Agree or Disagree: Game of Thrones “The Bells” edition

Last week I drafted this whole open letter to Dany Targaryen about how she is a bad leader with a weak case for the Iron Throne. Fortunately I never published it because she might fly to my house and smote me with fire as I lay innocently in my bed…and then melt the rest of San Francisco.

I really enjoyed watching the second-to-last Game of Thrones episode ever. It was an amazing spectacle. But I don’t enjoy thinking about “The Bells.” So instead of crafting my own column I’m going to pull points from various reviews and work out my thoughts that way.

“Lena Headey has put in the work with every smirk and gallon of Dornish red chugged. Thrones has enough Emmys, but she’s way overdue for one.” – The Ringer

Agreed! But if she wins an Emmy now it will be for her work on the whole series, not season eight. Cersei was on the screen for something like 25 minutes this year. What gives? She was absent from two whole episodes, as if Lena Headey was off filming a movie and couldn’t be bothered. Which I highly doubt.

Cersei’s absence and detached involvement with the battle for her city are an example of how rushed and poorly told this final season has been. Her basic arc went like this:

    • Lamented not having elephants
    • Slept with Euron
    • Watched Kings Landing get burned
    • Died

lol wut? This is one of the best characters and actors on the show. Why was she sidelined? What possible sense does that make?

“D&D’s trying to cram character development into the “previously on”—with a sound collage of people talking about Targaryens overlaid on the footage of Dany watching Missandei’s death—because they ran out of time to convey her inner turmoil in a more organic way.” – Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer

Agreed! Something felt immediately off with the episode when that aired. Like hey, that wasn’t actually previously on Game of Thrones.

Lindbergh is spot-on with his point about how they bungled Dany’s story. Yes, we all know the Targaryens’ unfortunate history with sanity and, also yes, we know Dany has a tendency to burn people. But nothing about her icy relations with Sansa, her anger at Jon, Varys’ betrayal or her growing sense of isolation felt like a foundation for deciding mid-air over Kings Landing that everyone in the city was guilty of denying her the throne, punishable by fiery death.

I don’t think they sold it in the run-up and I definitely do not think they sold the moment. I could have believed it had they shown her taking more and more pleasure from  incinerating her opponents during the battle then feeling too consumed by power and rage to resist burning the innocent townsfolk.

But they didn’t. As the writers said afterwards, she decided in that moment. The Red Keep was there for the taking. She could have melted Cersei and taken the throne. Instead she leveled the city. The storytelling to that point in season eight hadn’t earned such a sudden change.

To make things worse, we hardly saw her after that. We saw plenty of Drogo’s belly and bad breath but none of Dany. A few well-timed shots of the look on her face would have helped sell her descent to madness.

Let’s take a detour to ponder something: Was it ever truly possible for Dany to hold the throne by anything other than fear?  Imagine if she had taken out the tower but spared the city. Would the innocents of Kings Landing follow her willingly, as Missandei did, or would they follow her because they saw what happened to mighty Cersei Lannister when she opposed the usurper and her deadly dragons?

My favourite thing about Dany was the way she represented consent of the governed in a world ruled by the divine right of kings. In this ponderous detour, I wonder if maybe Dany bringing that revolution to Westerous was nothing more than a dream.

“Tyrion begs for the lives of the people of King’s Landing, and gets Dany to agree to spare them if they surrender by ringing the city bells. His obsession with saving commoners doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose someone needed to foreshadow Dany’s reign of terror.” – Kelly Lawler, USA Today

Huh? Disagree! Tyrion’s realization that people outside the Red Keep matter was a key part of his character’s evolution and growing skepticism that backing Dany was the right choice.

“I get that the show has been building toward Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen for seasons now — really, I do. In theory, her turn toward villainy really could have worked. But in practice, its execution was sloppy and rushed, a microcosm of what’s felt wrong with much of this final season. – Zack Beauchamp, Vox

Agreed! Zack succinctly summarizes all my thoughts in three sentences. Probably why he works for Vox and I’m pounding this out at 10:30 on a Tuesday night.

“Qyburn’s demise, in particular, was so, so satisfying, and somehow managed to really emphasize how much he always looked like a man shuffling down a hospital hallway in an open-backed hospital gown.” – The Ringer

Agreed! It’s fun to watch unlikeable weasels die. Remember when Dharma Phil took that rebar to the chest?

“After being ineffectual at the Battle of Winterfell and against the Iron Fleet, Drogon has suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction that no scorpion crossbow can hit.” – Lawler, USA Today

Disagree! Yes, three incredibly unlikely shots took out a dragon the week before but did you not see Dany using the sun as cover, and skimming across the water so the crossbows couldn’t aim low enough to hit her? Pretty clever, I thought. One of Dany’s few recent tactical wins.

“It’s easy enough to imagine a climax to “The Bells” where Dany flew to the Red Keep, saw Cersei surrounded by innocents, and decided to burn them all anyway.” – Zack from Vox again

Agreed! My first thought during the episode was “This is what it finally took for Jon to want to be king.” Not because he yearned to rule but because he had to prevent Dany from doing it. Had things gone the way Zack suggests, Jon would have had a much more difficult moral decision that (if done right, and realizing that’s a big if with this show right now) would have been fun to watch and fun for viewers to debate.

The behind-the-scenes schemers and string-pullers who shaped the show have fallen on hard times in recent seasons, as Benioff and Weiss have run out of Martin’s source material, forcing them to take on more of the burden of plotting and scripting the show — and bringing their own blunter tastes and interests to the fore. […] In Benioff and Weiss’ hands, the schemers have all come to bad endings. Tyrion Lannister, once the tactical genius of the Battle of Blackwater and the show’s quippiest character, has been in a two-season slump where he can’t seem to make a single good decision. Littlefinger fell into an obvious trap and got his throat cut. Melisandre gave up her life the second the battle with the Night King was over. Even Bran Stark, hailed as the living memory of humanity, has notably failed to offer up much from that memory that’s useful in shaping the current series of conflicts.- Tasha Robinson, The Verge

Agree so hard! Seasons seven and eight have proven that D&D are great at adapting books to television and terrible at telling the story on their own. There’s no doubt Game of Thrones right now is an incredible television achievement. The scope is unbelievable. But the minds behind the storytelling have been exposed, for the worse.

Lastly, I do not and never have cared about Clegane Bowl.

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.

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.

 

Game of Thrones Season Opener Brings In The Set Up Man

Old fashioned baseball used to have a pitcher called The Set Up Man. The Set Up Man came on in the eighth inning to “set up” The Closer, who would come in one inning later to end the game. It was a thankless role because no one came to the park hoping to see The Set Up Man. They all wanted to see the flame-thrower at the end of the bullpen. If you saw The Closer, you saw the win.

Game of Thrones’ final season premiered with an episode—Winterfell, they called it—that ably played the role of The Set Up Man. It wasn’t exciting, and it was only for a brief moment in the crypt dramatic. But it did it’s job like an eighth inning reliever, and now the pieces are in place for the final season to really get underway.

Everyone to Winterfell

In a nice callback to season one, season eight began with a boy climbing the walls of Winterfell to watch a royal procession roll toward the gates. Instead of fat King Robert bringing a nest of Lannisters, this procession had Queen Daenerys bringing dragons, the Unsullied and the man who left as King in the North. Here they all are now, ready to fight the undead army. And quarrel a little internally. But mostly fight the undead army.

Golden Company to Kings Landing

Euron completed his quest for Cersei, delivering a flotilla of ships from the Golden Company to pay her bed’s fare. He may think he pulled the strings here, but we all know Cersei is the one in control. She knows exactly what she needs, and now she has it in 10,000 sellswords brought by a fool who thinks Cersei Lannister lets events dictate her and not the other way around.

Stashing the Greyjoys

Family reunions are complicated on Game of Thrones. Good for Yara Greyjoy for knocking over her neutered brother Theon for leaving her captive to evil uncle Euron. Now they’re headed to reclaim the Iron Islands, where no doubt the story will find them when it needs them most.

So there we have it. The final season is set up with Westeros split as it was when we first saw it: The honorable north and the scheming south with the Greyjoys off to the side. But The Closer is jogging in from his bullpen beyond the wall, and he’s got a dragon throwing ice-cold fire.

As Ned warned Cat in that very first episode, “Winter is coming.”

The secret is out

I don’t like when shows delay the inevitable, so I’m glad Thrones decided to clue in Jon to his real parentage right away. Having it linger over his relationship with Dany would have been artificial suspense. This show is better than that. And I like that they did it front of Lynna’s place in the crypt (the episode’s second callback to the series premiere). Now we’ll see how it complicates his position with Dany (pun…intended) , which is already being stressed by his sister’s need to keep the north together.

Snap reactions

No one could feasibly believe Dany’s claim to Sansa that the north is beautiful, but you have to compliment your hosts no matter how ugly you find their couch. The dynamic between these two will be crucial to the final season. The budding distrust was thick as Valyrian steel when Sansa asked what dragons eat and Dany responded smugly saying, “Whatever they want.” I can see Sansa coming to trust her, and Sansa’s trust won’t come easy. What will Dany have to pay for it?

Bran is the guy you knew freshman year who wouldn’t drink at parties. Is this what being the Three-Eyed Raven does to a man? Dany’s not even put up her feet in Winterfell and he’s already like, “Dead dragon comin’.” F*ckin’ shoot a beer and loosen up, man.

I mentioned last season how character reunions gave us a way to measure the way each changed since they parted. We saw two of them tonight. Tyrion and Sansa reuniting for the first time since Joffrey’s death in season three might be the best example. Tyrion is much more mellow and recognizes the virtue in power for more than buying whores and fine wine. Sansa has gone the opposite direction, having been burned by life at every turn since fleeing for her life from Kings Landing.

Jon and Arya’s reunion was one of warrior equals. Longclaw spilled far more blood than Needle, but both wielders respect each other for the paths they traveled. This was my favourite scene of the episode.

Speaking of the scene with Sansa and Tyrion, do you think he felt a twinge of doubt when Sansa questioned whether Cersei’s army was really coming? She doesn’t trust anyone. Trusting his sister might be something Tyrion comes to regret.

Why was Cersei so hung up on getting some elephants?

Bronn is going to have an interesting choice to make. Is he loyal to money or is he loyal to battle? My money is on battle.

There’s got to be some foreshadowing to Lord Varys reminding Tyrion and Ser Davos that “Nothing lasts” while standing on the walls of Winterfell.

Remember when people came to Minnesota for the Super Bowl and didn’t bring coats? That’s what I’m picturing with the Unsullied in the north.

How did Dany forget about dragon food? That’s like a parent forgetting to stop at McDonald’s on a road trip. MOMMMMM!

After waiting impatiently for a year and a half, Thrones fans deserved a little something and the show delivered with Jon’s first time captaining a dragon.

How will the dragons react when they see their undead brother?

I will be seriously annoyed if Jamie manages to hide more than a day or two in Winterfell. And even more annoyed if stupid Bran helps keep him secret.

Is Dany killing Sam’s family going to be a problem? It sure seemed like it. Maybe happy Sam won’t be happy after all as he tries to drive a wedge between Dany and Jon.

What’s that thing Arya wants built???

 

Manifest is not the next Lost. Manifest is terrible.

Millions of pixels have been lit theorizing what television show will be the next Lost. Nearly every word on this blog has been devoted to the subject. Some of the early contenders tried hard but didn’t last. Flash Forward and The Event come to mind. There have also been shows since September 21, 2004, that match or even exceed Lost’s brilliance. Breaking Bad, The Man in the High Castle and The Wire come to mind.

This fall season we had a new contender, and its parallels were obvious. Manifest (NBC) is about passengers of a flight that mysteriously went missing. After three episodes that seems to be where the similarities end. But three episodes of Lost barely scratched the island’s surface, so that’s something we’ll have to cover in a different post.

Now nearly a full season in, I’m comfortable declaring Manifest is not the next Lost but it is a pile of wreckage. It’s story—which should be interesting—is told with such little effort and depth that I had to quit watching after the fall finale.

Why the fall finale? Because it decided to make the cliffhanger for the entire fall season be the (not so) shocking reveal of a character introduced in this one episode to be a spy. Seriously? They had how many episodes to build a character whose shocking reveal would actually be shocking, but they chose to do it all in 42 minutes? Get out of here with that. An airplane survival story overflows with ways to sneak in a character who isn’t who we think it is (hello, Ethan Rom). Manifest tried to make it happen in one episode, which is lazy af and a privilege this show had not earned.

It most certainly isn’t something Lost would have done. Neither is the weak arc of Thomas, the stowaway being brought to America by a flight attendant. Instead of introducing him as a stowaway, why not establish the relationship he came here for and then put him in danger of being split from his boyfriend? Because that would have taken up valuable time when Ben was screwing up his marriage or Michaela was having a vision. Gotta have those visions!

This show sucks. It sucks and I’m mad just writing this blog about it.