I have a complicated relationship Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire — which seems like a common situation these days. Now, I’m catching up on Season Six — since I was out of the country — and here are some thoughts thus far.
The Red Woman
Ah! Back in Westeros. Where the light is lovely and everything else is terrible. I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit disillusioned with this saga — both on screen and in prose — and this episode didn’t do much to radically alter my opinion.
Let’s get Dorne out of the way: WTF! This was a hideous waste of storytelling and characters and screen time. And a propensity for murder does not a strong character make. It just makes them murdery. Pointless and ineffective — and it ought to be effective if you’re killing off three named characters. That ought to have a smidge of impact. But no. Dorne has been dreadful from the beginning and continues so.
Now that’s out of the way… hmmm… Love Davos. I’m all about team “Let’s be Practical and Not Die”. A personal crisis was due for Melisandre and I didn’t hate the nudity at the end. The Meerenese politics remain vague and dull. Their graffiti ought to be in Valyrian. And the irregularity and specificity of the extras made it seem like a ghost town. Dany is Dany. Not much for Arya. Surprised with how entertaining I found our season’s roadtrip: Daario and Jorah were good together.
I saved my favorite bit for last. Brienne and Pod! This sequence combined excellent and character appropriate fight work while letting characters come together. Huzzah for condensing plotlines! All lovely and solid.
May I just say that I hate Ramsay? And no, not because he’s such a cruel or intense villain. He’s dull. He’s so painfully predictable that when he murders a baby and mother via hunting dogs, I go “Yup. That was going to happen. Next?” I’m more horrified by my desentization to his violence than I am by his violence. Moving on.
I don’t understand why Lannisters keep walking into the midst of the Sparrow stronghold without guards. They’ve been doing it for more than a season now? And it’s gone badly for them every single time. Not really a fan of watching Arya beaten again. Good to know the Iron Islands haven’t sunk into the sea. Tyrion facing the dragons went better for him than it did for Quentyn, so that’s a point for the show over the book.
Edd, your timing is magnificent. And Jon. Oh, Jon. A month or two ago I wrote a piece about the things I like to see in storytelling — one of those things is consequences. Especially for magic. With Jon back among the living, I wonder what consequences we’ll see for that. (Hint: To keep me happy, they ought to be significant. Though they don’t need to be obvious.)
If there’s anyone reading this who has not read the books, can you tell me if Bran’s vision makes any sense as an important event without that background? The battle in front of the Tower of Joy carries a mystic significance from the novels that was going to be impossible to live up to. The legendary nature of Aerys’ kingsguard, the relationship between Howland Reed and Ned — there wasn’t the groundwork and frankly it wasn’t worth the groundwork. Ah, well.
As to fight work — the twirly thing when you’ve got someone fighting with two swords is the sign of a showy idiot, not a swordsman. That said, once they got into the choreography of one versus four, it was pretty lovely. Speaking of choreography…
… best fight work so far in the season is the quarterstaff choreography between Arya and the Waif. Hands down gorgeous work. Arya finally got to do something too, which helps.
See the comments on the previous episode for my thoughts on Ramsay. But seriously? Osha, who knew what was coming from the North, didn’t get out of Umber lands?
Rapid fire other thoughts: They’ve made a big deal about beheadings in the North, so the hanging is weird (thanks to my sister, Auntie Moose, for pointing that out. It now bugs me a lot). Poor Sam — being seasick sucks. Across the sea, the Sons of the Harpy stuff continues to be over obscured and over simplified by turns — can it please be over soon?
And finally. Clothing was difficult to make in a pre-industrial world — tearing it off someone is stupidly and unrealistically wasteful for a crew like the Dorthraki.
Book of the Stranger
I liked this one! Dorne, Ramsay and (sometimes) human nature notwithstanding, It’s been a stronger season so far.
Like any good fan, there is much I love about ASOIAF and I also have my issues with the novels. One of them is watching characters come close together and then bouncing off each other. So finally seeing a couple Starks getting back together was satisfying in a meta way, as well as a storytelling way. Now, of course, I’m sure everything else will be terrible for them — but let’s face it, the lows are more effective with a few “less than rock bottom” moments mixed in.
Ever since the Sparrow and his zealots showed up, I’ve been yelling at the various noble families to grab a handful of knights and disarm them. People in armor on horseback with privilege and big ol’ swords can hack through a lot of be-sackclothed dudes with clubs. That this is the plan our genius Lannisters and Tyrells have finally landed on is not heartening. It’s annoying that it took so long to get here and given its presentation in the show, I’m pretty sure it’ll fail. Always good to see Lady Olenna back in the mix, though.
Ramsay kills Osha. On the one hand, I hate reintroducing characters to kill them. On the other hand, she wasn’t raped. Which is close to the lowest possible bar for the show to clear. And the ransom note for Rickon1 was far more chilling than the rest of Ramsay’s poorly thought out murders.
Anyway! Dany seems to be on a loop. Once more unwillingly with the Dothraki, she got them under her command by not burning to death. While it’s familiar, at least she’s doing something. Littlefinger is back? Sort of? And I’m hoping that we’re done with the Sons of the Harpy. Refer back to my obfuscation + oversimplification comments for the previous episode.
The scene with Sansa and Petyr gave some much needed consequence to her rape last season. That she didn’t let Petyr off the hook and confronted him with his choice (whether deliberate or ignorant) was solid storytelling.
I’d like to briefly address the “murder as qualification to high office” trope we’ve seen this season. Generally speaking, there have historically been plenty of murderers in power over the ages — but they usually don’t frame it as “murder”. In fact they are careful to frame it as divine right or unavoidable and unfortunate evil — because setting the precedence of “murder the one in charge and you get to be in charge” is inherently dangerous to the one setting it. We now have Ellaria Sand, Euron Greyjoy, Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow) and — briefly — Alliser Thorne all coming to power this way and admitting it. It has begun to be repetitive and irritating, not to mention unlikely.
And now. The door. Hmm. I liked very little surrounding Hodor’s death. Not warning Bran about avoiding the Night King in visions turned out to be mortally stupid and seems like an obvious oversight. The Night King teleporting to their doorstep breaks physics or credulity. Summer didn’t need to leap in — it feels like we are killing the direwolves to free up the animation budget. The Child of the Forest stayed with her bomb when she could have thrown it. And no, we have not addressed the ethics of Bran possessing Hodor. But. The death of Hodor, the build up from previous episodes, the way it tied back to Bran’s visions, the horror of Hodor’s own distorted precognition, etc… were solid storytelling. It’s the first effective death this season — and we’ve lost plenty of other named characters.
Random feels: The interaction between Sansa and Jon has some lovely nuance. Blackfish! Excited for Brynden Tully’s return. Hope he doesn’t get summarily murdered. Ordering someone to find a cure for a currently incurable disease is a little crazy. That was a lot of ships to steal. Glad to see new crazy Red Priestesses. And Arya gets to do something! Also, I have a soft spot for acting troupes in fantasy stories, so huzzah!
Blood of My Blood
Oh Sam. I loved pretty much everything at Hornhill. It was great to have “nice” characters — Sam’s mother and sister were a breath of fresh air. Randyll was dreadful and I applaud Sam’s decision not to leave Gilly anywhere near him. But the sword. The sword means the Lord of Hornhill has to come after Sam. And Sam isn’t exactly going undercover — he’s going to the Citadel. I like the actions, but I’m not sure there is a plan.
And Arya! Arya takes a moral stand. And gets her sword back. All of that, yes please and thank you!
I’m still annoyed by all the interactions with the Faith Militant and the Sparrow. It seems like we’re supposed to think King’s Landing is on the side of the Sparrow? But we have seen nothing at all to tell us they’ve gotten popular. My comments about the relative chances of sack-clothed folks against armored knights still stands.
And! That plot has now established a pattern of “Poor captive in the hands of the Faith”/”The Sparrow says wise/creepy things”/”People in the palace talk about the Faith as a problem”. Which this does not break. Nothing changed. Essentially, Margery remains a prisoner of the faith, the Sparrow says wise/creepy stuff and the Lannisters and Tyrells talk about it being a problem. Sigh…
Dany is still in her loop. She’s promising to lead Dothraki with dragons. It’s a bigger dragon, so that’s good.
Jaime! Go meet Brienne at Riverrrun! AND DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID!
Oh, yeah. And Benjen. Well. Glad Bran and Meera aren’t dead yet, so yay Benjen. Keep up the good work and walk south, why don’t ya?
The Broken Man
I thought… Okay. Not going to lie. Watching this one tonight on HBOGO. Will update with more thoughts and feels on this season after hiding from the internet all day to avoid spoilers.
- The writers are also now in a bit of a pickle when it comes to Rickon. The world established in the show is not only brutal, it’s sadistic. And Ramsay is the poster boy for that sadism. They’ve put a child in the hands of sadist — and we know what Ramsay does to the male children of noble houses. We’ve seen it in Theon. At this point the show can be true to the monster they’ve created — which has the virtue of consistent storytelling. Or admit that there is — in fact — a line they don’t want to cross: i. e. the torture and mutilation of a young child. Unfortunately, that means that all the nonsense they justified by saying their sadism was ‘realistic’ is reduced back to authorial choice (which it always was, even if writers like to pretend otherwise). Personally, I hope they are inconsistent.