Monday, August 14, 2017
There's a certain bias in the fiction publishing and writing worlds. As with music, most books are split up into highly specific categories so that they can be properly marketed to their presumptive audiences. Music publishing has this phenomenon, although musicians have often defied those hard and fast definitions, implicitly or directly. Is Tom Waits a rock singer? Blues? Country? Folk? Alternative? (I despise that label. Alternative to what?) In truth, he's all of the above and, therefore, defies easy categorization. When musicians do that, they're often slotted into new categories so that labels can be reapplied. Hip hop with a house beat and electronic tunes is grime, instead of just another version of hip hop. Fiction has taken a similar path in recent years, such that a combination of approaches has created more specific categories. Wizards walking about in present-day Chicago is now "urban fantasy", for example.
But one thing that hasn't really changed is the divide between "literary fiction" (i.e. acceptable highbrow stuff traditionally included in publications like the New York Review of Books) and "genre fiction", which is everything else. If your story has an identifying element (crime, space travel, cowboys, etc.), you get a "genre" label which, for a long time, identified your work as "lesser." This has changed to some degree, such that the NYRoB happily reviews George RR Martin's work because it's both worthwhile and highly popular. Similarly, 20 years ago, HBO's biggest show, Game of Thrones, would have been swiftly dismissed as lesser because it's "swords and dragons." Indeed, some people still try to take this petty view, even as "genre" shows win piles of awards and are the hottest thing on TV or in the theaters. And, indeed, there is still some level of bias in the academic world, where writing students are often steered toward literary fiction if they want to be taken seriously. But, again, it is changing and no one doubts the ability of Martin or HBO to present a complex and very adult story with mature themes that still has dragons, zombies, and a thousand-foot wall of ice. They've done so and millions of fans and thousands of critics appreciate it.
That's why I was kind of put off by the backbone storyline of the latest episode, which resembled nothing so much as a poorly-plotted session of Dungeons and Dragons. Why would this small group of men, all of whom somehow know each other from various facets of their lives ("You're all sitting in a bar when an old man walks in with a prophecy which, for some reason, he tells only to you!"), hie off into the wilderness for the most unlikely of expeditions: obtaining a wight to convince two queens, one of whom would gladly execute them all as soon as they came within sight of her capital, that a legendary threat is all too real. ("The townspeople tell legends about the caves filled with evil spirits that you're compelled to go fight... for some reason!") Most notable among this group of men is Jon Snow, who spent a moment in this episode coming to grips with his role and its attendant responsibility ("With respect, your Grace, I don't need your permission. I am a king.") and then chucks all of that aside to venture past the wall into what most reasonable types would suggest is certain doom. This is akin to Captain Kirk constantly leading the away team, comprised of his senior officers, into dangers that could easily wipe out the entire chain of command on the Enterprise. It happened, of course, because they didn't want to make a show about Red Shirt Guys constantly being killed. But it also happened because Star Trek, despite Roddenberry's often elevated thematic approach, was a "genre" show that followed the heroic formula. And who's more heroic than the fearless leader?
It was the first time I've felt that Benioff and Weiss had perhaps written themselves into a corner and needed something mildly incongruous to get them out. This is season 7. There are a lot of long-awaited events taking place and payoffs to stories literally years in the making are finally arriving. With all of these massive events (the invasion of Westeros, the devastation of the old order, the return of the Targaryens, with dragons, no less) taking place, we're going to take a detour back to the far north to grab a zombie that will convince Cersei to join up? And this somehow sounds reasonable to this collection of very canny and practical people... how? I mean, granted. people don't always make rational decisions and this one is far from it. They even have the ultimate cynic, the Hound, following a vision imparted to him by people he hates. It also makes a certain level of sense, overall, with Jon desperate to bring aid against the Night King and Dany's advisers desperate to keep her from burning King's Landing and everyone in it to the ground. If those two situations can be resolved by somehow grabbing a wight and convincing Cersei that this is one of dozens of thousands coming to swallow the continent... why not give it a shot? Well, because it feels like a distinct lowering of the story.
Yes, suspension of disbelief is the order of the day in this, our "genre" fiction. That's not at issue here. Part of the reason I started reading the books 20+ years ago is because I'm interested in the dragons and the ice people, but it was also because the blurb I read about it included the phrase "political machinations", which typically means Machiavellian characters who do rational things or at least make their irrational choices in a very self-serving manner. Yes, that's a difficult thing to meld with the typical hero's journey that inhabits most tales of fantasy, urban or otherwise. It's also possible to have characters acting perfectly normally in an irrational or emotional fashion. Arya in this episode is a perfect example. She's still harassing her sister for acting in what she views as a weak manner and she's also taken a laser focus on the actions of Littlefinger. What she may not realize is that she's undermining Sansa and, in fact, working in Baelish's interests with that approach and she's also not as aware of his uncanny grasp of situations as most other people are. He always has a plan and, right now, it seems that the plan is to lure Arya in and it's working perfectly. She's the impetuous young woman whose return home is clearly having an emotional impact on her and exacerbating the nature that she's developed over recent years to take matters into her own hands and solve them with the edge of a dagger. That's a perfectly understandable behavior pattern. Of course, it's also perfectly possible that the Faceless Man is doing the long con on Littlefinger and letting him think that he's suckering her and she's using Sansa as confirmation of that, if she ends up speaking to him. Too early to tell, but this is going to end poorly for someone.
One can extend that perspective to Dany's performance in this episode to some degree. Certainly, the frustrations of previous weeks could cause her to take the hardass approach with the Iron Throne so apparently close at hand. But offering a choice of loyalty or death to defeated enemies is no choice at all, especially for the so-called Breaker of Chains. An army of men serving in fear isn't comprised of soldiers. They're slaves; slaves to fear. That's not a really rational approach by the Dragon Queen but, like Arya's, it's at least partially understandable, given surrounding events. I can't really say the same about the Eastwatch expedition and that's disappointing. I write these things because I appreciate the well-formed characters and the density of the plotting. Taking apparent short cuts with characters making choices seemingly disconnected from the state of the world to date is something that I'd expect from Sharknado or Big Trouble in Little China (Don't @ me, BTLC fans. I like it, too, but it's a B movie.) Game of Thrones, to date, has been an example of proving the bias against "genre" to be misdirected. I don't want to lose that.
It was interesting to see Eastwatch for the first time in the opening credits. That's usually an indication that it's a location that we'll be seeing for some time, which means the expedition could go on for a bit. Given the shortened season (which may itself be a reason for the plotting faux pas), one wonders exactly how much of the remaining two episodes it will consume.
Why was the Rains of Castamere theme playing while Tyrion walked through the ashes of the Lannister army? That's usually played when the Lannisters have scored a victory, which was obviously not the case here. Also, my assumption was that Tyrion's obvious emotion in the scene was at least in part because he was looking for Jaime, presumably turned to some of those ashes and perhaps only identifiable by his ornate armor. That made it a little jarring when, obviously days later, not only does Tyrion know that his brother is alive with no reaction shown, but is aware for long enough to get Bronn to set up a meeting. Once again, the shortened season means that some events are obviously being condensed, but it's getting mildly out of control here.
Of course, one of the biggest events was one of the minor details: Gilly reading that Rhaegar's marriage had been annulled and that he'd actually been married to Lyanna (something speculated upon by book readers for some time now.) That would make Jon not a bastard and, by strict feudal primogeniture, the actual heir to the Targaryen throne, bypassing Dany by dint of being male. The Targaryen blood was already confirmed in this episode by Drogon's willingness to make physical contact with Jon (the wholly irrational act of reaching out and touching a dragon being explained, storywise, by Jon having the intuitive connection because he's a Targaryen; see, it's possible to do these things in a believable manner.) That leaves all kinds of paths open for whose butt is eventually going to be on top of the pile of swords. Speaking of which, they also didn't mention that Sam is now heir to Horn Hill of House Tarly, appropriate since he never was confirmed as a maester, which would have made him ineligible, and he is still hauling around the family's Valyrian greatsword.
On that note, it's interesting to see how understandable skepticism about the Others, even among the lore keepers, can get clouded by conspiracy theories. It's not just that the legends of the great enemy are so old that even those with the knowledge are prone to viewing them as myths, but it's also that those who consider themselves the last line of defense for Westeros against the invader (i.e. the Valyrians) are also prone to believing that misdirection on the Dragon Queen's part is more likely than another Long Night. Comparisons to the modern era of fake news abound...
Speaking of which, Varys getting out ahead with the Nuremberg confession was an interesting moment, especially given the real world events of this weekend. "I'm only the purveyor of information. I'm not the one doing it." is the easy excuse of many who sit by and observe, content with the idea that they're not responsible but are only watching others do the evil.
Despite the plotting issues, it's good to see that the character moments are still well-handled. Cersei and Jaime's embrace after the revelation of the pregnancy may have been the most complex emotional moment of the entire series. On the one hand, you have the obvious surge of emotion at the thought that they may have another child to replace the three that they've lost. On the other hand, you can just see the tacit acknowledgment on Jaime's part that his love for his sister is now mixed with a bit of disgust at her ruthlessness and an awareness that his mindset has changed. Cersei, of course, is fully aware that her brother has changed and she may be using the new child not only to inflame his passion in the way things used to be, but to do so to try to convince herself that they're back to that state, even when she clearly knows that they aren't (he's changed; Brienne; etc.) That awareness and acknowledgment of same is confirmed when she issues the implied threat about future betrayal, even as she tries to reassure him past consideration of the public reaction, since she's the queen and she'll do as she likes... which may be the most disturbing thing about the whole situation, because who knows what Cersei may like to do at any given moment? Not even the person closest to her, her twin, which you can see in Jaime's eyes at the end of that embrace. There is so much packed into those few seconds and both Lena Headey and Nikolai Coster-Waldau demonstrate what a firm grasp they have on their characters and the legacy of the past seven years building up to this point. That was magnificent.
Less prominent, but still well-played, was Jorah's tacit understanding of the introduction of a new rival for the affection of Dany in the form of Jon. Do you treat your quest as the last chance to save the world or do you eventually look the other way as the king of the north falls on an undead blade because you can show your dragon queen that you're the one most-deserving of her attention? Maybe. Maybe.
I'll be somewhere between impressed and chagrined if fermented crabmeat becomes a meme.
Lines of the week:
This was one of the more difficult choices that I remember, not just because more than one moment was so good, which many of them were, but because so many of them had so many layers and so many ways that they could be interpreted and spelled out, both within the story itself and from an analytical, external perspective. If any moments deserved such a compound sentence and a complex assessment, many of these did.
"Listen to me, cunt: Until I get what I'm owed, a dragon doesn't get to kill ya. You don't get to kill ya. Only I get to kill ya."
"Dragons are where our partnership ends."
Bronn and Jaime, the odd couple forever.
"So we fight and die or we submit and die. I know my choice."
Cersei with the other non-choice.
"Did you read it?"
"It's a sealed scroll for the King in the North!"
"What's it say?"
Pragmatism among the ones really moving the world forward.
"Today might be the day I kill you by accident."
"What if someone takes the boat?"
"Then we're fucked! Best hurry."
The continual pragmatism of the Onion Knight.
"This is Gendry"
And, in kind, the perfunctory ease of the Imp when time is (ahem) short.
"You can be dead in a moment. You can be a coward for the rest of your life."
Again the pragmatism of Davos, but again demonstrating how he doesn't want to lose yet another Baratheon child who has come into his protection.
"I'm tired of reading about the achievements of better men."
In truth, is anyone a better man, or better person, than Sam?
"You're a lot leaner."
"You're a lot shorter."
We are our fathers and we aren't. This is a new world.
And the winner:
"Nothing fucks you harder than time."
Monday, August 7, 2017
|Come get some.|
The most notable, of course, is Dany's dismissal of the "clever plans" in favor of the direct approach of using a dragon to solve problems. This was probably greeted with a huge sigh of "Finally!" by much of the audience, but you can see the broader question that Benioff and Weiss have weaved in. It's one of the oldest political premises of the modern world: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Tyrion and Co. are leery of letting Dany believe that the only way to see her agenda enacted is to slaughter thousands on the way to the top. As Jon notes in this very episode, if you do that, you're just more of the same; another tyrant. The common people that you've held at the forefront of your efforts don't benefit (in fact, many of them die) and you rule by the terror embodied by three giant lizards. The premise is that doing it Tyrion's way may be slower and more frustrating, but it also builds a more solid foundation for a modern world that isn't simply waiting to descend into chaos again (ladder or not) once said giant lizards die off. In a modern context, it's not too dissimilar from current circumstances in the US. If progressives do manage to take control of the government, should all of the ignorant Trumpanzees, economically frustrated and unrepentant racists alike, simply be slaughtered or might there be some benefit to examining why their views have become so (ahem) colored and how they might mirror the frustration of others who aren't so enamored with our own world's version of Joffrey?
|Feels just like old times. Really.|
|Did I just hear what I think I've never heard in my life?|
|Yeah. I think we lost.|
Oh, and you can call it a "scorpion" if you like because it sounds cooler, but that there is a ballista. A scorpion (scorpio, actually) was for rapid fire, not hurling small trees into the sky.
I thought the scene in the crypts between Sansa and Arya was well done for a number of reasons, but not least because of the presence of Ned Stark. It's easy to forget how devoted the Stark family was, not only to each other but to the patriarch. The girls' reunion was a demonstration of that fealty, but also an acknowledgment that there's a still a large hole in their world that had been filled by their father and he remains a key element of the overall story, long after his death. Sean Bean still around, yo.
|It's the little fing- ahem - things that have real meaning.|
|Is it history or a screenplay crutch?|
Not many Lines of the week:
"It's well being is a matter of arithmetic, not sentiment."
Spoken like any banker, ever.
"I didn't run. You need better guards."
"He's not a generous man. He wouldn't give you anything unless he thought he was getting something back."
"What kind of a queen am I if I'm not willing to risk my life to fight for them?"
"A smart one."
Tyrion, ever the voice of reason.
"We don't have marriage in Naath, so the concept of a bastard doesn't exist."
"That sounds... liberating."
This is free love in Westeros/Essos/Sothyros (GRRM really need to give us a world name.)
|There's a fighting style argument to be made here, but I'll spare you.|
"I'll try not to."
Says the giant warrior woman in full armor to the pixie with a letter opener.
And the winner:
"I'm sure Queen Cersei's reign will be quiet and peaceful."
"Eh. Stranger things have happened."
Bronn and Jaime remain the perfect odd couple.
Monday, July 31, 2017
In every story, there comes a time when the conflicts you've set up and become comfortable with have to be resolved. In epics like Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, they're likely going to be resolved in stages, if only to give the audience (and the writers and actors) some opportunity to revel in that resolution. This is the payoff to years of work. Tonight's episode was one step in that progression for a number of storylines. It took years for the Unsullied to come to grips with Westerosi soldiers. The taking of Casterly Rock was one example of why their reputation is as grand as it is. Many people in Westeros and all of the audience has known that Cersei and Jaime have been a bit more than fraternal since the first episode. Now it's common gossip throughout the city and soon beyond. And, of course, everyone has been waiting for the meeting of Jon and Daenerys (nephew and aunt) for quite some time now, although there's still a lot of that story left to tell. As Melisandre said: "I've done my part. I brought ice and fire together."; thus referencing the title that George RR Martin uses for the whole sprawling project, even if HBO has stuck with the single element that drives everything: the game of thrones.
Because there were so many moments that all of us had been waiting for, it was appropriate that Benioff and Weiss were back on the writing duties. I suppose neither of them would have passed up the chance to finally pen the scene where the woman whose life is embodied by the quest for the throne meets the one man who holds a throne and really doesn't want it. Now the question is: Was the wait worth it? A great deal of expectation gets built up over such a long period of time and there were obvious attempts to defuse the grandiloquence of the situation (the comparison of titles, etc.) so that the two of them could engage as the people that they are, rather than the roles that the audience has so long wanted them to fill. As the writer(s), you have to be able to fill those long-desired moments sufficiently, without letting the progression of the story come to a halt. You've indeed reached the payoff point, but the reward is that events keep going to the real resolution. As Sam discovered tonight, there often is no reward for being right. The reward is the work itself and its successful completion.
But, with all of that said, I'm left wondering if the payoff was worth it. I found myself largely uninspired in writing about the show this week. I thought the scene with Dany and Jon ran a bit long. Just how much royal jousting can one do when one participant isn't interested at all? Likewise, for all that the episode proved that Cersei was, once again, two steps ahead of everyone else (most pointedly her brother, Tyrion), the culmination of the some of her plans was less than expected when it came to production. Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell and one of the oldest structures in Westeros was reduced to a pretty simple matte painting and one plain room where Olenna awaited her fate. The "battle" to take this crucial locale was a couple scenes of Lannister troops marching and then one moment of obvious siege clean-up... except that there was no siege. The Lannisters didn't even have a back door like the Unsullied used to take the Rock. The seat of the house with the largest army in Westeros just went away like an unwanted subplot. Clearly, the discussion between Jaime and Randyll Tarly likely involved the latter keeping that huge army away from Highgarden, but it still seems rather stunningly anti-climactic. We always have to keep in mind production limits, since there's often not room in the budget for the huge battles and sets that we'd like to see. But this season is also only seven episodes. Couldn't something have been spared for one of those seven kingdoms?
I'm not trying to say that the episode was poor, like a couple from season 5 (Dorne!) were. After all, with events like Bran's return to Winterfell. the show remains interesting to watch and it's clear that D&D have found their footing in the post-GRRM world and are steering their ship to its eventual port, regardless of what the books might say in the future. It's also clear that the actors continue to inhabit their characters splendidly; most notably the Lannisters. Tyrion, like Jon, never wanted to be part of the game. He got his first taste while working as Hand for his detestable nephew and has latched on in that same role for the only person that he finds sufficiently ethical to be in a position of power. Even in that turmoil of emotion and responsibility, neither the writers nor Peter Dinklage have lost track of who Tyrion is: a southern lord who makes little jabs at the "dreary" north and a dwarf who knows that he's still considered to be one of the "broken things", no matter which monarch he serves. Similarly, Lena Headey's performance as Cersei has been spectacular from the start, but the end of season 6 and the first three episodes of this season have been remarkable. Just watching her eyes almost literally glow with malice as she described to Ellaria how she was going to watch Tyene suffer, die, and decompose was excellent. Having achieved the lifelong goals of sitting on the throne and semi-publicly acknowledging her love for her twin, Headey is filling every corner of the role with the indulgence that Cersei would be feeling as queen of the realm. How many people get turned on by condemning someone to brutal torture and deprivation? The, uh, satisfaction was obvious.
But Jaime and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau remains the most fascinating of the three. I've seen many comments on Jaime that indicate that people are still often confused about how and why he's acting the way he does. After many were convinced that he was a "good guy" following his lengthy sojourn with Brienne, they were roundly disenchanted when he began acting like a Lannister again upon his return to Cersei and King's Landing. One still sees elements of that morality when he's confronted with the more outlandish of Cersei's actions or even when he's brooding on his role in the game and she comes in to the room trying to get some after torturing an enemy. Where before he was the one acting out of passion, now he's the one pulling away because he can't hide from the truth: this isn't what he wanted. From Tywin Lannister's perspective, Jaime lacks the one thing that all successful rulers have: ambition. Neither of his sons had it, although both are willing to embrace their roles out of necessity. His daughter has it in spades. That became one of her prime frustrations, when her father failed to see that she was the one who could lead the family when he was gone. Jaime never matured in that manner, despite being a capable commander and, eventually, a genuinely ethical person in some ways. But why does he follow Cersei's orders and display some of the old Lannister ruthlessness whenever he's interacting with the outside world? Because he knows it's a game of survival now. Cersei wants to wipe out all of their enemies to show how strong she is. Jaime wants to do so because he knows if they're left in power and the Lannisters somehow lose the struggle, he and Cersei are dead. At this point, it's simply a matter of getting them before they get him. In the meantime, he finds that he still loves the woman that he fears and is repelled by and he still loves swinging a sword, even though he's a long way from what he used to be in that respect, as well. Coster-Waldau has many fine lines to wobble off of and then find a way to return to, like any good tightrope walker, and that's what has made Jaime the most fascinating character to watch for some time, even when the plot becomes a little pro forma.
Similarly, Sansa has been left in a role that requires her to use the knowledge and awareness that life in King's Landing and with Littlefinger have groomed her for. She excels at that until long lost brother Bran finally returns to Winterfell. His inability to be human any longer becomes the element that reveals her continuing to be all too human, which is a vulnerability that Littlefinger can continue to exploit, even when (or especially when) Jon returns. It's that struggle which may turn out to be more interesting than all of the rest.
The production limits are really showing. Again, the "battle" for Highgarden was a real disappointment. The Tyrells have always been a bit of a McGuffin in the story, but when you keep lauding them as the house with the most food, now the most money, and as a consequence of both, the largest army, and then see the hereditary seat wiped out as an afterthought, it's pretty disappointing. By the same token, even though they've glossed over the question of how Euron could find both lumber and men to create the other Iron Fleet (i.e. the one that Asha and Theon didn't have), they now have Euron jetting from one side of the continent to the other in minutes to be the lever by which Cersei keeps her plans rolling two steps ahead of everyone else's. Time compression is a thing in a story this large and sometimes you just have to deal with that, but he's treading (floating) a lot closer to a deus ex machina device than I'd like to see.
Similarly, Olenna Tyrell had been floating around like a ghost, standing in for the Tyrells wherever they were needed in order to hold their place in the story. Why wasn't she meeting with her most powerful bannerman, Randyll Tarly and putting their army in the field on behalf of the Dragon Queen? Again, the reduction to seven episodes this season is having a real impact in some respects and I think this is one of them. Thankfully, Dianna Rigg got one last chance to twist the knife in the way she has since she entered the series, even if it was to reveal something that most of us already knew.
There's a certain amount of resignation in the acknowledgement that, when it comes to wars, the real winners are usually the bankers. The crown is out of money. The Lannisters are out of money. Now the Tyrells are out of money. So the Seven Kingdoms will have been laid waste and the Iron Bank will be richer than ever.
One wonders how D&D decided to handle the Dany and Jon scene from the perspective of revealing the "real" war that's coming. After all, this is a woman who rides dragons and walks through infernos unhurt. Is it really that difficult to believe in an army of zombies led by ice aliens? Certainly, there's relatively recent historical precedent for the presence of dragons, since the Targaryens conquered Westeros with some only 300 years before and no one has seen the Others in thousands of years. One can also understand a dismissal of something one has never seen, either. After all, the dragons are right outside and she's lived through the fact that fire doesn't hurt her. But she's also lived through the effects of the clear sorcery of people like Pyat Pree in Qarth. Having seen that kind of power, again, is it really that difficult to believe that there might be something just as "not normal" and threatening that a 700-foot tall wall was built to keep it out? Certainly, the threat of Cersei is both real and present and that's going to occupy one's mind more than tales from the far off North, which is why Tyrion convinces her with "Give him something by giving him nothing."
Lines of the week:
"It's been a long road, but we're both still here." True 'dat.
"A sham marriage. And unconsummated."
"I didn't ask."
"Well, it was. Wasn't. Whatever."
How to say "I didn't sleep with your sister." in Westerosi noblespeak.
"I am the last Targaryen." she says to the other last Targaryen.
"Does she like it gentle or rough? Or with a finger in the bum? Not now. We'll talk later."
There are moments when the essential chauvinism of Westerosi society breaks through. Jaime losing his hand essentially makes him a eunuch among those that fill the role of warrior and it's been interesting seeing him struggle with that.
"Sometimes tragedies are necessary to restore order." Spoken like a true fasci-, uh, banker.
"You must allow them their flights of fancy. It's dreary in the north." Tyrion being Tyrion.
"Don't know anything about that. I just started feeling better." I got better!
"Give me ten good men and I'll impregnate the bitch." Bronn, season 1, episode 3. He forgot to mention the climbing spikes, though.
"He enjoys talking."
"We all enjoy what we're good at."
"She's a disease. I regret my role in spreading it. You will, too." Olenna with one last turn of the knife.
And the winner:
"I know it's a good question. I'm looking for an answer." I think that would be "42".
Monday, July 24, 2017
|Li'l swipe from Ralph Waldo on the title. Follow the greats, yo.|
We get that from the very beginning on Dragonstone, when Daenerys lays out the basic truth about Varys and his ever-malleable loyalties. Varys responds with what is largely the same truth he relayed to Kevan Lannister (while killing him) in A Dance with Dragons: Varys doesn't care about any regime. The only thing he really cares about is the people suffering under all of them, just as he did as a child, subject to the whims of others. Despite his ruthless application of the knowledge provided by his little birds in the name of whichever king he's been serving, his basic goal has been to try to serve the public weal.
|Hey! You're my dog! Wait. No.|
|You guys and your book-learnin'! What good are ya?!|
|Heroic death or wasting away on a log in the Narrow Sea?|
|Believe me, you need this.|
|You guys aren't gonna like this. Again. But...|
Of course, Varys protecting Dany and Viserys as children didn't stop him from following through on Robert's order to hire the Sorrowful Men to try to kill her. We can always have the ends justify the means, but if you'd like to claim that Varys was protecting his own ass by following through on a direct order, we have to remember that Varys was looking for a replacement for Robert because he considered him (accurately) to be incompetent as a king. Would he really have known that Varys didn't follow through? Unlikely. Plot/character hole? Maybe. But this stuff gets complicated.
|But it's huge, man. Really.|
Cersei doing the "loyalty out of fear" thing with the Tyrell bannermen was mildly hilarious in an obvious-parallel-to-modern-politics kind of way. "You see all those people from the east with their weird religions and dark skins and flying, firebreathing behemoths!" [well, OK, that last one is fair] "If you don't line up with me, they're all coming to get you!" The obvious response here is: "Well, no, they're all coming to get YOU. If we work with them, we'll be fine." But it's easy to give into base emotions because fear of change and the unknown and being herded like sheep is another prominent part of human nature. (Oh, hai, Mr. President!)
The costumes that Grey Worm and Missandei had on (for a while) in their scene were remarkably dull. I mean, I get that what the Unsullied walk around in when not in their armor is purely functional, but to have both of them in what looked like placeholders for their actual wardrobe was kinda weird.
As with most of Jaime's scenes, the conversation with Randyll Tarly has huge implications on a number of levels. On the one hand, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of the Tyrells' most powerful bannerman deciding to stick with them or go with the Lannisters. OTOH, it's also fascinating to see the interplay that that conversation let loose. Here's the supreme stuffed shirt of Westeros, Randyll Tarly of Hightower, being encouraged to break his oath of allegiance to Highgarden in order to follow his oath of allegiance to the Iron Throne. On top of that, he's being encouraged to do so by the man he reviles (as so many do) as the Oathbreaker, Jaime Lannister, who assassinated his king as a member of the Kingsguard. But part of Jaime's argument is that House Tyrell is essentially gone, since the only remaining member of the bloodline is the elderly Olenna Tyrell, while House Tarly still has heirs (one of them standing next to him) and could replace Tyrell as the Wardens of the South. Like I said, this stuff gets complicated, but that's an excellent character conflict that can be chewed on for a while.
|You guys are so dead!|
Again, the emphasis on women having assumed control of the overall situation continues to be prominent. The strategy meeting was between Dany, ruler of House Targaryen; Olenna, ruler of House Tyrell; Ellaria, ruler of House Dorne; and Asha, kinda ruler of House Greyjoy. Combine that with Cersei ruling House Lannister and King's Landing and Sansa assuming command of the North by the end of the episode and the transfer of power is just about complete.
Lines of the week:
"You're not here to be Queen of the Ashes." Yeah? Maybe it depends on whose ashes?
"All your spies, your little birds, did they tell you Viserys was cruel, stupid, and weak?" Layin' down the truth.
"I know how you wage war. We don't poison little girls here." No, but: Crucifixion? Good. Out of the door. Line on the left. One cross each.
|Just to get a pic of the Hand of the Queen in somewhere.|
"If they can be wounded, they can be killed." Predator reference.
"The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You're a dragon. Be a dragon." I'm really going to miss Dianna Rigg when the show is over.
"Friends don't pay." Hot Pie, showing how it's done.
"If you want people to read your histories, you need a bit of style." Every writer in the world waiting to be recognized winces like someone's peeling greyscale.
And the winner:
|Don't ever leave the inn. Seriously.|
"Cersei would do that." Can't argue.
Friday, July 21, 2017
There's a generational divide in movie audiences. Pre-Deer Hunter, war movies typically focused on the heroism inherent to soldiering and not the impact that it often had on the soldiers themselves. Despite the catastrophic human cost, including those killed and the survivors, war was usually still presented with a pre-WW1 lens, where marching off to battle was a big party and, after some requisite tension, the heroes would win out and everyone would stroll out of the theater with a sense of satisfaction. Post-Deer Hunter and, for American audiences, post-Vietnam in general, war movies have tended to focus on the psychological impact, both on the people doing the shooting and the people living around them after they return. Society has gradually come to grips with the fact that, as William Sherman once noted, war is hell and although there may be moments of genuine heroism, no one emerges unscathed, even through glorious victory.
That's why it's perhaps singularly appropriate for Christopher Nolan to have presented Dunkirk as his first film stepping away from science fiction premises in quite some time, but still carrying the themes prevalent in his storytelling. Most of Nolan's films deal with psychology in some form or another. Memento, the Batman series, Inception, Interstellar; all of them deal with either extreme choices and the consequent impact of those choices or the essence of making those choices in the first place. Most good screenplays spend some time analyzing the personality of their protagonists (and often their antagonists; see: the Joker.) but Nolan's tend to step beyond that and confront the viewers with a series of if/thens that quite feasibly could have led the story in a number of different directions and leave different parts of the audience sympathizing with the different possibilities. Dunkirk does that well.
First and foremost, Dunkirk was not a success. As Nolan takes pains to point out via Churchill's speech on the subject, no one celebrates a defeat, despite the extreme bravery inherent to the RAF pilots over that week and the private citizens who enabled the rescue to be as successful as it was. So while there was heroism, it was heroic action in the name of defeat, not victory. Nolan highlights this from the opening moments of the film, when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) are shown attempting to get ahead of the thousands of soldiers already on the beach by pretending to be Red Cross workers transporting the wounded. These are not heroic soldiers. These are guys attempting to cut the line, as it were, to save their own skins instead of those similarly stranded. In many war movies, these guys would be portrayed as cowards for fleeing the battle. But the battle was already over and like the old man handing out blankets at the end says: "Sometimes, surivin' is enough." This is especially true in the era of "total war" which became prominent again during World War II, where the pre-Enlightenment practice of slaughtering the fleeing enemy, rather than simply routing them from the field or capturing them, once again rose to the fore.
But I think Nolan's point was to show the desperation and panic that are as inherent to combat as heroism often is. These guys were the unwitting pawns in someone else's war, like the Lannister soldiers of this season's first episode, and all they wanted to do was get home in one piece. It was, of course, not common knowledge as to what the German regime had become and how "someone else's war" could be seen as a war by humanity against inhumanity. But that engages my frequent bias against WW2-era films. That conflict is frequently mentioned as the last "good war" that everyone can get behind, as if it somehow lacked political or economic motives. But war is war. There are very rarely good motives for it and almost always pernicious ones that tend to detract from the heroic angle if one looks too closely. Most pre-Vietnam war films didn't bother to do that. Almost all of them do that now and Nolan has gone one step further in making a film about defeat and desperation, rather than saving the day.
On the film itself, it has Nolan's hallmarks all over it, in terms of the quick cuts between closeups and broad shots to create context for the subject's reactions, and in terms of the long focus on certain characters as they process what's in front of them with visage, rather than verbs. Nolan apparently wrote the screenplay specifically with minimal dialogue, attempting to emphasize the visual medium. I don't know if that's what led him and Hans Zimmer, the composer, to try to inject tension with music tempo deliberately, rather than as an added element, but I have to say that I think they overdid it. Perhaps it was just an artifact of the theater I was sitting in having the volume too high, as we were getting a lot of reverb that often drowned out said minimal dialogue, but the pounding bass line accompanying moments of high tension became rather annoying. If your story and direction are already providing that stress, why do you think vibrating every seat in the theater is going to make it better? People ducking on the mole while bombs drop around them and the howl of Stukas rips overhead is plenty of visual and aural excitement already. I don't think Zimmer's efforts really helped and probably detracted from my focus on the scene, as I remember shaking my head at the accompanying noise.
Most of the performances were solid. Whitehead, Barnard, Harry Styles, and Nolan-favorite Cilian Murphy all did well at conveying the strain that their characters were under without becoming too emotive. There's a fine line between what most perceive as wooden and obvious dolor and shellshock and I think most of them hit it. Kenneth Branagh was Branagh and Tom Hardy was Hardy; both filling their roles appropriately, although I think Branagh's scenes rode a little high on the sentimental angle and I kind of yearn for the day when Hardy will have another role that allows him to do something other than look grim and intense. He was brilliant in The Revenant and I still think he should have won the Oscar for that role.
However, the man who beat him for the trophy had the best performance of this film: Mark Rylance. His redoubtable Mr. Dawson was easily the most magnetic character of the story. Every moment of his face, digesting the circumstances and then deciding on a course of action, spoke volumes. This was the pinnacle for those who would view war films as an example of the good and right succeeding over the non-, as every instance displayed his determination to do what he felt was the right thing. That character was the soul of the Dunkirk effort on the part of the regular citizens and Rylance played it brilliantly. Apparently, he initiated a ton of improv between takes and I think it paid off.
And it's worth noting here that Nolan certainly doesn't shy away from mentioning that, although the British government was making efforts to rescue their stranded soldiers (and maybe even their French and Dutch compatriots), they were also preserving resources (mostly ships) for the impending defense of the home country, too. So the pawns were still pawns, ready to be sacrificed for the king or queen (almost literally) and Dunkirk remains a modern war film, in that respect. Overall, I enjoyed it and I remain a fan of his work. I'm not quite on the "best film of 2017!" level that many critics (and many of my friends) seem to be, but it's certainly a great effort and worth seeing on the big screen, as opposed to waiting for the small one.
Monday, July 17, 2017
I'm not a Dr. Who fan. For some reason, it just never sold me. My SF experience as a kid began with Saturday morning cartoons which have few barriers when it comes to special effects and, of course, exploded in 1977 with the release of the original Star Wars. At that point, I decided that anything that couldn't blow me away visually probably wasn't worth my time. In that respect, the foppish doctor and the phone box and the clumsy Daleks were just never going to work. I could see "old" stuff like Planet of the Apes and Space: 1999 that was more entertaining than that. Of course, a few months later while reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, I realized just how wrong I was in wanting everything to be served to me on the screen. Still, the good doctor and his exploits in time just never seemed to work for me. But I know enough about the franchise to find yesterday's announcement of the person taking over as the 13th Dr. Who far more entertaining than the show has ever been.
Jodie Whittaker will be Dr. Who. For those of you not in the know, this will be the first time a woman has assumed the role. This, of course, has generated the usual tirade from the neo-Gamergate crowd about their personal worlds being shattered at the thought that a man will no longer be the protector of the timestream. Because, you know, women can't protect anything.
Or be strong.
Did any of these guys forget about how they felt about their mothers when they were growing up? Do any of them not feel that about their mothers now?
Some of the best responses have been even more overtly sexist; as in, talking about the act itself, since Victoria Tennant, being an attractive woman, could make some of the straight male nerd crowd apparently forget themselves:
I've got terrible news, Rich. https://t.co/1nMW1bC1qb— Sarah (@sourcitruslady) July 16, 2017
I'm honestly surprised it took him nearly a day to delete his tweet. But the internet never forgets, Rich. pic.twitter.com/Jt6vDovJZ8— Sarah (@sourcitruslady) July 17, 2017
Because, you know, somehow only straight male fans of Dr. Who exist. Or is it that they just feel like their wants are the only ones that matter? This came to a head last month when a few theaters across the country decided to do women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. One guy was so incensed that he wrote the mayor of Austin, TX, threatening to boycott the city for allowing such perfidy to take place. Horrors. The mayor's response was spectacular but his communications director, John Stanford, had a salient point: "Furthermore, 99 percent of all the screenings in Austin are dude-friendly. It's almost like the whole world is set up for us."
And that's true because it essentially is. A lot of people don't like change and if things have always been the way they are, then why change them? Well, because change is often good. Or interesting. Or fun. Or needed. Or all of those things. The charge that many of the outraged are wielding is that the producers are bowing to the "PC crowd." So, let's think about that.
If the producers are literate and capable of dressing themselves in the morning, they're probably aware that the reaction to a female Dr. Who would generate a substantial amount of uproar (not that that's always a bad thing; any publicity good, etc.) With that in mind, is it more likely that they wanted to serve the "PC crowd", most of whom would have remained slavishly devoted to the franchise if another man was chosen, or that they just wanted to do something different? Creative types often need to branch out. You can't keep telling somebody to recycle Dragonriders of Pern and expect that they're going to produce stuff of the same quality. Sometimes you have to try new things. You'd think that all those fans looking toward the future (and, OK, the past, too /timestream things) would understand that.