The Learned Fangirl The Learned Fangirl - a website about pop culture and the internet Thu, 14 Sep 2017 14:11:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Heroes For Hire: A Defenders Audio Review (Part 2 of 2) Thu, 14 Sep 2017 14:11:42 +0000 When we last left our reviewers, Michi Trota (Uncanny Magazine, CNSC) and Matt Peters (Since Last We Spoke, Digital Dumpster Diving) were less than impressed with the first four episodes of The Defenders.

In the conclusion of their 2-part audio review of the Marvel Netflix series, did our heroes (and Iron Fist) manage to pull victory from the jaws of defeat? Don’t bet on it.

(Note: Michi Trota mentions an essay by Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and discussion about tropes regarding blindness and Daredevil. The essay discussing tropes about blindness and superheroes is “We Are Not Daredevil. Except When We Are Daredevil” by Michael Miriam. Elsa’s essay about disability, blindness, and fiction is “I Built My Own Goddamn Castle.”)

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Heroes For Hire: A Defenders Audio Review Part 1 of 2 Wed, 13 Sep 2017 13:42:59 +0000 Michi Trota (Uncanny Magazine, CNSC) and Matt Peters (Since Last We Spoke, Digital Dumpster Diving) take a look at the first four episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders on Netflix. Taking advantage of the seeds planted throughout the previous projects, four heroes are called into action to defend New York. It’s gotta be better than Iron Fist… right?

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Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5: Wight and Wrong Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:05:59 +0000 Game-of-Thrones-season-7-episode-5-Daenerys-Drogon-Image-for-InUth-1


Do you feel dizzy trying to keep up with the magical travel times, strained plot devices, and breakneck pace of  “Eastwatch”? Were you willing to overlook all because you can’t wait to see how the “seven samurai” would take on the dead?

Catch your breath with three fans with different perspectives: Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read. 

Join the conversation in comments!

Should we plunge right into this discordant, oddly paced, hodge-podge of an episode?

We start with Jaime’s amazing save on the field of battle. What was your take on his being plucked out of the water by Bronn and the events afterward, including the incineration of the two Tarlys?

It’s interesting that they immediately tied up with a neat bow what happened to Jaime. His fate was not in question for more than the week between episodes: it was the very last scene and the very first scene. And to me that just seems really emblematic of how the entire season is going — we’re going to give you the tiniest itty-bitty cliffhanger — but just kidding! Bronn saved him! Because Bronn needs his money! Moving on.

It was kind of consistent with Bronn, but I’m not sure I believed that Bronn did it just for self-interest.

Interestingly, Jaime didn’t question Bronn’s motive or behavior either.

Right after that scene were shots of Tyrion wandering around the battlefield. He seems very struck by the battle and all the ash, which is different from all the other battle aftermath scenes we’ve seen.

season 7 tyrion

It felt like nuclear winter, with all that ash. There’s no life at all. Not only were the men dead but so were the horses, and the food was incinerated. They made sure we saw shots of all of those things.

That leads to the execution of the Tarlys, which in turn leads to Tyrion reckoning with whether he’s following the right person. And Varys tells him he has to learn to control her. I don’t know what the episode did with that afterward.

But this is what you were saying about it being an oddly paced episode: it seemed like we did slow down, we had to think carefully about this scene of Dany dispensing justice. This awful martyrdom that was really pointless. It also explains why we met up with Dickon: so we could see him juuuust enough to not really want him to fry, even though he’s kind of an asshole to Sam.

Tyrion is being way more practical than Dany. It seems like Tyrion’s solution with the Tarlys wasn’t meant only to represent empathy contrasted with Dany’s hard line. His way also seemed very practical: both of these guys are good in battle. Use them!


Exactly. Why are we incinerating excellent fighters?

It certainly presents Dany in an unflattering light. In the after-episode special, the showrunners said, “Was it smart? Was it just? You decide.” I don’t think we’re meant to like it. She looks very self-satisfied as she turns away from these two burning heaps and all the terrified soldiers, and Tyrion looks heartbroken and really stricken.

Jon offered mercy to those Houses in the North, when Sansa wanted to punish them. Here, Tyrion wanted to offer mercy, but Dany went through with her punishment. It doesn’t seem to be a positive thing.

With Dany, we constantly see this push and pull, where she’s supposed to be merciful, but not weak; powerful, but still have a heart. Maybe this is the pendulum of her character’s development swinging back one way for now.

It’s an interesting gender reversal I’d never really put together: the women are the ones who are really stuck on vengeance. As a little book aside, it’s interesting to note that even without the Catelyn Stark storyline of her returning from the dead, hellbent on vengeance, we are still getting the idea of women stuck on vengeance.

The only one who seems to be slowing her roll on this front is Cersei, weirdly.

But she’s up to something!

Sparing the Tarlys could eventually come back to haunt her — like in “Saving Private Ryan,” when Tom Hanks let the German guy go and he kills him at the end. You can’t release those who will not bend the knee serve you.

On the other hand, the way she uttered “Dracarys” sounded so emotionless and flat. When Jon had to kill those four people for murdering him (!), he clearly didn’t want to do it.

That’s a good comparison. It was a matter of duty and pragmatism for Jon, whereas Dany seems like she’s just taking out her temper. For the rest of the episode, she seemed waaaay less certain of herself. Like maybe she was having second thoughts. Especially as none of her advisors seemed to think it was the greatest idea. She seems much more off-balance or even a little girlish in the rest of the episode, at least compared to how she starts in that first scene.

That leads into Jon and his new best friend Lassie, aka Drogon. We can all tell that we’re supposed to say, “Ooh, more hints about his Targaryen nature!” We get it!


I have to say I didn’t even think about that connection. D’oh. It never even occurred to me.

There were a lot of things like that in this episode in particular that seemed to be fan service. There’s all these fan theories that other people are going to ride the dragon.

“The dragon has three heads”? I thought of that too, Laura. Another prophecy. Basically: there’s three dragons in the world now, and only one dragon-rider. So who are the other two people who are going to be the “heads of the dragon”? That’s what I thought about when I saw this scene with Jon.

Maybe that’s why they built up Dany as kind of annoying, because they also just incidentally dropped that maybe she doesn’t have the best claim to the throne. Maybe they’re building up the drama of an eventual reveal: that she’s proceeding as if she’s the rightful ruler, when actually she’s not.

If Jon’s parents are who we think they are, then he himself is fire and ice. He’s already got both. He’s got the Stark blood, he’s got the Targaryen blood. So does he need Dany, if he can also control dragons?

To me, I wondered if it was a glimmer of jealousy or fear in her expression: “Oh shit, what if someone else can do this? I better act like I’m really important. ‘Oh, are you scared of my dragon?’ ”

He clearly isn’t scared of your dragon.

And Drogon was scary when he was running toward Jon!

In this episode, Dany certainly seemed more obvious about being interested in Jon. Maybe she thought, “Oh, I like Jon, and my dragon can tell he’s a good guy too.” Like when your dog likes your boyfriend.

How many people approach her as an equal? How many people are not afraid of her dragons? And he’s so nonchalant about it. He just doesn’t have time for that bullshit. “No, I don’t have to wait for you to let me go” he in effect says. When it’s time to go, he just walks away. He doesn’t even look back as he heads into the water. He’s not even allowing himself to be attracted to her because he’s on a mission, and he needs to fulfill his duty. He clearly doesn’t see her as above him.

He said in this episode, “I am a king.” I haven’t heard him say anything like that before. It’s always been more about “my people chose” me or “I have a job to do.”

In my mind, she clearly was trying to pull rank because she didn’t want him to go. And Jorah saw it.

They’re hitting us over the head with the flirting. But as something new, there’s also this competitiveness between them. Obviously they were rivals before they made this alliance, as tenuous as it is. But he hasn’t been interested in the power aspect of it. So maybe it’s not just her trying to tamp down his ambitions — which he doesn’t have; it’s more, her trying to tamp down his ambitions — which are growing.

I also thought she was sent off-center by developing a plan — her “be a dragon!” plan — to attack the supply chain, and then being faced with advisors who are all meh about it. In the rest of the episode, it seemed like she was seeking Jon’s approval or at least some point of connection. She gives a kind of cute, flirtatious goodbye to him, and he says, “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.” Peace out! It’s very formal.

Then he just goes to the front of the boat and starts pulling it into the water. No longing looks back, no nothing. Just, “Okay, I have a job to do, it’s off to face the horde of the dead!” Everybody else wants Dany, and Jon doesn’t. Maybe that’s what she finds attractive.

She does try to reiterate what she sees as their common bond, that they both want to help people from positions of power, and power is terrible sometimes. But it doesn’t seem like anyone is super convinced by that.

Everybody in this show who’s still around has had someone close to them die. If you’re still around at this point, you’re a survivor. Both Dany and Jon have had a true love die, if you consider those to be Drogo and Ygritte.

Dany was very careful about her emotions when she told Daario to stay behind. So she’s also done what Jon’s doing to her now. I think that Jon sees the beginning of a spark there, but he’s not thinking of it in practical terms, such as the possibility that they could rule together. I think Dany’s thinking something like that when she sees him. “This is a partner I could have in ruling Westeros, as well as someone who I think is kind of cool.” Meanwhile he acts like, “I think she’s hot, so I should just ignore it.”

That segues into what Arya says to Sansa. “You’re thinking this, right?” Sansa’s like, “No, no, no, I’m not thinking of it!” But she was thinking it, of course.

When Jon and Dany stand on that escarpment, and she’s looking back toward her dragons, he’s staring at her — and then he physically shakes himself out of it.

Jon and Dany

The other time there’s a gaze between them is in the war room meeting, when he says he will lead the party beyond the Wall himself, and he throws a look back at her as if to say, “Yeah, I’m going.” She responds physically, but he gives her a very short and emotionless stare: “I’m not going to give you googly eyes! This is a business decision. Don’t look at me that way!” He just doesn’t have time for it.

That to me in a way is very similar to what’s going on between Arya and Sansa. Like Jon, Arya perceives what’s going on in Sansa’s head. Sansa of course wants more from her position of power, but she can’t say it.

Let’s talk about that scene. It’s interesting that you made that comparison. The exchange between Arya and Sansa was my favorite part of the episode but also the most excruciating to watch, because I’m invested in both of their characters. Their difficult relationship was well-established early on, so it’s fascinating to see that same dynamic come back in this grown-up way, with these high stakes. They’re not talking about a pretty dress in the throne room at King’s Landing, or hairstyles.

It’s not, “Do I have to take needlepoint lessons or can I take sword-fighting lessons?” It’s more “Who’s going to betray whom” at this point.

They’re not bonding or sharing memories. There’s no emotional bonding. It’s pure business and politics.

Arya’s a total asshole in this scene. We have spent so long rooting for her, one way or another. And it’s really cool to see her come into her power and ability at this point, especially after sticking through so many long episodes in Braavos.

But life is so much simpler for her! She doesn’t have to worry about making people get along. She doesn’t have to worry about building alliances. She can act on her own and do whatever she wants on her own.

I think she’s being very unfair to Sansa. For example, it’s ironic that Jon is the one who insisted that Sansa take the Lord of Winterfell’s chambers. Yet Arya just assumes that Sansa wants it for herself, because Arya still has an old idea of what the childish Sansa cares about in life.

Cheryl, it’s interesting that the discussion of power is what made you think of this scene between the sisters. We just had Dany say that a position of power is how we help people. I think it’s okay that Sansa wants more power, as long as she’s not acting to betray Jon, and she’s really not.

I totally agree that a) Arya was an asshole, and b) Sansa did nothing wrong. How old was Arya when she started this journey? Nine? Ten? Her formative years have been under grueling circumstances, and her maturity has been stunted. As of now, she’s unable to make connections and to have empathy, to see something from somebody else’s point of view.

Sansa has displayed traits of being very vengeful in the past, but she actually is tamping it down a bit, both to be consistent with what Jon wants and also just to keep the peace, keep everybody together. She’s being strategic, and she’s seen a lot more court life; Arya has none of this experience, so she’s just thinking about justice. Sansa is thinking about how to keep everyone from rebelling, which is what Jon was afraid of, going south in the first place and now north to the wall.

There are real-world consequences that Sansa is aware of and Arya dismisses. Arya might not be wrong when she says “You care about their opinions,” which is the cruelest interpretation, and it’s quite possible that Sansa does indeed care. But Sansa’s actual response is that “Glover has 500 men, the Vale has 2,000”; it’s very much in the collecting-grain, taking-stock-of-the-armory mindset.

What is Jon doing in the South? He’s trying to build alliances. What is he doing in the North? He’s trying to build alliances. Sansa is actually the one holding to his idea of leadership in this episode. But Arya thinks she’s defending Winterfell in Jon’s name, in her favorite brother’s name.

Arya’s been traveling alone with her weapon, just like the Hound, and now she doesn’t know how to integrate and that’s going to be a challenge. It was great to see that reunion last week, but now we see it’s not going to be easy. Bran has become weird and emotionally dead inside, and Arya’s got some of the same issues. Yes, they’re alive, but not 100 percent there. It’s going to take a while.

So did you have any idea what was on that little scroll that was tucked away in Littlefinger’s bed?


The producers implied that Littlefinger planted it because he knew Arya was listening and watching.

I interpreted it that way too. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what’s on the note; what matters is that Littlefinger has made Arya think her sister is hiding something.

So then we’re thrown to the beach at King’s Landing, where Tyrion and Davos show up. Bronn brings Jaime to Tyrion, and they reconnect in what I thought was a badly handled scene. It was so dark and murky, and it didn’t have the emotional weight that I wanted it to have.

I was really captivated by it. Jaime and Tyrion always had this unlikely bond as brothers, tested through some unusually trying times. I think those actors have really sold it all the way through the series. So I did find it to be an emotional reconnection and reckoning.

It was sort of like black comedy. Tyrion’s pouring his heart out, and Jaime cuts him off. I was so offended on Tyrion’s behalf. Jaime stops Tyrion’s outpouring of emotion. There’s still a connection; he didn’t immediately want to kill Tyrion. Clearly, whatever relationship they had when they last saw each other, it’s not the same any more.

Something has changed. I feel like Jaime’s lost now. He’s gone all the way over to Team Cersei. He’s not even questioning her. After that scene in which she says she’s pregnant and pats her stomach, I thought: she is setting him up. With the pregnancy, she’s giving him what he wants, and he responds like a cat following a laser toy. He is not even thinking. He’s just blindly following her.

This is why I think her plotting with Qyburn has something to do with the pregnancy or with Jaime. There’s a weird long game those two are playing.

I don’t really understand why Cersei is so quick to agree to make peace with Dany — and just beat her later.

We’ve talked about how Jaime has unrealized paternal instincts. What I was really drawn in by was how for just one moment Cersei looked happy. I haven’t seen her look happy since she thought Myrcella was coming home, in that moment before she knew her daughter was dead. Then as it always is with her, she immediately poisons it one beat afterward by threatening him, saying “don’t betray me again” as they’re embracing. I feel like he’s always drawn in and then dealt poison that he just drinks up.

You’re so right, he just drinks it up. What was the “betrayal”? That he went to meet Tyrion? He told her afterward. I don’t get the big deal there.

I think she would have preferred that Jaime take his sword and swipe off Tyrion’s head on sight.

Maybe that is why Bronn conveniently made sure that Jaime was not carrying any sharp objects, only a practice sword.

Apparently the way we’re going to get Cersei to take part in the fight against the dead is to show her evidence. Because Cersei works as an evidence-based and logical player in this game? I don’t understand.

And we’re going to try to capture a wight, which is a really bad idea. Bring this live wight all the way south to King’s Landing! And then we’re going to have Qyburn near a wight, and that’s real bad.

She already has a resurrected dead zombie giant dude who does her every bidding, so why’s she going to be so impressed?


It doesn’t seem like this is actually a plan that has to go anywhere. It was an excuse to get those seven people together to go north of the wall.

If I recall, there’s a distinction: we have the Night’s King–type of White Walkers, with the blue eyes, who are super-undead, and then we just have the zombies.

There’s the Others and then there’s the wights. The early episodes were just filled with wights. And now you can’t get a good wight when you need one.

I think we all agree this was a very goofy and not very clear motivation/explanation of why this is the great big plan all of a sudden.

All these random characters showing up in one episode is a lot to handle.

Let’s talk about the posse up north. It seems like a Western to me. Someone described it as sort of a heist, like “Ocean’s Eleven.”

I would have been more willing to go along with that if they had saved it to open the next episode. Rather than reintroducing Jorah, who has always been on Team Dany and all of a sudden putting him on Team Jon. And Gendry! That’s an example of fan service there, Laura. There’s no reason for this character to come back, and that line about “Thought you were still rowing!” was definitely ripped from the message boards and comments.

I think the Gendry actor did great in actually making something of his scenes: when you see these two kids raised as bastards by fathers who were best friends, he seems really excited to meet a Stark for the first time. It’s kind of cute, it’s just not necessary.

I’m really waiting for Jon and Arya to meet, of all the reunions, because I think that’s going to start pulling some of their character flaws into relief, in a good way. But they skipped right over that, and so did Gendry. No time for Winterfell! Apparently moving at a breakneck pace up the coast to get to the Wall!

That was the one justification of traveling by ship, that they could go directly to Eastwatch. Since he got this raven about Bran’s vision, he knew that’s where they needed to go, and they could get there directly by ship rather than an overland journey. Of course, why didn’t anybody send a raven to Jon before, telling him his brother and sister were still alive?

Thinking about that posse, I thought about “Seven Samurai” or the “Magnificent Seven” — basically, seven disparate warriors who come from different places to protect a village of peasants. It’s a group of people who’ve never worked together before who have to perform a task.

We didn’t talk about Sam!

The maesters are yet another holdover of “old Westeros” — one of the last ones, right? Operating the same way they always have. Everything else has fallen apart — the lines of succession are gone; Cersei is ruling, though she has no legitimate claim to the throne; and it’s war all the time now — but the maesters are still toiling away at Oldtown, to make sure everything’s really true. History moves slowly, anyway. Sam’s trying to impress upon them that what’s coming is not something they’ll have time to mull over. This is action time. But they’re not men of action. They’re men of careful consideration.

They’re concerned about the ravenry. That’s their order of business while the world crumbles outside of their little citadel. I felt that too, Laura, that these are not men of action, and Sam was turning into a man of action. He couldn’t take it any more.

Did you catch what he says when he leaves, which echoes the cruel thing his father said: “If you become a maester, you’ll just be reading about the accomplishments of better men.” Sam says he’s tired of doing that.

He’s also kind of pulling what Arya did and leaving half-trained, which makes him a weird hybrid thing, a half-maester. He’s still smart. He still reads the book and follows the instructions.

He’s also really, really breaking the rules, and Sam’s not much of a rule-breaker either. He’s stealing scrolls. That’s a big deal. I have a feeling if the maesters knew he was stealing scrolls, they’d go after them to get them back.

Maybe Sam will also have to make a choice between his heritage and title, versus renouncing it for the sake of some other duty or calling. Or vice versa, giving up his dream to go take on his familial duty.

But: where is he going?

Even if he is the last remaining Tarly, he has taken the black. He was going to become maester at the Wall. Unless he pulls some kind of Jon trick, he literally has forsaken all that. Not that it matters, because laws are being broken all the time in this world now.

And he’s bopping Gilly. So that vow is broken already.

And, annulment!

We have a maester who kept very anal track of the numbers of windows and stairs and bowel movements, and so no one reads his book. (Which is a throwback to the archmaester telling Sam, “You have to put a little interest in your books or no one will read them.”) Well, this is why. “By the way, side note: annulled a marriage and remarried a prince. Anyway, back to my counting of windows.” Which is just bizarre. Let’s assume that’s why the history got lost. Of course it means that Jon is the true-born son and the true-born heir.

game-of-thrones_s07e05_eastwatch_gilly and sam

I feel like at this point in the show, it doesn’t matter. There’s so much focus on blood and what blood means. Maybe this revelation is important not so much because he’s not a bastard, but more because his two parents were in love and it wasn’t a rape, which is a relief at this point, that there’s one less rape.

It could matter for the dynamic between him and Daenerys.

It also reflects back to when Gendry and Jon met and talked about their fathers fighting together. We’re reminded that Ned is not really Jon’s father, but Jon’s identity is based on Ned as his father.

It comes back to our last conversation: What’s your identity? What is Dany’s identity if she doesn’t have a natural claim to the throne or if it’s not as clear and easy-breezy as she thought it was? Who are you? It’s like Jaime without his hand: who is she without the notion of her right to rule as the true-born queen? For Jon, who is his father? He knows nothing about his father. The way he identifies himself is as Ned’s son, yet that has nothing to do with who really he is, except for his learned values. What’s in a name, what’s in a title, who are you? And how your actions reflect who you are much more meaningfully than your title.

It’s reflected in the two Tarlys who died. They died for a sense of honor, which in the end was a complete waste. It was a stupid reason to die.

They should have bent the knee. Bend the knee, and then plot, right? This is why we think of Littlefinger et al. as actually being better players in the game than the Tarlys.

At the same time, we knew Daenerys made the wrong decision by giving them this “choice.” She knew: these particular men, given the choice of bend the knee or die — they’ll die. It also reminded me of the way she roasted all the grain and all the food. It’s a waste. At this point, you can’t afford to do that. WINTER IS COMING.

“Give in or die” is also not a choice. She says several times, “I gave them a choice!

As I watched Tyrion wander through the waste among the horse carcasses buried in the ash, I thought of the Battle of the Bastards, when all those horses died. Last week, as Jaime and Bronn leaped into the water, their horses were incinerated. It’s something very specific in this battle and the Battle of the Bastards. Horses and grain. I think that’s going to come back to bite them.

The Dothraki have been established as having superior horsemanship. Maybe they’re not quite as much of a force to contend with without their horses.

Last note: I believe this is the first time we’ve seen Eastwatch in the opening credits. So we got a new place! But I’m just not buying into Eastwatch and the beyond-the-wall ranging as the big new mission and point of drama, and I wish I felt more the urgency and importance of it. Because I did like a lot of the acting and character interactions in this episode, but I can’t get invested in their goal now.

Me neither.


The Hound has some kind of role to play. Do Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr actually have a role other than getting the Hound up to the Wall? Now they’ve gone beyond the Wall along with the ranging party!

Last season we had so much heavy stuff about faith and gods. That’s been completely absent this season other than references once or twice to the Lord of Light. And in this case, the Hound actually was like, “Shut the fuck up about the Lord of Light!” when the subject came up. Let’s get down to business.

That is the reason Beric is still alive; he was resurrected. That is the reason that all of a sudden Thoros — who was always a Red Priest, but a drunk dropout Red Priest — now has these powers. It all comes down to this faith. Presumably we’re going to get back into visions and prophecy and divine power, but we just haven’t been set up for that as much this season.

Littlefinger’s having his own side conversations now, and no one thinks it’s weird, because there’s no bureaucracy in Winterfell set up to handle it otherwise, like the Small Council.


Fermented crab! The Viagra of Westeros. Davos is a crafty fella, let’s not forget.

Duly noting: the maesters at Oldtown make a quick reference to “Jenny of Oldstones, who thought she was descended from the Children of the Forest,” and everyone laughs. So that’s a small shout out to lore from the book.

Does anyone else suspect that Cersei’s pregnancy is a setup? That she knew exactly what strings to pull to keep Jaime in line? That the morning after she initiated sex with him, she made sure her handmaiden saw him in her bed and told her to change the sheets? That it could be that either she is not pregnant or someone else is the father? Last season, after Tommen dies she seemed completely indifferent and emotionally dead inside …


Please join the conversation in comments! But no spoilers, please.

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 4: Be a Dragon Fri, 18 Aug 2017 12:56:50 +0000 game-of-thrones-s07e04-danerys


Gentle readers, did you too feel that Episode 4 contained just too much action to process? We share your sentiments. Join us as we plunge into “the Spoils of War.”

Brush the ashes away and regain your equilibrium with three fans with different perspectives: Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read. 

Join the conversation in comments!


We know the gold from the Reach ended up in King’s Landing, so Cersei did technically get “the spoils of war,” but she quite possibly lost everything else.

Just as with Bronn’s bag of gold that spilled on the ground, all that hard work to get the grain from Highgarden was incinerated.

They set up its destruction with good old grumpy Randyll Tarly saying that the line was too spread out and vulnerable.

He was right.

Tarly seems to be chafing under Jaime’s leadership. Meanwhile, his son Dickon confessed that he felt uncomfortable going against his former liege lord. The Tarlys had been loyal to Highgarden for his entire life.

Dickon came off well. I liked him. I remember the last time we met him, at dinner with Sam: he wasn’t the asshole his father was.

I wonder how they are going to bring Dickon further into the show, because they wouldn’t spend precious minutes on him unless he will be important in some way.


I started to pay attention to Dickon in the last episode because of the way Jaime was looking at him. I kept thinking that Jaime was seeing this glimpse of his former self. This man who is young and strong and whole, the favored child of the family, looming over him. Jaime is looking much more grey than golden these days, and we saw it in this battle: he was fumbling with his sword, he had to tell Bronn that he couldn’t operate Qyburn’s weapon with one hand, and then there was his last left-handed charge at the end.

I think Jaime still has this fathering instinct. He really would have liked to teach a kid, to talk about a son’s first battle, etc.

A son who wasn’t Joffrey. Like, a real human child.

Someone to pass that information on to. He’s had a lifetime of learning. I felt like Dickon was someone he could bond with, a mirror to his younger self. Jaime could talk to him about how “glory” is all bullshit— that you have to act honorably in battle, but it all smells like shit.

Jaime had that burst of energy when he charges at Daenerys. I like the interpretation of him saying “that’s who I used to be” plus “I don’t believe in all that stuff any more.”

Jaime seems unable to stop being noble, and BOY HOWDY did Dany clearly make him flash back to the Mad King – her father. If he were a comic book character, his thought bubble would have been, “I have to stop her!” He’s no Clark Kent or Superman, but that goes to show what a fucked-up universe GoT operates in.

Maybe it was also an attempt to reclaim his youth? His former station? His leadership? But it was a stupid move.


Was it stupid? Wouldn’t you have to try to kill the enemy queen if she was incapacitated or in a weakened position?

It’s not entirely stupid. He probably knew full well he wasn’t quite fast enough and good enough to pull it off, but he’d try it anyway. If it were the old Jaime, Daenerys would be toast, and that would be the end of Game of Thrones.

It reminds me of Jon standing up against that charging army in the Battle of the Bastards, with his sword raised high as the whole army charges at him, and he’s got a look of “I guess this is the end, but I’m going to go out honorably.”

Jaime had nothing left to lose. I keep wanting there to be more to his character because I feel like he peaked really early in this series! I like that interpretation of his moment with Daenerys and the dragon being a flashback to the Mad King and the one defining action in his life – trying to strike down someone who threatened to burn them all.

But it seems like more and more what’s really motivating him is to vanquish all the enemies – not because he really cares, but just so he can be back with Cersei in a world where they can be together.

They’ve both said it before: We’ll kill everyone until we’re the only ones left.

Jaime is going to survive and presumably be taken hostage or at the very least be unable to return straight to King’s Landing. What will it mean for Cersei, what will it mean for Tyrion, and what will it mean for the Lannister army?

I’m tempted to bet that he’s going to die. I always wanted to see him repudiate Cersei and find his honor again. But what’s going to pull a man in full armor out of the water?

Also, his fall in the water makes me think of his travels with Brienne, when he’d lost his hand, and he and Brienne were in the baths. I likened that scene to a baptism, where he confessed his sins, purged his old self, and was being born anew, with a fuller understanding of himself and a reawakening of his old values.

jaime lin the bath

I wonder if his plunge might hail back to that: if this will be a wake-up call to his better self. Because since he returned to King’s Landing, he’s been lost and not very interesting, and he hasn’t reined in Cersei in any meaningful way. He hasn’t been able to contain her.

It was interesting that Tyrion was watching this battle, when in the last one he was so far removed from it as to be a voiceover. In both, he was witnessing his betrayal of his own House in action, and it really seemed to affect him — and that he did not want Jaime to die.


I felt like he only had feelings for Jaime. I don’t think he cares what happens to the rest of the troops. He’s written off the Lannister army as just the cost of war. Maybe I’m being too callous about Tyrion, but not only would he be somewhat responsible for killing his brother but he killed his dad with no problem. I know it’s a very different scenario, but …

But Jaime was the one who helped Tyrion escape from King’s Landing. Tyrion would not be here if not for Jaime.

And of course there’s Bronn, Tyrion’s best bud. Tyrion introduced Bronn and Jaime, and now they’re fighting on one side, and he’s on the other.

Let’s talk about Arya’s reunion with Sansa. First we have Arya barred from Winterfell. Again, if you’re spending even a minute telling part of the story, it signifies something. Arya’s whole transformation has been the ability to be anonymous and to not be Arya Stark. So when she needs to put it on again, of course it doesn’t work.


This Winterfell has lived in her memory through all the show’s seasons. She’s been cut off from knowledge of home for a long time. So she asks for members of Ned’s household who were killed early on, not long after Ned was, but she never knew that.

I’ve thought about Arya’s and Sansa’s reunion more than almost any in the book, so I’m interested to hear what you thought of it.

Speaking purely as a TV fan, it was great to see Arya and Sansa share the screen again, just because the actors are really good friends in real life. But their characters have not shared the screen since Season 1.

And they did not part on great terms. They never got along at Winterfell, but by the end each one was mocking the other’s deepest hopes and dreams. Sansa was always embarrassed by Arya and told her she shouldn’t be trying to train. Now look at her – Arya really is a fucking fighter. Arya mocked Sansa because Sansa wanted to be a lady – and she is the lady of a great house now, but look at what that really means.

And the cost. Good point, Roz. And Sansa thought she was in love with Joffrey in Season 1! She only wanted to marry Joffrey.

And now they both talk about killing him.


Their reunion reminded me of something I once witnessed: I was in a forest on a hiking vacation, and a dog came to camp looking for scraps to eat. A car finally drove up to the site, and a woman jumped out and threw her arms around the dog. She said, “This is my dog! I lost it three weeks ago and we’ve been coming every weekend to look for it!” And the dog did not respond at all. It didn’t wag its tail. It just sat there while the owner cried and hugged it in joy. Eventually the dog began to recognize the owner and started to wag its tail, and remembered its positive feelings about her.

I feel like that’s what happened with Arya and Sansa. When Sansa embraced Arya, Arya was passive: she didn’t hug Sansa back. She acted just as she had with Hot Pie – totally affectless. They then have an exchange, and eventually Arya rushes to Sansa and embraces her. It’s as if she finally had a memory of what family is. Those emotions had lain fallow as she was so disconnected from anything resembling family. She was going to be a Faceless Man. Here, she reconnected with that more human part of herself.

That is such an interesting comparison. I noticed the first thing that Arya responds to is when Sansa mentions Jon, who was Arya’s favorite sibling. I jotted it down: “That’s the first thing that cracks her mask.” I realized I’d begun to think of Arya as wearing a mask. Of course — the Faceless Men. It confirms for me what I said after the last episode: her choice to go back to Winterfell was a really big deal. Bran even says he saw her “at the crossroads.”

Game of Thrones: Series 7 Episode 4 Sansa Stark and Arya Stark

I thought about the Hound, too. In ways that we might not have realized, she was following his path as a solo assassin who really didn’t have any human connections or feelings. She was just an automaton, a killing machine. Hopefully she’s reconnecting to something deeper and to the importance of family. Even Meera talks about going back to her family – she wants to be with them when the end comes. Now Arya is remembering why that is.

It’s interesting that Sansa knew where to find Arya: in the crypt, looking at their dad, an enduring character (even though Sean Bean had so little screen time). Despite the fact that patriarchy means next to nothing in the show now, he’s still their common ground.

Sansa doesn’t know Arya anymore — they haven’t seen each other in six or eight years at this point — yet she still knows where Arya will be. That is the power of family. As much as we were talking last time about Stark identity not really existing any more, maybe it is bubbling back up.

There was a moment of acknowledging grief, when they turned and looked at the statue. They’ve never had a chance to process their father’s death with anyone else in the family. Arya certainly hasn’t.

What about Arya’s reconnection with Bran?

Arya and Sansa could find common ground, even though they acknowledged they were going to leave a lot unsaid and that was how they were going to deal with it. They’ve both had so much trauma. Bran has had just as much trauma but is now all, “Yeah, but I feel a lot of things. I feel everything. So I’m cool.”

It’s what Meera said: “You died in that cave.” Bran’s back, but not really.

Frankly, I’ve found Bran to be a boring and annoying character. I think the reason he exists in the book is to represent one of the magical forces that are mustering and also to remind us that it’s a final battle fought on many different fronts (might, magic, faith, knowledge, intrigue, etc.). Bran’s part of that now, so his character is important.

But this episode reminded me that in the book, some of the earliest scenes are Bran POV scenes. He is a bright and active and curious child; he’s climbing and exploring and listening to the old stories. Seeing him in this episode reminded me of what is lost when we have all these siblings have been forged into powerful tools. They become more than they were, and yet there’s such a loss.

That was really strengthened for me when Sansa watched while Arya was fighting with Brienne. She seemed disgusted at the end and walked away: “I don’t know who this person is any more.” Here’s Bran, and Sansa can’t connect with him; here’s Arya, and Sansa can’t connect with her. Winterfell is filled with new people. There’s no shared memory. No one even remembers what Ned looked like.

So what is a family? Is it the building? We get a shot of Arya looking around Winterfell when she enters. Is that it? Is it blood? Is it shared memory? Whatever it is, it’s all crumbling. The connection has to be something deeper.

I found it quite interesting that Sansa does not seem to like or appreciate what Arya had turned into. I also found it interesting that Littlefinger was taken aback by Bran’s reference to “chaos is a ladder.” Littlefinger thought he knew everything, could control everything, imagine everything. And here’s Bran saying these things back to him. There’s no way Littlefinger can get his mind around that.


I think Littlefinger is discovering that these Stark children are not as easy to manipulate as he assumed or expected — although he’s up to something.

But I did not interpret Sansa’s reaction to the fight scene in that same way. I did not think she was disgusted or alienated. At first she’d thought that Arya was joking about her list and her mission to kill, and then all of a sudden Sansa sees how real it is. Maybe Cersei’s assassination is possible.

Sansa was standing next to Littlefinger, and I thought it was very parallel. She’s watching and processing: Arya’s return means something different than she thought. She and Jon have something else they can use. I don’t think it was quite that callous, but she’s Littlefinger’s protégé. Hopefully she’s taking the good parts of these evil people she’s been surrounded by for so long – the good parts of Littlefinger, that allow her to be calculating; the lessons from Cersei, that can allow her to be vengeful without being cruel. They were literally next to each other as they looked down. Littlefinger is always looming. Now Sansa is looming, too, and I’m not sure what to think.

Sansa didn’t watch until the end. It’s interesting that you had such different feelings about that than I did.

Going off something you just said, Cheryl, about how there no longer a shared memory: it’s true, but only in a very personal and immediate sense. If you think about it, that’s Bran’s entire function now. The memory of the North used to live at Winterfell in the form of their nanny – Hodor’s (great?) grandmother – who used to tell the tales of the First Men and the Children of the Forest, that only Bran really had ears for and believed in. The memory of the Long Night. And that’s gone now, in that the people who used to inhabit Winterfell are gone. Bran is also gone, but he now holds centuries of memory, and the heart trees have those memories; so even though his person has been erased, there’s more knowledge in Winterfell than there really has been in a long time.

It’s just incredibly unsatisfying to watch on a character level.

The only other parallel to that is the Citadel, where Sam is, which also holds the collective memory of Westeros.

Speaking of lost knowledge, why did no one ever invent a Super Dragon Missile Launcher before?

Watching Bronn operate the Scorpion was completely badass. But it doesn’t seem like the technology was unavailable before, so I wonder why it took a rogue maester to figure out how to do that.

It’s been at least a century since there were any dragons, and those were the size of cats. So it’s been a couple centuries since there were any larger dragons. Also, the first dragon attack, hundreds of years ago, was by surprise. Then everyone sort of accepted Targaryen rule for a long time. By the time rebellion was in order, with Robert, there weren’t any living dragons. The Mad King had none. So there was never a real need or opportunity to build one before.


Let’s go to the scene with Dany and Jon. It starts out with Dany talking to Missandei about sex, at the top of the steps. At the bottom of the steps, Jon arrives. Did you also think this? Sex is on their minds, and then Jon is down there. Then Jon leads her into the cave, which is this Lascaux kind of thing with the drawings.

It was an important and powerful scene when they walked out, somehow bonded in a way for reasons that have not been revealed; we don’t know what happened between them. There was certainly sexual tension. I wondered if they were going to kiss each other, or if she was going to slap him. They’re introducing the notion that there might be something between those two.

Of course Davos later alludes to whatever Jon is staring at on Dany, as well.

This is where I always assumed the series would end up, and it’s irritating that we’re finally getting to the relationship between these two key characters just as the pacing has accelerated so much.

But I agree with you that it was a very intimate scene. Partly because of the lighting: torchlight. Partly because Dany’s in a different mode – she’s not being imperious at all, at least at first — she’s sharing in this wondrous sight. Also partly because the last time Jon was in a cave, he was with Ygritte.

I also remembered: Ygritte was “kissed by fire.” That was her hair, remember? The way the wildlings always described red hair was “kissed by fire, touched by fire.” Maybe he likes those fiery girls.

Dany was much more open and interacting with him on a human level, rather than demanding allegiance.

Right. It seemed like there was mutual respect. But when Daenerys asked why he refused to bend the knee and why wouldn’t he put his peoples’ needs first before his pride, I had the same question for her. Why is it so important to her for Jon to bend the knee?

She still sees this whole queen thing as her birthright. Maybe not so much her birthright due to parentage but to who she is: she is the Unburnt, etc. She sees herself as having had a supernatural coronation. I don’t think she’s telling him to bend the knee simply because of pride, but she’s certainly not explaining that well to Jon: that she doesn’t want to be the queen because she wants power, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Missandei tells him that later.

It was really grating, when she regained her imperious tone. What she said wasn’t exactly wrong – saying that survival is more important than pride – but it just felt like too glib a summary of Jon’s situation. She doesn’t grasp the complexity of what’s happening in the North. He’s already given up quite a bit of pride, doing plenty of things that his men didn’t want him to do, risking the loss of all respect from those he’s supposed to lead. I don’t think pride is what’s motivating him to keep the title.


Absolutely not. And look what happened last time he did what was right as opposed to what was popular: he got killed! So it makes sense for him to be thinking, look, I can’t just bend the knee, people won’t accept that. He’ll lose the North, the North will become chaotic, and there won’t be a clear leader any more.


Is it true that the Northerners won’t accept a king that bends the knee?

They did long ago; they’d been united as the Seven Kingdoms for a long time. But since the upheaval after Robert’s death, they’ve twice declared now that they’re done with all that shit. The South was treacherous and killed the Starks. So the Northerners declared for Robb and the old ways. They then did the same for Jon. He almost faced mutiny for simply saying that he was going to Dragonstone. Plus, they feel the threat so much more acutely: not only of the White Walkers but of winter in general. “Winter is coming” are the Stark words because that is some serious shit even in the best of times, and the South truly doesn’t understand that.

The Northeners want to be isolationists. They don’t want the King in the North to be the king of everything. They don’t want to go to King’s Landing and conquer it. They only want to have a ceasefire. Of course it’s more complicated now because they’ve got White Walkers – they’re literally fighting for their lives – and they’re running out of food for the winter.

I liked your comment Cheryl about that scene with Jon and Dany emerging together out of the cave. That camera angle and framing seemed really striking.

The scene was quiet, important. Jon and Dany walked out of the cave side by side, as equals. It was my favorite scene, watching them quietly emerge as the waves crashed, the camera behind them. It almost seemed as if they were holding hands, had merged. They had “forged” into something. There was some transformation in there, but we don’t know into what.

And Theon shows up.

What’s going to happen with Yara? Theon’s coming to seek help to save her. I don’t know why it matters. I love Yara – I want her to stick around – I just don’t understand where that plot is going.

For me, the pacing is the issue again. This great big alliance between Martell and Targaryen and Greyjoy and Tyrell only lasted for one episode! We hardly knew ye! And it’s already fallen apart. I know that’s the whole plot stirring Dany on right now, but it’s almost as anticlimactic as the very beginning when Drogo hyped the Dothraki to mount the world, and then it all fell apart.

Theon was like a brother to Jon. So these two “brothers” are reunited. Just like Bran, Sansa, and Arya, both Jon and Theon had journeys in which they turned into very different people. Jon has had his miraculous resurrection. I’m interested to see how connected those two are now.

In the prequel, they made sure to show us again that after they drag Theon out of the water, he is lying on the deck and says he tried to save Yara. The sailor responds, “You wouldn’t be here if you tried.”

Right before the Greyjoy attack, Yara says that Theon’s official role is to be her protector, kind of generously. Ellaria Sand thinks it’s ridiculous. Then obviously Theon fails to protect Yara.

But who is the one person Theon asks about when he shows up in this episode? Sansa. The one other person who knows “no one can protect anyone.” They both share something that they’ve seen in their time with the Boltons. Theon’s still kicking, but I don’t think he has the same idea of heroics, or even duty or honor, as anybody else does.

It’s interesting to remember that Jon knew the Boltons but only on the battlefield (and that one taunting letter when he was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch). I don’t think he knows fully what’s happened to Sansa. He clearly doesn’t know what happened to Theon.

I keep thinking about Season 1. When they were kids, all either Jon or Theon wanted was to claim their birthright. That’s what set Theon on his treacherous path: he wanted to go back and be recognized as the firstborn son of Balon Greyjoy and not as the ward of the Starks. Jon really wanted to be recognized as a Stark and not a Snow – in his heart, at least. Neither of them want this birthright, now, it seems.

And they cannot.

It seems like a long time ago – a really long time ago – that those dreams were key motivations for either of them. But these two were never quite properly part of their families either.

The dreams and aspirations of all the characters have fallen away since Season 1.

“Cripples, bastards, and broken things.” That’s what’s left. And women.

And eunuchs.

Did you notice that there was an emphasis on titles, names, and rank in this episode?

Davos: “Is it King Jon? King Snow?”

“I’m not Lord Stark”: Bran correcting Littlefinger.

Is it a sign of the system breaking down? The old caste system, titles, obeisance — these were a constant thread running throughout the episode. It started with Jaime and Bronn and rigidly applied court titles, and devolved through the episode.

“My lord” and “my lady”  — they mean nothing at the end, like the bag of gold that spills from Bronn’s horse.

“I’m not a lady,” Brienne pointedly tells Pod.

Even if the families get back together and there’s a coalescing of factions, old alliances, the old system is not going to come back together. It’s sort of humpty-dumptyish.

It doesn’t fit the people who are left any more or the situation. It’s not that it’s breaking down, it just doesn’t fit – square pegs and round holes.

It’s all about survival now. It’s not even about glory, as Dickon’s reply remind us. Remember in the first season, how characters talked about glory and honor and having others sing songs about them? No one is thinking about that any more.

Except Ed Sheeran.




My pedantic copy editor’s heart rejoiced when Davos corrected Jon Snow (“fewer” instead of “less”).


It was a little startling to see evidence of the White Walkers way south. Dragonstone seems really far south of the Wall.

Missandei talks about how she and the others from Essos have chosen Daenerys as their queen, regardless of lineage or lines of succession. Dany reminds Jon that his people have “chosen” him to lead. Since we didn’t get a real Kingsmoot in the Iron Islands, and what with Mance Rayder being show-dead, Dany and Jon may be the only semi-elected leaders around. I think this episode is trying to highlight that they share this in common. For now.


The women this season are wearing little to no makeup. Why?

Join the conversation in comments!


Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 3: The Cost of Vengeance Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:33:40 +0000 Game-of-thrones-season-7-episode-3-review-the-queens-justice-1

The reunions continue in “The Queen’s Justice.” Dany and Jon finally meet, Jaime and the Lannisters gain the upper hand over her forces, and the Stark-formely-known-as-Bran returns to Winterfell.

As we speed through at breakneck pace, join three fans with different perspectives: Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books yet says she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read. 

Laura: Game of Thrones talks about generations – and especially fathers – all the time, but I think it really hammered that theme home this week. The entire older generation has been wiped out, and in this episode particularly — as with Jon and Daenerys — all the people in this generation are now meeting each other.

Of course the great and strange irony is that Jon and Daenerys are actually in separate generations – but we won’t worry about that right now.

Cheryl: There is one father they’ve brought back again this season, Sam’s father. He’s obviously going to play some role, and the conflict between those two is real.

I’m thinking about everybody coming to terms with the sins of their fathers and the weaknesses of their fathers – both Dany and Jon acknowledge that.

On the other hand, Cersei really didn’t acknowledge any weakness in her father. Instead we have “you are your father’s daughter” and “you’ve learned from your father well.”

Roz:  Yes, which is the highest compliment you can pay to her.

I’ve started to think of Cersei as the show’s ultimate cautionary tale, and the foil for everybody. I think you’re really right about the generational theme in this episode, and she is the contrasting example who’s proud to follow in her father’s footsteps, while every other character is willfully trying to make a departure, negotiating these inherited titles and allegiances and oaths and wars and debts.

Laura: Speaking of her father – Tywin – even Jaime is moving away from his father. When Jaime was going to polish off Olenna, he explained his choice to minimize troops at Casterly Rock and march down to take Highgarden, a decision based on a mistake that Tywin had made.

Cheryl:  Jaime also mentioned that he’d learned from the mistake he made with Robb at the battle of Whispering Wood, when Robb captured him. So he’s learning from mistakes. Can we say that Cersei is — or is not — learning from mistakes?

Roz: I would say she’s not. Unlike the others, she’s not trying to make a departure from the legacy of her father. She’s trying to live up to it and be recognized as part of it. That’s why I think she’s interesting: she has this ongoing struggle for recognition and legitimacy that came from being married off against her will. The interesting thing about the last two episodes is that both Sansa and Daenerys have talked about their experiences in that exact same situation. So that’s what I mean about her as cautionary tale – she’s trying to live up to the worst people of the previous generation, but partly because she was never able to fully participate in and of her own self, before now.

There are others who are also constrained this way, and we’re in a position to watch them: Are they going to give in to their worst instincts or not?

Even Olenna, who is part of this older generation, did give into some worst instincts. Just not quite that extreme.

Cheryl: Although we like Olenna more, for a variety of reasons, she’s as cold and un-empathetic to the people she rules as Cersei. She’s not that different. It’s a difference in degree, but not of quality. She’s not very concerned about the people. She’s interested in power and maintaining the power structure.

And I hear what you’re saying, Roz – Cersei’s not creative enough to take what she’s learned from her father and try to reconfigure it for the better – she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.

Roz: She’s not a canny schemer. She just has this instinct for vengeance and making sure she comes out ahead.

The weird thing is Arya is the only other character who’s had just as much of a single-minded obsession with vengeance. Not justice, but vengeance. And I would say that was true up until the moment she decided to go back to Winterfell in the last episode. I feel like everyone’s at these moments where they can depart from the course that Cersei’s taken. She’s been forged by all this bitterness of circumstance, and others have choices.

Ironically, that’s a word — “choice” — Cersei used a lot in the scene where she enacts her terrible plot on Ellaria and her daughter, the Sand Snake. Cersei says, “You’ve made your choice.” And she’s making sure debts are paid. Daughter for daughter. It’s just really creepy and horrible.

Cheryl: And of course Ellaria was repaying the loss of her lover … who was repaying the loss of his sister.

Laura:  Oberyn and his sister, Elia Martell.

Cheryl: So the cost of vengeance and feuding is wiping people out.

I thought it was very explicit that they were trying to draw parallels — which I had never thought of before — between Sansa, Dany, and Cersei. For example, in Dany’s speech in which she’s talking about all the degradation she had to go through and how she was raped, sold as chattel, and married off. And everything that you’re describing with Cersei, Roz. Of course we know that happened to Sansa too: raped, degraded, married against her will. All of a sudden we’re seeing these three in high relief. What are the choices each one is making to process what has happened to them or come to terms with that? How are their choices now reflecting on their character in terms of the way they’re going to exercise power?

It seems to me that’s what this season is going to be about. How are these women going to make choices in the way they are going to exercise power?

Laura: It’s interesting about revenge and “an eye for an eye,” and the way Cersei went after Ellaria’s daughter: that’s pretty on the nose with the scene of Arya Stark literally killing a roomful of Freys. We cheer on Arya, because she’s killing the bad guys, but that’s sort of an inescapable parallel now.

Cersei and Jaime especially talk about power and vengeance, and Cersei’s motivations for continuing on this course. She says “It’s just the two of us left,” so basically, screw it.  Whereas I think Arya’s approach to avenging people is much different. She’s obviously not doing it for personal power.  She seems to be at least attempting  justice. I would say the reason behind it is a little bit more relatable. But the tools she uses are pretty much the same. The both even use poison.

Roz: I was reflecting after the last two episodes how in this show, we’re so often made to both cheer for and revile vengeance as a motivator. It can be kind of challenging as a viewer. It makes you think. What are the moments when we’re rooting for a character doing unspeakable acts, and when are we hating a character for doing unspeakable acts?

Laura: Speaking of unspeakable: after Cersei poisons Ellaria’s daughter …

Roz: Tyene! Tyene is the Sand Snake in the book whose expertise is poison. That’s how she kills. Side note. Go on.


Laura: After that scene, Cersei forces herself on Jaime. It seems like it’s more about violence and power than it is about being turned on. It seems like she was turned on by that!  I don’t think that was about sex. I think it was about mortality and power and powerlessness.

Roz: She’s ascendant again. Iit’s a reversal from an earlier season – one of the more controversial scenes between Cersei and Jaime, in the sept. Remember when Joffrey died?  This time, Jaime’s the one who says no, and she does force herself on him.

Cheryl: And she services him. It was like the reverse of what happened with Grey Worm and Missandei. Which seems like an interesting choice.

One thing I wondered about: first of all, the breathtaking speed as these armies are being moved across like chess pieces. Tyrion’s voiceover describes what’s happening as we see the troop movements and people being killed and the walls being breached. It’s a way of keeping the action moving extremely quickly.

Those Lannister armies were totally decimated at Casterly Rock, and all the Highgarden people were wiped out. Everybody’s being wiped out, and there’s going to be nobody left to fight the army of the dead. They’re  decimating each other, and it’s going to come back to haunt them.

Laura: All the Lannisters at Casterly Rock are dead. But then we see there’s maybe ten times as many that have marched to Highgarden. I think there are still a lot of Lannisters. But the Tyrells are wiped out.

Cheryl: A lot of the Unsullied were killed, of course.

Roz: The Greyjoys are fractured; Dorne is leaderless …

Laura: And the Tullys – Catelyn’s family – they got wiped out, too.

Roz: Yeah, that’s how the Freys took power.

So all these great houses gone or diminished. That lends urgency to what Jon is doing all of a sudden in the south.

I kept thinking, why isn’t he all, “Oh cool, flowers and green stuff!” I would be a lot more excited to go southl, if I were him.

Cheryl: What did you think of the interaction between Jon and Daenerys?

Laura: Its almost as if he had been at the Wall for so long that he’d forgotten all his courtly manners or didn’t give a shit. It didn’t seem to be pride; maybe he just wanted to express urgency. He seemed so canny when he was talking to the Northmen, so politically savvy.

Roz: I think he was just single-minded. I also think the South and the North must seem practically imaginary to those who never have any reason to go one place or another.

I had to laugh at loud at the contrast between Missandei and Davos.


Laura: That was hilarious. “This is Jon. He’s King in the North. The End.”

Roz: And Tyrion is in there, still trying to be a matchmaker. Between dragonglass and armies and certain doom. You know. Like you do.

But his advice was really good: Human minds can’t comprehend problems so large, so you have to make an “ask” that’s more concrete and more reasonable.

Cheryl: Jon refused to bend the knee. Tyrion did a good job of managing expectations between those two. However, Tyrion’s fucking up, right? His plans for Casterly Rock, however devious, were wrong. And the same thing  happened with Dorne and the Iron Fleet. So he’s not making good decisions. As wise as they may seem, they’re not correct.

Laura: There’s Lannisters on two sides, on two different armies. And there are also Greyjoys on two different armies. So I think that’s the problem: they know each others’ tactics. To go back to the chess metaphor, since everything’s moving so quickly across the board: they end up in a stalemate. Euron could guess what Yara was going to do, so he cut off her fleet and attacked them; and Jaime, unfortunately, guessed what Tyrion was going to do.

Cheryl: Jaime is easy to underestimate.

Roz: Yeah, he’s been moping around for way too long. His scene at the end with Olenna was interesting because I increasingly read in his face that he’s simply accepting his doom – except that Jaime’s “doom” is to love Cersei. In earlier seasons, we see hints of him trying to be respected or trying to be seen as honorable. But when he’s talking to Olenna , he just look sort of like, “fuck it, I’ve lost that battle, this is the way I am.” He can just never win. And she wins even when she’s dying and her house is sacked.

Speaking of that scene: she’s essentially clearing Tyrion’s name, and Sansa’s, for the murder of Joffrey.


Cheryl: Is he going to relay that information back to Cersei?

So many people would have impulsively pulled out a knife when they heard the news that Olenna spit out and stabbed her with it. He didn’t do that. He had committed to allowing her to die in a respectful way, with poison, and he didn’t give in to his base instinct there.

Laura: Cersei’s only planning is how she will kill so-and-so. Psychological warfare.

Roz: Cheryl, you mentioned Sam’s father in this episode. That’s another thing about Jaime: we saw that glimpse of Randyll Tarly wearing the Lannister crimson and gold, so Jaime has actually been successful in forging that alliance and keeping those bannermen from breaking off.

Cheryl: He’s actually making a cohesive unit out of these disparate pieces. Nobody’s got any great love for Cersei, obviously, and somehow he’s able to keep the troops together.

Laura: The only speech Cersei gave was “we have to make sure not to let all these eunuchs and brown people take over.” It’s not just psychological warfare, it’s xenophobia and propaganda. And Jaime is growing into a real general. The two are scarier than we gave them credit for. Yeah, she’s spending a lot of her own energy having sex with her brother and plotting creative ways to kill their enemies, but she’s also getting shit done.

Cheryl: What did you think about the fact that after their sexual encounter and somebody knocks at the door, Cersei says she’s the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and doesn’t care who sees anymore? Somehow that felt like a turning point to me. Talk about doom. The path of doom is sealed now with that, somehow.

Roz: That was the secret that caused Ned Stark to lose his head at the beginning, and she’s very blasé about it now.

Side note: her handmaiden comes in rocking a short haircut. Clearly Cersei’s setting some new fashions in King’s Landing. We have not seen that before. Remember Margaery and all her ladies?

Laura: Very feminine, very racy.

Cheryl: Certainly Margaery was much more feminine, and her style and her outfits were softer. Cersei is martial now, with dark colors and a black-garbed handmaiden.

Laura: Everyone’s wearing black this season. Sansa, Daenerys … batten down the hatches! Dany used to wear bright blue sometimes, and Sansa used to wear color once in a while. But now winter’s here.

Cheryl: Right, they’re going into war mode. Speaking of which, Jon feels almost like he’s drowning in that … thing he’s wearing. Like a burden, almost ready to swallow him up. The burden of governing?

Roz: I had the same thought. I had to laugh in the scene with him and Dany gazing out off a cliff. Up North, on the Wall, in Winterfell, yeah, ok: they’re wearing a lot of fur. It’s cold. But he looked sort of like a barbarian or bumpkin at Dragonstone. Which has got to be intentional.

Laura: He’s starting to look very Wildling-y.


Roz: Jon looks very Stark-y this season. Actually seeing Sansa walk commandingly around Winterfell makes me think of Catelyn, too.

Cheryl: Speaking of Sansa, what about her interaction up in Winterfell with Littlefinger? “You just have to imagine what you want, imagine all the possible realities, and you’re prepared for anything” (I’m paraphrasing). Then she and Bran have a reunion, and he says he can see all past, present, and future, and that he’s seen the wedding that Littlefinger arranged. And it freaks her out. Or it seems to me. She’s thinking her brother sounds like Littlefinger. What do you guys think?

Laura: This is when I turned to my husband and said, “Oh my god, there are no more Starks.” Sansa has been a Bolton, she’s been a Lannister … and Bran is lost to humanity.


Roz: That is very clear in this episode. He’s been changed. The parallel with Littlefinger’s and Bran’s speeches one right after another was odd. One was very mundane, and the other was very otherworldly, yet they said basically the same thing.

Cheryl: And it was at that tree where she married Ramsay, with the snow as coming down, as in that scene … Sansa looked rattled by Bran recounting that.

Roz: It is sad. The emotional center of the show started out with the Stark family, the Stark children. And we have this mega-reunion, but Bran is changed into the Three-Eyed Raven. So she’s thrown off balance. In the meantime, while he’s talking about visions and the sights he’s seen and the past and the future, she’s worrying about grain stores and the armory and banter with Littlefinger.

Cheryl: Very worldly as opposed to otherworldly. Last week we talked about the theme of transformation and alchemical change. That carries through with Bran but also with Jorah, who’s transformed with the help of Sam.

Roz: It’s not like Jorah and Sam are crowd favorites as the cast goes, but I really liked the last two little scenes with them in the last episodes. Sam is very brave – and he is a self-admitted coward – crossing his boss, going through that grisly treatment. Jorah, who’s been this outcast and exile, is saved by his family name after all.


Cheryl: One last thing: both of you talked about vengeance and the women coming to terms with that. I think about the Hound, two episodes ago: how he was burying the people that he had left to die. He was coming to terms with his cruel acts, and that’s not a process the women have had to deal with, yet. They have had to do shitty things, but how are they going to process it as people? They haven’t had to do that.

Roz: No one else has really made atonement, it seems like.

The title of this episode was “The Queen’s Justice,” and there are obvious scenes with Cersei’s “justice” and with Dany being a ruler. But also Jorah credited Dany with saving his life, and that is another outcome of the Queen’s justice. In the process of exiling him, she told him to save himself, and he did.

Laura: I’m also interested in the idea of justice belonging to someone. Especially, as we said earlier, the character who seems most invested in it is Arya. She’s almost like an avenging angel, a force of nature.

I’m trying to figure out what to make of the fact that they are hiding Jon’s resurrection. “Don’t bring up the knife-to-the-heart thing!”

Roz: Well: “ARMY OF THE DEAD AND BY THE WAY I WAS ALSO DEAD.” His death kind of undermines his credibility even more, but it also means they’re beholden to Melisandre, too, and I’m not sure they’re ready to feel that way.

Laura: In the chamber they name all the things Dany has done: Dany survived the fire, she’s Unburnt. And Jon doesn’t care.

If I were in charge of moving these chess pieces around, I’d say this information should slip out. Dany clearly got a hint of Jon’s knife attack as meaning something, and Tyrion brushed it off. That was a fuck-up.

Roz: So we finally had the meeting of fire and ice. They’ve both survived, come back.

Cheryl: That also happened to Arya, when she miraculously survived numerous times last season. At least I considered them miraculous. Would you consider that Bran as a character who has miraculously survived?  

Roz: He’s certainly been transformed.

Laura: Interestingly, he’s the most supernatural character, but he was literally saved by Hodor’s body.

Roz: Bran died in another body.

Cheryl: So he has been resurrected as something different. He’s had his own transformation into something we can’t fathom.

Roz: What you’re saying makes me think of ice and fire, the magical and the mundane. It seems like this show is about things coming into balance, and we’re seeing that happen on all these different levels this season.

Cheryl: The balance between the mundane and the otherworldly?

Roz: I think so, or even things such as the paths we choose. Choosing vengeance or not. The different outcomes that are possible from the circumstances we find ourselves in. You have to have some blend between being hard and soft. Don’t die, like Ned! But don’t be evil, like Cersei!

Cheryl: Jon does not want to be worshipped. His true character is being revealed. He doesn’t want to be regarded as some magical being who has returned from the dead. Maybe Dany doesn’t either. She actually feels she has a mission. Their characters are being revealed through these tests, obviously, and Cersei is being boiled down to her true essence as well.

Roz: We did see that Theon is still around.

Laura: I randomly remembered that we saw Bronn for half a second. If people are still showing up, they’ve still got to have some kind of role to play.

Cheryl:  There was also a specific pregnant pause after a line about how there was nobody left to rule, and I thought, “Oh, this is where Gendry’s gonna walk in.” We know Gendry’s going to show up simply because someone took a picture of him in an airport in Dublin. Wouldn’t that be hilarious if everybody dies and he gets the throne? 



Laura: I wonder how much of this season will tease out “innate” character traits. If Arya has so changed yet is still similar to who she always was, will others follow suit?

Game of Throne Season 7, Episodes 1 and 2: Welcome Back Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:36:28 +0000 game_of_thrones_7-1


Welcome friends! The breathtaking pace of Season 7 has left us gasping for breath and generally a bit discombobulated. Are you feeling the same way?

We are using that as our pretext for our late season start, anyway. That and some technical issues in the ravenry.

Join three fans with different perspectives as we catapult forward and think about “Dragonstone” and “Stormborn.” Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books yet says she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read. 

How did it feel to plunge back into the world of Westeros as the show begins to wind down?

Roz: I was super psyched to get back into it. It was a comforting episode for me. It wasn’t super challenging, and it had some crowd-pleasing moments. It was fairly predictable, but I was happy to pick up with some of the characters.

Laura: Cheryl, you mentioned you thought the first episode was kind of disappointing?

Cheryl: I felt like the pieces are being put into place much more quickly than in the past. We’re at a Mexican telenovela pace! It was nice to see the characters, but I didn’t feel stimulated; I wasn’t intrigued. It seems like we’re rushing through plot points and there wasn’t a lot of character development.

Roz: The change in pace was very jarring to me, for both episodes. It’s definitely an adjustment.

Cheryl: The best part for me was the “prequel,” which was very well done. The way that the last episodes of last season were set up seemed to be a focus on the siblings: Sansa and Jon, Jaime and Cersei, Theon and Yara. And the winds were shifting.

Laura: Like Roz, I was psyched to get more episodes, even though it was essentially table setting: “Here’s where everyone is.” They’re obsessed with showing maps this season: Dany at Dragonstone, and Jon with his map out, and Cersei commissioning that beautiful map on the ground. So I get it, they have to keep reminding us of where everyone is, because it’s going to matter. But they were hitting you over the head with it.

Obviously you got the big Arya revenge scene at the opening, and you also got back to her fun face trick. It was good fan service. It was satisfying TV.

I am intrigued by how they’re setting up Jon Snow. We know he left the Night’s Watch —  he got off on a technicality! So they’re setting him up as a reluctant leader, which seems like a good thing. That’s another theme that I’m seeing a lot. Daenerys is like “I was born to do this, I was born to do all these things,” but she’s not coming to conquer for the sake of conquering, she really does want to lead the people. And Jon doesn’t really want to lead the people. There’s some parallels there that they’re setting up for a good reason. Neither Jon nor Daenerys know they’re related. She’s technically his aunt.


This show is notorious for doing whatever the hell it wants with timing. I thought it was interesting that they bothered to point out, for example, the order in which Jon Snow got those ravens. Didn’t Sam send him a raven? Where the fuck is that raven? “Ok, I just got it, and two days ago I received another one.” It is very telenovela.

Roz: My take on the premiere was “unsubtle.” I enjoyed the lack of subtlety sometimes, like with the cheering-Arya-on part at the beginning — which was just closing the biggest plot upset in the show and the book, bringing that full circle — so that had to happen. But I found the rest of the dialogue and the parallels they were setting up really heavy handed.

In particular, I didn’t buy it when Sansa tells Jon, “You don’t know Cersei. She’s going to come for us, she’ll destroy and murder everyone.” Jon says, “You sound like you admire it,” and she says, “I learned a great deal from Cersei.” That seems so out of character to me. It served the plot and some of the parallels they’re trying to draw, and again hitting us over the head that Sansa’s maturing and coming into her own. But there were a couple lines like that, that just sort of thudded for me. It sounded more like plot than like a character speaking.


Cheryl: And her sister Arya is going down to kill Cersei. Maybe this is a good segue to the second episode. It reminded me of the rules of the Faceless Men: they’re not supposed to be driven by vengeance, right? Yet Arya was using her skills for that purpose.

Laura: I guess my take on Sansa’s line is that she was trying to be kind of wry and sarcastic, but she didn’t really sell it. I think she was trying to say that she’s learned how evil people can be. She didn’t mean that she has learned a lot.

On Sansa’s relationship with Littlefinger: she keeps saying “I know exactly what he wants.” Well then tell me, because I don’t understand! He doesn’t just want her physically and he doesn’t just want to be in charge: he wants something nefarious, and I feel like the show keeps doing wink-nod things with that, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of it. Unless it’s that whole “ladder of power” speech from an earlier season.

But we did get a good contrast with him and Varys in the second episode, when Varys was talking with Daenerys, so maybe we can come back to that.

Cheryl: I also remember from two seasons ago that Littlefinger made a pact with Cersei to be Warden of the North. I keep wondering if that’s going to rear its head.

Roz: Littlefinger is just an untrustworthy asshole. I’m tired of all the shots of him lurking against the wall in council chambers!

His dynamic with Sansa is interesting. It’s recognizable to me. I don’t think she likes him, she doesn’t trust him, but they’re sort of bonded now because they’ve spent so much time together. He’s the only person who has witnessed half of what has happened to her. Yeah, he missed out conveniently on the worst trauma when she was with the Boltons. I feel like she would rather not be connected to him, and yet is. She recognizes that he’s been trying to use her, and she’s maturing into playing that game as well; but she’s bitter, and she’s angry. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Cheryl: The fact that they can’t get rid of Littlefinger is reflective of the fact that the North has emptied out. The whole of Westeros has emptied out. The show keeps referring to this visually. When Cersei’s talking to her court, there’s almost nobody there anymore; in Winterfell, kids are being trained to shoot arrows. The North needs the Knights of the Vale because they need warm bodies, and we’re told this repeatedly. So strange bedfellows are created.

I remember feeling last season that Sansa is going to be queen, and this is her court now. That seems to be what’s happening now.


Let’s talk about the scene with Arya and Nymeria. Or, the not-real Nymeria. Or the Unclear Whether It Was Nymeria.

Laura: By the way Maisie Williams delivered that line — “That’s not you” — it’s clear she meant something. I just don’t understand what.

Cheryl: I assumed that it was not Nymeria.

Roz: The “Behind the Episode” mini-feature afterward talks about that scene. What they said it means was not how I interpreted it. I thought their explanation was pretty tortured, actually.

They said it was a throwback to one of the early episodes in Season 1. Ned is still alive. He sits Arya down and he’s telling her: when you grow up, you have a place, a role to play as the daughter of a noble house, you’ll marry a lord, and you’ll carry on. He’s trying to make her feel more comfortable with her lot. But she just looks at him and says, “That’s not me.” And she walks away. So the showrunners said that scene is what they were directly channeling.

Nymeria’s been running wild and has formed her own life. Arya’s also been running wild. Arya was able to articulate early on when she was a little girl “that’s not me,” and she recognizes the same impulse in her wolf, supposedly: “That’s not for you. That’s not you. That just doesn’t fit you, to go home and be a companion again when you’ve built your pack in this wild woods.”

I don’t see how anybody could have ever grasped that, in that moment. Yet that scene was so resonant, and the actress did a great job, so I had many thoughts about it … but none of those thoughts were the showrunners’ explanation.

Laura: There did seem to be a connection between the two of them, and I couldn’t figure out why Nymeria walked away.

I felt like Nymeria was disappointed with her. I felt it was like a judgment of what Arya was doing. And I was trying to unpack that.

Roz: I had some similar thoughts, Laura. I did think it was Nymeria, because how many direwolves are there in the woods — who will also recognize Arya, who have also been established to be running with a wolf pack? So it was interesting the way it set up: this could potentially be another super crowd-pleasing, fist-pumping, cheering-Arya-on moment that could also close a loop that was laid in the first episode when they all get their direwolves. We’ve been wanting this reunion, especially since Nymeria was involved in one of the first rifts between the Lannisters and the Starks, causing Arya to send the wolf away.

So it’s all set up for the reunion to be wonderful and emotional, and you see that on Maisie Williams’ face. When Nymeria turns away, I thought Arya was going to break down finally — being offered something so close to home and Winterfell and being deprived of it — and then she steels herself against it, and says: “That’s not you.”

I took it really literally, but in a different way. Nymeria is a mirror of Arya. They were supposed to have this supernatural bond. Nymeria can tell enough to not eat Arya for lunch, but beyond that . . . nothing. What should be a reunion, becoming whole again, is instead only half-recognition: Nymeria responds as if Arya is part friend, part stranger.

And so we wonder: who is Arya now? She’s been running wild for as long as Nymeria has. Arya gets this examining look from the wolf: Are you still someone I can recognize?

Cheryl: And there was no affection. Nymeria didn’t lick her. It links to that reunion with Hot Pie, when he says, “What’s happened to you?”  

The process of transformation and alchemy is a big part of this show. Arya’s not what she was. Something has changed her. Like a stone into a sword, a metal that’s been forged into something else. And Hot Pie could recognize that.

However, she was still pulled by the familiar bond back to Winterfell.

Roz: That struck me as really significant too, Cheryl. That scene with Hot Pie and her silence really hit me. “What’s happened to you?” She can’t even say. She doesn’t even know.

Then she turns her horse back to Winterfell. For me, that’s part of Arya’s overarching arc, which is: where’s her humanity? Her quest for revenge has turned her into this really strange tool. Ostensibly it’s still motivated by personal and familial reasons, and remember, Jon was her favorite sibling so it’s no wonder she’s unable to resist heading north — but does she know where home is? What’s happened to her?  

The question of whether she still has a human soul has risen in my mind. She’s the show’s only true “lone wolf” operator — everyone else is ensnared in plots or rallying allies and armies — but when she turns her horse back to Winterfell we see she’s not this too-far-gone vengeance machine. It really seems like a turning point.


Cheryl: Right. Especially since so much for her was about vengeance. At the end of the first episode, Sansa talked about the great Houses that were occupied by people who betrayed them and that they should be cast out. It seemed much harsher, while Jon was the much softer, almost beneficent leader. He was not interested in vengeance.

Connecting what you are saying Roz to what happened to Theon in the battle with Euron: we’re reminded about the question of his nature and his transformation. His old conditioning and training resurfaced at the worst possible moment.

Laura: What you’re saying about Arya’s identity makes me think possibly of Jon and Sansa’s identity as Starks, too.

Sansa has been married against her will twice, and even though she was born a Stark, that’s not how it works for women in the family. You grow up, you marry a lord, and you become something else. Her mother wasn’t originally a Stark, her mother was a Tully.

In Arya, we’ve got the complications of the Faceless Men, where she was literally told to forget who she was.

Jon has just never been a Stark, because he’s a bastard. As we’re soon to learn, his only Stark blood is through his mother anyway, which because its matrilineal doesn’t count.

So again, none of them are Starks! I’m hung up on what the fuck that means.

Cheryl: There’s no there there. There’s an empty hole in the center of Winterfell and the negative space is being filled in by what’s left around it: by the women, the children, and Jon.

And Melisandre shows up in Dragonstone.

Roz: The meeting between Dany and Jon is basically what I’ve always thought of as the entire point of the series, and yet I don’t trust Melisandre as the messenger. What’s she up to?

Laura: She’s there to remind them that there’s this prophecy. Oh, did we mention? It could be a prince or a princess?

And it gave her a reason to write to Jon Snow. She seems like just a convenient person to hook the two up.

Roz: It was an “lol” moment about Missandei as the translator in that scene. She’s just been standing in the scenery for multiple episodes and all of a sudden: Translator Moment!

Cheryl: It was about something crucial, too. The person in the prophecy could be male or female.

I thought it was interesting that Melisandre looked much less red. She didn’t have that bright red lipstick. She looked more chastened to me, more modest, less flamboyant. I don’t know if it’s because of what’s happened to her — that she got cast out of the North and Stannis’s death — but she seemed to have toned it all down a bit.

Roz: Throughout the episode, it was very jarring to have so many major players at the same place at the same time. The shift in pacing was startling. It’s fun, but it’s been so drawn out for so long, it’s a little hard to adjust to.

Laura: Like at Dragonstone, when all Daenerys’s allies are talking in the war room.

Cheryl: One coupling that happened was between Grey Worm and Missandei. I put my hand over my face because I found it painful to watch. 


Laura: I don’t know if there was any purpose for that scene. I’m glad they’re giving the characters something to do. It wasn’t a coincidence that Missandei managed to actually translate something, for once.

The only thematic thing I think might matter from that is that there’s so little romance in this show. None right now. Is this the one love there is, except maybe Jorah for Daenerys, which is clearly one-sided?

Roz: Grey Worm and Missandei’s scene was not a particularly significant plot point, but they’ve built those characters out in the show more than they have in the book. It made sense in terms of how long they’ve been teasing it.

I thought it was really well acted. I also thought they’ve already made several excuses to have that actress take off her clothes (or her body double), and so they did that again.

At the same time, Grey Worm is this cipher of a character who I think has been acted nicely. And it was a really painful emotional moment, too, clearly, which I thought was displayed well.

Cheryl: Those close-ups on his eyes. He was so afraid of how she was going to respond. They did that part well.

Roz: You want them to be happy, as much as they can be. His explanation of her being a weakness was true to form for someone who’s not speaking his first language and who was raised in this extreme way.

I’m not enough of a cinema buff to really have an angle on it, but I was wondering what they were going to do, in this show of all shows, with a sex scene involving someone who’s been castrated. And interestingly, they focus on Missandei’s face and by extension even on her pleasure.

Laura:  Not to sound like a feminist scold (but I am, so whatever): so much of the nudity and sex in this show has been very male-gazey. Right? Male fantasies, looking through holes at whores and whacking off. So this is definitely a reversal of that. I wonder how much of it is conscious choice by the showrunners to do something different because they’ve been hung out to dry about this stuff.

Also, there was gratuitous lesbian kiss, which was literally interrupted because we can’t actually have women making out for pleasure, but we can have them making out if men are watching!

Roz: That’s why I was distressed by this episode (as much as I am annoyed by the Sand Snakes and now they’re out of the picture). We’ve waited so long to get all these characters in the same place, and get all the characters firmly established. I wanted to see them actually interact with each other a little more! Instead, Yara and Ellaria start flirting, and then WHOOPS EVERYBODY DIES or is captured.

Cheryl: Going back to the thing with Missandei’s pleasure: first of all, I thought that sex scene was way too long.

Roz: It was very long.

Cheryl: The thing about the focus on her pleasure seemed to be reflective of the whole episode, which was women’s empowerment, women ruling, women being in control, and the men serving the women.

That small, short, annoying interaction with the Sand Snakes: it’s almost like they had to write them in the most annoying way possible so we were happy when they died.

And when Ellaria was at the map table at Dragonstone, we see she’s still so pissed off at the Lannisters and at Tyrion, she still wants to kill them and take them down. She’s still consumed with her rage. I thought, that means she’s going to die soon, perhaps her vengeance consumed her and will kill both her and the Sand Snakes off.

Laura: I agree that they just brought the Sand Snakes back so we could kill them off and it would be satisfying.

Roz: Another interesting thing about that war room at Dragonstone: the episode began with Daenerys and Varys: her sizing him up — showing that flattery isn’t gonna work, making it clear that Varys better toe the line — and Tyrion watching it all unfold. Basically the episode starts with Dany trying to signal to this newcomer that his typical ways with other leaders won’t work with her. She faces him down when he starts into his usual tricks.

Later, I wondered what’s the difference between advice received from Varys and Olenna? Here Dany lays out her whole plan with Tyrion, gets everyone to agree. It should be a win. And then Olenna calls her aside afterward and says: “No, don’t do it.” Why is Dany prepared to listen to her more than to Varys, at that point? Rather than just continuing to emphasize that she’s in charge. What is the difference between the advice she decided to accept and reject?

Cheryl: She did take Tyrion’s advice, in that they’re going to Casterly Rock.

Roz: It was pretty clever. Tyrion’s smart. He totally had Cersei pinned down with the Lannister appeal to ethnocentricity. That was an essential part of his plan, predicting that. Dany got everyone to agree. Things are good, right? But what does it mean: “Be a dragon and ignore all that?”

Cheryl: Ignore what the men say.

Roz: What about Theon’s scene?

Laura: Poor Theon. Over and over again.

Roz: In my mind, what triggered Theon and set him off was not so much the fighting. He was swinging his sword around earlier on! I think it was more Euron’s sadism. The games he was playing more than just the violence and the fighting.

Ramsay used to make people believe that they might escape, to goad them into action. I thought that Euron was going to goad him into action and then kill his sister. I wondered if Theon recognized that on some level, and in jumping overboard, he opted out — and managed to save her, intentionally or not. Just sensing the game and thinking, “FUCK. I cannot win this! He’s just gonna kill her for fun, if he thinks it’ll hurt me.”

Cheryl: That’s a really excellent point, Roz. The look on Yara’s face was, “You’re weak.” She did not perceive this point of Theon’s choice.  Because Euron was channeling Ramsay. Theon really did realize there’s no way to win this.

Also in this episode: When leaders were trying to bring people together, they all talked about how their enemies are different. Dany did this. Cersei spoke of the bad queen, the daughter of the mad king, coming with the Dothraki hordes: that they’re very different from us. “We have to stand together.”

There was that ethnocentrism you mentioned. Up in Winterfell, this came up too: “those southerners are different from us.” Jon stressed that we have to stand together, especially when they’re going to fight the advancing hordes of the dead.

Roz: Jaime was backing up Cersei in that, too. Cersei had made her attempt at inspiring people. She had a tough crowd, and it’s not really her strong point. We’ve seen a lot of inspirational leader speeches; hers did not seem great. It was funny because Jaime sort of ended up in this de facto Hand of the Queen role — rushing to try and do what she didn’t, securing Tarly’s loyalty. He doesn’t seem very comfortable with it all either, but that’s still how he made his point, that foreign people are coming.

Cheryl: What about Jorah and Sam?

Laura: That was really fun! Of all the character meetings that I wasn’t expecting, that was a good one. It was gratuitously gross. (Why does Sam keeps getting the gratuitously gross scenes? Bless his heart.) If they’re bothering to show him at this point, something is up.

Cheryl: When Jon decides to leave Winterfell, there were many shots between Brienne, Sansa, and Lady Mormont exchanging looks. This made me wonder how Lady Mormont and Jorah are going to fit in together, if they will.


Laura: I want to see Sansa become Queen of the North when Jon’s gone. That’ll be interesting.

Cheryl: And of course Jon will not bend the knee, so I’m interested to see how that plays out.

Roz: In fact, three different people made a point of reading and interpreting Tyrion’s message differently. Aaand, he didn’t seem to include the “bend the knee” part! I wonder if it’s because he knew what would get Jon Snow to Dragonstone, and just assumed that Jon would be captivated by Dany regardless — as he has just watched happen with Varys, as he has been himself.

Cheryl: I had the same thought. Tyrion was very diplomatic in that message. It didn’t send an imperious dictum. It was something softer. It’ll be interesting to see how they interact.



  • Did you catch the little GRRM meta-joke when the Archmaester is in the library with Sam? The Archmaester says he’s writing a history of all the events following Robert’s Rebellion (that is: the entire book/show to date) and offers up an extremely wordy working title. Sam suggests something more “poetic.” Like, oh, maybe … “A Song of Ice and Fire”? Eh? Eh?


  • Woohoo, Jon punches Littlefinger and it is rather satisfying. But throughout this interaction I kept thinking about what a very Ned Stark-y moment it was for Jon (even aside from the looming Eddard effigy presiding over the scene). Jon literally says “You don’t belong down here” and tries to walk away as Littlefinger tries to draw him into his schemes. Well, Ned also tried to just walk away from the game or opt out with honor. As Sansa recently reminded us, the Stark children have got to be smarter than that to survive.



Editor’s note: It was a very Ed Stark-y thing to do!

From Able to Disabled: Seeing Disability on FOX’s “Bones” Fri, 14 Jul 2017 14:28:16 +0000 by Jaime O. Mayer

It wasn’t until I was twenty-nine years old that I saw a character onscreen to whom I could relate. I saw a character’s grieving process eerily similar to my own experience when an able-bodied person becomes disabled. It’s not perfect, but a lot of it rang true. Midway through season 11 of Bones, Fox’s long- running forensic drama, Dr. Jack Hodgins is injured at a crime scene and ends up paralyzed from the waist down. I’ve been a fan of the show–warts and all–for a long time, but it wasn’t until this development in Hodgins’s character arc that I related to the show (any show) on a personal level.

At the end of 2012, my family was involved in a car accident that killed my parents and left myself, my husband, and my older sister with physically disabling injuries, and my younger brother with minor physical injuries but awful emotional ones. I broke most of my lower half starting at the ribs, including my pelvis and both femur heads. My husband had similar injuries to mine, though he added several in his upper half as well, including a traumatic brain injury. He lives with chronic nerve pain, walks with a visible limp, and uses a forearm crutch. My sister suffered broken bones as well, but her most significant injury is an incomplete C4 spinal cord injury and she is now a quadriplegic.

We went from being able-bodied, active 20-somethings to disabled in varying degrees. I was fortunate to have the largest margin for recovery and am now able to walk without a mobility aid. These days, non-medical people who meet me can’t tell that I’m disabled, but that wasn’t always the case. I was non-weight bearing for three months. Not “bed rest:” non-weight bearing. I did not physically leave my hospital bed for routine activities like eating or bathing or using the restroom because my lower half was too broken and fragile. My mobility progression was marked by wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a cane, with family and friends taking photos to celebrate each “graduation.”

So, how does this tie-in to Bones and Hodgins? TV and film–when they depict disability at all–usually jumps straight from the disabling accident to “let’s find a cure!” I’m looking at you Avatar and Dr. Strange. I get it. Becoming disabled sucks. I don’t think many able-bodied people who become disabled look back at that moment and think it was great. But I’m not saying that becoming disabled is awful and I’d rather be dead (Example: Me Before You).

But getting from Point A: Dealing with a life-changing injury, to Point B: Making peace with your new condition, is a journey and a spectrum with regard to how each person comes to terms with their disability. In Bones, when we find out that Hodgins is paralyzed (Season 11, ep. 10), I cringed. I figured it would be more of the same, “oh no my life is horrible, oh wait magic cure!” from a show that I enjoy a lot. I expected the show to fail me.
I’m happy to say I was wrong–for the most part. For the next four episodes we see Hodgins’s grieving process as he comes to terms with becoming disabled. The way he deals with it is sped up probably faster than is realistic, but I can give that a pass since it’s a TV show and has to fit within the season’s timeframe.

I was drawn to Bones and how it depicted the cycle of grief/recovery that echoed my own, whether from my personal experience or my family’s. At first, Hodgins is very upbeat. He’s sure he’ll recover feeling in his legs and walk again, and he’s got a positive attitude. It’s understandable: he thinks his nerves are re-growing because he felt phantom pain. But at the end of the eleventh episode we find out that his nerves are actually decaying, and his doctor’s opinion is that he will not recover.

For the next three episodes, we see Hodgins grieving. The sense of no longer fitting in, of his changed circumstances, and his loss are portrayed in a manner that felt very real to me. I lived it. He’s angry, lashes out at everyone, refuses to do physical therapy. He refers to himself and his situation in negative terms, calling his friends’ efforts to help or cheer him up “charity work.” He refers to his legs as “the rest of [him] being the problem.” He snaps that “the world is full of messed up people. I should know, I’m one of them.”

He refuses to accept help and is resentful of adaptive aids even though they enable him to do his job. To him, adding the automated wheelchair lift to the examination platform isn’t an aid but a loud, slow reminder that he’s broken. That the once mighty “king of the lab” has been undone by three little steps. Through his eyes we realize how lacking in ADA accommodations the lab is, watching as another employee jauntily trots up the stairs to the lab’s loft area–a place where throughout the seasons the characters have hung out to wind down. Now he can’t get up there. That aspect of his life is gone, probably forever.

I’ve been there. This was my family’s life. The anger, the sense of loss, the desire to be unbroken again and despairing that it’ll never happen. The jealousy harbored against random strangers as they run around doing menial tasks, ignorant of how important those legs are that they take for granted. For the first time, I could watch a show and say “that was us. We went through that.” It showed the grieving process in an unflinching light for multiple hour-long episodes. The audience doesn’t get a few minutes of unpleasantness and then we’re back to sunshine and rainbows as everyone’s happy with disability. Too often during my recovery it felt like there was pressure to appear heroic or inspirational. Disability had to be painted in a nice light, always with a focus on “getting better” and being positive. I loved the portrayal of Hodgins’s injury because it’s not pretty. His attitude can make you feel uncomfortable, conflicted on wanting to empathize with his situation yet get mad at him for being such a miserable person to those who love him. My family went through this too.

Hodgins’s anger and the way he takes it out on his friends and family isn’t fun to watch, but it rang true. I’m guessing most able-bodied people have no idea it happens and it can be exactly as vicious (if not more so) as it appears on the show. The ugliness is skipped over even though it’s sometimes the most real.

Not on Bones. Hodgins’s uses his disability as a justification for being mean (“You’re going to tell the paraplegic what’s fair?”) more than once, excusing his behavior and implying that no one else can call him on it because at least they’re not disabled. The show demands you to watch, and try to understand. For several episodes, the audience lives with Hodgins’s pain and know why he’s struggling, but you also live the hurt he puts his friends and wife Angela through too. Hodgins’s arc shows his grief but also how it affects more than him alone. It offers a way for people to relate on multiple levels.

This grieving process is usually dropped as shows go straight to the character getting “fixed,” or maybe them becoming ok with their situation. I’m all in favor for being at peace with your circumstances and moving forward, and I honestly think it gets easier once you reach that point, but it can be a long process. And, not everyone gets there. Fortunately, Hodgins does, but it’s gradual.

Hodgins’s grief cycle has ups and downs on his journey to finding his “new normal.” He joins an online support group, investigates and applies for experimental treatment programs, anything to get back to where he was pre-accident. But, that’s never going to happen. Not with his injuries (hematoma that crushed the nerves in his sacral plexus). And, eventually he accepts that, and is able to move forward. He almost destroys his marriage in the process, but Angela convinces him to keep fighting for them. In episode 14 (“The Last Shot at a Second Chance”), when Hodgins tells her he’s miserable and would rather cut ties and separate their lives than continue to make her miserable too, she says, “So change.” Which could sound callous, but it fits with the message of that episode and the stage of grief/recovery Hodgins is at.

During the episode, multiple characters make comments and have discussions with or about Hodgins along the lines of him needing to want to change–and come to terms with his disability–in order to be happy. But he shrugs it off, seemingly content to stay miserable. Angela’s plea, for him to change his attitude, to accept and to fight, signals a turning point. Hodgins is faced with accepting what his new normal is–that he’s paralyzed–and though he can’t change it, he does have a choice in how he decides to live. At the end of the episode, Hodgins returns to their house, ready to move forward.
The next stage in Hodgins’s grieving process sees him moving away from grief and more into recovery as he learns to accept his limitations. Instead of getting angry and despairing about not being able to do something the same way as when he was able-bodied, he finds ways to change his situation so that it works. The show goes over the top in that Hodgins can afford adaptive aids that most people can’t, and the same can be said about some of the “fixes” he rigs up at the lab. There’s also a moment where he comments on being “grateful” about being in a wheelchair because it saves his life. That’s a bit too corny for me, but ok. I prefer positive Hodgins to angry, mopey Hodgins–even if the latter is realistic.

I do have one big qualm with how the show presents this process, because there’s a lot of implied victim-blaming couched in good intentions. This plays out in two ways. First, in the episode after Hodgins is injured, there’s a lot of groundwork laid for his failed recovery to be his fault–even if the show didn’t mean it that way. The effect trumps the intent. In episode 11, “The Death in the Defense,” Hodgins is cleared to leave the hospital with his doctor’s parting warning: “[The] hematoma crushed the nerves in your lower spine but it didn’t sever them. Which means they’re still prone to further damage. Right now, you have mobility above the waist. You can breathe on your own. Protect that.” Seems like a practical piece of doctorly advice to not push himself, but it foreshadows that he’ll fail to protect what he has. A cautionary tale of what not to take for granted.
Hodgins isn’t supposed to go back to work, but he does anyway. Throughout the episode there are multiple instances where other characters (primarily Angela and Cam) argue that Hodgins needs to take it easy, and others (primarily Booth and Wendell) argue for the decision to work being left up to Hodgins. Both Booth and Wendell make “hope” arguments. Booth is very optimistic about Hodgins’s chances, citing hard work as the reason that Hodgins will get his legs back. When Brennan cautions against it, Booth says, “There’s nothing more important than hope.” This is a big setup for the blatant victim-blaming that will occur in Season 12’s premiere.

The well-intentioned setup for victim-blaming continues. Wendell and Brennan argue over Hodgins decision to stay and work. Wendell claims that the lab is a morally uplifting place for Hodgins and he doesn’t want Hodgins to give up. He posits that Hodgins has to fight, referencing his (Wendell’s) own medical struggle in a previous season. Brennan points out that the metaphorical concept of Wendell’s argument has no bearing on whether or not Hodgins will recover. Being scientifically minded and with Hodgins generally sharing the same mindset, Brennan says that Hodgins may be offended by the idea that “he can fight his nerves back into growing given the extreme unlikeliness of recovery.” Wendell counters by stating that his own recovery was unlikely. This exchange again foreshadows the “hope heals” argument that comes up in Season 12. The entire episode smacks of victim-blaming and that it’s ultimately Hodgins’s fault he doesn’t recover because he doesn’t protect his damaged nerves–as his doctor warned.

Now, I can see why the “have hope” and “it’s his choice” arguments may appeal to people. We like to have autonomy and disabled people already struggle to assert rights over their bodies. Going from able to disabled, Hodgins is having to deal with that loss of control, and the sense of having a choice seems empowering (except he doesn’t have power because Cam eventually sends him home). I think the show meant well and wanted it to seem like Hodgins was in control, but to me it just set him up for failure. Because there are multiple instances of people warning him and he doesn’t listen, the decay in his nerves is his fault.

Season 11 ends with things up in the air regarding whether or not Hodgins will recover feeling in his legs. He’s trying out a new treatment plan designed by a consulting neurosurgeon, and lo and behold, Hodgins starts getting nerve spasms. This is problematic. In the episode (Season 11, ep. 21 “The Jewel in the Crown”) where Hodgins recovers some feeling in his legs there’s mention of changing to a new physical therapist, implying that his more rigorous therapy routine and hard work magically restored his legs. Aside from it handwaving his disability away, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to those with injuries that no amount of “hard work” will heal.
Then, for the second, more blatant way victim-blaming is portrayed, in the Season 12’s premiere, “The Hope in the Horror,” we find out that former intern Zack has been impersonating the aforementioned neurosurgeon, and that it was actually Zack who had been consulting with Hodgins’s therapist. When Hodgins goes to see Zack over the emails and ultimately thanks him because it’s working, Zack tells Hodgins the treatment isn’t likely to work. Zack’s reasoning for coming up with the treatment? “I have been told, although it has not been proven scientifically, that hope can sometimes have the power to heal. Hope is what I was trying to give you…”

At the end of the episode, we find out that Hodgins has lost the newfound feeling in his legs, and, as Angela says, “It’s probably for good this time.” This is infuriating and reeks of victim-blaming: Sorry Hodgins, but you didn’t hope hard enough so no legs for you. I wanted Hodgins to stay disabled on the show because the magic cure trope is bad enough, but this victim-blaming almost made me rage-quit the show. What saved it is that Hodgins tells Angela (really the audience) that he’s ok, stating that he’s not in pain and that they’re going to be all right. The truth is obviously a blow, but he’s finally in the mindset where he can take the bad news and move forward.

After that, Hodgins’s disability arc closes and it essentially becomes normalized, present but background. He’s still visibly disabled, but his wheelchair is never seen as a hindrance and he remains a fleshed-out character. He’s not spewing inspiration-porn about the disabled–he’s living his life. We never forget that he’s in a wheelchair, but instead of the grief, despair, and refusal to accept change, he’s embracing his new normal and making it work for him. Yes, the show is ridiculous in showing some of the ways he rigs up adaptive devices (as done in the previous season) that are so far beyond the means of most viewers, but again, I’m happy to have the show portraying a disabled man at work, equally as diligent and competent as his colleagues.

All hail the King of the Lab.

Jaime O. Mayer shares her Seattle home with her patient husband, two needy cats, and surrounded by too many fish tanks. Her nonfiction is available in the Invisible 3 anthology, and her short fiction is forthcoming in Cast of Wonders. She blogs infrequently at and can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.


Is The End Near for the New Golden Age of Black Television? Fri, 07 Jul 2017 14:15:13 +0000 by Inda Lauryn

The day after Netflix cancelled its show Sense 8 after its second season, mainstream and hipster outlets such as Variety and Dazed noted a cancellation pattern for several “diverse” shows. Many of these shows featured people of color in lead or primary roles in ensemble casts and centered experiences that were not white or cishet. This pattern felt familiar to the 1990s in terms of networks building audiences of color only to abandon them with no reasonable explanation.

For many, the past few years represented a new Golden Age of Black television that had not been seen since the 1990s. Audiences were not at a loss to find Black representation in several varieties and intersections on shows that both had predominantly Black casts or “diverse” multicultural casting. Fandoms found Black characters to love in shows such as Black Sails, This Is Us, Master of None and Into the Badlands as well as those that centered Black lead characters such as How to Get Away with Murder, Underground and Queen Sugar.

Black audiences organized livetweets or found themselves gaining traction as they engaged with their favorite shows in various fandoms. Frankly, Black women often drove these efforts and were sometimes recognized as influencers when it came to making or breaking a show. Yet Black audiences were devastated when several shows centering Black characters were cancelled, including Pitch, Rosewood, The Get Down, Underground and American Crime. But Sleepy Hollow had also received its walking papers earlier after alienating its audience when the show killed off its Black female lead.

May 2017 seemed to bring a halt to this expected new Golden Age of Black television that not only showed signs of diversity in terms of who was represented but also equity in terms of how they were represented. Furthermore, for many who remember the 1990s, this pattern felt familiar in terms of networks building Black audiences only to abandon them with no reasonable explanation. It appears that networks of all tiers are still following an outdated business model, particularly that of the netlets from the 1990s, but fail to regard the impact and influence that social media such as Twitter have given to audience voices.

The Netlets of the 1990s

For most of its life, the Big Three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, held a lock on network television audiences. Cable had begun getting a hold on the market with about seven in 10 households subscribing by 1996. Furthermore, basic cable was not the only competition to the Big Three as premium cable outlets such as HBO gained strong audiences with original programming such as Sex in the City and The Sopranos. However, in the fall of 1986, Fox launched as a fourth broadcast network as competition to the Big Three. It included programs such as Married… with Children, The Tracey Ullman Show, 21 Jump Street and eventually The Simpsons. It also garnered a young audience with shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place among other nighttime soaps that failed to last long.

However, Fox became even more competitive when it began featuring programming with Black-led casts. The sketch comedy In Living Color became a ratings winner in 1992 along with the sitcom Martin. The next year, the network premiered the show that would become the protocol for 90s sitcoms that did not focus on the nuclear family: Living Single. In 1994, New York Undercover also generated a devoted Black audience.

Short-lived comedy series such as The Crew and Getting Personal and the dramas 413 Hope Street and M.A.N.T.I.S. included multiracial casts but failed to live past a few episodes. With these shows ending, Fox did not seem interested in taking a chance on shows that centered Black characters, opting instead to focus on hit shows such as The X-Files and Party of Five. It wouldn’t be until the mid-2010s when audiences would see Black characters successfully carry shows on Fox again.

In 1995, the WB seemed to take a cue from Fox. Its daytime and weekend programming focused on children and teens. However, its nighttime programming began with Black-led shows with The Wayans Bros. airing as its first program at its launch. Of its four inaugural shows that was the focus of its Wednesday block, three of them were Black-led shows (The Wayans Bros., The Parent’Hood and Sister Sister) while the third was a dysfunctional family comedy (Unhappily Ever After) in the style of Married… with Children. While the network expanded to include other hit dramas such as 7th Heaven and Charmed, both The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show brought in Black audiences as well.

Just as Fox eventually turned to younger (and whiter) audiences as it gained traction, the WB also followed this example.

By 1997, the network had premiered the successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and eventually kept at this audience with shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Felicity. Black-cast programming eventually disappeared from the network. By 2006, the WB announced its plans to shut down amidst competition, especially since it began to lag behind in ratings from yet another netlet that emerged.

UPN also launched in 1995, carrying programming only on Mondays and Tuesdays with its premier. It’s launch included the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager before other short-lived series including Nowhere Man, Marker, Legend and The Sentinel. The network later became home to series such as Veronica Mars, Roswell, Star Trek: Enterprise, America’s Next Top Model and WWE Smackdown. However, the network soon found an audience with various Black sitcoms including Moesha, Malcolm and Eddie, In the House, The Good News, Sparks, All of Us, Girlfriends, The Parkers, and Everybody Hates Chris. There were also infamous missteps such as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer and Homeboys in Outer Space.

By 2006, The WB and UPN ceased operations to merge as the newly formed CW network. Much of the programming from both of these networks were transferred to this one station. However, around 2008, the network decided to stop devoting its programming to half-hour comedies, opting instead to focus on developing hour-long dramas.

This, of course, meant most of the Black-led shows from the network were cancelled despite many of them including The Parkers being the highest rated show in Black households during their runs.

The rise of the netlets into full-fledged networks showed a business practice many networks (and some industries beyond television) would follow later: build from the ground up with loyal Black audiences then abandon this audience rather than expanding for a more mainstream, read: whiter, audience.

The Beginnings of the New “Golden Age”

In her piece for Variety, Maureen Ryan noted the cancellation of several “diverse” shows but pointed to an attitude that may help explain the boom in shows with diverse representation: “Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin. And when that backsliding does begin (as it has many times in the past), many who mouth easy platitudes — instead of doing the real work of increasing the diversity of the industry — very easily and even reflexively turn a blind eye to the return to the status quo.”

This definitely appears to be the case with one show in particular. On September 6, 2013, Fox premiered the pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow. Black audiences were excited to see a genre show with a dark-skinned Black woman in the lead role. Throughout its first season, the show trended during its livetweets and even co-star Orlando Jones joined in with fans during both East Coast and West Coast airings. Audiences loved the supernatural aspects of the show, the historical references and the sometimes campiness with a resurrected Ichabod Crane learning the wonders of his new modern world.

However, for Black women, the draw was explicitly Nicole Beharie’s portrayal of Abbie Mills. Abbie was an ideal leading lady with an emotional story arc that included a shady family history that eventually unfolded throughout the show’s run, love interests that included an Asian coworker and Latino ex-boyfriend, and perfect chemistry with the show’s leading man. The Black female fans of the show eagerly waited more than half a year for the show’s second season return at the end of the short first season.

These same fans noticed some remarkable changes in the show’s tone and writing once it returned. Not only was Abbie Mills becoming more relegated to the role of support for her white male counterpart, but she was also sidelined as a potential love interest for a white female supporting character who was never fleshed out to her full potential. Furthermore, a role that should have been fulfilled by the actress portraying sister Jenny Mills was inexplicably given to another white male character. During season two, the show introduced Nick Hawley, a dealer in weapons and artifacts acquainted with Jenny. However, he had the same skillset as Jenny and functioned exactly as she would have had his character not been in the scene. With this in mind, Hawley had no other function than to be a white male stand in for the white male faction of the audience.

As the show rolled on, it became clearer to viewers that Sleepy Hollow had pulled an old-fashioned bait and switch. The show built a solid and loyal fanbase, particularly with Black women, then undid every element that faction of the fanbase praised about the show. As Sleepy Hollow relied more on tired tropes and storylines, the Black female fanbase became even more disenchanted with the show, particularly with fan rumors and speculation of bullying and mistreatment of Beharie behind the scenes.

Finally, at the end of season 3, Sleepy Hollow killed off Abbie Mills, much to the dismay of its fanbase who still watched to support the show for Beharie. Interestingly, Abbie sacrificed herself, becoming lost in a purgatory in the middle of the third season, which led to some speculation that that was supposed to be the end of her story. However, Abbie was rescued and she sacrifices herself again later, but this leads to her death. Those familiar with the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer know that Buffy was resurrected on more than one occasion and her character was never permanently killed. In fact, one death resulted in the co-existence of two slayers, one of them a Black girl named Kendra. While it was hinted that Abbie was only dead in a sense, she is given a burial and her story comes to an end with her giving her life in service to others.

Replacing her with a racially ambiguous woman of color did nothing to bring back this base, who mostly agreed to radio silence when it came to the show. When it returned for season 4 sans Beharie and with a new direction, former fans stayed away in droves and watched its eventual demise as it tanked in the ratings and finally got cancelled.

Fox and Friends

Interestingly, Sleepy Hollow not only recalled Fox’s beginnings in the early 90s but also showed that the network would keep its trend of calling on Black talent to gain an audience base but abandon it seemingly at a whim. The bait and switch occurred again in 2015 with the show Gotham, which touted Jada Pinkett Smith’s character Fish Mooney only to drop the character during the second season. However, her return in season 3 indicates the network learned the value of her character, but Fish Mooney might have a permanent death after her resurrection, much like Abbie Mills, at the end of this season.

These were not the only shows from Fox in recent years to launch a show with the promise of a strong Black lead or supporting character. Empire has been a consistent ratings winner since its 2015 debut and also debunked the longstanding belief that Black-cast or -led shows would not perform well in an overseas market. Wayward Pines and Rosewood did not fair as well and joined a host of other short-lived shows including Almost Human and Minority Report, both of which created an engaged fandom among genre fans yet did not survive to see a second season.

However, with its cancellation of the show Pitch after one season, Fox’s habit of producing shows with strong Black women lead characters, gaining an interested fanbase, then abandoning that base without a clear explanation threatened to alienate this essential part of the fanbase.

Pitch is uniquely pulled in viewers who were not even baseball fans with a show that made Major League Baseball its entire premise. In fact, the show had the full cooperation of the MLB with official uniforms and scenes shot in the actual San Diego Padres Petco stadium, meaning it had to be a costly show the network had invested in.

Pitch created as much excitement as Sleepy Hollow had with its debut. The show’s lead Ginny Baker became an aspirational figure in real life, mirroring the onscreen phenomenon created around the character. However, with its Friday night time slot, perhaps the show did not get the kind of ratings it needed to justify an obviously big budget. This may not provide a reasonable explanation either as its show The X-Files spent four seasons in this slot before being moved to a better Sunday time slot. Yet, Fox cancelled Pitch after only one season of ten episodes.

Like other shows sacrificed at the chopping block at the end of the 2017 spring season, fans of the show began a campaign to get another network or streaming service to pick up the show as Fox had no plans to revive it. These efforts went ahead even though two of the shows male stars, including lead Mark Paul-Gosselaar, had been signed to other shows. On June 9, 2017, fans organized the #PickUpPitch campaign in hopes that streaming service Hulu would pick up the show for at least a second season.

Queen Sugar and Underground

Queen Sugar made a statement about the progressive steps television needed to take with the promotion and eventual airing of the OWN series. With lauded filmmaker Ava DuVernay as the showrunner, Queen Sugar held the promise of being a remarkable series for and by women. DuVernay cemented this with the announcement that the show would have a team of all women directing the show. Many of the other crew members, including cinematographers and directors of photography, were also women.

Queen Sugar had another blessing in its favor: it was greenlighted for a second season before the first episode ever aired. So far, the gamble seems to have paid off. Audiences were struck by the beauty of the portrayals of Black people, especially the stunning cinematography that lit and photographed darker skin in beautiful ways. The also did not shy away from social issues, often making reference to current events and including real-life programs and organizations devoted to social justice.

Perhaps the network home of OWN, under the ownership and word of Oprah Winfrey, provided a safety net for the show along with the fact that it is the network’s highest rated show. However, not even the devoted Black female audience that made it a ratings winner could convince the network to pick up another show primarily led by Black women canceled by its network home: Underground.

Debuting in 2016, Underground took off quickly and built a strong fanbase among Black audiences, even those who proclaimed they were tired of so-called “slave narratives.” The show trended during livetweets and sparked dialogue among history and television fans alike. The show kept its momentum with fans during the second season and developed its Black female characters even further. The show even took a risk when it devoted an entire episode to a recurring character, Harriet Tubman, delivering a speech to abolitionists.

Yet, executives at WGN cancelled the series after two seasons. In it’s official statement, Tribune Media President and CEO Peter Kern said, “As WGN America evolves and broadens the scope and scale of its portfolio of series, we recently announced that resources will be reallocated to a new strategy to increase our relevance within the rapidly changing television landscape. This move is designed to deliver additional value for our advertising and distribution partners and offer viewers more original content across our air. Despite Underground being a terrific and important series, it no longer fits with our new direction and we have reached the difficult decision not to renew it for a third season. We are tremendously proud of this landmark series that captured the zeitgeist and made an impact on television in a way never before seen on the medium. We thank the incomparable creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski and the great John Legend, along with the talented creative team and cast who brought the unsung American heroes of the Underground Railroad to life. We are grateful to the loyal fans of Underground and our partners at Sony Pictures Television. It is our hope that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom.”

Amid discussion that the new owners of Tribune Media, Sinclair Broadcast, are avid Trump supporters, WGN cancelled Underground along with its highest rated scripted show Outsiders (that also had a strong Black fanbase) and fans immediately launched campaigns to have both shows find new network homes. Outsiders appears to have accepted its fate as a cancelled series, but Underground producer John Legend still holds out hope another network will pick up Underground. However, both BET and OWN declined to give the series a second life, OWN citing its $5 million per episode price tag as the reason for not picking up the series. At the moment, the show appears to be a blatant victim of the Trump administration.


When promotional trailers for Netflix’s original series The Get Down began to appear in early 2016, it touted two things: its $120 million budget and the creative force behind the series, Baz Luhrmann. Ironically, it received little promotion beyond this mention, not even a consistent home page teaser within the streaming service.

Netflix also made some other questionable decisions regarding the direction of the expensive show. The Get Down aired in two parts, the first episodes premiering in August of 2016 and the second part of the season held until April 2017. (The second part had not completed filming before the first part aired.) Even more baffling, the first part had six episodes while the second only had five episodes when the entire series was advertised as having 12 episodes.

Yet The Get Down found its audience. The show touched on the nostalgia of the early days of hip hop and rap as well as a pivotal time in the history of New York City that ultimately had cultural repercussions far beyond New York. Furthermore, the show featured Afro-Latinos and queer characters as fully realized characters and central to the narrative. Although at times the show appeared to be a 12-hour music video, Baz Luhrmann’s stunning cinematic style shined through making it a visual triumph.

The audience for The Get Down not only performed as fans typically perform, but they also pointed out disparities in the ways Netflix treated the casts of the show in relation to another popular series Stranger Things, which with its 1980s setting also relied on nostalgia as its angle. While the children of Stranger Things constantly made red carpet appearances and attended other Hollywood A-list events, the similarly aged young stars of The Get Down received no such treatment. Despite fans’ willingness to overlook the show’s white creative helm, the Black fans of the show seemed to hold no weight when it came to saving the ambitious project.

However, Black fans fared much better with another Black-led show. Coming about a month after The Get Down, Luke Cage was a clear ratings winner, temporarily disabling Netflix’s servers in less than 24 hours of its premier. Fans livetweeted the show (and the wait for Netflix to fix its service so viewers could finish the show) and provided analysis and commentary for days afterwards.

Many factors may have contributed to the show’s success. From the beginning, the Black showrunners and writing room were a point of promotion. Fans acknowledged the complexity and variation in Black experiences of the fictional Harlem community. Furthermore, comic book fans were already familiar with many of the characters, particularly Misty Knight, and latched on to see how they would be further developed. But perhaps Luke Cage’s connection to the Marvel Extended Cinematic Universe would have protected it even if it had not fared well.

Luke Cage is a spinoff of another Marvel series Jessica Jones (itself a spinoff of Daredevil), which introduced the Luke Cage character. Cage’s character is part of the Defenders series that combines the lead characters from each of Marvel’s Netflix shows. However, while a second season of Luke Cage has been announced, its release was pushed to 2019 in favor of another Marvel series centering The Punisher. So while the highly successful show has proven itself a draw, it still does not appear a priority for a network looking to maximize its potential audience.

Netflix also drew Black audiences with several acquired shows, most notably British series Chewing Gum. With its crude humor along with writer and star Michaela Coel’s charm, this show about an array of characters in a London council estate has a devoted following and provides Netflix with a hit show it does not have to produce itself. Meanwhile, original series Dear White People seems to have a mixed reception with many viewers comparing it both favorably and unfavorably to the film. Set on a college campus of a predominantly white institution, this show had a ready made audience from a film that created lots of buzz and possibly resonated with a Millennial audience. Otherwise, Netflix does not have much more of an investment in shows with Black lead characters, which it could do considering it has now surpassed cable in terms of subscribers.

Premium and Basic Cable

Cable outlets may have learned the value of Black audiences within the past few years and decided to tap into that audience with competition from outlets such as Netflix. Premium network Starz has a strong Black audience with shows such as Power, Survivor’s Remorse and its newest hit American Gods. However, American Gods also seems to have pulled a bait and switch as well with the show eventually favoring secondary white characters over the Black protagonist and other Black and brown characters that initially drew audiences. Fandom communities took note of the limited scenes of characters such as Bilquis, the Jinn, Mr. Nancy and Salim while Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney not only received full character development but also entire episodes devoted to their backstories. After one scene in the second episode, Mr. Nancy was not seen again in human form until the last episode of the season. Bilquis finally received more character development, but the Jinn and Anubis still have no story arc other than their relationships with other characters. Even the show’s protagonist, Shadow Moon, began to get less development and did not appear entirely in the season’s penultimate episode. With Black characters appearing only one or two times before being sidelined, Black audience interest in the show dwindled up until the season finale. However, it is unclear how much Black audiences will anticipate the second season with many fans glad to finally get some background on Bilquis and putting together fan theories on the true reason Mr. Wednesday chose Shadow.

Starz fares better with Black-led shows in terms of representation and intentionally targeted a Black audience with many shows. Both Power and Survivor’s Remorse have lasted to see fourth seasons. But like Luke Cage, these shows have well-known names behind them: rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson serves as a producer of Power while LeBron James oversaw the creation of Survivor’s Remorse. With these shows, Starz has critical favorites and a steadily growing audience. Power provides a strong lead-in to the comedy Survivor’s Remorse, and it appears the network has allowed it the room and time it has needed to find its footing. However, IndieWire notes that the industry still has not taken note of the ratings draw of Power even though it is Starz’s second highest rated series. Michael Schneider notes, “African-American audiences consume more television on average, and networks such as OWN and VH1 have also found success by targeting that demographic. ‘Power’ is a phenomenon even as its audience skews heavily African-American – around 75 percent of all viewing. (The audience makeup for network’s comedy ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ is similar.)”

Starz has also drawn in a Black female fandom during the third season of its series Black Sails, a series that works as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The third season saw the introduction of a Black female love interest for one of the main characters, John Silver. Fans had previously criticized the show for its depictions of people of color but willingly gave it a chance for redemption with the introduction of the character Madi in the third season. So far, the Black female fandom has engaged with this ship of John and Madi and has expanded the show’s original audience.

Interestingly, the Black female following for Black Sails follows a pattern among Black female viewers who often boost a show with the promise of a Black female love interest, particularly a dark-skinned object of affection. In fact, this drew many Black female fans to the WGN show Outsiders. While the Black female love interest was not dark-skinned, Into the Badlands had a strong following among Black women with a Black female love interest opposite the Asian male lead. However, Black women were devastated by the loss of the Black love interest, and many have decided not to support the show just as they did with Sleepy Hollow.

Still-Starcrossed and Renewed Hope

Perhaps this disappointment with the cancellation of Outsiders and the fridging of Veil, killing her for the further plot development of another character, from Into the Badlands helped boost excitement for the latest show to come out of ShondaLand: Still Starcrossed. With a lead-in of the first ever Black Bachelorette, the show tapped into Black female romance fans as well as those who love period and costume drama. Furthermore, this show features a dark-skinned female lead who finds herself in the middle of a love triangle as well as many other tropes familiar to romance fans. However, these tropes take on different meanings when they center a marginalized person. This may be part of the more diverse representations of blackness many fans hope to see in television.

Still Starcrossed may have also represented the hope that this new “Golden Age” of Black television is not yet over or a passing fad as it appeared to be in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the show already seems to be headed for cancellation with a change in time slot from Monday to Saturday. There is still hope for science fiction fans who eagerly anticipate the latest in the Star Trek franchise, Discovery, which has both Black and Asian female leads. The CW is adding to its superhero lineup with Black Lightning, which focuses on a Black family headed by a Black male and may include a Black female lesbian character if all goes according to canon. And the new TNT series Claws, with three very different Black women in lead roles, is setting itself up to be a hit summer series of 2017 as it already has the interest of Black women.

In the meantime, Fox’s Lethal Weapon has been renewed while Rosewood officially received the axe. Fox’s 24: Legacy has also been cancelled, ending a Black lead in a now franchise series. All of these shows featured Black men in lead roles and as authority figures in or with law enforcement. Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh is portrayed with a wife and children while Rosewood still had his mother in his life and his Black female assistant was a lesbian. In its function as a spinoff of a successful and popular show, 24: Legacy had the difficult job of winning over devoted fans with Eric Carter essentially becoming the new Jack Bauer, but this incarnation did not translate into a new life for the series.

Yet there may be some hope that many Black audience favorites will find a second life. Many people from these shows including Aisha Hinds are now early contenders for Emmys, which could be a selling point in trying to get Underground a new home. However, no matter what the networks decide in terms of cancelling and renewing its shows, network executives still seem to be looking at outdated methods to determine audience interest.

For instance, they have only recently learned to use DVR usage and streaming services in metrics to determine viewership of television shows. It is unclear as to how executives consider social media influences such as Twitter trending and Tumblr discourse to not only estimate ratings but also to more accurately reflect audience demographics beyond white, male and young. As Isha Aran notes, the pressure put on shows featuring marginalized people tends to not only tokenize them but also “contributes to the baseless logical vacuum that if one diverse show doesn’t work, then it somehow proves that inclusion isn’t worth pursuing, that any form of diversity is a risk.”

Considering that “diversity” has actually been shown to be good for business, it does not make much sense that television networks and streaming services would get rid of the very shows that help them expand their overall audiences. When Variety reported on the results of a study from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, the outlet included a very telling statement from the center’s chairman Darnell Hunt: “The problem, as we have pointed out in earlier reports, is that the Hollywood industry is not currently structured to make the most of today’s market realities. The studios, networks, talent agencies, and academies are demographically and culturally out of step with the diverse audiences on which their collective future will increasingly depend.”

This out-of-touch mentality has cost Black audiences beloved cultural entities over the past few years. Yet, network executives who remain overwhelmingly white and male still seem to hang on to old-fashioned (and dangerously wrong) notions that the only piece of the audience that matters most resemble them. Schneider’s piece for IndieWire notes, “‘[African-American audiences] are underserved in television, and yet we keep seeing reminders, especially now, of the power of the black dollar,’ [Starz CEO Chris] Albrecht said. ‘But if you look at the demographics of the [Hollywood] executive suits, it’s not a surprise that there aren’t more shows targeted like this (Power).’” In the meantime, Black audiences still cling to the remnants of an already fading renaissance in representation for the marginalized.

New Galaxy, Same Problems: Mass Effect Andromeda Thu, 06 Jul 2017 02:47:05 +0000 The problems with Mass Effect Andromeda are not the kind that earn games poor ratings or the kind that cause fans to become irrationally irate–although, to be honest, Andromeda has a few of those, as well, including a fairly horrifying animation problem which left all the faces inhumanly wooden until a recent update–but the kind which reveals some of the deep-seated issues which have always plagued human (particularly Western) civilization.

One of these issues is especially clear in science fiction and fantasy: that of cultural uniformity, or the practice of making a culture homogeneous across all its members (with one possible exception… for instance, Garrus Vakarian in the original Mass Effect trilogy who constantly told Shepard and us that he “wasn’t a very good Turian”). We–Westerners, especially Americans–tend to do this not only to our aliens and our elves, but to actual people, both people of color within our borders and to pretty much everyone outside of them.

All Chinese people practice Tai Chi and all Japanese people like Anime and all Africans (we overgeneralize them into a continent rather than a country, usually, which is even worse) wear grass skirts and run barefoot.

These are of course idiotic things to say, but they are the things we think even if we know them to be ludicrous if we say them out loud.

But that doesn’t stop us from doing the same thing in our books, movies, and games. Andromeda is no exception.

For the most part, Andromeda keeps the same species (and cultural homogeneity) from the original series, where humanity (of course) is unusually diverse in terms of its colors, ages, accents, and stories about their families and home towns. Although BioWare has more than your average amount of human diversity, especially in Andromeda, where there are people of a variety of colors on the Tempest (your ship), the Hyperion (your ark), and the Nexus (the central hub), its aliens suffer from both physiological and cultural monotony.

Until Mass Effect 3, in fact, we hadn’t even met a female of either the Turian or Krogan species. Andromeda distributes genders fairly well, even having several significant figures of both genders across multiple species (although why they all have two genders, with the exception of the Asari, is still not terribly clear).

Yes, all the models are the same across the gender-species distribution (all female Turians have the same body, all human males have the same body, etc.), but there is far more variance among the familiar–humanity–than among the alien. This is the same thing we do among ourselves, particularly in the US. We talk about how we vary from state to state, region to region, discuss our local cuisines and traditions, identify with our cities and our neighborhoods, but when it comes to other peoples, other cultures, we assume they are all the same. We even go so far as to believe–which has been demonstrated scientifically–that they (whoever they are) all look the same.

In Andromeda, the Kett–a race of evil aliens who want (ironically) to turn all other species into Kett through genetic manipulation–all look the same across classes. They all wear the same thing, sound almost entirely the same, and are indistinguishable from one “level” to the next. Their culture, such as it is, consists of a cult-esque religious devotion to homogenization, which they call “Exaltation.” Although they seem to have “levels” within the hierarchy (which are distinguished by appearance, voice, and difficulty to kill), it is still fairly difficult to tell them apart from one another.

Andromeda‘s friendly species, the Angara, are only marginally better in terms of diversity–they at least come in different colors and have a few choices of accents, which is actually a little confusing (ranging from accents which sound African, Caribbean, Australian, and European), if somewhat more realistic (the confusion comes because most of the regular Mass Effect species sound the same). However, they are strangely Noble Savage, and their culture is almost completely uniform, despite their horror at the thought of being Exalted.

The hallmark of Angaran culture is emotion; the Angara emote openly and publicly in a way that–probably in spite of the intention of the developers to encourage their players (especially their male players) to be more openly emotional–is almost uncomfortable and seems very childlike. Add to this the Angaran fear of aliens (their only other encounter with alien species is the Kett, who want to kill or kidnap them and turn them into Kett), and the species as a whole reads as supremely innocent and in need of protection. When you add to this the fact that Ryder (via the player) is able to use technology native to Andromeda (created by the species who engineered the Angara, we learn) and the Angara can’t, and that Ryder and company essentially are able to rescue, terraform, and revitalize all of Heleus in the short span of time they are there while the Angara have had centuries and failed.

Now I know that this is “just a video game” (take that with the mountain of proverbial salt that it requires), but it’s time that we stop excusing our latent bigotry as “just entertainment,” because it isn’t. We do it every day to people who don’t look like us, don’t speak like us, and don’t believe what we believe. We have to recognize the humanity in those different from us, and that means that we need to see them as individuals, not as representatives of their race, their sexuality, their religion. They may be a part of those things, but no individual represents the sum of their culture.

So while this is a problem with Andromeda–especially because Ryder is the savior of an entire galaxy in which she has just arrived and about which she knows next to nothing–it isn’t Andromeda‘s problem, it’s a problem with our entire culture and has been since Europeans first decided they were better than everyone else and started engaging in imperialist practice. We stopped seeing other peoples, other cultures, as people and started seeing them as chattel, commodities where one is the same as the next. And in order for us to stop doing this in our stories (our movies, our games, our books), we have to stop doing it to each other.

New galaxy, same old problems.

Are All the Men Really Necessary? A Critical Look at Wonder Woman Fri, 16 Jun 2017 21:30:24 +0000 By Michi Trota

Gail Simone famously said, “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.”

Wonder Woman was always going to have an uphill battle to fight, thanks to the dour, existential crisis-laden landscape the previous DC Extended Universe films had created, not to mention the absolutely skewed standards women-led action films are expected to achieve in order to be considered successful. Under the dynamic direction of Patty Jenkins and a considerably layered performance by Gal Gadot, Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Amazon warrior and princess, rose to the challenge and proved Simone right.

As of this review, Wonder Woman has grossed over $435 million worldwide after just over a week in theaters and is currently the most tweeted-about movie of 2017. Critical reviews have been overwhelmingly glowing, and fans are already clamoring for Wonder Woman 2. The film provides a desperately-needed shot in the arm for the DCEU with a story that finally recalls why so many DC superheroes became popular in the first place: hope, and the belief that superheroes can still inspire humankind to overcome our worst impulses. Unlike Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman embraces her power as both a gift and responsibility, rather than finding it an alienating burden. This is still an origin story where Diana struggles to comes to terms with her identity and where she belongs, but while she may be wracked by grief and anger, she never loses sight of what she fights for: justice, peace, love. Allan Heinberg’s script doesn’t run away from Diana’s existential crisis (this is a DCEU film after all), but it does refuse to be weighed down by it, infusing a humor, warmth, and humanity that was desperately lacking in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The camaraderie among Diana, Steve Trevor, Sameer, Chief, and Charlie should be the blueprint for Diana’s future family among the Justice League. The compassionate, respectful relationship among the four men is refreshing, particularly in a genre that is often dismissive of men showing weakness and emotions other than anger. Diana may question their skills, tactics, or commitment, but she never once mocks her male companions’ displays of vulnerability.

Wonder Woman is the most alive the DCEU has felt since MoS’s drab and joyless introduction. The action sequences still bear Zack Snyder’s signature slow-mo stamp, but under Jenkins’s thoughtful eye, those moments are restrained rather than sprawling (at least until the final act). Themyscira is gorgeously rendered, full of vibrant color and sunlight; while the scenes revert to the expected cold-faded color of the DCEU once Diana leaves the island, they serve as a stark contrast with the aptly named Paradise Island. The entire film is blissfully free of the straight male gaze objectifying women–there isn’t a single moment where Diana is framed as anything less than a person or subjected to gratuitous T&A shots (the lone scene with a mostly-naked Chris Pine is overlaid with an awkwardness that underscores how deeply out of his element and powerless Steve is). Scenes of a world and people devastated by the horrors of war are balanced by small but meaningful moments of unapologetic joy and kindness: Chief’s gentle refusal of payment for goods from refugees; Diana’s laughter at her very first snowfall; villagers dancing amidst the ruins of their town. Diana is a fearsome warrior who in one breath charges headfirst into enemy fire and berates generals for their cavalier treatment of soldiers, and in another coos over babies and finds sheer delight in a simple ice cream cone. It seems that it’s still possible for heroes in the DCEU to find hope and happiness amidst loss. And because this is still the DCEU, even Wonder Woman apparently had to have a tragic love story.

The script had a very fine line to walk with Diana and Steve’s nascent relationship, having to balance Diana’s ignorance regarding the world outside Paradise Island without making her dependent on Steve, and without making Steve the center of her narrative. Heinberg’s script mostly succeeds in the former, presenting Diana’s naivete not as that of a helpless child, but that of a capable idealist who still believes the inherent goodness of humanity will win the day. Gadot’s Diana is the skilled and earnest but inexperienced soldier to Steve’s battle-weary (but notably not cynical) veteran. Pine skillfully plays Steve as both admiring of and frustrated by Diana’s idealism, because in his experience, the cause of war isn’t as simple as the machinations of one individual. But neither is Diana’s idealism played as a fool’s dream–instead, it’s a source of inspiration and strength for those around her (also the God of War is in fact real in her world). The entire No-Man’s Land sequence is a defiant refutation of the idea that a thing can’t be done just because men tell you it’s not possible. Not only can women tread (and stomp, and smash) where men say they cannot, they can inspire others to follow and fight for themselves.

(The fact that Jenkins had to fight for the inclusion of the No-Man’s Land sequence in the final film says a lot about whose perspective was largely shaping Diana’s debut.)

The film doesn’t fare so well with the latter, however, falling into the trap of feeling it necessary to insist on Steve’s relevance as a man in a story about a demigoddess. Steve is ostensibly supposed to be the butt of the joke with his awkward reactions to Diana’s suggestion they share a bed because he doesn’t want to be That Guy, but were those jokes (which obscure the fact that it’s not sex or sexual attraction that baffles Diana, it’s Steve’s specific cultural hang ups about them) really the best way to explore the cultural differences between them? (The less said about Steve’s painfully stilted and unnecessary “average” dialog the better.) The alley sequence in London is a delightful homage to the scene in Superman where Clark saves Lois from a thief’s gunshot, but why did Steve need to throw that one punch knocking out the last assailant after Diana had taken out the entire gang by herself? Despite the acts of kindness Diana has witnessed from her friends, and the many sacrifices that have made her mission possible, the film chooses to focus on Steve’s death and declaration of love as what goads Diana to denounce Ares and defeat him (this is especially jarring considering Diana is not shown mourning the death of Antiope, a woman who loved and trained her). This is Diana’s story after all, and Pine’s delightful performance aside, why does Steve need to have equal footing in a film that’s about Wonder Woman?

Diana’s life with her Amazon family is surprisingly devoid of any meaningful relationships with other women, and little is seen of her life outside of her training as a warrior (the Amazons aren’t just fearsome warriors, they also boast proud traditions of logic, philosophy, scientific innovation, art, literature, politics, and Diana is supposed to embody the pinnacle of all their society offers). Once off Paradise Island, Diana’s interactions are primarily limited to men; it’s men, including Steve (and a severely-underused Etta Candy), who provide her with context and information of the world around her. It’s frustrating to imagine all the lost chances for Etta to share her experience as a woman who wants to do something in the war effort and is limited by her role as “secretary” (all the more frustrating to imagine how much more those conversations could have resonated if Etta were a WOC). Even her creation is now owed to Zeus, erasing Hera as the Amazon’s patron goddess (Hera was both Zeus’s wife and Ares’s mother, and her hand in Diana’s creation could easily have provided Diana with the necessary power to match Ares).

It’s also a man (or god to be exact) who is Diana’s ultimate nemesis–yes, Ares is a often a major antagonist of Diana’s in the comics, but it’s still not a good look in a film that seems determined to isolate Diana as a Smurfette. Not even the nefarious Isabel Maru/Dr. Poison, whose name strikes dread into the Allies, has the chance for any significant interaction with Diana. Like Etta, Maru is frustratingly limited to being a plot device, devoted to a man she’s clearly more capable and arguably more dangerous than. What if it had been Maru, not Ares, who delivered the film’s penultimate argument to Diana about the inherently corrupt nature of humanity, where it’s clear that rather than being ignorant of Ares’s machinations, Maru embraced him and his mission by her own choice? A film that claims to celebrate the power of women to make their own choices only does so in the barest sense when its heroine is isolated from other women (unless she’s on a magical island of mythical women warriors, apparently).

It’s as if a world where the actions of women also matter can no longer be realistic once Diana leaves Themyscira. The film manages to acknowledge that Diana is a complex woman capable of great feats and terrible mistakes, and that she doesn’t need men to validate her existence or choices, but that should be the minimum bar to clear, not an accomplishment. And Wonder Woman would be the first to say that she is not the only woman deserving of such acknowledgement.

This is the conundrum of Wonder Woman: a superhero film that at last gives one of comics’ greatest female characters her due in a well-produced, record-breaking profitable action blockbuster, and yet still hesitates to fully embrace much of the feminist ideals that make up the core of her story. Is it a fun action-packed romp of a movie with a kickass heroine? Absolutely. Is it an in in-your-face feminist story? Not quite, especially for a movie that goes out of its way to reassure audiences that there’s still room for men in a powerful woman’s story. Is it intersectional? Only in the barest possible sense. Wonder Woman jokes about men not being necessary for women’s sexual pleasure but shies away from embracing the bisexuality of its heroine (living on an island of women does not mean Diana’s ignorant of sex). It celebrates Diana’s heroism and complexity but shows us little of the complexity and heroism of the women affected by the war Diana has come to fight. At least on Paradise Island, WOC are somewhat visible but still relegated to the background and in roles that replicate racist dynamics, particularly regarding Black women, and while Sameer and Chief are engaging characters whose experiences with oppression as MOC are openly acknowledged, they’re still given scenes repeating racist stereotypes (the “smoke signals” scene is particularly baffling in light of the thoughtfulness with which Chief’s character was otherwise approached).  

It’s also a movie that has moved women to tears, shattered box office expectations, and single-handedly injected hope back into the DCEU franchise. Since the premiere, social media has been covered in images of fans of all ages celebrating Wonder Woman, of little girls posing as warriors and princesses alike. Despite audience fears and critical skepticism (not to mention an often baffling lack of media tie-ins and merchandising), Wonder Woman succeeded in an industry where predecessors like Elektra, Catwoman, Supergirl, Barb Wire, and Vampirella were left to fail under half-hearted marketing, poor production, and sexism-riddled stories. Overcoming the assumptions and inertia in Hollywood when it comes to the viability of women-led superhero stories is, by itself, still a considerable achievement. Wonder Woman is flawed, particularly in its presentation of feminism, but it’s still managed to shove open the door for superheroines in Hollywood a bit wider, and hopefully audiences will continue to clamor for more in her wake (Captain Marvel is slated for 2018, but frustratingly neither DC nor Marvel have committed to any films about WOC in their respective universes).

Wonder Woman was always going to carry an entire world of expectations on her shoulders for her on-screen debut, and if joyous fan celebration over the film is inexorably interwoven with disappointment in its shallow feminism and lack of intersectionality, it’s a testament to the power and influence Wonder Woman commands as a cultural icon. She and her fans deserve a story that truly lives up to the ideals Diana herself is supposed to personify: the willingness to fight against all odds for a just world in which we are all represented and valued for our whole selves. Hopefully Wonder Woman’s success at the box office means Diana and her fans might yet get that story.

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