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Waiting for Katoh: Romancing the Iron Bull in Dragon Age

Angela D. Mitchell

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When it comes to romance and Dragon Age, The Iron Bull's in a league of his own.

Inquisitor: It’s a little unnerving that you have this down to a system.
The Iron Bull: Systems are comfortable. And my goal is for you to get… very comfortable.

Spoiler Warning for Dragon Age: Inquisition

NOTE—CONTENT AND POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This post includes some respectful yet candid, open and potentially NSFW discussion of The Iron Bull’s DAI romance (and its BDSM elements). Please proceed with caution and full awareness.

Once upon a time, I’d been dreaming of romancing a prince in a videogame. Then I played Dragon Age: Inquisition and stumbled across The Iron Bull.

He was everything I hadn’t wanted. And he was perfect: funny, brilliant, sensual, and caring. I fell flat and (thinking I was on my way to an adorable Beauty and the Beast-style romance for Bull and my little blonde Inquisitor) instantly decided that he would be mine.

Pretty soon I began to realize, however, that this romance was not going to be as easy as I’d expected. Despite his purported availability and enthusiasm, Bull didn’t show much interest in my Inquisitor’s charms at all, and had instead spent dozens of hours in-game smilingly ignoring her efforts. Months, in game-time. Months. My poor Inquisitor was not a happy camper. (Please note that I’ll be generally referring to the Inquisitor as “she” throughout this piece since I’m discussing my own playthrough, but of course as Bull is pansexual, the Inky can be any gender preference the player chooses.)

At first, I hadn’t found Bull attractive—he was intimidating, this big, hulking guy who just wasn’t my type at all. But then, as I described, I started to realize what a fantastic and complex character he was, and soon I was gazing at Bull with glowy pink hearts in my eyes, just like pretty much everyone else in Thedas:

Cole: The Iron Bull, a woman in the last village wanted you to pick her up and take her clothes off.
Iron Bull: Most people do.
Cole: In her mind, you were very big.
Iron Bull: Well, that’s flattering.

But meanwhile, I wasn’t getting anywhere, and my poor Inquisitor’s flirts weren’t seeming to have any effect at all. Then, although I was trying to avoid spoilers, I saw a comment that eventually Bull would show up in the Inquisitor’s quarters when his approval was high enough. So (hilariously) in between flirts, my poor Inquisitor started running back up to her room to see if Bull would show up there. (Just in case you thought this couldn’t get anymore embarrassing…)

But my Inky kept flirting, determined to win Bull’s heart. And then he finally showed up in my Inquisitor’s quarters, and everything changed. And I basically fell out of my chair at the options he presented, because they were a hell of a lot more eyebrow-raising than “So, hey, I got you a rose.”

This was not at all the fairytale I thought I had been pursuing… but it was fantastic writing from Bull’s writer (fantasy novelist Patrick Weekes). And beautifully character-appropriate.

“Last Chance”

First off, the reality: when it comes to romance, Bull’s in a league of his own. I mean, let’s be honest—a few frilly words with Solas and Cullen and you’re making out on the rooftops.

But as I mentioned, Bull’s different. There’s no reaction at all. (I always picture him reacting with faint amusement, like, “Nice try, Boss…”) Until, one day, finally, there’s a reaction. The day arrives, when you’ve made so many overtures that Bull himself couldn’t fail to acknowledge the signals. Victory is yours, on the night Bull shows up in your quarters out of the blue, and he finally makes his move.

But he’s got a proposition for you. And it’s a doozy. He’s not just propositioning you for sex, he’s asking you to enter a world that may scare or intimidate you just a little.

And just like that, BDSM entered the world of mainstream gaming.

Bull’s got a proposition for you. And it’s a doozy.

Terms and Conditions

When Bull finally takes action, it’s fascinating, because from a character and story perspective, he’s risking everything on a very specific moment. If Dragon Age: Inquisition were an actual novel (and not the playable novel I believe it actually is), I’d be fascinated to know exactly what caused Bull to go, “Okay. It’s time.” Was there a specific flirtatious moment? Or was there an outside cause? It would be interesting, for instance, to headcanon a message from the Qun, or even a proactive decision when he recognizes interest in the Inquisitor from a potential rival.

Either way, Bull shows up, and makes his play. If he succeeds, everything’s changed. If he fails, it would be interesting to wonder what his backup strategy might be… if he’s Qun-loyal, does he then coldly seek out Dorian, for instance? Or is he content to continue to prove himself simply as a captain and companion?

But… on the other hand, this is Bull we’re talking about. He knows human nature like nobody else (humans, elves, dwarves, everyone, etc.). He reads signals and micro-signals. He understands how people are wired. Then he acts. And it’s interesting that when he does, he’s continuing his previous “playing it cool” approach—he’s still holding himself back a bit, a little removed and detached.

Most of all, he’s still playing games. Only this time, he wants you to play, too.

I mean, let’s face it, Bull could’ve taken my Inquisitor up on her flirtations, offered her a jolly night in the sack, and he’d have probably been pretty safe doing so. She would’ve been perfectly happy with this, too, on some level—we already know, from hearsay, that such nights with Bull are perfectly satisfying and that he certainly appears to make sure everyone goes home happy. But as with most situations for Bull, he’s thought this through, and he’s determined that there’s only one specific outcome that works.

And he’s quite aware that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps no other character’s romance is as careful about consent as Bull’s, and your character can say no to Bull’s flirtation with zero hard feelings on either side. Spy or not, secret agenda or not, he’s genial and kind in response:

Iron Bull: …I’m not sure you know what you’re asking.  Not sure if you’re ready for it. 

Inquisitor (refusing): You’re right. Flirting was fun, but it probably wouldn’t work out.

Iron Bull: Exactly. So don’t worry about it. Let’s just keep killing things. We’re really good at that. For what it’s worth, though… you would’ve been walking funny the next day. Anyway, nice talking with you. Have a good one.

I mean, Bull handles rejection like a champ here (and elsewhere, as our Inquisitor can turn him down here, break it off the morning after, or when their romance is discovered, among other occasions). I really like that he’s not kidding about there being zero repercussions or hard feelings.

An Object of Obsession

Meanwhile, let’s get back to motives for a moment. If Bull’s motive was simply to seduce the Inquisitor, he could’ve done this months ago (in-universe), couldn’t he? And if his goal was just sex, again, wasn’t this already within reach for him fairly quickly?

Instead, he’s still playing chess, still being strategic to shore up his position in the long game. From a character standpoint, my impression is that he’s willing to risk losing because he’s confident enough in his own skills, his own abilities at reading and understanding human nature, to do so.

My take here, in fact, is that he’s willing to gamble because if he’s right in his assessment here (whether Qun-loyal or Tal-Vashoth, depending on the outcome of “The Demands of the Qun“), Bull won’t just have the Inquisitor as a casual bedmate, he’ll be providing them with a relationship whose demands satisfy a need previously unrecognized within the Inquisitor herself, and in ways only he can satisfactorily meet. In short, he’s positioning himself fairly coldly to be the object of a sexual obsession. And he’ll gain a potential (and high-ranking) chesspiece in his play to both control or affect the Inquisition as well as for his potential return to the Qun as a power player despite his past sins (at least, as an option).

Which is where the BDSM aspect of Bull’s romantic proposition to the Inquisitor comes into the picture.

It shouldn’t be surprising that, in the bedroom, as elsewhere, Bull’s secretly all about power dynamics and exploiting those for his own benefit.

Bull is asking for that absolute trust, that willingness to be completely vulnerable… after he himself has already openly told us, at that point, numerous times, why he himself should not be trusted.

Waiting for Katoh

It’d be one thing for Bull to make his move as an uncomplicated typical romantic overture. Basically, the kind of scenario where he’d say, “Hey gorgeous, Bull here. If you’re agreeable, let’s finally hook up!”

It’s quite another for him to show up in your quarters unannounced (a great and subtle way to start the scenario with the Inquisitor off-balance), to say, “So… I’ve gotten the messages. I get what you want. And it’s tempting. So let me make you an offer in return: What if I promise to give you everything you want, plus that escape you crave, but only on my terms, and at the sacrifice of full control, in a scenario that demands your absolute trust? While, in addition, possibly changing your entire outlook on who you thought you were?”

Um… No big deal, right? The only problem is, Bull is asking for that absolute trust, that willingness to be completely vulnerable… after he himself has already openly told us, at that point, numerous times, why he himself should not be trusted. If we’re paying attention. So it’s a pretty fascinating and fraught situation from a story standpoint, and one that provides the potential for a surprising amount of tension and drama. And if he’s working an agenda, and we don’t gain his loyalty (in “Demands of the Qun”) the outcome of the story that begins here is truly heartbreaking at the conclusion of “Trespasser.” (People, save the Chargers. Just please, always save the Chargers.)

Meanwhile, no matter what Bull’s agenda here, as I mentioned, Bull makes his move with care, respect, and delicacy. He ensures consent—not once, not twice, but three separate times. The consent aspect is important and even somewhat poignant if you think about it, because Bull himself comes from a culture in which sexual consent, at least in the big-picture sense, is nonexistent. In life under the Qun and elements like the Qunari breeding programs, what or who you want personally doesn’t matter. The Qun is all about the collective good. Individuals either assimilate, do what they’re told (or who they’re told), or they die.

All of this is why, for me, Bull’s emphasis on consent here is a vital and very telling character note. (It’s also why criticisms of that consent scenario drive me batty, but more on that farther down.)

The issue of consent is doubly important in Bull’s scenario from a larger standpoint, I’d further argue, precisely because lack of consent has been such a troubling yet consistent aspect of other BDSM representations in popular entertainment, most notably, in stuff like 50 Shades of Grey. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read it, but in researching this, I became aware of the criticisms of the romance and its issues with consent and abuse.) The emphasis Dragon Age: Inquisition places on an empowered and consenting relationship is therefore, to me, culturally important and responsibly done.

We’re Definitely Not in Hyrule Anymore…

In a big-picture sense, seriously, all of this is pretty complex and surprising stuff for a videogame. Because it puts the player/protagonist into a situation in which they might very well react in any number of ways—with discomfort or outright disgust, with amusement or interest, or with enthusiasm and delighted approval, et cetera. (What’s interesting is that the Bioware team was evidently initially very concerned at the reactions from players and was subsequently pleasantly surprised when Bull’s romance was a non-issue for the vast majority.)

Keep in mind that, strategically (if it occurs before “Demands of the Qun”), Bull has everything to lose here in terms of the political coinage he’s acquired with the Inquisitor over his time with the Inquisition. Yet he’s willing to risk it, because he’s gambling as always on his proven ability to read other people. He’s basically saying, “Okay, I’ll give you what you want… but only on my terms… if you agree.” While pretty much already assuming he knows the choice they’ll make.

Right away, when he shows up in the Inquisitor’s chambers, Bull presents her with a series of choices. The short answer? He’s still making sure we’re chasing him (and his approval). It’s all so smart, and so much fun from a writing standpoint. Sure, he’s there, he’s willing… but there’s also that palpable sense that Bull’s also pretty uninvested in the outcome (at least by all appearances). He’s acknowledging the flirtations, but he’s also halfway out the door. It’s calm and deliberate—a far cry from Solas’s, Cass’s, or Blackwall’s passionate declarations of desire or love even against their better instincts, simply because they cannot help themselves. Instead, with Bull, it’s slightly cold, almost amused.

But either way, he makes his offer, and we can respond. And once the Inquisitor consents the third time (in an agreement that’s either more innocent and romantic or that’s more worldly and experienced), we end on a real smile from Bull, an embrace… and then a quick fade to black.

(Honestly, maybe that fade to black was perhaps a little too quick. I’m just sayin’…)

Power Plays

But we don’t jump to the next morning, as we might expect. Intriguingly, instead, we’re shown a moment when The Iron Bull is leaving the Inquisitor’s chambers, and he’s confronted by Leliana, who is stopping by to ask the Inquisitor for input on an Inquisition matter.

Bull’s response there is to tell her no, point-blank. He sends Leliana away—Leliana, our leader, spymaster, and warrior-nun. The person nobody says no to. And he does so with a shrug. It’s intriguing and textbook Bull: “Let her rest,” he says, coolly meeting the eyes of the most terrifying person in all of Skyhold. He’s at ease. He’s also amused, relaxed, and confident. And Leliana, visibly thoughtful about this unexpected development, departs without further comment. (And I love that she never, ever says a word about what she knows here. Nobody keeps secrets like our Nightingale.)

In an obvious sense, Bull’s just done some oddly positive things here. He’s—it’s certainly implied—provided the Inquisitor with the escape and release she needed. He’s also fended off potential interruptions and made sure she gets some much-needed rest.

And yet.

He’s also just made a major power move. He just told Leliana, in no uncertain terms, that he’s now a factor in the Inquisitor’s life. It can be taken as selfish (“I’m someone you need to take note of”) or unselfish (“I’m here to make sure you give her the space she needs”). Or a combination of the two.

For me, the headcanon read on this scene depends on what the outcome was to “The Demands of the Qun.” If we saved the Chargers, Bull has no more need to apply ulterior motives, and he’s simply doing what he’s best at—caregiving and protecting. If we chose to sacrifice the Chargers, however, Bull’s motives immediately get a lot murkier. (So much so that it’s going to have to be a whole separate blog post in the future.)

Meanwhile, my Inky got her night with Bull. And I’m assuming it was fabulous and delightful and probably earth-shattering on a number of levels. But she certainly had some questions the morning after (and so did I).

The best part is? He answers them.

Bull’s actually very approachable the next morning, if we choose to go ask him to talk with us about what happened the night before.

Warnings and Watchwords

It’s interesting that Bull’s seduction has a decidedly cool element, a visible detachment, yet he’s so much warmer and kinder the morning after. This could be an expected result of the intimacy of their previous night together. Or it may also simply indicate that he’s more confident and not feeling the need to hold himself at arms’ length anymore.

Regardless, Bull’s actually very approachable the next morning, if we choose to go ask him to talk with us about what happened the night before. He’s genial, friendly, and open—surprisingly so. (My favorite part of this early conversation is when we first try to talk to him about the previous night, Bull assumes we just want some therapeutic advice on physical comfort in the aftermath, responding cheerfully that, “I can show you some stretches…”.)

Then he realizes what the Inquisitor wants to talk about, they sit down together in her quarters, and just… talk. In an extended, smart, literate, and mature dialogue sequence about what they did, how the Inquisitor feels about it, what each wants, what he’s offering, the rules of engagement, what the boundaries are, and where those boundaries end. He also addresses, bluntly, the psychology behind his choices.

And here’s where it gets fascinating. He reveals to you at this point, fairly candidly, how he thinks you’re wired and what he thinks you need. He admits that he’s using his Ben-Hassrath training to intuit this stuff, but also that he’s using those powers for good:

Inquisitor: I’m still not sure how to react to the things we did.

Iron Bull: If you’re limping, I can show you a few stretches that’ll take care of it.

Inquisitor: That’s not what I meant.

Iron Bull (pausing): You don’t say. Found a part of yourself you didn’t know was there before…

The Inquisitor doesn’t answer.

Iron Bull (more gently): Ben-Hassrath training, remember? Grew up learning to manipulate people. When it’s a hostile target, you give them what they want. But when it’s someone you care about, you give them what they need.

Inquisitor: So if I agree, how does this… work?

Iron Bull: Outside this room, nothing changes. You’re the Inquisitor. You’re the Boss. I will never hurt you without your permission. You will always be safe. If you are ever uncomfortable, if you ever want me to stop, you say “katoh” and it’s over. No questions asked.

Inquisitor (one of several minor varying options): It’s a little unnerving that you have this down to a system.

Iron Bull: Systems are comfortable. And my goal is for you to get… very comfortable.

My favorite part of this exchange is the way Bull is employing his usual talent for lying with the truth and hiding in plain sight.

Just as he told us he was a spy the moment we met, here he points out that his Ben-Hassrath training is enabling him to manipulate the Inquisitor, and that he is blatantly doing so. But he’s doing so (or so he implies) for good, not ill. For our benefit. And if we saved the Chargers in Bull’s personal loyalty quest (turning him into a true rebel by necessity—a Tal-Vashoth), this is true. If we sacrificed the Chargers and he remains loyal to the Qun, things here are, as mentioned, actually pretty dark. But more on that later.

Either way, what Bull doesn’t do, at any point, is compromise. Instead, Bull lays out the scenario for the two of you going forward. The crux of his approach: To put it somewhat demurely, Bull gets to drive. The Inquisitor will have to agree. He will not compromise, as noted in a further conversation and partial negotiation they may have later on (all of these dialogues were written with his usual eloquence and subtlety by Patrick Weekes, who wrote Bull, as well as Solas and Cole, in his Dragon Age: Inquisition appearance).

What You Need

The Inquisitor can then return to Bull for a third conversation, and this was my favorite of the three, because the writing allows the Inquisitor a variety of character options–they can ask a dozen questions, or they can commit right away. They can show confidence, or admit to vulnerability or insecurity for example, asking Bull if the BDSM is an aspect of any of his other relationships, for instance, with the serving girls or others Bull has bedded in the Inquisition. Bull’s answer there is simple: nope. Because that’s not what the serving girls needed. He’s wired to give people what he perceives they need, so each scenario for him is different and unique.

Bull further elaborates below (note that he starts out with a clear statement that he’s committed to you, absolutely, as of this moment—that there’s nobody else, until or unless you end things):

Iron Bull (speaking about his previous dalliances): I mean, I used to. Long as we’re doing this, you’ve got my complete attention.

Inquisitor: You told me that this is what I needed. What did you mean by that?

Iron Bull: You’re the Inquisitor. You didn’t ask for the job, but you’ve taken on the responsibility. You’ve got thousands of lives riding on your decisions. You bear that weight all day. You need a place where you can be safe, knowing someone else is in charge for a bit. 

Inquisitor: So if this is a conscious decision for you, could you do something else if I wanted you to?

Iron Bull: No. This is who we are. It’d be disrespectful to what you need to treat you any other way. If it doesn’t work for you, though, I understand. No hard feelings.

Inquisitor: What about what you need?

Iron Bull: Hey, I’m good. I am better than good. You don’t trouble yourself on that front. Old Iron Bull is just fine.

It’s interesting to me that Bull’s highest allegiance here is to what the Inquisitor needs. It’s the thing he’s most drawn to as a nurturer, spy or no spy, that ability to fulfill that, and it’s something he won’t compromise on. He even calls it out specifically, that “It would be disrespectful to what you need to treat you any other way.” He won’t do otherwise… even if it’s in his best interests politically. And, typical for Bull, he utterly discounts what he himself might need out of the relationship. (I find this weirdly moving, and would certainly of course headcanon that the Inquisitor is generous and attentive regardless of this statement—he deserves it.)

Either way, these conversations while certainly a bit edgy for the mainstream, really shouldn’t be. Speaking as something of a bumbling semi-human toon myself (when it comes to, like, non-pixellated romances), I found them intelligent, insightful, and respectful, and had no issues with Bull’s romantic narrative in any way. Besides, in service to the story, ultimately, to me it’s powerful, it’s emotional, and best of all, it’s also responsibly and affectionately set forth. It’s true to who these characters have been painted to be.

I definitely appreciate that there are (to me, at least) no issues regarding consent, physical or emotional danger, or of power abuse, unlike popular and often irresponsible representations of BDSM across much of entertainment media (cough, 50 Shades of Grey). Ultimately, as someone unfamiliar with that culture, my own reaction to the portrayal of Bull’s romance as a depiction of BDSM, after reading a fair amount of discussion (both pro and con), is that it has been handled here with real responsibility, as well as with sensitivity and a clear understanding of both the characters, the lifestyle, and of human nature by Weekes and the rest of the Dragon Age creative team. I think in that way that the romance storyline is a pretty significant milestone for inclusivity, and should be celebrated as such.

Not everyone will be into what Bull proposes, nor will they take him up on it once he sets the stage for what he wants to provide. And in those cases it’s then, luckily, quite easy to say “Nope,” and move on.

Responsible Representation

However, not everyone agrees with me. Beyond his romance with Dorian (which as I’ve noted, I don’t think was remotely abusive and will address in more detail in the future), there’s been some heated discussion about Bull and his relationship with the Inquisitor. So it was interesting to wade into that minefield. Some felt there were consent issues (which I cannot understand at all, given what we’re provided here), some had issues with his assumption that the Inquisitor is submissive, while still others felt that Bull’s “take it or leave it” approach to the relationship was somehow triggering.

Again, I don’t get any of these critiques or find them viable.

First off, Bull’s assumption that the Inquisitor is seeking a submissive role in the bedroom is an easy thing to address within the story—you can either headcanon that he’s right, or hey, you turn him down. It’s not difficult. Me, I thought it was a believable character note for a number of reasons. It spotlighted Bull’s insights into human nature in an unexpected way (and keep in mind, Bull is shown to be scarily accurate about reading people in this way); it provided a scenario in which our protagonist is actually challenged about their own perceptions of what they want in the bedroom (and how often does that happen in a game?); and it explored Bull’s caregiver tendencies in ways that were complex and even potentially disquieting… and yet lovely, too.

Because Bull’s immediately all in. If we agree, he’s 100% monogamous and focused only on us, on giving the Inquisitor whatever is needed. And this caregiver aspect isn’t just subtext to me, but actual text. The entire relationship is, in my own view, presented as genuinely healing, and so many people miss that about Bull’s romance. Yes, there are power dynamics at work here, of course, but there’s also something gentle about what Bull’s offering the Inquisitor—it’s not ever presented as harsh or scary; it’s not the cliche of whips and chains (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s what floats your boat), but is instead rather a safe haven. There’s a genuine element of fantasy and play to it, and we see both aspects, the gentleness and the fantasy element, in the scene where Bull and the Inquisitor are interrupted later on.

And while it’s true that Bull may in fact eventually betray you (if you betrayed him), that happens on the battlefield. Never in the bedroom. No matter what you chose when it came to his loyalty mission, by all appearances he keeps his promise and the Inquisitor’s bedroom remains a safe and separate space.

Regardless. Not everyone will be into what Bull proposes, nor will they take him up on it once he sets the stage for what he wants to provide. And in those cases it’s then, luckily, quite easy to say, “Nope” and move on.

Arguing the Dynamics

I think this is a key point many people don’t get. It’s not abuse for Bull to request a specific kind of relationship while giving us the choice to accept or refuse. It would be abuse if we had no choice, or if he changed those dynamics without warning. But here, he’s being absolutely forthcoming about what will take place if we agree, and we therefore have the power to respond with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s really that simple.
Does Bull insist on a specific sexual preference or dynamic to his relationship going forward? Yes. Yes, he does. And he’s clear about that.
I have no problem with this. I’d further argue that Bull has every right to set forth what he wants from a sexual relationship, and so does anyone else. Our Inquisitors can at that point either agree to his terms and proceed, or turn him down. Again, it’s not rocket science. And there are zero actual problems in how he presents the choice (again, Bull asks for consent and checks in with the Inquisitor on her feelings multiple times, both here and as the romance progresses). The Inquisitor is further given full agency over her relationship and her decisions at every single conversational moment with Bull that follows. She can reject him at any time.
I mean, what more could Bioware have done?
Some people have argued, however, that because the Inquisitor can’t change the terms of the relationship, that this is somehow abusive. Nope. Those who like what Bull’s proposing can take him up on it. Those who want something different, or that he’s not willing to give? You’re simply out of luck. That’s not how people work. Or sex. Or relationships. Everyone has preferences, and difference is the spice of life.
Anyway.

To Speak or Not to Speak

Meanwhile, to me, Bull’s pretty careful, thoughtful and thorough when discussing exactly what their relationship will be like if the Inquisitor proceeds. He provides the Qunari word “katoh” as the ‘watchword’ (or, ahem, safe word) in case the Inquisitor is uncomfortable at any point, then leaves it up to her whether she wants to continue. Bull may have an agenda, but he is also incredibly sincere on the issue of agency in every way.

And speaking of “katoh,” it’s probably my one area of minor complaint in the romance. Eventually, the ‘watchword’ becomes a kind of badge of honor for the Inquisitor—the fact that she never says it, it’s implied in a lighthearted way, is because she’s adventurous, not afraid of her own limits, and because the two of them are having a terrific time together.

However, the idea that not saying it is somehow a good thing doesn’t work for me. To me, the whole point of “katoh” (especially in the case of a character who is new to these scenarios, I’d imagine) should be that expressing her boundaries or areas of discomfort is not just allowable but is actually healthy for both her as well as for Bull as the relationship begins. (I mean, I’d think for most people, there might be, hilariously, “katohs” all over the place to start, as they got comfortable with each other, or maybe I’m just projecting here.) But from a story standpoint, I can see why the fact that she doesn’t say it (surprising Bull, to say the least) also has an emotional component and says something about her trust in him.

The Offer Beneath the Offer

Regardless, Bull’s setting forth the ground rules. And at this moment, if she says that one word (“katoh”), it’s over, no hard feelings. And please note—potential double agenda or no, Bull means this—I’ve played through all the different variations, and when Bull promises “no strings,” he puts his money where his mouth is. He’s even genial and supportive if the Inquisitor moves on after their night together to romance other companions:

Inquisitor: Katoh.

Iron Bull: Understood. I’ll see you later, Boss. (Alternatively: Huh. You got it, Boss.)

But if the Inquisitor questions Bull on his point of view, his reasons, and his goals for the relationship, it’s a fascinating conversation, and one of my favorites with romanced companions across the entire Dragon Age landscape.

This is because Bull’s logic for why he wants the relationship to go this way is pretty irresistible, and it’s seriously the world’s oddest combination of creepy and sweet ever.

Because… what he’s offering your Inquisitor is even more seductive than sex; he’s offering escape. As well as open permission to be vulnerable in ways the Inquisitor is simply not allowed to be in daily life. And, quite possibly, it may be the only true escape they’ve found since becoming Inquisitor. He’s saying, “Come with me, play with me; I’ll take care of you and you can take your mind away from this apocalyptic time, place, and responsibility you never asked for.

I mean, if you’d been catapulted to a position of leadership you’d never wanted or imagined, were surrounded by strangers (many of whom feared, hated or were initially trying to imprison you), had left or lost everyone you’d loved, were suddenly leading a world political power, were managing a magical mark that was also slowly trying to kill you, and the world was falling to hell around you in a rain of demons from the skies…?

Yeah, I’d think that offer would be pretty damned tempting.

“I Cannot Move My Legs”

So the romance progresses, we can ask Bull for kisses outside the tavern (complete with a casual smack on the Inky’s rear that is slyly funny and well animated), and all is right with Thedas. Everyone’s having a great time, apparently.

Then, not long after Bull and the Inquisitor embark on their escapades, there’s a scene where Cullen, Cass, and Josie happen upon them unexpectedly. It is seriously the funniest scene I’ve ever seen in a game, and I laugh out loud every time I see it. But there’s also more to it than you might expect at second glance—it’s actually a lovely and surprising interlude—funnier than you’d anticipate, but also potentially tender (and really sad, as well, depending on your character’s choices). Either way, it’s a revealing moment in the romance if we look closer.

We open on Bull and the Inquisitor, right after another encounter. Bull’s naked and still relaxed in the bed, the Inquisitor dressing in a matter-of-fact, “we’ve been together awhile now” kind of way. And this is where we catch a glimpse of that gentle hidden aspect to the relationship. Bull’s voice is soft:

Iron Bull: There we go. No Inquisition. No war. Nothing outside this room. Just you, and me. (Pause) So. What’d you want to talk about?

Then Cullen inadvertently walks in. And he realizes what he’s walking in on and his body literally tries to march him backward out the door on its own. It’s fantastic. Then he settles for covering his eyes against the sight of a naked Bull as if he’s a vampire faced with sunlight.

Then Josie comes in. And she freezes in place, mesmerized by the glory that is, evidently, Bull’s junk (amusingly and thankfully hidden by the Inky and various other elements as the scene progresses).

Josie’s “I just had three shots of Novocaine” face is seriously the best thing ever (“I cannot move my legs…”)

Then comes Cassandra as the capper on the scene, and her patented disgusted noise here is probably the best example of that classic Cass-reaction in the entire game. Because she’s not really disgusted, just exasperated. Like she’s going, “Inquisitor. Bull. The world is falling down and NOW you decide to do this? I am disappointed.” And she’s of course raising one perfect eyebrow in judgment at the same time.

Anyway, it’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever see in a video game, as all three are mortified by the situation and yet cannot look away. Josie’s “I just had three shots of Novocaine” face is seriously the best thing ever (“I cannot move my legs…”), while Cullen’s little snicker adds a much-needed dash of humor to our often stoic Commander’s personality. (Seriously, when he giggled at this, I went, “Okay, fine, Hot Templar Man, I’ll romance you” and added him to my mental list behind Solas.). Cassandra (perhaps funniest of all) is simply irritated at being faced with the entire situation.

She doesn’t give a crap about sex or safe words or orgasms. She’s just wondering why you’re wasting your time when there is WORK to be done. And given that Cass is DAI’s die-hard closet romantic (not to mention there’s the matter of her occasional flirtations with Bull in their banters), it’s kind of weirdly adorable. I almost wonder if there isn’t an element of her protesting a bit too much, but there’s no hint of that, so I think ultimately it’s simply her allegiance to the Inquisition that’s causing her extreme disapproval here. (At least outwardly.)

A Dignified Exit

But it’s not all just fun and games. We can commit to Bull here, proud of our relationship with him and absolutely fine with people knowing. Yet, meanwhile, for the unexpectedly sadder ending—if we express embarrassment at being discovered with Bull, it’s much more bittersweet, as Bull sacrifices his dignity without a qualm—but only to a point:

Cass: I apologize for interrupting what I assume was a momentary diversion.

Cullen (snickers): Nothing wrong with having a bit of fun.

Josie: Who wouldn’t be a little curious? 

Inquisitor: Responds either affirmatively (“Bull and I are together”) or ends things, with “This was just a fling” (“Iron Bull and I were just blowing off some steam”).

Iron Bull (if option 2 is taken): Yeah, the Boss wanted to ride the Bull. Nothing for anyone to get excited about. 

Inquisitor: Right.

Josie (flustered): I’ll just…

Iron Bull (after a pause): Hey, Josephine… you busy later?

Josie actually does pause momentarily (and personally, I hope she looked him up), then they all leave.

Iron Bull: Ah, well. Fun while it lasted.

Inquisitor (being a total jerkface): We don’t have to stop.

Iron Bull: Yeah. We do. I was trying to relieve your stress. Not add to it. If you’re ashamed of this, I’m doing a crappy job.

Inquisitor: Bull…

Iron Bull: Don’t worry about it, Boss. I’ll see you later.

I love this moment (well, I hate what the Inquisitor’s done, but I really like Bull’s reaction). I love that Bull will actually turn down the Inquisitor here. So much of Bull’s persona is about his support and willingness to give, but at the same time, there needs to be a limit. And the quiet way he walks away in this moment (as he should) when faced with the Inquisitor’s shame at being with him is a perfect and necessary character note. He may be a caregiver but the guy has the self esteem to expect better of those he sleeps with… and he should.

However, if we do commit to Bull, it ends very sweetly and on a much happier note:

Iron Bull: You okay Boss?

Inquisitor: You know, I believe I am. But since we have a moment… 

Iron Bull: What’s that?

Inquisitor: It’s a dragon’s tooth, split in two. So no matter how far apart life takes us, we’re always together.

Iron Bull: Not often people surprise me, kadan.

Inquisitor: Kadan?

Iron Bull (pulling her down into the bed): Kadan. My heart.

And as I’ve mentioned, I may have actually let out a cheer at this, because I headcanoned that my original Warden was in love with Sten (and vice versa) even though they both knew it was hopeless. Their only outlet, I believed, was his use of that word, his one way of expressing his hidden feelings. So, in other words, every time Sten called her “kadan,” I plotzed a little.

So this was fabulous. (And yes, yes I know that “kadan” can be used in a nonromantic context. I just can’t hear you over the la-la-la sounds I’m currently making to ignore that.)

Nobody Says I Love You…

Bull’s romance continues to evolve through the DAI story after this point, and again, I found it so refreshing that the game dared to explore the dynamics of a relationship that began with sex and evolved into something more complex. Bull and the Inquisitor are still evidently having sex all over Skyhold, including, evidently, one or two occasions on the War Table itself (Cole informs a delighted party of companions of this fact in one of his highly revealing little banter dialogues about Bull’s romance with the Inquisitor, and Blackwall’s response is especially funny: “I look forward to informing Cullen!”).

But there’s still something that hasn’t been said—those three little words that determine that there’s emotion involved here, and not just sex. And as we know, there’s no room for love and sex to occur at the same time traditionally under the Qun.

Then, however, we get a post-coital conversation between Bull and the Inquisitor about how their relationship is going (everyone’s very happy, let’s just say), and about his surprise that she’s never used the safe word he provided. The two then proceed to banter about the potential safe words of our other companions, and as always, it’s an opportunity for Bull to show how insightful he really is when it comes to reading other people. There’s a brilliant little moment when his use of a particular Orlesian phrase about Blackwall says volumes about how much he’s already figured out about the mysterious Grey Warden and his true backstory, which for most has not yet been revealed at this point in the story.

It’s interesting to note that while Bull and the Inquisitor wonder aloud about the safe words and predilections of many of their companions, a few notable omissions there include Solas (interesting, since I definitely think he’d have one at the ready—as he directly implies in an early flirt scene with a mage Inquisitor), and Dorian.

Side Note: I would have laughed so hard if Solas’s suggested safe word had been “Fade.” Come on. Admit it. It’s funny. He’d never have even made it through the door on your very first date. And it would’ve been hilarious.

I think Dorian’s omission here, meanwhile, occurs for many reasons—first, because it’s another subtle example of Bull judging others and what they need, and I think the implication is pretty clear that Bull doesn’t think a BDSM scenario would be ideal for Dorian (with his history of rejection and betrayal, I’d agree, although it’s also implied that there are elements of kink to the relationship in other ways). I also think Dorian may not be discussed because he’s an alternate-timeline choice for Bull as a romance, and his omission keeps the two stories wholly separate.

This interlude can end on a few different genuinely touching emotional notes. In one, the Inquisitor implies love and thanks Bull for being with her even if they don’t survive.

Bull interrupts this speech, however, and his broken “Katoh. Stop. I can’t… We’re coming out of this together.” is one of Prinze’s most beautiful moments in voice acting the character of Bull. What gets me is that Bull is the first one to use the word in earnest here; he’s giving us the rare glimpse of the guy who survived Seheron… and then broke.

Sex and Love Beyond the Qun

All variations on this scene end with the two falling back into bed together, but the differences in each conversation thread choice are fascinating because the scene can end in exactly the same way each time, yet in one instance it’s slightly emotional and intense (the Inquisitor fearing death and Bull comforting her), in another sweetly affecting (the Inquisitor telling Bull she loves him, and him returning the sentiment after responding teasingly), or even playful (as the Inquisitor ends on a lighter tone, telling him this was fun). And it’s all lovely and moving… as long as he’s Tal-Vashoth.

Because, if he’s not, once again, this is all empty. An act. Depending on whether we saved the Chargers, or doomed them.

If we saved the Chargers, then I think part of the reason Bull genuinely allows himself to love you is because he’s in a freefall of relief at Krem and the Chargers’ survival (his family), secret relief at being free of the Qun, while also still navigating his total fear and despair of what he’s supposed to do now. All combined with the constant fear that he will go “savage” and become Tal-Vashoth.

And of course, add in a healthy amount of guilt because he now must wonder how many Tal-Vashoth he hunted and killed for the Qunari were simply good men like him trying to break free. So to me, it’s natural that Bull is more open to the romance and actually allows himself the possibility for love and even commitment. That is, if you saved the Chargers. And saved the part of himself that had allowed himself to feel and love.

As I’ve written before here, Bull is innately generous, a giver at heart. The Qun, once upon a time, warped that impulse into something darker and more controlling. Then came the Inquisition, and his own “last chance.” Sure, Bull was playing a delicate game at first, and balancing both potential outcomes. But at some point, somewhere along the way, it all became real. He returned to his core self, abandoning power and politics, turning to something he’d never been allowed to imagine existed—real intimacy, commitment and trust.

It’s ironic in the end, that while Bull offered our Inquisitor the possibility of escape both emotionally, psychologically, and sensually, the person who achieved the actual escape in the end was Bull himself. And we’re the ones who gave it to him. By saving his self-built family, we saved Bull and (unknowingly) ourselves. And that’s the opposite of cold; it’s something that goes beyond sex, power, or obsession and is simply about love and trust on truly absolute and unshakable levels.

And that’s always going to be greater and more powerful than any demands of the Qun.


Images Courtesy of BioWare

This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of an article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on DumpedDrunkandDalish.com.

Angela is a fantasy writer and gamer who loves great fiction in any form. She is the author of The Bridge, Falada, Dancing Days, and The Betrayals of Women, available for Kindle from Westmarch Publishing on Amazon.com, and she also discusses and analyzes the Dragon Age universe in her blog at "Dumped, Drunk and Dalish." Stop by for some Maraas-Lok!

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Olatunji Nuga
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Iron Bull’s romance is definitely in my top five Bioware romances and it’s awesome to see such a thoughtful examination of it.

Great job, Angela!

Kinaed
Guest

Love the article, as always. I’m currently slowly working my way through the Iron Bull romance myself. However, one thing I’m not sure of – if you save the Chargers, the romance is complex and daring. If you don’t, however, the romance is “murkier” as you say. In that scenario, I’m just surprised that Bioware didn’t take as much care to avoid the ‘BDSM is evil/abuse’ stigma as they did the ‘evil bisexual’ trope when making the Solas romance. That said, I have my personal take on it – just as I believe Solas really loves the Inquisitor because of… Read more »

Analysis

Game of Thrones 2×09 Rewatch: Best Waters

Kylie

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Welcome to the penultimate Season 2 chapter of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch project that for once, is going to be glowing and effervescent about HBO’s flagship program by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). Last week we rolled our eyes through a thoroughly modern romance and were confused at the lack of build-up to the big big battle. This week, George R.R. Martin takes up the pen for said battle “Blackwater,” and Kylie, Julia, Jana, and Griffin dig in.

Episode Recap

War is upon us! All of King’s Landing is in a tizzy as Stannis’s fleet sets sail for Blackwater Bay. In that fleet is none other than Davos Seaworth and his son Matthos. Davos knows the smallfolk of King’s Landing will hardly be glad to see them and dreads the coming battle, but Matthos is undeterred as a true believer in the Lord of Light and his ‘chosen champion’, Stannis.

Would that the people of King’s Landing have the same courage. Tyrion lies awake worrying about what seems like his certain doom, as Shae tries to comfort him. Pycelle, meanwhile, provides Cersei with poison for herself (or children) should the city fall. Bronn, on the other hand, tries to live it up in a brothel, though his mood is soon spoiled by Sandor Clegane, who points out that he’s a killer first and foremost.

The bells begin ringing as Stannis’s fleet is spotted. Varys is introduced to Pod, Tyrion’s squire, preparing the Hand in his armor. Varys shows Tyrion a map with tunnels leading out of the city should he want to flee, though Tyrion remains steadfast. Varys then reveals his loathing for magic, and thus Stannis’s devotion to the Lord of Light.

As Stannis’s fleet draws nearer, the Baratheon king orders his drummers to begin their cadence. Tyrion finds Bronn in the Great Hall and reminds him to wait until the ships are far enough in, before saying his goodbye. He also says his goodbye to Sansa, and then Shae, both of whom are in the Hall as Sansa was summoned to see Joffrey off. She does so, slightly goading him that he should be in the vanguard, before heading off to the Keep where Cersei has summoned her.

In the Keep, the highborn ladies pray, though Cersei immediately makes it clear that she hates playing host, and potentially hates everyone there. She continues to drink wine and say inappropriate things to a horrified Sansa, including how everyone is likely to get raped, how Cersei should have been born a man, how the best way to rule is with fear, and how the best weapon a woman has is seducing men. Sansa also sees that Cersei summoned the King’s Justice, Illyn Payne, to “protect everyone.” When he is ordered out for a moment to kill fleeing smallfolk, Sansa questions his role. Cersei later reveals that she intends to have Illyn Payne kill all the ladies in her protection should the battle go poorly to save them from a “worse fate.”

Meanwhile, outside, Tyrion sends just one ship to meet Stannis’s fleet. Joffrey and others are confused, though it soon becomes apparent that the ship was packed full of wildfire. Bronn waits for Stannis’s ships to get closer before shooting a flaming arrow at the ship—igniting everything around it, including the water. Hundreds of Stannis’s ships sink and men die, including Matthos Seaworth. Stannis remains undeterred, however, stating that it was a trick that could only be done once. He prepares to land, understanding the death toll in storming King’s Landing could be thousands.

Stannis targets Mud Gate, and Tyrion orders the Hound to form a “welcoming party” to fend them off. However the Hound, triggered by the fire all around him, runs off after fighting through the first wave, declaring “f-ck the King” on his way out. Lancel brings news of Stannis’s fleet having landed to Cersei, who orders him to pull Joffrey back inside. When Lancel reports this to Joffrey, he agrees to go, despite Tyrion’s protests that it will demoralize everyone else. Left with no other choice but to lead, Tyrion makes his best attempt at a battle speech before leading men through the tunnels to attack Stannis’s men at the Mud Gate by surprise.

Back inside, Lancel tells Cersei that the fighting took a turn for the worst, and Cersei storms out. Sansa calms the room, but when Shae points out that Stannis won’t hurt her whereas Illyn Payne surely will, Sansa slips out to hide in her own room. She finds Sandor there, who offers to take her home to Winterfell and keep her safe. Even though she declares that he won’t hurt her, she refuses this offer and remains in her room.

Outside, Tyrion’s surprise attack to those holding the battering ram at Mud Gate went well, earning a cheer of “Halfman” from the King’s Landing soldiers. However it is short-lived when many more soldiers of Stannis’s come racing around the bend. In the heat of battle, the kingsguard Ser Mandon Moore takes an unexpected swing at Tyrion, splitting open his face, until Pod kills the knight from behind. As Tyrion begins to lose consciousness, he sees calvary forces arrive.

Inside on the Iron Throne, Cersei tells a story to Tommen to calm him as she tries to give him poison. But luckily before he drinks any, the doors bang open. It’s Ser Loras and Tywin—the cavalry that had arrived had been a combined force of Lannisters and Tyrells. Tywin declares they won, and Stannis gets dragged away in protest by his own men.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: This episode is so good it makes me angry at what this show should have been. Everything I’d been saying about lack of build up to this moment…it didn’t matter. Stakes felt real here, and it was just fully engaging.

Jana: I know, right? This episode might just be the best thing the show has ever done, and it’s so frustrating!

Griffin: This episode was actually both competent and enjoyable! It was extremely surprising, and kind of what I assumed y’all meant when you said that this show “used to be good.” Y’know, like, the past 1.9 seasons were supposed to be but inexplicably weren’t, at least for me.

Jana: Honestly, I think this episode might be single-handedly to blame for many of us being fans of the show for as long as we were. It is so good. It feels like it comes from a better season than it was, too. As you said, Kylie, the lack of build up suddenly didn’t matter anymore because somehow, the episode managed to feel like it had been set-up for the entire season.

Julia: I was thinking as I was watching, this is the only episode we’ve watched so far in this rewatch that I can see myself putting on at some point in the future, just to enjoy the experience of watching it. Everything else, even very good stuff like the pilot, is too tainted by what the show’s become for me to earnestly enjoy it, even if I see it’s good qualities. This episode’s goodness stands on its own.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: My highlight was Cersei bein’ Cersei this episode. I just love her as a character, and god knows we never get A Feast For Crows Cersei in her finest form. This is the closest we’ll ever have, and Headey can really kill it with actual substance in her writing. Then having Sophie Turner play off of her…it was just so enjoyable all around.

There’s not many lowlights to choose from if I’m being honest—the easiest target I have is Bronn’s plucky pluckyness, but I’m thinking I’m just sick of his archetype within this show. Still, I didn’t need a solid few minutes in the brothel prior to Sandor showing up.

Jana: Same here. The scene with Bronn and Sandor was completely irrelevant to anything, and didn’t tell us anything new about the characters, except for maybe that Bronn has a nice singing voice. At least the song choice was appropriate here—and foreshadowing, kinda—unlike, say, singing The Dornishman’s Wife in the middle of Dorne. Ugh.

I also have to agree with you on the highlight. We’re missing central beats of Sansa’s characterization, sure, but goddamn those scenes were great. Though why was Shae even there if not to have Sansa vocalize her more important thoughts? Disparaging Joffrey in public is a-okay with Shae, but quietly contradicting the queen in a corner isn’t? Ah well.

Griffin: Agreed, thrice over. Cersei being shit-faced through the entire episode was both hysterical and just genuinely evocative. She’s terrifying everyone around her, throwing down life lessons about the bullshit system she and every other woman must exist in, and seems to be arguing with herself internally if she even cares or not for anything other than her own children. So great.

Lowlight had to be…wow, I’m having trouble thinking of one. That’s weird. I guess…that bit with the hound and Sansa? Because we didn’t really have the character beats from the book to actually have that make sense? I guess I was also wondering as to why anyone would be stupid enough to go fight outside the gates before they are breached. The stone walls create a natural funnel for enemies that would make maneuvering basically impossible if you killed enough of them at the door to cause a literal clog of corpses—look, this is basic warfare that applies to basically every era of ground combat. It looks cool to have sword fights on the beach, but when you pair that with the rest of Tyrion’s logical tactics and tricks it really stands out as stupid.

Julia: I think I agree that the Hound is my lowlight. Just, like, more or less everything he does with the exception of his “fuck the king” moment. That was good. The “so you think you’re a tough guy, Bronn?” thing was odd. My only comfort is that I’m quite sure I heard that the scene was put in late to satisfy the “boob quotient.” I’m gonna go with that. His little encounter with Sansa was okay…but it was no “little bird” scene from the books.

Yeah, this was pretty great.

Highlight? Wow. I mean, obviously Cersei is everyone’s highlight, but I need to point out how awesome all the stunt work and practical gore effects were. I know that Kylie had her eyes closed whenever there was blood, but trust me, they were exceptional.

The whole battle had a wonderful tone that, like, didn’t glorify violence but was also not as simple as, “this is terrible! Why can’t we all just get along.” I think they call it: nuanced.

Also a highlight: that sick beat Stannis’s drummer was laying down.

Griffin: Believe it or not, Kylie did not actually shield herself from all of the gore. And yeah, some of that was gnarly.

Kylie: It’s complicated. I knew I watched this episode before without being dizzy, so that means it’s gore I can handle. I might have anxiety or something.

Quality of writing

Julia: We never can trust ourselves with a GRRM episode, can we?

Jana: The real question is, would we still be praising this episode so much if the writing of the previous episode hadn’t been so…troubled?

Kylie: I mean juxtaposed to what we’ve gotten, it’s certainly a stark contrast. And Vanessa Taylor is just lucky we weren’t immediately coming off 2×04.

However, I honestly think it holds up by itself, mostly because it is so self-contained and character driven. It’s like we were saying: stakes to this point felt rushed and not particularly in any focus. Yet the sense of doom and what this meant for everyone was clear in what? The first ten minutes? Not to mention Sansa appears again after however many weeks of her not being around, or barely being around, and the spotlight on her still works quite well.

Yes, it’s clear it was making up for some slack. But the fact that it did so successfully actually demonstrates how much stronger it is for that, since it still has its own plot, pacing, themes (not to jump the gun), and so on.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: War is hell! Leadership is important and can come from unlikely places!

Kylie: Even the smallest person can change the course of the future! Those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it!

Griffin: I posit, “War: What is it good for?” With the answer being…blood and trauma. War never changes, and it’s bad. Quoting other things aside, that is it. It’s mainly the story of Davos, Tyrion, and Sansa (duh…POV characters) and the roles they play in just this horrible, horrible circumstance. Sansa and Tyrion especially parallel each other rather beautifully here.

Jana: Too bad Sansa’s part of the “unlikely leadership” theme was immediately cut short. That was a bit awkwardly paced. Other than that, yeah, all those things. The episode was pretty clear on that, and actually took some time to go into detail about how much war actually sucks for everyone, rather than just focus on the battle like the later ones do.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Jana: Today on, “What even is a timeline”: Sansa has been menstruating for four episodes and through several troop movements! She should probably get that looked at. Though maybe not by Pycelle. Ew.

Kylie: Jana, she clearly stopped menstruating, got it again next cycle, and told Cersei about it off-screen. Smh at people needing their hand held for every little thing…

Griffin: All of the heavy lifting Martin had to do with the Hound and Sansa and Cersei was a little distracting, since it was an entire season’s worth of characterization, if not more, in one episode. That, and how the Battle of the Blackwater itself basically wasn’t built up like at all outside of the previous episode. Kinda feel like this looming fleet should just be gathering the entire season and it getting more and more tense, because nobody has any idea how the hell they’re going to repel that many ships?

Julia: Yeah, and there’s only so much heavy lifting he can do. There’s no way he could have had Tyrion’s chain appear from nowhere, or magic Sandor and Sansa’s relationship into existence. In fact, the restraint he showed in not having the chain pop up from nowhere as a shock, as it clearly would in season 6, say, is like someone coming to smear some plaster over the crack.

The Lannister/Tyrell alliance did totally pop from nowhere, though, didn’t it? They had Tywin leaving Harrenhal and they had LF talking to Tyrells… I guess it popped up in the books too.

Remember adaptation?

Kylie: Obviously we have GRRM himself writing this episode, but it’s still an adaptation nonetheless. I know the biggest change that garners attention in the fandom is the lack of Tyrion’s chain. To be honest, I’m skeptical how well that could have translated to a visual medium.

However, one thing I did notice was how hard Martin worked to sort of inject the same general takeaways or character beats even when the context had been written around up until this point. The best example I have is the Sansa/Sandor scene. It was like taking their all of their book interactions and distilling them into one scene, while removing any sexual overtones (which I’d call a good choice giving the actors cast). Another example would be Varys and Tyrion’s relationship (with hints to a more interesting and scrapped Varys backstory).

Jana: This is pretty much the only Sansa/Sandor scene that worked sort of like it did in the books. However, without Dontos and his plan in the picture, Sansa not going with Sandor seems like a really, really stupid choice here. Especially considering that Sandor on the show is a lot more…restrained than his book counterpart.

Griffin: I’m with Kylie on the giant chain. That would have looked extremely silly. Even if it was this massive chain-link net or something that they waved around along the edge of the walls to smash ships, I just don’t think that would have looked good. It’s the same reason Stannis isn’t wearing a helmet, yet Tyrion does: he’s easily recognizable. Stannis meanwhile isn’t exceptionally tall like Brienne, or the Hound, or the Mountain, so if he had a helmet he’d just blend in to the crowd. Well, unless they established him wearing fancy red armor for the Lord of Light or something like that. We could pick that out.

Jana: Completely unrelated, but since you brought up the helmet issue—there is a comment track by GRRM where he spends basically half the episode lecturing people on why actors, under all circumstances, should always wear helmets during battle scenes, and actually yells at Tyrion for taking his off in the end. It’s delightful. Almost as delightful as Michelle Fairley suffering through the Robb x Talisa sex scene after casually discussing kilts with Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

And that’s why…you always keep your helmet on.

Julia: Like I was blabbing about earlier, I think the issue with the chain was less that it would look silly (though, sure, maybe it would) but more that it would be silly without it being built up and planned for the whole season, like the chain in aCoK was. At least there was some build up with the wildfire, though not nearly enough in my opinion.

I think his bravest desperate back-tracking was Sansa in Maegor’s and trying to get back to how she has an arc where she sheds idealization about being a wife and a queen in this feudal patriarchy. Other than that one scene where she gets her period (like, 2 days ago, I guess) there was very little of that this season.

Also, when did Cersei ever call Sansa stupid even once before this? I can’t remember any examples. Except maybe once Joff said Cersei said she was stupid?

Kylie: It was off-screen when Sansa told Cersei about her second period.

Martin did his best to give Sandor his aCoK arc in about 2.5 scenes too. The results were more mixed there, but at least it was nice to see him written as something other than the gruff and surly chicken meme that’s to come.

Griffin: …surly chicken? What.

Julia: Oh, sweet summer child.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is the most Cersei Cersei that ever Cersei’d. And like…big shock. Martin wrote it. He mostly sticks to that until 4×02, when he shrugs and tries his hand at writing a sitcom, because why not.

Jana: I felt that maybe the fairy tale scene with Tommen had some Carol vibes to it. Whether Carol would poison precious little Tommen how did anyone ever buy the age-up three seasons from now to spare him from all the ugliness that would follow Stannis’s victory is debatable, I think.

Julia: I guess you can argue that Cersei sees her children as extensions of herself, so if she’s gonna die, it’s only right they do too?

I enjoyed drunk Cersei very much. She was just such a terrible person in every way. She has internalized misogyny! Other women are dumb and she should have been a man! Let’s tell this twelve-year-old about my seduction strategies and my odd execution fixations! MORE WINE!

Kylie: I’m just trying to envision Carol in this episode, now. Probably the women she invited to stay in the room with her would be cattily excluding her while she looked sad.

Hey, is this where Sansa is supposedly “learning a lot” from Cersei and admiring her?

Julia: I mean, it is sad. Cersei literally has no friends. Here she is thinking she’s going to be dead by morning and the only person she has to talk to is this twelve-year-old she thinks is a total dumb-dumb.

Poor Cersei!

Uh…

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Jana: I felt like Davos’s son went on a bit too long summarizing what should have been established about Stannis’s forces all-throughout the season, but I guess word vomit from a young, inexperienced guy on the eve of battle can be excused. Other than that, uh, what else would count as exposition, really? The singing was basically the opposite of that, a nice song that is associated with the Lannisters that sets up the chilling end credits, but won’t be explained until Cersei and Margaery start their… thing. I suppose everything Cersei said this episode could count as exposition, but it felt pretty natural. Almost like someone competent wrote the episode or something.

Julia: Oh poor Matthos. His naivete was a little adorable. He was like Billy Bones as Dickon Tarly several years too soon.

And taken from us too soon.

I guess Cersei explaining why she invited all these dumb hens to her party counted as exposition. Although, I don’t think they’ll go back to their cocks talking about how inspiring Cersei’s drunken antics were.

How was the pacing?

Julia: Great? The episode felt half as long as I knew it was.

Kylie: I was never bored or restless. That’s a success. The only scene that had an edge of “get on with it” was the aforementioned Bronn one, but even that builds the tension of what’s coming.

Griffin: I have wondered aloud, for every single episode up until this one, how anything could be so boring and long. And yet also confusing. I didn’t feel that at all this time. I doubt I ever will again.

Jana: Nothing that wasn’t the Bronn scene felt superfluous or like it dragged everything to a halt. Focusing only on the King’s Landing theater helped a lot with that; imagine what this episode would have been like with the occasional cuts to Jon or Dany. But nothing of the sort happened, so the pacing for once felt tight as a drum and kept you on the edge of your seat. Technically. Unless you’re watching this in bed like I am, I guess.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: Let’s see…Shae trying to bang Tyrion since he was worried about dying, and Bronn stripping the sex worker we’ve seen a few times before. I don’t begrudge either of those scenes, even if yeah, nudity was not exactly needed for the message to get across. It was the calm before the storm, with this feeling of doom hanging over everything. It felt kind of real, if I’m being honest.

Jana: I feel like they dragged the scene in the… tavern? Brothel? Wherever it is that Bronn can have a naked woman on his lap and Sandor would casually stroll into to get a drink before battle. That scene. That was the only part of the episode that had me asking myself “Why is this happening? What am I even watching?” which makes it the definitive low point of the episode, but also like, the only moment like that, which is one hell of a good quota.

Ah, well, and regarding Shae…I kind of feel like her calling Tyrion “my lion” doesn’t work as well once you’re supposed to take it at face-value rather than knowing she’s doing it because she’s paid for buttering him up. That just made that scene with them additionally cringey to me. They’re so happy and in love!

Julia: She not only calls him “my lion,” she tells him she’s going to physically protect him or something? And she’s packing. Yeah, Shae definitely has “strong female characters must be fighters” syndrome.

Cersei speaking with relish about how everyone’s going to be raped counts as sexual content, I suppose.

Kylie: That’s just Cersei bein’ Cersei. Like…actually, in this case. But I guess there’s the element of framing rape as “fate worse than death” (since she has Illyn poised to murder everyone instead) that may later lead to the sensationalized, exploitive garbage we get involving sexual violence later?

In memoriam…all those soldiers, Matthos Seaworth, Mandon Moore

Kylie: War is hell, guys. I have to be honest, it was very hard to feel much towards Matthos, since he was given two scenes and seemed kind of like a jerk. Then with Mandon Moore, I found myself wondering if Unsullied followed that. We’ve seen the Kingsguard of course, but they’ve been so heavily deemphasized to this point that I could also see a first-time viewer just thinking it was a Stannis supporter. I’m probably over-thinking it.

Julia: Yeah, I think the Kingsguard thing was one of the things GRRM was trying to quickly fix, but he can only do so much. It was kind of there in season 1 when Barry the Scary did his strip-tease, but I don’t feel like much of the mythos of the Kingsguard has come across.

That being said, they’re definitely not yet the Generic Guards™ they’ll become by season 5, when poor Arys Oakheart was swallowed by the sea and then replaced offscreen.

Poor Matthos was kind of a tool, wasn’t he?

This is GRRM writing Stannis so maybe the answer isn’t obvious, so what are we to make of the “Hundred will die!” “Thousands” thing?

Jana: …Stannis is good with estimates? I don’t know, that seemed weird to me, too. Wouldn’t Stannis be the one concerned about preserving resources aka lives?

Following who was on what side during the all-out battle scenes wasn’t easy, to be sure. Though at least sometimes there were Lannister men with red coats around, or at least I hope they were Lannisters. Given how much less they start caring about colors later on, it’s probably a good thing that most big battle scenes involve conveniently dressed wildlings and/or ice zombies. Just imagine the confusion!

Kylie: I took that line as just showing how committed Stannis is to his cause. It is damn hard to cheer for him, though.

This is where we have to cut it for this week…it really flies when there’s nice things to say. Are we overhyping it? Were there better lowlight contenders? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll close out Season 2 next week in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

I like my women… mysterious

Patrycja

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Portraying women can be hard. Making them mysterious without being grotesque or comicky is even harder. Thankfully the writers on NCIS Los Angeles got it right. Developing a group of versatile female characters with one common characteristic. All of them were mysterious.

Badass Blye

Kensi Blye is shown as a strong, independent, competent women who always fit better with the boys than the girls. Maybe because she lived with her father growing up.

Donald Blye taught her everything she needed to know as far as survival goes. In her own words he wanted a son so Kensi learned every skill a boy with a marine as a father would. She is trained in hand to hand combat, can use a knife, read tracks, rides a bike and is a sniper.

In the beginning we know very little about her. We get to know her better simultaneously to the progress of her relationship/ partnership/ thing with Deeks or when a case requires some kind of information. For instance the episodes Blye K part 1 and part 2 supply the information on why Kensi joined NCIS- so she could solve her father’s murder case. Offering us precious background on her relationships with her father and mother.

The White Ghost plot line revealed her complicated story with ex fiance Jack. During a case we learn that she lived on the streets.

Most of the information about her character is scattered in tiny bits through episodes.

The majority of her emotional growth comes from her thing with Deeks. Kensi was rather closed off and liked to keep everything bottled up before her partner came into play. It is Deeks who opens her up. He was the one who encouraged her to repair the relationship with her mother.

The relationship between the agent and detective is one of my favourite aspects of the show, in all honesty they were probably my very first ship ever, but it irks me a little that to see Kensi grow as a character she needed Deeks as a catalyst.

Although most of her character growth came from or was influenced by her relationship with the detective she has overcome quite a few hardships-the loss of her father and previous partner, the torture in Afghanistan and paralysis.

Even though the agent is portrayed as strong, loyal, kind and competent she is in no way flawless. She is stubborn, often thinks she knows better even if she doesn’t. She always has to lead and everything is a competition for her. She’s very ambitious and always has to win or be the best.

Her character needs to dominate which adds a new facet to her relationship with Deeks. It’s also one of her most annoying characteristic second only to her communication issues which caused quite an upheaval in her relationship. In her defense her partner has the same issue.

Kensi Blye can be quite the role model for ambitious women who want to have a professional career, even if she still has to grow up to have a family of her own (and there’s nothing wrong with it). Thankfully that leaves room for character development.

The intelligence analyst with spunk

Penelope ‘Nell’ Jones starts as the new mysterious kid on the block in season 2. She has some trouble fitting in with the makeshift family in the beginning. Especially since Hetty doesn’t like intelligence analysts. That could have been the reason why she came off as shy and timid. Thankfully it was just nerves. That provided a comical relieve for a short while. She quickly became a valued team member. Often crucial to solving a case.

Even though Nell was always honest while answering questions about herself we know very little about her. Especially about her family. They appeared briefly on the screen of OPS and we met one of her sisters-which was an interesting dynamic to show and play with. During that plot line Nell was portrayed and treated like the stereotypical little sister. It also showed in her behavior. I especially enjoyed how she stood up to her older sister.

Nell is whip smart and good with technology. While talking about her areas of expertise she is confident. She can also get very sassy at times. That’s one of her most endearing qualities.

What I also enjoy is that her slow burn relationship with Eric is completely different than the slow burn between Kensi and Deeks.

What’s also satisfying about it is that Nell can and did grow as a character without the relationship.

Her journey from analyst to field agent is also an interesting aspect. Her learning experience shows that she can take the lead when she knows what to do. She’s also not afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something or has questions. It shows an eagerness to lern.

The transition wasn’t always smooth sailing. Nell had quite a few mishaps along the way. She was kidnapped, had her first kill while undercover as Hetty and dealt with the aftermath of that.

Nell’s character and journey show that smart women can and will make careers in various men dominated fileds. Giving all smart girls an example how to succeed.

The tea sipping Svengali

While talking about mysterious women one simply must mention Henrietta ‘Hetty’ Lange. She’s practically the embodiment of mysterious. There are few people who really know her or even about her, if she doesn’t want them to know.

While she strives to be honest she has no problems with bending and manipulating the truth to suit her agenda. And you better believe that she always has an agenda, more or less hidden. Which is understandable since she’s the operation menager at OSP.

Hetty is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma enclosed in mystery and secrets. Of all the characters on the show she can well be the most dangerous one.

The operation menager is a skilled operator, speaks several foreign languages and has a wide net of contacts and connections in sometimes the weirdest places. She often deals in a unique currency known to all politicians… favors.

Probably one of the most impressive of her talents is the illusion that she knows all and hears all. Often foreseeing events or having people search for information that’ll be needed in the next steps of an investigation, while her team didn’t get to that clue yet. In her own words, she’s a fast reader. Leaving her seemingly omnipotent.

While I understand that she can’t disclose all the information to her team on everything. It started to really annoy me how she manipulates the other team members like chess pieces. Although she herself states that she rather than moving pieces moves boards. Her constant intrusions and plotting got to much for me with the White Ghost story line.

She justifies her actions with the good of the team or mission but I find hard to believe after the 5th season. She played God in the lives of the other team members to many times.

One can’t deny that she’s skilled, patriotic and has great accomplishment. On the other hand she seems to dodge any consequences to her actions and her mistakes often go unpunished. Even her supervisors can’t or won’t control her letting her run everything as she pleases. Which is one of the reasons why I started to dislike her character.

Hetty is the perfect example of a brilliant dictator distinguished as an older motherly figure to a bunch of talented operators, that runs her show silently enjoying the outcomes. We all should be happy that she never decided to cross over to the dark side.

Perhaps portraying women isn’t as hard as I thought.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Humor

Dragonstalled Part 1: Revolutionary Ruin

Julia

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Someone tell the story, someone sing a song. Every now and then a love story, comes out a little wrong. Every now and then emotions, fail to seem real strong. Doesn’t change the story—they’re stringing us along. Doesn’t change the cliché.

Hello and welcome to the big one: the Season 7 retrospective piece for Game of Thrones that we (Julia and Kylie, known as “Julie”) have been procrastinating to write. Because while it’s certainly the main event, it’s also the one that’s most devoid of content.

That’s right, we’re talking about the plotlines that center on Dragonstone, or “The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension” as we’ve dubbed it, with the three main characters of David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s show. As usual, we’ve decided to watch and analyze just this one plotline, so that we can truly unpack the masterful narrative crafted by these two titans of the industry. And masterful it must be, as its netted them a record-breaking 26 Emmy nominations.

For anyone who didn’t have the pleasure of watching this season of Game of Thrones, Julie is here to sum up what happened for you the only way she knows how to cope: with a ~~high level~~ humorous recap. The more serious analysis that yes, will cut out the nicknames (we promise), is going to be in Part 2, discussing the arcs of Queen Daenerys, Tyrion the Hand, and King Jon. King Snow? Well that doesn’t seem right!

And in fact, it won’t be for the time being, as this is how Julie thinks of the characters:

The Players

And also featuring…

Please note that Faullaria and the Sand Fakes rule in a wacky, hedonistic place known as “Porne,” and the leader of the Army of the Dead is “Shogun.” If any other names confuse you, or you’d like a fuller explanation of the Extreme Cleverness behind these jokes, we direct you to the world-famous Book Snob Glossary.

And now you’re armed with lingo, and ready sit back as we present a…

It’s Tough to be King

Things start off with our romantic male lead, King Jonny Cardboard, First of his Name, King in the North, chairing what looks to be an incredibly unruly meeting. No one’s even taking notes, and it seems as though the king didn’t once talk to his advisor (?)/sister(?)/lady of his castle(?)/heir(?) ahead of time.

Jon just wants to focus on the war that’s coming and on his social program of promoting gender equality. He asks the Wind-Vane Lords to turn in any dragonglass they might have, and explains to them that their daughters will be fighting along with their sons. They all clutch their pearls and yell, “But magically appearing patriarchy!” “Patriarchy is smashed,” Little Lyanna Mormont declares. She speaks last and with great force, so everyone agrees with her.

Yeah! F-ck army provisions!!

Jonny is also very concerned about shoring up defenses, because he’s read the script and knows the Army of the Dead will breach the Wall this season. In fairness, we guess his concern is totally justified. Jonny’s first act is to protect the Wall in declaring that the Wildlings, led by Beardy (we think), will be manning it now. It’s actually kind of thematically apt! Also probably useless, since only about 20 of their people survived the Battle of Bastards before the Vale Lords came to bail them out.

However, the real question is what to do with the castles of UMBER and KARSTARK. Though Jonny gets some great suggestions such as “tear apart the establishments brick-by-brick” and “reward them to people loyal to you,” he decides to grant them instead to children liege lords, because we can’t punish children for their fathers’ crimes. This is…not dumb, certainly, but also not smart.

Brittany tells Jonny as much outside, but Jonny is more upset that she dared second-guess his decision in front of the Wind-Vane Lords. Maybe you two could have gotten on the same page beforehand and this wouldn’t have been an issue? Brittany apologizes for Jonny’s hurt feelings, but insists that he needs to be smarter than past Stark family members who were apparently all big dumb-dumbs. But wait, wouldn’t that mean he’d have to listen to her suggestions?

Turns out she might have a point, since they receive a threatening letter from Cheryl, demanding that he bends the knee. Jonny dismisses it though, saying it’s wintertime and she won’t come North. When Brittany remains worried, Jonny tells her that it sounds like she admires Cheryl. Uh.

Elsewhere, Deadpan Stormborn, after sailing for an undisclosed amount of time, reaches shore. There, she finds Abandoned Island with an abandoned castle. She opens the doors and walks through it. “Shall we begin?”

Deadpan Begins

Now it’s time for the romantic leading lady to have a staff meeting of her own, since these characters are so beautifully paralleled. To be fair, this one is a lot better run, and Missandei has a perfect memory, so that basically counts as note-taking. It’s also slightly better-written because this is a Bryan Cogman episode.

In fact, it really is noticeable, since there’s about five minutes of exposition making up for everything D&D never bothered to explain. Like, Deadpan Stormborn being born in a storm. In Weisseroff, not some foreign land mind you. (But who would ever hold that against her? That’d be silly.)

Deadpan doesn’t like Abandoned Island. She needs more sexual tension in it. Also, apparently all the Lords don’t like Cheryl, as is explained to us by Saint Tyrion and Varys Marx. She only controls half the Kingdom thanks to Deadpan’s alliance with Porne, The Dowager Sasstress, and Yara, so taking out Cheryl should be easy. But not too easy, because there’s two seasons left.

“Conquering Westeros would be easy for you, but you’re not here to be Queen of the Ashes.” —Tyrion, “Stormborn”

Reasonable. Deadpan takes this opportunity to finally ask Varys about that time he tried to have her killed. What’s up with that? It’s almost like he had totally different motivations in Season 1 than he does now. Varys shrugs and basically explains that he was trying to murder her for the good of the people, which she calls bull on. But he chooses her now, because of her stunning charisma and revolutionary social-justice platform?

We don’t have any answer, but Deadpan says that he can hang, as long as he tells her to her face if she’s ever failing to be the ideal Dictator of the Proletariat. Also if he fails or betrays her, she’s going to burn him alive. Even more reasonable!

As is her wont, a wild Meli-sans-bra Meli-sans-plot pops up. She’s doing her civic duty by telling Deadpan that she liked the whole slavery bustin’ thing. This is good practice, guys. Call your elected representatives when you like what they do, too.

This also gives Varys Marx an open shot to point out how she served Stannis. Hey Varys, remember when we just discussed you serving Robert? Deadpan remembers and shuts him up with that. Then Mel awkwardly brings up “the prince that was promised,” and Missandei even more awkwardly decides it’s a great time to discuss issues in translations when some languages have gendered nouns and others don’t. It’s The Last Jedi plural debate all over again!

Also, Mel isn’t really that into Deadpan. She’s a fan of King Jonny, which she tells them. This apparently informs Tyrion that Jon Snow is the King in the North, and maybe he should reach out to him. What did they think was happening there? Log onto Weisseroffi Twitter like everyone else, jeeze! Cheryl already sent him mail.

Fortunately for Team Deadpan, Tyrion’s own letter travels through a wormhole to reach Jonny and Brittany in no time at all. They discuss it while observing a co-ed archery lesson. Brittany thinks it’s obviously a trap, and even folksy ol’ Davos notes Tyrion’s humble-brag about Deadpan’s massive army and dragons. But Brittany points out what an unproblematic fave Tyrion is. Also hey, could dragon fire be used on wights? Imagine the possibilities!

Speaking of those possibilities, apparently one thing that isn’t on the table is dragons being used in a battle to defeat enemies. Because that is really, really bad optics. You see, Deadpan has gathered all her allies so that Tyrion can tell them her battle plan: divide your troops for…reasons.

They clearly can’t attack Cheryl’s Landing with one surgical strike that’d take maybe an hour, because that might scare the smallfolk. A much better option is to lay siege to it for months, and possibly years, slowly starving all of its inhabitants. Then they’ll really love Deadpan, along with the Pornish and Ironboors now tasked with besieging them. They just need to swing by Porne for some duel-wielding troops. Meanwhile, the Unsullied won’t just sit on their hands—oh no. They’re going to circumnavigate Weisseroff so that they can sack Casterly Castle, the most important strategic stronghold, obviously.

Deadpan thinks this is great. She’s not here to be queen of the ashes. Faullaria grins evilly in agreement. Yara is speechless in admiration for Tyrion’s brilliance. Theon is also there. Deadpan dismisses everyone but the Dowager Sasstress Olenna who tells her that all men are idiots, and if she wants to win, she just needs to “be a dragon.” Um. Tangibly, what does that entail? Is this her way of criticizing Tyrion’s plan? Could she have like, said something? Or is she just being some sour grapes?

Only book readers will get THAT one! Zing!

Elsewhere on The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, the couple who we don’t understand being not the romantic focus this year, Grey Worm and Missandei, have meaningful, tasteful, sex. Then they never interact for the rest of the season, despite the reason for said sex being fear of losing one another. The end!

Speaking of endings, Jonny received a letter that Sam just remembered about the dragonglass on Dragonstone, which reminds Jonny that he had been told about the dragonglass on Dragonstone in Season 5. This makes us distressingly nostalgic for a time when there was at least a facade of logic.

This makes up Jonny’s mind for him: trap or no trap, he must go to Dragonstone himself to meet with the queen there, and ask for dragonglass. He informs literally everyone of this in the Great Hall, again not giving his sister forewarning. …Half-sister. The Wind-Vane Lords rabble rabble about this call, and Brittany again has to patiently point out the risks, especially given the last two (or three, kinda) times a Stark went south. She also points out that he could send an emissary, like kings do, but he refuses. Only a king can convince a queen to help. We’re pretty impressed. Not with what Jonny is saying, but that Brittany manages to hear it without thudding her head into the table below.

It’s all okay though, because he’s leaving her as the regent. Which he also springs on her in front of the entire audience. The Wind-Vane Lords seem chill with that. What amazing leadership.

Speaking of people who are amazingly good at their job, Littlefinger. We’re not even sure what his job technically is right now, but he at least still makes a buck or two by being Bryan Cogman’s part-time exposition mouthpiece. He finds Jonny in the crypts and after telling him about the delivery of Ned’s bones, launches into a touching speech about how much he is into Jonny’s female relatives. Jonny attacks him and slams him against a wall. You don’t touch his property!

Then Jonny leaves with like, three dudes. Brittany waves goodbye. We’re sure it’s going to be smooth sailing for her. Let’s hope there’s no horrifying family reunions coming down the pike.

Though Julie plans to cover in great detail the Pornish and Ironboor ship movements in a future retrospective, it is important to note that they get attacked by Eurovision Greyjoy, and they all die or get captured. Sucks to be Deadpan.

Dems da berries!

Worst Laid Plans

Deadpan may have just lost 35% of her allies, but she’s about to get a new one! That’s right, Jonny made it to The Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, and takes his ONE kingly rowboat ashore.

Thankfully, there’s a welcome party to acclimate him to this beach resort business conference.

The first thing Jonny does is surrender all his weapons when Missandei asks him to. “Of course,” he answers her, almost apologetically. Dude, you’re a king. He and Tyrion are super folksy and happy to see each other. Tyrion makes sure to explain that he didn’t tamper with his property have sex with Brittany, and Jonny is like, “I didn’t ask.” They then both marvel at how they got into the positions they’re in. A Lannister as a Hand to a Targaryen —completely unprecedented!

Jonny then also admits that the Wind-Vane Lords had misgivings about his trip. Tyrion agrees, saying he would have advised against it, too. Then Drogon dramatically divebombs the party.

Above the procession, Meli-sans-plot and Varys watch. Varys Marx doesn’t like Mel much, and keeps trying to stir up drama by basically threatening to tell Jonny that she is there. However, she’s just a shipper. She brought ice and fire together, so she’s done here. Time to jet off to Essos. She tells Varys Marx that she’ll be back for Season 8, and they’ll probably both die. Thrilling.

And boy do ice and fire have instantly crackling chemistry. Jonny is brought into Deadpan’s Throne Room, where her titles are listed. Davos is so hilariously folksy that he just goes, “This is Jon Snow. He’s King in the North.” Oh man, now Deadpan looks like an egotistical jerk! It’s not made better by the fact that she refers to Jonny as “Lord.” When Davos corrects her, she explains that she read the World of Ice and Fire and knows about Torrhen Stark kneeling.

What follows is then an entirely cyclical argument about whether Jonny kneeling is appropriate. The answer seems to be, “nah.” He doesn’t have time for kneeling with the Army of the Dead approaching! Davos nearly slips up and tells the room that Jonny was dead once, too.

The conversation ends with nothing decided. Also Jonny is kind of a prisoner, or at least in a state where he’s able to formally become one at any moment. Who could have seen that coming!?

Jonny: Am I your prisoner?

Deadpan: Not yet.

Also in the realm of “who could have seen that coming,” Varys arrives with news that the brilliant plan of splitting up Deadpan’s forces backfired.

Later outside, Jonny broods. Tyrion finds him and comments on his brooding, because he’s in the fandom and likes memes. He also tries to talk about the Greyjoy attack, but Jonny’s all upset that no one wanted to listen to him about dead people attacking. Then he realizes it might sound slightly outlandish. You don’t say! Tyrion politely gives him a lesson in governance, explaining that fighting the army of the dead was too big an ask. Jonny, slow on the uptake, takes that as an opportunity to talk about how he’s not learning from his father’s mistakes.

“Everyone told me to learn from my father’s mistakes. Don’t go south. Don’t answer a summons from the Mad King’s daughter, a foreign invader. And here I am, a Northern fool.”

Ignoring that Deadpan is not foreign, and it was his grandfather and uncle that rode south on Targaryen summons, Tyrion wisely points out that children are not their fathers. Definitely not Tyrion Lannister in any way. But also not Deadpan, who protects people from monsters, just like Jonny. So again, is there anything smaller he can ask that will help against these monsters? Perhaps the one thing that only a king could ask her for in the first place, according to Jonny Logic?

Tyrion then has to go give Deadpan a governance lesson. Since she could not give fewer than no craps when asked about the dragonglass, Tyrion explains that she should let the dumb-dumb dig in the rocks for a little, since it costs her nothing and she just lost some allies. Deadpan seems fine with that, but wants to know what was up with Davos saying he took a knife to the heart. Weird, right?

Emboldened by Tyrion’s wise words, Deadpan goes and chats with Jonny. They both have brothers. How many, they’re not entirely sure. Also, Deadpan says that people thought dragons were gone forever, but they’re not, so maybe assumptions about zombie armies are wrong too. Jonny realizes she’s only saying this because she spoke with Tyrion. They have another circular conversation about kneeling, but it ends this time with her letting him poke in the rocks for a bit (and even providing him with her own men to do so). Jonny wants to know if this means she believes him about zombies. She gives a noncommittal answer.

Also, we failed to note this, but apparently that scene was dripping with sexual tension. Just…somewhere in there…

Later, in the episode that will not f-cking end, Deadpan has another war council, since Euron’s ships could be “anywhere or in more than one place.” With this ambiguity, and the great loss she just suffered, she wants to go burn the ships with her dragons. Everyone jumps on this and points out how crazy it is, since she could get shot with an arrow on the back of the dragon.

Was this just like, not a concern during the Battle of Mereen? Did she have a close call we didn’t see? Are there no armorers on Dragonstone? Could she try spraying her body with the same heavy-duty stuff she sprays in her hair? Just our thoughts.

But no, they’re sticking with Tyrion’s dumb plan to sack Casterly Castle by sea. And it’s an attack by voice-over, as the brilliant Hand narrates his brilliant plan: they’re going to use his secret sex worker tunnels that he had built when his father erected the castle, apparently. Luckily, the Unsullied have lots of experience sneaking through sewers at this point. However, his voiceover failed to predict how cunning Larry Lannister was by pulling the Lannister troops out of Casterly Castle and running across the map to sack Highgarden off-screen.

The Dowager Sasstress sure was shocked. Then she wolfs down some poison Larry offers her while we watch with envy. Bye!

But it’s worse! Euron’s ships magically appeared at Casterly Castle to burn the Unsullied ships. Now they have to trek across Weisseroff to get home. It will probably take them all season. To, you know, walk to the island.

Dragons Change the Calculations

The next episode opens with poor Missandei worrying to Deadpan about whether or not her boyfriend survived Tyrion’s dumb plan. However, there’s no room for actual emotional resonance, so Deadpan high-fives her about getting laid instead.

Speaking of no room for actual emotional resonance, Jonny shows up and has something he needs Deadpan to see. He leads her into the caves where he’s mining dragonsglass on a poorly lit set, and proudly shows her his finger-painting project. Errr, we mean, it was totally the Children of the Forest’s project, and they conveniently drew their battle against the White Walkers that they fought alongside humans.

Who wouldn’t be convinced?

Deadpan is in awe of this and short of breath. Or else, she’s out of shape and/or turned on by Jonny. It mostly comes across as out of shape. Compelled by the way the Children and Men put aside their differences, she says she will fight alongside him…if he bends the knee. He’s pretty chill with it, but he thinks his Wind-Vane Lords won’t be. Dude, just get Lyanna on-board. Or speak last, aided by swelling music. They’re easy sells.

Deadpan asks him if everyone’s survival is more important than his pride. We suppose her pride is irrelevant?

Outside the Cave of Wonders, Deadpan receives even more war news. This time, she’s so pissed off about Casterly Castle that she doesn’t even care if Jonny and Davos overhear it. Everyone kind of shuffles around awkwardly.

Apparently, Cheryl took “all the food” from the Unsullied ships, and all the provisions at Casterly Castle were destroyed, so her Unsullied are in a pickle. Tyrion is still into his blockade plan for reasons we don’t understand. The Pornish and Ironboor who were supposed to be doing that blockade are now dead, and Cheryl just scored a bunch of food for her city, so who is exactly enforcing that and how?

For these reasons, or just impatience, Deadpan points out again that she has a dragon and could just kill Cheryl. Right now. Tyrion tells her it’s still bad optics. Then for absolutely no reason we can think of, Deadpan asks Jonny what he’d do. Maybe it’s because they’re in love already.

Jonny says that if she uses a dragon to attack the city, it’ll be “just more of the same.”

Unlike that radical, system-changing blockade, of course.

This gives Deadpan another idea, somehow.

An undisclosed amount of time later, Jonny and Davos are goin’ for a walk and talk. Davos tells Jonny that he’s been looking at Deadpan’s boobs. Jonny points out she’s wearing the thickest battle dresses known to man, but cool. Then he awkwardly words a question about how many men they have in the North so that Davos can correct his grammar. Callback!

The important takeaway here is that Davos thinks Jonny needs to get laid, and that it will make him less grumpy. Of course, it could also just be projecting, since he seems to then quasi-flirt with a very dignified and professional Missandei. She’s probably used to this, as tour guide of this business resort. She deflects by extremely inorganically talking about bastard naming conventions and how she used to be a slave.

The whole thing becomes uncomfortable, and reminds us of a North Korean tour guide talking about how wonderful the Dear Leader is. Deadpan is the best, you see, and would totally give Missandei a ship to go home if she didn’t want to be there. But she does. Because Deadpan is the best. She once played golf and got 18 holes-in-one. This is pretty convincing to Jonny, though. Deadpan protects people from monsters, just like him!

Theon Strayboy suddenly washes up on shore, and Jonny greets him, since that’s clearly his place now. Jonny says he would kill Theon on the spot if it hadn’t been for Brittany putting in a good word. Theon asks for Deadpan, but “the queen is gone.” Where is she?

Well, she’s burning the “loot train.” Meaning she takes her dragons and her Dothraki, teleports them to the mainland—all her ships burned, if you recall—and has them attack the Lannisters marching back to Cheryl’s Landing with gold and provisions. Oh good, she’s going to try and take the food back, right?

Uh…

Oh, did we say gold? Nah, it’s already safely inside Cheryl’s Landing.

There’s a small moment of drama when Drogon gets hit with a big arrow from a big crossbow, but he recovers pretty easily. Then some idiot on a horse charges Deadpan, only to be saved at the buzzer by another idiot. Tyrion watches them from a hill and calls them “idiots” in case we missed the idiocy.

Gumbo Recipe

Well, it looks like dragons are a really effective thing to use in a military campaign! However Tyrion is bummed out about this, since there’s now a lot of burned corpses. If only they had been given the opportunity to starve to death in a besieged Cheryl’s Landing.

There were a few survivors, who oddly zombie-walk over to where Deadpan is standing with Drogon on a hill.

We wonder if Ed Sheeran made it.

Luckily for them, Deadpan is not here to murder, as she explains on the battlefield of corpses. What she’s here to do is break the wheel and reform the world. Step 1: they need to swear allegiance to her as absolute monarch. Oh, and “refuse and die.” Which is somehow…not murder? They begin to bend the knee; then Drogon roars, terrifying them all to bend even quicker. Great optics! What a real choice they had!

Only Randyll “Wildling Hater” Tarly remains standing, because he already has a queen. “Oh, the one who murdered your other queen, Margaery?” Tyrion asks. There’s no easy choices, though. And he really hates “foreigners” like Deadpan. So Cheryl wins by default in his scale of honor.

Which, of course, is a good way of reminding us that honor gets you killed, as Deadpan points out to him.

“Will you not trade your honor for your life?”

Well not when you put it like that, ya dill weed.

Tyrion is suddenly distressed by the elimination of political enemies, and suggests allowing Randyll to take the Black. But Randyll, who is very determined to die at this point, disputes the legality of such an order. “Only a queen can send a lord to the Wall, and the Tarlys know no queen but the queen in the south, whose name is CHERYL!”

However, things get a little weird when his sonion Dickon also says he’s going to die with his dad. Randyll suddenly gets very upset, because apparently he had been hoping Dickon would kneel to Deadpan and keep his life, we guess. So what is the point of Randyll protesting?

Tyrion tries once more, suggesting that the Tarlys get taken prisoner. Who doesn’t love political prisoners? You can exchange them for money, and use that money to buy provisions for your slowly marching army. You could also force them to marry a relative. So many options! “I’m not here to put people in chains.” Uh. Is Deadpan seriously equating a prisoner to a slave? Also why couldn’t she just stick them in a nice tower somewhere? Or let them wander around her abandoned island like her current prisoner, Jonny. No chains needed!

But clearly with all options exhausted, Deadpan roasts the Tarly boys alive. Tyrion seems disturbed by this. D&D say the audience should make up their own minds about who’s right here.

Back on The Abandoned Island, Jonny is still standing on a cliff brooding. Deadpan swoops in on Drogon, who decides to say hi to the King in the North teeth-first. Jonny whips off a glove and puts it on the dragon’s nosey. Deadpan is so amazed, her face muscles move! Or maybe she just thinks from her vantage point that Drogon ate him.

We’re sure it’s fine.

Once she dismounts, Jonny asks her how it went, and also seems disturbed that this leader of an army who is trying to depose the current ruler has killed some opposing troops. Deadpan points out that he just killed a bunch of Boltons, like last week, so maybe he should chill with the judgement. Then she asks again about the whole “were you dead” thing. Jonny says Davos exaggerates. What a bold-faced lie! At least the inability to lie surely won’t become a defining character-feature at a crucial time for Jonny.

Speaking of bold faces, Jorah arrives with his magically free of greyscale. Good thing Sam figured out the magic powers of exfoliation. All things considered, Deadpan is rather casual about this improbable cure, even if the answer was just a good pumice stone.

Jonny introduces himself and mentions that Jorah’s father once existed, back when this show was reasonably watchable. Then Jorah and Deadpan hug. Jonny gets a poo-face, because he’s so jealous with all the love he developed in the past two episodes.

Elsewhere, D&D make up their minds about who was right in Deadpan’s previous decision. At least, we assume so because Tyrion and Varys Marx are sitting in front of the…Sedimentary Rock Throne, wringing their hands about all the warning signs around them that Deadpan is Aerys 2.0. Have they been hanging out on Westeros.org forums? We bet they get along with Arya pretty well.

Tyrion tries to absolve himself from guilt of this clearly heinous crime, while Varys says that’s exactly what he used to tell himself while serving Aerys. “It’s not me.” No Varys, you’re as pure as driven snow and would never cut the tongues out of children for your own purposes. Tyrion says that Deadpan isn’t her father, and Varys agrees…so long as she listens to her men advisors. Specifically, Tyrion. Boy, it’s an even harder quest that Varys just set for him this time!

Varys then awkwardly holds up the scene transition. It’s a letter from Branbot 1000 to Jonny. Apparently Jonny thought he was dead, despite having been told by Sam that he wasn’t. And despite telling Deadpan that he lost two brothers rather than three, unless he also forgot about Rickon. Or Robb.

The letter explains that the Army of the Dead was coming. What brand new information! He decides he needs to jet off home and “fight with the men we have.” That went so well for you last time!

Actually, it did go well because he had a woman to bail his stupid ass out. We wonder if that will happen again…

Not so easily, because Deadpan can’t just come with him. Not only are there more possible stray arrows, but it would mean “giving the country” to Cheryl. Because she has oh so many strongholds to lose at this point. Hell, if she went North and made nice with Brittany, she could probably still work out something for Karhold.

We should note, this entire conversation is taking place with Jorah and Davos and Tyrion all around too. Upon hearing this dilemma, Tyrion gets the brilliant idea that if only Cheryl knew about the army of the dead in a way she couldn’t deny, then she’d totally agree to not “take the country” from Deadpan, who is clearly holding it in the first place. Then again, is Cheryl? Didn’t all those Lannister troops just die? We actually have no idea what the military situation is in any quantifiable or tangible way. Who the hell is ruling Porne right now?

But more about Tyrion’s wonderful plan: bring the dead to her! Damn, if only Jeor Mormont had thought to send someone down south with the hand Jonny cut off a wight in Season 1, maybe none of this would have happened.

However, everyone knows Cheryl is an unreasonable woman, unlike everyone on Team Deadpan. She’d never listen to Tyrion. But Larry might, and she might listen to Larry. So clearly what needs to happen is Davos smuggling Tyrion into Cheryl’s Landing to meet with Larry in a meeting that’s arranged telepathically via Bronn, and then Larry will pass this information along, and they can set up a wight moot, at which they can present Cheryl with a freshly captured wight.

But wait…who captures the wight? Jorah volunteers and Deadpan moves even more face muscles. Jonny then volunteers himself as a one-up, and because he’s the “only one who’s fought them and knows them.” Ouch, Beardy.

Deadpan balks at this, because she wanted to bang clearly cares for him so deeply, but apparently he doesn’t need her permission, being a king. You see, it was really generous of him to march his face into yet another trap, and she should appreciate how willing he was to become her prisoner. She oddly seem to respect that. Let’s call it “growth.”

This officially kicks off Operation Gumbo. First stop, Cheryl’s Landing, with Davos and Tyrion in a rowboat. They park on a random shore. Rather than guard the boat, Davos says that he has gumbo-related business of his own. “What if someone takes the boat?” Tyrion asks. “Then we’re f-cked,” Davos quite literally says. Okay! It’s not like the fate of humanity hinges on this. No seriously, it’s not like that.

Luckily for Tyrion, Bronn is a true bro to all Lannister men, and arranges the secret meeting. Larry gets very mad when he realizes he was lured into a room with Tyrion, but Tyrion has his hat in his hands and no reason at all to be upset with Larry himself.

Nope, we’re still not over it.

Well, no one else does.

Tyrion attempts lame smalltalk about the nonsensical military strategy that has become all of Season 7, but Larry isn’t interested since Tyrion did kill their father. “What do you want?” If only we knew. Tyrion then points out that Deadpan is going to win. Like it’s so obvious, and she can have Drogon munch up Cheryl in one surgical strike at any minute. You know, if not for the optics. But Deadpan may be willing to “suspend hostilities” because of a “more important request.” The scene cuts before Larry reacts at all.

We must be going to something very important to have not seen the conclusion of that conversation. And important it is! Davos wanders to the same exact armor shop Gendry worked in during Season 1 to…find Gendry there again!

Okay, pause. 1.) Gendry? 2.) Why would the blacksmith have even taken him back? Wasn’t his life threatened? 3.) Gendry? Just..why? He really wanted his old life back? The danger had all been imagined? Cheryl lost interest in Robert-bastards?

As it turns out, Davos is a huge Game of Thrones fan, and loves the Gendry rowing meme. That’s why he came back to find him! Gendry, meanwhile, has embraced the fact that he’s Robert Baratheon’s illegitimate son, because who wouldn’t have wanted that guy as a father, especially given how present he was in Gendry’s life. He even made himself a warhammer, just like Pa! The antlers helm is on-deck, we guess.

Davos then asks Gendry if he wants to go on an adventure. Gendry up and Bilbo’s.

And that takes us to the most crucial scene of this whole plotline, packed with meaning and narrative necessity.

Gendry and Davos are waiting at the boat for Tyrion, but oh no! It’s two members (and only two) of the City Watch. How will they get out of this pickle?

Well, speaking of fermentation, the answer to that is a giant open basket of pickled crab meat that Davos had hidden under a blanket, presumably for this exact situation since it’s such a great cover story. You see, there’s been no mention of brothels for about five minutes, so this was the perfect place. Davos tells the idiots that he’s selling fermented crab meat, as it gives people instant boners. He offers a sample and then tells them they’re going to bust through their metal pants in about five minutes. He also bribes them or whatever. Inflation sucks.

Just as they turn to go off and get their erections that totally happen from fermented seafood, Tyrion turns up. Oh no, he’s the most recognizable dwarf in the world! Literally! Especially with his giant facial scar. So of course he sighs and walks straight at them, passing by several bushes he could have at least ducked behind or something. They spot him in the wide-open. Gendry kills them with his hammer. End scene.

We need more Gendry, so the next scene is Davos preparing him for who he’s going to encounter on the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension. He says he must not tell anyone who he is. Gendry then meets Jon and immediately introduces himself as his dad’s best friend’s son. And they’re both bastards! What a world! Jon invites him north, because he is some SPICE for this gumbo.

Then we get a lovely, drawn-out, “preparing to leave sequence” where we can feel ourselves aging. Jorah gets a significant goodbye with Tyrion, where the reminisce about that time they were slaves for five minutes. Tyrion even kept a souvenir coin of Significance™, which he gives to Jorah for luck! Now it’s time to say goodbye to Deadpan. “Well Your Highness, I guess this is it,” he tells her. “That’s right,” she answers, shockingly moving her face. Then they point out that they have said goodbye to each other a number of times, usually in the context of “get your creepy stalker butt out of here.” Awww. Jonny watches with poo face.

Then Jonny says goodbye, and the sexual chemistry is off the charts. We will be devastated if they never see each other again. Gosh this gives us buy-in to this mission.

Show this in high schools to promote abstinence.

Some amount of time later—long enough for the King in the North to breeze past the North—the gumbo roux arrives to meet their proteins at Eastwatch. Interestingly this naval base of the Night’s Watch doesn’t have a harbor. Weird stuff.

Beardy greets them, and gets mad at Davos for not talking Jonny out of this obviously terrible plan. But mostly for not bringing Brienne because he likes her. We’re in stitches.

Davos then tells everyone he can’t go out there with them, because he aged, or he has 4 shortened fingers, or something. Why did he come then?

But hey, in his free time, Beardy has been imprisoning travelers to Eastwatch, since The Night’s Watch has a zero-tolerance policy for…people. He leads Jonny to a cell where Sandor and the Brotherhood without Banners with Vague Continuity are locked up. They play this very silly game where they find out that everyone knows each other already. Jonny recognizes Sandor from Winterhell. Gendry recognizes the Brotherhood who sold him into slavery. Jorah recognizes Thoros from the Greyjoy rebellion (where Larry led the charge). Tormund hears the name “Mormont” and recognizes that Jorah is the son of the guy who led the Night’s Watch. Beric sits back and is all like, “OMG, what are the odds, guys?”

So they all jump in a soup pot together and form the dramatically satisfying character gumbo that sets out beyond The Wall. With no hats.

Vincent Expendable’s Very Long Day

Oh god, how do we even talk about this?

The gumbo elements break off into various pairs, or sometimes small groups, and talk. In the background are about 5 men that we’ve never seen before and who aren’t addressed in any way, who silently lug around the junk of the characters we recognize. There. We saved you 50 minutes.

No, seriously, this is what happens:

  • Jonny asks Gendry if he’s okay because he’s the only member of the party with a hood on
  • Beardy laughs at Gendry for being cold and wanting to wear a hat. Then he calls him “dumb” to Jonny
  • Beardy and Jonny talk about how Jonny won’t kneel to Deadpan because he had a taste for the free folk lifestyle, but also Mance was a terrible king for not kneeling (?)
  • The Brotherhood With Vague Continuity can’t understand why Gendry doesn’t just put it behind him that they sold him to a crazy lady who sexually assaulted and tried to kill him
  • Sandor tells Gendry he’s “whinging” for being upset about his sexual assault
  • Jonny and Jorah talk about how honorable Jeor was, Jonny offers Jorah Longclaw for some reason, and Jorah rejects it while also giving Jonny permission to have sex with Deadpan

Then we cut to another plotline only to come back to:

  • Beardy and Sandor talk about gingers, synonyms for schlongs, and #nohomo
  • Beric and Jonny talk about both having been dead. Jonny quotes his Night’s Watch vows that he gave up on

Then they arrive at Mt. Arrowhead, the mountain fire-reader Sandor saw in the flames as being the place where the army of the dead is. Don’t worry, we’ll have a 10k word analysis on the intense meaning of that development in our final retrospective.

What an improbable mountain shape!

Back on the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, Deadpan and Tyrion are getting day-drunk. Deadpan talks about how she likes that Tyrion isn’t a hero, because bravery, like honor, is for dumb-dumbs. Tyrion tells her Jonny is in love with her because he stares at her boobs. Deadpan says he’s too short. Deadpan, that’s quite insensitive.

Then they talk about Wight Moot strategy. You see, Deadpan needs to break that wheel, so they’re going to show up with their full army so that if she is killed, then Cheryl’s Landing burns. They’re expecting Cheryl to be super deceitful, but they will be morally upright, because that’s how they break that wheel. Also, two armies and three dragons. And honor!

Deadpan kind of calls bull on all of this, pointing out that all war is inherently violent, but Tyrion did promise both Larry and Varys to restrain this hysterical woman, so he scolds her for losing her temper with Tarly. “That was not impulsive. That was necessary,” she tells him. Yet he continues to explain to her about her ~vision~ and how she must preserve it in the manner of a father explaining to his five-year-old why she shouldn’t throw plates at Denny’s.

“You need to take your enemy’s side if you’re going to see things the way they do. And you need to see things the way they do if you’re going to anticipate their actions, respond effectively, and beat them. Which I want you to do very much. Because I believe in you and the world you want to build. But the world you want to build doesn’t get built all at once.”

Then he mentions the line of succession…

…and how as a hereditary monarch (or Dictator of the Proletariat?), she needs to think about who she wants to follow her. Deadpan gets weirdly paranoid and says he’s planning to replace her. Tyrion defends it by saying he’s thinking about the long-term, but she points out that his fakakta plan cost them everything, so maybe he needs to think about the short-term.

Speaking of short-term, we’re back for even more with the gumbo.

  • Now they’re in a blizzard
  • Look! A wight bear! Gendry sees its eyes from like 200 meters away
  • A bear! A bear! All white and wight and covered in hair! It takes absolutely forever. It kills one of the extras schlepping the sled.
  • Beric lights it on fire, and Sandor is scared, so Thoros saves him. Jorah finishes it with a dagger smaller than the one Tyene used on Hotah. It must be DRAGONGLASS from DRAGONSTONE!
  • Thoros’s wounds get cauterized

New scene.

  • Jorah asks Thoros how drunk he was during the breach on Pyke. Blackout, apparently.
  • Tormund spies one White Walker leading a field trip of wights, which FINALLY brings us to the point of this damn excursion.

That’s right, the plot arrived in the form of Skyr! Why are we calling a White Walker Icelandic yogurt?

It’s from Spaceballs. You’ll have to Google it like Sophie Turner.

Moving on, Skyr is the best troop leader. He even makes sure that all his wights have little hats. For anyone totally lost, it’s literally a White Walker with a single-file row of dutiful wights. The Gumbo Goobers spot them and figure this is their best chance to snipe a wight. Thus Operation Stick a Bag on a Wight begins.

It’s a fight, and it takes about four seconds. Jonny kills Skyr really quickly with Longclaw, and every single wight but one crumble into non-existence, much like our engagement in this episode. Apparently it’s because he personally resurrected all the wights but that one. Then it takes the entire gumbo party to shove the wight into a bag. It screams, and its scream may have summoned the entire Army of the Dead. That, or another White Walker noticed that one of their wights, who had been raised by Skyr, randomly collapsed.

Therefore, a storm suddenly comes over Mount Arrowhead, and it’s time to run like hell. Why Skyr didn’t have a mini-storm following him is anyone’s guess, but maybe they need to all combine their rings of power or something.

It suddenly dawns on the soup pot that they can’t outrun this army, especially not with a bagged and struggling wight. So Jonny orders Gendry to run really, really fast back to Eastwatch so that he can send a raven to Deadpan and tell her what’s happened. Beardy even takes his hammer away so he can run faster. Why Gendry? Because he’s the fastest runner, duh.

Gendry runs in one direction, and the rest of the gumbo gang runs in the other, dragging the wight. They magically come across the Plot Convenience Pond, which has only been recently and superficially frozen, despite them being in the very far north. In winter. Team Gumbo makes it to the island in the middle of Plot Convenience Pond, but the ice breaks behind them. As we all know, this is an impenetrable barrier to the dead zombies, who not only can’t swim, but can’t even think to make some kind of weird skeletal bridge. So they just stare at Team Gumbo.

Shogun is also there, but lacking any kind of ranged projectile, stares as well.

Elsewhere, Gendry is booking it. In fact, it’s barely dusk when he trips and falls right in front of Eastwatch. We suppose all that walking and talking took place within four hours. Davos greets him, and thank god for Shireen’s School of Conveniently Placed Illiterates, since that letter can now be written.

It’s morning at the ~Plot Convenience Pond~. Thoros died, but only Thoros, because everyone else is immune to hypothermia, despite their lack of hats. We don’t know, shouldn’t Jorah have at least lost an ear or something? Sandor takes Thoros’s booze. Beric lights his sword and burns Thoros. If only he had lit a fire earlier to keep his friend warm. He also tells Jonny that if he wants to end the war, he just needs to kill Shogun, and then the whole Army of the Dead would collapse. Why he knows this with certainty is beyond us.

At the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension, Deadpan gets improbably possible mail from a raven that arrived via wormhole. Tyrion tries to tell her that she can’t go save her boyfriend, because if she dies, everyone’s lost. No one can break the wheel like her. However, she’s done listening. Us too.

Back North, Sandor decides that he is very, very mad at the Army of the Dead. Or maybe he’s just drunk on Thoros’s booze. Or maybe he’s starting to suspect their ride isn’t going to show up. Either way, he decides to fling rocks at the zombies. One of his throws is short and skittles on the ice. THE ICE!!!

The zombies are smart enough to realize that the rock scooting on ice means the water refroze and they can advance. But they were not smart enough to realize that it clearly would have refrozen by now, and maybe someone should have been testing this the whole time. Whatever, they just all rush towards the Team Gumbo. Beric turns on his lightsaber.

They fight, and they fight. Since this is a character-driven battle, Sandor has a specific rivalry with the one wight he threw a rock at. Apparently he’s a “dumb cunt.” Jorah saves Jonny at some point, but there’s so much shaky cam that we can barely keep our cookies in as another spare dies. “Fall back!” Jonny says. To what? They are surrounded!

Apparently it’s falling back to the weird Pride Rock-shaped thing that’s right there. Tormund almost dramatically dies, and there’s an entire group effort to save him. Also, the wight in the bag is being passed around. Then Vincent Expandable horrifically dies and gets dramatic music.

But wait, on first light of the fifth first day (literally), they look to the east. It’s Deadpan! She arrives jussssst as the wights…climb the hill they were on. She’s able to immediately burn the wights near them, and most of Team Gumbo gets on Drogon’s back with her. Jonny, however, gets super distracted by one single wight that almost definitely can’t climb the dragon, so he just wanders off.

Meanwhile, Shogun acquired some ranged projectiles, and throws one of his javelins at Viserion. Not Drogon and the entire party on his back, but Viserion. The dragon gets hit, and his death is super sad even though we don’t know anything about this one and heard his name a grand total of once, maybe. The battle pauses so we can watch the main characters be sad too.

Then Jonny, who is now separated by a good bit, realizes that Shogun is teeing up to throw yet another javelin. He yells in a panic that these fools need to fly, before falling into some cracked ice and going down into water. Oh no, is this the end of our hero?

Well, Shogun, being horribly genre unsavvy, assumes as much, so in less time than it takes for a grown man in full layers of fur, leather, and chainmail to drown in a frozen lake, he turns the Army of the Dead around and they high-tail it away. Not to bury the lede here, but yeah, Jonny survives and drags his stupid, wet butt out. Some of the retreating wights spot him and look vaguely interested. However, fear not…he’s saved at the buzzer by none other than Uncle Benjen Coldhands!

Pause. We’re just curious: anyone who didn’t watch Season 7…do you think we’re making stuff up right now? Or like, exaggerating? Because we have watched this more times than we’d care to admit at this point, and even we still can’t believe what this is. Let us know in the comments below! And while chatting like this, have you heard about our Fandomentals+ subscription service? For less than the price of one latte at Peet’s a month, you can gain access to editor exclusive essays, hang-out sessions, and podcasts, while also getting a discount on our store items. Fandomentals+…For highly engaged readers like you! (No, actually.)

Anyway, Benjen Coldhands gives Jonny his horse and heroically sacrifices himself for reasons. We guess maybe it bought Jonny time to get away, because the entire Army of the Dead was so distracted by the mostly-dead dude.

Back at Eastwatch and the boats, Beardy and Sandor headnod at each other. Beric decides he’s going to stay with Beardy, because his top-knot friend is gone now. He tells Sandor they’ll meet again though. Thank the gods.

Drogon and Rhaegal circle around the air sadly, because their bro is gone. Deadpan is watching sadly, because Jonny Snow is gone. Jorah says they should go, but jusssst as she turns around she hears the horn. One blast for rangers returning. Be still, our hearts.

Yeah, it’s Jonny, and we cut to him getting stripped naked and put under furs on the boat. Deadpan spies his multiple stab wounds. Or maybe she’s just impressed by his glamor muscles. Or that a near-corpse is clearly flexing.

Somewhere during what must be a five-minute boat journey given how fast it took the raven to make the same flight, Jonny wakes up and apologizes to Deadpan for Viserion dying. She tells him it was worth it so that she could understand the true threat now. Then she tells Jonny that the dragons are the only kids she’ll ever have. So you know, they don’t need to worry about birth control or anything. Winkety wink.

Are the stab wounds a turn-on?

Deadpan also says she’ll side with Jonny in his monster hunt. “Thank you, Dany,” he answers. She points out that no one has called her that since her brother in Season 1, so…is he enjoying The Wars to Come rewatch project on TheFandomentals.com too?

Then, out of nowhere, he says he’ll bend the knee. Like, not now now, since he’s still half-dead, but later. The Wind-Vane Lords will “come to see you for what you are.” A barely emotive, inconsistently written wig that vacillates between progressive socialism and paranoid autocracy? They hold hands.

Remember when Shogun turned the Army of the Dead away from Jonny because there were important Army of the Dead things to do? Well, apparently that was to go to the spot where Viserion fell. You know, like 20 feet away. Or maybe they had to go back to White Walkerville and get the largest chains anyone has ever seen, as well as some SCUBA gear, because as we all know: wights can’t swim.

So wights swim down and wrap these giant chains around Viserion’s underwater corpse. Then a bunch of other wights pull said chains, and drag his skeleton out. Shogun touches him, and he rises with blue eyes. Neat!

Oh Détente, Oui Détente, Zats what Everybody Wants!

Speaking of neat, all our heroes and their supporting forces magically arrive at Cheryl’s Landing at the exact same time, on the exact same day. We assume this was the plan, but how the Dothraki timed it so perfectly with Lady Brienne is beyond us.

Side note #4526: if this meeting hadn’t been called, where were the Unsullied marching? To all those ships Deadpan has to ferry them back to the island? To all those Deadpan holdings that Cheryl will soon take back should this détente somehow fail?

Doesn’t matter. Also not mattering for our purposes are Larry and Bronn talking about schlongs. Much more important is the fact that Tyrion, Jonny, Jorah, Missandei, and Sandor are all on a boat. Jonny doesn’t like cities: who wants the worry? The noise? The dirt, the heat? Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street?

According to Tyrion, the sex workers are better. But what about what they say about Northern girls?! Also, their population figures are highly suspect. As is the way they transported the zombie: in a wooden box that Sandor checks on lovingly. Still making that really annoying scream sound effect, all good!

This very important party consisting of a king, a Hand, and crucial advisors, is met in the middle of an abandoned, poorly kempt country road by about twenty dudes. But one of them is Bronn, so that counts for at least another fifty. And oh look: Brienne and Pod made it around Moat Cailin to be there! Again! No one questions this or asks where Sansa is. We suppose more than an acting Wardeness can talk to a queen.

This sure is dignified.

History-nerd Missandei wants to know about the dragon pit, where they’re all supposed to meet. Luckily Jorah is here, with all his talent in expositing at women. To be fair, Tyrion does join in too. They tell her how once the Targaryen dragons were locked in the dragon pit, they started to get smaller and smaller. Very good, D&D, you watched Season 1. We get it. If only they had also read The World of Ice and Fire so we could have gotten the anecdote about the townsfolk killing half the dragons that one time.

But guys, hold onto your hats, because it is time for YET ANOTHER WALK AND TALK! Everyone, pair off!

First up is Pod and Tyrion with a touching reunion. Bronn jumps in to mention Pod’s “magic cock.”

Next is Sandor and a Lannister guard. The Lannister guard tries to be mildly sociable and asks what’s moving inside that box and making weird sound effects. Sandor tells him, “F-ck off.” We’re just glad Ed Sheeran didn’t draw straws for that shift!

Next is Sandor and Brienne. They both knew Arya. She’s alive. Haha they fought. Good times.

Then we get to Bronn and Tyrion’s walk and talk of significance. To be fair, they do have their telepathic connection—excellent for arranging meetings. Maybe that’s how they know what day to schedule this one on. Bronn insists that he’s totally a mercenary with no emotional attachment to anyone. Especially not that beautiful Larry he’s been serving for so long.

We need to mention that this scene is paced exactly the same way we would choose to portray purgatory.

Finally, Sandor finishes off his meaningful relationship with the Lannister guard by threatening to kill him if he touches the box. Sometimes, being a Lannister guard is just no fun at all.

Then we get to the pit scene, and have a minor meltdown because how many times are we going to have to watch this?

No, seriously, click here, scroll to the subheading “Possible Alliances and Impossible Break-ups,” and that right there is half of this endless episode.

Though we should note, we brought our stopwatches this time, so here’s our insightful notes:

After the solid minute of Tyrion and his buds walking to their chairs, there’s 20 seconds of silence before Sandor calls everyone “cunts.” Then there’s another solid minute of everyone walking to chairs once Cheryl’s people arrive. After they stare at each other for an inordinate amount of time, Sandor decides it’s a great idea to walk up to his brother and yell his pitiful scrap of a character arc in his face. He’s gonna get that revenge.

Cheryl is upset that Deadpan is late, and after 15 seconds of silence that is apparently a tension-filled love triangle stare, Deadpan arrives on two dragons. Cheryl is annoyed at the theatricality. Drogon lands, 45 seconds pass, and Drogon takes off. Then the next 30 seconds are spent with Cheryl telling Deadpan that she was late, and Deadpan nodding at Tyrion.

For anyone who didn’t click back to Cherry Bomb (how dare you!), the mile-high recap is:

  • Euron the hooligan tells Theon he has Yara
  • Tyrion gives a humble opening monologue about how they’re all enemies…awkward!
  • Cheryl refuses to “pull back my armies and stand down” from all the places that she totally controls
  • The wight in the box is brought out. This takes a literal minute for Sandor to walk up the stairs and open it.
  • The wight lunges at Cheryl, and she’s scared. Or is she? Scared in the scripts, but not later in the scripts, so…
  • Euron says he’s scared and wants to go back to his islands. Cheryl is “taken aback” in the script. But then not taken aback later in the script.
  • For some reason this doesn’t prompt Deadpan to just immediately leave because “lol the war is decided” seeing as Cheryl is out of allies now
  • Cheryl says she’ll agree to the terms if Jonny doesn’t take a side after the monster hunt
  • Jonny cannot tell a lie and says he already kneeled to Deadpan. Cheryl storms out. Brienne yells at Larry that he should “f-ck loyalty” as he leaves too.

And that’s where we pick-up in this retrospective, with all of Team Sexual Tension telling Jonny that they’re done for, because he wouldn’t lie. Just like poor ol’ dumb Ned.

Hey, remember when he confessed to stuff he didn’t do 3 seconds before this? AKA a lie?

This is our fourth time watching this stupid scene, and we still can’t figure out why they think they’re all “f-cked” to the point of repeating it about 6 or 7 times. The Lannisters have literally no troops left. The Ironborn, to their knowledge, just ran off with the last bit of…anything. We don’t know what Deadpan is supposed to be “holding” that she’s scared of losing, other than the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension that the Lannisters never bothered to take for four years, and we don’t know where Cheryl is supposed to be pulling back from, or even what she’d be pulling back. As far as we can tell, she only controls Cheryl’s Landing. And maybe the now-ransacked Highgarden. They don’t need her for anything.

But Tyrion, because he’s super brave, and perfect, and where would we be without him, offers to go into the Lion’s den, and speak to Cheryl who is clearly a murderous, insane person. We mean, she is, but not especially more so than anyone else in this stupid story.

So of course, Tyrion walks down a hallway for another literal minute, and then bonds with Larry about how Cheryl is a murderous, insane woman and they’re both idiots.

Inside Cheryl’s office, Tyrion tries to change his sister’s mind or something. She yells about how he’s destroyed their family, he yells that she should kill him and Tywin sucked eggs.

There’s lots of emotion, and Cheryl makes a fair point about how Deadpan seems to be a murderous, insane person too. But don’t worry, she’s kept in check by listening to Tyrion. That’s, and we quote, “what the difference is between [them].”

During this, Cheryl folds her hands across her stomach, and Tyrion notices the barely perceptible movement of Cheryl’s bottom hand over her belly. She’s pregnant! This changes everything!

Then, off-screen, the ~convincing~ happens.

Meanwhile in the pit, everyone is still piling on Jonny for being an absolute idiot. Jonny’s all sullen.

“No one is less happy about this than I am.”

Deadpan at least respects him for telling the truth, and then they flirt(?) by talking about the bones of dragons that are just unceremoniously scattered on the ground. Didn’t these used to line the throne room? Aren’t they super-duper valuable?

Deadpan tries to talk about the pitiful scraps of a theme in her arc to Jonny. You see, the dragons being in the dragonpit was bad for the dragons, because they were denying who they were. Without dragons, the Targaryens were just like everyone else. Not her, though. She’s going to break the wheel.

Jonny flunked eighth grade, probably, so he just gapes open-mouthed, and only manages to latch onto the thing she says about being the last Targaryen. “You’re still here.” She tells him “the witch who murdered her husband” told her she’s infertile, and footage not found. Unless this is booksnob!Deadpan. Though Jonny, for once in his life, makes a good point: maybe that wasn’t a credible source of medical advice. Deadpan tells herself off for not trusting him from the beginning about the dead people, because that would have changed so much. Look at them now—all that hope, dashed without Cheryl’s massive troops.

Or are they? Tyrion returns, expressionless and alone. Cheryl enters behind him, and Julia breaks and runs because her dress has a farthingale and it’s just too much for her. However, Cheryl then not only agrees to the détente, but is pledging her own troops to join them up North. She just hopes they remember this act of kindness. Well, they’ll probably remember this promise, if nothing else.

Then she heel-turns and heads back inside, because that’s how you say goodbye to allies, and everyone looks at Tyrion. He meets their gaze with a subtle expression: Tyrion Lannister, motherf-ckers.

Actually, kinda…

One worst-worst-worst motives game later, Jonny and Deadpan have already warped back to the Abandoned Island of Sexual Tension. They have a war to plan. First and most important decision, how will Deadpan travel North? Will it be on a dragon? Over land? Will it be on a sex boat? So many options, that this is very worth discussing.

They land on sex boat, because Jonny tells her it sends a better message. Like they’re equals, even though he kneeled to her. Jorah nods in deference, but he’s not smiling at all. F-cking punkass little shitburger stole his khaleesi.

Then Deadpan looks back to the map, and we quote, “in a shot reminiscent of the end of episode 701.” Yes, “no plot or character progression” was a very good theme in this season. Well spotted, D&D.

Before Jonny can have boat sex, Theon comes up to discuss the implications of his pitiful scraps of an arc. We shall detail this at a time TBD in a retrospective, entitled “what the hell are we still doing here?”.

Then, at last, one confusing trial later, it is time for the amazingly built-up boat sex. And that’s it. Jon and Deadpan have sexual intercourse on a boat. Tyrion stands outside of their room listening to them and “looking troubled for more reasons than one.” One of those reasons is apparently his love for Deadpan, and the other is…what? A really strong political alliance is forming?

Elsewhere, a voiceover discusses Jon’s lineage and claim to the Iron Throne, which really only makes this an even better political alliance, but whatever. We’re sure it won’t matter when the wheel is broken. When have your auntie and nephew pairing ever?

Finally, at Eastwatch, Beardy tells Beric he’s scared of heights. At least this isn’t another joke about wanting to bang Brienne or something. Then the Army of the Dead shows up. Shogun is bouncing up and down on the resurrected or zombified (it’s so unclear) Viserion. He breathes some hot blue fire at The Wall and melts it, possibly killing Beardy and Beric. So sad.

That 7-year-old Umber better watch out! His castle is first!

With that, the plotline ends. While I’m sure you’re as on shpilkes as we are for Season 8, we first need to dive into the meaning of all of this…which we’ll do in part 2 next week!


Images courtesy of HBO

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