Highs and lows from the Battle of Winterfell

Highs and Lows from the Battle for Winterfell:

Low: Dany
For someone who expects everyone to bend the knee the moment she walks into the room, Dany’s weakness at the Ballte of Winterfell was damning proof of why she shouldn’t sit on it.
When the battle began and she watched the dead snuff the flames a of her Dothraki army, she panicked. Deviating from whatever the plan was, she raced into action. Tactically she put her dragon out of position, which brought Jon’s along with it. Now the living’s two biggest weapons were flying blind, unable to provide any support to the Unsullied or the army of the North. It’s true that the best battle plans fall apart the moment they hit the battle field. But Dany never gave Winterfell a chance, and she’s damn lucky Arya Stark saved the day or else she’d be the mother of three dead dragons.

Dany’s second failure was tactical in the midst of battle. Trying to flame The Night King when she had the chance was the right move. Gotta take the clean shot. But when his retaliatory ice spear missed, she should have turned on a dime and burned the battle field. Instead she flew off to god knows where and have him enough time to raise the dead. Had Dany been there, she could have stopped them in their tracks, giving Jon—a Targaryen—an opportunity to go thru the flames and take out The Night King.

High: The beginning
Hype and anticipation for this episode was off the hook. Beginning the episode with a slow, almost silent tour through the battle preparations brought the fear of death alive.

High: The darkness in the distance
I loved the choice to begin the fight by sending out a Dothraki charge but showing the fight from a distance. The sight of flaming Dothraki swords being engulfed by darkness made everyone awaiting in Winterfell gulp for the terror headed their way. Starting the battle this way helped keep the later fight scenes fresh, too. Loved it.

Low: The battle plan
So…what was the goal with the Dothraki charge? Even with flaming swords they were charging toward certain death that made no dent in their opponents. Seems like a waste of a great fighting force.

High: Arya in the library
Sometimes TV shows make the good guy’s feet a little too quiet. Obviously Arya is well-trained, but is she that quiet? Who cares. This scene kicked ass. It reminded me of the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park and was a good prelude to how she would eventually sneak all the way to The Night King.

Low: Theon
Theron’s death was stupid and futile. A waste of his wasted life. He wasn’t going to defeat TNK, the story would never allow that, but he could have at least fought. Watching him mindlessly charge toward certain death, I felt bad for him in a way I never had. Theon was just plain overmatched in Westeros. He didn’t have the brains, guts or skills to be anything more than the loser he was. Bye.

Low: The crypts
This should have been more terrifying. The people in the crypts knew their fate would be determined by who next opened the door. A friendly face meant another sunrise, a dead face meant death. They never expected that dead face to come from within. Their fear should have overwhelmed the screen. It didn’t. More should have died. We should have come away mad at Jon, Sansa, et al for not realizing they sent their most vulnerable people into a literal death trap.

High: Arya
How cool was it that Arya could sneak up on The Night King from behind amongst all his friends but Jon couldn’t sneak up to him alone on the battlefield? I loved this moment as the culmination of all Arya’s training since season one. And I love that she always thought she was training to take down the names on her list, when in reality she put it to use on someone much more consequential.

But now I have to wonder: Is her story complete? If her role was to develop into a fighter capable of succeeding in that moment, then yes, it is. Can they realistically give her The Night King and Cersei Lannister? I doubt it, and that bodes ill for her future if she goes south.

High: The music.
Fantastic.

Low: Surviving
I agree with those who argued the show lost some credibility by not killing off anyone bigger than Jorah, but I can live with it. However, just one time I would like to see a major character die in a random, non-epic way. Why? Because that’s the way it probably happens some times!

Low: The Hound
From now on when someone cowers during battle we’ll call that pulling a Clegane. He Cleganed it. Come on, man.

Low: The previous episode
The episode before this was one of my favourites for how the main characters gathered and paused before the fight thinking death was certainly near for some, or all of them. With almost all of them surviving, that episode now means less. I am bummed.

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It’s time for Jamie Lannister to die. But he probably won’t yet.

A few years ago, the New York Yankees used the phrase “Looking forward, looking back” for their marketing slogan. It’s the typical snottiness you’d expect from America’s most successful and reviled pro sports team.

It could also apply to the latest episode of Game of Thrones. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” brought the past to the present with just about every main character:

        • Sam, Jon and Dolorous Edd stood atop the wall of Winterfell to reminisce about their early days on the Night’s Watch;
        • Jorah had to re-live his failures to Dany in asking her to forgive Tyrion for trusting Cersei;
        • Tyrion reflected to Jamie how much things have changed since their first trip to Winterfell;
        • Tyrion reminded everyone they’d all fought against the Starks at one point or another in their lives;
        • Jon re-wrote Dany’s family history right before her eyes.

And then there’s Jamie. His entire character arc played out in the opening scene: Dany held judgment on his fate for his sins against her family, Bran kept the secret of what he would do for his sister’s love and Brienne put her reputation behind his reformed character. That’s seven seasons of Jamie Lannister in a nutshell.

This led me to ponder when Jamie’s story is destined to end. Did his arc come full circle when he knighted Brienne? I feel like it should have. You can’t ask a character to change more than going from pushing a kid out a window to knighting the woman who saved his life. By all rights, his tale is done and he should die in the battle with the White Walkers. Right?

I can’t believe they’d get rid of him so quickly. And that doesn’t bode well for Brienne because as wonderful as the knighting scene was, there’s zero chance they both make it to episode four.

How do you know there is an afterwards?

This episode also posed a question that’s been rare in Game of Thrones: What happens after the war for the crown? Everyone in this saga is so focused on winning that no one’s thought much about actually governing. Except Sansa, who for my money has become the most electable candidate for the throne, if I may borrow a political term. She responded to Dany’s patronizing attempt at bonding over their mutual love for Jon by asking her point blank what would happen to the North under a Queen Daenerys. Dany didn’t much care for that, and the ice grew thicker between these two.

Others looked ahead, too. Greyworm asked Missandei if she really wants to grow old in Westeros, which surely means he ain’t gonna live to join her on the beaches of Naath. Jorah tried to convince Lyanna to wait in the crypts by telling her she’s the future of House Mormont. You can image how well that went. Even Tyrion got in on the fun, hoping he’d still get to die drunk and horny before admitting it might be as much fun to die and storm Kings Landing as a wight. (By the way, did you catch Jamie lamenting his fighting days are behind him in the same scene? I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin…)

That brings us to the most interesting forward-looking moment of the night. Sam and Jorah brought their relationship full circle when Sam, who was so influenced by Jorah’s father at Castle Black, gave Jorah the Tarly family sword and said, “I’ll see you when it’s through.” But as he was walking away, the last remaining Tarly heir turned to add, “I hope we win,” because he knows they may see each other again regardless.

Brienne, Greyworm, maybe (but not likely) Jamie, maybe (but more likely?) Jorah. Beloved characters are gonna start dying next week. Will we see any of them again as White Walkers?

And now some odd and end thoughts from season eight, episode two…

This will go down as one of my favourite episodes of the series. It had more great scenes than I can count (especially Bran and Jamie in the Godswood), and it was actually funny. Like I legit giggled.

How does a battle with the White Walkers even go? The dead aren’t going to retreat. You have to literally re-kill them all. I can’t fathom the Night King being stupid enough to go after Bran unguarded, so their plan to cut off the army’s head isn’t going to work. And where is ol’ icy eyes anyway???

Sansa’s reunion with Theon felt more emotional and authentic than her reunion with Arya or Jon. They shared some of the lowest moments of their lives together.  It’s wonderful to see them both in better places.

Speaking of Theon, I wonder what Bran knows about his role in the upcoming battle. The nod he gave when Theon asked to protect him was…knowing?

I was basically up off my couch cheering for Arya when she stormed Gendry’s pants. Good for her! A lot of folks on Twitter felt uncomfortable with it given that we met Arya as a child. That’s fair. It didn’t bother me. I guess watching soaps all these years has me used to child stars getting more adult material. But she’s an adult know and she takes what she wants and she wanted Gendry. It felt authentic given the circumstance. I like this loads better than if Brienne had frolicked with Tormund.

Lastly, did the pull-back shot of Tyrion looking through the gaps in the wall remind anyone else of John Locke staring down the hatch at the end of Exodus? There was even a hint of a horn in the soundtrack. Loved it.

That got me thinking then about the differences and similarities between Lost and Game of Thrones. A whole separate blog post. Except to say that here we know what the show is building toward and where it’s ending. We’ve really known it most of the way. At least since Robert was killed. But with Lost we had no idea really right up until The End.

 

Westworld Season 2: Thoughts About This Mess

Of all the things I can’t handle in my TV shows, inevitability might be on top of the list. I can’t spend every episode of a series waiting for the most obvious thing to happen.

Take Westworld for an example. The moment Dolores killed the fly at the end of episode one made it obvious the hosts were going to realize they are hosts, and the odds were pretty good that we’d meet a host who didn’t know it was a robot. Such inevitability made it hard for me to take any joy in the show’s first season.

Enough people raved about it that I gave the show a quick re-watch, and I can see how people love it. I wouldn’t say I hate watch it the way I did The Leftovers, but I can’t say it’ll ever be a show I adore.

Here are my thoughts after three episodes of season two.

I’m okay with shifting timelines, but I need some kind of cue to tell me where we’re at. Putting a young Robert into the real-world scene in episode two helped, but I’d prefer to get the cue at the beginning so it’s easier to understand. Lost did this perfectly with the sound effect that signaled a transition to the flashbacks. Awake used warm and cold color treatments to tell viewers which reality its main character was experiencing. Westworld should do something similar. The timelines are too tight—weeks or days instead of years—for the characters to age, and the locations are exactly the same. They don’t have to throw a time card up on the screen, but some clear indication would be nice.

What was the main allure of season one? Watching the hosts become aware. Dolores figured it out. Maeve figured it out. Clementine could not handle, went zombie. Even Teddy, who rivals Revenge’s Daniel as one of the dumbest TV characters ever, figured it out. Now what? Aware Dolores is in a way even more of a drone than unaware Dolores. Her character has one focus that eliminates any depth she might have had. Wouldn’t it have been better if seeing what happened to her dad made her long for the simpler days when he was healthy and they were all happy? There’s an “ignorance is bliss” conflict there that could have put her character under a microscope by forcing her to question her new and murderous purpose. They passed and made her a military leader instead. Yawn.

It’s hard to be invested in the hosts’ fight against Delos when we only know three human Delos characters—Sizemore, Charlotte and Stubbs. The show hasn’t given any of them the time we need to have any sort of investment in their fate. We wanted Jon Snow to win the battle of the bastards because we love him and Ramsay was thoroughly detestable. Westworld hasn’t made us love the hosts or hate the humans, so I can’t care for the outcome of the conflict driving the story of its second season.

Where was William last week? More importantly, will that character even work now that we know he and the Gunslinger are the same? Yes, I think it will.

The show really suffers without Robert. They never made him a full-blown evil genius, but he was the central figure for every storyline to revolve around. Season one could ground storylines for the humans and the hosts in Robert. Without him, everything feels like it’s floating in the same space without anything to tie it all together. Maybe that’s the point…the park was under control with Robert and without him it spins out of control. He one-upped the board’s attempt to push him out of his creation in the most epic way possible: Writing a narrative that involved his own death to prove Westworld can’t exist without him.

I’m calling BS on the hosts making any sort of stand against the Delos security team. There’s no way old west shotguns could stand up to the weaponry Delos threw at them.

I like the idea of more parks with different themes. But at some point it’s going to be like okay, there’s no way one company can have enough money to do all this.

Why can’t they just give all the hosts clean hard drives? Wouldn’t that solve everything?

#GameOfThrones finale prediction: Arya already killed Petyr Baelish

Game of Thrones opened season seven with misdirection. Walder Frey, fresh off being fed his children and killed at the end of season six, stood to welcome “every Frey who means a damn thing” to his second feast of the fortnight. We were confused. Didn’t we just see Arya open his throat?

We did. But this was not Walder Frey. It was no one. It was the lone wolf. It was Arya Stark in Walder Frey’s dead face.

“When they ask you what happened here, tell them the north remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”

This show is too good to open a season with that scene and not call back to it. Seasons have their own arc, and I believe the arc of season seven will be Arya Stark revealing herself as the killer of Petyr Baelish.

And I think he’s already dead.

Here’s why:

1.  This budding feud between Sansa and Arya makes no sense. Arya is too smart to fall for Petyr’s crap. Sansa is more than onto his manipulations. It’s wholly unbelievable that they would be so fooled…

…unless he’s not fooling anyone because Arya already slit his throat with the Valryian steel dagger he gave to Bran.

2.  Sansa saw the dagger when she snuck into Arya’s room during “Beyond The Wall.” She then, because she’s such a great snoop, found Arya’s bag of faces under the bed. Arya Stark is not so careless as to leave a valuable weapon and a bag of faces sitting around…

…unless the show needs to lay the groundwork for a big reveal in the season finale.

3.  Arya ends their chilly conversation by putting the dagger in Sansa’s hands, and that’s where I think her intentions are revealed. She’s not trying to frame Sansa for Petyr’s death to get her in trouble; she’s doing it to bolster her position with the lords of the north.

4.  When Petyr arranged for Arya to find Sansa’s note from King’s Landing he meant for it to drive a wedge between the two sisters, and that’s exactly what the show is making Arya pretend it did. My prediction is she saw through it immediately, recognized the way it could damage Sansa and determined then that the only way out was to take his life now and set up Sansa as the one who saved the north from his treachery.

The biggest missing piece here is for the show to create a reason why the lords of the north would hate Petyr. I’m sure they don’t like him, but I’m also not sure they want him dead. I think Game of Thrones will use the 79-minute season seven finale titled “The Dragon and the Wolf” to reveal Petyr as the man behind the attempt on Bran’s life, who turned on Ned Stark an murdered Lysa Tully.

What better way to reinforce Sansa’s position than to frame her as the hero who killed the traitorous Littlefinger?

They wouldn’t show us the scene with Arya as Walder at the beginning of the season and then forget the entire thing. They wouldn’t reveal Arya’s secret to Sansa in the penultimate episode if they didn’t intend it to be a BIG part of the finale. They wouldn’t include Petyr’s dagger in the scene without reason.

I think it will be the bookend to Arya’s story in season seven. It starts with pretending to be Walder Frey to avenge her mother and brother, it ends with pretending to be Petyr Baelish after she brings him winter.

[UPDATE] I had another thought here: What if Arya really is mad at her sister and will use Petyr’s face to humiliate Sansa and gain dominance in their relationship? If the jealousy and anger Arya has shown toward Sansa is real, what better way to turn it against her than use Littlefinger’s mask to convince Sansa to act against her then reveal her own face?

A ridiculous Arya-Sansa theory
This one is stupid, but I’m compelled to reveal it just in case. Arya has shown unusual envy toward Sansa since they reunited. “Your pretty handwriting.” “I remember the pretty dress you were wearing. I remember the fancy way you did your hair.” “You wanted to be a queen, to sit next to a handsome young king on the iron throne.” “I wonder what it would feel like to wear those pretty dresses. To be the Lady of Winterfell.”

My ridiculous Arya-Sansa theory is that Arya will become so consumed with jealousy and rage toward her sister that she kills the Lady of Winterfell and takes her face. It would be a fitting tragedy for the only family on the show that shows true familial love.

You’re on thin ice
Why is there thin ice north of the wall? If the land is so cold its inhabitants have to keep moving and having sex to stay warm then the ice should be thick enough to walk on.

How am I supposed to be afraid of winter if it’s not even going to get cold enough to freeze a lake?

WTF, Hound?
What’s wrong with The Hound? He appeared to be shellshocked during the fight with the zombie polar bear and then inexplicably goaded the dead army into attacking Jon’s team on their little rock. What’s his deal?

This is how you do it
Last week I ranted about the pace of season seven and this week’s director of “Beyond The Wall” admitted they threw the whole notion of geography out the window. But a line from Sansa to Petyr (or Arya if you believe my theory above) shows how simple it is to mark time in a story.

She told Petyr, simply, “I haven’t heard from Jon in weeks.” That’s all it takes. In fact that whole interview really makes me angry and pushes me more toward the thinking in this Screenrant column about how this season has gone off the rails.

And I wholeheartedly agree with the assertion in this piece from Esquire: “While things began to crack last season—its first without the guiding light of George R.R. Martin’s books—it has become clear that the writers don’t know how to complete the author’s vision.”

But all will be forgotten if the season finale delivers.

 

#GameOfThrones: Eastwatch Recap and 1 Prediction

First off this week I need to do some confessing.

At the start of every Game of Thrones episode I usually type in my notes something like this: “I cannot stand this opening. Every other show on TV figured out how to not have a protracted opening sequence. Get with it, Game of Thrones.” Usually it gets left out of the blog post because who wants to hear me complain, and it’s not even all that insightful.

I confess this now because I finally realized watching “Eastwatch” that the opening sequence shows the locations that will be featured in the upcoming episode. Duh. Now I love it. It’s a great way to help viewers understand such a sprawling story.

Now then…

About This Speed
I feel a little hypocritical even bringing this up seeing as I was all “Winter needs to get here NOW. Dany needs to sail west NOW” at the end of season six. But I’m not comfortable with the speed things are happening in season seven. To phrase it a different way, I’m not comfortable with the way seemingly major things are so quickly and obviously being dropped into the story.

Two scenes from “Eastwatch” illustrate this point.

The first and biggest is Gilly casually uncovering documented evidence of Rhaegar annulling his marriage in order to wed Lyanna Stark. This is, um, rather freaking major and yet the show gave it one scene. One line really. I understand that it’s setting up for the big BIG reveal later. But it should have been given more now.

And to be clear, I’m not critical that Sam didn’t jump up and go, “My stars, Gilly, that’s Jon Snow’s mom you’re talking about! Jon Snow is a bleeping Targaryen!” We as viewers all know this, but Sam can’t be expected to have that grasp of obscure Westerosi marital history.

The second is Tyrion arranging to meet Jamie among the dragon skulls deep under Kings Landing. The show theorized and executed this big reunion between the two brothers in a matter of minutes.

Shouldn’t there be a little more room for these things to breathe? It feels like events are being forced a long so quickly in order to tell the whole story that we’re missing the fabric that gives Game of Thrones its depth. I know the show plodded along in earlier seasons (something I missed a little by bingeing it all in the span of a few months) but I think it’s swung too far the other direction for most of season seven.

An example of a good but not too rapid pace is the latest scheme from Littlefinger in Winterfell. They showed him watching Arya spar with Brienne in a way that clearly indicated he was going to view her as an obstacle to whatever end goal he has in mind for Sansa, but they waited until the following episode to show how he would try to cleave the Stark sisters apart. I like that pace. Set it up one week, knock it down the next.

When major things are set up and knocked down in one episode, it strikes me as the show trying too hard to check boxes in advance of the season finale than it does telling a rich story.

Now on to some other thoughts.

Arya is smarter than this
Staying in the north, if anyone should be too smart to fall for Littlefinger’s games it’s Arya. She’s lived a hard life since first leaving Winterfell and she doesn’t suffer fools. Witness 1) the way she outwitted Sansa’s dimwitted guards getting back into the place, and 2) she fed Walder Frey his children. Maybe she’s never dealt with the likes of Petyr Baelish, but she should be smart enough to know she’s being lured into finding the note.

Just show us
And about that note. What’s the point of the show not making it obvious what it was? The letter from Sansa to Robb was a callback to season one, some six years ago. It didn’t need to be half-hidden.

Maybe I’m wrong
My prediction that Dany would capture Jamie from the water and Tyrion would flip him to their side didn’t even make it past the opening scene. Solid work. Now I’m thinking maybe I had the wrong brother shifting the wrong direction.

Tyrion sided with Dany because he wanted to get back at his family and because I think he sees Dany as the way to a better Westeros. Buuuuut he was awfully uncomfortable walking through the ashes left behind by her use of the dragons and with how she treated the Tarlys. There was desperation in his voice when he offered her two alternatives (prison and the black) to roasting them. I don’t think they gave us the scene later on with him and Lord Varys drinking away their guilt to tell us Tyrion is at peace with her decision.

The brotherly bond between Tyrion and Jamie is always a joy to watch in a show where genuine affection is increasingly rare. It’s the only time Tyrion appears emotionally vulnerable. Maybe as he finds further trouble with Dany’s tightrope act between vengeance and mercy his love for Jamie will lead him back in the Lannister’s direction. Further strategic blunders that frustrate Dany could push him while a softening stand from the suddenly pregnant Cersei could pull him. It won’t take much.

No happy ending for Cersei
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” I love this line from Ramsay Bolton because I’m in love with the notion that not every TV show should have a happy ending. George Martin seems to agree.

Nevertheless I think there are characters in Game of Thrones who could have happy endings. Cersei is not one of them. At all. Nothing about her life makes her deserving of happily ever after. Even at the joyous moment when she tells Jamie of their baby, she has to ruin it. Lesser shows might use her pregnancy as a way to give her redemption, I would be shocked if this one did. My prediction is twins and they’re both afflicted with a malady that leaves her with her own little Tyrions. How rich would that be? I’d love it.

Gendry as Adam & Eve
Darlton always said they put Adam and Eve into the first season of Lost so they could call back to it at the end for proof that they always knew where they were going. If Gendry was written into this story so there would be someone who forge Jon Snow some weapons with dragonglass in them then hats off to all involved.

A key difference
In the south, Tyrion cooked up a whack-a-doodle plan to prove to Cersei that the army of the dead is real by bringing a White Walker to Kingslanding. For this to work he had to convince Dany it was a workable idea, work with Davos and Bron to schedule a secret meeting with Jamie, convince Jamie to take the idea back to Cersei and (as if all that was so totally doable) convince Cersei to at least entertain the idea.

In the north, one conversation outside a jail cell convinced everyone to put their grudges aside and fight on the same team.

That’s the difference between a culture that lives with a threat and a culture that doesn’t.

Perilous
I wouldn’t want to hang out at Eastwatch. Did you see how all that stuff just hung on the side of the wall? That shit is perilous.

Geography
I started this post criticizing the speed at which the story is moving in season seven. The poster child for that has been the way characters are jumping about Westeros in the blink of an eye. Case in point: Jon’s quick sail from Dragonstone to Eastwatch.

My point here is to say that when a story is forced to unfold unnaturally fast, it strains the credibility it needs to for viewers to suspend their disbelief. Having medieval characters transit continents by sea and by foot as if they’re flying puts further pressure on it.