#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.

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.

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.


#GameOfThrones +2: 5 observations and 2 predictions from “The Spoils of War”

Prediction: Littlefinger is going down, to the Valyrian steel dagger.
Think about the journey this dagger has taken: From Littlefinger to Robert Baratheon to Tyrion Lannister and back to Littlefinger. Now to Arya Stark via Bran the Mood. You know they’re not giving her such an exquisite blade to keep on her hip for the next season and a half.

So who’s going to feel it’s cut? My money is Littlefinger by Arya’s hand. They aren’t going to drop this back in or have him watch Arya give Brienne all she can handle in battle and then leave it hanging. He’s could make a move on Sansa; he could be revealed as the mastermind of the failed attempt on Bran the Mood’s life (which Bran would know. Note the line: “Someone very wealthy wanted me dead.”) All she needs is a reason, and it would be perfect if a character like Littlefinger is killed by his own blade.

Reunions: A measure of change.
I’m loving the Stark reunions because they let each character reflect off each other and the characters they were when they last saw each other. It starts with Arya asking if she has to call her sister Lady Stark. In their first embrace, Sansa gives her the smile-hug-jump and Arya just stands there, telling her sister she needs better guards because she’s learned enough to recognize bad guards when she sees them.

Arya jumps right into asking her about killing Joffrey, startling Sansa by talking about her list. It was one of those “You’re joking.” “LOL I’m not” moments. Then Arya gives her the real hug and you finally see some joy when she learns about Bran.

Standing at the weirwood you can see again Sansa standing tall in near-royal garb while Arya stands heavy with the road in her traveling cloak.

The look on Sansa’s face when Bran reveals Arya wasn’t joking about her hit list. Great TV.

Expert: Jon Snow…on mining?
What exactly are Jon Snow’s qualifications for mining precious metals? I hope he has a good project manager.

Questioning: Tyrion’s loyalties
Tyrion Lannister thinks himself an orphan. He’s not even a Lannister. But he is Jamie’s brother and it’s the only familial bond he’s ever had. Confrontation between the two is inevitable, and the first taste we got in season seven was fantastic as Tyrion cursed his brother’s potentially fatal charge to become the queenslayer.

But was he cursing he’s brother for putting his life in danger or for how close he came to toppling Tyrion’s queen? Presumably Jamie will survive (Bron on the other hand…?) and he may even be Dany’s prisoner. He did just try to kill the queen and would be quite a prize.

Prediction: Jamie switches sides in the biggest betrayal of the entire series, driving Cersei even further over the edge.

Taking charge: Dany
Finally we see some leadership out of Dany. When Tyrion insists that his strategy was sound, she lets him have it to the point of questioning his loyalties. As she should. Then she declares simply, “I’m at war. I’m losing.”

Then she turned to Jon for advice, which is questionable since they’ve barely met, but perhaps she’s impressed enough by his refusal to bend the knee that she’ll listen to his input. He reminds her that if she melts castles and burns cities she is just more of the same.

So she melts some soldiers and supplies instead.

Needs a helmet: Dany
Why are we letting Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons ride around on said dragon without any sort of body armor? She should at the very least have a helmet. With all the spears and arrows coming at her she can’t just be up there all unprotected. Ser Jorah would never allow this.

#GameofThrones +2: 5 Thoughts From The Queen’s Justice

Two days removed from Game of Thrones “The Queen’s Justice” here are the five things that stand out.

1. Dany is a terrible queen so far.
Daenerys Targaryen is proof that great campaigners don’t necessarily make great leaders.
For someone who endured so much hardship in her life, Dany woefully underestimated the work it would take to be the queen of the seven kingdoms. She’s got the best LinkedIn title ever: The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons. But she seems to have waltzed up the mountain on Dragonstone assuming Jon Snow would bend the knee and Cersei would be a pushover. WRONG.

Jon Snow had no time for her attempt to hold him to the oath of his ancestors while at the same time disowning her own familial legacy. He’s not a sterling diplomat himself, but he got what he wanted from this diplomatic visit – the dragon glass – while having to make no concessions of his own. In the business, Dany, we call that getting rolled.

And then there’s her actual enemy: Cersei. She’s playing chess while Dany and Tyrion are playing checkers. In two episodes they lost the Greyjoy fleet entirely and orphaned the Unsullied by drastically over-estimating the value of Casterly Rock, which Cersei expertly anticipated, taking Highgarden in the process. Oops.

In real life we’d say Dany needs to bring in a new chief of staff and send Tyrion to the private sector. In Game of Thrones, she needs to take a page from the Underwoods and turn over the table or she and her dragons are won’t have anything to show for their first 100 days.

2. Cersei is dead inside
Speaking of Cersei, she gone. Losing her first two children pushed her to the edge and her last child threw himself over it. Once he went splat she lost all sense of give a damn. I think she’ll make it to the end of the show, but she’s in a downward spiral from which she won’t recover. She’ll either be dead or alone, and I think she’d rather be dead. Either way, she doesn’t even care. This makes her even more threatening to Dany’s ambition.

Plus, if she’s not careful she’s going to lose Jamie. Wouldn’t that be something – Jamie as the character who killed a king and abandoned a queen. Quite a legacy.

3. Tyrion is having a bad stretch
Tyrion is like that employee who was a great interview but a terrible hire. What does he have to show for his Lannister cunning? Well he got no fleet and he’s about to got no Unsullied. You have to wonder how someone who underestimates his enemies this badly managed to survive for so long.

4. Bran is the worst
Here he is back from god knows where after you’ve been through hell and instead of a smile and a hug you get Mr. Mood Ass. Sansa has to go down as one of the top five sisters ever for putting up with his crap, up to and including referencing the night she was raped.

BUT, I think re-uniting these two is an important move in light of Sansa’s weekly snark off with Petyr. For the first time, he holds his own and cautions her to “Fight every battle, everywhere, always. In your mind, everyone is your enemy. Everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens is something that you see before.”

Literally at the very end of that line we get some Bran, who explains in the most arrogant way possible that as the Three-Eyed Raven, “I can see everything. Everything that’s ever happened, to everyone. Everything that’s happening right now.” Well how about that, that’s just the kind of insight Petyr just told her she needs.

One more thing…how will Bran react when the supposed bastard of Ned Stark returns? I keep watching scenes with Jon thinking, “I hope someone in this conversation knows he’s not a Stark.”

5. What’s with that look, Spider?
The conversation between Melisandre and Lord Varys came to a strange ending, didn’t it? We know The Red Woman’s got some shit, but what’s with hinting that she has to die in Westeros just like he does? And why did that elicit such a pained reaction?

Game of Thrones Season 7: The Queen’s Justice Recap

Is there redemption in Reek? He’s going to float to somewhere, where will that be and what will he tell the people who find him?

Jon Snow moved quickly! He’s already in Dragonstone. If I were him, I don’t surrender my weapons. The rest of my sailing faction, sure. But me and my onion knight don’t come to sublimate ourselves. Jon’s long look at his men before walking away is not lost as they walk past row upon row of exposed dragon glass.

“Stark men don’t fare well when they travel south,” Tyrion reminds him. Foreshadowing? Jon about gets clipped by a dragon seconds later. Foreshadowing?

“I’ve done my part. I’ve brought ice and fire together,” Melissandre says. Maybe foretelling that her role in this story is over as she heads for Volantis. She tells Spider she has to die in Westeros, just like him and he looks very troubled by this. What does it mean?

Dany has a long resume and this is awkward because Jon doesn’t. Dany is quick to remind him the Starks swore their allegiance to the Targaryens in perpetuity. She is in no mood to negotiate her position. He gives it right back over the Mad King, earning him an ask for forgiveness from Dany who seems to want to apply the past selectively. Jon calls her on it. Her ignorance over why she might need Jon’s help shows her inexperience in Westeros. Tyrion should have seen that coming. Or perhaps he doesn’t either. Jon is the one having to make the case for the future when everyone else in this game sees profit in the present. “You’ll be ruling over a graveyard if we don’t defeat the Night King.”

“I am the last Targaryen, Jon Snow.” Again I hope someone in this room knows Jon is no Stark.

Dany reveals herself as angry here, she’s motivated by overcoming the anger she clamped down on during her life. The Breaker of Chains has a virtuous streak, but she resembles the entitled kings and queens of Westeros more than she would admit.

You know Jamie wants to slit Euron’s throat. I hope they get to fight.

Cersei is dead inside. Her move to expose her affair with Jamie was bold. Maybe it was arrogant? She’s bold if she thinks she can repay the Lannisters’ debt to the iron bank in a fortnight.

Tryion gives Jon a dose of reality: He’s not making a reasonable ask. This is Jon’s opening for the dragon glass conversation. Duh. He also exposes Dany’s naiveity when he gently reminds her that Jon is a potential ally. She’s been viewing him as a rival and a rebel. But she knows when to come around, which says she’s a strong leader.

Ah, the weekly check in on Littlefinger eyeing Sansa and Sansa giving him the business. Except this time he gives her advice only a scheming snake like Littlefinger can: Be paranoid.

Oh hey, it’s Bran. Hi, Bran. Well you don’t look very happy to see your sister now, do you. It’s interesting that this conversion where Bran explains what it means to be the three-eyed raven comes after Littlefinger’s warning to know everything that happens everywhere. You’d have to really love your brother to put up with a conversation like this.

What will the debt Ser Jorah now owes to Tarly mean for Jon, given Jorah’s connection to Dany? A note about that handshake: Jorah’s left hand is the one that showed the most disease.

Now Dany is like revenge on Euron now!

Oh, it’s Helm’s Deep kind of. “And so it begins.” And just like that, Casterly Rock falls. Or was it given away? Euron burned their ships and orphaned Dany’s force. Out foxed again.

House of Cards Season 5: The Underwood split begins


I’ve always thought House of Cards was about relationships. Frank and Claire, Frank and Doug, Frank and Catherine, and on and on. But Frank and Claire above everyone else. After watching season five during baseball’s All-Star break I still think this is true, but I have a more refined view of what it means. The story isn’t simple about relationships. It’s about dominance in relationships.

Frank dominated Claire in the early seasons. She thought they were equals, and he willingly let her think so. That caught up with him through seasons three and four and it nearly broke their marriage. It wasn’t until Claire orchestrated a race scandal to damage his primary campaign that Frank truly viewed and treated her as an equal partner in their marriage. Claire got on the presidential ticket, and their marriage was restored.

For a while.

Dominant Frank returned in season five, asserting his own will and making decisions that contradicted or ignored Claire’s input. His ultimate show of dominance came, ironically, when he resigned the presidency and demanded – without consulting her first – a full pardon from his wife-turned-president. Claire hesitated and vocalized her obvious realization to Frank that he left her no choice. In that conversion she revealed, however subtly or not, that she knows the equal partnership is over.

Season five ended with the new President Underwood ignoring Frank’s calls and declaring to an empty Oval Office, “My turn.” In season six I hope we’ll see the complete and final sundering of the Underwood marriage.

What would that look like?

We know what we get from House of Cards at this point. Frank and Claire never really resolve any of their problems. They just get past them by creating a new, more chaotic problem. When that fails, they kill people. Witness Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo, Tom Yates and (possibly) LeAnn Harvey. So expect the same rolling cavalcade of chaos as we’ve seen for five seasons, with each decision leaving trace elements of explosives that will go off at the wrong time in the future, forcing still more wild decisions that force them farther apart.

House of Cards has always been a show devoid of any happiness within its characters. I hope and expect that to continue. I don’t see a fitting end with Claire – or Frank – reclining behind the Resolute desk in comfortable power. Both are almost certain to fall with their lies and misdeeds exposed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either ends up dead.

Let’s get to something I didn’t like about this season: The introductions of Mark Usher and Jane Davis. Both characters are “fixers” orchestrating things outside of what we see in each episode. Mark feels slightly more two-faced than Jane for the way he turned on Will Conway. Does anyone really think Frank would let someone so close to him who so easily broke his candidate’s trust? Unless Frank had Mark in place from day one for exactly that purpose, I highly doubt it. The contrast between Usher and Doug Stamper is enormous.

But both Usher and Davis strike me as too convenient in a show that needs to avoid convenience as much as possible to maintain its credibility. Jane knows exactly the right foreign player at exactly the right time and Mark’s loyalties shift in the right direction at the right moment. I think there’s a lot to yet learn about both of them (how did Jane get LeAnn’s gun?) and I hope they explore it more in season six. If they’re both working for Frank – entirely possible – I could accept it but I would have to be really thrown for a loop to buy into anything else.

This is a minor quibble. There’s plenty the show still does right. I enjoy the way it jumps ahead of scenes and events so we don’t have to sit through inevitabilities. Catherine falling down the steps is a good example. There’s no need to show us Frank feigning dismay when security crews get there. We know he’s a liar. Skipping the second election day is another one. I also loved the way it split season five basically in half between the election and the aftermath, using the former to lay the groundwork or the later.

I think it ultimately laid the groundwork for season six, making season five a transition season. This whole story has been the odyssey of the Underwood’s pursuit of incrementally more power. Now that they both achieved the most powerful office in the world, there’s only one type of power left for conquest: Power over the other.