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Analysis

To Kill a Lesbian

Kylie

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This article contains mild spoilers for the third season of ‘Orphan Black’ and the most recent seasons of ‘The 100,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ ‘The Magicians,’ and ‘Jane the Virgin.’

So, I’m not exactly sure what’s in the drinking water, but for some reason, it feels as though media creators met up and decided that this would be the year that they’d kill off all marginalized persons from their shows. And they’d do so in ways that were so baldly unmotivated, it borders on lazy. Bonus points if the character’s death had nothing to do with the character themselves!

This seems to be especially true for lesbian/bisexual characters. So far in 2016, we’ve had something like fourteen deaths in this department? Maybe fifteen? I’m actually losing track. This list includes Kira (The Magicians), Lexa (The 100), Nora & Mary Louise (The Vampire Diaries), Rose (Jane the Virgin), and Denise (The Walking Dead). Of course backing out of this year, dead lesbians and bisexual women for our viewing pleasure is nothing new, though the recent onslaught is finally holding a candle up to the use of the damaging trope,Bury Your Gays.”

I’ve articulated my own thoughts about the harm that can come with its careless employ. However, where does this leave media creators? “LGBT fans deserve better.” Okay, but…what do we actually deserve? Living representation, right? So are we instructing media creators to keep every lesbian they write alive? Their gays should be kept in a special little untouchable box?

I have a lot of discomfort with this. Because it pushes into another problematic storytelling convention, that of “Gays so Special.”

I guess what I’m really talking about is some sort of amalgamation of two tropes: Men are Generic, Women are Special (just replace with “straights are generic”), and “Closer to Earth.” The former is what gives rise to stuff like Smurfettes, where the individual who is “special” (i.e. “not the norm”) for whatever reason—a woman, a bisexual, someone non-white—sort of becomes stripped down to nothing but that difference. If a woman ruler messes up, then it’s a commentary on women rulers; a man can do the same, but it’s not a universal condemnation. The latter trope refers to the tendency of media creators to portray marginalized characters in a more positive light, because they don’t want to pile on. The perfect example of this is how Game of Thrones’s Tyrion Lannister is basically the TvTropes definition of a “Mary Sue,” despite his book counterpart being a dark, dark grey character.

And yes, queer characters are not immune from this treatment. You can often see “Gays So Special” at play when gay relationships are presented as infallible. If two characters of the same gender fall in love, that’s it! There’s no breaking them up because they’re perfect! (Until one of them dies, of course.) Many times, the only queer representation comes from characters already in established relationships for this reason; there’s the lesbian moms of the side-character, and they’re really, really good moms with fights that are instantly resolved.

They’re just like us!

Even more, Gays So Special is something that’s often lived. Without getting too personal, the first relationship I was in with another woman had some pretty clear red flags. But none of my friends said a word against it, because they were Supportive™. Pro-tip: that is not how to be a good ally.

I know it comes from a good place, this form of positive discrimination. But it’s still discrimination. And the “X so special” trope…it’s infantilizing. I don’t want to be kept in a special little narrative box where nothing bad ever happens (and here’s a pat on the head!) simply because of my sexuality, because guess what?

Yet, how am I supposed to see what’s happening on our laptop television screens this year without feeling like my sexuality is being targeted? That marginalized individuals in general are being targeted? And that can’t happen unless we are Special™, right? My head hurts.

What’s interesting is that most media creators who employ the Bury Your Gays trope seem to be aware of this “Gays So Special” criticism. In fact, that was the stock-defense out of Jason Rothenberg’s (of The 100) mouth about his decision to kill off Lexa: that she was a badass character who happened to date women, because her sexuality was not the totality of her character. And it’s now the defense we’re seeing from Tatiany Maslany, the star of Orphan Black, regarding their decision to kill off a bisexual character at the end of last season:

“There’s a bizarre focus on the fact that she’s bisexual or a lesbian and has been killed off, and that really reduces her to one thing in representing something, as opposed to being an individual. I find that to be a problematic complaint. She’s so much more than her sexuality and to make it about, ‘well, we killed off a lesbian character,’ that’s really reductive.”

Maslany is not wrong. And it’s also not wrong to acknowledge a difference between killing someone for being X and killing someone who happens to be X.

But I don’t think she’s entirely right either. For one, you really can’t ignore the cultural context, which to her credit, she tried to acknowledge:

“I understand because there’s such a lack of representation and 3D representation and you’re protective of those characters. There’s a trope too, a predictable storyline, which is that the LGBTQ characters get victimized somehow. But Delphine is only a victim because she made herself a hero. She was ultimately doing right by people.”

Again, it’s the defense, “oh yeah, we know about Bury Your Gays, but we had reasons X,Y, and Z to kill her, all of which were separate from her sexuality.” So case closed? If this is the attitude of the writers, then it becomes Okay™ to kill off their marginalized characters? I mean…sometimes. Not always. Seriously, get me Tylenol, because splitting this hair is so complex.

When a gay character dies, yes, it is an example of Bury Your Gays. Because all a trope refers to is a pattern found within media; it is not inherently negative. However, whether the use of the trope is justified in the context of narrative…there’s no hard and fast rule.

Frankly, I think a large part of the problem is the increase in Shock™ Deaths as a storytelling convention within our shows and movies today. There’s a certain [mystifyingly] popular, award-winning show that banks its entire success on it, so yeah, it makes sense that media creators might want to follow suit. However, to quote my main man George R.R. Martin:

“It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations.”

Sadly for him, the adapters of his books didn’t get the memo, and from what I can tell, neither did most storytellers seeking to emulate the Game of Thrones formula. I mean, yes, I personally don’t find Shock™ Deaths particularly deep or interesting in the first place, so perhaps that’s why I’m more critical of them. But I would argue that when the target of this Shock™ is a marginalized character—that is, a character belonging to a group that faces societal oppression and typically has limited representation on our screens—the unmotivated nature of these deaths become far less acceptable. Or at the least, its utter cheapness stands out more.

“Hey Clarke, got any Pepto-Bismol? These fish tacos aren’t sitting right.”

Ew, am I arguing that Gays So Special now? I’m just trying to point out that many of us cling to these characters because our own representation is not so great. Gays are “special” in the sense that it is still, literally, special to see them on our screens. So when they’re yoinked away from us, yeah, we’re going to be seriously analyzing the necessity of it.

It kind of sounds like I’m back around the circle, saying that we can’t kill off minorities, but I think there’s a more nuanced point to be made. Yes, if your show relies on Shock™ Deaths, I’m probably going to roll my eyes at it. Yet that doesn’t mean that I think death can’t be a consequence of a narrative. Plus, John Fawcett, the Orphan Black showrunner, also brought up a good point, even if the entire interview was a touch tone-deaf:

“If you did everything that the fans wanted, it wouldn’t be a drama anymore.”

Characters kind of have to suffer. The degree of it, and certainly the demographic spread of that suffering… Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it? But without struggle, there is not a story.

The way I see it, though, there should be certain criteria showrunners think about before killing off any character, marginalized or not:

  1. Is this born out of the narrative? This goes back to Martin’s quote, but really, is it logical? Were there any in-verse rules defied to make this happen? Bonus points: was it seeded?
  2. Does it play out with respect to characterization/the character’s agency? Does this character have to suddenly act against their usual nature to bring about these events? If so, it’s probably not good storytelling. Perhaps more importantly, is this character’s death about them, or is it going to be used to further someone else’s story? Because seriously, if this is Manpain fuel…stahp it. Just stahp.
  3. Is there a story with this character’s death worth telling beyond ‘Character Y will now have to deal with it!’? To figure this out, you might want to think about the themes of your work. What is the point of this character’s death? Hint: “drama” is not a particularly wise answer.
  4. Is this character’s death depicted in a way that keeps audience sensitivities in mind? Could anything be triggering? Is it overly graphic? Did you just lure your audience into a false sense of security? Because the thing is, if you’ve put a good amount of energy into writing a character, the audience is still gonna be shocked at their death, even without cheap tricks.
  5. Are there any unfortunate implications with this death? Could the audience take away a really problematic message, like say…the character died because of their sexuality? Is this your only X character?

The last two points are particularly important to consider in the case of marginalized characters. It’s not that a straight, cisgendered, white man’s death can’t be triggering, nor that it can’t come with problematic implications. But understanding those implications becomes more difficult for media creators the more intersectional a character is. Add to that the lack of representation and how this is a character many marginalized individuals cling to for comfort, and you really have to start giving this death critical thought.

Now, it’s obviously quite subjective when a death is “done right,” and it’s often hard to articulate why. I hate the cop-out of “it just doesn’t feel exploitative” in these cases but…yeah. That’s how it is. In my view, the importance is in having this discussion at all.

Bringing it back to Orphan Black, though I have seen many argue that Delphine’s death at the end of last season was unacceptable (which is not made better by Maslany’s rather dismissive comments), I would say the opposite.

If we go through the criteria:

  1. It was most certainly born out of the narrative. It makes complete sense that actions would result in her death giving the institutions at play. Further, I don’t see Delphine behaving in any other way based on what we know of her.
  2. There was a clear focus on character agency, especially after she was threatened. She chose how she would leave things with Cosima, and her refusal to ask for help or explain what was happening was important in her own arc.
  3. “Is there a story to be told?” unfortunately is a wait-and-see situation, but given that the show centers around a complicated cloning trial that raises issues of intellectual property, eugenics, and control of this technology, the nefarious actions of these organizations involved is rather crucial to the story. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were strong parallels between her death and Paul’s death, the straight, white man who was involved on the military side of things. There’s moral ambiguity, and it plays to one of the central themes of the series: trust.
  4. Was its depiction with respect to audience sensitivities? This is certainly the most subjective point, but we were outright told by another character that her death was coming so it was hardly a “pull the rug out” kind of moment, and in my opinion, it was not overly graphic. Especially considering that Orphan Black does not shy away from gore (look no further than Paul’s death). Perhaps it’s a small consolation, but it’s not like she happily climbed out of bed, searched for her phone charger, and was hit with a Bullet of Plot Convenience.
  5. Lastly, the implications. Perhaps I’m being overly generous, but I am just not seeing any takeaway linked to Delphine’s sexuality. I guess her actions were fueled by her love for Cosima in some ways? That certainly wasn’t the focus in the last episode though, and again, the near perfect parallel with Paul (who outright told Sarah he loved her in the same episode he died to save her) rather mitigates this claim.

I really don’t think this promo shot was by accident.

I am not saying Orphan Black did it perfectly, but you can certainly see the respect they allotted their character as opposed to, say, Lexa from The 100:

  1. Lexa was hit by a Stray Bullet of Plot Convenience. There was even never a reason that she wasn’t in the room in the first place, before she wanted into the crosshairs. Additionally, her death happened within two minutes despite a nonfatal wound location, despite other characters surviving far worse injuries, and despite a medic immediately applying pressure.
  2. Respect to character agency? This was a total badass fighter who survived multiple assassination attempts, and she died from a Stray Bullet of Plot Convenience. Does this really require an explanation?
  3. To The 100’s credit, there does seem to be a story to be told in her death, given the resurrection-esque thing established. Snaps for JRoth.
  4. There was no respect to audience sensitivities. The timing of the death (and utter random nature of it) was clearly done to provide the biggest Shock™, as it happened within five minutes of her and Clarke finally having sex. This is also on a show whose target demographic seems to be teenage and young adult viewers, many of whom are questioning. How was this remotely validating or constructive for them, especially in light of those on the show playing up their “strong LGBT representation” in their marketing materials?
  5. And then there’s the implications. Again, it was within minutes of her first on-screen love scene. That’s almost a Bury Your Gays record. Also, the guy who pulled the trigger had frequently spoken about how her feelings for Clarke were a mistake, and was actually trying to kill Clarke because their relationship was such a liability.

I mean, granted, Orphan Black is not really a “no one’s safe” story, or at least not to the degree The 100 seems to be. But how about we take another example from within the same show: Game of Thrones. Let’s consider the treatment of Renly vs. Loras. I should point out, Loras is not buried (yet), but he is certainly suffering in the story, and based on the second Season 6 trailer, brutalized by the Sparrows.

I won’t go through the criteria again, but back during Season 2, it was Renly’s ambition and pride that was his downfall. He refused to join his brother’s cause, which perhaps there was a point to be made for Stannis’s lack of charisma, but that choice played into one of the central themes of A Song of Ice and Fire (which in Season 2, Game of Thrones still seemed to be vaguely adapting): the intersection of the personal and the political. On the show, Renly’s sexuality may have been played for lols before his death (kissing Margaery is gross), but his death was completely unrelated. In fact, consummation issues or no, the fact that Renly secured such a strong alliance was one of the reasons Stannis felt he had to go to extremes to defeat his brother.

Yes, there’s a point to be made that Renly died from a Shadow Baby of Plot Convenience, but at least that was acknowledged in-verse as a “wtf” moment, and implications of Mel’s magical abilities were explored. And again, his sexuality was still entirely incidental to the manner of his death, as well as the context of and motivation for it.

Then we’ve got Loras. Loras, who since Renly’s death, has been stripped down to nothing but his sexuality. He likes fashion, guys! He can’t even be minimally polite when talking to the person who may be his future bride in a politically important match. Actually, all of his interactions with women have an air of bored obligation, because why would you want to talk to anyone unless sex is on the table? Loras is just so gay that he’ll hop into bed and start spilling family secrets to Olyver before Renly’s body is cold.

Season 5 upped this reduction of his character ten-fold with the decision to make the Sparrow movement seem primarily concerned about eradicating homosexuality, in stark contrast to the source material. Yet we’re supposed to accept that this strawman movement is a logical result of this setting, while also accepting that Loras is just so gay that he can’t bother being discrete with Olyver?

It’s ridiculously cheap and lazy, and yeah, the implications are off the charts. Though Loras has only been shown as being with two men, the ease and haste with which he jumped into bed with Olvyer (and how receptive he was to Oberyn’s flirting) plays right into the “Promiscuous Gay” stereotype. Then there’s the fact that Loras is explicitly being harmed because of his sexuality, and it was his gayness that landed his sister in jail, for her to suffer. Literally, she lied to try and keep him safe, and was immediately punished for it.

I guess the little solace we have is that Loras is still alive on the show, so Benioff and Weiss have yet to employ “Bury Your Gays” in his case. But their approach is a wonderful case study in what media creators shouldn’t do when it comes to the portrayal of marginalized characters. The worst part? We’re clearly supposed to hate the cartoonish Sparrows, so there’s actually people arguing that this is a progressive narrative.

Look. It’s not easy to write for marginalized characters, nor is it even realistic to tell a story that can be universally considered “unproblematic.” But I think we can all at least agree that having a basic self-awareness, as well as willingness to think through the decision to kill a character, goes a long way.

I’m not expecting the rest of 2016 to be free of lesbian deaths. Frankly, I don’t want a world where lesbians can’t die in media, because that’s hardly constructive. But with this outcry—with more and more media creators joining in on this Bury Your Gays dialogue—all I’m looking for is critical thought. For writers to ask themselves whether this death is truly the most interesting or necessary thing they can dream up. I’m willing to bet that a majority of the time, it’s not.


Images courtesy of Disney, BBC America, CBS Corporation, Warner Bros., and 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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Revisiting this (and Lexa’s death) after Season 4 of The 100. If they had absolutely decided she HAD to die off, here’s how I think they should have done it. 1. IT DOESN’T FUCKING HAPPEN RIGHT AFTER SHE AND CLARKE SLEEP TOGETHER. Rather, after she and Clarke sleep together, they say their goodbyes to each other and both go back to helping their own people. Clarke goes back to her people to deal with the City of Light. Lexa tries to preserve the Coalition as best she can. She’s absent for several episodes after, of course, doing her own thing—maybe… Read more »

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[…] Up until recently, they were only a myth, the creation of weary LGBT+ fans tired of seeing their favorites killed off at astonishingly high rates. One such legend became dubbed the “Bulletproof Lesbian”, and it […]

Analysis

Game of Thrones 2×04 Rewatch: Garden of Groans

Kylie

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

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

Episode Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial, quick reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights/lowlights

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

As for a lowlight, um, everything else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Quality of writing

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

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

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

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

(This picture belongs in a museum, though.)

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Garden of Bones is also a metaphor for friendship.

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

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

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Remember adaptation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

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

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

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

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

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

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was the pacing?

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

Griffin: Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.

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

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

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

Let’s talk about sex, baby

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

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

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

Oh wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

Tragedy in Lady Knight

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Image courtesy of Random House

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

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

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Analysis

Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream

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

It’s not you, it’s the Zombies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevermind Ed’s a zombie.

They’re not Bad Boys

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

They even make the paperwork cool.

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

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

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

The Crowning Glory of the End of the World

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

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

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

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

It’s another visual metaphor.

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


Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

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