya that never actually comes to pass. I’d wonder if they were going to cram it into season 8, but they already removed Mel from Arya’s list without any explanation. Game of Thrones does this a lot in the first 3 seasons, where they foreshadow future plot points or establish future conflicts, then randomly dropped them when season 5 rolled around.

And of course, acedia. Sooooo much acedia.

Julia: Maybe we’re just supposed to think Mel is full of shit by season 7?

Kylie: I think they were setting something else up for Arya entirely this year, maybe thinking they couldn’t just have her fuck around the riverlands for an entire season with The Hound, and certainly not spend two years in Braavos. This whole event puts Mel and the Brotherhood on her list, and then she just drops them off it by Season 5, deciding she’s “forgiven them.”

Something worth noting is that D&D stray further and further from using book lines, and begin to think of themselves as masters of iconic one-lines. Littlefinger and Ramsay both show that off here. I have to think if they had written the Jaime/Brienne tub scene rather than Cogman, I have to wonder if it would have still ended on the note, “My name is Jaime.”

Bo: Considering their numerous changes to other lines, probably not.

Remember adaptation?

Bo: Good Guy Tyrion had to tell poor Sansa what’s happening, rather than spring it on her come the wedding day like everyone else.

Kylie: I’m still confused why that was off-screen. And why Tyrion was the one to spring the news, now that I think about it.

I hate hitting on this every week, but Olenna’s adaptation is just god-awful. Now we’ve progressed to her implying that Tywin had a gay experience because the Reach is so full of great allies?

Julia: I mentioned last week that that week’s Olenna content was the second worst example of her being the official negotiator of House Tyrell. Well, here is the prime example of that nonsense. Maybe it would have made sense if she was yelling at Mace about his negotiating strategy, but Tywin actually had a meeting with her to discuss official marriages. During which she insults him to his face several times.

What even is patriarchy?

Kylie: Meanwhile, up north, can you tell me who is the best rabbit skinner of them all?

Julia: There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit, Kylie. God, you’re so judgmental.

Bo: It’s hard to decide what they adapt worst at this point, but how they turned the Reach, the pinnacle of patriarchal medieval feudalism, into this anachronistic nightmare is beyond me. Did they just assume the entire Reach is like Renly since they followed him as king? I mean, Renly’s not even FROM the Reach.

And I know I bang this drum a lot, but holy hell do they miss the point with Littlefinger, and his climb speech is exhibit A. Petyr Baelish is not a man creating chaos for chaos’s sake, just to see what opportunities it creates. He deliberately causes havoc aimed at very specific goals. He doesn’t pit the Lannisters against the Starks just to see what comes of it. He does so with goals in mind regarding Cat, and then Sansa. Reducing his scheming to, “lol chaos” would make book Baelish scream.

Also, the irony of Brynden freaking Tully trying to threaten someone into marriage. It’s not completely against adaptation or anything, but it’s quite funny.

Musa: I have a serious bone to pick with the change from it being maybe Cersei who possibly ordered Mandon Moore to kill Tyrion to it being definitely Joffrey who did so. They just keep on doing this thing where they continue to give Tyrion additional sympathy points while simultaneously taking menace and agency away from Cersei to give it to Joffrey. It ruins pretty much all three characters overall.

Kylie: Well Musa, that brings us to…

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Carol has done her best with Joffrey, but he went and tried to kill Tyrion and then she had no choice but to cover for him! Also, she’s sharing in her misery with Tyrion and genuinely bonding about that. Yeah, we get some zingers like, “we could kill them” and calling Margaery a, “doe-eyed whore,” but we all know Carol has a bad bark.

Julia: Well, Carol’s character is hardly free of internalized patriarchy either. And who can blame her for being resentful of Marg, who’s flouting all the rules and getting rewarded for it, when Carol spent all those years trying to make her marriage work and be a good mother and was still screwed over for it. Indeed she still has her dad trading her like a baseball card.

Poor Carol.

Bo: She loves her family so much. It’s such a shame everyone tosses her aside when she just wants to protect them. How dare Tyrion question her about Mandon Moore? Lions need to stick to their pride.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: We learned that Jojen has seizures without anyone saying something, which is a good use of the visual medium. And I guess Sam explained highborn fire-lighting to Gilly. But in general, I’m just not remember a ton of exposition this episode. Which is probably more of a good thing than the alternative.

Bo: Yeah, the fact nothing immediately stood out as bad exposition means they at least did well here. Sam’s song also does a nice job establishing more about religion in Westeros. Thoros described his life and newfound faith quite naturally, and overall the conversation with Mel imparted knowledge about the red priests.

Kylie: Yeah! Good on you, D&D!

How was the pacing?

Julia: This whole season’s pacing is hilarious. I love how Littlefinger is still packing all his stuff six episodes in. And I’ve already mentioned how Cersei and Tyrion have had nothing to do.

Kylie: I feel like the people that actually have a full season’s worth aren’t in focus at all. Jaime and Brienne might be an exception, but the Night’s Watch, Jon’s new Wildling posse, even Bran and the Reeds (if they had wanted to bother building up characters) could have all benefited from more screen-time. It really is astounding how little happens each episode though.

Bo: Game of Thrones is so poorly planned. They clearly don’t have a plan beyond the current season being written. That’s how you end up with A Storm of Swords taking two seasons when it really shouldn’t have. They should have bitten the bullet and dove into A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons in the last third of season 4. We’re supposed to buy the excuse that Feast and Dance would have been boring to adapt properly, though. We can’t have multiple episodes of characters doing nothing!

There was no sex, baby

Kylie: Just some torture porn with both Theon, and then Ros’s obviously sexualized death. Are we supposed to make something of the fact that Joffrey hit Ros in the same place Arya hit the strawman?

Bo: What is it with HBO shows and the taboo on men giving oral sex to a woman? Jon’s weirdness about it brought back bad memories of The Sopranos doing a whole plotline about Junior Soprano being good at going down on his girlfriend but not wanting anyone to know.

Julia: And what is their weird thing about gay men not being able to pull off political marriages? And this idea that, like, they find all women so…boring or something, that they can’t even have a conversation with them, even as just two people having a conversation.

I just remembered that the one thing Renly did say to Marg during their marriage is that he liked her dress.

Bo: They can’t even get their stereotypes correct. I thought gay men got along great with women since they have so much in common, but not straight men? Wouldn’t Loras and Sansa have a great time talking about gowns and weddings? I guess Sansa was too busy not being the least bit perceptive of people to notice.

Kylie: All I know is that as a bisexual, I have great conversations with everyone because of my sexual interest in 100% of humanity.

Julia: That’s why the Dornish are the best conversationalists.

In Memoriam…Ros

Julia: The real death was any faith I had left in this show.

Kylie: Oh snap.

Bo: It’s okay, Julia, you just need a good old-fashioned desperate resurrection to restore the corpse of your love for Game of Thrones. Just remember the old words they taught you.

Kylie: I think we’re dancing around Ros’s death because it’s just so transparently voyeuristic. And gross. We didn’t need it to characterize Littlefinger, or Joffrey, and it’s just more of that punish you for caring. Ros showed concern about Sansa, well NOPE. Their shock-chasing is of the, “oh no, how messed up!’ ilk, and this is a nice inception point.

Musa: Though overall, this episode seriously does a number on Game of Thrones‘s reputation as the show with lots of tits, dragons, and death. This episode barely had any of those things. So is it REALLY a real Game of Thrones episode, even?

Kylie: Not according to Ian McShane, though I’d say this can hang with the best of Season 6’s wheel-spinning clunkers.

However, it’s time for us to climb the ladder on out of this rewatch for now. We’ll be back next week for some bear pit shenanigans, but we’re curious to hear your thoughts on this week in the meanwhile. Again, we closed on King’s Landing. Is it just the bad taste in the mouth that keeps on giving? Tell is in the comments, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

My First Queer: Evil Queens

Barbara

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This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!

Looking back at the other My First Queer articles, I have to say my experience is going to be rather different – but then again, each of those was different, too, and the experience is varied. Still, mine differs in the way that it is much more focused on attraction, instead of the more generalized realizations of queerness or powerful stories of love.

The second is definitely because there were none to be had. The first is, perhaps, because I grew up in a very liberal household. I knew about the existence of the the letters of the LGBTQIA acronym — except queer itself, I guess, because it doesn’t really have a Czech equivalent — probably by the time I started middle school, and certainly by the time I was fifteen. There was no need to discover the idea of queerness.

What was an entirely novel concept, on the other hand, was the idea that it could somehow relate to me, or to anyone close to me.

After all, in most media queerness was — and still is — only incidental, something that happens to the side characters, and as everyone is a protagonist of their own story, I never considered that it would be something to touch me in person. When I try to think of the first piece of media where I encountered a non-straight relationship, it’s difficult. I have been reading fantasy intermittently since I was eleven. Some of that fantasy probably contained background queer characters in a casual way that went well with my general expectations of “this is something that exists somewhere in the world but doesn’t concern me in any way”.

I do remember the first book where a non-straight relationship was at least a little bit prominent: the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. If you know Sapkowski or have read the books, you know it’s not…exactly an ideal introduction into the world of queerness. The protagonist — or one of the protagonists — of the book, Ciri, runs away from an attempt on her life, almost dies in the desert, and finally joins up with a band of outlaws. The first night with them, she is molested and almost raped by one of the men. One of the other women stops him…and then slides into bed in his place.

This is the beginning of Ciri’s first romantic relationship, which ends with her lover/rapist being brutally murdered by a man who then proceeds to enslave Ciri. So, you know. Not exactly the pinnacle of representation, and definitely not something you would want to model your romantic life on.

This choice always feels impossible in-game, precisely because Ciri’s relationship history is so charged,

Sapkowski’s books have other mentions of wlw, too: the long-lived sorceresses being bored of their relationships with men and so trying women for a time until they discover it’s not any better. That caught my attention a little more.

I loved everything about Sapkowski’s sorceresses. Powerful, beautiful and arrogant, I can say with the benefit of hindsight that however over-the-top and mired in sexist stereotypes, they were a combination of my life goals and my wife goals.

However narcissist that sounds, the kind of person I want to be has always been similar to the kind of person I want to have, be they women or men, because I’ve always been more fan of the concept of “marriage of true minds” than “opposites attract.” That probably didn’t help with making matters clearer, since it provided a comfortable excuse for why I cared about them so much: I wanted to be like them.

The most important part, though, is that the sorceresses weren’t really queer. They were still predominantly depicted as straight, focused on the men and interested in them, and their gayness was only incidental, and always connected to men. That, combined with my real-life experiences, likely shaped my views for quite some time. Because the thing is, there was a lot of wlw women around me, but either none of them identified as bisexual, or I didn’t know they did. Just like in Sapkowski! Sleeping with both men and women was just what all the really cool girls did, right? And men found it hot.

What an amazing view to absorb.

Philippa would be so disappointed in me.

Sadly, it held through my actual first experiences with women, and of those around me. Looking back at it, it was insane. A good friend of mine was in a relationship with a girl, they even got fake-married, but I still thought of her as straight and didn’t take it seriously. After all, it was just a couple of gals being pals. In bed.

In short, Sapkowski was the piece of media during my adolescence that got the furthest in having me engage with female queerness, and it did not go very well. But there was another way my identity as a straight girl had the potential to be eroded. Not with explicitly queer women, but with (assumed) straight women I simply found hot. And boy, were there plenty.

Like I said, Sapkowski’s sorceresses hit me exactly in my weak spot. I have always been fascinated by the “evil queen” archetype. If I lived in a country where Disney animated fairy tales were the standard entertainment for children, I’m pretty sure my first queer would have easily and decidedly been Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White. As it is, I only came across them later, and Czech fairy tale films don’t really have any properly evil queens to speak of, for some reason.

So as it was, my first glimpse of this was Circe.

I had a retold-for-children version of Odyssey when I was little, and it was my favorite book. Odysseus was an amazing hero and everything, but there were also beautiful illustrations in my version, and the women in those illustrations were really pretty. Particularly attractive was the evil sorceress who almost defeated Odysseus (and totally would have if he hadn’t cheated by getting help from the gods). She was a-ma-zing.

I dare you not to fall in love.

Not too long after, there was an encounter with Disney after all: I had a book version of Aladdin, and in Aladdin there was Yasmine. In particular, Yasmine in her slave outfit. Yeah, I know.

Looking back at it, I can hardly see for the amount of cringe I’m doing, and I could write dissertations on the orientalization and sexism specific to what can be found in those scenes. But my seven year old self didn’t know anything about that. I just knew that there was, you know, something about Yasmine in that outfit, being so clever as she pretended to be willing to rule alongside Jafar.

I mostly thought it was because she was wearing red and I liked red. Like I said, I was seven.

The next step on this way was the evil queen from Never-Ending Story 2. I remember always being frustrated when she pretends to be good in the middle of the film, because she lost like half of her sex-appeal – though again, I wouldn’t have put it that way when I was probably about ten at this point. Then came Sapkowski, and my love for his sorceresses. And around the same time, there came the most important stepping stone from the realm of media on my way to self-discovery: Monica Bellucci.

I honestly don’t remember how I first came across her. It must have been online, because going through her filmography, the only things I really recall seeing her in are the Matrix films, and before that I was only aware of Asterix and Obelix. And I distinctly remember thinking when it came out, as a connoisseur of the animated version: yeah, she’s a good fit for Cleopatra, she’s hot.

Almost as hot as this one. Come to think of it, Cleopatra from the animated version of this film might actually belong to my series of childhood crushes, too.

So, somehow, somewhere, I discovered Monica Bellucci, and I was immediately smitten. To this day, I consider her effectively the epitome of female beauty.

I was fourteen when Matrix Reloaded came out, and I really enjoyed the scenes with her. A lot. In fact, they probably make me recall that film in a much more positive light than it deserves.  Soon after this, my computer was stuffed with all the pictures of her I could find, mostly of them lightly erotic. Hilariously, yes, I still believed I was straight.

I could continue listing all the other movies I saw with impressive evil queen/femme fatale types in them. Snow White and the Huntsman was a disaster of a movie. But the Queen, oh, the Queen! Well, I think you get the idea.

At any rate, Monica Bellucci was the first woman I have ever seen that I looked at and thought, yes, I want to have sex with her. Not even this, though, was enough to bring any change in how I understood my sexuality. Looking for the media that helped with that, the first media that actually included a healthy queer couple… That would be fanfiction. When I was over twenty, maybe even closer to my mid-twenties.

Yeah.

To be fair, if I had a varied romantic life in the years between, I probably would have figured things out sooner even without any books to help, but as I began dating my husband not too long after my Bellucci-induced awakening, that rather limited my exploration.

My computer was stuffed with pictures like this. Stuffed. How could I think I was straight?

The fact still remains, though. It took twenty years of reading to come across a wlw couple worthy of the name. And it required fanfiction.

I read a lot, though I didn’t seek out queer books – I probably didn’t know that was a thing, to be honest, and if I did, I wouldn’t have searched them out anyway. I was straight, remember? But I read a lot, and varied things – detective stories, fantasy, literary fiction. In none of that did I come across a proper wlw relationship.

The first “femslash” fanfiction I read was a bunch of stories from the Harry Potter universe. It was mostly sexual relationships, combining various Hogwarts girl into pairs and seeing what happened. While fun, it didn’t do much to convince me to take my own preferences too seriously.

I can’t actually pinpoint the one story that did that. What I do know, though, is that as I moved from my reading from HPFF to FF.net and then to AO3, the number of wlw relationships that appeared in my reading increased. Though they were still mostly background relationships, they were at least treated more seriously than what I was used to.

Little by little, the stories chipped away at my denial. But I still can’t help to think that had Sapkowski been less of a sexist clown, and had two of his powerful women been badass wlw queens who ruled the Lodge of Sorceresses, I could have figured everything out so much easier.

In fact, that sounds like an AU fanfiction someone should write.


Images courtesy of Dimension Films, CD Projekt Red, Dargaud Films, Bounty Books, and Fabrizio Ferri

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