Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Game of Thrones Archive

Monday

27

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones’ Final Season Was a Frantic Mess

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The image of Daenerys Targaryen’s massive armada sailing to Westeros at the end of season six ended up being the high point of her time on the series. After spending years building her up as the apex player destined to “break the wheel,” seasons seven and eight largely focused on tearing her back down, slowly eating away at her army until her opposition established a believable sense of equal footing. Dany may have taken King’s Landing with brute force, but her cause was lost with waiting, heeding Tyrion’s advice not to sack the capital at the expense of most of her original Westerosi allies.

Season eight sought out to complete Dany’s downward spiral, along with defeating the White Walkers and providing satisfactory conclusions for many of the show’s large ensemble. All in six episodes, a choice made by creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. To call this season rushed would be an understatement.

The first two episodes largely concerned themselves with table-setting for “The Long Night.” Episode two, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” stands out as one of the best of the series for its focus on the complex relationships between the many characters, an immensely satisfying episode that functioned as a bit of a finale in its own right. The calm pace of the first two episodes contrasts with the frantic nature of the final two, which barely took a moment to breathe, more than understandable given how much needed to be done before the end.

A six-episode season was never going to be enough to wrap up such a complex series, but a bigger issue was the fact that the show dedicated half its final run to an underwhelming villain who didn’t even factor into the endgame. The White Walkers may have been a presence in the show since the first episode, but the underwhelming battle of Winterfell failed to reflect the Night King’s billing as an arch villain. Considering how rushed the final three episodes felt, it’s clear that the Night King should have been disposed of last season, giving the show a bit more wiggle room to focus on its endgame.

The first four episodes all built up a feud between Daenerys and Sansa that ended up pretty much going nowhere. You could argue that Sansa’s feelings toward Dany helped turn Jon, Tyrion, and Varys against her, but the Northern territorial disputes were hardly needed in that regard. Dany’s burning of King’s Landing superseded any of the peripheral politics.

The show struggled to portray Jon and Dany’s relationship, complicated by a few reasons. Putting aside the incest, Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke didn’t have much natural chemistry, exacerbated by the show’s reluctance to give them scenes alone together. Jon’s stabbing of Dany made for beautiful cinematography, but the gravity of the moment failed to accurately reflect the underdeveloped nature of their relationship.

For a show ostensibly about the mechanics of power, the idea of having Bran end up on the show is complicated to say the least. His abilities helped turn the tide of the Battle of Winterfell, but the three-eyed raven stayed out of the conflict in King’s Landing. We don’t know if he made the decision based on the knowledge that he’d become king, but we don’t necessarily need to in order to recognize that a monarch shouldn’t possess that kind of absolute power.

The finale acknowledged Tyrion’s mistakes, suggesting he’d spend the rest of his life fixing them, but such a “punishment” perhaps fails to truly acknowledge his role in Dany’s decline. It’s hard to find a single moment in his time as Dany’s Hand where he offered good advice. Why would he be rewarded for such incompetence?

Cersei felt weirdly irrelevant for too much of the season. For all the excellent villains we’ve seen on the show over the years, Cersei has always been the best. The show made the right move placing her as the final big bad over the Night King, but it didn’t give her many opportunities to shine. Instead, she mostly stood around giving orders and not doing much else with her time. The show’s finest manipulator of politics sat on the sidelines for its final stretch, perhaps the strongest encapsulation of the issues with season eight.

The show did offer satisfactory conclusions for many of its key characters, including Arya, Sansa, Brienne, and Jaime. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” worked so well for its focus on characters and not on moving the plot forward a mile a minute. We spent almost a decade with these people. The final season had its share of payoff for that investment, but it was constantly undercut by the rapid nature of the plot.

Finales are difficult to pull off under any circumstance. TV is generally much better at maintaining the status quo than concluding it. With so many loose strands heading into season eight, it seems unlikely that four more episodes would have been able to wrap things up much better than six did. That doesn’t really change the fact that this season spent much of its time poorly, a product of needing to do too many things at once.

Season eight made the regrettable mistake of giving half its time to an underwhelming villain at the expense of the characters who made the show special in the first place. For all the ways this series has felt larger than life over the years, becoming a worldwide phenomenon, its conclusion constantly felt unnecessarily rushed. These characters deserved better.

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Monday

20

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 6

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, Reviews

The difficulty in pulling off a successful television finale largely boils down to the struggle to present a conclusion that fits in line with the show’s original ethos as well as its natural evolution along the way. Game of Thrones is in the extremely rare position of having been based off source material that itself hasn’t concluded yet, plotting its own course for the past few years. Somehow, a conclusion needed to honor George R.R. Martin’s original vision while still providing a sense of narrative closure for all the ways its deviated from the books. On both fronts, it sort of succeeds.

Bran is king. Does that make sense? Sort of, if you try not to think about it. Philosophers have long grappled with the idea of a philosopher king, a ruler who draws his/her effectiveness through a lack of desire to actually possess power. Trouble is, it’s exceedingly difficult to find one of those people. Bran himself hardly fits the bill.

I’ve tried long and hard throughout these recaps not to excessively pontificate on Bran’s powers. We know he knows a lot of things, but he’s been quite selective in what he chooses to reveal to the others. He helped planned the strategy against the Night King, but did absolutely nothing to warn anyone that Daenerys was planning to burn King’s Landing. Only one of those events posed a true existential threat to his power.

Now, maybe he didn’t bother to look at King’s Landing. We don’t know, but that’s because the show decided not to tell us. It’s fair to wonder what Bran’s motives are. For the entire season, it didn’t seem all that clear. Maybe he’s just as corrupt as the worst of them.

Daenerys’ death makes sense from the perspective of needing to wrap up the series. Trouble is, the show spent parts of the first four episodes building up a fight between Dany and Sansa that never really mattered. Jon killed her. Maybe Sansa’s feud with her played a part in that, but it definitely didn’t need to, what with the whole burning innocents situation and Jon’s chat with Tyrion.

The show treated Dany as a protagonist for all these years, only to pivot toward the idea that she was a narrative nuisance that needed to be dealt with before things could be wrapped up two episodes before the show ended. Two episodes are hardly enough time to present a compelling case that such a major part of the story was now suddenly a horrible monster that should be stabbed before she even got a chance to sit in that chair she’d coveted for most of her life.

Kudos to Drogon for understanding all the symbolism in the Iron Throne enough to see the importance in burning it down.

Why did the other kingdoms accept Bran as ruler while the North kept its independence? Why did we need a king? Obviously wheels can’t be broken overnight, but the show never really sold its audience on the idea that the realm needed to stay together. Dorne, which treasured its independence perhaps more so than any other region, doesn’t have any reason to accept Bran.

Seeing Edmure Tully and Robin Arryn again was fun. I liked how the show attempted to portray the Seven Kingdoms again after years of only focusing on a few of the Great Houses, but their meeting felt a bit too condensed for the scope it was aiming for.

Sansa has probably never met Edmure. The scene where she told him to sit down was fun, but they definitely don’t have any sense of familial relationship. Oddly enough, she never even spoke to cousin Robin, who she spent a bit of time with back in season five.

Jon gets sent back to the Wall, a throwback to what almost happened to Jaime when he killed a Targaryen monarch in the throne room. A fitting end for a boring character, even if we have no idea who controls the Wall, or why they even need one in a post-White Walkers world. Glad he got to finally pet Ghost.

Brienne becoming Lord Commander was a pretty great moment, though I don’t envy a life spent listening to Bran’s nonsense. The scene where she writes Jaime’s name in the White Book, which records all members of the Kingsguard, was sort of touching, except for the fact that Jaime hasn’t been Lord Commander for a while. The show never really invested in him caring about the Kingsguard in the way that the books did, especially in A Feast for Crows.

Eye roll for Bronn as Master of Coin. Why would the Reach accept him as ruler of Highgarden?

Sam is a maester now I guess. Why does he get to leave the Night’s Watch? Does anyone care?

Sansa gets to be the ruler we all knew she was capable of becoming. I just wish she could have been ruler of Westeros, not just the North. Would have made a much better queen than her odious brother.

I hope Bran wrote a nice thank you note to Meera Reed for being by his side all those years, only to be cast aside right at the end of season seven. The way that all played out has me wondering if D&D knew what would happen to Bran. Between that and taking over Hodor’s body all those times, he really doesn’t look all sympathetic.

Arya’s journey would make for a great spinoff. I found her ending to be the most satisfying of all the characters, a great callback to the season four finale where she set sail for Essos. She didn’t get a ton to do this season, but the final moment between the Stark children and their Targaryen cousin Aegon was very touching.

Finales are tough. Few are great, many are terrible, plenty are polarizing, and more than a few fall flat. In terms of being divisive, the Game of Thrones finale seems to occupy the space between Lost and The Sopranos, not quite in the realm of outlandish but certainly not fully satisfying either. Definitely one of those finales that will take some time to sink in. I didn’t love it, but I’m open to the idea of that changing down the road.

That’s it for this week, but there’s still some Thrones content to come. I’ll have my full season review next week, along with the recap podcast tomorrow. To all of you who have read these recaps over the years, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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Monday

13

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 5

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

There’s a scene in A Storm of Swords where Stannis remarks that “Ser Barristan once told me the rot in King Aerys court began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned.” Varys has served five kings, Aerys, Robert, Joffrey, Tommen, and Daenerys. Six if you count those letters he was sending around gossiping about Jon Snow. Has he served any of them well?

Varys has always been a character who claims to care about the greater good, but that kind of manipulative altruism relies heavily on his own desires. As an advisor to Daenerys, he had the ability to use his influence to guide his Queen toward the path he best saw fit, putting aside the problematic nature of that notion. He didn’t do that. Instead, he schemed.

Dany burned a lot of innocent people, looking a lot like her deranged father in the process. Dany has always had that anger inside of her, contrasted with the caring ruler she became in Meereen. In Westeros, she felt unloved, a product of the show’s narrow scope this season.

Assuming Gendry possessed some sort of loyalty to the person who named him Lord of Storm’s End, Dany would have, at least in theory, three major houses supporting her claim. The show doesn’t feature anyone from Houses Tyrell or Martell anymore, but we shouldn’t forget that Dorne and the Reach backed her, along with Yara who now controls the Iron Islands. That’s a big chunk of Westeros, full of people disinclined to back either Cersei or whoever ends up ruling in the North.

No one ever pointed this out to Dany. Not Tyrion, not Varys, not Jon. She feels unloved by Westeros because the show has framed it that way, spotlighting an understandably reluctant North as her primary contrast. From that perspective, a Dany/Jon feud seems inevitable, but from a larger geopolitical point of view, she had a lot more going for her. Until she burned a bunch of civilians.

Are we supposed to care? The character development isn’t great, but this is also a shorter season. The cinematography was spectacular. I loved every minute of the King’s Landing scenes. Sometimes, logic should be damned, especially when it comes to television. TV should be fun. This episode was a blast.

Tyrion looked kind of weird wandering around the battle by himself. He’s been pretty useless for a while now, offering bad advice and scheming to undermine Dany. Sure it was nice that he cared about the innocent people, but Dany just wanted to hear some bells before she went on a killing spree.

Grey Worm killed Harry Strickland. We didn’t need Harry or the Golden Company, but some elephants would have been nice. Not much of a battle.

Euron died happy. Favorite character in season eight. Glad to see he went out with a bang, even if it didn’t make a ton of narrative sense.

Jaime’s scenes totally undercut his relationship with Brienne, but he’s not exactly the kind of character destined for a happy ending. I would have liked to have seen his arc drawn out a little more, but this season did a good job of tying up a few loose strands, particularly with Bran.

I never personally bought into the idea that Arya or Jaime would kill Cersei. She’s pregnant. Sure, the show has killed pregnant people before, namely Talisa Stark (Jeyne Westerling), but heroes tend not to do that kind of stuff. Nobody is going to be mad at a pile of rocks for killing a pregnant villain.

My favorite scenes in the episode involved the random soldiers that first tried to stop Arya and The Hound, as well as Tyrion a bit later on. As much as the show feels larger than life in so many ways, it also tends to only focus on a handful of people in this big world. It is quite easy to forget that there’s all these other people in the realm, just trying to get by.

Jon felt weirdly irrelevant this episode. No one cared to listen to him. That’s usually how I feel. Guessing he’ll be caught in the middle of next episode’s inevitable showdown between Dany and Sansa. I’m not really into his whole reluctant ruler act. Sansa should just be queen instead.

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of Cleganebowl. The Hound is more than just his lust for revenge. As his brother, Gregor Clegane died a long time ago. Definitely wish Sandor didn’t sacrifice himself to take down a walking corpse. Arya and he could have had a great spinoff.

Stay weird Qyburn.

Arya chooses life. Hopefully she goes to Storm’s End and lives happily ever after. I imagine she’ll factor into next episode, but it’s kind of unclear how unless she goes and assassinates Dany, which wouldn’t make a ton of sense considering how this episode played out at the end with Arya choosing life over death.

Plenty of people will dislike this episode, particularly Dany’s heel turn, for perfectly legitimate reasons. I really enjoyed it, mostly because it was good television. Tyrion and Jaime’s goodbye was compelling regardless of the circumstances. Davos is great as always.

I had fun watching it. Sometimes that’s enough. Having done these recaps for years, I know I’ve taken great pleasure in pointing out all the plot holes, shoddy characterizations, and ways the books have done things better. I do greatly enjoy the show though. This season has been far from perfect, but it’s been entertaining. I will certainly miss it when it’s over.

 

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Monday

6

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 4

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

Last season presented a simple reason for why Daenerys’ first act in Westeros didn’t involve taking King’s Landing and killing Cersei. If Dany invaded King’s Landing, burning tons of people in the process, everyone would hate her forever and she’d be a bad queen. Except, this isn’t really the reason. Dany didn’t invade the capital because the show needed to keep Cersei around for the final season.

As a result, Cersei got stronger and made allies who could shoot dragons out of the sky with giant sea scorpions. Who knew that the show’s most ruthless villain was also very smart? Tyrion knew all of that and yet he gave Dany a lot of bad advice anyway. Despite this, we don’t get a scene where they hash that out, because apparently, we needed a few focusing on mutiny. So here we are, in a position where Cersei has the upper hand largely because no one else bothered to stop her.

Winterfell was mostly fun, minus the virgin jokes and the Sansa/Hound conversation. Brienne’s sexual past was a weird thing for Tyrion to joke about, having been forcibly married to the woman she’s sworn to defend, while also sitting at a table with his brother who’s only ever had sex with their sister. Strange.

Sansa’s comments about her trauma were easily the low point of the episode. Yes, she’s survived a lot to get where she is. No, she probably wouldn’t still be a “little bird” if that hadn’t all happened. It’s great that she’s become a key player, but it would’ve been nice if the show hadn’t tried to sugar coat rape and abuse like that.

Huzzah for Lord Gendry Baratheon, who apparently isn’t interested in claiming the throne now that he’s a legitimate heir of Robert Baratheon. I liked how Arya turned him down. They had their moment, but she’s not destined for that kind of life. Arya and The Hound should get a spinoff.

Dany and Jon’s bedroom scene was very bad. Mentioning Ser Jorah in a sexual context was gross, but then Dany looked all desperate begging Jon to stay in the bastard closet. Weird that the person who came to save the North now looks weaker than basically everyone else.

We finally got an R + L = J moment that wasn’t right at the end of an episode. Of course, Sansa told Jon’s secret. Why shouldn’t she?

As much as I’ve criticized the Dany/Sansa feud for feeling forced this season, it was at least in service to sensible moments of conflict. The North is tired. Yes, they agreed to help Dany, but that doesn’t mean it has to be done immediately. It’s okay to have conflict about logistics, demonstrating Sansa’s leadership abilities in looking out for her people first.

Bronn is back. Does anyone care? Me neither. Should’ve been killed off last season.

The second half of the episode felt weirdly rushed for a show that took its sweet time taking in the post-apocalypse high. Putting aside how bizarre it was that no scout ship sailed ahead to take a look at Dragonstone, this episode really didn’t need to have a Dany/Tyrion/Cersei confrontation at the end, especially before Jon arrived with the rest of the troops. Why wouldn’t Cersei just order her archers to shoot them all and be done with it?

How did anyone know that Missandei was captured? She could’ve have drowned just as easily. Equally weird that this specific news made it to Winterfell. It’s a shame that she had to die for seemingly no reason. Poor Grey Worm.

Euron is smart enough to shoot a dragon out of the sky, but apparently doesn’t question how Tyrion knows that Cersei is pregnant despite being in the North all season, a clear indicator that the baby isn’t his. Maybe he doesn’t care? Or the show doesn’t care about either situation? I don’t really care either.

R.I.P. Rhaegal. Guess the show’s budget got tired of two dragons. Only one to go.

Could Bran have warned Dany about Euron’s trap? Probably. The fact that he didn’t isn’t necessarily surprising, but it’s weird how no one in the show has tried to fully tap into his superhero powers.

Oh Varys. I’m glad he’s still alive, but these mutinies are a little tiresome. He’s supposed to be a spymaster, not the monarchy’s ombudsman. He should either serve Dany or step aside. No more scheming to switch sides.

Brienne and Jaime happened. Wish they’d left it at that without the whole Jaime leaving bit. I get that it makes sense to send him to King’s Landing, but the Jaime/Cersei plotline is one long-running element of the show I didn’t need to see resolved in these last few episodes.

Tormund’s constant lusting over Brienne was beyond tiresome, but at least he gets to give Ghost a good home. Shame on Jon for not even giving him a pet on the way out. And they think this man should be king? Bah. A man who can’t even say goodbye to his direwolf is not fit to rule.

I hate how the show has portrayed Daenerys since she arrived in Westeros. Sure, something needed to happen to bring her massive army down a few pegs, but the writing for her character has been awful. She could be sitting on the Iron Throne right now if it wasn’t for bad tactical advice. Rather than explore that notion, instead the show’s been painting Jon as the reasonable alternative.

Between R + L = J and the lack of chemistry between Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke, their romance has suffered a lot over the past few episodes. I just wish the show could figure out what to do with them rather than drag this monarchy quibble out for the whole season. It’s totally unnecessary and quite frankly, boring.

That’s it for this week. I actually mostly enjoyed the episode despite the numerous issues. There’s a lot of pacing questions that will certainly be answered in two weeks, but it’s hard to really get behind the way this episode decided to spend its time. See you next week!

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Monday

29

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 3

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

The Battle of Winterfell happened, in case you couldn’t tell because of how dark it was. Funny how this was the third big battle the show has done, but for some reason “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall” both managed to put some extra torches around. You know, for people to actually be able to see what’s going on.

Why is a battle that takes place at the Wall far less blurry than one at Winterfell? The dead might not need to see, but the living sure do. Doesn’t seem like the front line had any sort of a plan until Melisandre showed up to work some R’hllor magic on their hardware.

Why did the Dothraki charge into the abyss? How did Ser Jorah make it back alive after the first wave? How did all those main characters survive the big attack, R.I.P. Dolorous Edd of course. Does Daenerys have more than a dozen troops left?

That battle was bad. It was boring, hard to see, and lacked a sense of narrative drive behind its various sequences. A viewer could, of course, follow along, but too often the characters seemed to be going through the motions, until the time came for them to do something out of left field.

Last episode really could have used a scene where the characters explain how the battle is supposed to unfold. That doesn’t mean this episode needs to actually follow the plan, but it would’ve made Jon & Dany’s dragon ride seem a little less spontaneous. I’d say maybe they were looking for the Night King, but the part of the plan that we do know involved luring him to to the Godswood. Why were they flying around instead of covering their own troops? Who knows.

The Arya library scene, in particular, reeked of something the writers thought would be cool, so they threw in a whole suspense sequence right in the middle of a battle for the entire north. Where was everyone else? It’s not even a bad scene, but one that felt weirdly out of place as the entire castle was being overrun.

Did we need that scene in the crypts where Sansa complains to Tyrion about Dany? The show’s been trying to sell the Starkgaryen feud for three episodes now, but it’s simply not that compelling. Obviously there needs to be some kind of drama for the remaining episodes, but it’s been a hard sell with the whole potential end of the world looming.

The crypts turned out to not be a very safe place to hide. I get that no one really wanted to bring up the idea of burning all the old Stark corpses, but the carnage was utterly predictable. Very surprised that Varys survived.

Poor Beric. He died a noble, predictable death. Book Beric has been dead since just after the Red Wedding, so it’s been good to have some extra time with the character. He can be with Thoros now.

Ser Jorah is dead!!!! Finally. Longtime readers of these recaps know how much I hate that creepy disease-riddled pervert. It’s too bad we never got to see ice zombie Jorah so someone could have killed him again. Seeing Dany’s tears of joy over not having to deal with his nonsense anymore was my favorite part of the episode.

Lyanna Mormont had the saddest death. The breakout star of season six went out with a bang, taking a zombie giant down with her. Too bad she won’t be around to become Hand of the Queen when Sansa takes the crown from her odious brother/cousin.

Theon has never been one of my favorite characters, but Reek got an ending that was fitting for his character. His last hurrah fell kind of flat, but so did that whole sequence. At least his storyline got a sensible conclusion.

Arya snuck pasts hundreds of white walkers to catch the Night King by surprise! Great moment, sure. Great writing, absolutely not. The whole Godswood scene fell pretty flat, perhaps suffering under the weight of all the hype. I’m glad Arya got to be the one to stick him with the pointy end, but I’m also oddly glad that it’s over.

Sam looked pretty dead, but maybe he was just hiding in the dead bodies. Jon battling zombie Viserion while all the major characters fought to their last breaths made for some great cinematography, but it is a bit weird to think that all the major players from that sequence ended up surviving. The death count did kind of look a little low by the end of things.

Melisandre finally got her time to shine, even if it involved dying in the snow after removing her jewelry. For a character the show hasn’t known what to do with since she brought Jon back, Mel’s sendoff was pretty well-executed. It was a weird choice to try and tie in all the Arya/Mel stuff from season three, but it was pretty enjoyable to watch.

Episode three was preceded by two full episodes dedicated to building up the battle. Half of the entire final season was given to making sure this battle made TV history. That’s a lot of stock to put into one battle where no one seemed to have a clue what was going on. The setup ended up being far better than the execution.

The final battle with the ice zombies was always going to have to deal with a lot of hype. It’s something we’ve pretty much known about since the prologue of A Game of Thrones more than twenty years ago. That’s a long time to wait for something that ended up being basically a riff on The Phantom Menace’s ending, blowing up the Night King control ship to destroy the battle droid ice zombies.

While this probably isn’t going to be the last battle of the whole show, it was hyped up as the big one. It might have been the most expensive TV battle ever shot, but it wasn’t a particularly good one. It’s a good thing the writers realized Cersei made for a much better villain than the Night King, because it’s up to her to get the season back on course. Hopefully she gets some elephants. Something needs to live up to the hype.

That’s it for this week. If you’re looking for more Game of Thrones coverage, you can check out my new podcast’s recap tomorrow. See you next week!

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Monday

22

April 2019

0

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 2

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, Reviews

Ideally, final seasons of long-running series seek to achieve two objectives, to remind fans why they fell in love with the show in the first place and to provide a satisfactory conclusion for the narrative arcs of their characters. Game of Thrones has had its eye on fan service for a few seasons now, perhaps best illustrated through Gendry’s reintroduction last year, when Ser Davos acknowledged the long-running “still rowing” meme. Episode two, appropriately titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was an episode chock full of fan service.

Death is coming to Winterfell. Characters we’ve spent the last eight years with are going to die. As much as the show has emphasized the role of death with its high body count, Game of Thrones has usually done a good job emphasizing the larger narrative arcs of its key players. Season six serves as perhaps the one exception, where numerous characters were unceremoniously killed off in what looked like an effort to clear pieces off the board.

Episode two featured a lot of hanging out, waiting for the world to end. Like the premiere, reunions were in abundance. Moments that fans have wished for over the past decades finally came to fruition.

Ser Brienne has a nice ring to it. After all she’s been through, it was great to see Brienne finally get the recognition she’s long deserved. Women catch a lot of crap in Westeros, but it was great to see her receive the title that best suits her abilities. Gwendoline Christie handled the scene masterfully, letting the typically stoic Brienne take in her moment with plenty of emotion.

Ever since the first episode, fans have wondered what would happen to Jaime if he ever saw that boy he pushed out the window again. Turns out, not much, as was to be expected. I don’t love the idea that he still didn’t tell anyone about what happened, but such a revelation would’ve called for actions that the episode clearly didn’t care about. Bran’s not angry, might as well let that be that.

Bran also isn’t a very helpful battle strategist. I get that the show doesn’t want to fully deploy Bran ex machina, but this whole “use Bran as bait to lure the Night King” seems kind of ridiculous. We’re still not 100% sure what Bran knows about everything, but the idea of having Theon protect you seems fairly half baked.

Arya and Gendry. What a pair. No more “will they, won’t they.” They did it. Is there anything more to say? Probably not. For a girl who’s been as consumed with death as Arya has, it was great to see her have a moment like that with someone she cared about. Hopefully Bran wasn’t watching.

Davos cooked soup! Is there anything this man can’t do? Expert battle survivalist, master chef, all-around great guy. Hoping for the best for new Shireen.

Daenerys and Sansa are seemingly destined for conflict. Why? Because there’s time to fill, of course! Not the greatest conflict, two people fighting over a monarchy when the army of the dead is right at their doorstep, but the show does need a few conflicts to carry it to the end once that’s all finished.

The Dany/Tyrion conflict also seems quite born out of an interest to have something to argue about after next episode. Yes, Cersei lied to them. No, that’s not surprising to anyone. Does that make Tyrion a bad Hand? Sort of, but there isn’t really anyone else up for the job, a job that hasn’t really seemed all that important at all. His judgment isn’t really at fault here, other than the fact that he didn’t stop that idiotic quest beyond the Wall last season.

Ser Jorah got a few great moments. He got told off by Lyanna, received a fancy new toy from Sam, and had Dany tell him that Tyrion took his job. Hopefully this means he’ll die next episode! What else is there for him to do?

Beric Dondarrion sure looks like a goner. Great voice. What a man. He’ll be with Thoros soon.

We got to see Ghost again too! Direwolves haven’t been a big part of the show in recent years, likely a casualty of the CGI budget, but it’s great to see him around for the big battle. Somebody should give him a dragon glass retainer to bite white walkers with.

One of either Grey Worm or Missandei appears quite destined for death next episode. My money’s on Missandei, since I think Theon and Varys are also unlikely to survive the battle. Can’t kill all the eunuchs is one fell swoop!

R + L = J has been the definitive fan theory to rule all fan theories for the past twenty years. In the two episodes since its reveal in the season seven finale, we’ve seen it treated as essentially a footnote. Jon wasn’t in this episode much, but when he was, he sure wasn’t talking about his new parents. At least, not until he took Dany into the crypts of Winterfell.

Was the eve of a massive battle the right time to tell her? No. Obviously not.

The show has had close to a decade to figure out how to handle its biggest secret. The method it’s decided on appears to be to walk things as slowly as possible, something it’s done in tandem with all of Bran’s Three-eyed Raven powers. The result created this weird situation where Dany questions how Bran knows this stuff, putting aside the fact that no one appears to have told her what’s going on with the middle Stark child. The show just needs to pull the R + L = J band-aid off once and for all.

No scenes in King’s Landing this week, which I guess is fitting given that the next episode is going to be taken up mostly by the battle. Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode. We got to see many of our favorite characters interact for what could be the last time. Some of it was a little forced, but that’s okay. After all these years, a little fan service is not a bad way to spend an episode, especially since next week looks to be pretty brutal.

That’s it for this week. Tune in tomorrow to the Estradiol Illusions podcast to hear our roundtable analysis. See you next week!

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Monday

15

April 2019

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 1

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It’s the beginning of the end! Table setting and reunions seemed to be the themes of the first episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season. With only five episodes left, it made sense to take stock of where the major players found themselves heading into the final battles of the series. While the season might be shortened, six episodes still leaves a fair amount of time for things that don’t involve bloodshed and resolution.

The throwbacks to the first episode were apparent throughout the episode. The procession into Winterfell looked a lot like one that Robert made to visit Ned, and Jaime’s arrival harkened back to his first steps into the castle. It’s always fun when a show entering its final season takes everything back full circle.

The antagonistic relationship between Daenerys and Sansa makes plenty of sense for a lot of reasons, but few of them were on display in the episode itself. The Northerners have every right to be miffed at Jon for bending the knee not long after they gave him his crown, but politics contrasts with the dire nature of their situation. Questions of monarchy seem out of place in a region that’s currently being evacuated for the first time in either the books or the show. I get that the show needs additional conflict besides the Night King, but it still seems kind of weird that the Northerners are so hostile to a woman whose army is their best shot at survival.

Sansa’s scene with Tyrion was my favorite of the episode. Sansa has been underestimated by many in the show, as well as the fandom, but she’s been a survivalist all these years. As the natural choice to lead House Stark moving forward, Sansa did a great job throughout her scenes making sure that her family would remain power players even if Jon was willing to bend the knee.

The scenes with Jon and Dany also made a lot of narrative sense, as fans responded with lackluster enthusiasm to their pairing last season. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke don’t have a ton of natural chemistry, but it’s good to see the show try and put in the effort to make their relationship seem convincing. The CGI dragon ride was well put together and sort of made up for the lack of elephants brought to Westeros.

As much as the Cersei/Euron pairing looks born out of convenience, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Lena Headley is perhaps the best actress in the series and is always a delight to watch, even in filler scenes. Euron is similarly delectably evil, aided by a standout performance by Pilou Asbæk.

Bronn’s plotline is a total mess.  While Jerome Flynn and Lena Headley aren’t on speaking terms, which explains why they’ve never shared a scene together, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him carry out some farfetched revenge plot against Jaime and Tyrion that the viewers know isn’t going to go Cersei’s way. If this is all they have planned for Bronn, they should have sent him to the North with Jaime.

Arya had a few great scenes this episode, but the best was her reunions with Gendry and The Hound. Arya and Sandor have been through quite a lot since their days roaming the Riverlands, but clearly still maintain at least some degree of affection for each other. Gendry looks at home as a blacksmith, unlike his stint at a marathon sprinter beyond the Wall.

Poor Sam. It’s bad enough to have to share a scene with Ser Jorah, but the news of his family’s demise was pretty brutal. The one positive thing that came of it was that the senseless Tarly loyalty displayed to the Lannisters last season appears to have in service to this scene. At least Dickon died for Sam’s tears!

Bran is a weird dude. There’s not enough time for small talk, but plenty to sit around the Winterfell courtyard. We don’t really know how much he knows, but the show is doing a good job treading carefully with a character who can deus ex machina whenever he wants. I’m a little bummed that he didn’t get to have a chat with Jaime but I’m sure we’ll see the two of them together next week.

Who could blame Yara for wanting to go back home to her nice island that’s far away from the ice zombies? I hope Theon heading North means that he’ll die in the Battle of Winterfell. I used to think Jaime would be the first major character to go, but apparently, he’s needed for the ever-important Bronn subplot so maybe it’s time for Theon to stop beating himself up for all the bad things he’s done.

Did the Night King preserve the arms in a Tupperware container to prevent them from becoming zombified as he made his mural? Does the fact that he knew there would be people left in the deserted far North to see poor Lord Umber strung up there mean he’s omniscient? I don’t know, but that creepy scene provided much food for thought. Always fun to see Beric and Tormund, though we don’t much clarity as to how they’re still alive after the wall blew up.

Jon finally knows the truth. I liked that the reveal happened in the Crypts of Winterfell, the only logical setting. It was weird to see Sam rail on Dany before dropping the news, but it’s understandable given the whole burning of the family situation. Jon took the news better than I’d expected, but it looks like they’re setting up a power grab between Dany and him. As much sense as that makes, it seems weird for them to fight while the show is simultaneously investing in their relationship.

That’s it for this week. Very strong episode, despite the abundance of lazy eunuch jokes. Quick programming note, if my written recaps aren’t enough you can catch me right after the show on Facebook for my live recaps, or on my new podcast every Tuesday for in-depth analysis. Thank you for reading and see you next week!

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Wednesday

29

August 2018

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Ser Jorah’s Empty Redemption

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

One of the great triumphs of the #MeToo movement has been the way it’s helping to change the way we look at what constitutes acceptable male behavior. Society has offered a lot of excuses for the persistent man who won’t take no for an answer, forgetting that there is a woman forced into the position of not being able to have her wishes accepted for the answer. “No means no,” somehow gets clouded when a man’s hurt feelings garner enough sympathy to seek shelter somewhere in the “boys will be boys” trope.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a bad man.

He sold slaves on Bear Island in a feeble attempt to make his wife happy living in a place he would have known would make her miserable if he had ever stopped to consider her feelings before taking her away from Oldtown. He ran away to Essos to escape justice for his crimes. He tried to sell out Daenerys in a similarly pathetic attempt to be allowed back home.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a pervert.

Daenerys is a teenager at the start of the series, in both the books and the show. The show aged her up a bit from thirteen to make sexualizing her a bit less creepy, but the idea that an older man/sworn protector would court her should still make one uncomfortable. Despite this, Jorah presses on, only to be politely rebuffed by Dany time and time again. The power dynamic is a mess, but Ser Jorah doesn’t care. Ser Jorah only cares about himself.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a disgrace.

When Daenerys learned of Ser Jorah’s treachery, she banished him. Many would have executed him for treason, but Dany took mercy on her disloyal advisor. You might think he’d take her kindness and leave her alone. Dany gave Jorah countless verbal cues to leave her presence and never return.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont only cares about himself.

Moving on is a key aspect of the human experience. We all face rejection at some point in our lives. Ser Jorah experienced plenty of his own, but he never learned to accept that another person might not want him in their life. He portrayed himself as a man who would do anything to earn Dany’s forgiveness, but this mentality is a disguise for his true intentions. It’s never about what Dany wants, only about how Jorah wants Dany to make him feel.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont cannot take a hint.

Upon delivering Tyrion to Dany, Jorah found himself banished again. No amount of rejections would matter to Ser Jorah, because Ser Jorah cannot process rejection. It’s only ever about him, what he wants, on his own terms. “No means no, unless I don’t want it to,” is the motto of Ser Jorah, even after he contracts an infectious disease. Not even greyscale can keep Ser Jorah away from the pursuit of a woman who had rejected him many times. No amount of rejection could ever be enough for him.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont does not care about service.

What drives Ser Jorah’s many comebacks? He frames the narrative as a chance for redemption, but such a situation would require Jorah to let go of something he cannot give up: control. Jorah only accepts others on his own terms. Dany is not a Queen to him, no Khaleesi to his greyscaled soul. To him, she is the woman who politely refused his offer of a drink at the bar. He cannot accept any outcome that doesn’t console his bruised ego.

Those of you who have followed my Game of Thrones recaps over the years know that I have not been a fan of Ser Jorah for a long time. I think he’s beyond creepy and should have been killed off a long time ago. As I think more and more about what I want out of season eight, I realize that my biggest wish is one that should have been granted already. I want Jorah off the show.

Jorah’s story is not an important story. You might be inclined to disagree, perhaps because you like him, or just because you don’t view this as an objective truth. One of Game of Thrones’ greatest strengths is that its ensemble cast has many different narratives. Supporting characters live fully fleshed out lives, with goals that can exist independent from their leads.

The depth of GOT’s narrative complexities means that protagonists like Jon and Dany can have goals that conflict with each other. Jorah can certainly desire Dany even if she doesn’t want him back. A viewer doesn’t have to view him as an antagonist just because he won’t take no for an answer.

Trouble is, Dany’s story isn’t allowed to exist without him. Even when she turns him away, he always comes back. This woman cannot live her life independently of a man she politely rejected many times. Too many women in the real world know this feeling all too well.

Jorah’s narrative is full of empty redemption. He seeks forgiveness only under his own terms. The greatest gift he could have given Dany was to not return to Meereen. The books may be able to alter course from Game of Thrones by killing him off in the Battle of Fire, but the show has let his stain linger for far too long already.

No means no. That means you too, Ser Jorah. We all heard Dany loud and clear the first a hundred times. All of us, except you and every other man who felt he was owed something from a woman who rejected him. Do Westeros a favor and go away.

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Sunday

12

August 2018

0

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Schrodinger’s Tower: Jon Snow and the Assumption of Certainty

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A baby was born in the Tower of Joy at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. The Jon Snow parentage question is a central mystery surrounding George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin himself has referenced the mystery on many occasions, citing Game of Thrones creators David Benihoff and D.B. Weiss’ ability to correctly identify Jon’s mother as the point that gave him enough confidence to give his blessing for the series.

The question of Jon’s true parents, widely believed to be Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, often expressed through the equation R + L = J, has been a source of intrigue since the release of A Game of Thrones in 1996. In the finale of season seven, Bran confirmed this detail to Sam, though book fans have no such certainty after decades of hints spread out throughout the first five books. The puzzle lingers, even if its solution feels blatantly obvious.

The paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat is a thought experiment theorized by Erwin Schrodinger that examines interpretations of quantum mechanics. A feline is trapped in a box with a radioactive substance and a Geiger counter to detect whether or not the substance decays, which would kill the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation supposes that until one opens the box, the cat inside is simultaneously alive and dead, since we cannot know which is the actual case. Such is the conundrum with linear states of being. At some point, reality has to stop being theoretical and start being actual, which begs the question of whether both states simultaneously existed at all.

The Tower of Joy is currently a closed box with a baby. There is plenty of evidence that Jon Snow was born in there. The event already happened in the books, but the outcome hasn’t happened because we still don’t know who the baby was. We can’t know for sure until GRRM opens the box.

And yet, we sort of can know. The show opened its own box, and given the magnitude of the events at stake, it does seem safe to assume that the outcome will be the same. The show differs from the books in dozens of ways, but that secret lies at the centerpiece of both of their mythologies. It wouldn’t be much different than a situation where the movie version of Pride & Prejudice saw Elizabeth end up with Charlies Bingley instead of Mr. Darcy.

Alternative theories to R + L = J have been around since the release of the first book back in the 90s. Perhaps the most popular is the theory of B + A = J, suggesting that Jon is the son of Brandon Stark, Ned Stark’s brother, and Ashara Dayne, a character absent from the show but an important figure to Ned as well as Barristan Selmy. Generally, under this theory, R + L = D, with Daenerys serving as the child born in the Tower of Joy to Rhaegar and Lyanna.

There are a few big problems with B + A = J, namely the timeline and the idea that Ned wouldn’t need to claim Jon as his own if he didn’t have any Targaryen blood. Ashara was most likely pregnant before her death, but we know very little about the circumstances. That doesn’t automatically follow that Ashara is Jon’s mother, but there’s enough mystery about her life to keep theories alive for those who want to believe in them.

Many in the ASOIAF fandom do not wish to believe in B + A = J, a theory that earns plenty of eyerolls when mentioned by someone who wants to make a serious case. It’s not a great argument, and the show has practically put the matter to rest, except in the sense that it can’t. The idea that B + A almost certainly doesn’t = J does not change the fact that B + A could equal J, if GRRM decided he wanted it to.

George R.R. Martin could sit at home and deviate from R + L = J if he thought that the books should exist independently from the show. I don’t think that’s very likely, but that is an outcome that could happen if a single human being decided that it should. As every Terminator movie reminds us, the future is not set in stone. We haven’t looked inside the box yet. The Geiger counter has not made its move.

While that’s not terribly compelling evidence against R + L = J, it does remind us of the unique situation we find ourselves in with a television show that has progressed further along than source material that is still actively being written. Imagine the fan outrage if Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 showed how Harry defeated Voldemort before J.K. Rowling released the final volume. That’s pretty much the territory that Game of Thrones finds itself in, albeit with a much larger universe and a lot more lingering questions.

Schrodinger’s Cat reminds us that things cannot happen until they have happened. R + L = J is simultaneously true and not true until the pages are finally released. Only then can the tinfoil fan theories be fully debunked with a definitive sense of clarity. The fact that the show already revealed what was inside its box can give us a pretty good, almost certain, sense of what to expect, but the assumption of reality is not the same as reality itself.

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Monday

4

September 2017

1

COMMENTS

Often Casting Logic Aside, Season Seven of Game of Thrones Succeeds at Being Good Television

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

I recycled the title for my season six review, only opting to change a single word, because of one thought that constantly entered my head throughout this season. This is a television show. It is a special kind of television show since it has the ability to captivate the internet even when it isn’t airing new episodes, but it is still a television show. It is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece, not a word for word recreation of it.

There are limits to what plotlines the show can adapt from the books. Season seven showed us that there also limits to what plotlines the show can adapt from the show. My preview article spent a lot of time talking about pacing. Seven episodes is either a lot of time or barely any at all, depending on what the show wanted to do with it. Turns out, the show wanted to do quite a lot, toward the end.

It is tempting to think that the long awaited meeting of the three most important power players in Westeros (Daenerys, Cersei, and Jon) would inevitably fall flat. It might even be true that we waited too long for this stuff to happen to have any kind of truly satisfying payoff, but the payoff was never really the problem. Those scenes were fun to watch.

As entertaining television, season seven usually succeeded. The battles crammed in at the end of many of the episodes seemed a bit rushed, but they were entertaining to watch. The trouble is that the external logic just wasn’t there most of the time.

Game of Thrones loves its big moments. Last season’s final shot of Dany’s armada heading to Westeros and this season’s view of the Wall crumbling under the heat of an ice zombie dragon are very memorable images. They look great as parting reminders of what this show can craft as each season draws to a close.

The show isn’t as great with the moments leading up to those memorable scenes. For the Wall to crumble, something had to happen to bring down a millennia-old structure. For Dany and Jon to head down to the dragon’s den of King’s Landing, there had to be a reason that neither reeked of Red Wedding Part Deux, nor crippled Cersei as a major character before the final season. That’s a tough tightrope to walk.

There are consequences for big moments. Dany’s massive fleet looked great, but season seven then had to explain why she wasn’t using her army that completely dwarves the size of everyone else’s to take King’s Landing in about five seconds. That beautiful shot of the Wall crumbling required a very silly plan to give the Night King control of a dragon.

These problems are distinctly related to the limitations of TV as a medium. While we don’t know the trajectory of the final six episodes, it is very likely that the Wall did not necessarily have to come down in the season finale and that it should have come down later. We, as viewers, are conditioned to expect big moments during season finales. The show went for the moment that people will talk about for the next year or so until season eight. Time will tell if that was a smart move.

This season revolved around Jon & Dany more than past seasons, which makes sense given that they are the two most important characters in both the books and the show. The show was smart to cut its losses on boring subplots like Dorne, allowing more time for the main players. The trouble is that Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington have really bad on screen chemistry, a problem once again magnified by the shorter season.

Some fans have literally waited twenty years to see Dany land in Westeros. Once she finally did land, she basically spent the season hanging around Dragonstone with a moody Jon, instead of doing all the fun things we’ve fantasized about her doing, like conquering Westeros and killing Cersei. While I didn’t expect Dany to sit on the Iron Throne by season’s end, I didn’t think she’d do nothing but sit around either, save for two quick battles on Drogon’s back.

This show occupies a strange place in the entertainment world. It is an adaptation of a series that surpassed its source material in the middle of its run. Imagine how Harry Potter fans would feel if the movies finished before the release of The Deathly Hallows. Game of Thrones is inevitably going to be different from the books, but we don’t know how much. This can make the questionable logic decisions that much more frustrating.

Jon’s story is almost beyond intelligent analysis at this point. No one outside of the Wall knows how he was allowed to leave the Night’s Watch, which no one had ever successfully done up to that point. No one seems to care. Dany is the only person who seems remotely interested in the fact that he once died. The Northern army is beyond spent and yet Cersei treats it on equal footing with her forces and Dany’s.

We know why. Jon is a very, very important character. It makes sense that the show wants him on equal footing with the top players. What does not make sense is how the show decided to put him there. It is unbelievably stupid. I’d say I’m not 100% committed to covering any plot related to him next season if this nonsense continues, but I love Davos too much to do that.

Winterfell made for a needlessly complicated subplot. We don’t really know why Arya and Sansa had to fight, or what Littlefinger was doing all season. Now he’s dead and they’re not fighting. Oh well. Guess they had to do something.

I imagine that the showrunners aren’t huge fans of Bran as a character. He’s a dangerous character to have in a narrative given that he could solve a lot of problems with a few simple words. He doesn’t, and the show doesn’t really explain why because I don’t think it has a reason. Bran ex machina is the show’s biggest issue, which also explains why it shelved him for all of season five. The show can fill in the blanks for the book’s unfinished plotlines in most instances, but it struggles with Bran, a creation that reflects a lot of GRRM’s earlier work.

King’s Landing gets mostly passing marks despite the lack of interesting plotlines. Cersei really couldn’t do all that much that wouldn’t involve her losing to Dany. Lena Headley is always compelling to watch on screen and she made the most of her material. Cersei’s relationship to Jaime is in many ways the most interesting on the show. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like next season without him.

Season seven had a couple unexpected breakout characters, even if Dickon Tarly failed to become the next Lyanna Mormont. Beric Dondarrion worked extremely well as a foil for both Jon and The Hound, offering a much more compelling arc for the character than his book counterpart. Gendry’s return was a treat, even if the audience had to stomach the idea that he could become an Olympic runner through the North despite having never seen snow before. Euron may not have had many scenes, but he captivated every single one, offering the show an additional compelling villain besides Cersei and the Night King. Theon/Reek may have outlasted his usefulness as a character, but his uncle is certainly fun to watch.

Penultimate seasons carry heavy burdens to set the stage for the final chapter. Despite its flaws, season seven accomplished this objective quite well. It made for compelling television each and every week. We scrutinize shows like Game of Thrones because we love them. Some of us just wish we could love them without having to wonder how Sam cured a seemingly incurable disease with a knife and some Lubriderm. Oh well. Can’t have everything.

Season Grade: B+

Character Grades:

Daenerys: B

Tyrion: B-

Cersei: B+

Jaime: A-

Euron: A

Qyburn: A

Jon: D

Ghost: F

Davos: A

Melisandre: D

Littlefinger: B-

Sansa: A-

Arya: C

Bran: F

Meera Reed: B-

Winterfell Maester: D

Winterfell Guards: F

Lyanna Mormont: A

Jorah Mormont: F

Sweetrobin: A

Knights of the Vale: A

Night King: A-

The Wall: D-

Coldhands/Benjen: F

Sam: F

Gilly: A

Tormund: A

Brienne: A

The Hound: A

Ice Zombie Hit By The Hound’s Rock: F

Gendry: A-

Raven that flew to Dragonstone: A+

Drogon: A

Rhaegal: A-

Viserion: B-

Beric Dondarrion: A

Thoros of Myr: A

Dickon Tarly: C-

Grey Worm: D

Missandei: D

Reek: F

Yara: F

Everyone from Dorne: F

Olenna Tyrell: C+

Stannis Baratheon: A

Bronn: A

Daario Naharis: F

Varys: C-

 

 

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