Monday, April 22, 2019

GAME OF THRONES 8.02 - "A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS"



 



“A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms” was, undoubtedly, the most sentimental episode in the series’ run. Next week won’t be the first time the show has devoted an entire episode to a giant battle; Blackwater, the siege of Castles Black and Battle Of the Bastards all warranted such tightened focus.  A large part of what made those episodes series highlights was the time devoted to quiet moments of build-up, allowing our anxiety to grow with that of the characters on the eve of decisive combat.  This is the first time that an entire episode has been devoted to that build-up, however, and joins “Blackwater” and “Watchers On The Wall” as the only entries of this sprawling show to remain in a single location from start to finish.

More precisely, the episode could be said to be split between the reactions to the arrival of Jaime Lannister, and all the fatalistic ruminations once Tormund arrives to confirm definitively that the big battle will not wait until the end of hte seasons.  We get a few scraps of plotty or tactical information, enough to suggest that whatever bloodbath ensues next week, Dany, Jon and Sansa will survive to hash out the North’s place within/out of the Kingdoms, and to establish a rudimentary battle plan for our heroes to draw the Night King into the Godswood and torch him with dragonfire.  But the majority of the episode is just about deepening emotional stakes for the battle to come by letting the characters let their hard-boiled hair down and be their sappiest selves for a night. 

Monty Python And The Holy Grail Dance GIF - MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail Dance Dancing GIFs
I have a new Sister-By-Law, who has been providing single-.gif reviews of the episodes. 
Between this and last week's Ron Burgundy, she is 2 for 2.

Before the copious, by and large lovely, sap, I want to look at the battle planning scene which demarcates the two halves of the episode.  In remarkably economic fashion, it establishes and deepens the stakes for next episode’s zombie apocalypse action spectacular.  The comically oversized pile of white stones serves as a nice visual to more effectively convey how outmatched the living forces are than Jon Snow’s repeated vocal insistences that they don’t have enough men, don’t stand a chance, etc.  Sure, I knew when I thought about it that the armies of the North had been depleted by fighting a civil war after losing another, but as other armies and especially dragons enlisted to help, it seemed overly pessimistic to be constantly lamenting the war as unwinnable before it starts.  If nothing else, it seemed like it warranted some discussion how they now had these enormous X factors, that can literally fly over an army that is conspicuously lacking in long-range weaponry and spamtheir greatest weakness upon them from above.  At least, the guy who had beaten back a wildling army that outnumbered his 1000 to 1 should have had some sense that numbers aren’t all when you have a fortified position, time to prepare, and an enemy content to throw themselves mindlessly into the breach.

Bran’s terse explanation of the Night King’s motives doesn’t completely address that, but it is a great touch that adds both thematic and tactical depth to the battle to come.  On a practical, plot level, giving the baddie a specific, tangible goal to pursue in the coming fight makes things more complex and interesting.  With so many well-developed characters gathered for this last stand, it would have remained plenty suspenseful just to put them all in Horde Mode and see who is still standing when the dust clears.  But adding a particular mission objective, while not overcomplicating things, provides a reason to hold the dragons back for awhile, and creates different tasks and complications for individual characters to pursue and resolve once things are underway.  The scale of the coming spectacle is sure to be grander than what we have seen before, but what made those prior battle episodes compelling was not just their size, but the tactics on display presenting a degree of surprise and back-and-forth of momentum.  Before now, there had not been much indication that there would be a place for such wrinkles when it came to the Walkers, whose previous peak of strategic complexity had been to throw an icicle.   

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Pictured:  TACTICS


But also, Bran’s omniscient powers have mostly been a source of frustration for me.  Their implications had to be consistently ignored or glossed over, because addressing them fully would risk tying off all the wonderfully messy conflicts that drive the show with a too-neat bow of magical bullshit.  But a couple of lines clarify the metaphysical role of the Three-Eyed Raven, giving at least some degree of symbolic weight to the fight against a horde of one-dimensional monsters that are entirely speechless and almost entirely nameless and faceless swarm.  

It’s not the deepest or most elaborate of subtexts to ever define a conflict, but when Sam muses on how being gone is not nearly as bad as being forgotten, it hearkens directly back to one of my favorite moments of last season.  And the Big Bad seeking the erasure of memory means that the Walkers represent something more than just bodies we can cheer the heroes to hack at without reservation, which would be a positive step in itself, but it also that something could not be more appropriate for a show that has always been to such a large degree about history.  Fictional history, sure, but by now we as the audience have invested so much time in learning about the fictional politics and fictional geography and fictional journeys of these fictional characters, that if we needed another reason to hate the Bid Bad, the fact that his goal is to render all that investment pointless is subtly but especially offensive.

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Really, I'm starting to think this guy is some kind of jerk...

It’s also an appropriate idea to raise in an episode that focuses so much on the characters pondering how far they have come.  Without memory of what they have been through to get here, the pseudo-redemption of Jaime Lannister would mean nothing.  Tyrion’s saving grace, the ability to learn from his plentiful mistakes, would be useless. Sam’s unlikely resume as a slayer of mythical beast and lover of women would warrant no rueful chuckles. Theon’s determination to defend the family he once betrayed would have no weight.  Brienne’s history of brave and loyal service would go unrewarded.  The Hound and Arya would not be able to acknowledge each other’s growth, even in the gruff terms they prefer.  I am less inclined to try to vivisect these warm and fuzzy moments, since they mostly speak for themselves, but the two most impactful are Arya getting her swerve on, and the knighting of Brienne.

There was some awkwardness in an Arya sex scene, first because most of us so obviously still see Maisie Williams as the child we “met” almost a decade ago.  That,  I was able to reconcile by a quick reminder that the actress is actually a 22 year-old woman, despite her preternaturally youthful appearance.  It was also a bit jarring to have the character, who had previously been rather asexual in her focus on murder as a vocation, suddenly express active sex interest.  But I found that to be a welcome humanizing note in a character that had been played as increasingly cold.  All the women actors were great this week (Emilia Clark rarely impresses me, but she was doing so subtly complex work this week despite it definitely not being a "Dany episode), but Williams was especially good as she checks Gendry out during their first interaction at the forge, and especially when she replies that yes, he definitely did count the women he had been with.  It would have been so easy to play that line with a smirk or a reprimand, but her nonjudgmental certainty went a long way toward convincing me that okay, maybe Arya was actually mature enough for this experience.  

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Also, I'm sure that's not what they were going for, but this shot is kind of hilarious
if you just take her look to mean that Gendry was really, really bad at it

On Brienne’s side of things, there is not much I could say that Gwendoline Christie’s big, unguarded smile didn't say better.  Of course it is wonderful, but it also has me worried about her safety for the first time in a couple seasons.  Ever since the idea occurred to me, I have been thinking that she had to live through the end to wind up on the Kingsguard, writing Jaime’s entry into the Book Of Brothers.  It just seemed like too perfect an end to their arc not to use.  But this week saw her stand up for him as the first person to publicly acknowledge that he was a more honorable man in deed than reputation, and him returning the favor by being the first to publicly recognize that she has always been a truer knight than any man we’ve seen bear the title. While I still prefer my own fanfiction, that is a strong enough capper to the relationship that it does feel like they can let her go now, if they want to really hurt us.  

There is actually a ton of that type of “two days until retirement!” notes throughout the episode, so let’s skip random notes to see how my prophesies are faring:



       


Season Morghulis:  Ned Umber.


Prophesies:  Only one of my predictions came true this week, but none were specifically disproven.  I'll roll with that.  Grey Worm and Ghost are almost certainly toast next week, along with some smattering of Jorah, Theon, Davos, Pod, and possibly (now) Brienne.  Bran's final sacrifice could be looming sooner than I thought.

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Jon – Becomes king, dies defeating Night King, leaving Dany pregnant


Dany – Refuses to step down for Jon, thinks better of it after losing more dragons and advisors in the battle at Winterfell, but winds up back on the throne after he dies heroically, with a proper incestuous Targaryen heir on the way.

Cersei – Gets to little Robin Arryn and lays a trap at the Eyrie before the survivors of Winterfell can reach it, which is mostly foiled by wariness of Sansa/Arya/Tyrion.  King Jon still feels compelled to offer her a pardon to fight with them for realsies this time.  She can’t help but try to backstab them one last time and Jaime mercy-kills her before Queen Dany can burn her alive.

Bran – Dies/leaves human body warging into Drogon as a sacrifice play allowing the living to escape Winterfell.

Sansa/Tyrion – Renew their marriage to rule the North and Westerlands.  

Arya – Provides assist to take out Mountain in Cleganebowl.  Hooks up with Gendry but refuses to be tied down as his wife, last seen hitting the road for more merry adventures, but with an ominous note that a Faceless man is trailing her.

Gendry – High Lord of the Stormlands.

Sam – High Lord of The Reach.

Gilly – Lady Of the Reach.

Jaime – Appointed/Sentenced to reconstitute the Night’s Watch as new Lord Commander.

Brienne – Commander of the Queensguard.

Davos – Small Council, Master Of Ships.

Missandei – Small Council.

Jorah – killed by Walkers.

Tormund – Ruler of new Wildling nation in the Gift.

Yara – Ruler Of Iron Islands.

Theon – dies heroically.

Euron – dismembered by Mountain.

The Hound/Mountain – killed together in Cleganebowl.

Drogon/Rhaegal – die in battles with Night King.

Grey Worm – killed by Walkers.

Varys – killed in Cersei’s trap.

Melisandre – killed by Varys.

Robin Arryn – killed in Cersei’s trap.

Yohn Royce – Lord of the Vale.

Berric Dondarrion – killed by Walkers.

Edd – killed by Walkers.

Qyburn – killed by Mountain.

Bronn – refuses to kill Jaime/Tyrion, gets a castle.

Lyanna Mormont – Rules Bear Island.

Podrick – killed by Walkers.

Ghost – killed by Walkers.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

GAME OF THRONES 8.01 - "WINTERFELL"



There’s a thing that comes up in the final season or episode of a long-running series, where they start packing in a bunch of references to or recreations of scenes from the series premiere.  Writers love to bring things full circle in this way, and it can be rewarding for faithful viewers to recognize such self-allusions, at least to a point.  This type of mirroring is undeniably artful in its structure, but in a way that makes the artist’s hand more visible, which is generally not something I find appealing.  It feels a bit solipsistic; like the story is buying into its own hype and indulging itself by elevating random scenes or lines to mythic importance.  But I tend to agree with Tony Soprano that “Remember Whenis the lowest form of conversation.”  And I find I am especially sensitive to it in GOT, where a huge part of the draw was how the visceral nature of the storytelling created a tantalizing illusion that events were being carried along with their own unpredictable momentum, rather than molded to the contours of a traditional plot structure.

There was always a design, of course, and if anything, it probably had to be crafted more carefully than a more traditional, linear narrative.  In any case, this final season premiere is awash in callbacks to the first episode of the series.  It opens with a boy climbing around trying to get a better look at the royal procession, as Arya did when Robert Baratheon’s train came to Winterfell all those years ago.  The music that plays is even the same as the more rigid royal theme that played in the pilot, which stood out on my last rewatch as sounding like it could have been a holdover from the mostly-scrapped original cut, before Ramin Djawadi took the scoring in a moodier, more somber direction.  There is an interrupted brothel visit.  The Starks line up to greet the visiting monarch in the courtyard, chat with each other in the godswood and their old friends in the crypts.  And of course, the episode ends with Jaime being surprised to see Bran. 

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(insert fart joke here)

The parallels are not as heavy-handed as they might have been, and to non-obsessives they probably don’t even register as deliberate nods.  But I do hope the show got it out of its system with this episode.  Partly because I think it's done a good enough job establishing something like Ned Stark’s legacy that it can get the point across just by dressing Jon like him, without going to the lengths of having him recreate the exact blocking of a famous scene or quote entire lines of his dialogue (the most strained callback of the episode involves Dany quoting Ygritte directly on a romantic rendezvous with Jon, which felt like a non-sequitur for moment).  But mostly it’s that, while some narratives that have thematic reasons for highlighting a “the more things change…” motif,  I tend to prefer endings that emphasis how much has changed rather than how much has stayed the same.  Circular plotting may be neat, but I prefer the sense that the events of the story had actual weight and consequence for the world in which it takes place.  Throughout its life, GOT has distinguished itself by committing to that type of consequence in a way that is exceedingly rare in genre fiction.  It took dark and bracing turns that most fantasy would only tease at, and that’s what I loved about it.

But I picked a bad episode in which to wax on about what big moves the series is willing to make, since “Winterfell” is oddly the most relaxed episode since the early days of the first season.  Despite Bran’s brief insistence that some heavy shit was about to go down, the only people who seem to be acting with any real urgency are the refugees from the Wall that have found themselves behind the enemy’s lines.  The most significant plot development, Theon’s infiltration of Euron’s armada, goes off without a hitch, or any real effort to wring suspense from the scenario or even put much of the rescue mission on screen.  Dany has a weird non-reaction to the news that her dragon is a zombie now and coming to kill them all.  People crack a lot of jokes, gossip about marriage prospects, and make time for extended dragonback joyride dates.

Ron Burgundy Anchor Man GIF - RonBurgundy AnchorMan Unicorn GIFs

The joyride was a bit much, technically very impressive but calling a goofier side of Jon Snow that is definitely not Kit Harrington’s wheelhouse.  And while it may be his first taste of dragonflight, it is probably our ninth, so his excitement isn't really there for us.. In a perfect world. I’d have traded it for an actual action sequence with the Greyjoys, but I don’t want to be an ingrate.  For the most part, the episode had its head in the right space, as no matter how eager I am to get on with the zombie apocalypse action spectacular, taking this last chance to slow things down and focus on the justified sources of tension within the Targaryen-Stark alliance is the right move. As last season pared the complex, multifaceted plot of the earlier seasons down to two main threads, there was also a creeping sense that the complex and multifacted conflicts that arose from that plotting were also going to be sanded down or disregarded in favor of adventures in zombie-fighting with our motley crew of Good Guys arrayed against the clear-cut Bads.  While it’s still clear that we are rooting emphatically against the Night King, Cersei, and Euron, there is still a lot of room for friction and animosity among our heroes, which is something “Winterfell” steers directly into, to its credit.

With the climactic momentum having clustered all the survivors in about 2.5 locations, the premiere decides to bide its time before the zombie apocalypse action spectacular by staging a string of reunions.  Theon reunites with Yara, and gets her blessing to go fight at Winterfell.  Sansa and Tyrion speak for the first time since Joffrey’s wedding, and she impresses him with how cool she has become. Sam meets Jorah again, and gets some bad news in the process.  Edd meets Tormund at Last Hearth, and in adorable fashion, the two practically fall into each other’s arms.  Arya reunites with Gendry, finding that a surprising note of sexual tension has crept into their dynamic, while also running into the Hound and finding out that he’s only gotten gruffer to cover up for how mushy he’s gone inside.  She also reunites with Jon, who reunites with Bran, who also, in the thrilling closing shot, reunites with the man who crippled him all the way back in the pilot episode.



If the episodes is not the most exciting in terms of structure, where the writing excels is in finding single, pithy lines that sum up the complex conflicts and dynamics at play, and punctuate the scenes without sounding too neat and scripted.  Dany and Sansa side-eyeing each other after the former notes that dragons eat “whatever they want” is one, and Sansa dismissing Tyrion by telling him “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive” another.  Yara adding “but kill the bastards anyway” after exchanging the Greyjoy’s religious motto about the dead not dying.  Varys noting that “Nothing lasts” while looking at the incestuous hope for the future of the kingdoms.   “First I robbed you.” 

But the best came from Sam, who became the unlikely emotional crux of the episode after Dany’s visit to thank him for curing Jorah turns to the awkward subject of how she kinda-sorta-a-little-bit burned his father and brother alive.  It drives Sam to tell Jon about his secret heritage and superior claim to the throne, and ask whether Dany could, as Jon did, give up a crown to keep her would-be subjects safe.  I had liked how the show had been playing up resentment of the Northerners to their brand new king immediately kneeling to a foreigner, but it wasn’t until Sam puts that fine a point on it that the full narrative value for Jon’s secret birthright snapped into place.  Until now, I had thought of it as almost a twist for a twist’s sake, a secret that had been seeded into the books so early that Martin was obligated to go through with it even though the internet had spoiled the surprise a decade or two in advance and ultimately it would be rendered moot by Jon heroically sacrificing himself before he could sit on the Iron Throne.  The incestuous complications the reveal introduced seemed like a play for some cheap shock value, and rather than make the romantic connection between Dany and Jon more difficult, actually serve to makes us feel a little better about his dying allowing us to sidestep the whole mess.    

Previously, that familial revelation seemed like it would make Dany and Jon sad, but not be cause to rupture the vital alliance on which the future of the human race rests.  But since it has come to light now, after Jon has proven willing to abdicate for her.  It sets her up to have to make the same decision, which is a twist with some actual dramatic juice to it, and given her characterization, I don’t see how she can do it.  Jon is telling the truth when he insists he never wanted a crown. But the idea of one was all that kept Dany alive throughout a childhood on the run, and moving forward through years of hardship, bloodshed and degradation.

Image result for dany got
"Yeah, yeah, knife to the heart, Red Wedding, whatever.  Talk to me about earning it
when you've  spent 3 years cooling your heels in MEEREEN, bro."

That is a real conflict, a genuinely difficult situation without a pure villain to blame it all on.  It makes things messy and complicated, at an exact time when the heroes can’t afford to deal with complications, in that quintessential GOT way.  And that is all before Jaime Lannister shows up.  The stricken look on Nicolaj Coster-Waldau’s face when he sees Bran is as eloquent as any of the other lines I highlighted in communicating the complex state of affairs between two characters.  In any other season, a trial of Jaime Lannister would be a fine centerpiece for an episode, but there is little time for that with the dead on the move.  

In any case, is it next week yet?

       

RANDOM NOTES
  •  Cersei wanted elephants in her army.  I did too, girl.
  • Captain Strickland of the Golden Company doesn’t make a very unique impression, but should provide for a handy subboss for, oh let’s say Brienne, to kill when shit goes down.
  • One thing I didn’t need was another scene of Tyrion making eunuch jokes at Varys, who huffily underlines the irony that he takes offense at dwarf jokes.  I actually like how petty it makes Tyrion look, but I don't like that it tends to make him look as un-clever as everyone who ever cracked the same joke about his height.  
  • I like the warped bit of symmetry that both Cersei and Dany are dealing with what earning loyalty means to a queen.  Euron argues that he has delivered an army, a navy and her daughter’s killers to Cersei and has seen nothing in return, whereas in the North Dany also feels that bringing an army and dragons proves her bona fides to the point where further shows of respect to the natives are irrelevant.
  • The new credits sequence is pretty sweet, reflecting the narrowed geographic scope by taking us inside the only two locations that really matter anymore, Winterfell and King’s Landing.  Also a very nice touch that they updated the carvings on the revolving bands, to represent the current war against the dead rather than Robert’s rebellion.
  • The first thing Jon says upon learning his Targaryen heritage is to defend Ned Stark’s honor.  That’s a direct hit in the feels right there.
  •  Bronn being hired to kill Jaime and Tyrion is a good twist, less because it puts the brothers in real danger than because it puts Bronn at a slight risk of getting himself killed trying to pull it off. 


Season Morghulis:  Ned Umber.


Prophesies: I’m going to throw out my predictions for how things will go from here for each character and strike them out each week as they are proved wrong. 

Image result for in the year 2000

Jon – Becomes king, dies defeating Night King, leaving Dany pregnant


Dany – Refuses to step down for Jon, thinks better of it after losing more dragons and advisors in the battle at Winterfell, but winds up back on the throne after he dies heroically, with a proper incestuous Targaryen heir on the way.

Cersei – Gets to little Robin Arryn and lays a trap at the Eyrie before the survivors of Winterfell can reach it, which is mostly foiled by wariness of Sansa/Arya/Tyrion.  King Jon still feels compelled to offer her a pardon to fight with them for realsies this time.  She can’t help but try to backstab them one last time and Jaime mercy-kills her before Queen Dany can burn her alive.

Bran – Dies/leaves human body warging into Drogon as a sacrifice play allowing the living to escape Winterfell.

Sansa/Tyrion – Renew their marriage to rule the North and Westerlands.

Arya – Provides assist to take out Mountain in Cleganebowl.  Hooks up with Gendry but refuses to be tied down as his wife, last seen hitting the road for more merry adventures, but with an ominous note that a Faceless man is trailing her.

Gendry – High Lord of the Stormlands.

Sam – High Lord of The Reach.

Gilly – Lady Of the Reach.

Jaime – Appointed/Sentenced to reconstitute the Night’s Watch as new Lord Commander.

Brienne – Commander of the Queensguard.

Davos – Small Council, Master Of Ships.

Missandei – Small Council.

Jorah – killed by Walkers.

Tormund – Ruler of new Wildling nation in the Gift.

Yara – Ruler Of Iron Islands.

Theon – dies heroically.

Euron – dismembered by Mountain.

The Hound/Mountain – killed together in Cleganebowl.

Drogon/Rhaegal – die in battles with Night King.

Grey Worm – killed by Walkers.

Varys – killed in Cersei’s trap.

Melisandre – killed by Varys.

Robin Arryn – killed in Cersei’s trap.

Yohn Royce – Lord of the Vale.

Berric Dondarrion – killed by Walkers.

Edd – killed by Walkers.

Qyburn – killed by Mountain.

Bronn – refuses to kill Jaime/Tyrion, gets a castle.

Lyanna Mormont – Rules Bear Island.

Podrick – killed by Walkers.

Ghost – killed by Walkers.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

SEVEN BLESSINGS: THE BEST MOMENTS OF GAME OF THRONES, SEASON SEVEN

Image result for game of thrones

In honor of the faith of the Seven, and to pass the interminable wait for the conclusive episodes of Game Of Thrones, and not at all to scratch a compulsive itch that wouldn't go away once the idea occurred to me, I have decided to list my seven favorite moments from each of the first seven seasons.  Videos will be embedded in the headings.  Anyway, without further ado...


1.  We Are Mankind's Memory (7.01 - "Dragonstone")



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Sam has never been a favorite character of mine, but one thing I appreciate about him is that he serves as the vessel for one of the more underappreciated aspects of the show.  Which is that it occasionally, amidst the rivers of blood, sneaks in some surprisingly robust defenses of academics as a pursuit as worthy as swordplay or political power. Sam’s powers of reading are the primary source of the living’s intel on how to actually fight the white walkers, as even the hardheaded Stannis recognizes. But it’s the archmaester that puts it best, when describing what men would be in a world without intellectuals, without readers, without historians. “Little better than dogs. Can't remember any meal but the last, can’t see past any but the next.”

That quote recurs in my head more frequently than I would like, as we live through a time when we decided to put someone with absolutely no grasp of or curiosity about history (or any other type of learning) in charge of the world’s most prominent superpower. When it does, I try to also remember the other part, about how full blown apocalypses come around about once a generation. But ultimately, the world keeps turning, and those fortunate enough to survive find a way to muddle along somehow.


2.  Varys And Melisandre (7.03 - "The Queen's Justice")

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As the latter seasons pared all the multitudinous story strands down to a much simpler face off between two factions, more and more of the conflict revolves around the logistics of defeating zombies and dragons.  And while this is a necessity to pay off all the earlier shit about, y'know, zombies and dragons, it also causes many of the smaller scale conflicts to fall by the wayside.  So there wasn’t any real guarantee that they would find any time to pay off Varys’s longstanding, if fairly one-sided, enmity for Melisandre and the sorcery she represents.  The exchange is brief, but finds both of them in their finest form.  Varys seething with mannered venom, Melisandre full of ominous serenity even as she admits how horrendously astray her past certainty had led her. 


It’s not the most integral scene in the season, but it’s a pure distillation of how the show can still be just as compelling by having two great actors trade barbs as by throwing zombie bears and CGI lizards all over everything.



3.  Why Did You Do That?  (7.03 - "The Queen's Justice")

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As we make our way to these final seasons, many of the scenes we see are versions of things we’ve seen before. I have tried to avoid picking scenes that are direct rehashes of earlier ones,  so stuff like  Bran’s escape from Craster’s fell off for being too close to a prior selection, and Arya’s decimation of the Freys gets left out because the scene of her impersonating Walder is stronger than the one where she killed him, but still loses some power for coming after the other.  But one beat that I seem to keep hitting over and over is that when Cersei gets to monologue at one of her enemies, it automatically takes a slot.  This scene in particular is very similar in set up to the scene in 6.10 where she finally has Septa Unella at her mercy (entirely theoretical though said mercies may be).  And the specter of that scene hangs over the entire opening of this episode; if Cersei arranged such prolonged torture for a woman who rang a bell at her, what horrors will she unleash on the women who murdered her only daughter? 


The show actually threads this needle quite nimbly.  Would it court the thinkpiece whirlwind by depicting graphic (or gods forbid sexualized) violence against female characters in 2017?  Or would it start pulling the types of brutal punches that made it famous now, at the 11th hour?  Given that the situation required the most vicious response possible, or to sell out the established characterization entirely, it seemed like a no-win.  But they deftly sidestepped the whole minefield, with Cersei devising a fate that is fully and appropriately sadistic, but more fiendish than gruesome.

And it also contains a small moment that might be my favorite of Headey’s entire performance, when a single, pained question slips through a crack in her carefully scripted soliloquy of vengeance.  It’s a horribly human moment amidst an overwrought scenario, and again we see that Cersei’s twisted psyche relates most intimately with her sworn enemies.  That seems like a contradictory, and not especially relatable, trait. But it does make some sense that having spent her entire adult life being forced to mask her contempt for the man she was married to, she would find a sort of relief in the honesty of open enmity.  



4.  Casterly Rock/One Last Prick  (7.03 - "The Queen's Justice") 

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This is really stretching the definition of “moment”, as it is arguably two fairly extensive sequences.  But the way the show strings them together in a way that we haven’t quite seem before makes it hard to separate them. It puts us off balance by utilizing elements the show had rarely if ever used (extensive voiceover narration), settings we had never seen (Casterly Rock and Highgarden), and the newly-elastic sense of time that marks the latter seasons, and delivers a rapid flurry of high-stakes twists that upend the balance of the Targaryen/Lannister war. And then gives us one of the very best character exits of a series packed to the gills with memorable death scenes. 

The show basically speeds through the fall of the capitals of two out of the seven kingdoms in a few minutes of screentime, without delivering a full battle sequence at either.  On paper, this should evoke the feeling of budget-conscious scrimping that marked the earlier seasons (I’m thinking of how three men once used the power of a jump cut to conquer the great city of Yunkai). But they give us just enough spectacle at the Rock that it doesn’t feel like we are being cheated by penny-pinching. Rather, it’s the show realizing that these are both rather one-sided engagements that lack the glut of sympathetic characters that contribute to making the Battle Of The Bastards or siege of Castle Black so compelling.  It quite astutely focuses on surprising us, rather than wowing us with spectacle – though of course, it does also have some much grander spectacle awaiting us in the next episode anyway.

And it definitely doesn’t hurt anything that Olenna gets to call Joffrey a cunt to his father’s face and reveal that she killed him on her way out.  Rarely do the murdered exit the stage feeling as though they have so thoroughly pwned their killers.  But the Queen Of Thorns was a rare woman.



5.  Arya vs Brienne (7.04 - "The Spoils Of War")


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Game Of Thrones is, if not outright sadistic, then definitely a notoriously unsentimental series.  And so a moment of pure fan service like this is an especially rare and savory treat.  Normally I like to pick moments that highlight the sneaky economy of the show’s writing; bits that present themselves as about one thing or character but are also quietly seeding other ideas or plot points down the line.  This one serves no other purposes but to show us a fun scene of two fan favorites having fun being badass together.  We get to see just how formidable Arya has become in single combat, and she and Brienne get to bury the hatchet and come to respect each other.  I don’t think we’re going to get a lot more in the way of interactions between them in the final stretch, but maybe that’s okay.  How could they possibly top this anyway?


6.  Loot Train (7.04 - "The Spoils Of War")

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As the series has contracted its scope in the later seasons, and as major antagonists and factions (the Baratheons, Boltons, Sparrows, Freys, Dornish, the bulk of the Night’s Watch and now the Tyrells) have been swept off the board entirely, our rooting interests have become more streamlined.  The show had made its mark by thoroughly dividing our loyalties, but as the White Walkers take over as villains and Dany allies herself with our northern buddies, things become a lot simpler.  The only real complicating factors are Littlefinger still perving up the good guys’ side, and our still having some affection for Jaime and Bronn on the baddies’.  So when Dany finally attacks and those two are in the thick of it, we get some of that vintage GOT dread, where it seems any outcome is going to be bad for us somehow. 

This feeling is heightened by framing the entire attack through the guys’ perspective. And hiding hers’ from us also serves to make her appearance into one of the genuine surprises that are harder to pull off as things contract down to only the major threads that fans have had years to obsess over and suss out the basic contours of their endgame.  But Jaime is one of the most prominent characters left whose ultimate fate is less certain* for not seeming to be all that central to the big mythology beats that remain to be resolved.  And Bronn is a fan favorite, but even less vital to the endgame.  The sequence is certainly elaborate enough to serve as a sendoff for a major character.  The dragon is the biggest and fieriest we have ever seen as it swoops over a cavalry charge bigger than we’ve ever seen, and there are secret weapons and near-misses galore.  It’s a thrilling way to end an episode, and to up the stakes at the middle of the season.  There was more spectacle north of the wall later in the season, but it was both more telegraphed and marred by janky, unforced errors in the execution.  This was a proper successor to “Hardhome”, a major action sequence that seems to whip up out of nowhere when we’re still expecting to be in wheel-spinning mode, and is all the more exciting and unpredictable as a result. 

*my money is he winds up Lord Commander of the Night Watch, for the record



7.  Littlefinger Gets Fingered -  7.07 (7.07 - "The Dragon And The Wolf")

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In its latter seasons, since leaving the overstuffed but extensive blueprints of the published books behind, the show has continued to deliver on its big, cathartic payoffs with aplomb.  But it has also developed a pattern of shakier set-ups for those payoffs, particularly revolving around Sansa’s conflicts with her remaining family.  Her friction with Arya is not as contrived as her pointless concealment of enormously significant military intelligence from her own officers at the Battle Of The Bastards, but it still feels fairly hollow.  The shame of it is that the tension between the girls actually has a solid basis in plotlines running back to the start of the series, and the very divergent arcs they have taken since then.  It’s just that it is too late in the game to buy that it would really put them through all the years and years of horrendous shit to at long last bring them back to their family home, only to have them kill each right before the big overarching plotlines come to a head.   


But even if the result can’t produce the surprise that the show is angling for, and so the drama falls a bit flat on their end, it still represents a highly appropriate end for Littlefinger himself.  He
had been slithering around the show for longer than any of its other villains (except Cersei, and of course this blog has been and remains emphatic pro-Cersei propaganda).  It was going to take a lot of doing to ruin a scene of the Stark girls cutting his throat, which would have been a satisfying scene even if there had been no manufactured conflict between them.  That it came precisely because he taught his protégé/mark Sansa a little too well was so fitting as to be essentially mandatory, and she was also nice enough to point out how he screwed himself by trying to turn a younger generation of sisters against each other as he did the older pair.  It was helpful for the show to hang a lampshade on that particular element, since so much of his scheming in regards to Cat and Lysa was only revealed to us years after it had taken place offscreen, and also to remind us that it was his scheming that kicked off the War Of Five Kings in the first place.

But my favorite aspect was how the show did not go out of its way to belabor the echoes of Littlefinger’s own betrayal of Ned.  It’s included in the list of charges, but since we saw his turn in the throne room ourselves it doesn’t need to highlight the specific ironies for us.  That Littlefinger sneered at Ned for failing to adapt to a new political environment where treachery abounded, only to flounder himself when he failed to adapt to a new political environment where treachery takes no root.  Or how the soldiers lining the chamber, who he thought he commanded, turn on him when the moment of truth arrives.  

And even if the shock value fizzles, it taps into so much else that makes the series what it is:  murder, betrayal, magic visions, the weight of history.  All this factors in to the demise of arguably the overarching villain of the entire story.