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The Fallacy of GoT’s Women on Top Part 2: Characters

Kylie

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Welcome to the second installment of “Sexism & Season 6,” which focuses on tackling the horrifyingly common misconception that Game of Thrones (GoT) is somehow a feminist’s dream. Or even a remotely progressive narrative. That showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, along with their writing team (all referred to under the monolithic “D&D”) somehow “fixed” their “woman problem” this year, the problem that had been plaguing the HBO Series basically since its inception.

See, there’s this vague sort of consensus that women had their way this year!

The “dames of Thrones” were boss ass individuals who did not put up with those foolish men, and often as a result, found themselves in positions of power. Ellaria murdered Doran the “weak man” with the backing of all of Dorne, Daenerys and Yara made a queenly alliance centered on the promise that they’d rid the world of idiot dudes who don’t think women should rule, and Sansa actually found recourse against her rapist by murdering him.

Yara: We’d like you to help us murder an uncle or two who don’t think a woman’s fit to rule.

Daenerys: Reasonable.

Reasonable.

Then add to that the wonderfully intelligent Tyrell ladies, the wonderfully sassy Tarly ladies, and the wonderfully badass fighters in characters like Arya and Brienne. With all these strong female characters battlin’ the patriarchy, it seems like GoT’s “Women on Top!” marketing campaign was quite on the nose!

Except if you think about any of it for more than two seconds.

I already spoke in Part 1 of this essay series about how D&D’s setting has no sort of internal consistency and simply adapts to the needs of a scene. For that reason, there’s no way women (or anyone) can truly triumph and find themselves “on top,” since what they’re on top of is utterly meaningless. These are hollow victories, and frankly the focus that it’s now “women on top” comes across as nothing more than pandering, given the completely superficial exploration of gender dynamics this series offers.

In this section, however, I would like to focus on the actual scripting of the female characters. Because even if we pretend, just for a second, that their achieving power does have feminist takeaways beyond seal-clapping at their shiny crowns, it doesn’t change that the way they’re penned is strikingly sexist.

I’d say “surprisingly,” but I’ve also been saying this since before Season 6 began:

“I don’t really want to shock anyone, but these multitudes of “strong women” simply don’t exist.”

In the linked essay, I brought special attention to the characters of Dany, Brienne, Sansa, Margaery, and Myranda, and how through the past year, their scripting was not only not empowering, but quite offensive. And this was all after I painstakingly went through all of Season 5 to detail the primary sexist tropes D&D employed in the writing of all their characters.

Now this is not to say it couldn’t have gotten better in Season 6, of course. I’m just here to explain to you why it didn’t.

I think I’ll open with Dany, because “Khaleesi” is the face of female empowerment in modern media, isn’t she? She’s a queen with dragons who hates slavery; how awesome is that?!

Not that I’m defending slavery, of course.

Like, we can agree that this is a pretty dang low bar, yes?

Dany this year was interesting, because she sort of had a two chapter journey, if you will. The first chapter involved her navigating her captivity by the Dothraki, whereas the second chapter involved her return to Meereen to handle the situation with the slavers and make plans for the future.

This is where it becomes difficult not to retread ground with Part 1, because the utterly contrived nature of how the Dothraki treated her is part and parcel of the mystifying way in which she navigated it. But we just have to accept certain things, most importantly including the Dosh Khaleen’s magically disappearing authority within Vaes Dothrak.

I’m quite certain D&D meant for us to find Dany rattling off her titles to the khal in “The Red Woman” to be an empowering moment. After all, he was telling her that he’d rape her, and she had an ace in her pocket about why she wouldn’t. Except that…why didn’t she say this at the get-go? Does she live for the rush of high risk situations? I’m not trying to say that a character withholding information that would benefit her is definitive proof that the scripting is sexist, but what I am saying is that it betrays entirely a lack of care about the characters, and it’s all in favor of creating false tension and cheap moments of victory. In other words, it’s this facade of “women on top” when what we should be questioning is why she was on the bottom in the first place.

There’s also the issue of characters deciding to do everything off-screen. Yes, this allows for “reveals,” but when absolutely nothing is seeded to preserve the shock, what follows feels random. How are we supposed to have any grasp on a character when we don’t see them struggling or planning? Dany fell further victim to this in “Book of the Stranger,” the episode where she decided to burn down Vaes Dothrak. For profit. When did she formulate this plan? During her pee break with the other former khaleesi who seemed to like the idea of avoiding rape? Did Dany know that the Council of Khals (the suddenly existing legislative body of Vaes Dothrak) would decide her fate at night, that there’d be braziers in this tent, and that the dirt would be magically flammable?

The point I’m making is that her Empowered Moment falls apart with a minimal level of scrutiny. And even if we somehow manage to ignore the multitude of contrivances required for it to take place, there’s the problem of take-away. If the Council of Khals was supposed to make us feel as though this was Dany’s only way out, that was completely undercut by Daario and Jorah showing up and offering her escape in the scene prior. If we were supposed to believe that this was the “best course of action” because the khals were such a danger to her, then why were there no threats against Dany (and it seemed like they were going to allow her to join the Dosh Khaleen, the supposed ruling class of the Dothraki) until after she started insulting the khals by saying they were weak and only she was fit to rule?

The only conclusion I can reasonably come to is that we were supposed to fist-pump for Dany’s actions because Dothraki culture is gross and rapey and this is the best course of action for *humanity*. So therefore D&D’s idea of female empowerment is a white woman, with a family history tied to slavery and conquest, standing proudly after destroying another culture’s holy place, while the brown people who had outright called her a “witch” dropped to their knees. I hate strawman rapists as much as the next person, but there were people who actually felt…good…about this?

Sorry, but white feminism is not empowering. Or feminism.

You know what else isn’t empowering? Having a female character whose only good ideas come from a dude. This was a trend with Dany that started last year, and boy howdy did it continue into Season 6. The second she got back to Meereen, she began formulating ideas involving mass murder, and what a good thing for all of us that Tyrion was there to talk some sense into her. So then the entire Battle of Meereen scenario was the enactment of his plan on how to handle the slavers, and let’s not forget, he’s the one who fixed her mistake of locking up Rhaegal and Viseron so that they could help lead her victory as well.

Then Tyrion tells Dany to dump Daario and she does (though empowerdly not having emotions about it, because emotions are so weak). And of course when she and Yara, two women in positions of power, hash out terms of an alliance, we’re treated to this moment:

Oh well, at least Yara listens to her dudes as well:

And yes, people listening to advisors is fine, but it’s the pattern. A pattern which in the case of Dany, is completely infantilizing. I guess the best that could be said is that without her men, she’d have still won the loyalty of the Dothraki this year? But then we have to remember why it is that people who just saw their holy place get burned down by a witch would pledge their loyalty in the first place…

There’s one last thing about Dany’s scripting that I think is a bit of an elephant in the room, because it involves dreaded *book knowledge*. I’m all for ending the conflation of GoT and A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s rather impossible for me not to notice that Tyrion’s plotline this year was Dany’s plotline from A Dance with Dragons. They more or less jettisoned her out of her own arc, and literally retconned developments away so that Tyrion could have her ADWD plot-points to tackle. Hizdahr’s deal with Yunkai and Astapor? Gone. The navy Daario won for Dany? Oh no, a random fire! Granted, everything Tyrion did doesn’t quite line up to the books since the show presents us with a ridiculously simplified situation, but it really does feel as though a woman was shoved aside and put in a position to be a prisoner of strawmen so that they could carry out her plotline with their preferred protagonist, a white dude.

Yikes, I had more to say about Dany than I realized. I guess it’s because of all that empowerment! But I do think it’s an important exercise to demonstrate how just because a woman wins victories and is a ruler in her own right, it’s not automatically progressive.

Same goes for this idea that if a woman is “badass,” then that’s that—it’s a feminist victory!

Arya is really the perfect example of that this season. Granted, her plotline actually came under major scrutiny when her plot armor rivaled that of James Bond’s in Live and Let Die. I do have to think the sheer ridiculousness of her survival detracted a little from her Badass™ status, though aside from these complaints and perhaps a few grumbles about her season finale teleportation, I’ve heard little criticism levied at her scripting.

Arya in and of herself I think is supposed to be a slightly disturbing character, right? Like, her overly violent murders of Trant last year and Walder Frey this year were supposed to be at least a little morally ambiguous? It’s hard to tell, because D&D went out of their way to paint both men as incredibly disgusting and “bad,” but I just don’t think I can imagine anyone who would be able to write or direct those scenes with the intent of them being 100% fine, fist-pumping moments of awesome.

Okay…maybe two or three names spring to mind.

However, the curious thing about Arya is that other than when she pops up to carry out these grisly executions, she’s actually quite passive. This was the case last year, and certainly continuing into this year, where a good chunk of her episodes revolved around being smacked with a stick. Even after she got her eyes back, we see more stick smacking. Then she was assigned to kill an actor and was so bad at her job that her mark ended up noticing her and they developed a friendly rapport. The one proactive decision Arya made was to not kill Lady Crane, which like, okay, I could totally buy doing that not jiving with her moral code, I guess. And then the plot required her to be stupid and go from sleeping with Needle drawn to smirking her way around Braavos:

Or did I mean “empowered”?

The rest was simply parkouring to victory.

Even despite her very passive scripting, all if this might have been somewhat forgiven if it weren’t for D&D’s mystifying pattern of injecting catty women into every corner of Braavos. I’ve explained the sexist underpinnings of this trope before:

“[‘Women are Catty’] is based on the assumption that women are always in competition with one another, because their mode of operation is based around getting a man. With intimate heterosexuality being needed to complete them, exclusive male attention becomes their ultimate goal, inherently pitting them against other women who are vying for the same thing. If a man strays from his woman, it is her fault, because she lost out to another woman. And of course, women are not mature enough to snap out of this dynamic, unlike ‘bros before hoes.'”

In my opinion, there’s really no way to reconcile the character of “The Waif” in GoT. What is her problem?! The best explanation is that she has a thing for Jaqen and feels threatened, but this is a woman who simply hates Arya. She smacks her with sticks repeatedly, and the one time Arya counters her blow, angry tears fill her eyes. Then we learn after Arya bails on her contract that The Waif had asked Jaqen for special permission to murder her in the case of such an event. Which she then skips off to do so with glee:

Swiggity swooty, off to kill that booty.

Maybe this wouldn’t have seemed quite so awful if it weren’t for the fact that Jaqen is presented to us as the voice of reason between the two? He’s the one who brings Arya back to the temple, he’s the one who grants her the eyes, he’s the one who gives her another chance, he’s even the one who after the killy-conclusion of their confrontation, gives Arya a bizarre Nod of Approval. Fighting is for the women, reconciliation is for the men.

Add to this the weird rivalry within the theater troupe, where the Sansa actor was very clearly the one who hired the Faceless Men to kill Lady Crane because jealousy, and Lady Crane in turn mutilated her.

What makes this worse is that I almost was won over by the positive interaction with Lady Crane and Arya because that’s how lacking it is on this show, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by Crane’s disturbing trait of stabbing ex-lovers and then, of course, her graphic Shock™ death, demonstrating that positive female interaction on this show is only to tug at the heartstrings.

But whatever, we can tell Arya is a badass because she pops in to murder people in season finales with inexplicably honed skills that we were never shown before. What were we shown instead?

Brienne is another character that you can tell is meant to be a Certifiable Badass because she like, carries a sword or something? And it was nifty of her to save Sansa and Theon from the disappearing hounds when she magically realized that they must have left Winterfell.

However past that, we were treated to another season of her failing at her mission. What was the point of her going to Riverrun, exactly? For a fanservice moment with Jaime that was immediately followed by the scene of him declaring his undying love to Cersei? Brienne failed to secure the Tully army, and failed to even convince Brynden Blackfish to personally help out his niece.

The killer is that with just few tweaks and this show could be so good. Tumblr user “turtle-paced” pointed out in her review of “No One” how easily Brienne’s exchange with Blackfish could have been altered to A.) make us feel that Brienne is more than just a convenient sword, and B.) actually make us feel like this show is more than a series of discrete moments of random shocks:

“Hey, remember when Catelyn dragged Brienne out of a perilous situation saying “fight for the living, not the dead”? Neither do I, it didn’t happen in the show. What show!Catelyn did say in that situation was “you can’t avenge Renly if you’re dead” which seems like advice that’s at least analogous to what’s going on here. Isn’t it neat that the adaptation made the space for a parallel where the beneficiary of that advice has a chance to pay it back to her dead advisor’s kin – oh. No. Brynden got killed offscreen.”

Someone, oh someone, please explain to me how Brienne is supposed to be remotely interesting or empowering? She stalks around killing the people the plot requires her to kill and failing at everything else. Sometimes she gets hit on by Tormund as a joke.

I think our last of the Badasses™ is Yara.

She’s at least supposed to be battle-hardened and stuff, right? And here’s the thing: I was really close to being won over by her after “Home,” when she yelled at her dad about the futility of the reaving lifestyle and later seemed to want to be Queen not just because it was her duty, but because she felt she could elicit positive change.

Then she screamed at Theon for being too traumatized to come with her (back in Season 4) and coldly yelled at him to stop crying. Then she stood passively in the background of her own goddamn queensmoot and let Theon argue everything for her. Then she screamed at him even more for his trauma because it was inconvenient to her, and told him to kill himself if he wasn’t going to be useful. Then she raped a sex slave because she apparently didn’t care about the iron price anymore, nor the concepts of slavery and consent. Then she tried to argue against Dany outlawing raping because that was the Ironborn “way of life”—the same way of life she had argued against in the episode I just praised. Then, of course, her season closed out with Theon’s Nod of Approval after she and Dany vowed to kill all those stupid men.

So am I seriously supposed to see an abuser like Yara, who also can’t seem to argue her own cases and make her own decisions without the help of her brother, as an “empowered” woman? If so, may I ask why?

Speaking of women standing quietly in a corner and being ineffectual at everything they do, there was Sansa this year. That’s right, Ms. “Boss Ass Bitch” herself, according to Sophie Turner.

Losing your voice as the plot demands is tough!

To be fair, there were a few scenes where Sansa really came out swinging. She whipped the letter from Ramsay out of Jon’s hands and read it in a cool, calm fashion. She met with Littlefinger and screamed in his face that his plan last year was stupid.

Those who voted in ballot for the Season 6 “Carol Awards” know that I often joke about the many different personalities of Sansa, but does it really need to be pointed out this assertive, in-charge, has-a-totally-accurate-reading-on-the-situation sits in complete contention with the Sansa last year who agreed to the world’s worst plan without so much as a follow-up question because of some amorphous promise of revenge?

The good news, however, is that it doesn’t overly matter because after only a few episodes of this Boss-Ass scripting, Sansa was reduced to a character who would stand quietly in a corner while other people argued her case for her. She failed to persuade Lyanna Mormont and Lord Glover to help at all (as did Jon, to be fair), then she sat quietly fuming during a war strategy session when a few episodes prior, we had seen her speak up in the exact same situation. She yelled at Jon for not calling on her, as if she was some school girl who wanted to present a report, only to claim that she didn’t know anything when he finally listened. Then why were you upset?  Plus Sansa also withheld crucial information about the Vale troops that cost some six hundred thousand of her countrymen their lives, only to be hand-waved away in the finale with an apology.

“Only a fool would trust Littlefinger. I should have told you about him, about the Knights of the Vale. I’m sorry.”

Oh. Okay then.

The one bright-spot of her scripting was that Jon fared even worse, so some critics praised her as the “smart one,” comparatively. However, this also came undone in the final episode, when every single Northern Lord forgot about her claim despite the fact that she was sitting right there. And like, this could have been so easily fixed if Sansa had been the one to argue for Jon’s kingship (also because it would have read as a middle finger to Littlefinger, and who doesn’t want that?). But no, that came from Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old girl with unquestioning authority who didn’t even consider the proper succession.

Sansa’s face at the end suggested that all of this was done for more tension. Once again, if she wasn’t for it, she could have spoken up. “Hey, how about a ‘Queen in the North’ instead? I’m literally Robb’s heir, and I’m the one who saved you. I’m the reason we have the support of the Vale, and my Tully connection even puts the Lords of the riverlands potentially on the table for us. My doofus brother did nothing but march everyone into a trap that I warned him about.” Wait, did her voice stop working during this scene again?

Literally the only proactive thing Sansa did this season was write a letter begging help that she had already turned down from the dude who sold her to her rapist. And then afterwards when Littlefinger told her he wanted to marry her and co-rule Westeros, she called it a “pretty picture.”

I should point out that I am purposely going to save discussing the full implications of Sansa’s arc with Ramsay until Part 3 of this series: The Fallacy of Violence as Empowerment (or something). However, given the fact that her murder of him was most certainly framed as the climax of her arc, and given the fact that it would have made far more sense for the Vale knights’ eleventh hour save had Sansa actually remained there the whole time (this would have avoided her weird and costly refusal to tell Jon about the troops), we need to take a moment to appreciate that Sansa was in fact displaced from her book-arc for nothing more than a two-season long revenge porn. She was raped in the most illogical context possible because the rape created two seasons worth of drama.

Even if we want to pretend this was a matter of D&D prioritizing Ramsay’s story over Sansa’s (which is very telling in and of itself), there’s the issue that the most important part of Ramsay marrying “a Stark” in the books was that he had the one thing Jon was willing to break his vows over—and at a great cost, ultimately. It’s why the Northern Lords outside of Winterfell were clamoring to get there as fast as possible, champing at the bit to go to war. To save “Ned’s little girl.” The Glovers weren’t praising the Boltons; Robett Glover was in White Harbor with Wyman Manderly trying everything they can to find Rickon Stark, while Sybelle Glover sent clansmen sworn to Deepwood Motte with Stannis to march on Winterfell.

What happened in the show though? D&D replaced that Stark hostage with Rickon, who was used only as a prop to die and make us feel bad. As for Sansa having married Ramsay, Lyanna Mormont held that against her. Aside from her, not a single person in the North gave any shits. Sansa in Winterfell affected nothing in the Northern theater other than motivating Theon to have a Stark-centric “redemption” arc that was punted out the window the second they needed him to head back to the Iron Islands, and spurring Sansa to become “strong” and “hardened,” because rape needed to be her teacher. That is never forgivable, and that is never feminist.

Hey, this is going to shock you, but you know one character who I unironically always have found feminist on this show? The character who was actually my favorite? Cersei. I mean it; this is not a bit of mine.

Now I should clarify, I 100% mean Show!Cersei here, because Book!Cersei has nothing to do with her. However, for the past few seasons, D&D have been telling a very consistent story of a woman who faces abuses, is very much shut out of power, and who sees her children fall victim to exploitative and dangerous situations. As a result, she does what she can with the recourse that she has. Arming the Faith was myopic, certainly, but by all accounts she was fooled by the High Sparrow who had been preaching tolerance and nonviolence up until that point.

You can count the “bad” things Cersei has done on this show on one-hand and have fingers left over. From Season 4 on, you would still have five.

This season continued that narrative…until it didn’t. In fact, it continued that narrative in every single episode but the last one. We saw a Cersei who was continually put upon: she couldn’t go to her daughter’s funeral because her son had found her slutshaming effective, she was barred from contributing to the Small Council, she was sent to stand in the gallery while her son delivered an announcement for the crime of being a woman… Heck, even when she “chose violence” it was because a group of armed bullies wanted to drag her out of the Keep for no discernible reason—though she really did luck out that the High Sparrow was apparently never told about this (or else why was he mystified when she didn’t come to her trial?).

And then she blew everything up and didn’t bother to check on how this might affect her son.

The weirdest part is that I seem to be one of the only people who views this as out-of-character. Because I guess her being snippy with Margaery is the same thing as her willingness to commit mass-murder, while drinking and smirking about it?

Yes, in moments of extreme stress she would talk about burning down cities to save her children, and this is probably what D&D consider “foreshadowing,” but again, saying and doing are different things. There’s simply a major disconnect between the woman who was backed into a corner and sad about it for three years, and the woman who packed the sept with C-4.

Oh and then Cersei went and turned the nun who had been in charge during her imprisonment over to Gregor Clegane, to be slowly tortured (and likely raped). Why the septa got this extra torture when the High Sparrow, who had literally ordered Cersei’s imprisonment and walk of atonement, was just blown to smithereens is anyone’s guess. I suppose we can pretend that the off-screen extraction mission to the sept (or to Margaery’s quarters…this is the same septa who was tailing her) could only handle a low-security target.

So as Cersei sat back and drank her wine, I had to sit back and see the death of the only feminist character on the dang show. Yeah, she randomly ascended to power as a result, but the entire framing of this was that she was a crazed villain. Are we supposed to be lauding the Wicked Witch of the West as a feminist icon because she had winged monkeys who answered to her? (Wicked fans, please don’t answer this.) How about Cruella de Vil? She was enterprising.

Speaking of enterprising ladies, while I have never been particularly compelled by Margaery the Sexual Manipulator, or even found her to be that good of person (did she have any ambitions in all of Season 5 beyond winning a cat fight?), I cannot deny that D&D have gone to great lengths to paint her as a savvy woman who is usually in control of the situation. Except that time last year when she inexplicably needs to summon her grandmother because she didn’t feel like bothering to try and have a conversation with Cersei about the Loras situation. Or bothering to go down to the Sept herself despite being well-loved by the people.

Yeah, no, just scream at your abuse victim…this is a much better solution.

Yes, there is the troubling fact that D&D penned Margaery to be a statutory rapist, and apparently didn’t realize it, because Tommen’s abuse is never actually addressed by the narrative. Like, you could make an argument that his suicide was that follow-up, so maybe they did understand; that Tommen was realistically penned as a young, impressionable kid who could not handle losing his abuser, and this was something that might happen as a consequence of that. Yet when you listen to D&D discuss his suicide, here’s what they have to say:

“Meanwhile, while this is happening, Tommen’s alone. This malleable, fragile, devastated child, basically is sitting there without anyone to comfort him, and if [Cersei] had been there, he wouldn’t have gone out that window. She failed him, and she alone failed him here.” —Dan Weiss

Then Benioff jumps in to talk about how Cersei’s children are the one thing that humanized her, because idealized motherhood isn’t sexist at all. But still, we are given the impression that despite their acknowledgements of Tommen’s impressionable nature, it is merely his tipsy mother to blame rather than, like, his rapist.

For this reason, when talking about Margaery as a feminist character, I’m truly at a loss. It’s great that she’s smart? But why the heck is she presented to us in a remotely positive light?

However, even ignoring that she’s accidentally a rapist (oh yay, she and Yara share in that girl power!), this season, her intellect was punted out the window too. Now, it is important to note that she’s not acting in her self-interest: her sole motivation was to save her brother from his [implied] torture. This wasn’t to improve her House’s position; this wasn’t to help her standing—it was all because Loras told her that he wanted “it” to stop, and she was going to make that happen.

This would have been fine, except the path she took to do so was utterly nonsensical. Rather than trying to even get time with her Grandmother to plan something, she immediately jumped to fake piety, selling out Loras’s claim, persuading Tommen to…establish a religious oligarchy?? (it was never made clear what this alliance meant past “the Kingsguard wear seven-pointed stars”), and despite all that, she couldn’t even get the dude out on bail. Also, she was forced to have a septa follow her around everywhere for her crime of perjury. Keep in mind that at the same time, Cersei, who was still accused of high treason, was prancing around with a reanimated corpse, crashing Small Council meetings, making out with her brother (this was still literally one of her charges), and killing Faith Militant members without anyone saying boo. Marg, honey, your deal really sucked.

Why did Margaery ask the Tyrell army to stand down when she did? Because they probably could have freed Loras right there and then. Even if we want to pretend that she truly thought the fake-piety-amorphous-Faith-union was the best path to saving her brother, you’re telling me that once she stepped out into the sunlight and saw largest army in the Seven Kingdoms, being led by her father, standing right there, it wouldn’t have maybe changed her read on the situation?

Also not to bring up the books, but in the books, just one of Mace’s bannermen marching to the city with his troops convinced the Faith to release Margaery from her prison (yay to Randyll Tarly for doing something other than being a jerk at a dinner table), when she had faced much more serious charges than her show counterpart.

Stepping back and looking at the season as a whole, Margaery was nothing more than a hapless victim. She was imprisoned for no discernable crime, and then came up with a sucky plan to save her brother that only resulted in the power of her House crippled and him mutilated. Then she blew up. And I am told that she’s a very feminist character.

We also have her grandmother, who is unquestionably the official negotiator of House Tyrell despite the patriarchy existing to punish her granddaughter and Cersei. How does she wield this power? By refusing to go to war repeatedly to save the future of her House. The only thing that eventually convinces her is the idea of Margaery also facing a Walk of Atonement. Though at least the walk would have freed her, which is more than Olenna’s plan of doing nothing involved.

Later, Margaery slips her a note that assures Olenna this piety thing is an act, and maybe also a warning, so she high-tails it out of King’s Landing. Then everyone she cares about blows up, so she decides her best course of action is to ally with a group of murderous women who just slaughtered their own House. Or maybe it was because of the possibility of an alliance with Dany? Who knows, but at least she sasses Obara for “looking like a boy” so that we know she’s empowered. And she wants revenge, which is being sold to us as empowerment too. Too bad she didn’t have this fighting spirit during a time where it might have helped anything.

While we’re in Dorne, please don’t make me rehash the awfulness that is the petty, catty Sand Snakes and Ellaria. I was confused why anyone talked about how great it was that they “took on the patriarchy,” when these women were A.) clearly presented to us in a bad light, and B.) embracing toxically patriarchal values by murdering men who didn’t mean their “strong” standards, aka out for blood and showing a refusal to make any sort of peace.

I would also prefer not to yet again dredge up my issues with how Gilly and the women of Horn Hill were penned. Yeah, it’s hard not to agree with someone yelling at Randyll Tarly. But it’s as utterly out of place and pandering as if bell hooks was zapped into Meereen to read Tyrion passages of Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. It’s not magically ~feminism~ if the actual condition of women in the established setting is ignored, or if the setting is too inconsistent for there to *be* a condition of women.

Speaking of pandering, we have Lyanna Mormont. Thanks to D&D’s insightful “Inside the Episode” commentary, we know that they thought it would simply be a “fun” scene to watch to have a 10-year-old girl be a tough negotiator. But despite intent, she actually was a bit of a joy to see on our screen. With her deeply rooted sense of authority and a refusal to be infantilized, she’s the closest thing to Arianne Martell we’ve had on this show to date. The only issue is that this is the same person who gave Stannis a middle finger because she only serves a STARK, yet then dismisses Jon and Sansa’s request for help (it’s a Snow and a Bolton, apparently), even after they tell her that Rickon [STARK] is being held hostage. She only agrees to join their cause when Davos mentions zombies. However, the next scene where she speaks, she’s shaming other Northern Lords for not joining the Starks.

But… You just…

I like the concept of Lyanna, however with her execution, it’s clear that there was no thought put into her character past “wouldn’t it be fun if…”

A similarly shallow line of thought seemed to be followed for Melisandre this season. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we revealed that she was old?” Would it? Do I really need to get into the sexist implications of sagging tits being framed as a Shocking™ moment (why was she naked in the first place?). Also why did this matter in the slightest? The only thing it seemed to influence, forgive me for suggesting, is a notable dialing back in her character’s overt displays of sexuality. She spent a good part of Season 5 sexually harassing Jon, but now that the audience knows her hot bod is an illusion, she’s desexualized?

There’s also the fact that Melisandre was pretty much shunted to the side for the entire season. It was Davos’s idea for her to resurrect Jon, and when she did so successfully, the people thought of him as a god. Why would they give two craps about the sorceress? Then she sat quietly through a war council meeting. Then she was basically off the screen. I guess it’s nifty that there is a woman with *magic powers*, but given that she only uses them when prompted by men is a bit… There’s a word for it. “Sexism.”

I’ll be perfectly honest: I almost forgot about Meera Reed this season. She uh…was sad about her brother for a scene until Leaf told her that she needed to stop it because Bran needed her. She did pretty well holding her own against zombies. She’s not not feminist, so much as she is a non-entity.

That just leaves Missandei. I’m not going to lie: I found it very refreshing and yes, feminist, when Missandei had the following exchange with Tyrion:

Missandei: How many days were you a slave?

Tyrion: Long enough to know.

Missandei: Not long enough to understand.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of it for Missandei this season. She gives public support for Tyrion’s crappy plans in front of other former slaves, and then fades to the background to be a prop for thinly veiled rape jokes, while Grey Worm is the only one who [rightfully] continues to challenge him.

Tyrion: Let’s play a game. You don’t play games, either one of you, ever

Grey Worm: Games are for children.

Missandei: My master Kraznys would sometimes make us play games.

Tyrion: There, that’s a start.

Missandei: Only the girls.

Tyrion: No, no, no. Not that. Of course not that. Innocent games. Fun games. Drinking games.

Not to mention we’re treated to at least four different scenes of Tyrion explaining some concept to Missandei and Grey Worm, be it dragon taming or drinking games, with the tone of a teacher patiently educating the inner-city kids. I *think* it’s supposed to be uncomfortable since his plans still result in the masters attacking, but at the same time it does mean that Missandei and Grey Worm are accorded almost no narrative space of their own; they’re props for that discomfort to play out. Yay.

Aaaaaand then, that’s Season 6! I gotta say, I’m looking for all these “strong women” that are propelling GoT to the status of a “feminist fable,” and I’m simply coming up short. Where are they? Can you help me locate them?

Because really, all I’m seeing are female characters written by two dudes who don’t seem to be aware of any of the sexist assumptions they’re making in the writers’ room, nor any implications that might come out of it. Why did the Waif hate Arya? Why did Theon argue for Yara at the kingsmoot? Why was Sansa’s path to empowerment told through rape (especially when that path had already been established in Season 4)?

And all I’m seeing are critics who think a woman giving an order is inherently feminist, without bothering to listen to what that order actually is.


The final part of this series the concept of “violence = empowerment,” and why this is not the pathway to a feminist narrative.

Images courtesy of HBO

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

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Analysis

Are We Ready to Admit that Thor: Ragnarok was a Hot Mess?

Kylie

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I didn’t watch Thor: Ragnarok in theaters. Actually, I hadn’t seen anything post-Ultron and was fine being free of the MCU for a few years. Then Black Panther came along and I found it so compelling that it washed away any Marvel fatigue I had been feeling. When the opportunity arose to watch the third Thor movie on an airplane, I hit the play button with genuine excitement.

Going into this, I had heard almost all positive things. I knew there were some similarities to Black Panther in the central themes, I knew Jeremiah gave it a glowing review, and I knew it was supposed to be exceedingly funny.

I was also no stranger to the Thor standalones. I felt his introductory movie was a bit silly, but did what it could with a superhero that well…lends himself to silliness. It’s a Norse god in a contemporary setting, after all. The result was a slightly boisterous fish-out-of-water tale with compact development and a pretty solid foundation on which we could understand his character. Thor 2: Dark World was absolutely odious as an artform, but I loved it anyway, much for the same reason Attack of the Clones is my favorite prequel. It was ironic enjoyment, but if you can’t be enthused by Natalie Portman running around in squeaky rainboots with her Science Machine™, then I can’t help you. Plus, it was Thorested Development.

Was I expecting some gaps in my knowledge given me sleeping on Civil Wars? Yes. Granted, those same gaps existed for Black Panther, and shockingly I was still able to fully understand his father’s death, as well as what Agent Ross meant to T’Challa and what their relationship was like. But I promise, I turned on Thor 3 with all the right intentions, and what I consider to be fairly measured expectations.

I turned it off wondering if I had a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of a movie.

Two Plots, No Payoff

If I had watched Thor: Ragnarok on VHS in the 90s, I probably would have begun to wonder if someone taped over the entire middle portion with a completely different Thor film. Because it’s not just that there were two major plot threads, it’s that there were two different tones. Hell, there were almost two different genres when you get down to it.

The first is what I have to assume is the “main plot,” since it’s what the movie sets up in the first acts, and closes in the third. This is the story about Asgard’s legacy and reckoning against the threat of Hela, the Goddess of Death.

Thor is told by some demon guy that his dad isn’t at home anymore, so he goes back to Asgard find Loki pretending to be Odin. Then a random wizard tells them both that their dad is in Norway (yes, I know it’s Doctor Strange, but I’m talking about this movie on its own merits). They go there, but Odin is all sad and about to die, which means that his true heir—his firstborn daughter Hela—will escape from the prison he set up for her. You see, she’s the Goddess of Death and had been the leader of Asgard’s armies for Odin when he apparently conquered the Nine Realms, but she became too ambitious for his taste. What, a tenth was a bridge too far for Daddy Imperialist?

Whatever, he dies.

Thor and Loki go to confront the now-released Hela, she breaks Thor’s hammer, they get chased off, she takes over Asgard with the intention of more conquering, most people think she sucks so she raises dead zombies and a giant wolf to fight for her instead, and then Thor and some random friends come back to fight her again. He realizes he can only save his people, but he can’t save Asgard itself from Hela since she’s too powerful. He evacuates everyone, mainly with Heimdall and Loki’s help. Hela stabs Thor’s eye out and Thor levels up his lightning powers, but it’s still not enough to do anything about her, so he summons that demon guy from the beginning to have him destroy Hela…and all of Asgard. But it’s fine; he’s the King because Asgard is a people and not a place. Odin even pops in a vision at some point to tell him that.

This is a fine story. There’s things in it that could be explored, especially Thor reconciling with Odin’s savage, imperialistic legacy. It’s a bit hamstrung by Odin himself pooping out of the narrative entirely after dropping the plot bomb into Thor’s lap (seriously, am I alone in thinking this is one of the least effective death scenes in movie history? Certainly in MCU history?), and it’s a bit formulaic in the sense that the “bad guy” is more the concept of implacable evil.

I personally struggle with the messaging and execution of it. It’s not that coming to terms with the fallibility of your Kingly father and his decisions made while ruling your country is a weak narrative choice. That, you know, was the entirety of Black Panther, and what made it significant was the way in which T’Challa defined his duty on the throne in a way that made sense for himself and the changed context of the world. It was a meaningful shedding of idealization while coming into his own as a ruler.

This movie should have been that for Thor, but his realization about “Asgard is a people” was just sort of beamed into his head by Odin. Literally, Hela was choking him out, and he flashes to a vision of Odin telling him what to think of Asgard as well as his own powers. 

Then, what does that say if it’s Odin’s words Thor’s living by? That he does still respect this guy and want to follow in his footsteps, despite learning that he was a literal conqueror? That even asshole imperialists can have some good points? (Why does this keep happening?) Or was that Odin coming to the realization when he came to Thor, and he had reached this epiphany off-screen in the afterlife? It was like, “Oh hey I didn’t need to do all that conquering, because my duty was to my people and not the glory of this place.” 

It didn’t even seem like Thor came to the conclusion that destroying physical Asgard was a necessary thing given the place’s legacy and bloody history—just given the situation and how there was some lady with a dead army they couldn’t beat. It was a decision made in the heat of battle when the day was lost, but now he’s got his eyepatch and his people and a spaceship, so he’s ready to fill Odin’s shoes. You know…the shoes that we learned shouldn’t have been worn in the first place. Because imperialism. 

Also the requisite, “crazy over-ambitious woman couldn’t listen to her father when to chill with all the killing” complaint. Cate Blanchett saves it a little, but it’s there.

So yes, for all the weighty subjects floated in this plotline, none of them were actually given significant narrative weight, or exploration, or anything really. I suppose Hela’s claim to the throne and history with Asgard made her more of a meaningful threat; she was a monster of Asgard’s making, not to yet again call back to the film that pulled off all these concepts with actual dexterity and significance. But even with that, she was just evil. She didn’t have any nuanced points, or any compelling reason for anyone to follow her. Just that Odin had once been cool with her, but that stopped.

There was also nothing remotely familial or personal about her dynamic with Thor or Loki since she didn’t actually know them or seem to care about their general existence, and her abilities were never well-conveyed to even give the fight might grounding. We may as well have had Mjolnir shooting through multiple portals again.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t have been done or executed well. This was a long movie and whole lot of time to flesh out Hela’s relationship to our protagonist, or Thor’s relationship to his conception of governance and his home, or the Asgardian commoner point of view, or even to seed the demon guy that eventually brought the cataclysm just a wee bit better than the opening joke did.

No, it was far better we spent it with Thor rolling his eyes and debating the semantics of “crown”

It’s just that instead, the movie spent the bulk of its time seemingly uninterested in the main plot. Because there was ~junk planet antics~ to be had.

And yup, there’s plotline #2: Thor is in yet another wacky weekend adventure that he has to get out of! Which I don’t hate as a concept. I will happily pop some corn kernels and plop down with either of the Thor standalones, because they’re somewhat doofy fun. Just don’t stick me in the middle of this thing after setting up something rather serious and weighty. (And maybe don’t set up that serious, weighty thing by having a wizard warp two main characters to Norway.)

As a brief, brief summary, after Hela throws Thor and Loki out of Asgard, he finds himself alone on a junk planet called Sakaar. He’s captured by some lush played by Tessa Thompson who just so happens to be a former Valkyrie, a member of an Asgardian all-female elite warrior group that had fought Hela before her imprisonment. She sells him to Jeff Goldblum, who rules (?) Sakaar. So Thor is enslaved, literally has a controlling device thing in his neck, and is forced to fight in a gladiator ring. The ultimate Sakaar champion he goes up against is…the Hulk, who has somewhat-permanently hulked out. They fight and Jeff Goldblum cheats to let the Hulk win, which isn’t really worth talking about, though it takes up about ten minutes of screentime so it must be important to someone. Oh, and Loki’s there and Jeff Goldblum’s friend because it’s working to his favor at the moment.

After the fight, Thor quasi-escapes to the ship the Hulk arrived on, there’s some recording of Natasha on it that de-Hulks Bruce Banner. At some point Loki forces Valkyrie to see a vision of her past trauma (her fellow soldiers dying to Hela) so she decides she wants to help Thor get back to Asgard, and then everyone escapes Sakaar by inciting a slave uprising and stealing one of Jeff Goldblum’s ships.

I have spent longer than I care to admit trying to figure out how this possibly relates to the rest of the movie. And I should note, Sakaar takes up well over half the runtime, so it’s not like it can be dismissed as this ancillary plot cul de sac necessity to get Thor and Bruce to run into one another. Like, this had to have meant something, right? Was Jeff Goldblum meant to be contrasted with Odin? Was this system of injustice that Thor witnessed supposed to be the reason why he summoned the destruction of Asgard in the end, and the writers simply never felt the need to explicate this in any way?

I can’t get there. Even the very minor twist of “Loki almost betrayed Thor at the end of the Sakaar sequence, but then comes back and saves Asgard” did not need to be rooted in this setting, nor was it even particularly necessary to the overall story or relationship of the brothers. Thor caught onto Loki at the beginning of the movie when he called him out as fake!Odin—we can see he already learned from Dark World. Loki is the God of Mischief, but that doesn’t mean his usage should be God of False Narrative Conflict In A Desperate Attempt To Inject Last Minute Tension. Because that’s a mouth full.

Maybe it’s my own problem that I was waiting to get back to the plot of the movie during every Sakaar scene instead of realizing this is the plot now. It’s just that normally when movies have a lengthy and pointless side-mission, especially one that cannibalizes this percentage of the runtime, they’re not viewed particularly favorably.

But hey, at least Thor wasn’t learning about systemic injustice and the strength of compassion on a casino planet that tied immaculately into the thematic thrust; that would have ruined everything.

Character Arrested Development

I couldn’t help myself with The Last Jedi fandom dialogue shade. But I do think that’s actually somewhat relevant here. Because I don’t really care that ~not enough happened~ overall or that Finn and Rose had a “pointless” (it was really more fruitless, and that was the point) side-mission. What I cared about was that what happened on our screen worked together towards a meaning, and that characters grew as a result of them. The Last Jedi may not have thought through implications perfectly, or executed things in as refreshing or satisfying a way as possible, but it’s exceedingly hard to argue anything was ancillary given how every single damned character had pretty tight and clear growth.

Thor: Ragnarok had barely anything.

If I could be really generous with Thor himself, he accepted the leadership of Asgard in a way he rejected it from the first movie. But also, his dad’s dead, so necessity makes for strange kings, you know? There’s also nothing that occurs within this movie that particularly leads to him wanting to take on that mantle. At best, it’s that he learns his power isn’t derived from his hammer, but controlled through it, though he learns that through Divine Daddy Almost-Death Vision. So he kind of starts off thinking he’s this awesome lightning god, and ends the movie thinking the same thing, but for slightly different reasons and with means that might look different in a fight.

I mean, I guess leveling up is technically character growth…

There’s also Thor abandoning Asgard, but nothing to indicate it has anything to do with him being upset about Odin’s imperialist rule. If that was meant to be the framing, there’s just nothing that occurs onscreen to back it up. Loki complains that Hela is growing stronger every minute she’s in Asgard and Thor repeats Divine Daddy Vision point #2 as justification. Hell, when Hela and Thor meet for their final fight, Thor quotes Odin while sitting on his throne.

It should be noted that Divine Daddy Vision was the final push Thor needs to overcome the antagonist.

Odin (still in Norway, or King’s Cross Station, or something): Asgard is not a place. Never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand. Even now, right now, those people need your help.

Thor: I’m not as strong as you.

Odin: No… You’re stronger.

Does Thor seem like someone who’s having trouble reconciling his father’s legacy, or is it someone who’s still taking advice from the guy, but oh yeah that murdery spree he went on a while ago was unfortunate? And again, what Thor says about Asgard’s destruction has diddly squat to do with its legacy:

“Surtur destroys Asgard, he destroys Hela, so that our people may live. But we need to let him finish the job…”

I had to look up what the prophecy specifically was, since it was told to us by Surtur (the demon) in a very jokey early sequence that Thor didn’t even bother taking seriously, so why were we supposed to have? It’s just that Surtur will lay waste to Thor’s home. No motivation or anything.

My point is, Thor doesn’t really come to any realization about himself, or Asgard, or even Odin. He learns things, he likes Odin’s pithy governance lesson, but he doesn’t contextualize anything for himself or really grow because of it. He just figures out battle odds and gets a haircut. That’s his arc.

There’s the vague character growth that Thor doesn’t let Loki trick him again, again, again, so I can give him that. I don’t believe this is the context it needed to happen in, or that Thor’s way of exposing Loki at the start would have been too little to that thread, but okay. That continued.

Meanwhile, Loki has absolutely become the Game of Thrones Littlefinger of this universe. He instills chaos in his own plans for chaos’s sake (that is his thing), and how convenient that it lines up to plot demands. Thor kind of calls out this character stagnation to him, ironically ignoring his own:

“Oh, dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me. Round and round in circles we go. See, Loki, life is about… It’s about growth. It’s about change. But you seem to just wanna stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more.”

So I guess it’s a sign of growth that Loki does go back and try to save Asgard with Thor. Even in the very end, Thor mentions how he believes Loki’s presence to be a trick, but Loki is actually there, physically. Maybe he’s…“not so bad.”

Hero shot!

It’s just, this guy’s scripting has been all over the place, and there’s no particular reason to believe his decision is the sign of any lasting change. He teamed up with the prisoners to get out of Sakaar in what’s most easily read as self-preservation, and even when he returned to Asgard, he was calling himself the “savior” and trying to milk his contribution. Maybe, just maybe Loki grew in this movie for the sole reason that he got sad when Thor called him the “God of Mischief.” Because that’s all that would have spurred this. Not the stakes of the situation, not Loki’s own guilt over Odin’s death, and not even Loki wishing he could rectify his poor public image on Asgard. Just, his brother is very disappointed in him.

Yeah, that could be an arc. Though I can’t call it one that’s particularly well-done.

The one that is executed best is probably Valkyrie’s. She’s hiding from her past, clearly both traumatized and guilty over how the fight with Hela turned out. It’s strongly implied someone took a mortal wound for her (no clue how she got away herself), and she’s now got this despicable job where she’s miserable and drinking herself into a stupor. Thor himself showing up clearly affects her and makes her squirm, but it’s not until Loki forces her to relive that trauma that she has a full change of heart.

“Look, I’ve spent years in a haze, trying to forget my past. Sakaar seemed like the best place to drink and forget, and to die one day.

…But I don’t wanna forget. I can’t turn away anymore, so if I’m gonna die, well, it may as well be driving my sword through the heart of that murderous hag.”

This tracks just fine. Loki’s memory home video powers are convenient, but definitely within the framework, and it makes sense that thinking back to that could instill some sense of duty, or passion in her, especially given that Thor is literally trying to get back to Asgard to save it.

The only issue with this is that it’s completely disconnected from the thematic thrust. This was actually pointed out to me as an anonymous message on social media (I may have been ranting), but doesn’t her arc do the opposite of what this movie purports to do with Asgard and its legacy? She’s been a slaver for years, which isn’t even given the space to be hand-waved—it’s just not addressed. Then she gets all back in touch with being a Valkyrie, and re-donning that great Asgardian armor, and having a resurgence of love for her home where she can talk about how much she hates the prophecy about its destruction and everything.

This is fine in its own right, but didn’t we just find out Asgard has been an imperialist superpower? It’s good that someone with clear PTSD is trying to sort through her trauma and reclaim a sense of identity that she’s tried to dismiss for years, but it simply doesn’t fit with what we learned about Odin, which is what calls forth this entire conflict. If it were some more abstract external threat to Asgard, then sure a kind of “I’ll fight until it’s rubble” attitude would have some impact. But Asgard was built on a whole lot of blood and Odin was an active revisionist who covered up artwork depicting that. It’s an odd choice for her, let’s just leave it at that.

I’m trying to think if anyone else grew through the course of this movie. Heimdall stays as prescient and morally upright as ever. Bruce Banner gets de-Hulked, which is important to the MCU I’m sure, but it’s via a recording of someone not in this film, based on a relationship not in this film, so it’s kind of hard to argue there’s an arc here. It’s more that we learn how the Hulk is comfortable spending his free time. And truthfully without having seen Civil War, I can’t tell you whether his sacrificing of Banner to free the Hulk at the end was character growth, or just situational necessity again.

I guess Skurge has a character arc. He goes from being self-preservationist to finally hitting a breaking point with Hela and sacrificing himself for Asgard. Frankly he’s a delight any time he’s on the screen, so even though it’s admittedly thin and formulaic, I’ll give that all the points.

Really, what my main issue comes down to is that it’s blindingly obvious what character these stakes should have instilled growth in, and that’s Odin. Except he’s dead, so he never has to reconcile with anything. Hela has no relationship to Thor or Loki (she doesn’t even know about them), but she does to Odin, and frankly as the dude that imprisoned her, he’s kind of the one that should be going face-to-face in some capacity. What makes a family drama compelling is the fact that the family has a history together, after all.

Now, in Black Panther it was T’Chaka’s crappy decision that sort of “created” Killmonger, a decision that T’Challa hates and feels is wrong at his core, and cannot rest until it is righted. So it was the protagonist’s father’s actions that created the situation with a family member he didn’t know at all. It worked in that movie, so why not here?

Well, probably because Thor didn’t really react to learning that Odin had conquered the other realms. So it just made an already emptyish dynamic between Hela and Thor feel even weaker, since the one thin thread that connected them—Odin and their feelings about him—were only half-explored. Hela felt rejected by Odin and pissed off about that, while Thor felt…not as powerful as him? Happy to quote him?

Maybe I’d have fewer issues if Odin hadn’t just been like, “I’m in Norway now, so that means I’m dying. Bye and have fun with your sister you never knew about!” It’s just that his death was so unceremonious, that the mess of his damn making felt out of the blue and sort of incidental. Then, we cut back and forth from the Goddess of Death taking over Asgard to Thor trying to ignore how big the Hulk’s penis is. Seriously.

And that brings us to our final problem.

That’s not how jokes work

Humor is subjective. Napoleon Dynamite is so hideously unfunny to me that it used to make me angry.

I will say right now that I don’t know if it was the plane flight, I don’t know if it was my mood, or I don’t know if it’s the underlying type of comedy here, but I did not once crack a smile at Jeff Goldblum in this movie. I’ve liked him as a comedian before, and I’m sure I will again. I did not like him here.

I also did not enjoy Valkyrie’s played-for-laughs alcoholism. That trope is pretty grating to me at this point, and even though they kind of painted it as tragic, they also…didn’t. She was quirky and fun because she could down a bottle before Thor finished talking, and when Thor actually suggested drinking heavily might be bad for her, we were supposed to laugh at her telling him she wasn’t going to stop. It’s nothing against Tessa Thompson’s performance, who frankly stole every scene she was in. But that’s just how I reacted to the character.

I did massively like Taika Waititi as Korg, Karl Urban’s Skurge was wonderful (especially opposite to Kate Blanchett chewing the scenery), and there were times that Thor and the Hulk’s back and forths were amusing. So it’s not like I found nothing funny here. But to be sure, a lot of the comedic thrust didn’t land for me, and if it had, maybe I’d have a very different reaction to this film.

That said, the humor of this movie is really the best praise I hear about it. I’m just not entirely sure why that’s a good thing. I’m all for a boisterous, fun Thor romp, but if that’s what this was supposed to be, then why the hell even introduce Odin’s imperialism in it? Why have Thor’s best friends murdered here?

Levity can be powerful in dramas. There were jokes in Black Panther, not to beat this already dead horse, but it didn’t make for a full tonal clash. When M’Baku said his people are vegetarian, it was a great way to cut the tension of the moment and further characterize him. However, we never cut back and forth from Killmonger murdering Andy Serkis to T’Challa doing something ~wacky~. The more jovial scenes, like Shuri’s lab, were before the plot really picked up, and the humor that took place during serious scenes (the car chase, for instance) was sparing.

The stakes of Thor: Ragnarok are literally the destruction of the world. And also the destruction of Asgard’s connection to the other realms. The central conflict is born out of an imperfect, revisionist colonist ruler who is the protagonist’s dad. How are we supposed to be treating this with any kind of seriousness when the own narrative can’t even manage to give as much focus on Asgardians fleeing to their Helm’s Deep as it does to Thor’s haircut?

All the humor (or attempted humor in my case) managed to do was heavily undercut the dramatic tension. Even if I had been in stitches during Sakaar, it wouldn’t have helped me get more engaged with the central conflict. It just might have made my flight go faster. And if the central conflict was not as interesting to the writers as the jokes, then fine, maybe this isn’t the movie for that. But for god’s sake, don’t float that giant imperialism matzo ball if you’re not going to be able to actually do anything with it. Was it just there for color? Odin’s not perfect, ya know…now here’s the Hulk!

Stuff Happens, Don’t Question It!

It’s no secret if you’ve read any of my previous articles that I’m not the best at enjoying fun, colorful action sequences for the sake of fun, colorful action sequences. That is, unless I know it is pure silliness, like with Thor: Dark World. It’s ironic enjoyment, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If I had gone in with that attitude for Thor: Ragnarok, I think I would have liked the ride.

But frankly, that’s not the attitude anyone seems to be holding about this movie. Maybe it was the counterweight to Civil War that the MCU needed, maybe if I had watched it before Black Panther I’d have a more favorable view…maybe it’s that elevated an experience in theaters. For me, I can only see two half-completed scripts stitched together, resulting in a whole that’s weaker than the sum of its parts. It’s fine to celebrate it as a joyous romp for those that felt joy and romped, but I can’t call it a good movie. A good viewing experience maybe, but not a good narrative.

In other words, it’s a Thor movie. Wow. I guess maybe my expectations had been too high.


Images courtesy of Marvel

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Analysis

Fandom Meme Disease, and What Should We Do With It?

Angelina

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A fandom meme disease is this thing that happens when creators absorb fandom-born memes and integrate them into their work.

(And so, first things first: sorry that for the duration of this article I’ll use “meme” as if this were a legit term.  It is controversial to say the least, but it is shorter to say “meme” than “any idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.)

I’m not implying that the creators who do this are somehow bad, or that fandom is somehow bad. Moreover, I don’t believe that fandom-creator interaction is bad. What is bad, then? Let me explain how I see it.

Fandom Meme Creation

Any given fandom is, in my opinion, born when some people contact any given media and start using it as a source of inspiration. Not just a purely artistic inspiration; people may be inspired to write meta-analysis, or to engage in discussions, or to wage a flame war against opponents. All this is normal human reaction on something inspirational. Even flame wars are somewhat natural (still wicked, though; human nature can be wicked, too).

And while acting on their inspiration, people deconstruct the original source and use its metaphorical bricks to build their own work, be it a meta, a fic or an art. The result may be perfectly in line with the original, but usually it is not. It resembles the original, that’s true—but as it went through processing in one’s creative imagination it came out a bit different. Thus, fandom meme is born.

There are millions of those floating on the Internet’s vast expanses. Some of them are soon forgotten even by those who first gave life to them. Some are more resilient than others, so they spread and multiply their kind. Those memes become known as fanon. Other fandom memes stay in this gray area between a headcanon and “this weird idea I share with some friends”. Still, all those are memes.

But I digress.

 How The Internet Changed Things

Nowadays the creators have a unique opportunity to exchange views with the fandom. Not that it was not possible before; the letters existed, the fanmail was a really important thing, and the conventions started long before the advent of Internet, but still the scale was different.
What’s more important, the speed was different.
Back then the creator had to wait for quite a time to get a sufficient amount of feedback from, well, fandom. Now a minute past the release there is a ton of articles, metas, fanart, fanfiction—etc. There is fanart and fanfiction about characters who are announced only/had a brief screen moment in trailers or even teasers. There are metas about them, too!

And all this is actually great. But any great thing has a flip side.

In this case, it is this little fact that on average, an interested person is much more exposed to fandom memes than to canon memes. Because the original version is a meme, too—but a meme that is spread and multiplied on much lower rate than fandom memes are. And the thing with memes is, more exposure usually means more absorption.

The sad truth is, creators are interested persons, too.

When Creators Absorb Fandom Memes

Basically what happens is, being constantly exposed to very bustling fandom life, the creators not only have an influence on it, but are influenced by it. This influence may be different.

While there are certainly those who treat fandom memes as a discussion point only, they are not the only ones. Some creators consciously decide to follow a fanon as a means of pandering to their fandom. Other creators use their work to basically say “your fanon is wrong, don’t follow it”. And then there are some creators who genuinely absorb the meme and spread it in good faith. The latter thing is especially typical for multi-author franchises.

Thus it happens that when a next installment is out, it suffers from fandom meme disease.

What Is Not a Fandom Meme Disease?

  • FlanderizationIt shares one notable similarity with fandom meme disease—namely the fact that a character or event becomes increasingly simplified and defined by their/its most obvious trait, and it happens as the franchise or series progresses. But the difference is that the fandom has no part in this creative decision, just some lazy writing. FMD is not a sign of deterioration—it can happen with something that is otherwise pretty good and very much alive and thriving—while Flanderization is usually a red flag signalling that this media is dying.
  • Retcon. It is, again, very similar to FMD in effect (something or someone is no more the one it once was) and timing (also occurs with some new installment), but the key difference is, retcon acknowledges that something has in fact changed, it just asks us to pretend it hasn’t. FMD doesn’t acknowledge any change and acts as if things were always this way.
  • Any other case of real or perceived OOC. It can be a case of fandom meme disease only if the sudden shift in the original is consistent with the fanon or directly opposes it, but contradicts the earlier version.

Notable Victims

fandom meme disease

Not pictired: a badass warrior who overthrew a whole patriarchal system to learn how to fight

Yeah. I really hate what the otherwise pretty good Legend of Korra did with Katara. A decent half of her personality suddenly disappeared in the thin air, leaving us with the fanon Mommy Healer Katara whose only life goal is to care for her child-husband Aang and bear children for him. Sure, that was a widespread enough idea (and pretty sexist, too), but did the creators forget that they themselves wrote her as very proactive and never content with staying away from action?

Not pictured: a traumatised child-soldier, deeply anxious about her underperformance in all things “feminine”, haunted by things she had to do yet always caring and empathetic towards others

I had a tough time picking a poster person for the very…peculiar way in which Game of Thrones treats George R. R. Martin’s characters. The problem is, only some of them suffer from FMD; others are rewritten to fit into D&D’s own narrative.

The thing with Arya (and Sansa; and Sandor) is that sometimes it is not hard to point directly towards those fan discussions that were a basis for the creative decisions turning the original character into something very, very different.

If I could pick an event to illustrate the FMD…Game of Thrones would never disappoint! Do you remember that Robert’s Rebellion was built on lies? That’s the most blatant case of FMD I’ve ever met. It is ripped from fanfiction and wishful-thinking style metas and even the idea that Robert’s Rebellion is all about Rhaegar and Lyanna is pure fandom meme!

fandom meme disease

Not pictured: a tormented soul, devoid of all emotion due to being consumed by Dark Side, a sorry creature that is ever a puppet of his masters

See, this one is tricky. FMD mostly tortured Vader back in the old EU, but I think Kieron Gillen’s comics are not free from its fair share of Over Powerful Unstoppable Cool Awesome Guy Vader We All Adore. He has his good moments when he actually catches the other part of being a Sith, but mostly it is right here. This Vader is really cool, he is fun to watch, he is wisecracking, he is never truly challenged and never has to doubt himself. He beat the ancient dark Jedi without breaking a sweat, for good’s sake. That’s really too much.

The ultimate Manly Man of the franchise—though of course Rogue One gave us an even more blatant example of purest fanon possible on big screen.

And There Are More

I didn’t want to use Hermione Granger from Cursed Child because it may cause misunderstanding, but what about the movies? What about Princess Leia and her sorry fate throughout the old EU? What about loads of characters I don’t know, but you certainly do?

And what about sexism that is suspiciously ever present in any case of fandom meme disease?

Girls and women are pigeonholed by their tomboyish/feminine attitude, with tomboys stripped off all feminine traits, while girly girls devoid of all courage, right to be angry and right to be rational, as those things are associated with masculinity.

All the while “cool” male characters are carefully stripped off any sign of human nature, emotion or just simply weakness. Tell me it happens by pure chance.

So… What Can We Do?

We can talk about it. Raise awareness. Point out the bad tendency of sexist fanons to creep on big screen and on book and comic book pages.

If this exists, it can be beaten, after all.


Images courtesy of HBO, Viacom, Disney

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Gaming

Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World

David

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Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.

However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”

Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.

Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.

By Land

The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.

Not Kosher

In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.

The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.

Also Not Kosher

Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.

We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.

Kosher! (maybe)

Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.

By Air

Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.

Not Kosher

Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster.  Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.

The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.

Kosher! (Surprisingly!)

I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.

And By Sea

There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.

Kosher, and think of all the sushi.

For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.

The Hunt Goes On…

So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!


Images Courtesy of Capcom

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