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Game of Thrones

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SPOILERS UP TO END OF SEASON 6

Review: 6/10

I am no longer a big fan of the series (the only TV series I follow through the excellent cable alternative qBittorrent). It’s not even that I’m a stickler for book accuracy, or a “bookfag”; as I have pointed out, I believe that some things the show did do better. A few characters and organizations – Tywin, Bronn, the Faith Militant especially come to mind – were fleshed out better. The absence of Lady Stoneheart was a welcome departure from the book. Even Sansa’s “ordeals” with Ramsay Bolton were a bold, if questionable, plot decision.

Still, as the book/show timelines have continued to diverge, it has become increasingly clear that Benioff & Weiss (or “D&D” as they’re disparagingly called) are talentless hacks incapable of maintaining interest in the story without a constant stream of illogical “surprises” and shock deaths. The Dorne episode has been universally panned as a disaster from start to finish, and yet IMO it was still good in comparison with the ridiculous fate of Show!Stannis, who rage quit on the Baratheon family line thanks to Ramsay Bolton and his 20 good men. And Brienne just had to be there in the midst of a chaotic battle to personally put Stannis out of his misery.

Season 6 hasn’t much much of an improvement over the disaster that was the previous one.

Kingslaying is supposed to be this great taboo in Westeros, but we are to believe that the Dornish guards stood by by as their popular and benevolent ruler was cut down by his dead brother’s consort and her bastard daughters. It doesn’t even make any sense from Ellaria Sand’s viewpoint; are we really to believe that the dying wish of the man she loved would have been for her to avenge Elia Martell by… killing all of the rest of the family line? (Not even going to go into the mechanics of how the Sand Snakes managed to instantly kill that massive black dude, the captain of Doran’s guards, with a single dagger in the back). That entire scene made no sense from either common sense or the ethical framework of Westeros.

Anyhow, I found that particular scene so overly ridiculous that, on seeing it a year ago, I didn’t even bother watching the rest of the season in disgust until a week ago.

The Dorne debacle could have perhaps been excused as the price the show had to pay for putting an end to all that nonsense with the Sand Snakes. To the contrary, kinslaying and kingslaying have actually become entirely normalized affairs – in a society where Jaime Lannister faces widespread opprobrium for betraying and killing the “Mad King.” Euron openly bragged about killing his king and brother at the kingsmoot of the ironborn, apologizing only for not doing it sooner, and was duly elected king to voluble applause; at which point he immediately proceeded with a further attempt at kinslaying. Ramsay stabbed his father, Roose, and assumed lordship of House Bolton without any major problems or resistance… even though the Boltons kill and torture peasants pretty much at will, surely that should have been a step too far even for them. But apparently not.

That said, I can’t say it was too bad, especially relative to the low expectations I had developed for it. I would even say it was better than Season 5, though perhaps primarily because that was when we had to come to terms that GRRM’s story was finished, and that D&D didn’t have a tenth of his talent.

It also featured what is IMO the finest soundtrack of the entire show, by Ramin Djawadi:

What’s going to happen in Season 7? (no spoilers)

The newly crowned Cersei is in a completely untenable position. The Tyrrells, the single richest House in the Seven Kingdoms, with an army of 80,000, are now her sworn enemies; with all its direct heirs dead, the House’s matriarch Lady Olenna has nothing to lose, and has made common cause with Dorne, with its army of 50,000 spears untouched by the War of the Five Kings.

As if that isn’t enough, they have made an alliance with Daenerys, who has a host of 50,000 Dothraki horsemen, 8,000 Unsullied, a bunch of mercenaries, an armada, and three dragons. The North and the Vale are also hostile; the former has been wracked by years of war, but the latter are at their prime strength, having remained neutral in the war. At least there is the hope that the northern kingdoms are going to have their hands full now that winter has come and the White Walker invasion is imminent.

And if all that isn’t bad enough, the Lannisters’ gold mines have run dry, and the Crown owes untold amounts of septims to the Iron Bank of Bravoos (my pet theory: The Iron Bank also has the Faceless Men at their beck and call… there’s presumably a good reason why the Bank always get its due. And who’s the conveniently located Faceless Man in Westeros with a grudge against Lannisters?)

The Lannisters have, at most, perhaps 40,000 worn down troops, including the King’s Landing city guards. Furthermore, if the first episode of Season 7 is anything to go by, a significant propotion of their army now consists of green recruits.

The commonfolk, the septons, and the nobles whose friends and relatives were burned to a crisp by wildfire at the Sept of Baelor all hate Queen Cersei.

Their only allies are the Freys, who are of questionable worth in the first place, and whose continued existence is, in any case, open to doubt following Arya’s assassination of their patriarch Walder in the final episode of last season.

What do these ominous comparisons presage for the Lannisters? Their triumph, of course.

Yes, this is going to be my bet for this season. For Daenerys to put Cersei out of her misery and team up with Jon against the White Walkers would be too logical, boring, and predictable. The game of thrones will not stop even as the song of ice and fire reaches its apocalyptic crescendo – and for that to happen, Cersei will have to hang on for just a bit longer.

Here is how I think the season will go, to be proven or disproven in the next seven weeks.

Euron’s Iron Fleet will triumph over Daenerys’ armada. I don’t know how he will deal with the dragons. In the books, Euron has a horn that can “bind” dragons, but including it in the show would be too much of a deus ex machina (though nothing can be excluded with D&D). In any case, Daenerys’ armada will be destroyed and a large percentage of the Dothraki and Unsullied will have to pay their mite to the Drowned God. She herself will be confined to Dragonstone, like Stannis after his defeat at the Battle of the Blackwater.

This will demoralize the Lannisters’ enemies. The Dornishmen will start asking WTF they’re doing fighting for kingslaying usurper bastards, and the lesser Houses of the Reach will rebel against the ruling Tyrrells and their Redwyine allies (the Tarlys are prime candidates to head this betrayal). Highgarden finishes the season under the gold-red flag – as well as its vast grain, manpower, and monetary resources. The Iron Bank is satiated, and extends Cersei a new loan.

Seeing no realistic chance of furthering her claim to the Iron Throne in the near future, coupled with Jon’s insistence that the real struggle is the one against the White Walkers, Daenerys will decide to follow in Stannis’ footsteps, taking her dragons and what remains of her army and fleet to the North – as well as copious dragonglass supplies. Since this is the penultimate season, the final highlight will surely be hordes of White Walkers and the undead poring south over the Wall.

Cersei will eventually meet an exceedingly sticky end, her murderer’s hands wrapping about her pale white throat and choking the life from her – at least, going by the valonqar prophecy – but that is for the last season.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Film, Game of Thrones, Review 
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Note: Major spoilers through to and including the fifth ASoIaF book.

This series is commonly considered to be the archetypical Crapsack World , in which life is short, nasty, and brutal, and hardly anybody “bad” ever gets their just desserts while the innocent suffer.

However, if you really get to thinking about the various deaths and fates of A Song of Ice and Fire – illustrated in morbid elegance for the show by the Beautiful Deaths series – you quickly realize that there such an astounding degree of poetic justice that if anything it is closer to a traditional morality tale than the grimdark nightmare it is so commonly believed to be.

Consider.

Robert Baratheon is a drunk, fat, stupid pig. He gets killed by a pig. He even appreciates the humor of the situation before he dies.

Viserys suborned everything to his goal of becoming king, becoming cruel and insane in the process. He ended up getting crowned, though not quite in the way he expected to.

Balon Greyjoy dreamed of returning to the old ways, and put those plans in action once the Seven Kingdoms fragmented. He met his Drowned God sooner than he anticipated.

Lysa Arryn, paranoid towards everyone, was murdered by the one person she trusted; and in the same way she had executed dozens of others at the whim of her mentally ill son.

Khal Drogo. A steppe warlord in his prime brought down not by arms or sorcery, but by a common infection of a minor wound.

Joffrey, the Mountain, Vargo Hoat – grade A psychopaths one and all – meet exceedingly sticky, humiliating, and painful deaths.

Eddard Stark. Even this pillar of “white” morality in a sea of “gray” and “black” ultimately fell to karmic blowback. He got executed on a misunderstanding. Where did we see that before? In the prologue, where he disbelieved Gared’s stories and summarily executed him as a deserter. Recall that he did not even attempt to verify his story with the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Both were ultimately undone for being unable to handle a dark secret – and both died by the same blade, Eddard’s Ice.

Tywin. The man who regards guaranteeing the survival and future prosperity of his House as his ultimate goal in life, and lets no ethical concerns get in the way of it, ends up getting murdered by his own son and leaving no clear successor to Casterley Rock. He won many battles, but lost the war of his life – a “war” at which the vast majority of people succeed at without giving it much thought at all.

Even those characters who survive (for now), surprisingly frequently, get appropriate comeuppances.

Tyrion murders Tywin. In the process, he confirms himself as a kinslayer beyond any lingering shadow of a doubt – but it is all the more ironic that it’s quite possible he saved the father he hated so much from a much more agonizing death, if the popular theory that the Red Viper had poisoned him before his duel with The Mountain is correct. In the process, to add to the irony, he “rescued” Tywin from the consequences of his own cruelty and brutality many years ago.

Jorah trafficked in slaves. He becomes a slave. And all because of oneitis.

Theon was in a difficult situation, between a rock and a hard place, an unwilling Third Culture Kid in a world of savage tribal loyalties. But he could have perhaps managed to navigate himself out of it if it were not for his overweening ego and superiority/inferiority complex. His fate is to have his personality, his ego, erased – and at the hands of Ramsay Snow no less, who like Theon is also a self-obsessed “outsider” – if an immeasurably crueler and more malignant one.

Sansa was giddy for a man she didn’t know, overlooking the numerous signs he was a grade A psychopath. Her award was to get to know him entirely too well.

Jaime defined himself, in large part, through his skill with the sword. He lost his right hand – the same hand he had used to push Bran Stark out of a window while a guest at Winterfell. Cersei, among other pathologies, had a ridiculously inflated sense of self. She got paraded naked around King’s Landing.

Jon Snow. As with Ned Stark, this may elicit howls of outrage downvotes, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. He executed Janos Slynt for treason and insubordination. Slynt, of course, was an excessively nasty man, and there were no tears shed for him; in any case, it was an entirely legal and indeed the correct thing to do. But then he wanted to get involved in political squabbles that were, strictly speaking, not of the Night’s Watch business. But too bad for him, the Night’s Watch is an exceedingly strict organization, and unlike his first attempt to return to politics south of the Wall, this time he didn’t limit that involvement just to himself, but invited all who would follow along with him. And for this he got a half dozen daggers in his guts. Of course, we know the caveats, we still sympathize with him… but even here, at some level, what happened to him was not really “unjust.”

At least by what passes for justice in Westeros.

tl;dr: A Song of Ice and Fire is commonly viewed as a deeply cynical series in which heroes die, the innocent suffer, and evil prospers. To the contrary, in a remarkably large number of cases – more, even, than in many much more “optimistic” works – people do get what they “deserve.” Or if not, then at least the principle of “what goes round, comes around,” is frequently demonstrated.

GRRM is a sort of Jigsaw.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Fantasy, Game of Thrones, Literature 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.