Friday, June 26, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x10 - I'm Completely Over It

Before we even get started, I want to talk about realism in fiction. Because that's the shield that the writers of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, hide behind. Realism. The idea that in real life there are no clear narratives, the good guys seldom win, and the best we can hope for is a slightly less oppressive bootheel.

That's the whole premise of the show, right? Leaving behind whether or not it's the premise of George RR Martin's books, it's clearly the idea that drives the show forward. It's their defense anytime someone questions the horrible atrocities we see on screen, the rape and desecration of their female characters, the death of people who don't die in the books, the sheer unrelenting wall of misery that the later seasons have become. Realism. Grimdark. Gritty, realistic fantasy fiction.

Well, I'm here to tell you that the reason your insides rebel everytime something "realistic" happens on Game of Thrones that bothers you deeply is because it's not realistic. Not at all. I mean, yeah, real life rarely abides by narrative structure, but it's also not an unrelenting parade of badness. Real life is chaotic and weird and sometimes hilariously apt. But mostly it's hard to pin down. So yeah, bad things happen all the time, but good things happen too.

In real life there are tons of really nice coincidences that come along and help the people we care about. In history we have thousands of examples of happy accidents that turned the tide of a war. There are just as many weird moments of serendipity as there are times when the world fell soul-crushingly apart. Real life is chaotic and random at times, but that doesn't mean good things never happen. It really doesn't.

And that's probably my biggest problem with Game of Thrones right now. It encompasses their other sins - the horrible treatment of female characters, an over-reliance on sexual assault as a plot point, and the oppressive grimdark - into one simple issue. In Game of Thrones, nothing good ever happens. To anyone. At least, not for long.

It's a problem because it espouses a worldview I find abhorrent. It's this particularly entrenched white liberal notion that the world is shit and nothing we can do can save it. It's all just terrible and bad things happen. I've seen a lot of this attitude in the past few months, and the past few years, spreading through my friends and colleagues like a disaffected wildfire, and I hate it. I hate Game of Thrones for representing it. And I think it's wrong.

I mean, I get how one could be so discouraged as to think that. The world is pretty unpleasant right now, and it has been for as long as I can remember. But to assume that because all we hear about is bad news that only bad things happen is a sampling error. And the idea that we should just give up because clearly nothing good can happen in our broken world is the kind of defeatist attitude which will change nothing. It's trite and it is totally true: if nothing you can do matters, then all that matters is what you do.

Or, in other words, you can't win this fight. Fight anyway. If you believe that there is nothing good that can happen, then you won't do anything but then nothing will be done. Is it really so much worse to choose to believe that there is good in the world and that nice, brave, kind things happen every day? I could get into examples I have of this, examples of times when the world was changed because of goodness and mercy and grace, but this isn't that kind of blog. We talk about fiction here, and how fiction impacts the world.

I think Game of Thrones impacts the world badly. I think that it is a show that, by its depiction of this fantasy world, negatively impacts real lives. It spreads a toxic understanding of reality where only bad things happen, where only evil prevails, and in so doing it tells us that we should all give up. We can't achieve anything worthwhile, so what's the bother trying? Apathy is not cool, but apathy is what Game of Thrones tells us is our only choice in the face of such unremitting suck.

So, I am hereby announcing now, this is my last Game of Thrones recap. I'm not leaving because of any particular incident in this past season, though there are lots I could have chosen, but rather because I want something better. I deserve something better. I deserve a story that chooses to see the world as a place where people can make a difference, and where good things still happen. I have chosen to appreciate media that doesn't shit on everything I love.

And maybe, just maybe, if we all stop talking about Game of Thrones, it will go away and take its poisonous negativity with it. I hope so.

This my last Game of Thrones recap. Let's get started.

Up at Winterfell, the time has finally come for Stannis Baratheon to earn his keep as a character and get rid of the Boltons, rooting them out of the North and out of Winterfell. His horrific sacrifice from last episode has apparently served him well. The snows are melted and his army can move. But for some reason no one wants to fight for a man who would burn his own daughter alive, so half his army has deserted, taking their supplies and horses with them. Also, Stannis' wife, Selyse, has hung herself out of shame and regret.

But Stannis is undeterred. With Melisandre's urging, he pushes on to Winterfell where the Boltons are ready and waiting.

Sansa takes this moment to actually act on her behalf, coming out of her room in the fuss of the preparations and going up to light a candle in the window of the broken tower, just like Brienne told her to. But Brienne is gone, having heard that Stannis was coming, and so there is no one to find her light.

Worse, the Boltons are more than just ready for the Baratheon army, they're overready. They have a vast number of men on horseback, well-rested troops, so many supplies. They overrun Stannis' army and slaughter it. The battle is over almost before it starts, with Stannis' men falling like wheat.

Stannis himself lives just long enough to pay for his crimes against Renly. Brienne has found him and has told him what she saw that night. Stannis doesn't deny it: he did use black magic to kill his brother. So she kills him, without mercy, fulfilling yet another of her oaths. Stannis even closes his eyes as she does it, probably because even he can't stand to be around himself any longer.

Back at Winterfell, Sansa is ready to escape but she's blocked from doing so by Ramsay's spurned girlfriend, Myranda, to hold her at arrow-point and demand she go back to her cell. Theon/Reek is with her and begs Sansa not to run away. But Sansa no longer has any reason to fear death. She knows that if she stays she'll become just like Theon/Reek, utterly broken, and Myranda even assures her of this. She explains that all Ramsay really needs is a couple of heirs from her, and he doesn't even need all of her for that.

Sansa steels herself for what promises to be horrifying torture, but for once Theon/Reek stands up and does what he should have done all season. He pushes back, tossing Myranda off the wall, and then grabs Sansa's hand. Ramsay is coming back. They have to run.

So they do run. They get to the edge of the battlements, look down at the snow far below them, and silently agree that death by falling and the slight possibility of escape is worth much more than a life lived being slowly stripped of who you are. They jump and we don't see how they land.

Further North, at the Wall, Jon and Sam apprise each other of the events of the last few episodes, and Sam begs Jon to let him go. Let him go to the Citadel with Gilly and baby Sam so that he can learn to be a Maester. The Watch needs one now that Maester Aemon is dead, but also if Gilly stays here she'll die and so will Sam. They have to go, it's the only way that's safe.

Jon doesn't want his one friend left to leave him, especially not since Sam's so good at giving advice, but he does. He won't stand in the way of Sam's happiness, and he definitely won't stand in the way of Sam's continued breathing. Sam and Gilly leave Castle Black on a cart and hopefully never have to come back.

Then Jon and Davos argue over whether or not he should command the Wildlings to fight for Stannis, but the point becomes quickly moot when Melisandre arrives, bearing the sad news that Stannis is dead, alongside his army and his entire family. The house of Baratheon is gone, save for one lost bastard boy we last saw in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean.

Arya, in Braavos, finally gets to cross Meryn Trant's name off her list. In a scene that utterly does not surprise me anymore, she uses a face from the Hall of Faces to disguise herself as an underage whore and attack him. It's not particularly shocking how brutally she does it. What is shocking is what happens when she gets back to the House of White and Black. Jaqen is waiting for her, along with the Waif, and they chastise her. She took the wrong life. She stole from the Many Faced God. That's a big no-no.

Her punishment is another death, and Arya is horrified to watch Jaqen drink a vial of poison and quickly fall down. But when she starts crying it gets even more horrifying. Because that wasn't Jaqen. Or it was. Another Jaqen comes into the room and explains that the faces only work if you have no face of your own. She pulls off the face to find another face, then another, and so on. There are more faces than she can comprehend. 

Arya's crime was that she took a face before she was ready to be no one, and so the face has poisoned her. Arya goes blind and I just sort of shrugged a lot.

Jaime finally gets to leave Dorne, happy to be taking with him his daughter/niece and future son-in-law. Myrcella says a sweet farewell to everyone, and even Ellaria makes nice, giving her a kind and really long goodbye kiss. On the boat, Jaime sits Myrcella down and decides that now is the time to tell her the truth of her parentage, but then he doesn't need to. She already knows and she's okay with it because she's a badly written character. She hugs her father/uncle, then dies of a nosebleed because she was a kind girl and this is Game of Thrones.

Back on the dock in Dorne, we see Ellaria get a nosebleed too, but she stops it by drinking some antidote. So it's clear that not even women in this world are willing to stop punishing women for things they didn't do. Great.

In Meereen, the Unsullied have managed to restore a tentative peace to the city, but Daenerys and Drogon are still missing. They flew off towards the wilderness and haven't come back. All of our remaining heroes there - Tyrion, Daario, Jorah, Missandei, and Grey Worm - meet in her throne room to figure out what to do next. After some stupid male posturing, it's agreed that Jorah and Daario will go look for their queen, being the only two actually suited for this sort of mission, while Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm rule the city.

It's actually not a terrible plan. Tyrion is amazing at strategy and ruling, as we've already seen. Missandei is well known and well liked for being Daenerys' spokeswoman and confidante. And Grey Worm is their strong arm (when he gets better), the leader of the Unsullied and a man that all of Meereen can agree is tough as the balls he doesn't have anymore. They make a good set.

Even better, Varys has finally arrived, ready to help Tyrion rule the city. His little birds have brought him there and it's not hard to see that their teamup will be as fruitful here as it was in King's Landing. Welcome back Varys, everyone missed you and your pragmatism.

Somewhere in the wilderness, Daenerys finds herself completely lost and saddled with an exhausted dragon. Drogon has no intentions of taking his mother back to the place where they nearly killed her (weird, right?), and instead decides he'd like to take a nap. Daenerys tries to reason with him but it doesn't work, so she goes down and explores. While exploring, she spots some riders coming towards her. Then lots of riders. Then a whole army of riders surrounding her. They kind of look like Dothraki? No idea. But she drops her ring and is presumably taken prisoner. Girl power.

In King's Landing, Cersei provides a really interesting encapsulation of everything I hate about this show. Beaten and broken after (presumably) months of imprisonment, Cersei finally agrees to confess her sins. She tells the High Sparrow that she knows what she did was wrong and she's very sorry, now can she see her son please? He agrees - though she does lie a lot and only confess to sleeping with Lancel, not Jaime, and a bunch of other stuff - but on the condition that she make a walk "of atonement" back to the Red Keep.

In case you couldn't guess it based on the simple fact that it's Game of freaking miserable woman-hating Thrones, this walk of atonement involves having all her hair cut off, being stripped naked, and having to walk very slowly through the entire city while a woman walks behind her and chants "Shame shame shame" while ringing a bell. Cersei gets feces thrown at her, is covered in blood and garbage, and essentially staggers through her own front door at the end, having been forced to undergo a kind of humiliation that only someone as sadistic as these writers could come up with.

I mean, I understand that George RR Martin came up with it first. But he told it to us by putting us inside Cersei's head, by making it about her and her struggles. For us, outside her head, it's not about her. It's about the spectacle. The punishment. And that's the problem with this show. It's never about the women, it's always about the violence.

Finally, back in Winterfell, Jon Snow falls for the oldest trick in the book - the news that his uncle, Benjen Stark, might still be alive - and walks right into a trap. The men of the Night's Watch don't think he's a good commander. They're through with his forward thinking and "bigger picture". They stab him to death in a corner of Castle Black, with Jon's former apprentice, Olly, giving the killing blow, then leave him to bleed out on the snow.

And that's it. That's how Game of Thrones, the show we keep being told is one of the best things on television, ends its season. Well, I'm over it. Enough. Enough rape and violence and sadness and futility. I'm out. And to cleanse our collective palates of this unrelenting misery, how about a moment of sheer undiluted joy from a show that was basically the exact opposite of this. So, without further ado, here's your reward for making it through this season of Game of Thrones and also this recap. 

Bye bye Jon Snow, may you meet Lil Sebastian in heaven and discuss haircare treatments.


  1. I do wonder sometimes when "mature" or "adult" meant "unrelentingly grim!" Somehow a show is more "serious" if it is nothing more than an endless parade of grimness.

    1. Yes! I want more media where things are "serious", but dealt with in a mature and responsible way that includes hope and decency. Because, you know, that's a thing.

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  2. So now I'm unsure whether to comment. But for symmetry if nothing else. :)

    In Game of Thrones, nothing good ever happens. To anyone. At least, not for long.

    Unless it's to Ramsey Bolton, who seems to live a positively charmed life. Which rather supports your point.

    Missandei is well known and well liked for being Daenerys' spokeswoman and confidante.

    She also speaks nineteen languages, which is probably more than the rest of them combined (even Varys), and as an interpreter must also know the region's social mores too, better than either Tyrion or Varys will, and probably better than Grey Worm who's been trained for a different and very narrow niche. Tyrion's smart enough to know that (whether or not the show proves to be).

    Then a whole army of riders surrounding her. They kind of look like Dothraki? ... it's agreed that Jorah and Daario will go look for their queen

    I no longer trust this series for this to go any other way but Daenerys being enslaved and gang-raped by this bunch and Jorah redeeming himself by rescuing her with Daario (the two men sorting out their own differences in the process).

    They're through with his forward thinking and "bigger picture". They stab him to death in a corner of Castle Black, with Jon's former apprentice, Olly, giving the killing blow, then leave him to bleed out on the snow.

    Well, good luck with that horde outnumbering you about 300:1 and only not attacking you because of Jon Snow, dipshits.

    I'm not even going to say anything about Cersei.

    1. [I have got to get better about actually responding to comments in a timely manner. Seriously.]

      I'm sure Ramsay Bolton will lose everything he ever loved too at some point. Because how else will we know the story is still progressing?

      Missandei, Grey Worm, Tyrion, and Varys is honestly my dream team for government, but I sincerely doubt that the show would be willing to let go of its grimdark long enough for those characters to fulfill their potential as badasses.

      That's about where I'm at with my expectations here too.

      Jon Snow was kind of useful, even if they didn't like him. And they're all idiots. Which I guess is the point? But at this point of the series we've been so burned it's hard for even a death like this to feel shocking or even interesting anymore.

      Cersei's storyline was horrible. Just plain the worst.

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