And Now Our Watch Is Ended: Review of “The Children”

See what I did with the title there? Get it? Because they say it in the Night’s Watch, and also our watch of Season 4 is over because the finale aired. I’m so clever.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a complex mix of emotions right now. On the one hand, the finale on Sunday was awesome. On the other hand, there will be no new books or episodes until 2015. This is supposed to be a review of “The Children,” so we’ll focus on the happy instead of the sad.

When I first saw that the finale was going to be called “The Children,” I immediately assumed it was going to refer to the Children of the Forest. It ends up reflecting the fact that there is a huge transition going on in Westeros right now, as the war and the immediate aftermath of the war have killed most of the people who were in power.

dead tywinWar, aftermath, and long-held resentment.

Up at Castle Black, Jon Snow now speaks with the voice of Ned Stark to Stannis and Davos. (How awesome was their entrance, by the way?) Would Ned actually have taken Mance prisoner? Maybe. It doesn’t really matter. Jon draws from his own personal experience to explain why Stannis should take Mance prisoner, and just puts Ned’s name on it. And then he does it again two seconds later, advising Stannis to burn the bodies. House Stark and the Night’s Watch share the same love of honor, and Jon is (assumedly) Ned’s last living son, both of which lead him to advise King Stannis.

Where Jon takes up the honor he’s destined for as a man of the Night’s Watch and Ned Stark’s son, Tyrion…does something else. Terrible segue aside, I think Tyrion and Jon’s storyline, as an antithetical pair, form the emotional skeleton of the episode. The others are important, obviously (and a ton happens in them), but these two bound the episode.

Tyrion’s story is traumatic and alarming. Earlier in the season, Bronn says to Jaime that killing isn’t Tyrion’s style, and that’s true even of ordering people killed for doing something wrong (like Janos Slynt, whom he sent to the Wall). In an episode called “The Children” which aired on Father’s Day (really, guys?), that all changed rather rapidly.

tyrion kills shaeI feel upset about this.

The Lannister children have always lived under the shadow (and thumb) of Tywin. At every turn, Tywin focuses on the permanence of the Lannister family, which makes him completely uninterested in his children’s actual, day-to-day happiness, as Cersei is happy to remind him. Her confession, which is really more of an attack, drives this neglect home for the audience: Tywin has never bothered to consider something that we’ve known from the very first episode. Tywin is not interested in the people around him, and while that has clearly elevated him in power, Cersei uses it to show that he has no trueborn heirs and therefore holds false power.

Why does Tyrion kill Tywin? Tyrion lists a few reasons, and I can add a few more. He says that Tywin has always wanted him dead, and Tywin agrees; he says that Tywin sentenced him to death, which Tywin bizarrely says he would have gotten out of; he brings up Shae. Add to that that Tyrion is fleeing execution for kingslaying, and will likely never return to Westeros, and you figure that he has nothing to lose.

Tyrion’s murderous act, for me at least, needs to go a little deeper than any of those reasons. Tyrion, Cersei, and Jaime are not allowed to be people with Tywin around. Jaime claimed his personhood in the beginning of the season, when he refused to leave the Kingsguard. Cersei claimed hers when she threatened to expose her secret rather than be married off to Ser Loras. And on his way to Essos, Tyrion claimed his, at long last, by shooting Tywin.

Man, it’s going to be a long wait for Season 5.

Notable Moments for Show Watchers:
the hound left for dead

There are too many! I’ll just touch on the storylines I didn’t get to in this post.

  • I really hope that Mance Rayder gets to play a bigger role in the next season. Especially if the Hound is going to be out – I need a big, beautiful man on GoT, and Mance seems like a good candidate.
  • Jon and Melisandre is something to start getting excited for. You didn’t need a book reader to tell you that, though; the way they set up the shots between them over the flames with heat waves was clear enough, I thought.
  • Daenerys’ story arc was really well done in this episode, since the two aspects had the same theme of the questionable nature of chains. More on that later – I have about ten months to say something.
  • Arya on her way to Braavos! And the Hound left for dead. That scene was incredibly upsetting.

Notable Moments for Book Readers:
jojen reed dies

  • Cersei’s threat to Tywin was a beautiful addition. In the books, Jaime sometimes says they should just come out and get married like the Targaryens did, but it was so interesting coming from Cersei, and especially as an attack.
  • Brienne and Pod meeting the Hound and Arya? Genius. That fight was horrifying.
  • I’m not really sure how I feel about the wights guarding (?) the wierwood tree. They kind of looked like something from a Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I’m fine with Jojen dying in this episode, though. That addition made sense.
  • I’m really glad that Tyrion and Jaime were able to leave things on a nice note. Tyrion confessing to Joffrey’s murder in the books, even though he didn’t do it? Too sad.
  • WHERE WAS SHE?? I mean, I think I get why they left her out, but I didn’t even consider that she wouldn’t be in this episode. I do NOT like surprises.

The Death of Duty: Review of “The Watchers on the Wall”

“Love is the death of duty.”
–Maester Aemon, “The Watchers on the Wall”

We’ve heard this line before. It might as well be the slogan for the Night’s Watch (although I guess the vows are the slogan for the Night’s Watch). Everyone’s always talking about duty and honor up there, and until “The Watchers on the Wall,” the only effect of this honor we’ve seen is a bunch of people not doing things: not riding south to fight with their brothers, not having sex with ladies (well, in theory), not being warm or generally having fun.

In this episode, duty and love both inspired real, positive (as opposed to the negative not doing of something) action that drove the story, and in a new way. The Night’s Watch brand of honor is close if not identical to the Stark brand, which we saw Ned fail to live by in King’s Landing. The first season of Game of Thrones was largely about how that kind of honor falls apart if you’re the only one trying to live by it, and ultimately becomes dangerous.

Ned had the same battle between love and duty (which I’m using interchangeably with “honor,” probably to my discredit): Varys pointed out to him that if he continued to denounce Joffrey, he would be endangering not only himself, but Sansa. Ned chooses to proclaim Joffrey the rightful heir so that Sansa will be safe, and Joffrey rewards him in the kind fashion that only Joffrey can.

ned diesAnyone else miss having an object for blind hatred since Joffrey died? No? Just Me? Alright.

Was Ned wrong there? If not, that was potentially the first smart decision he made in King’s Landing, as the series of blunders that carried him to that point were all in the name of duty and honor. Tyrion in the second season is a great foil for Ned: he’s not evil, but he’s not devoted to honor, either, and so he can make wise decisions that benefit himself and sometimes others / the realm.

The point of that tangent is: While love may very well be the enemy of duty, and when Maester Aemon says it at the Wall you know duty is meant to shine above while love is exposed as a weakness, it’s entirely possible that life is fuller if you sacrifice duty for love, or that they are necessary antitheses and neither is better than the other.

On duty’s side, we see a reconciliation between Jon Snow and Ser Alliser Thorne at the beginning of the episode. This might be a very temporary turn of events, but it’s their duty to the realm that makes them put their grudge aside. Plus, how surprising was it when Alliser told Jon he was right? Gotta love Ser Alliser. Keeps you on your toes. No matter how mean he gets, I always remember that terrible cannibalism story he tells in the first season, and I have to forgive him. My brain works in mysterious ways.

Besides Jon and Alliser, we get to confirm our dislike of Janos Slynt (or at least, I did) when he runs away from battle to go hide out with Gilly. Very dishonorable. And, sadly, we see a bunch of people die for this honor – like Pyp, for example.

styr cannibal thenn diesAt least this guy died, too.

Worse, perhaps, was Grenn, who leads an expedition of Night’s Watchmen to fight a giant trying to get through the tunnel that Ser Alliser agrees they should have sealed. Everyone gets revved up and motivated repeating the words of their vow – and then they rush to their death.

Honor brings Jon and Alliser together (ish), outs Janos Slynt, and kills Pyp and Grenn, but all that aside, it wins them the day. Literally just this one day, though – they haven’t dented Mance’s army, so God knows what will happen next. (Well, and me. I also know what happens, because I read the book.)

On love’s side, we start out with Sam being inappropriately curious about Jon’s sex life, and then striking out on his own to plant one on Gilly, after deftly reasoning that chastity is not, in fact, required by the Night’s Watch vows.

sam gilly kissNice reasoning there, Sam!

The big scene for love is the final reunion of Jon and Ygritte, whose connection works out much better for the former than the latter. Ygritte’s lingering feelings for Jon keep her from killing him when she has the chance, and this delay gives that one kid time to kill Ygritte (at Sam’s urging, kind of, which is a little fucked up). Arguably, for Ygritte, love was a weakness that led to her death.

ygritte diesAt least she got to say, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” one last time. That was her favorite thing to do.

In a strange way, this episode was world-building. It took the honor and duty that we’ve associated with the Night’s Watch from the beginning and put it to work defending against a Wildling invasion. At least for the time being, that honor has won them the battle – though I’m not sure whether Jon’s upcoming assassination attempt on Mance Rayder falls under the honor category. I guess we’ll see in the next episode.

Notable Moments for Show Watchers:
hand on wall

  • I feel like it was kind of mean to sentence Tyrion to death at the end of “The Mountain and the Viper,” and then do an entire episode without Tyrion in it. Must suck for you guys who haven’t read the book!
  • HOW COOL WAS THAT SCYTHE ACROSS THE WALL? I wish, though, that the idea had been associated with some character. Like how in “Blackwater,” Tyrion thought of the wildfire, and so it was a personal triumph as well as good news for the King’s Landing folk. This was awesome and gory, but didn’t really tie to anyone’s personal story.
  • Jon totally killed that douchey cannibal Thenn guy. I was into it. If ever anyone deserved an axe to the head…
  • Does anyone know whether Alliser is dead? Like, did he just get injured? Or is he dead? Not really sure which one I want, but more importantly, I’m not sure which one happened.

Notable Moments for Book Readers:
pyp dies

To anyone who read about Ygritte’s death in this section in last week’s review, I’m sorry. From now on this section will only be vaguely spoilery, unless otherwise indicated at the top of the section.

  • I kind of expected either Pyp or Grenn to die, not both. So when Grenn went to fight the giant, I was worried, since everyone who does that in the book dies, but figured he’d be alright. I was disappointed.
  • I suspect that Ygritte and Jon met before she died (instead of him finding her dead) just so that she could say, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” one more time. I’m alright with it.
  • (Mild spoiler!) I thought the episode was going to end with the appearance of a certain spoilery someone. I feel like that would have been better, although it might have looked a little too much like “Blackwater” that way.

Oberyn Martell, Part 1: On Bisexuality

This post contains spoilers through “The Mountain and the Viper.”

I read Storm of Swords almost a year ago, so you’d think I would have been prepared for what happened at the end of last week’s episode. But I wasn’t. I knew that Oberyn was going to die in the trial by combat, but something about it made me really upset, and has stayed with me since then, and I’m trying to figure out why.

Part of it was the gore, obviously. His head literally exploded. You don’t see that when you read a book, no matter how vivid your imagination is. But I don’t think that’s a complete or interesting answer considering why it’s been stuck in my head for the past week.

ellaria sand horror over oberyn's deathThis is pretty much how I’ve felt since Sunday.

The answer, I believe, is that seeing Oberyn onscreen, physically moving around and acting, and particularly for a national audience, was important to me personally. Oberyn’s sexuality is not something we typically see onscreen, even on Game of Thrones.

Bisexuality holds an interesting and rather strange place in our current society. The classic stereotype, which certainly still exists, is that bisexuals are not real, and are just gay people pretending to be straight for fear of discrimination, or straight people pretending to be gay to get attention. Another is that if you’re a bisexual person in a relationship with someone of a defined gender, then it “doesn’t matter” if you’re bisexual, and at least practically speaking, you’re just gay or straight based on the gender of the person you’re dating. Of course, if your sexual identity were defined only on whatever you’re doing in the here and now, the concept of sexual identity would itself crumble, so this doesn’t quite make sense.

Just since I’ve been old enough to date and therefore notice discrimination or acceptance, there have been huge attitude shifts in America about the LGBT society. That said, I still encounter a lot of attitudes about sexuality that are simply strange. As always, I know only about my experience, and so that’s what we’re going to talk about.

The picture of bisexuality that we see with Oberyn verges on excess: bisexuals desire everyone and everything, and have huge sexual appetites. Of course this isn’t true of all bisexuals, but I don’t think HBO needed an excuse to have more outright sex scenes on Game of Thrones. This is probably the most stereotypical that Oberyn’s sexuality gets. Besides, excess is a part of Oberyn’s character outside of sexuality, too, so it’s not like this was based only on his attraction to both sexes.

oberyn making eyes at lorasHere pictured making eyes at Loras while Ellaria’s fingers are in his mouth.

In most relationships I’ve had with men, I’ve encountered the interesting assumption that bisexuality means attraction to androgyny, or that a bisexual is more likely to prefer effeminate men and butch women. Men I’ve dated have worried that the fact that I’m also attracted to women means that there is something feminine about them, and accordingly felt like “less” of a man. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to gender queer or androgynous folk, and I’m not saying I’m not, but there’s not much “bi” in that. A bisexual is often attracted both to masculinity and femininity just as he or she is attracted to both biological sexes – just at different times, for different reasons, or in different ways.

Oberyn’s bisexuality drove home this point: he tells the procurer at Littlefinger’s brothel that he delights in what the gods made when they made him and when they made Ellaria, finishing with: “When it comes to war, I fight for Dorne; when it comes to love, I don’t choose sides.”  His attraction to women doesn’t make him less attracted to men, and vice versa, and neither makes him more or less of a man, and I have to love him for all that.

angry oberynAnd for other reasons, too, like the fact that he goes around stabbing people.

It’s important, too, that Oberyn is a bisexual man. Issues with orientation, including bisexuality, are different along gender lines. In my experience, bisexuality is more accepted in women than it is in men. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, though – a lot of it is based on the idea that two women kissing is hot, while two men kissing is gross (fuck that idea, obviously). Because of that, you end up with a lot of people who think that bisexual women are just trying to get attention from straight men, and are not actually bisexual, which is a fundamental disrespect of a woman’s understanding of her own sexuality.

While female sexuality is feared and hidden away, male sexuality is vastly oversimplified. To the extent that people are willing to talk about and acknowledge female sexuality, it is thought of as more fluid, while male sexuality is assumed to be a more direct, point-to-point kind of deal. In my opinion, all sexuality is fluid, regardless of gender, but I can’t speak for men. Either way, the assumption of fluidity in female sexuality leads to a greater acceptance of female bisexuality, while the directness of male sexuality implies that it should be directed toward one gender or another, not both.

oberyn confusedIf you tried to say that to Oberyn, I think he’d give you this confused look.

In my experience, male bisexuals are supposed to “man up” and choose a side, because men always have to be decisive and they’re probably just gay pretending to be straight, anyway. This is nonsense – and a little ironic, since homosexuality and masculinity in men are rarely aligned. This does cause men just to pick a side and ignore their attraction to one gender – because if they slip even once, it sparks a questioning of their entire sexual identity, rather than being part of an ever-changing sexual identity and experience.

I can’t imagine anyone ever telling Oberyn to “man up” and decide which gender he’s attracted to. He’s completely grounded and completely fluid at the same time. Having a bisexual man on television, and having him adored by fans, was awesome. I fell in love, clearly a little too hard, because now life is dim and gray and I miss Oberyn. At least we have his daughters to look forward to next season, I suppose.

Check back later for a Best of Oberyn post, even though it will invariably end in more sadness.

The Power of Names: Review of “The Mountain and the Viper”

It will hardly be interesting for me to say that there was a lot of change in “The Mountain and the Viper.” Some episodes of Game of Thrones have some filler, or catching up with characters whose plots aren’t really progressing; last night’s episode had major events in every storyline’s plot.

In an attempt to focus in from the theme of “becoming” or “transitioning,” which is a little too broad and obvious for my taste, I want to talk about the importance of names in this episode. Besides, this will buy me a little time before I have to write about Oberyn, which is good, because thinking about him is still making me a little sick to my stomach / heavy hearted.

dead oberynThis screenshot is here because misery loves company.

Throughout the episode, we check in with Ramsay and Theon. (Note: Most of the storylines had multiple “chapters,” if you will, in this episode. I think that helps create a sense of legitimate progress.) Back in “The Lion and the Rose,” Roose Bolton reminds Ramsay that he is a Snow, not a Bolton, but promises that he will “reconsider [his] position” if Ramsay retakes Moat Cailin from the Ironborn. After successfully retaking Moat Cailin and taking some time to celebrate by flaying a dude, Ramsay is legitimized and named Ramsay Bolton, making him the heir to the Dreadfort and, potentially, the next Warden of the North.

Having a Stark replaced by a Bolton in any case would most likely be miserable, but the shift from Ned to Ramsay is the last thing the North needs. Those poor guys. What’s more, this shift in Ramsay’s name reflects (though inversely) the transition we saw Theon go through last season, which culminated in him assuming the name Reek at Ramsay’s instruction. In this episode, Reek pretends to be Theon, because Game of Thrones wasn’t complicated enough, and begins reverting back to Reek when presented with the kind of culture that Balon and the Ironborn live in and Theon grew up with.

ironborn at moat cailinThey generally have a rough time of things, and yet are still jerks.

For those who are interested, these changes of name happen a little more explicitly in the books: Theon’s point of view chapters are just called “Theon,” and then he is captured by Ramsay and disappears for a long, long time, since you don’t see the torture firsthand in the books. When his character reemerges, his chapters are titled “Reek,” until he begins to come out of it (as in this episode), when they start having more cryptic titles.

Sansa’s chapters, too, are called “Alaine” shortly after she arrives at the Eyrie with Baelish, which serves as a nice segue to our second major transformation. I don’t think Sansa’s defense of Baelish was too surprising, but her skill at lying was certainly new. It was Baelish who told her at the end of Season 2 that everyone in King’s Landing was a liar, and every one of them better than Sansa. Her decision to out herself and the story she told contained just enough of the truth to be convincing and was skilfully done overall.

sneaky sansaThis sneaky stare says it all.

The most interesting part of the Sansa/Baelish storyline, though, was later on. Sansa explains that she helped Baelish because she knows what he wants, and does not know what the lords of the Vale want. Baelish’s desires, though, are certainly up for debate; Baelish asks Sansa to explain what exactly she means, but we don’t get a response. Instead, we see an angelically backlit Sansa who looks far older (and sexier?) than she did in the last scene. Sansa thinks that Baelish’s motivations are still ultimately tuned towards his lost and unrequited love of her mother, and she can play on those motivations.

Whether Baelish cares/cared for Cat more than he cares for power remains to be seen. Either way, her actions in this episode identify Sansa as a legitimate player in the game, and anyone who wants to call her meek and naïve can now be reprimanded.

sexy sansaI really hope she’s old enough now that I’m not a total creep for finding her sexy.

The last name we have to talk about today, since I can’t well put it off any longer, is Elia Martell. We’ve heard this name the entire time we’ve known Oberyn: he provides Tyrion with the story of the Mountain and his sister in “Two Swords.” Tywin’s bribe to try to get Oberyn on his side revolves around their history, and Tywin promises that Oberyn can meet the Mountain (while shifting all blame onto Ser Gregor and off of himself, of course). Cersei’s manipulation of Oberyn similarly relies on the shared grief of losing family despite having political power. The ghost of Elia was everywhere with Oberyn in his brief time in the story.

In a way, then, it’s fitting that he died with his desire for confession. (By “fitting,” I mean something more like, “This is the first time I’ve understood why people say they wish they never started watching,” but whatever.) Oberyn grieved intensely for his sister and her children, but he was also frustrated that the Lannisters refused to admit to their crime. Obery waits for Gregor to confess before he kills him, and while that ended up being Oberyn’s undoing, it makes sense. It does not fit in Oberyn’s code to deny doing something, or to hide behind a superior, or to blame your own soldier instead of taking responsibility. Gregor’s confession mattered to Oberyn – clearly too much, in the end. Elia’s name coming from Gregor’s lips had power for Oberyn, and for the rest of us.

Notable Moments for Show Watchers:
jorah on trial

  • Why have Ygritte spare/protect Gilly and her child? It was a nice moment, but it’s not like Ygritte is fragile or gentle-hearted. It seemed to have something to do with both being women, but I’m not sure whether that was in a good or a bad way.
  • I’m not really sure how I feel about the budding romance between Grey Worm and Missandei. On the one hand, the romance makes you face the question of whether the Unsullied really can be reintegrated, for lack of a better term, or whether the masters of Astapor have forever stained them. On the other hand, it seems like it could end up being background noise where two black characters conveniently find love with each other and don’t come near the white folk. As always, it depends on how they handle it, I suppose.
  • You know how Sansa says she met Ser Royce when he was on his way to take his son to the Wall? His son is Ser Waymar Royce, who was the arrogant Night’s Watch dude who got killed in the cold open of the very first episode. Fun fact: that actor was up for the part of Viserys.
  • I was going to try to find a way to get the Daenerys/Jorah storyline into this review, but it didn’t happen. (My segue: Daenerys tells Jorah not to say her name ever again. Totally relevant.) I’ll just have to say here that I was super sad during that scene, since Jorah is one of my favorite characters (like, literally, my cat is named Jorah).
  • Did we all enjoy the story about the Lannister cousin that was clearly a heavy-handed metaphor for Gregor Clegane? I enjoyed it.

Notable Moments for Book Readers:
ygritte shh

  • I am possibly too excited for the next episode. From what I can tell, it’s just going to be the battle on the Wall. This is based on a) comparisons of the next episode to “Blackwater” on the Making of GoT blog, and b) the fact that the preview is Jon Snow cast only.
  • I feel like Ygritte spared Gilly because (MAJOR SPOILER) Ygritte is going to die in the next episode and they wanted us to feel sympathy for her for at least two seconds before that happened.

Arya’s List: A Breakdown

Arya’s been keeping a list of everyone she’s going to kill since Season 2, and it’s only been growing. In “Mockingbird,” she adds a name and immediately checks it off when she and the Hound meet Rorge. Also checked off the list are Polliver, who they met in Season 4 Episode 1, and, of course, Joffrey.

At last count, in “First of His Name,” the list ran thus: “Joffrey. Cersei. Walder Frey. Meryn Trant. Tywin Lannister. The Red Woman. Beric Dondarrion. Thoros of Myr. Ilyn Payne. The Mountain. The Hound.” It’s analysis time!

Part 1: Kill Them Soon, and Make it Bloody

1. Walder Frey
walder frey again
Because seriously, how is this guy even alive? While I’m pleased that we haven’t had to put up with him in Season 4, he’s just hanging out at the Twins, gloating and enjoying being the lord of Riverrun. He also has Edmure Tully prisoner, which might become important as some point long after we’ve all forgotten who Edmure is, so there’s that.

2. Meryn Trant
meryn beats sansa

I hate this guy. How did he even become a part of the Kingsguard? Can someone please kill him soon? Arya’s only mad at him because he killed Syrio Forel; she doesn’t even know about the whole beating-Sansa thing. Plus, I’m mad at him for testifying against Tyrion, but I doubt Arya would find that too offensive.

3. The Mountain

The new guy they got to play the Mountain is super scary. The character has generally been up to no good, as I talked about last week. He rapes and murders people far too often to live much longer.

Joffrey would be on this list, too, obviously, but Baelish already took care of that for us.

Part 2: Maybe Kill Them? Or…Maybe Leave Them Alone?

I really can’t decide whether I want some of these people to die. Here they are:

4. Cersei & Tywin Lannister
cersei and tywin

I’m going to group these two together because I’m mad at them for the same reason: Tyrion’s trial. I’m madder at Tywin, obviously, because Cersei at least has the “grieving mother” excuse. If Tywin tried to tell me he cared about Joffrey’s death, I’d laugh in his face. I’m not sure I want these two to die, exactly, but I’m not exactly happy with them, either.

5. The Red Woman

So yeah, Melisandre burns people and killed Renly (I guess?), but I’m not sure I want her dead. She agreed with Davos at the end of Season 3 that they needed to be heading for the Wall, making her the only person in Westeros to take the claims of the Night’s Watch seriously. Besides, she walks around naked a lot, and that makes me like her because I’m easily confused.

6. Ilyn Payne
ilyn payne

Ilyn Payne killed Ned, but he also had kind of a shit deal, what with his tongue getting killed out and everything. Besides, it was on Joffrey’s orders. So while I understand why he’s on Arya’s hit list, I can’t 100% agree because a) he was just following orders and b) he’s Podrick’s uncle.

Part 3: No! Don’t Kill Them!

7. Beric Dondarrion / Thoros of Myr
beric and thoros

I see no reason to kill these guys. You’d definitely have to kill both of them, though, if you were going to – if you only killed Beric, it probably wouldn’t do much good.

8. The Hound
sandor arya

Based on “Mockingbird,” it seems like Arya’s feelings about the Hound are shifting, but I’m not sure they’re friends yet. But as I’ve said, I think the Hound is awesome and therefore want him to live. He and Arya can wander around being upset about childhood trauma together!

Part 4: You’re Forgetting Someone

As viewers, we’re omnipotent, and so we know that Arya should also work on killing the following people:

9. Janos Slynt
janos slynt

Boooo Janos Slynt. When he’s not murdering babies in brothels, he’s being a dick to Jon Snow. While he can clearly grow a pretty glorious neck beard, I think we’ve seen enough of this jackass.

10. Roose Bolton / Ramsay Snow
roose bolton

It’s interesting that Walder Frey made it on Arya’s hit list, but Roose Bolton didn’t. I assume it’s because the Red Wedding happened at the Twins, so she can presume the Freys’ involvement without getting news from any passersby.

I would have added Karl and Locke to this list, too, but they died in the same glorious battle.

Of course, I’ve read the books, so I know how all this will turn out, at least for the next few seasons. Ha!

On Trigger Warnings

I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about trigger warnings on the internet lately, mainly around a New York Times article called, “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm.” The ongoing argument about this issue is very easy to oversimplify, and as over- or re-complicating things is one of my favorite pastimes, I figured I’d pick it up here.

Heads up: This article is mainly going to be about this issue, which just a splash of Game of Thrones here and there. And no, I didn’t mean for that heads up to be ironic; it just came out that way.

As a brief background, the whole trigger warning debate is about whether media containing subject matter that could be alarming for people who have suffered various kinds of abuse should be labeled as such, so that victims of this abuse can be prepared to consume the material or choose not to. The subject matter at stake here varies pretty widely, ranging from colonialism and racism to cissexism and ableism. I’m primarily going to talk about this issue as it pertains to rape and rape victims, because that’s the issue I understand the best.

cersei and corpseBesides, that’ll help us keep it Game of Thrones-y.

On one side of the argument, as it is presented in the referenced article, are academics arguing that great works of literature and philosophy are supposed to make the reader uncomfortable, and this is what makes them provocative and important. And of course that’s true. They point to the call for trigger warnings as a sign of intellectual laziness and a desire for comfort above understanding.

I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this argument, because I think it falls apart pretty easily. The people behind this are assuming that trigger warnings are for the sake only of political correctness, or making sure that no one is offended. Rather, trigger warnings are for victims of abuse/assault who may experience panic attacks if unexpectedly confronted with sensitive material, something that is not really “the point” of any literature or philosophy whatsoever. Besides, I feel like it wouldn’t be all that difficult to slap a rating system onto the Western canon like we have for TV and movies.

The problem I have with the other side is a little more complex. I’m not sure it’s even a problem, exactly; it’s more just that I feel uncomfortable here. First off, I’m hearing a lot more “people could react badly” than “people have reacted badly.” Or, a lot of, “I personally wasn’t upset, but…” And while I’m not saying that people having panic attacks should speak up if they want something done about it, I also get very uncomfortable when people speak on behalf of rape victims or any other kind of victim group, as I’ve talked about before.

Ready? It’s time for Alice’s Personal Experience.

I’m just going to talk from my own perspective here, because that’s the one I know. For me, in my life, and please keep in mind that this has no bearing on anyone else because I’m only me and I’m not representative of anyone, trigger warnings would have been a) useless and b) impossible.

My flashbacks didn’t happen because I unexpectedly read about or saw rape. I’m not sure that happened at all. Mine were triggered by all the tiny details that got caught up in the year of it happening. It was not being able to watch Gilmore Girls (all the rage, back then) because the main character had his name. It was having to leave our pre-graduation concert in college because some kids were singing “The Weight.”

rory gilmoreNo, his name wasn’t Lorelai, and yes, I know my code is easily breakable.

You can’t put a trigger warning on people’s names or songs or blue pickup trucks. The idea behind trigger warnings is that generally, rape victims probably don’t want to see rape and should be warned about it. And that’s a good attempt at helping, because that trigger seems like it would apply to a large percentage of rape victims. I know quite a few people who didn’t keep watching Game of Thrones because they were too upset by the scene between Daenerys and Drogo in the pilot; it’s not like this never happens. My main issue here is that there isn’t always, or necessarily even often, a direct correlation between trauma and triggers. It’s usually a lot more nuanced than that, so that it becomes impossible not to be triggered by anything ever.

And there’s still more to the whole “rape victims are individuals at unique stages of unique recovery processes” pill that I’m intent on shoving down everyone’s throats. Not only do triggers vary across a huge range of mundane things depending on the person, but avoiding all of these things isn’t necessarily the answer. Again, depending on who the person is and where he or she is in the recovery process.

We all saw Avengers, right? Remember that bit when Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk and then punched a space whale right in its space whale face?

mark ruffaloOf course you do. There was space whale face-punching.

Throughout the movie, various superheroes have made jokes about Banner’s secret being yoga or meditation or whatever. Right before he turns into the Hulk for this face-punching, he tells everyone that is secret is that he’s angry all the time.

In addition to being a great one-liner to precede the transformation to the Hulk, this line actually means something. When Bruce Banner thinks of the Hulk as a being outside of himself, that being becomes necessarily outside of his control. As soon as he is able to identify with it and assimilate it into his being – in this case, by being angry all the time – it’s something that’s within his power, as he displays by changing on the spot.

When we compartmentalize, or pile all our triggers into a box labeled “Things To Avoid,” we turn our experiences into the Hulk. They then have power over us: because we have tried to make them separate (but inevitably failed, because that’s how brains work), they are no longer controllable.

For me personally, assimilation has proved an enormously helpful power. Now, I feel I should mention that I’m now seven years into this whole “recovery process” thing, and assimilation is only now becoming a possibility. (If this sounds like a different experience from the one I mentioned when I talked about Jaime and Cersei, that’s because it is. Life’s been fun.)

And finally, here’s the splash of Game of Thrones! See, have a big, big crush on this man, and the actor’s name is the same as the gentleman I’ve been speaking of:

sandorI’m only disregarding his privacy because it’s relevant to the point. Er – that’s mostly the reason.

Like any good fangirl, I did a lot of internet stalking. The name thing really bothered me at first; it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it really is. I know that it’s a silly fangirl thing, but this little crush of mine has caused me to think of something awesome (Sandor Clegane / Game of Thrones) instead of something terrible (lots and lots of rape) when I hear that name. That matters to me. I wasn’t ready for it before now, and it’s not something I could have planned, but it’s helped.

My point here is not to gather up a rape victim’s triggers and make them as present as possible in his or her life. If you do that and say it’s because you read this blog, I’ll punch you. I doubt I punch well, but I’ll do my best. I’m just saying, again, that every rape victim is different, and different things are necessary at different parts of the process.

The proponents of trigger warnings are trying to do something helpful, and that’s wonderful. Thank you for that. But, as always (for me, at least), it’s just not as simple as slapping a trigger warning on anything with rape in it and calling it a day. Because – hi! I’m an individual, not a demographic.

The Hound, Part 1: The Honest Killer

Sandor Clegane is one of my favorite characters on Game of Thrones. His scene with Arya in “Mockingbird,” which was the first time on the show that he’s actually discussed where the scars on his face came from, finally gives me an excuse to do a character profile on him. Hooray!

The brilliance of this character lies in his complexity, and the long arc he’s gone through since the beginning of the show. He starts out largely as wallpaper in this big, scary fantasy world. His first dialogue is in “The Kingsroad,” which is the second episode of Season 1, where Sansa is frightened alternately by Ser Ilyn and the Hound. The Hound explains that Ser Ilyn has been mute since the Mad King cut out his tongue, and leaves the story of his own mutilated face unspoken.

sandor ilyn sansa

We meet this characters through Sansa’s eyes, and they are largely world-building. This is the kind of world where men are disfigured, sometimes by kings. We’re also at a time in this world where the last king is no longer around, but his effects on individuals have not worn off. Aerys’ reign is long over, but its shadow is still cast.

Ser Ilyn has not moved much out of the realm of world-building wallpaper, but Sandor has shown depth and transformation over the three and a half seasons so far. His character is automatically gray: while we know from the beginning that he’s a brutal killer and protects Joffrey, we can’t help but feel sympathy for him as soon as we find out where his scars came from.

When presented with Sandor’s scars, we are forced to think of him as an innocent victim and a child. No matter how much violence we see him do, thinking of him as a child evokes a certain tenderness that doesn’t go away. I think part of it is that we automatically connect his brutality with that original trauma; part of it is understanding that he lives in an incredibly violent world, and though he may surpass most people in this respect, he is certainly not the worst or most violent person in that world. That’s true of a lot of characters, of course, but we see Gregor’s brutality literally burned onto Sandor’s face, and so it’s a more constant reminder with him than with any others.

sandor scars

He is also the primary mouthpiece for the ongoing theme that attempts to define anyone simply are ultimately useless. He refuses to become a knight, even when he’s named to Joffrey’s Kingsguard: If people like Gregor can be knights, even though knights are supposed to be good and chivalrous and are named in the light of the Seven, then clearly the whole order is meaningless, and he will take pains to avoid it.

This comes through in his conversations with Sansa, too. He plays a huge role in deconstructing her ideals of the knight in shining armor. When he comes to her after fleeing the Battle of the Blackwater, he says: “Stannis is a killer. The Lannisters are killers. Your father was a killer. Your brother is a killer. Your sons will be killers someday. The world was built by killers. So you’d better get used to looking at them.”

sandor blackwater with sansa

The Hound is largely regarded as a brutal killer by the other citizens of Westeros, and to him that’s enormously hypocritical. His interaction with Bronn before the battle hits on the same point – Bronn acts like the Hound is a vicious breed completely separate from him, despite the fact that every man in that room is gearing up for a whole lot of violence.

There is nuance in killing, of course. It’s somehow worse to kill ten men at a wedding than ten thousand in battle. It’s bad to chase down and kill young boys. But it’s not like killing in battle is inherently acceptable, and people like Bronn certainly enjoy violence but don’t get the same “dark and vicious” label that the Hound does.

The Hound thinks that the only difference between him and everyone else is that he is honest about what killing means to him. Since honesty is something we generally value, it’s hard not to respect that.sandor praying

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the Hound, but to be honest, most of it can be summed up as, “OMG, isn’t he awesome?” Because I’m basically like a fourteen year old with a crush. (I’m not fourteen, though, I promise. I’m 22.)

Check back later in the week for a post about Sandor’s relationship with each of the Stark girls!