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Analysis

Thanos Didn’t Have a Point and Someone Should Tell the Writers

Kylie

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SPOILERS for all of Avengers: Infinity War

In the past week, it has been hard to avoid discussions about Avengers: Infinity War, and yes, it’s mostly the last ten minutes of the film that’s to thank for that. From what I can tell, it’s been a pretty polarizing Marvel movie in the sense that there’s not a whole lot of, “it was just…fine” takes. Jeremiah sort of fits in that category, I’d say, though overall his opinion felt favorable, even if a bit tepidly so.

Mine was not.

It’s not even so much the ending, though I’ll be the first to say I found that bit gratuitous, cowardly, and eye-roll-inducing at the same time. Rather, it was that I could never get engaged with Thanos as a villain. Which was especially a problem in a movie where he’s the closest thing to a central character. Why? Because I found his motivations to be completely trite, unsympathetic, and forced. Worse still, I found their presentation completely irresponsible.

Motivational Messaging

I said as much on social media, and in response was asked, “do villains need relatable motives?” That’s a great point. After all, was anyone really arguing that Sauron had some good ideas, or that Fire Lord Ozai just needed a better marketing team? Well…it’s the internet; I’m sure somewhere, yes, that’s been said. But overall, of course not. Sometimes antagonists can just be intractably Bad™, and that’s okay. It may not be my personal ultimate narrative penchant, but it sets stakes, and the interest lies in how our heroes react to the situation, the inventive ways they may go about bringing down the forces of evil, what they may learn about the world or the human condition, and of course how they personally grow and develop along the way.

Then there’s the fact that some people are motivated by unjustifiable aims. People with many followers, even. I’d argue the baddies in the new Star Wars trilogy fit into this category. The First Order are space fascists, because they want domination and control. Kylo Ren’s motivations are personal in nature, and as the audience we’re given insight into them, but his means and ends are never meant to be sympathetic, or nuanced, or remotely balanced. The bad guys are quite obviously unstable and at this point, flailing (which has an ironic twinge to it since their foes have basically reduced to 20 hippies in a van).

Clearly men who have made good choices in life.

Our media is a reflection on our culture. Speculative fiction is valuable since we can distance ourselves from our current societal conditions and really dig deep into these issues. That’s why there’s a very valid reading of Kylo Ren as a proxy for say…a radicalized white supremacist in our contemporary times. And the way he’s portrayed and people react to them provide commentary that’s relevant to us, even if we’re not living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Going back to the Avatar: the Last Airbender example, Fire Lord Ozai is not really meant to be a proxy for anyone in our world. Sure, there are still people with imperialist aims, but it wasn’t a very direct commentary. However, the reflection on our culture comes in the forms of what the messaging is surrounding Aang’s journey. It’s about the importance of authenticity, finding your own inner strength, questioning the necessity of violence, and just in general, maturation. We may not have a lion turtle to whom we turn for a solution, but Aang’s struggle with capital punishment and his choice to end things in a way that didn’t violate his own morality is something aspirational for viewers.

So no, villains don’t need sympathetic or relatable motivations for a story to be good or meaningful. Sometimes they don’t even need understandable motivations. (Did anyone know Sauron’s 10-year strategic plan?) The problem with Thanos is that the writers didn’t seem to realize that his motivations were ridiculous, ungrounded in any logic, and completely lacking in any kind of sympathy.

A Genocidal Maniac with A Heart of Gold

Let’s just dive right into the specifics. For anyone non-spoiler-phobic who hasn’t seen the film, Thanos wanted to obtain all the infinity stones so that he could assemble the infinity gauntlet, control all of reality, and use that control to kill off half the population of every world within the universe. This is a very extreme measure, but don’t worry, he has a great reason: overpopulation.

You see, his home planet had an issue with resource scarcity, and the only thing that can create such a situation is when there’s too many people. So he’s been going to planets for awhile now with an army and indiscriminately murdering half of their citizens. It’s “not political” genocide, because he murders the rich and the poor. No judgement…just death! The infinity gauntlet would allow him to do this in one fell swoop, because he takes no pleasure in the genocide, and there’s oh so many planets he wants to save. It’s a burden and he cannot rest until it’s done.

And apparently there’s been great results so far! Gamora’s planet is “thriving” and there’s no more starvation ever since he took out half their population a couple of decades ago. Clearly this issue not only scales up to the entire universe, but the genocide itself is an effective means to reducing starvation. Equally clearly, there’s no other pathway to prevent resource scarcity, even with a gauntlet that controls reality and could easily create more abundant resources, or increase access to birth control, or terraform an uninhabitable planet for more space for overcrowded planets…

Again, I’m not the first person to point out how his entire motivation falls apart under the smallest amount of scrutiny. But it’s still necessary to call attention to this.

Now, it’s important to note that in the process of obtaining the infinity stones to control reality to murder half the population for humanitarian reasons, Thanos needed to sacrifice something he “loved.” Why? Because Red Skull told him that’s the only way to get the soul stone, and clearly that obstacle needed to exist in the first place. 

So Thanos pushes Gamora off a cliff, we get a shot of her horrifically smashed corpse on the ground below, he sheds a Man Tear, and the soul stone is his. Then he later talks about all he’s had to sacrifice to be able to achieve his aims—presumably this is about Gamora, not to mention the “toll” indiscriminate genocide has on him since it’s his “burden.”

So our villain, and quasi-protagonist of the movie, is given a sympathetic backstory (yes, it is sympathetic that there was such horrible poverty on his planet that people were suffering and dying), a platform to share his philosophical motivations and rationalizations, and a moment where he has to sacrifice love—presented without irony—in order to achieve his chilling aims.

It’s that last bit that particularly stands out, since “sacrificing one personal love for the sake of utilitarian benefit” is a rather common thread throughout this movie. We see both Peter Quill and Wanda Maximoff make the same choice. Yeah, in their case the people they loved were on-board too (Gamora and Vision), whereas Gamora was clearly not okay with being murdered by Thanos for him to obtain the soul stone, but we still get our villain following the beats of our heroes.

Why am I harping on this? Because the issue is that the movie acts as though Thanos has a point. The movie acts as though Thanos’s philosophy is justifiable, but taken to an evil extreme. The movie acts as though Thanos legitimately did have to sacrifice something, and this is taking a personal toll on him, and it’s kind of tragic that these are the means and ends he thinks are necessary to resolve what’s clearly a real problem. And that’s the worst bit: the movie acts like overpopulation truly is the cause of great suffering thanks to resource scarcity.

There is only one person who even engages with Thanos’s motivations, and that’s Gamora. Everyone else just wants to stop Bad Thing™ from happening, because it’s bad. (It is, but I’m not even positive most of them know what Thanos wants, so their stakes in this are far more generic.) Gamora actually points out to him that killing people is shitty and not  helpful. Thanos responds by telling Gamora his slaughtering of her people led to prosperity. She has no counter to this.

And that’s it! There is no argument raised against Thanos’s framing of the problem, nor his solution.

Worse still, Thanos’s portrayal is collected, measured, seemingly reasonable, and yes, burdened. Now, you can still have a villain with absolutely horrifying ends in mind and a calm demeanor. In fact, that’s often effective at showing how chillingly detached they are form humanity. But Thanos ain’t detached either. He emotes pretty strongly, he cries for Gamora, and we learn that his love had been real, or else he wouldn’t have gotten the soul stone. There was nothing on our screens within the movie that even hinted at hypocrisy, or personal delusion, or anything. He was just a dude solvin’ that universal overpopulation crisis with a means that most people deem unacceptable because the death toll is too high. What makes him a villain is that he doesn’t care that it was that high, I suppose.

(As a side-note, there’s also absolutely no explanation for his minions, their philosophical commitment, how he convinced them, or what they view as the aims. So we have to assume they’re on-board with this plan for humanitarian reasons as well, or something. ~Apolitical genocide~!)

The thing is, from what I can tell, this portrayal mostly worked. It sold Thanos. That’s why we have critics comparing him to Killmonger, a villain who took a very real problem to a chilling extreme, and an extreme that was tragically shaped by the toxic masculinity of the culture he was forced into.

Here’s the rub: Killmonger was fighting on behalf of the suffering of black populations around the world. He’s fighting for the marginalized, though it’s clear his views have fallen out of balance. That’s why Nakia, the philosophical counterpoint to Killmonger, is such a crucial character. She believes Wakanda should offer aid as well, because this suffering is not okay and they do have the power to help, but her approach does not engage with any imperialist strategies.

“The following distinction is crucial: Black Panther does not render a verdict that violence is an unacceptable tool of black liberation—to the contrary, that is precisely how Wakanda is liberated. It renders a verdict on imperialism as a tool of black liberation, to say that the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” —Adam Serwer, The Atlantic  

In Infinity War, Gamora is the closest thing we’ve got to Nakia in terms of offering a counterpoint, and hers just amounted to “genocide is bad.” It wasn’t even engaging with the subject of resource scarcity or starvation. Thanos said that’s what he wanted to solve, and she just kind of reacted like, “Yes, of course. But these means are bad.”

Here’s the thing though: unlike Killmonger, what Thanos is seeking to solve—overpopulation—is actually at the expense of marginalized populations when it’s viewed as something that needs solving in the first place. I mean yes, technically he is trying to get rid of starvation and suffering due to resource scarcity; but his diagnosis that this is the result of overpopulation is again, not challenged, and rather confirmed by the way Gamora’s planet apparently bounced back happily from the genocide. Which kind of implies that the writers believe overpopulation to be a credible threat as well.

That’s dangerous. It’s actually pretty racist at its historical core too, and certainly its contemporary application. I don’t want to shock anyone, but there has been poverty, starvation, and suffering long before the earth was in even remote danger of its biological capacity being reached. Even now, the countries with the highest rates of death due to malnutrition are the same countries that are using the fewest resources, consuming the least amount of fossil fuels, and contributing the least to global warming, generally speaking. Is world hunger a case of resource scarcity for us? No.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day. A principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food or access to nutritious food.” —2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics (bolded emphasis mine)

At this moment, there is a bit of a global hysteria regarding immigration and refugees. As the effects of climate change worsen, the need for populations to move to new countries is only going to increase too. That’s kind of what happens when areas become uninhabitable. It is really, really important that people understand issues of poverty are not because there’s “too many people” in the world, but because resources are inadequately distributed.

This isn’t even touching the issue of safe access to both education about and means of birth control. Which yes, is very effective at curbing birth rates in areas that may be more resource-strapped and lacking in the capacity for its citizens to obtain proper nutrition.

What is keeping us from sustainably and equitably distributing resources and education? Power structures! Governments! Apathy! NIMBYism! The requirements for corporations to be completely profit-driven at all times! And look, I’m not here calling for a grand revolution because one movie had a bunch of logical fallacies in it. Our overlapping systems of government and economy on this planet are complicated and ending world hunger isn’t exactly something where there’s a clear path towards a solution.

But what I am saying is that finger-pointing at the broad concept of overpopulation has a whole host of problems, and it completely ignores the power structures behind resource distributions. It’s kind of like blaming the victim, but in a way that’s couched as apolitical. Which is dangerous in its own right. Today, when people within our governments are the ones articulating this? It’s beyond irresponsible, especially as a takeaway from the biggest movie to date.

Thanos, Motives, Realism

I know it might be confusing that I started by saying Thanos’s plan falls apart under minimal scrutiny (what, is he snapping every 80 years or something?) and was horribly unrelatable, and then led to a point where I argued how the danger is that there are people today with Thanos’s worldview (universe-view?). So…doesn’t that mean it is relatable?

But the issue is that it shouldn’t be. This is not the worldview that should be validated in any way, or presented as even worth being given the time of day. Because it’s one that comes at a human cost. And in-verse, it’s even more absurd, since it’s a worldview that comes at the cost of 50% of everyone, just indiscriminately. There is no reason to ever take a character doing something like that and twist the narrative so that people can walk out shrugging, “you know, he had a point.”

“He just needed better marketing.”

If Thanos had been targeting governmental systems a la Zaheer in Legend of Korra, this might have played well. Not perfectly, but it’d at least be some kind of way of identifying a problem worth digging into. This? It makes the comparisons to Killmonger feel grossly inappropriate, to say the least.

And even if we can say, “But some people do think like this!”, there was no attempt to challenging anything but the means to the end. Even the end itself was tacitly endorsed. It can be argued that American History X’s imagery may have inadvertently framed white supremacy in an enticing way to some, and that’s something filmmakers need to consider when penning their antagonists. But the narrative was abundantly clear about the dangers of this worldview, the chilling way people can become radicalized and buy into it, and the horrific ends it leads to. It was a clear condemnation.

For Infinity War? The writers seemed unaware that anything needed to be condemned. Overpopulation…it’s obviously a problem! And a universal one at that, in the most literal definition of the word “universal.” Otherwise, why would Thanos, this rather mild-speaking individual who experienced horror thanks to an overcrowded planet, be willing to sacrifice the daughter who he abused loved and take on the mantle of this burden? Sure his solution was too much, but there was suffering, and the test-results of randomly wiping out half the people worked great! Why wouldn’t he continue pursuing it? Why wouldn’t there be anything but great results? Fewer people means everyone gets more things and that’s good! There would have been no recovery period with mass panic and devastation or anything.

Sorry, I can keep going with this.

The thing is, I get why the writers did this. The comic event upon which this movie was loosely based had a Thanos who wiped out half the universe’s population in an attempt to…win over a girl. Death, to be precise. He thought she was awesome, and my guess is she probably thought the half-extinction of the universe was awesome. No, I didn’t read it, but it’s not exactly foolish that the writers would want to make the motivation more…reasonable. Or less weird? More serious, maybe? On the surface, it does sound utterly ridiculous, and with media that’s slanted more towards realism lately, it seems like an uphill battle to translate it to the screen.

Then again, there was something a little more than ridiculous about the end sequence already, especially with the woolly powers of the infinity stones and the inherently jarring deploy of the time stone. So I’m not sure “realism” was much of a goal here.

What’s funny is that in the writers’ desire to make Thanos more motivated, they kind of missed that his original motivation—impressing a lady—is very relevant to today’s world, and ripe for potential social commentary. You know, maybe it’d be something like a guy not accepting rejection from a woman, and going to chilling ends to get her attention, possibly because of misguided sense of entitlement? Kind of like the stuff we’re reconciling now, as a culture!

On this vein, if it’s Death he’s after, why not have kept Hela from Thor: Ragnarok around to be the female personification that he’s trying to woo? That way, Cate Blanchett isn’t blown on just one movie, and it would have helped justify the tonal dissonance of Ragnarok as it would have been more of a bridge movie within the universe, rather than a disjointed attempt at a Thor standalone.

I hate branching into “I wish the movie had been about this” territory, but it’s mind-blowing to me that of the many, many options the writers had for this event, which included a closer adaptation of the source, they picked the “apolitical genocide” route. Because apparently overpopulation is a credible threat to fall back on, Thanos is just an extremist, and it’s possible to be egalitarian in murdering of half the population.

There’s a chance that Thanos’s laughable excuse for philosophy will be taken to task in Avengers 4, and I don’t want to dismiss that possibility. But there’s nothing in the framing of his plan that makes me think the writers even realize it’s necessary to do so. Not to mention, this was the movie with the biggest opening in history. All MCU films until Avengers 4 are going to have taken place before the snap. So we have this standing for a solid year. That is a long, long time for that viewpoint to go unchallenged.

No, villains don’t need relatable or sympathetic motives for compelling stories. But if you’re going to present it like they do, then it at least needs to be thought through.


Images courtesy of Disney

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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Esther JesinthaChrisTejaDin Recent comment authors
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Din
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Din

Ma’am,you are ignorant. I read some other articles of yours and you truly jave no idea what you write. And pathetic comments of praise and agreement you receive must come from your pals on this site or maybe even yourself. And no,I’m not a Marvel fanboy.

Teja
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I thought most of this too. In fact, quite a few developed nation environmentalists do think like Thanos. I’m looking at Cap to make the point in the next movie for how the loss of all humanity that results from accepting the idea that it’s ok to cull part of humanity, is too great a price. And I’m looking at maybe Ironman or possibly Wakanda at the close to make the point that it is not even necessary.

We Nearly Bought a Goat in the Delhi Goat Market! — Teja on the Horizon
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[…] As developing nations try to attain a better quality of life, they will look to those already there, to determine what is the lifestyle to emulate. Some environmentalists – invariably from developed countries – often recite this with a tone of foreboding. Frankly, it sounds a bit like you might be a willing Child of Thanos.  […]

Chris
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Chris

Apparently the author of this article completely overlooked the dialogue between Thanos and Gamora concerning, “This universe is finite; its resources finite.” That was written into the movie to specifically shoot down this poorly-“thought out” criticism. The Infinity Gauntlet in the MCU is not capable of creating matter from nothing. This entire article is baseless.

I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul.

Esther Jesintha
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Esther Jesintha

Thoroughly applaud your well thought out article. However, rather than providing reasons for Thanos being an unlikely villain, you actually bolstered supportive arguments in favour of his aptness for the villain character (which is a good thing). There are too many selfish people who share Thanos ideals in this world, and I saw the Movie as an eye-opener to such people. There is no such thing as ‘killing a few lives (although in this case, many) for the greater good’. Sure, it was strongly hinted that the movie was inclined to be sympathetic to this, but we can also boldly… Read more »

Analysis

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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There are so many factors that have come into play when I first heard about Image comics newest release, DIE, that it is hard to pinpoint the real reason it intrigued me so heavily. Who am I kidding, it was all the reasons. Most importantly the staff on it.

For one, it features two of my favorite Image Comics alum. The first being Kieron Gillen, the mastermind that gave us the brilliant comic The Wicked And The Divine,which is one of the best ongoing comics at the moment. On the art work is the incredibly talented Stephanie Hans whose realistic and beautifully shaded and colored panels were also featured in The Wicked And The Divine‘s 1831 one shot as well across other comic distributors such as DC with Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The two coming together again like in 1831 is a match that builds this comic up to be really something special.

Image, in the last few years has really been producing some special and important books in the past few years, among them being The Wicked and the Divine, some of the more acclaimed include Saga, Blackbird, Paper Girls,and Infidel, the company takes a proud departure from Superheroes that dominate the comic industry and opt for more fantasy or science fiction stories with adult and political themes.

Lastly, the plot was incredibly unique and original. When it was advertised as Jumanji meets It, I was instantly interested. While not being a player of table top games myself, I can certainly see the crowd this book is trying to reach while also showing the fun about these games with an added horror twist that is sure to be remembered after the first issue.

The story really does follow a similar timeline to the mentioned Stephen King novel since it follows a group of friends during two periods of their lives: as teenagers and as adults. As we are introduced to each member of the group, we notice nothing in particularly strange about their characters, other than a shared love for table top games and science fiction and fantasy themes. The group has gathered together to celebrate the birthday of their friend Dominic by playing an apparently hard to find game called Gormenghast.

We learn a little about each character based on their choice of created characters. Dominic himself creates a diplomat woman that’s apparently a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli, the Dictator. Matthew, a magical warrior of empathy, the Grief Knight. Angela, a cyber punk, Neo. Isabelle, an atheist with gods as pets, Godbinder. Chuck, a lazily created every-man. And Sol the dungeon master with D20 die.

As the game begins the comic cuts to two hours later as Sol’s mum comes to check on them and they have disappeared. Fast forward again and it’s two years later and the group suddenly appears on a random road nearly getting hit by a car. Angela is missing her arm and we can’t really make out what happened, they are now only known as the Stafford six a group of teenagers who went missing two years ago. Sol is the only one missing from the group.

The comic again goes in time to 25 years later where we get to see how this tragedy has affected the rest of their lives. Apparently they had all made a promise never to speak about what happened, not even to one another. Sol’s mother even after so many years pesters Dominic about the fate of her son, to which he avoids. Using brilliant dialogue we see just how dark this has made their lives. Dom seems not to keep in touch with all the others except his sister who has gone through a string of divorces. They have made the best of living with their memories but it is all destroyed when Dom receives a package at a bar, a bloodied D20 die.

It’s at this moment that he decides to reunite the group. After so much time, some have changed completely while others not at all…I’m looking at you Chuck. While some have new companions and some less. They decide as a group to finally discuss what happened that night and where they were for two years until the die calls out to them. The Grandmaster threatens the realm and a hero is needed it calls as they are all sucked into the die and land into a desert ruin. It’s apparent that they have all become their characters…why does Chuck look like Varric.

With the end of the issue the group bickers among themselves about being back in the game, something they’ve repressed for nearly half their lives until Sol appears as the new Grandmaster. What I took from his dialogue is that he was trapped by the previous one and during these long years he’s fought a war to survive or escape and eventually defeated him and became the Grandmaster himself. It’s not clear whether he’s sane or not at this point but it points to the latter as he tells his friends that they are not leaving until the game is over.

This first issue was great at establishing its main cast. While I kept most of those details out of this review, the book really fleshes them out individually and gives life to each of their personalities. Anyone who has read The Wicked and the Divine will know just how well Gillen handles diversity among characters as well as conflicting attitudes. They actually feel like a group of friends you might have been a part of in high school. I really loved this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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It had to happen sometime. I talked last book about how much Butcher had improved on his shaky start. Published in 2002, Summer Knight brings the shaky opening to a conclusion. It also opens up a new phase of storytelling for the series as a whole. In case you couldn’t tell, I really like this book. It brings so much to the series, and features one of the more iconic moments of the series for Murphy. Let’s get into it.

Spoilers for Summer Knight and all previous books in the series.

So, What Happened?

Summer Knight opens with Harry and Billy investigating a rain of toads. Harry grumps around and alienates all his friends because of his grief over Susan. Afterwards, he goes to a meeting Billy orchestrated, which turns out to be with Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae. She bought his debt from the Leanansidhe, and wants him to clear her name for a murder. Harry refuses and goes to the White Council meeting. We meet several other wizards, and a vampire offers peace between the White Council and Red Court if they turn over Harry. At the conclusion of the meeting, the wizards agree not to sacrifice Harry if he makes Mab cooperate with the Wizards.

Harry discovers that the murdered man, Ronald Reuel, was the Summer Knight, the human intermediary for the Summer Court. The power he wielded disappeared, destroying the balance. Which, eventually, leads to war between the Courts. Elaine, shows up as the Summer Emissary. Harry attends Reuels funeral, and runs into several teenage, changeling acquaintances of the knight who are concerned over the disappearance of Lily. He visits the Winter Lady, then contacts Murphy. They fight several monsters in a Wal-Mart. He goes to the Summer Lady after finding Elaine beaten by his car.

Harry visits the Summer and Winter Mothers in the Nevernever. The Winter Mother gives him an Unraveling. Aurora, the Summer Lady steals it from him and reveals she orchestrated everything to remake the seasons in her own image. She trapped the power inside Lily. Harry objects to this. Harry, the Alphas, and two of the teenage changelings go to the Stone Table. They interrupt the fight between seasons, steal back the Unraveling, and kill Aurora, saving Lily, the one holding the mantle. In the conclusion, Lily becomes the new Summer Lady.

Best Moment – The Wal-Mart Fight, Organization to Conclusion

There are so many good things about this scene. There’s finally communication, Murphy’s first moment of awesome, and plot hooks perfectly combined with character catharsis. Over the course of this unlikely placed scene, Butcher manages to bring several elements of the early series to a conclusion.

The first, of course, is that Harry finally tells Murphy everything about the supernatural. She even gets in one last one-liner about being kept out, a start to their banter for the rest of the series. “‘I know I’ve kept things from you.’ … ‘Yeah’, she said, ‘I know. It’s annoying as hell.’”(299). He tells her everything. About the Red Court, the White Council, the Fae, and Chicago Supernatural Politics. Now, we won’t have the cheap conflict from Storm Front where they work at cross-purposes again.

Immediately afterwards, we have the fight with the chlorofiend, the Tigress, and the mind fog. At the conclusion of that fight, we also have Murphy’s first major impact since the Loup-Garou. “Murphy tore through them with the chain saw, … then drove the blade directly between the chlorofiend’s glowing green eyes.” (345). Chainsaw with cold iron, vs Fae Creature. Murphy wins.

The way that the plot interacts shows improvement from the previous book. There, Butcher attempted to tie together the antagonists with the chain spells. Here, we see the ghoul, the summoned monster, and the mind fog from two different people. The Tigress also capitalizes on Murphy’s trauma from the previous book. But everything makes sense, and the conclusion of the fight ties together various plot threads, since Ace sent the Tigress, Aurora the fog and fiend, and Murphy starts to recover from Kravos’s attack.

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

While some of the previous books focused more on the change to other people, here we have Harry change. He has a character arc that comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end. Harry starts the book depressed over Susan, and he alienates everyone. Billy points it out. “I don’t need to be a wizard to see when someone’s in a downward spiral. You’re hurting. You need help.” (25). Given that Billy previously espoused the theme of the series, his reintroduction here is significant. Eventually, Harry accepts the help Billy offers, both in scheduling meetings, and with the fight at the end. After the fight, Harry even goes over to hang out with the Alphas, and plays a barbarian in a Dungeons & Dragons spin-off game. He quotes William Shakespeare jokingly, and says, “Meep, Meep” to a deranged Faerie Queen. (489).

It is not only the Alphas that help change Harry’s mood. His reunion with Eileen, his teenage flame, who he thought he killed alongside Justin also helps. Finding out he didn’t kill her brings him closure. But through the book, when she nominally serves as an opponent, the Summer Emissary to his Winter, her presence reassures him. Even when she ‘betrays’ him to Aurora, and binds him, she still helps him. “I’d been right. It was the same binding she’d used when we were kids.” (433). Her meddling enables him to escape Aurora’s death trap, by using their childhood bond.

At the conclusion of the book, she gives him advice regarding Susan that builds to the catharsis detailed above. “Stop thinking about how bad you feel—because if she cares about you at all, it would tear her up to see you like I saw you a few days ago.” (510). That help sends him in a new direction.

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

While the information on the White Council is delightful, the Fae Court proves more valuable to the main plot. And we learn a lot about the Courts here. Lea makes an appearance, where she ‘helps’ Harry by distracting him and a Fae from fighting and guiding him to the Stone Table. She mentions again how she believes her actions last book only helped him as well. It gives insight to the alien nature of Fae morals.

We also can draw conclusions about the structure of the Courts given all the information on how they organize themselves. Through the book, we learn about the Winter and Summer Courts, each with three Queens. The Mothers, the retired queens. The Queens, the current ruler. And the Ladies, the heir for the future. Their Knights that do their will in the mortal world, and the Emissaries chosen on special occasions.

Also informative is the phrase, “If Winter came here, Summer had to come too, didn’t it?” (219). It implies certain checks and balances on each other’s behavior. That only highlights how serious a problem it is that the Summer Knight is dead, and the mantle gone. Lea’s information about the Stone Table reinforces that. Beyond being a reference to Narnia, it also guarantees great power to whoever holds the table, and whoever sheds blood on it. So, the peaceful transfer of the table from Summer to Winter and back with the seasons preserves their equality. Aurora’s plan only serves to show how important it is to keep that balance, less there be another Ice Age, or worse.

In showing us all this, Butcher expands his universe so much further, and sets the ‘table’ for future stories. Ones that will lead to the eventual conclusion of the series, yet to come.

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

Given all that we know now about the Fae, it comes as no surprise that the worst worldbuilding also comes from that section of the story. Butcher’s take on Changelings is innovative, being half-human, half-Fae rather than the traditional version. The problems arise from how the narrative treats her, and the results of her half-Fae heritage.

The problem with Meryl is that Meryl dies at the end of the story. She is the first person explicitly allied with Harry to die. The only previous person that was not an antagonist that died was MacFinn, and he attempted to murder them all because of an uncontrollable curse. Meryl dying in and of itself is not the entire problem. Butcher directs the series in a darker direction, so deaths will come eventually. The issue that I have with the conclusion of Meryl’s story is that Butcher could have done so many things with her. As a Changeling aligned with Winter, dearest friend of the new Summer Lady and Knight, the possibility of an inter-Fae alliance or Court would develop.

She even said, “[Winter] Calls,’ Meryl said. ‘ But I’m not answering.’” (459). The Changelings provide a glimpse of the Fae outside of the manipulation, outside of Court politics. Meryl could have been symbolic of that. But no. Meryl Chooses to save Lily. She Chooses and she dies and all that hope with her. It’s a story brought too soon to a conclusion, one that broke off threads that could have continued.

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

I will admit, this is a sticking point for me. I talked about my dislike of Harry’s voyeurism in Storm Front. I brought it up again in Fool Moon. Thankfully, it didn’t appear too often in the following books, but here we see this again with a vengeance. And it doesn’t even make sense in character this time.

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

“But I had been used to a certain amount of friendly tension relieving with Susan. Her absence had killed that for me, completely—except for rare moments during the damned dreams when my hormones came raging back up to the front of my thoughts again as though making up for lost time.” (176).

So, theoretically at least Harry’s libido takes a break. I understand that part of this nightmare and Harry’s symptoms comes from the dangerous way he’s punishing himself for Susan’s condition. But, still. Even before this dream we have moments where he stares at Mab’s ass. He knows she’s the Winter Queen, and he still ogles her when she leaves. At Maeve’s court, Butcher spends a good deal of time describing Jenny Greenteeth, a Fae seductress. He could have emphasized the alien way she moves, the details that make her decidedly not human, and dropped a one-liner about her being naked at the end. It would have been in character for Harry’s blasé kind of humor. Instead, Butcher flips that script, focusing on the nakedness, with the inhumanity coming as an aside.

Call it my own personal soapbox, if you will, but that doesn’t sit well with me, especially when the last book did so much better with Harry’s gaze. (Not perfect, of course, but better. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to keep improving.)

In Conclusion

Overall, Summer Knight showcases the best of Butcher’s work so far. While the choices were somewhat limited compared to last book, the plot hangs together much better. That cohesive plot lent its voice to each category, and the worst moments were nitpicks and could-have-beens.

The way that Butcher brought this story arc, and Harry’s character arc to a conclusion proved satisfying. His mastery of plot improved, with the motivations of the antagonists and the number being reasonable, instead of overwhelming. The knowledge about the Fae, about the Council, and about Elaine all help set up this next phase of the series. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Am I being too nit-picky in the ‘bad’ categories, or is it just proof of concept that the problems can be reduced to nitpicks? Was the White Council more fascinating than the Fae, or was Harry’s arc disjointed? Let me know if I’m being too harsh on the series, if you had a different idea for a category, or if you have any comments about the arc of the series as a whole. I look forward to hearing from you.


 

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×10 Rewatch: Mediocre

Kylie

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We’ve done it! We’ve made it through three seasons of Game of Thrones here with our rewatch project The Wars to Come. And with that, we’ve also made it through the most bearable parts of this series by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). While last week brought some mixed reviews, it seems that this week, Kylie, Julia, and Katie are leaning more towards jeers and boos in “Myhsa.”

Episode Recap

Picking up from last week’s morbid end, it’s a slaughter outside the Twins as the Frey troops finish off Robb’s forces. Arya, escaping with Sandor, oversees her brother’s body being paraded about—now with Grey Wind’s head on his shoulders. The next morning, Walder Frey chats with Roose Bolton about their improved stations, now that Roose has become the Warden of the North. Roose reveals that his bastard Ramsay was the one who got the Ironborn to surrender Winterfell, and the one keeping Theon hostage now. Arya and the Hound, meanwhile, pass a group of Frey soldiers who brag about aiding in sewing Grey Wind’s head onto Robb’s body. Arya slips off Sandor’s horse and kills one of them, with Sandor killing the other two to protect her.

We check in with Theon and Ramsay, the latter of whom is still torturing the former. Theon asks to be killed, but Ramsay points out he’s not useful to him that way. He decides that Theon’s new name is ‘Reek’.

At some point, Ramsay had sent a box containing Theon’s castrated penis to the Iron Islands, with a letter telling the Ironborn to withdraw from the North. Balon and Yara receive it, and though Balon seems completely indifferent to Theon’s suffering, Yara decides that she will take her best fighters and rescue her brother.

Despite the massacre at The Twins, things seem rather peaceful in King’s Landing for a moment as Sansa jokes around with Tyrion about ways they can prank those who speak poorly of him. However, that is soon dashed when he attends a Small Council meeting where it’s revealed what happened to the Stark forces. Joffrey is gleeful and says he wants to show the corpse of Robb to Sansa, but Tyrion tells him he can’t torment her any more. This leads to an unpleasant confrontation, which Tywin puts an end to by sending Joffrey to bed. As everyone else clears out, he reminds Tyrion that he must impregnate Sansa now that she’s officially the heir to Winterfell. That might prove difficult, since when Tyrion sees her next, it’s clear she heard about her family and is incredibly sad.

Later, Varys tries to bribe Shae to leave Westeros, since he believes Tyrion can help the land and Shae is a distraction to that end. She refuses. Tyrion, for his own part, passes his time by drinking with Pod, until Cersei comes in and tells him that he really should impregnate Sansa, so that she can have some joy in her life, just like Cersei’s children brought her. Much later, Jaime arrives back in the city, and meets a stunned Cersei.

Up at The Wall, Bran and the Reeds take shelter in one of the abandoned Night’s Watch castles. Bran tells them it’s haunted because of the ‘rat cook,’ a man who killed his guests under his own roof and was cursed into the form of a rat. Gilly and Sam turn up at the same castle, and Sam recognizes Bran as Jon’s brother. He gives Bran and the Reeds his dragonglass to help protect them as they set out north of the Wall.

Sam and Gilly make their way back to Castle Black, where Sam makes the case to Maester Aemon that Gilly is worthy of their protection given their vows extend to the “realms of men.” Gilly names her baby after Sam, and Aemon, after learning what they had seen, commands Sam to send out all the ravens with this news.

They’re not the only ones to make it back to Castle Black; Ygritte finds Jon washing his wounds. He tells her he loves her, but he has to go home, and says he knows she won’t hurt him. That bit turns out to be wrong since she shoots him with arrows three times, though Jon still manages to ride back to the castle where he is greeted by Sam and Pyp.

Down at Dragonstone, Davos struggles with Gendry as a prisoner. The two talk, and Davos reveals that he too was lowborn and from Flea Bottom. Later, Davos reads through Stannis’s mail having made great strides in his literacy. He comes across Maester Aemon’s letter and is shocked. However, the news arrives that Robb has died, which means Stannis wants to sacrifice Gendry, since they now have a sign that the leech magic worked. Davos tries to argue against it, but it’s hopeless.

Davos instead breaks Gendry out and sneaks him into a rowboat, giving him guidance on how to get back to King’s Landing. When it’s discovered that Gendry is missing, Davos is correctly accused by Stannis and Melisandre. He’s sentenced to die, but Davos quickly pulls out Aemon’s letter and tells Stannis the real fight is to the north. Melisandre agrees with him, and tells Stannis that Davos has a part to play still.

Finally, in Yunkai, the now freed slaves come outside their gates to meet Danaerys. Her Unsullied guards are wary, but when the freedmen begin calling out “Mhysa” to her (meaning “Mother”), she realizes that no one will hurt her. She leaves the protection of her Unsullied to walk among the Yunkish.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I’m really not able to type well, because I am still cringing from the crowd surfing scene. And especially knowing the script fully intended for Dany’s whiteness to be the focal point…ugh.

Trying to think about this episode as a whole, there was so much that just straight up annoyed me, but then the numerous Davos and Bran scenes somehow were well-placed enough that I’d calm down. It’s not that they were even that amazingly done (seriously, how would any show-only like Stannis at this point?), but the rest was just…very clearly not the show we began with in Season 1.

Katie: I was happy to get to jump on this rewatch because I always am interested in tenth episodes of Game of Thrones’s seasons. The big climax has just occurred and then there’s so much wrapping up and scene-setting to establish what comes next. They’re so often good barometers of how the show is doing. This one was a roller coaster for me. It reminded me of a lot of the things I genuinely enjoyed about the earlier seasons of the show, but then Sansa would be sidelined, Ramsey would monologue, or oof, that whole last scene.

Julia: All of this episode was mostly a need to set things up for the coming seasons. Sometimes this makes perfect sense, like setting up Stannis going north, but sometimes I was just scratching my head going, “Why are they digging this whole even deeper?”

Okay, that was mostly the scene where Shae rejected those diamonds. Like, did they have a different plan for her at that point? Why?

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I actually think my highlight was Walder and Roose talking, since you can clearly see just how odious they are, and also how that chip on Walder’s shoulder came to define a war. Roose was a bit hypocritical with his, “Robb didn’t listen to me ever” and also, “here’s how the situation with my bastard unfolded that Robb sanctioned,” but that’s not exactly an issue since we’re not meant to be convinced by these two. At least I don’t think so.

My lowlight is a very personal annoyance, I know, but Sansa laughing and joking with Tyrion and not knowing the word “shit” was pure sheep shit in and of itself. Also how many times did Arya possibly stick poo in the mattress that Sansa was no doubt sharing with like, Jeyne Poole?

It’s just, come on. I get that the sun rises and sets out of Tyrion’s ass on this show, but can’t his prisoner wife at least be a bit distant to him? You know, her whole thing in the books with her armor of courtesy. The way the show makes it seem, she was well on her way to liking this marriage, and then the death of her family made her sad for a few days (during which will be her escape, since that’s coming in two episodes). So frustrated.

Katie: That’s a good highlight, it’s always nice to see David Bradley cackle his way through his lines. And you know, I actually really considered Sansa laughing and joking with Tyrion as a lowlight too? Not because the scene itself is particularly bad (I’d forgotten how nice it is to see Sansa look happy about something, anything!). But because her emotions in all her scenes this episode are 110% about Tyrion. First to make him look like a great guy, which is par for the course. But it gets even worse later when it turns out that Sansa heard the news of the Red Wedding off screen, and her sadness is not her own, instead is simply given the narrative function of bumming out Tyrion a bit more. It’s a good pick for highlighting all of the generally… bad writings tendencies of the later seasons.

That said, I have to pick the closing Mhysa scene. It’s probably the point when I turned hardest on this show when I originally watched it? It’s such a thematic, narrative, and directorial failure, bad for the story and gross in all its racial implications. There were a lot of bad scenes in this episode, but this was the one that made me most actively angry.

Kylie: Yeah, it’s completely tasteless and the last taste you get of the show for the season. It may actually have been the worst closing shot of any season, now that I think about it.

Katie: My highlight is probably the Small Council scene, before it’s whittled down to Tyrion and Tywin? I’ve always liked the dynamic of more competent people having to deal with Joffrey’s kingship and deciding whether to be deferential or confrontational. It’s also a scene that’s not overly talky, and lets the (good) acting speak for itself. Honestly, though, I probably just enjoy seeing Charles Dance belittle Jack Gleeson. Honorable mention to Davos and Shireen hanging out and reading together, because it was very sweet.

Julia: Jack Gleeson is such an easy highlight to pick. He was just so happy and bouncy. And it helped that it was more or less just a book scene acted excellently. But I’m going to take your honorable mention and turn it into my highlight. Remember when Davos actually did stuff? Remember Shireen’s School for Conveniently Placed Illiterates? I used to love both these characters so much, and they have such great chemistry together. So even though this scene triggered a spiral where I was thinking what the Westerosi equivalent of Dutch speaking printers that would result in there being a “g” in “night” would be, or if they even have standardized orthography in Westeros, and what a trick that would be without printing, and if the maesters as an institution would be enough of a centralizing force to have standard orthography make sense…. I still really liked it.

I honestly think the “pork sausage” scene is not only a lowlight of the episode, it might be a lowlight for the whole series, even given all the stuff they’re going to do later. It was just so long and so… Am I going insane, or did they play it for laughs? Maybe they were going for some kind of Deadpool-esque black humor, but whatever Ramsay dangling a sausage was supposed to be, it wasn’t funny.

Katie: It’s so bad! I think they are playing it for laughs, at least kind of? Ramsay’s whole shtick seems to be “he’s so evil and so wacky! Isn’t it crazy?!” The cavernous abyss between the obvious delight D&D have in writing Ramsay and the terrible way it plays out on the screen and drags down the story is a… not great sign of things to come.

Kylie: Also speaking of what’s to come, Ramsay and eating becomes like, a thing, sort of similar to Brad Pitt’s character in Ocean’s 11. I guess it’s because they found this sausage scene suitably off-putting or something? But it leads to a full-on dramatic moment of Roose telling him to stop eating in Season 5.

Quality of writing

Katie: It is the lowest of low-hanging fruit, but can we talk about the Ramsay-Theon scene for a sec? The first shot of Theon in this episode is just a lingering shot on his crotch. We have an endless Ramsey monologue as he eats a pork sausage (get it?), and then Theon gets punched in the face a lot and cries. This show, guys. “Do eunuchs have a phantom cock?”

Julia: Yeah, the dialogue is cringy, but in terms of writing, the bigger question is why this scene, or this plotline even exists. GRRM puts a lot of disturbing stuff on the page (far too much according to many people) and even he chose to leave most of this stuff as implication. Perhaps they should have asked themselves why that was.

Kylie: I guess just so we could see the “transformation” into Reek more clearly? Like, they wanted him to be called ‘Reek’, but didn’t think that would track. Why they left the nickname in is beyond me, since they cut out Ramsay posing as Reek, and all that rather confusing backstory that came with it.

Even if they felt like we couldn’t have understood how broken Theon was without showing at least some torture, we certainly could have gotten by with half as many scenes, and none needed to be quite so explicit or drawn out. This one in particular was endless.

While we’re talking about the sausage though, I actually liked the dialogue given to Balon when he reacts to all of this. It was very on-point for the Iron Islands attitudes.

Katie: It was also undercut a bit by the fact that it makes the adoption of Reek seem kind of arbitrary rather than an eventual outcome of Theon’s torture. Theon’s obviously not in a great place at the start of this scene, but there’s not much of an indication that he’s really lost his sense of self. He seems eager to hold onto his name when he first gets hit in the face. Because of that, the fact that he takes up the name at the end seems less like a culmination of a character arc than an admission that he’ll do what Ramsey says if he gets punched sufficiently.

Agreed about the Balon dialogue. I also didn’t mind Cersei’s mom monologue (momologue! oh, gross, I’m sorry).

Julia: Like Walder Frey’s obnoxious misogyny last week, Balon’s horribleness felt like it was actual there to serve the world and the characters. I’m not sure why Ramsay’s antics feel so different, especially from Frey’s stuff. Maybe it’s just the absurdity of the sausage wagging.

Kylie: They just feel very out of place. The dialogue doesn’t sound like anything that’d be in ASOIAF, and I don’t just mean because of some strange anachronisms, like talking about “phantom limbs.” No way Westerosi would have coined that term.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Katie: Tough to pick a theme in an episode that had roughly 36,000 plot lines happening at the same time. The closest I could come to was the emphasis on tension between valuing the Family Name and valuing family members themselves. The clearest example is Tywin’s long speech to Tyrion about how he wanted to kill him as a baby but HE WAS A LANNISTER so he kept him around, but it’s also evident in Balon’s indifference to Theon once he’s a family liability (and Yara’s pushback). I suppose it works with Stannis and Gendry as well, with Davos playing the Yara figure. If we want to be kind and stretch this theme to its breaking point, we could also include the Davos/Gendry scene about Flea Bottom, and the Shae/Varys scene, both of which demonstrate how those without a family name often have to play by different rules. That still leaves out most of the episode?

Julia: That’s an excellent effort. There’s something there maybe about obligations. Like, Jon has one to the Night’s Watch, and Tywin had an obligation to not kill his own child, (the cross he bears is heavy) and Guest Right is an obligation, but that just seems like a less insightful version of what Katie said.

Title? Dany is a mother to all the freedmen, and motherhood is also what Carol’s content is about. And the Rat Cook is a parent too…it’s totes a theme.

Kylie: Gilly is a mother to the baby she just named Sam! Honestly, the title is feeling pretty peripheral to me.

Katie gets full marks though, for sure. The three Stark kids kinda have a mutual loss of innocence (not than any of them are fully innocent at this point, of course). Sansa learns about her family’s fate, Arya kills her first man, and Bran heads north of The Wall. That one is kinda weaker, but given this is a season that ends in the middle of a book, it’s more of a parallel with them than I’d have expected.

The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)

Kylie: I don’t want to keep harping on the Sansa/Tyrion scene, but I think this is one of the clearest butterfly effects at play. Tyrion is made a really, really, really nice guy who the audience loves, so any character we are meant to like must love him too. In this case, Sansa. So take the whitewashing of his character that’s been there from the start, and two seasons later his prisoner child-bride is joking around with him, and Varys tries to set Shae up for life across the Narrow Sea, because Tyrion is apparently the only man who can save Westeros and he needs to be less distracted.

Katie: Agreed. I was shocked at how openly Sansa was used as an emotional prop in this episode.

Julia: Ugh, I feel like I can rant about Saint Tyrion for hours. In fact, I’m quite sure I have. I would argue that the changes to Tyrion’s character have the most butterfly effect of any decision in the show, maybe more than the decision to age up the kids, or the one to take out most of the supernatural elements. Tyrion’s characters flaws in the book drive the plot quite a bit, after all. And make his actions make any kind of sense.

At this point, I think many intelligent show-only watchers would be surprised to learn that Sansa is a POV character in her own right. And that Shae isn’t.

Katie: Also, this is a very small detail, and nit-picky, but I think it illustrated well the problems the show increasingly ran into down the line. I am not at all a fan of the choice to open the episode with… the mass slaughter of Northern extras. It’s supposed to serve as a carry-over from the climax of last episode, I suppose. But the reason The Red Wedding works as an emotional gut-punch is because it’s so intimate. It’s a shockingly and terribly personal moment.

As y’all noted last week, it’s a climax the show keeps trying to recapture, and it keeps trying… badly. In large part because it keeps aiming for grand scale over the emotional horror of individual moments. Michelle Fairley did such a good job of selling those last few seconds of emotion in The Red Wedding. Opening this episode with anonymous extras screaming and dying is literal overkill: it takes what should be the center of the scene—Arya seeing Wolf-Headed-Robb—and confuses and muddles it. Rather than a clear, stark (sorry), emotional moment, we get a frenetic, busy, overly-complicated scene. Clean it up! Bombast isn’t always best. It’s not a big deal, really, but it’s a wasted opportunity, and so indicative of what the show is going to prioritize as it goes along.

Julia: At least it gives the aforementioned hypothetical intelligent show-only watcher the tools to call bull on Tywin’s later line about all he did was kill a few dozen men at dinner, and what’s so wrong about that?

Kylie: True, though I’ll agree it was very visually busy. There’s that shot of Roose that opens it, and the way he walked to look out reminds me exactly of this one shot in Return of the King with an orc charging into battle. It was a wonky way to open things (also it was pretty damn dark), and given the effectiveness of the Walder and Roose scene later, I don’t think it’s a very necessary one.

Worth noting something that’s about to turn into a butterfly effect: the Night’s Watch vows. Sam found the “loophole” to make a case for Gilly staying (a compelling one at that). Next season we get the sex loophole, and I feel like we had one more at that too. Maybe the implicit loophole that allowed Jon to quit? It’s also symptomatic of D&D chasing a good thing, or something that lands. This is still pre-chicken joke GoT, remember.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: Well, this section is getting harder and harder.

Um. Gendry fits rather seamlessly into Edric Storm’s role in this episode. Minus the way he bonded with Davos, I guess. They bonded in both cases, but not in the same way.

The small council scene about the Red Wedding was pretty good, at least until it became about how awesome Tyrion is for not raping a 14-year-old, but other than that the stuff from KL was not super faithful.

Kylie: Not at all. Though let’s chat about the adaptational decision with Yara. Is it that D&D just don’t plan more than one year at a time? Because I don’t think it’s about them feeling like we needed to check in with her and trying to come up with a great Season 4 plot for her specifically; we didn’t check in on the Iron Islands at all this year, and there’s nothing that necessitates putting the theater in next year either.

Even if they did plan, does that mean they purposely set up Yara for a completely futile, one-off failed mission? Because god knows they wanted Theon to be in his ADWD plotline, no matter what woman gets shoved into Jeyne’s role… I guess I’m just not getting what they were even trying for with this. False hope of Theon’s rescue?

Katie: Such big chunks of these finales focus on laying the groundwork for future plots. But in practice I think that sometimes bleeds over into just… setting up potential drama or tension? It wouldn’t surprise me if they just wanted another rousing (“rousing”) speech or set up for potential action next year, regardless of whether it would matter at all in the long run. The more generous part of me wants to say that there was some level of awareness that the Theon/Ramsey scenes were floundering and needed the (false) promise of some kind of narrative development before the end of the season.

Julia: In retrospect, though, it does seem cruel of them to set Yara up like that. As cruel as setting Shae up like that was. I think being even more generous is presuming that they had different plans for both these characters—they wanted Shae in particular to do something different during the trial and for Yara to maybe do something like her book plot with Stannis maybe–but audience reaction, or budget, or lack of writing skills made it impossible?

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is the most Carol Carol who Carol’d all the way to Carolville in her Carolmobile.

Katie: She reminded me of a mom who has been to so many grinding, exhausting parent-teacher conferences about her terrible kid. She knows the teacher is right, but she has to keep her game-face on? She’s just trying her best.

Julia: Imagine another hypothetical intelligent person, who only ever sees this episode of GoT, being told that Carol is supposed to be the villain.

Also, what on earth was that sleeveless number she was wearing in the last scene? And why was she looking at a seashell of some kind and smiling sadly?

Kylie: She was smiling sadly at seashells. She and Jaime used to sell seashells down by the seashore, or something. I feel like I remember that context being explained to us (was that something they talked about in the pilot?) but damn if I remember.

Julia: They talked about jumping off a cliff once.

Why was her scene with Tyrion even there? Like I say, it’s an odd thing to do with someone who’s supposed to be a villain. Was it all just so Tyrion can seem like a nice guy for not wanting to impregnate Sansa?

Kylie: Or to make it clear that once Cersei’s kids are gone, there goes the only good piece of her. Yay! Either way, there’s no debate this week:

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: Tywin’s exposition seemed good, albeit horrifying. I guess Bran is technically expositing with the rat cook, too, though that’s really just telling a fairy tale. I don’t know, the things that jumped out to me as clunky in this episode were not exposition in nature.

Julia: What, talking about phantom cocks was not exposition? Maybe Ramsay should have asked a cock merchant, I’m sure they would know all about that.

Feel free to be annoyed at me, but the way Tywin said, “I raised you as my son, because you are a Lannister,” to Tyrion probably gave a lot of fuel to the Tyrion the Secret Targ folks.

Kylie: That was also following him saying “since I cannot prove you’re not my son” in another episode this season too, I think. Maybe Charles Dance is a Tyrion truther.

How was the pacing?

Julia: D&D seem to have more trouble with pacing within scenes even than the pacing of episodes.

Kylie: I’d agree with that. The entire episode stops dead at the sausage waving, and frankly Davos and Gendry’s conversation didn’t exactly get to a point.

Overall the episode just struggled from that spottiness we’ve been seeing all season. I can’t tell if it’s better or worse that they were trying to give so many characters a stopping point. Often jumping around helps break things up, but it sure didn’t feel like that this time.

Another week of no sex, baby

Katie: You know, given the number of scenes where people tell Tyrion to have sex with Sansa, maybe “no sex, (no) baby” is the theme.

Kylie: And now his watch begins, after all. He hasn’t seemed to be getting it with Shae either, now that I think about it. I guess she’s struggling with her maybe!jealousy still over Sansa?

Julia: No, no Kylie, she’s outraged that people would dare treat Sansa this way, since she loves that girl so much and would kill for her.

Kylie: Until she decides that whatever, let’s just implicate Sansa in a bunch of crimes. I can’t believe we have another season of Shae…

In memoriam…those Frey soldiers

Katie: In memoriam of the last time Arya’s character arc was interesting! Sorry.

Kylie: Ain’t it the truth. We’re about to get a full season of her and Sandor doing nothing, and talking about how nothing is nothing, and frankly that’s a highlight compared to Braavos and her arc quite literally iterating. Though…Arya in Season 7 was not boring. Many other things, but that’s one charge she gets away from.

Is this where we should talk about her kills in the book getting thrown in at random times and in random contexts?

Julia: I remember there being a chart.

This season’s been fun. I think I get people still having patience with this show after this, but in retrospect, it’s so totally off the rails already.

And I just remembered, the Pornish are coming soon!

Kylie: OH MY GOD.

Well, for us at least, the Pornish won’t be coming until 2019. We will have the Season 3 rewatch podcast out to you in the next couple of weeks, and then Season 4’s rewatch will start January 8th.

Thank you all for following along this season. We’re curious to know what you thought of this episode specifically, though. Did D&D leave a tantalizing endpoint, or are things just sloppy to the point of distraction? Let’s discuss that below, and we wish you both a happy new year and good fortune in The Wars to Come.


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