Wednesday, May 7, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x04 - Oh Look. More Rape.

I am on a recapping ROLL! I mean, I have to be, what with being super duper behind on all of these shows and trying desperately to catch up so that next week can be a normal week, and that when I start my new transcription/translation job and also work on another article (because I hate me, it would seem), I'm not behind before I start...

But yeah. Let's go with that I'm on a roll. It makes me feel better about myself and less like I want to breath into a bag for a while.

After the shitshow that was episode 4x03, I didn't have very high hopes for this episode, but it was...okay. I guess. Not really amazing enough for me to get over how gross that last episode made me feel, and it certainly didn't contain nearly enough Jaime groveling or being ground into the dirt for my tastes.

Like, I want to punch him. In his face. Really hard. With a rock.

But no, the narrative continues to reward him for being such an upstanding guy that he committed rape on his own sister in a church next to their dead son, so what do I know?

Well, I do know that this show is devolving further and further into a pit of sexualized violence and rape justifications, but other than that, I guess I don't know anything. Also, I know that while Daenerys gives me life and I love her, her storyline remains deeply problematic because of the choices made in her casting, and this episode is no exception. Oh, and I also know that Sansa Stark is a precious lamb and I love her. Haters gonna hate.

So. This episode starts off with a truly adorable and also super awkward scene of Missandei teaching Grey Worm to speak Westron (because he previously only spoke High Valyrian). In the lesson they talk about how they feel about being slaves and what they remember of the Summer Isles, where they both came from. They're not really happy memories. But it's an important scene. The two most prominent former slave characters talking about their lives? Important.

Also, Grey Worm likes to think that he never was anything before he was Unsullied, because as he thinks of it, before that he was someone who could be sold into slavery. Not something he wants to be again.

Then Daenerys and her advisors step in to interrupt because, "It's time."

Time apparently for Grey Worm to lead a bunch of Unsullied dressed as slaves into the sewers of Meereen so that they can infiltrate the city. Once inside, they make straight for a meeting of slaves who are thinking about dissenting (how they knew where to find these guys, despite having definitely never been to this city before kind of bother me - plothole alert!). The slaves are debating whether or not to rebel. The young ones are galvanized by Dany's speech about freedom, but the older ones have lived through a couple of rebellions. They're not prety.

Fortunately, I guess, Grey Worm shows up and manages to sway the mood. He brings weapons and a firsthand account of being set free. And he points out a very important factor: there are three slaves for every master in Meereen.

And then there is a massacre. It's tastefully shot, which is ironic, since the rape wasn't. No. I'm not letting that go.

Then we cut to the next morning, where Daenerys and her advisors walk through throngs of adoring subjects as they enter Meereen. The slaves are all calling her "Mhysa!", which means mother, and does add another weird layer to this whole race conversation thing. But we'll talk more about that at the end. 

Daenerys climbs to the viewing post, and then orders that 163 masters (who have been captured) are to be nailed to posts just like the children were - the children on sign posts leading to Meereen. Her advisor tries to stop her, but Daenerys is adamant. "I will answer injustice with justice." The Khaleesi really doesn't do mercy, you know?

And then we're snapped back to King's Landing, where Jaime-the-Rapist has a fun little sparring match with Bronn to show how much he's adapted to only having one hand and how raping his sister in the last episode totally didn't faze him. They chat. And Bronn suggests that Jaime go see Tyrion on the cells, even recounting the thing about how Tyrion wanted Jaime to be his champion in the Eyrie before Bronn had to step up. Ah the feelings. Rapist pig.

I just really really really hate it when we're supposed to like and admire a character like Jaime, just after he's done something horrible. We're supposed to think he's noble.

The hell with that.

Jaime-the-Rapist visits Tyrion in his cell and they play "Who had the worse imprisonment?" Tyrion basically points out that Jaime and Cersei are screwing, and Jaime's all, "Don't." Twat.

Tyrion bemoans his fate for a bit, how his father really wants him dead, and how he definitely didn't kill Joffrey, though he did think about it. Jaime asks how he can help, and after dismissing the obvious answer of, "Set me free?" he can't. Because Jaime is a spineless ass. Also, Cersei is totally out of her head with grief. And she wants Sansa dead as well as she wants Tyrion's head on a pike.

Dramatic cut to - a ship! Where Sansa is still the "guest" of master creep Petyr Baelish. He's taking her to the Eyrie, where he's going to be marrying her Aunt Lysa (you know, the weird breastfeeding lady from season one). Sansa wants to know something important: did Petyr kill Joffrey? Well, sort of. Sansa gets to show off her reasoning skills to figure out who helped. And then she finds out that unwittingly, she did. The poison was in a stone in her necklace, and then Olenna Tyrell took the stone and poisoned Joffrey.

But as to why Petyr did it? Because he wants power more than he cares about stability. And it's true. Petyr is the ultimate social climber. He definitely wants to be king. Also he wants to marry Sansa because she's Catelyn's daughter and man is he so freaking creepy eurgh.

Olenna Tyrell is going back home so that she can wrap up affairs. Margaery feels weird about being left by herself in King's Landing, especially when she's not sure if she's going to marry Tommen or not. Again, I really don't like the way this show is painting Margaery. She's so...weak. Wussy. I mean, I guess it's fine if she really is like that, but she wasn't a season ago. She was all spine. How the heck did she regress like this?

Also Olenna tells a rather unnerving story to hear from your grandmother about sexytimes and how she seduced Margaery's grandfather to remind Margaery of the importance of getting close to Tommen before Cersei can turn him. And then Olenna admits to totally murdering Joffrey, and Margaery is...surprised? Not sure why. I think we could all see that one coming.

Up at Castle Black, Jon Snow is teaching the Brothers how best to fight a Wildling. Namely, by trying to disarm them, and also by fighting dirty as hell. But he's stopped from being useful by that jerkface trainer guy (don't remember his name, not particularly sorry), who has always hated Jon. And Jon has to go off to be a steward again. And one of the other Brothers points out that everyone else likes Jon, and when it comes to a vote over who will be the next Lord Commander, Jon is apt to win.

Also one of the new recruits, Locke, seems less useless than the others. He poached on noble lands and got sent to the wall as punishment. Ah, class issues.

Oh hey! Now we're back with Cersei and Jaime's come to visit her. She seems...less than thrilled to see him? But not because of the rape thing. She seems pretty freaking pissed about Joffrey dying. And she wants to know why Catelyn set Jaime free. She's not impressed by the revelation that he swore he would return Sansa and Arya to Catelyn, and she wants to know if Jaime can still hunt down Sansa with objectivity.

Also she is not super tolerant of the fact that Jaime doesn't think Tyrion did it. She wants more guards on Tommen, and she's still super pissed at Jaime, but seemingly not because of the whole rape thing.

Now we get a scene of Tommen by himself, because I guess he's now old enough and interesting enough to qualify as a character in his old right. I mean, he is the king. And then he wakes up in the middle of the night to find a sexily dressed Margaery. Oh this is sketch. This is so freaking super sketch. Eurgh. Fortunately, instead of sex happening, Margaery gets to meet Ser Pounce, Tommen's cat, and they have a sweet bonding moment about how much they hated Joffrey. And Margaery reveals how happy she is the with fact that he's not going to be psychopath after they get married.

Tommen is having a very strange night.

Brienne is back and she's chilling out with Jaime in the war room, reading the official historical record of his actions in combat. Tragically, it doesn't mention that he's a rapist. Jaime continues his, "Aren't I such a nice guy?" campaign by giving Brienne his Valyrian steel sword (the one made out of Ned Stark's sword) and asks her use it to protect Sansa. Probably from him. Oh, and he gives her some custom made armor. Because he's such a nice guy, am I right?

Brienne is touched, and of course since he appealed to her honor, she's totally going to go off and do this ridiculous and impressive thing. Jaime might be a twat, but I love Brienne. She's so...good. Also he goes and gives her a squire: Podrick! I'm actually into this. These will be the best adventures of Knight Brienne and Pod the Lady's Man. Oh, and Tyrion gave Pod his axe from the Battle of the Blackwater.

She names the sword Oathkeeper, and they share a long moment of sexual tension and sadness before Jaime has to go. Brienne rides off into the sunset, the only freaking noble character on this freaking show.

Seriously, though, are we supposed to feel really bad for Jaime right now? No.

Back to Jon and Sam up at Castle Black. Sam is deeply regretting that he left Gilly in that town, while Jon regrets that he can't go after Bran. Also, they realize that the only safe place for Bran to cross over the wall to the North is by Crastor's. Not sure what that means yet, because they're interrupted. Thorne (pretty sure that's jerkface commander guy) wants to see Jon.

Handily, Thorne (who is that guy) has decided to allow Jon to lead a march on Crastor's to head off the attack. Mostly, Thorne wants Jon to die up there so that no one can vote for him. Jon is going to ride out to capture the mutineers at Crastor's Keep, so that he can get there before Mance Ryder does, and so that they can't give up any information.

Jon rallies a crew to go up and avenge Commander Mormont (who, as you may recall, was the Lord Commander, and also Jorah's dad). It's an inspiring scene where we see exactly how loved Jon is by the Brothers in Black. Very loved.

Up at Crastor's, it's a pretty terrifying scene. You know, naked women, casual rape and beatings, just ugh. I hate this. It makes me feel dirty. Also, Karl Tanner is there, one of the terrible men of the Night's Watch, who happens to be played by Burn Gorman. Crastor's last child is born - it's a boy, and that means it's a "gift for the gods". We get to finally see what happened to the male children.

Also, apparently, they're keeping Ghost (Jon's direwolf) tied up outside. Ghost is not happy about this, and do you know what happens when a direwolf isn't happy? Not good things.

Cut to Bran and Meera and Jojen and Hodor - they're close enough to Castor's that they can hear the baby crying. Bran uses his Warg skills (inhabiting the mind of his wolf, Summer) to see what's going on. Summer gets caught in a trap, and the men capture him. Now he's with Ghost. And Bran can spy on the Night's Watch Mutineers.

Aww crap. They all get captured, and it's bad. Karl Tanner figures out that Bran is highborn and also definitely not a Wildling. Karl appears to be on the world's biggest power trip. He wants to know what the hell they're doing North of the Wall. Especially given that Bran is, you know, crippled. Bran eventually screams out who he is in order to save Jojen and Meera. Maybe not his best plan, since Karl wasn't exactly a fan of Jon's.

And isn't this nice. It's the White Walker king dude, in a long creepifying scene of walking up to that baby left out there and then touching it. Which turns it into a White Walker. Isn't that lovely.

So that's what actually happened in the episode. Let's talk about the overall effect of that. Because that effect? Kind of terrible. Kind of really super terrible.

I mean, it's a whole episode about rape threats, only we're just supposed to ignore them and pay attention to the nice white men who are talking, and ignore the parts where Cersei was raped last episode and is expected to play nice with her rapist (who still has no intention of honoring her feelings or autonomy, and who the narrative supports in his consistent undermining of her), or where there's a mass scene full of raped women being raped and beaten while verbally abused and we're supposed to just ignore them as part of the set dressing, and oh yeah, Sansa Stark is stuck on a ship with the man who was a threat to her mother and has made it very clear that he is willing to transgress laws to get what he wants, and what he wants is her.

Whole episode. All about rape. Not okay with this even in the slightest.

I might have been more okay with it if the episode had been about how rape effects women's lives, about the debilitating effect of the use of sexualized violence on the wellbeing and emotional stability of a community, or really anything that was about the victims, not the rapists. But here, the rapists are the characters we follow, the ones whose actions we are meant to understand and sympathize with. The victims are shown to be mewling, whiny, pathetic pieces of furniture. They're not even real people. Because real people don't get raped.

I am so done with all of this. I mean, I'm going to keep watching the show, because I'm hooked and I can't stop in the middle of the season, but damn do I want Daenerys to burn all of them with dragonfire so I can hear their screams. And oh do I want the writers of this show to be forced to spend their nights sleeplessly listening to rape survivors give an honest account of what happened. I feel like that would be a just punishment.

On a lighter note, let's talk about racism!

Actually, I do want to say that some of the concerns I raised last time, about Dany being pretty much a White Savior character, and how she comes in and "civilizes" everyone, were mitigated in this episode. Not entirely, mind, but the whole thing about Grey Worm leading the rebellion, and how Dany can't actually free anyone, they have to take their freedom themselves, that was good. I liked that. 

Also as a strategy, it works wonders. I mean, militarily, now Daenerys has all these subjects who are super loyal to her, and she barely has to expend any soldiers in fighting for the cities. Good plan. I like it. I also like that Daenerys isn't painted as some sweet nice young thing, full of mercy and wisdom. She is fire and rage and blood, and heck yes she's nailing those men to mileposts in "justice". Would you expect something else from Blood of the Dragon?

That's the episode in a nutshell, really. Too much use of sexualized violence and not enough autonomy for the non-white characters. Better, but still not great. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be over here seething with anger about the way this show handles domestic violence and rape.

Once again, Khaleesi as a palate cleanser.


  1. You might be interested in these two Shakesville posts: (about the rapes) (about how the realistic misogyny argument fails - when your setting is *more* misogynistic than the real Middle Ages, claims of authenticity ring hollow)

    1. Those are awesome posts. Thank you so much for reccing them!

  2. Also, Grey Worm likes to think that he never was anything before he was Unsullied, because as he thinks of it, before that he was someone who could be sold into slavery. Not something he wants to be again.

    I've got to see this now, and this was the scene of the episode for me. For the significance of the two former slaves talking, as you said - but also, this part echoes what he said to Dany about changing his name: that he preferred the name Grey Worm because it was name he had on the day he was set free, whereas his former name was the one he had on the day he was enslaved.
    It was a nice speech at the time, in its way, but the framing made it about Dany and how great she is. Here, the point of that sentiment was brought back to Grey Worm himself, where it should be.

    On a similar subject, we don't see a lot of Dany's remaining Dothraki this season, and it would be interesting to see a scene between a Meerenese slave and one of them, given that the Dothraki are among those who sell slaves to these cities - probably including these very Dothraki - who now are part of the army that freed them.

    The Khaleesi really doesn't do mercy, you know?

    Jorah always insists she has a gentle heart, but I think he doesn't really get the difference between gentle and good; Dany has the latter, but not the former. (Cf Margaery who seems to have positively weaponised gentleness but isn't exactly good).

    She seems...less than thrilled to see him? But not because of the rape thing.

    Not via the script, but I thought it came across in Lena Headey's performance even if she didn't mention it. But maybe that's wishful vision.

    1. Hmm. You're right, we haven't seen much of the Dothraki lately. I would love to see Grey Worm and Missandei having to interact with the same people who sold them into slavery but also freed them, and everyone examining the complexity of that.

      Such a good comparison! Yeah, Dany is not gentle. Good is not the same as nice, and sometimes it is very different. Jorah's idealization of Dany and the fact that he really can't see her as she is is pretty much the main reason why I can't ever ship it. He doesn't get it. He doesn't see her. He sees a little girl to be protected, and he's missed entirely that she isn't that anymore, if she ever was.

      I would love it if Lena Headey's performance was intentional. Maybe that's the reason she was so quiet on the subject: because she was subverting them behind the scenes!

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