What do we say to the God of death? Not today.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It's the moment that Game of Thrones has been leading up to since day one: the great battle between the Living and the Dead. After seven full seasons of warnings that winter is coming and watching many of the living fight among each other, with no clue of the threat that intends to kill them all, everything comes together in Winterfell for this ultimate showdown. Although the series finale has always been the most anticipated episode of season eight, "The Long Night" -as we now know episode three to be called- had the anticipation of being considerably the longest action sequence ever put to film or television, spread out almost entirely over the course of 82 minutes. In the year and a half long break between seasons seven and eight, D&D and whoever else is in charge of keeping Game of Thrones' biggest story points a secret, took every measure imaginable to ensure that absolutely nothing about season eight would leak out. Something that did come out though were details of a grueling 55-night shooting schedule, with several of the actors remarking what an absolute hell it was: filming the battle in freezing temperatures, dealing with rain, snow, mud, sheep turds, you name it. D&D and everyone involved in season eight's production wanted to be sure that this battle would be something truly special, potentially something that could go down as a historic moment in television history, and they were willing to go whatever extra miles they needed to in order to accomplish that goal.
Before I dive in to all my own thoughts, let me first say that I have seen and read about all the criticisms that "The Long Night" has received: "It was too dark!" "There weren't enough main character deaths!" "The ending was so anticlimactic!" "D&D are horrible writers!" People are entitled to their own opinions and are allowed to believe whatever they want, so it does me no good whatsoever to try and spend this review posing counter-arguments to these complaints. When you've attracted the kind of popularity that Game of Thrones has received over the years, you're going to eventually draw massive crowds of people who prefer to spend their time complaining and whining that they don't get the results they want. But enough about complaints and whining: the mental fatigue that I was feeling over the course of the next 12-18 hours after watching "The Long Night" was enough proof for me to feel fully confident in saying that this episode was exactly everything I had hoped it to be: action that masterfully blended the genres of horror, fantasy, and suspense thriller, multiple character deaths, and a shock ending that is right up there with "Baelor", "The Rains of Castamere", and "The Door" in terms of how unexpected it is. I don't care how many plot armor accusations I read about; the way that "The Long Night" ended left me fully satisfied that Game of Thrones still continues to find new ways to defy expectations. Now with just three episodes remaining, it's a perfect time to remind yourself that no one is safe.
The action doesn't actually begin until around the 15-20 minute point of the episode. Miguel Sapochnik starts the episode with various tracking shots showing us how the Army of the Living is set up: like we're seeing the pieces of one side of the chess board before they all start to get knocked over. What I love here is how we get a more organized picture of who is all fighting in this battle, while further driving home the point of how all these different cultures of people, from all different parts of the world, have come together to fight on the same side. It has felt hopeless in all the previous encounters with the White Walkers, but for the first time, well, ever, the Living have a plan of attack against the Dead, and just for a little bit, Miguel Sapochnik gives us a shrivel of hope that the Living will make it out okay. This hope is slightly intensified when we get the episode's first surprise: the return of Melisandre. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones did not learn its lesson from "Blackwater", in which a spoiler is given by the opening credits. Carice van Houten's name shows up clear as day in the credits, which assures us Melisandre is coming back. Not that it matters too much: Melisandre shows up almost right away, and she sends the Dothraki into battle with swords and sickles ablaze.
At this point, things are feeling a tad more hopeful, because the Dothraki are easily the best fighters among the Living, and now with Melisandre's magic, they might be able to get an early advantage on the Dead and prevent them from advancing on Winterfell. They don't: the Dothraki are swallowed up, and all their flaming swords go out in almost an instant, as if the Living's tiny light of hope is put out. From here, the battle turns into a spectacle of chaotic horror: a stampede of wights overwhelms the Unsullied and others on the front line, and my gosh that first shot of when the wights reach everyone is a thing of horrific beauty: coming at the camera like a devastating tidal wave. This is the only time in the episode though where I would somewhat agree with all those "too dark" complaints, but I say just somewhat agree because those few moments where it's very hard to tell what's going on lasts all but a few seconds. Sapochnik frequently alternates between frantic close-up fighting and wider shots of the wights charging at everyone standing outside the gates, enough that it expertly maintains the pandemonium of the wight army coming at us full force, while maintaining a sense of space and geography for where everyone currently is.
The battle literally lights up moments later when Jon and Daenerys take their dragons and start breathing fire down on all the charging wights, along with Melisandre using her magic to light the trenches and create a ring of fire around Winterfell. Here's where the Night King finally makes an appearance, and yes, I absolutely love what Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner do here too: taking us up through the night sky until we reach The Night King on the back of Viserion. The Night King raises his hand as if he's commanding his army down below of what to do, and everything except the Night King's raised hand is put out of focus. Why do I love this shot so much? Because it maintains the dark aura that has been surrounding the Night King ever since the season began: he is the one character we're scared to see, and Sapochnik doesn't want to take away that dark aura just yet.
The wights then start to breach the Winterfell walls, and unfortunately, it's impossible to resist comparisons to World War Z while watching the wights all pile up on each other. The carnage continues into Winterfell, but what's fascinating this time is that now the fighting, with the bright glow of fire in the background, looks like it's something straight out of hell. The characters are in the middle of the fight of their lives, and now they have to fight literally in the one place that's been the safest of havens since the end of season six. Fire, blood, and (literally) death: how can this not be something that spawned from hell? There's just so much to take in and so many emotions flying around, it's pretty overwhelming: The Hound cowering in fear from all the fire and fighting, Arya escaping into the castle where she has to sneak past another group of wights, Theon and company desperately trying to keep Bran safe from wights in the Godswood, and oh yeah, Jon and Daenerys engaging the Night King in a dragon dogfight.
No way in hell was everyone going to make it out of this battle alive. Our final body count includes Eddison Tollett, Beric Dondarrion, Lyanna Mormont, Jorah Mormont, and Theon Greyjoy. It's a disservice to these characters to dismiss their deaths like they mean nothing, especially when the likes of Jorah and Theon have been around since the very first episode. Eddison, Beric, and Lyanna all die noble deaths, but watching Jorah and Theon die is as disheartening as it is enlightening: their stories come to an end the way each hoped their stories would end: Jorah dying while protecting Daenerys from those who want her dead, and Theon getting to hear from Bran that he is a good man and will not have to die feeling he's lived a life of shame and regret. Game of Thrones' most heartbreaking deaths have never been for the pure sake of shock value; they've always served some sort of narrative purpose that becomes perfectly clear either right away or at some point later on. No matter how far the show has progressed past the books, D&D have never lost sight of what many of the characters have set out to do and how their individual stories should come to an end. No, it's not a complete surprise to see Jorah and Theon die the way they do, but there's no denying the payoff of witnessing these characters' journeys finally culminate in what they've been about this whole time. Not every death in Game of Thrones has to be Ned Stark's execution or The Red Wedding. Watching the progression of long-running arcs for characters like Jorah Mormont and Theon Greyjoy's is one of the many places where Game of Thrones finds its magic.
With so many death scenes to be had in "The Long Night", it makes all the sense in the world for D&D to just go for it: find a way to completely defy all audience expectations and leave everyone speechless by the battle's end. This is also a time where D&D are victims of their own success: Game of Thrones being so popular and generating so many theories, that at least one or two people would be able to guess correctly what will ultimately happen. What does end up happening is a move I think very few people saw coming: Arya ends up being the one who kills the Night King. Not Jon. Not Daenerys. Not even Tyrion. Arya Stark vanquishes the Army of the Dead and wins the Great War for the Living. Was I flabbergasted by this decision? Yes. Was I happy that D&D decided to take such a risk? Also yes.
It seemed for so long that Game of Thrones would end with the series fulfilling the Azor Ahai Prophecy: the promised one vanquishing the Darkness once and for all. It made all the sense in the world to think that Jon and Daenerys would unite and bring down the Night King, with presumably either Jon or Daenerys dying to ensure that the other would live and be able to save Westeros from the Long Night. The series finale would involve Jon or Daenerys slaying The Night King and fulfilling the union of ice and fire. Melisandre brought Jon Snow back from the dead in season six, and she spoke of The Prince Who Was Promised early in season seven. It all seemed to be leading to a showdown between Jon and The Night King with Daenerys likely being close by.
In one swift maneuver, D&D threw almost all that prophesying I just did out the window. There will be no Jon Snow and Daenerys uniting to kill the Night King. The closest Jon ever gets to the Night King in this episode is when Rhaegal and Viserion are ripping and clawing at each other in the air, and then again later when Jon starts running towards the Night King while he starts reviving the dead. Daenerys tries to burn The Night King with Drogon's fire, but little good does that end up doing her. When all seems hopeless and like The Night King is about to kill Bran and emerge victorious, Arya Stark emerges like the trained assassin she is and delivers the fatal blow.
It's understandable to feel as if D&D have completely betrayed Jon and Daenerys' coming together and have gone completely against what their respective story lines have been building up to. For Jon specifically, it's like a showdown with the Night King was the moment he had been building up to since the first time we ever saw him. At the same time, Jon killing the Night King would be Game of Thrones building towards what would be the cliched fantasy ending: the "chosen one" fighting and defeating the supernatural villain to save the world and fulfill his destiny. Seeing the angry reactions of critics and other people online, it's as if they all wanted to see the cliched fantasy ending, believing that season eight is not allowed to defy our expectations in any way we hadn't thought up before.
I spent large chunks of many of my own reviews building up the White Walkers as if the show would culminate in the way that almost everyone was expecting. I talked endlessly about how the White Walkers were the real threat and that all the political squabbling going on among the Living was little more than petty nonsense. All that talking I did seemed to have amounted to nothing. I should be frustrated out of my mind that the White Walker story line has come to a shocking end and now the rest of season eight will turn into a battle against Cersei for the Iron Throne. I should be pissed off, but the truth is that I'm not. In fact, I'm very happy. I'm happy to know that Game of Thrones will not end the same cliched way that many other fantasy movies and TV series usually end. I'm happy that Game of Thrones has now created all sorts of new suspense for what will happen over the course of its final three episodes. I'm happy that Game of Thrones' finale will not be a black and white confrontation between good and evil; it will be a showdown between characters of multiple shades of grey (put away that fifty shades joke you were thinking of just now). Game of Thrones will end with the the kind of spirit that George R.R. Martin' A Song of Ice and Fire novels have possessed since he first started writing them back in the early to mid 1990's. If D&D had known for at least a few years that Arya would be the one to ultimately kill The Night King, then I have no doubt they've known for a long time how they've wanted this great series to end, which is why I give them my full trust that they will deliver.
I just don't have it in my heart to downgrade "The Long Night" for anything. Miguel Sapochnik, the actors, and everyone else involved in the production worked so hard to make this epic battle happen, and it saddens me that people choose to completely ignore all that work and proceed to call the episode a disappointment because it was too dark in some places and because not enough characters died. Last I checked, there are still three more episodes, and we still need some characters around to continue telling a compelling story. The intense mental exhaustion I was feeling over the next day, day and a half after first watching "The Long Night" - yes, I watched it again the next night, because I loved it that much- was plenty for me to feel that this episode lived up to all the hype and was one of the most thrilling battle sequences I've ever seen in a film or television series. Action, horror, suspense, dragons, undead dragons, blood, death, and a completely unexpected twist: they were all here. It was the complete package for a Game of Thrones episode, and I was mesmerized by every second of it. I'm worn out now, but I'll be ready to go and be super glued to my TV when we find out what happens next. The Army of the Dead is gone, but it doesn't matter: no one is safe, because the great game is still on.
The Rich and the Rest of Us
Robin Hood is directed by Otto Bathurst and stars Taron Egerton, Jaime Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, and Jaime Dornan.
It is completely normal nowadays to watch a trailer for an upcoming film and expect the absolute worst. From cringe-worthy dialogue, to unimpressive visual effects, and all the way to a bland explanation of a premise that doesn't sound the least bit interesting, creating convincing and compelling movie trailers has become something of a dying art. I can't say exactly when Hollywood and other filmmakers started losing their touch with getting people excited to go see their films, but it seems like nowadays more than ever, movie trailers are more like an annoyance that you pray gets done with as soon as possible, as opposed to an exciting warm-up before the main feature. That's not to say that bad movie trailers always equate to bad films. Plenty of good films, heck, even some great ones, gave out bad first impressions with mediocre trailers. On the flip side, there have been plenty of promising looking trailers, only for the movie to fall flat on its face.
You're probably wondering why in the world am I talking about good versus bad movie trailers in a review for 2018's Robin Hood. The reason I start with this discussion is because not only is it the only way that I feel comfortable opening up this review; it's because 2018's Robin Hood serves as a prime example of when a movie trailer looks bad (and I mean really bad), and the resulting film is....well, really bad. Is it too arrogant of me to say that I knew this film was going to be a flop from the moment I saw the trailer in theaters some months back? Right from the get go, this looked like another foolish attempt at starting another action-driven medieval film franchise in the same vein as 2017's wretched King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and, wouldn't y'know, Robin Hood tanked at the box office, thus, saving us the displeasure from ever having to sit through multiple of these films. I can at least sort of get what Warner Bros. was going for with King Arthur: the 2004 King Arthur film was not a raging success by any means, and there was plenty of historical King Arthur lore to dig into and make movies out of, so we can say there was at least potential. Robin Hood, on the other hand, got his modern-day film upgrade not even ten years ago with Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, so that automatically left the 2018 edition with basically nothing new to offer.
The story is about as basic as you can get with the Robin Hood legend: Lord Robin of Loxley (Egerton) is drafted by the greedy, no good Sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelsohn) to fight in the Third Crusades, thus, separating him from the love of his life, Marian (Hewson). Four years later, Robin has grown dissatisfied with the war, and he gets himself sent back to England by trying to prevent the execution of prisoners. After returning to Nottingham, Robin finds out that the Sheriff had declared him dead, and that Marian is now in love with another: the leader of the common people, Will Tillman (Dornan). Before he can show himself to Marian, Robin is greeted by John (Foxx): one of the war prisoners who had stowed away on the ship back to England. John proposes that he and Robin fight together to end the war. How exactly? You guessed it: by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
I am no expert whatsoever with all the details surrounding the Robin Hood legend, and even if your own knowledge of this subject matter doesn't transcend past, "Guy who shoots arrows and steals money from rich people", you will quickly realize just what a brainless and ill-fated film we are dealing with here. This is not a Robin Hood character of great moral complexity nor a Robin Hood character who embodies any thought-provoking ideals from the Crusades period; this is a Robin Hood that talks and acts like a 21st century brat who is trying to audition to become Marvel's next big superhero. I think that's one of the best ways to describe what this version of Robin Hood is like: extremely imitative of MCU films, except under the impression that action and one-liners are enough to sell. The most egregious part of this Robin Hood character though is how the movie consistently refers to him as, "The Hood" or just, "Hood", which sounds more like terrible 21st century slang as opposed to an inspirational nickname. I'm probably going to be saying 21st century at least a few more times later on, because, oh man, have we only begun to scratch the surface of all the bone-headed decisions this movie makes...
- Robin Hood fails in many, many, many film-making departments, but luckily, the film avoids ever being straight-up boring: a luxury that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword absolutely did not have. In a movie like this one that's desperate to get to the action as fast as possible, I'm a bit surprised that none of the arrow-firing by Robin or any fighting between the common people and the Sheriff's army ever grew tiresome. A part of it is a morbid fascination in seeing in what ways the action will fail, such as an embarrassing green screen or atrocious-looking CGI. There's quite a bit of both, and there's also a lot of Zack Snyder speed up and slow down bits that made me want to cry and never watch an action film ever again. The truly fascinating thing though is that Otto Bathurst and his crew sometimes come very close to generating a few compelling seconds of action, and those few glimmers of hope are what keep you engaged and optimistic that something good will turn up sooner or later. There's a scene where Robin, John, and Marian are fleeing on horseback from the Sheriff's men, and I will admit that there were a few seconds where I could feel just a little bit of excitement stirring up inside me: the music by composer Joseph Trapanese speeding up the tempo, which coupled extremely well with the sound of running horse hooves. That was it, though: just a few precious seconds of potential. It was sad that the action never upgraded into the category of decent, but at least Robin Hood was flirting with it for a few stretches.
- While I'm still sort of on the subject of the film's action, it is mind-boggling how the action can be so bloodless, like they're so scared to show even just a drop of blood when someone gets hurt or killed. I know it's a PG-13 film and they can't be too graphic with the action, but everything about the action is so sanitized that Robin Hood could warrant just a PG rating. There's nothing else in the movie that would keep an eleven or twelve year old up late at night. How different could this movie be from a PG rated film that contains action of some kind?
- The lack of blood is more of a nitpick and pales in comparison to the other places where Robin Hood really drops the ball, such as the acting. It is kind of amazing that a cast with this many talented people can completely fail to show an ounce of charm or decent acting chops. Taron Egerton and Jaime Foxx aren't necessarily bad: they seem like they're trying, when in reality, they're only doing enough to ensure they can walk away feeling as if they didn't lose one bit of their acting dignity. Ben Mendelsohn is a comedy: a cartoon-y bad guy that shouts a lot and at times sounds like he's cursing under his breath, like Harry from Home Alone. There's nothing intimidating or frightening about him. He's just a big ol' meanie who is incredibly silly and a complete waste of Mendelsohn's talents. Meanwhile, Eve Hewson is impressive with how much she is so not trying: speaking her lines and looking at Taron Egerton with all the enthusiasm of a moldy potato. I'm also impressed by how, for playing a character who's supposed to be basically stricken with poverty, Hewson wears make-up and costumes that make her look like a contest on Miss America. It's an incredibly thankless role for Hewson anyway: Marian is never given the chance to be something more than Robin's love interest, so it's not like Hewson ever had the chance to do anything significant.
- Oh, the costumes. This brings me to the other thing about Robin Hood that drove me up a wall: the glaring and seemingly intentional anachronisms. How in the world can this decision be justified? What sort of artistic or entertainment value is there to be had in having your movie take place during the Crusades era, and yet, people are inexplicably wearing suit jackets, beanie hats, and other outfits that look like they were brought from the clearance section at the thrift store? Is this supposed to be some clever way to complement the 21st century-style action? The anachronisms only serve to distract from everything else that's going on, and it's not like there's any unintentional laughs to be had. This is not the fun kind of absurdity where you gladly accept it and roll with it. This is the kind of absurdity that feels completely out of place and makes no sense whatsoever, thereby never lending itself to anything resembling humor. The very least that Robin Hood could do to address its anachronism issue is to be a bit more self-aware about how ridiculous it is, but no, the film can't even do that much.
I'm thankful that Robin Hood was not ever straight-up boring, because no one wants to waste two full hours on a movie that does a better job of putting you to sleep as opposed to entertaining you. It may come close at times to being a little exciting, but Robin Hood is ultimately an aimless misfire that wastes its decent cast, while being further weighed down by its inexplicable anachronisms and its bloodless action that taps into almost every annoying 21st century action movie technique that refuses to die (screw you, Zack Snyder). I don't care how arrogant this may sound: I knew this movie was going to be bad the first time I saw a trailer for it, and damn it, was I right. Robin Hood was 2018's greatest example of a movie that looked very bad and ended up being very bad. Hopefully now, after the failures of King Arthur and Robin Hood, people will stop with this, "taking fictional medieval legends and turning them into multi-film franchises" BS.
The things we do for love.
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Bryan Cogman
It is understandable to be a bit frustrated that, after two episodes of this six episode final season, Game of Thrones has yet to give us any of the bloodshed that was originally promised to us. "Winterfell" was full of heartwarming reunions and several other emotionally investing scenes, with the idea that it would be the last time we would ever get to see our characters be happy and act like they were at least somewhat enjoying each other's company (most of the characters anyway). Of these final six episodes, it's safe to say that episode two was easily the least anticipated, not because no one cared to know what would happen, but because it made the most sense to predict that the episode would be something of a transition period from cheerful, "I'm so happy to see you again" moments to demoralizing, "The dead are here. We're all gonna die." Going from happy reunions in one episode to the most intense battle ever fought in Westeros in the next would evoke all the breakneck pacing complaints that hampered season seven, so it's a good thing that Game of Thrones give us a little more calm before the storm, because nothing will ever be the same the rest of the way once the battle between the Living and the Dead finally gets underway this weekend.
Until then, Game of Thrones delivers another round of engaging conversations and character analysis. A lot of our beloved characters will soon meet their end, so why would Game of Thrones have it any other way? This series has prided itself since day one on making us fall in love with certain characters, only to crush our spirits by having those characters get suddenly and brutally killed. While there is a slightly nagging feeling that "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is more of the same from last week, David Nutter's direction and Bryan Cogman's writing both hit the nail on the head: showing us what exactly these characters are fighting for, and what most of them will end up losing before the sun comes up the next day. On top of a whole spectrum of emotions, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" delivers some more genuine surprises and comes to an end with an ominous shot of the White Walkers looking over Winterfell, promising us that there will be no more set-ups that will keep pushing off the inevitable action.
We are strictly in Winterfell for this episode, so we'll most likely catch up with Cersei and all her "friends" in King's Landing in episode four. For now, all eyes are on Jaime and the cold reception he gets upon arriving in Winterfell. Trust remains a very fragile thing among Daenerys and all the Northern lords, and it takes some serious vouching from Brienne to get everyone to agree to let Jaime fight beside them. Almost everything that has defined Jaime's life is brought forth in his conversations with the Northern lords and later with Bran: his decision to slay King Aerys aka Daenerys' father, his decision to push Bran out the window, the decisions he made to protect his House during the War of the Five Kings, him losing his right hand and regaining his sense of honor. I think this episode does almost the same job that re-watching seasons one through seven would do: put into better perspective who Jaime Lannister is as a character and how he is the most developed character whose last name isn't Stark. Has Jaime ever really been a man with evil intentions? Even some of his most heinous acts have not been without understandable motives. Jaime pushed Bran out the window so to keep his incestuous relationship with Cersei a secret and protect his House's honor. Jaime confronted Ned Stark because he cared about his younger brother. Jaime slayed his own King to protect the lives of thousands of innocent people. Early on, he was a bit on the fence about how to have the ends justify the means, but after losing his right/sword hand, he finally started to sort out his moral complexities and properly express his values and beliefs.
Watching Jaime willingly travel to Winterfell to fight alongside those that have been opposed to him since the very start of the show is a testament to how much he has changed and how his transformation has become one of the most uplifting parts of Game of Thrones. He has absolutely no intentions of stabbing someone in the back for the sake of having House Lannister prevail over all. He made a promise to fight for the living, and he will uphold that promise with no tricks and no conditions. The scenes with Jaime are when "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" are at its happiest, particularly for the scene when Jaime knights Brienne: a reward for all her hard work since season two. Brienne has been a workhorse ever since she came to be one of the series' main characters, and because she succeeded in upholding her promise to keep Sansa and Arya safe, it feels right that she earns such a prestigious prize. It also feels right that Jaime was the character to give her such an award. The one person Brienne has grown closest to during the series has been Jaime, despite the two being apart for long stretches of time. Brienne was there for Jaime when he was it his lowest, and she was the first one to realize the true nature of his decision to kill the Mad King. Brienne has been the only character to come to see Jaime the way we as an audience see him now, and for that, it makes sense that the two get to share such a proud moment, hours before the fight of their lives. It's as if the two secretly promised one another that they would find a way to uphold their respective honor and one day come to fight on the same side. Today, the day of the White Walkers' ultimate invasion, is that day, and while the knighthood is Brienne's reward, Jaime's reward is being able to give the knighthood to her.
Watching Brienne receive knighthood also seems to be a clear indicator that her and/or Jaime will die in the upcoming battle. Arya seems to think she will die in the upcoming battle, so just in case it's her last night as part of the living, she decides to get busy in bed with Gendry, and wow was this a surprise: The main reason this sex scene startled people is because we literally watched Arya grow up since she was a little girl way back in season one, and not ever did we give any thought to Arya ever engaging in a scene like this. News flash: she's no little girl any more, and hey, a big girl is gonna do big girl things. I actually think this sex scene fits very well into Arya's character arc and her personality overall, having always been the one Stark sibling who derived pleasure from things that the other Stark siblings did/do not enjoy. Whereas Sansa and Bran have not ever taken delight in swinging swords and killing others, Arya has found tremendous joy in committing such, 'whatcha ma call them, sinful acts. Arya's running under the assumption that she won't make it out of the White Walker battle alive, so because she has started to make a living out of getting her hands dirty, she figures she might as well get her hands dirty the one other way she has not done so yet. It's tough to say if Arya suddenly fell in love with Gendry or anything like that, but the important thing is that she does not completely force herself on to him, because she knows her and Gendry's relationship has been strong enough that he could not be completely opposed to her. She simply wants to have the experience, but just to be safe, she questions Gendry of his sexual history and makes sure that there is at least some consent between the two. It helps establish that Arya is not some hungry animal gone wild, and that, even for young people, there is a way to have sexual encounters that are not any form of assault. I don't believe it's my place to go into a deep analysis of how Arya's sex scene coincides with the #MeToo movement, so check out what other people have to say if you're curious about other interpretations of this scene.
It's pretty astonishing how unimportant that Jon and Daenerys appear to be in this episode, even when Jon reveals to Daenerys his real name and the fact that he has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than her. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: Game of Thrones doesn't want to completely sideline its other, non-Targaryen characters, even when we can count the number of remaining episodes on one hand. I think it was intentional by Bryan Cogman to have Jon and Daenerys slid into the background for this episode, because so many other characters' arcs are (presumably) coming to an end next time out, and the heartbreak wouldn't be there if these first two episodes were nothing but the Jon and Daenerys love show. For the sake of the plot, it wouldn't make sense for both Jon and Daenerys to die during the battle, although there are logical arguments to be made for one of them dying. For what Game of Thrones has been building up to since that first scene of the three men of the Night's Watch encountering the White Walker, the end game will no doubt heavily revolve around the prophecy that Jon and/or Daenerys must fulfill, so in order to achieve a more balanced character structure, the likes of Tyrion, Brienne, and Tormund get more screen time.
Jon is largely invisible this episode, but Daenerys certainly does enough to make her presence felt, most notably in a friendly-turned-tense conversation with Sansa about what will happen in the North if the White Walkers and Cersei are all defeated. Sansa is proving herself to be a borderline genius at this point, voicing legitimate concerns that, unfortunately, don't get proper answers only because someone feels the need to interrupt the conversation. My favorite part of this scene is the way Daenerys rips her hand away from Sansa, signifying that she's given up trying to be friends and get on good terms. These little things add to the drama of when everyone has to fight alongside each other. Can Daenerys and the Northern lords really put all their differences aside, even when they're up against an enemy that treats them all the same?
Bran gives us some valuable insight of the enemy, particularly why the Night King is after him: the Night King seeks to have an endless night, to erase Westeros and all its memories. Bran is something of Westeros' memory bank, holding all records of its past, its present, and its future. The strategy to treat Bran as bait certainly generates a lot of interest for what the Night King will decide to do. There has yet to be one second of screen time for the Night King in season eight, so right now, he's something of the hidden monster in the dark that everyone is waiting to see come out. So not only do we learn more about what the Night King and the White Walkers want, it adds an extra layer of terror to them altogether and how they are such a horrifying representation of death. The White Walkers do not feel. With death, there is nothing to feel, because there is nothing at all. Back in early season six after being brought back to life, Jon said that, while he was dead, there was just nothing. This complete state of nothingness that Jon described is what the Night King wants for all of Westeros: the endless night with no memories and no sense of living.
Podrick sings a song simply called, "Jenny's Song", which plays over very quiet shots of everyone getting ready for battle and contemplating what is about to happen. This scene eerily reminded me of the "Nearer My God To Thee" scene from Titanic: the juxtaposition of something peaceful and soothing like music alongside scenes of imminent disaster. It's such a powerful and emotional way to conclude our final, peaceful moments: this does feel like the end. No, it's not the end of the series, but it's still the end in several ways: it's the end of watching our characters grow and bond together as living, breathing humans. It's the end of feeling safe and like our characters are out of harm's way. It is like watching the water rushing into the Titanic: so many good-natured, honorable people are about to die, at the hands of something that doesn't feel and doesn't know how to feel. So many characters have had something to live for, and their struggles to live have all brought them here, to confront an enemy that intends to strip them of their ability to live.
By the time "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" comes to an end, you're too emotional and terrified to let the episode's flaws weigh you down. With so much fire, blood, and death to come in next week's epic clash between the living and the dead, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" pauses season eight's overarching story telling to firmly remind us of what it means to live and how all these characters in Winterfell have always had something to live for. Even if it's a bit repetitive from "Winterfell", there are too many emotions floating around that it's incredibly hard not to feel moved by hearing all these different characters' stories like Tormund's experience with giant's milk and to see proud moments like Brienne being knighted and Arya losing her virginity. The realization that everything is coming to an end in Game of Thrones hits hardest during Podrick's song, despite the fact that we've still got four more episodes to go. The time for talk is over. No more delays. Next week, the battle that Game of Thrones has advertised since "Winter is Coming" finally goes down. I hope you'll be ready, because I know I won't be.
Me, You, Us
Us is written and directed by Jordan Peele and stars Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.
Jordan Peele's directorial debut, 2017's Get Out, was my favorite film to have been released during that year. I was head over heels about Get Out's incredible blend of comedy and horror, its entertainment value, and its thematic depth about slavery and the ill-advised superiority that certain white people feel they have over black people. So naturally, I was super excited to hear that Jordan Peele was coming back with another original horror film that, while not necessarily about racism and a battle between black people and white people, it was going to offer a similar sort of thematic depth and entertainment value, thus establishing Peele as one of the most gifted and inventive horror directors of the 21st century.
It turns out Us is not nearly as good as Get Out, but nevertheless, I won't hesitate to say that Us will be one of the best horror films of 2019, because, even if the thought-provoking content isn't as strong as it was in Get Out, it still is thought-provoking content, and that's something that's pretty tough to come by in mainstream horror films nowadays. Jordan Peele has also shown to have the talent for giving his films an entertainment value that can satisfy the most undemanding viewers: those who don't really care to talk about racism or slavery and are just there to have a good time. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that Us is like a good, but not great version of Get Out, in which there is thought-provoking content and entertaining scenes, except that neither are on par with what Jordan Peele delivered to us the first time around.
The plot of Us follows the Wilson family, who are out on vacation at a family beach house in Santa Cruz. The family consists of wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide is anxious about the trip, because Santa Cruz is the same place where she had a traumatic childhood experience: One night in 1986, the young Adelaide (Madison Curry), wanders off from her family carnival trip and stumbles upon a funhouse, where she enters a hall of mirrors and finds another little girl that looks exactly like her. In the present, Adelaide's worst fears are realized when a family of four breaks into the beach house and attacks the Wilsons. The family of four turn out to be doppelgangers of the Wilsons, led by Adelaide's double named Red. Red is the only doppelganger that speaks, sounding like a mortally wounded animal that's on its last few breaths.
I'll stop the plot summary right there. The only other thing I'll mention is that there's far more to Us' plot than being just a home invasion story in which the intruders have some special characteristic so that the home invasion scenario will stand out from other, generic home invasion scenarios. Us eventually transcends into a story that has suggested interpretations like the struggle of classism and how Us is meant to be a play on "U.S." aka United States. There's a line where Red says, "we're Americans", and that's evidence to suggest that Peele is taking a stab at how messed up a lot of American society is. I'm all for these various takes on what the film is about at its deepest, darkest level. I just wish that the execution was better, so that I could feel more enlightened about what ideas and themes were running through my head as I sat down to process this movie in the few days after I saw it in theaters.
- Easily the best part of Us is a slam-dunk performance by Lupita Nyong'o, whom you might best remember from her supporting role in 2018's Black Panther. There's typically a lot of demand for an actress if she's the main character of a horror film, and Us is no exception, as Nyong'o has to play, "terrified mother trying to protect her family" and "traumatized person struggling with the event that caused said trauma", all on top of a lot of fighting and struggling she does with the doppelgangers. Nyong'o thrives in every role her character has to play, bringing a kind of raw, honest energy that hadn't been tested at all in films like Black Panther or Queen of Katwe. The kind of work required of Nyong'o here involves a lot more sweaty, hard-nosed labor, and largely without the benefits of CGI or other wacky digital effects. She proves more than capable of what is required of her, and the result is a true break-out performance that could see Nyongo's career expand even more in the coming years. Unfortunately, the Academy seems hell-bent on ignoring any and all performances in horror-movies, so it's highly unlikely we'll see Nyong'o get any sort of nomination in 2020. What a shame.
- I give Jordan Peele all the credit in the world for the new batch of ideas he brings to his sophomore feature, which is why it's unfortunate how the screenplay is pretty shaky in other areas. The set-ups and foreshadowing of future events are not at all subtle, and that's a disappointment because Get Out proved Peele knows how to be extremely clever with foreshadowing. For example, we watch Jason accidentally lock himself in a closet at the beach house, and everyone and his brother should be thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if that locked closet will come into play later on." Instead of a bunch of satisfying, "Hey! I remember that from early in the film!" moments, Us contains far too many, "Yep. I saw that coming" moments. The only true surprise of the film comes at the very end, which is quite refreshing considering how you can see the several other revelations coming from ten miles away.
It would have taken Jordan Peele the effort of a lifetime for him to top Get Out, so I guess that's to say it was to be expected for Peele's second horror film, Us, to be on a somewhat inferior level. Nonetheless, Us shows more bright flashes of Jordan Peele's undeniable film-making talent, as well as more excitement for what he can bring for the future of the genre. The thought-provoking story and the remarkable lead performance from Lupita Nyong'o make this for one of the more stand-out horror films in recent memory, alongside the likes of Get Out, Hereditary, and A Quiet Place. Unfortunately, Peele's script is not as sharp as before, evident in predictable set-ups that end up leaving us with few to no real surprises. Overall, a perfectly satisfying horror film, but one that missed its chance to be something great.
Recommend? Yes, I'd recommend seeing it.
Respect is how the young keep us at a distance, so we don't remind them of an unpleasant truth.
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Dave Hill
Here we are, folks! It's not a fantasy anymore! Game of Thrones' eighth and final season is finally upon us, and man, are we all super excited and super sad to see what transpires over the course of these last six episodes. There have been teases of multiple main character deaths, as well as hype of what will be the longest battle sequence ever put to film or television, so if you take those two things into account, as well as the fact that the filming schedule for this season lasted from October 2017 all the way to July 2018, then we may be in for something far bloodier than all the previous seven seasons combined, and something that could go down as a historic moment in television history. Of course, this all can't happen in one episode, and D&D and several of the actors promised that season eight would not fall short of having intimate or emotional scenes, because, as groundbreaking as the action is surely to be later on, there is still plenty of conflict and discussion to be had among several of the characters, and thus, it wouldn't be right for Game of Thrones to completely lose its human core. Humanity and emotional resonance are what's at the heart of "Winterfell", the first episode of season eight: one that delivers plenty of long overdue reunions, some brand new character get-togethers, and even some unexpected twists.
Anyone who goes into this episode expecting non-stop death and destruction is fooling themselves. A major component of why Game of Thrones' action has always been so enthralling is because the show always goes out of its way to build up one of the most critical parts of the action: the characters involved. Now before, building up the action meant that an episode or two had to be, shall we say, sacrificed, for the sake of bigger and better payoffs later on. Earlier, battle-preceding episodes like "The Prince of Winterfell" or The Bear and the Maiden Fair" are considerably some of Game of Thrones' weakest episodes, not because they're poorly executed, but because they play out in a way that says, "we're mostly gearing up for that big battle that's right around the corner", and this is a bit problematic because those episodes have a difficult time standing out on their own. I want to argue though, that "Winterfell" is not like these previous "battle-hype" episodes, because it's the culmination of all our beloved characters coming together, and how, after being separate across the world for so many years, they finally return home, to the one place where it all started.
"Winterfell" makes several callbacks to "Winter is Coming", the first of which happens right during the opening few seconds, when a boy walks through a crowd and climbs to higher ground to see who's heading to Winterfell. In what is easily the most prominent callback to the first episode, everyone stops to watch as Jon, Daenerys, and Daenerys' army march up to Winterfell, mirroring the way that Robert Baratheon and the Lannisters previously marched into Winterfell. What's intriguing is how this procession has quite the opposite reception from before: whereas Ned was honored to bring King Robert into his home, Sansa doesn't even try to hide her disdain for Daenerys, a disdain that many of the other Northern lords echo when they question Jon about his decision to relinquish his title of King in the North. Establishing Daenerys as "the bad guy" is something that "Winterfell" does quite a lot of, as just about everyone who meets with her and talks with her for the first time finds a way to get on bad terms with her. This is none more true than with Sam, who learns that Daenerys executed both his father and her brother, something that sends him away almost breaking down in tears. If we were to give an acting award for "Winterfell", it would easily go to John Bradley. Bradley has always been great as Sam, but he takes it to a whole new level here: the way he tries to fight back tears is as natural-looking as I've ever seen someone on the brink of crying in a TV series.
It doesn't stop there with Sam. In what I thought was a surprising twist, Sam ends up being the one that tells Jon who his real parents are and that he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. The season seven finale (and even the start of this episode) led us to believe that Bran would be the one to tell Jon. Having Sam be the one, though, I think is a very smart writing decision, mostly because Jon has spent a far greater deal of time with Sam than he has with Bran. Jon doesn't know how different Bran is now, so to have Bran be the one to tell him about his true lineage would not have had the same emotional payoff. Jon has complete trust in Sam, which is why it's all the more crushing for Jon to hear such life-changing news from who has been considerably his closest friend.
As expected, Jon isn't exactly thrilled to hear that he is a Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. I suppose I could start referring to him as Aegon now, as that is his actual name, but he's been Jon Snow for so long that I don't think I'm going to break that habit now with only so many episodes left. Although "Winterfell" contains a lot of set-up for what's soon to come, something that people may not realize right away is the dangerous spot the events of this episode put Daenerys in. After all is said and done in the episode's 54 minutes, Daenerys is surrounded by opposition on all sides, and it's a massive role reversal from where she's been for the majority of the series. The Night King and the Army of the Dead are coming, Sansa and the other Lords of Winterfell do not approve of her, and now her own lover is aware that he has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than she does. How Daenerys will react to learning Jon's true heritage and how she will respond to all this opposition is yet to be seen, but I have a strong feeling that it will lead to somewhere that will be catastrophic.
I think I should stop now making this episode sound like all doom and gloom, because "Winterfell" has some exceptionally heartwarming scenes, as well as some hilarious one-liners. No scene is more heartwarming than the reunion everyone has wanted more than any other: Jon and Arya. These two have been true to themselves through thick and thin, and that one scene between them back in "The Kingsroad" was enough to convince us that these two have always had a special friendship. While Arya doesn't share with Jon all the details about what she's been through, I think Jon would feel proud if and when he learns who Arya is now, because he's always taken a liking to her tomboy personality and her fondness for swords and killing. Arya is actually quite the reunion queen, reuniting with both the Hound and Gendry, on top of hugging it out with Jon at the heart tree. While Jon and Arya's reunion easily takes the title for most heartwarming, the one reunion to close out the episode is the most exciting one: Jaime Lannister arriving in Winterfell and getting spooked by Bran, who had told us earlier he was waiting for, "an old friend". You could argue that Jaime was the one who kicked off the series' chain of events by pushing Bran out the window, so it's fitting that things would come full circle by having these two see each other again in Winterfell, except now, both are vastly different characters.
There's so much going on in Winterfell that I haven't even written a word yet about what happens in King's Landing. Cersei greets Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann), the leader of the Golden Company, who disappoints her by telling her they were unable to bring elephants with them on their sea voyage. Oh boy, were the Twitter jokes and complaints overflowing with this little tidbit, especially when Cersei grumbles later about wanting to get elephants. I'm not going to waste time on this. No, there will not be any elephants. Go see Dumbo if you're so upset. Anyway, it's a tough life right now for Cersei, especially when she has go so far as to have sex with Euron Greyjoy to ensure he stays loyal to her. Cersei's few allies are very unstable, and with no enemies to confront at the moment, she is, in a bizarre way, powerless. She's Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but the title is so empty of meaning right now that there's no more satisfaction to be had. The only way Cersei will be able to feel complete is if she can destroy all her remaining enemies, but they're all so far away right now that she's basically stuck on an island with no way to get off. I am quite sure that the action will make its way to King's Landing sooner or later. What none of us know right now is who is bringing that action.
For now, all the action is in the North. The giant meeting with Jon, Daenerys, Sansa, and all the Northern lords turns out to be a lot shorter than I was hoping, and this was the main thing that had me wishing the episode was just a tad bit longer. This was the time for all the characters to talk about the impending threat of the White Walkers, and how, despite all their disagreements, they don't have time to bicker amongst each other and take sides. They're all on the same side now, and time is running out for them to get ready. Maybe we'll have another one of these giant meetings in the next episode, and if that's the case, then forget everything I was just griping about.
Two more things I want to get to wrap up, and in hopes of preventing this review from going on too much longer, I'll try to give the short version of it: Theon rescues Yara and leaves her to go and take back the Iron Islands, wanting to help fight in The Great War. While I feel this rescue mission was a bit too easy, I also think it would have been a little too predictable had it been "Theon vs. Euron" for Yara's life. If Euron is to die later this season, I still think it makes the most sense for it to be at the hands of Theon, and now without the "rescuing Yara" detail to worry about, such a final showdown between Theon and his uncle would be a lot more suspenseful.
Second thing: I am so happy that Game of Thrones finally gives some quality screen time to Rhaegal, who takes Jon for a ride alongside Daenerys and Drogon. Don't get me wrong: Drogon has been awesome, but I've always felt like Rhaegal and Viserion have never gotten the attention they deserve. I get it: CGI is expensive, and D&D couldn't just flaunt the dragons around like dancers at a strip club, but when you're one of only three dragons left in the world, you don't want people to completely forget about you. Knowing what's at stake now though, I am confident all three dragons are going to be getting major screen time the rest of the way, especially when one of them is currently undead.
Season eight has promised us truck loads of action, a gigantic number of deaths, and a finale that made the actors weep and contemplate life for hours on end when they first read it. "Winterfell" has next to no blood, nor any significant deaths, although it does give us a lot of happy moments to cry about. To say this episode was a disappointment because it didn't give us any action or death is missing the point: this is most likely the final time we will get to watch all these characters bonding and enjoying what could be the last few peaceful days of their lives. Everyone in Winterfell knows what's coming. They'll be as ready as they can be once The Night King and his Army reach Winterfell. For one last time though, Game of Thrones dedicates an episode to diving deep into the interpersonal relationship between its characters, exploring what has driven them since day one and how much all of them have changed. After seven seasons of being apart, the characters that have been with us the longest have come to meet at the place where everything began. "Winterfell" expresses where we are now by mirroring what much of what happened when Game Thrones first began. Not everything is perfect, but for what will certainly be the calmest episode of season eight, it's amazing how much happens in one place, and realizing just how far we've come.
There is only one war that matters: The Great War...and it is here.
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It is quite fascinating that D&D followed up one of Game of Thrones' most problematic episodes with one of its most important episodes. Normally, it's a low-stakes episode that follows up a masterful episode, but as we're finally at the point where all of our main characters must come together to fight a common enemy, all bets are off. Season seven had already done enough to excite us with long-running characters meeting up, but "The Dragon and the Wolf" triples that excitement, giving us a meeting of main characters in King's Landing that resembles a coming-together of superstars like in the Super Smash Bros. video games. On top of the giant meeting in King's Landing, "The Dragon and the Wolf" closes out several other character arcs, while making it very clear that season eight will be unlike anything we've seen before.
Let's jump right into the events in King's Landing, because, oh boy, is there a lot to take away: The first thing that D&D do is give us all some hype for the proposed Cleganebowl: The Hound walks up to his zombified brother and tells him he's always known who's coming for him. I can't say that it's a given The Hound and The Mountain will have a fight to the death in season eight, but I think this little bit of dialogue is all the proof you need that Cleganebowl is something D&D have at least thought about. So after the brief stare down between the Clegane brothers, Jon and his entourage show their captured wight to Cersei, and well, let's just say that everyone whose never seen a wight before is a little bit startled. There are two reactions I especially love: that of Jaime and that of Qyburn. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has always been terrific with his facial expressions, and I love the genuinely dispirited look on his face when Daenerys tells him there are at least 100,000 soldiers in the Army of the Dead. Qyburn, meanwhile, picks up the severed arm of the wight and observes it like he just fell in love.
The reactions of everyone in Cersei's party should be enough to tell us that the journey beyond the Wall to capture a wight wasn't a complete failure. Jaime, Cersei, and even Euron Greyjoy fully believe the White Walkers' existence, but, as usual with Cersei, there's a catch. She agrees to send her armies North on the condition that Jon remains neutral between her and Daenerys. When Jon admits he has already sworn himself to Daenerys, well, that's the end of the meeting. If you think about it, this moment has some ties back to what went down between Ned Stark and the Lannisters back in season one. Ned had remained truthful, up until he falsely confessed to treason, which still resulted in him being executed. Jon has always done what he could to uphold Ned's legacy, ensuring that there would always be a sense of honor and truthfulness in a world filled with lies and betrayal. How this ties back into what Ned did in season one is that Jon doesn't want to take the kind of risk that Ned did. Even though he knew Cersei would retract her support, Jon will not let others die because of lies and the failure to uphold certain promises. Despite disagreement from the likes of Daenerys and Tyrion, Jon has remained firm on his stance that, if and when he's going to die, it's not going to be because he disgraced Ned's legacy or because he betrayed himself in any way.
We then get what is easily the most critical scene of the season for Tyrion, as he willingly goes to meet with his sister: the one person who wants him dead more than anyone. Oh, how I missed Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage exchanging dialogue with one another. I think the main reason these two have always been so wonderful with their conversations is because Headey and Dinklage have such a deep knowledge and understanding of their respective characters that they both know the exact way to speak their dialogue to one another. When it comes to things like tone of voice and dialogue speed, Headey and Dinklage are perfectly in tune with how to speak to one another. This is an especially memorable conversation, as the two discuss how they both want to preserve their family's legacy, and how different things would have been had Tyrion never killed Tywin. No characters in Game of Thrones have talked about preserving their House more than the Lannisters, and even in these dark times with The Great War looming, the Lannister children will do anything and everything to keep their great House alive. I think this conversation creates a lot of suspense for what the Lannisters, specifically Tyrion, will try to do in season eight. What will be more important to them: the survival of their own House, or risking everything to help everyone survive?
In the end, Tyrion seems to convince Cersei to change her mind and send her armies North, but we know it's not ever that simple with her. Cersei once again shows us that nothing matters to her other than her family's well-being and her own desire for power. Instead of heading North to assist in The Great War, Cersei is going to hang back in King's Landing and await the winner of the great battle, which she plans to confront with the help of The Golden Company. This is the last straw for Jaime. Finally seeing his sister for what a power-hungry, selfish Queen she has become, Jaime abandons her and heads North. Season seven has always teased this separation between Jaime and Cersei, but honestly, I think this separation is rooted way back in season four. Cersei has been driven mad by the loss of her father and her children, while Jaime has become more honorable and sympathetic to those around him. Although the two seemed to have rekindled their relationship from time to time, the two were never going to be fully in sync ever again, and when Cersei chooses herself over helping to fight the greatest threat in all of Westeros, Jaime chooses to follow what has developed him so much as a character over the years.
What a monumental episode for the Lannister siblings. There's still lots of other non-Lannister matters to discuss, one of which is the conclusion to the clash between Petyr Baelish and the Stark siblings. Sansa talks with Littlefinger about Arya and her worries that Arya might try to murder her. When Arya is later summoned to be questioned, Sansa gives us a hefty plot twist: instead of accusing Arya of murder and treason, she accuses Baelish. Panic quickly sets in for Baelish when he realizes he has no allies in the crowd, nor any means of worming his way to freedom. Sansa ignores Baelish's pleas for mercy, thanking him for his lessons before Arya walks up and slits his throat. You gotta love it: Sansa turns the tables on Baelish and has him killed in a way that Baelish would try to have others killed. Getting cornered somewhere I think was the only way that Baelish could go out. Since day one, Baelish has tried to maneuver the game pieces in a way that would work to his advantage. Whatever lies he had to tell or whomever he had to betray, Baelish would do anything and everything to watch the world burn and get every bit closer to one day sitting on The Iron Throne, or whatever would be left of it. The only person he would never dare to have killed was Sansa, although he seemed to have no issues with her getting hurt or abused. Never suspecting that Sansa could plot against him ended up being Baelish's crucial mistake. He figured if he could help and protect Sansa just enough so that he gained her trust, he could plot and scheme to his heart's desire. In the end, the one person Baelish loved and tried to keep by his side at all times, was the one who would catch him in the act and finally take him down.
The one objection I have seen to Baelish's death is how it corresponds with the feuding between Sansa and Arya during the last few episodes. I think Sansa would never even dare think about murdering one of her own family, no matter how much they weirded her out. I think Sansa, having grown smarter and smarter over the years about how the game works, has been secretly planning for a long time on how to take down Baelish. She couldn't trap him in some kind of intervention or trial or what not. She had to catch him when he was expecting the least, and that would be if she did something like bring her own sister in for questioning among all the other Northern lords. I don't think there was any kind of act behind Sansa and Arya's feuding. I think Sansa, deep down, was thinking she could use her feuding with Arya to her advantage, and that's exactly what she does. Baelish, perhaps the most dangerous man in Westeros aside from Tywin Lannister, learned the hard way that you can't keep scheming and plotting without having it come back to bite you in the ass one day.
All is well again in Winterfell, at least until Jon returns with Daenerys and her army. "The Dragon and the Wolf", signifying the union between House Stark and House Targaryen, also signifies the complete coming together of Jon and Daenerys, or ice and fire, if you will. The two finally give in to their feelings for one another and have sex, although Tyrion is standing outside in the hallway and easily deduces what's going on in Daenerys' bedroom. So while we'll have that little bit of drama to worry about next season, Bran explains to Samwell about Jon's true identity, aka: the most important kept secret in all of Westeros. The R+L=J theory is confirmed. Jon Snow's parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. The name spoken by Lyanna Stark that was muted at the end of season six is revealed. Jon Snow is not Jon Snow. He was never a bastard. His real name is Aegon Targaryen, and he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
......and Ned Stark knew it this entire time.
It was theorized to death that Daenerys was not the last Targaryen, and this episode confirms any and all of those theories to be true. Certainly Jon and Daenerys will learn this information early in season eight, and when they do, how will they react? Will Jon still commit his loyalty to Daenerys, or will Daenerys step aside and accept the fact that Jon has a better claim to the Throne than she does? Time will tell. All we do know is that once this secret gets out to everyone else currently in Winterfell, well...it won't be pretty.
To summarize, a lot of emotions going around as everyone not named Cersei Lannister or anyone who has the last name of Greyjoy is heading North to prepare for the battle to end all against The White Walkers. Speaking of White Walkers, where have they been at this whole episode? Oh yeah, that's right: they close out season seven by injecting us with another heavy dose of pure terror. The White Walkers finally arrive at the Wall, which the Night King blasts to smithereens with the help of the now undead Viserion (*insert Donald Trump Wall joke here*). No more, "winter is coming", or "The Long Night is coming". The Long Night is here. The Night King is here. The White Walkers are here. The Army of the Dead is here. The dead have finally invaded the Seven Kingdoms, and the fear that George R.R. Martin and D&D created back in the series' opening scene in "Winter is Coming" is finally realized. The ultimate battle for survival is about to begin. Buckle up, folks. Season eight is finally here.
The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Despite a changing of the seasons and a shorter slate of episodes, season seven has had one particular group be MIA up to this point: the White Walkers. The Night King and his army terrified us in their slow march scene in "Dragonstone", but after that, they've been out of the picture almost entirely. Not to worry: the war between Daenerys and Cersei has been put on hold, and that means almost all the surviving characters now have one, unified focus: defeating the Army of the Dead. At long last, we have a Game of Thrones episode whose plot is (almost) entirely dedicated to the Army of the Dead, unlike before when the White Walkers would only make up a large chunk of an episode here and there.
What should, on paper, be one of Game of Thrones' most exciting episodes turns out to be its most scrutinized, and not in a good way. I said before that one episode in season seven would get carried away with the ultra-fast pacing. This is that episode. The journey to retrieve a wight brings about a whole host of problems, many of which revolve around the logic-defying sense of time that the episode never really takes the time to establish. Does this journey take one day, or is it supposed to be spread out over the course of a week? This is one of those times where you could really use a "one week later" time card, so that you can have at least a basic idea of how much time Jon and his group have been out and about.
I know I'm making it sound like this is a bad episode, but there's too much exciting action and enjoyable dialogue to say that this episode has nothing of value. Plus, "Beyond the Wall" gives us what I think is the most crushing death scene since "The Door". If I'm talking about death scenes, I think I'll start off my actual review of the episode by talking about the other death that happens in this episode: the botched one. You would be correct to assume that at least one character in this superstar raiding party would be killed, and the character who gets the axe is Thoros of Myr, sadly the most disposable member of the group. Jon and his party run into a wight polar bear, and the bear makes lunch out of Thoros before the other men kill it. If Thoros had died right then and there, I wouldn't be making any sort of lengthy discussion out of his death, but what comes next is a true head-scratcher. Beric seemingly heals Thoros' wounds, and we later see Thoros walking with the rest of the group as if nothing happened (just a flesh wound). Then when the hoard of wights attack the group and they get trapped on the small island, Thoros apparently succumbs to his wounds and dies. So basically, Thoros was dead, then he was alive, and then he was dead again. He doesn't make any sort of final speech. We don't even see him so much as acknowledge to the rest of the group that he's not going to make it. There are no shots that focus on Thoros once the wights attack, which leaves his official death very jarring. Thoros may never have been a hugely important character, but this was not the way to let his character go out.
So Thoros gets killed, but "Beyond the Wall" frustratingly provides more evidence of plot armor for the other members of the raiding party. Now, I don't have a problem with characters like Jon and Beric surviving. The story still has to make sense at the end of the day, and some characters still have arcs they need to complete. What's frustrating is that some characters are put in situations where they should be killed, only for them to get saved in a miraculous fashion. This is especially bad with Tormund. When the wights begin to attack the island, Tormund is clearly getting yanked around by a group of wights, but they just can't seem to bite down on his flesh and kill him. I suppose the intention was to scare us by having Tormund come this close to getting killed, but when you see other wildlings get attacked and killed in a similar fashion, it's more an implication of plot armor than it is of Tormund getting lucky.
Ah yai yai. Let me shift to something different before I get too carried away. Back in Winterfell, Sansa and Arya show us that they still don't know how to get along, as Arya calls out Sansa on a letter she wrote back in season one, asking for Robb to swear fealty to Joffrey. This scene has drawn criticisms for.....I really don't know what. The majority of angry responses I've seen have revolved around what exactly Arya is trying to do here, especially because Sansa perfectly defends her stance, explaining that she was forced to write the letter and would never think about betraying her family. I think what Arya is alluding to is how fragile that trust is among the people of the North, and even something like a letter from long ago could make them fear that Sansa is secretly conspiring against the Northern Lords. Arya fully supports Jon and House Stark, and I think she raises a valid point here, as she can see signs that Sansa is not fully on board with Jon, and she's willing to be up front with Sansa about it. Did people forget the beef that Jon and Sansa had between each other in the first two episodes of the season? Arya is mostly bringing Sansa's cynicism back to the fold and herabout her true motivations. Now that Arya's trained as a faceless assassin, she knows she can confront Sansa without fear of death. I also think this kind of clash was inevitable, considering how much the two have changed since they last saw each other back in season one. They've walked down different roads, and they've picked up opposing ideals along the way. Arya has remained loyal to her House despite all her struggles, while Sansa has grown extremely skeptical of nearly everyone around her. Neither are wrong. They're just coming from two very different places.
Alrighty then, back to the stuff beyond the wall. There's a lot of laughs and enjoyment to be had from the various conversations between members of the raiding party early in the episode. Jon and Jorah have a neat little talk about Jeor Mormont, and why Jon should keep the Mormont family sword Longclaw. Jorah regrets having disgraced his House back in the day, so I think, to him, taking Longclaw would be an insult to both his father and his family's legacy. I hope for Jorah's sake that he never finds himself alone in a room with Lyanna Mormont. In other conversations, Gendry confronts Beric and the Brotherhood about them selling him off to Melisandre, with the Hound making light of Gendry's sexual encounter with her. The Hound is especially great here: questioning Tormund about his infatuation with Brienne, and throwing more insults around just because he can. An insult, however, is what triggers the wight hoard to attack the island: The Hound starts insulting the wights and throwing rocks at them, which ends up triggering them.
This is where the episode really picks up with the action. This is also, however, where the pacing is at its most problematic. First off, Gendry is able to run at lightning speed back to Eastwatch to tell Davos to send a raven to Dragonstone. Then when all hope seems lost for Jon and his group against the attacking wights, Daenerys and her dragons arrive. I can forgive the part about Daenerys flying all the way from Dragonstone to the where Jon and his group are. Dragons are fast flyers, so that's not worth nitpicking. What is worth nitpicking is how Gendry was able to get back to Eastwatch in record time, and then how was the raven able to get to Dragonstone, also in record time? If we had a better idea of how much time had passed while everyone was stuck on the island, then I think we'd all be a little more forgiving of how all these things happen so fast. Unfortunately, there's no dialogue to tell us how long the wight hoard has been staring at everyone on the island, and we never get an idea of exactly how far out from Eastwatch did they travel. All these problems are problems that could be easily fixed, but because it would be next to near impossible to spread everything over the course of, say, two episodes, it's almost like there was no choice but to rush through it all in a single run.
I am a bit forgiving, however, because my gosh does it hit you hard to watch what happens after Daenerys arrives with her dragons. A moment of pure exuberance (the dragons flying around and burning thousands of undead) is immediately followed by a death that none of us ever wanted: the death of one of the dragons. As soon as we see The Night King get handed an ice javelin, you just know one of the dragons is a goner. The Night King throws the javelin and kills poor Viserion, who screams in agony as blood comes pouring out of his neck area, until he falls to the ground and sinks into the water below. This is really tough to watch, and not just because of how graphic the scene is with Viserion bleeding and falling out of the sky. For so long, it seemed like there was nothing that could kill the dragons, and that's why it seemed inevitable that Daenerys would take the throne. But The Night King kills Viserion with one shot, and everyone stops and watches in horror, unwilling to believe that such a magnificent creature was killed. It's such a heartbreaking moment, that I think everyone completely forgets that The Night King tries (and fails) to kill Drogon just a few moments later.
On a slightly happier note, Jon and Daenerys finally come to be on full terms with one another. Daenerys vows to destroy the Night King and his army, and Jon bends the knee. I do hope it's readily obvious by now that these two are in love, especially after Daenerys sees Jon's wounds, finally understanding the slip of the tongue that Davos almost had back at their first meeting. So in the end, everyone leaves Eastwatch with heavy hearts, but oh no, the sadness quickly turns to fear when The White Walkers pull Viserion's body out of the lake (I'm not even going to think about getting into that stupid "where'd they get all the big chains?" debate), and The Night King resurrects him. The White Walkers did plenty before to scare us. Now they have a freaking dragon.
In my mind, "Beyond the Wall" is a love it or hate it kind of episode. Many will love it for its exhilarating action and its tragic loss of our beloved Viserion. Others will hate it and call it the worst Game of Thrones episode ever because of the break-neck pacing and logic-defying chain of events. For me personally, there are parts of the episode I love and other parts that I dislike. Anything potentially new I can add is this: this was a cursed episode before it was made, because either D&D and Alan Taylor had to go with an extremely rushed pace, or they would have to stretch out the journey beyond Eastwatch so paper thin, that we would get two episodes, both of which would have dull and lengthy sections of nothing happening. Either way, it was a can't win situation, unless D&D would have decided to scrap the screenplay altogether and try something new. Many angry Internet people will spend extensive amounts of time deriding this episode and saying all the writing has gone down the toilet. Always keep this in mind though: making movies and television series is hard work. We always have the easy job of just watching what was made. No matter how troubled the screenplay or the overall execution is "Beyond the Wall", there's still plenty of hard work that went into it, and that's something that can't be ignored.
Here we all are...at the edge of the world, at the same moment, heading in the same direction for the same reason.
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Written by: Dave Hill
After all the fire-breathing and Lannister-slaughtering in "The Spoils of War", season seven dials back a little in "Eastwatch", a quieter and more grounded episode that still does a lot to move everything forward. For all intent and purposes, the war between Daenerys and Cersei is over, with the focus now being almost entirely on the White Walkers and how all the living intend to combat the dead. Odd thing for me to say, as the Night King and his army appear for all of one minute in this episode: Bran sends an unkindness of ravens over the Wall to locate the Army of the Dead. If you've been slightly upset by the lack of screen time for the White Walkers so far this season, fear not: the final two episodes of the season will likely satisfy your craving.
In the meantime, we've got some other areas of business to attend to, particularly a series of reunions between some characters that haven't seen each other for a while. There have been a ton of reunions already in season seven, so why not add on a few more? Jorah Mormont, now healed of his greyscale, heads to Dragonstone and is welcomed back into Daenerys' services. Gendry Baratheon, after setting the world record for longest time rowing, gets back together with Davos Seaworth. There aren't just reunions in "Eastwatch" though: Jorah, Gendry, and Davos all meet up with other characters we've known for some time such as The Hound, Tormund, and the Brotherhood Without Banners. Game of Thrones is now starting to look like a pro sports All-Star game, and, accusations of plot armor aside, it's hard not to feel a little giddy, seeing so many beloved faces altogether in the same frame.
There's a lot that happens to lead up to these reunions and new alliances, which is to say that "Eastwatch" is an incredibly busy episode full of productive conversations and brand new revelations. The opening scene immediately resolves the "cliffhanger" that "The Spoils of War" left us with, as Bronn pulls Jaime ashore, and the two come to the conclusion that the Lannisters have no answers for Daenerys' dragons. I mean, this had to be the opening scene. Why would Dave Hill foolishly drag us along, thinking that we wouldn't get our confirmation of Jaime drowning or not drowning until near the end? Still, it's nice to see Jaime and Bronn have a quiet moment to themselves, reflecting on the destruction they just witnessed. I especially love when Jaime gets back to King's Landing and tries to tell Cersei that the war is a lost cause. He is the only one who has actually seen what the Lannisters are up against, but Cersei continues to be defiant. I go back to what I alluded to a bit in my review of "Dragonstone". Despite the intimate moments that Jaime and Cersei share throughout the season, there's no denying that the relationship between the two is weakening by the day. Jaime is a realist who now fully understands what his family is up against, while Cersei continues to be blinded by her own lust for power. Isn't it amazing that Cersei is going to find a way to drive both of her brothers away, especially the brother she seems inseparable from? Season seven won't bring total closure on Jaime and Cersei's relationship, but the eventual break-up between the two will be a significant milestone as we head into season eight.
I was lying a bit when I said this was a quieter and more grounded episode, because Daenerys is not done blasting fire at her enemies. In what is, in my opinion, the most surprising deaths of the season, Daenerys sentences Randyll and Dickon Tarly to death, burning them with Drogon's fire. No, really. I did find the deaths of Randyll and Dickon to be the most surprising deaths of the season, and you know what, I applaud the way it's done. Randyll and Dickon refuse to bend the knee and pretty much accept their sentences. If this was one of the Starks or some kind of noble hero, chances are Randyll and Dickon would be put in chains and have their fates decided on a trial sometime later. But Daenerys does not even entertain such a thought. She sees that these men continue to be defiant in her presence, and so, because they are her sworn enemies, she does what she's supposed to: destroy them. I'd have thought that Randyll and Dickon would escape like Jaime and Bronn, but hey, I guess not every character has plot armor. Tyrion sees all this play out, and he discusses later with Varys his concern about Daenerys' growing ruthlessness. Unfortunately, this little subplot is something that gets dropped almost entirely for the rest of the season, because, well, there just isn't the time to explore it. I am glad though that Game of Thrones spends at least a little bit of time on the possibility of Daenerys becoming her father, because it sheds more light on her character, as well as give us more insight of what House Targaryen truly is: people that resemble fierce, unforgiving dragons, capable of burning and destroying everything in sight. Daenerys has tried so long to avoid being this dragon, but, as Olenna tells her earlier, Daenerys is a dragon, and if she wants to take what she believes is hers, she must embrace this identity.
Now then, we get to the parts of the episode that play right into the hands of the, "time-travelling at the speed of light" criticism that many people have about season seven. I love how many people say, "season seven was garbage", and yet, most of the criticisms come from things that happen in the final three episodes. Perhaps the better way to say it is: "the second half of season seven was garbage". I digress, though. Remember when it took Stannis Baratheon almost a full season to sail from Dragonstone to King's Landing? Well, he should have had Davos manning his fleet, because Davos is able to take himself and Tyrion from Dragonstone to King's Landing, then back to Dragonstone, all in one single episode. To be fair, if you look on the map of Westeros, Dragonstone is not very far from King's Landing, so I think the lightning-speed travel criticism breaks down a little here. I forgot one key reunion earlier, one that is bittersweet to the tenth degree: the reunion between Tyrion and Jaime. It's not a formal reunion by any means, but this is something that has been a long time coming: how Jaime (and Cersei) would react upon seeing Tyrion again, following the death of their father. The Lannister siblings will never be able to go back to living in harmony together (not that they ever did, but you know what I mean), and even in these dark times where winter has returned and an Army of the Dead is soon to be on everyone's doorstep, Jaime and Cersei will never be able to put aside the resentment they feel for their younger brother. I do hope Jaime and Tyrion do have a more formal discussion later on. It was such a joy watching the two exchange dialogue back in earlier seasons.
So while Tyrion is busy with his brother, Davos finds Gendry, who has been making weapons in Flea Bottom for who knows how long. Let's be clear on one thing: D&D never had any intent on writing Gendry off the show, and they even join in on all the jokes and fun that people had about Gendry's seemingly endless rowing. Davis has the absolute perfect line upon finding Gendry: "I thought you'd still be rowing." Not only is Gendry back, but he pretty much jumps altogether into the center of the ring, as he agrees to accompany Jon, Davos, and Jorah on their mission to Eastwatch. I suppose I have to talk about the reasoning for why Jon is taking a party North, and why so many people think it's a stupid mission. On paper, it's quite simple: go retrieve one of the dead men, bring it back to show to Cersei and Daenerys, and prove once and for all that the Army of the Dead exists. Now why were there so many people barking that this mission is stupid? Cersei still won't help them? The wight could die on the way back? Honestly, I have never been able to pin down an exact reason as to why people hate this mission so much. My only rebuttal is this: WHAT OTHER CHOICE DO THEY HAVE?
But I'll get more into the Eastwatch mission next episode, when it's actually happening. The last thing I will mention is the clever and somewhat hilarious way that Dave Hill drops one of the biggest reveals in all of Game of Thrones. In Oldtown, Gilly reads through a High Septon's journal, where she reads about an annulment and a Prince "Ragger". If you've never taken the time to research the events that happened before the beginning of the series, this may not seem like much of anything to you. However, if you know who Prince "Ragger" is, then this basically is confirmation of the long-standing R+L=J theory, and of all the characters who would confirm the theory for us, of course it would be Gilly. Once again, Game of Thrones surprises us by having a seemingly overlooked character make a game-changing discovery. The reason this scene is kind of funny is not because Gilly mispronounces the name; it's because the reveal is treated like it's an off-hand comment. Sam doesn't even so much as question Gilly about what she's reading, and Gilly, with little to no knowledge of who has ruled on the Iron Throne, has no idea of the magnitude of what she just read. The one little bit of information that could shake up all of Westeros is revealed in a small room in far-off Oldtown. Like Fargo said, a lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.
With tons of reunions and several shocking new reveals, "Eastwatch" puts season seven right where it needs to be, coming down to its final two episodes. There isn't a whole lot of action and mayhem, but hey, that's a good thing when we're at the point where the action can take over all the story telling at a moment's notice. "Eastwatch" doesn't skimp at all on the important conversations nor the memorable character moments that the series has been so rich with since "Winter is Coming". Maybe the episode does abuse the ultra-fast pacing in some spots, but I think we would all prefer to cut to the chase as opposed to dragging out travel time over the course of a full season. Our time with these characters is soon coming to an end. It's best to enjoy every new moment we can still get with them.
Enough with the clever plans.
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
One thing I have never done while watching Game of Thrones is single out a particular episode and declare it my absolute favorite. A part of that is because, at the time of this writing, I have technically not seen the entire series, and with the hotly anticipated season eight soon to premiere, I am betting that there will be at least one or two episodes from the final season that I will rank as episodes I most enjoyed watching. If I was forced to choose my all-time favorite Game of Thrones episode though, I don't know, but I think I just might pick "The Spoils of War": an episode that D&D put together seemingly with me in mind. Never mind that, strictly by run time, it's the shortest of all Game of Thrones episodes. Sometimes, it's quality over quantity, and quality is sky-high over the course of the episode's 50 minutes, culminating with what is not only one of the best action sequences ever put together in the series, but an action sequence that is easily the most satisfying of any fight or battle that has taken place during the series thus far.
Another appropriate name for "The Spoils of War" would be, "The Dragon Strikes Back", or something else that sort of plays on The Empire Strikes Back from Star Wars. After losing all her allies and watching Tyrion's plan go up in smoke, Daenerys finally decides to cut the bullshit and be the dragon that Olenna Tyrell encouraged her to be. Daenerys has always striven to be a gentle, sympathetic ruler, but every now and then comes a time where something happens to make her incredibly angry, thereby making her tap into her true Targaryen roots and unleash a firestorm unlike anything the other lords and rulers of Westeros have ever seen. So yeah, basically what I'm saying is that Team Daenerys scores a victory so monumental that it's no wonder this is the end of all major battles between Daenerys' forces and the Lannisters, at least, for the forseeable future.
Ah, but let's not allow the final ten minutes to completely snuff out conversation about other things that happen in "The Spoils of War", particularly Arya's return to Winterfell and a full reunion between all the surviving Stark siblings. We should be shedding tears of joy watching all the Stark siblings back in Winterfell together for the first time since season one, and while we might shed a few tears, it's mostly bittersweet to watch Sansa, Arya, and Bran all talk with one another by the godswood. That's the way it should be, though: these three have changed so much since they last saw one another. They're no longer the innocent children that they once were when their parents were around and Robert Baratheon was still the king. Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven, Arya is a killer capable of taking on someone else's face, and Sansa has grown into a praiseworthy leader who is troubled by her ever-growing cynicism. As their conversation grows slightly more awkward by the minute, all three come to an understanding that, while they'll always be bonded by their House name, they will never be able to spend time laughing, smiling, and having fun the way they did back before any of this craziness ever began.
Among the three remaining Stark siblings, Sansa has been the one that remained the most "normal", and after Bran weirded her out last episode, it's now Arya's turn to weird Sansa out. Actually, I shouldn't say weirded out; what Arya does is make Sansa feel a bit nervous, as Sansa watches Arya hold her own in a training bout with Brienne. Oh yeah, and Littlefinger watches Arya too. I should have mentioned that Littlefinger gets weirded out by Bran too, as Bran repeats Littlefinger's "chaos is a ladder" phrase that Littlefinger mentioned to Varys back during season three. It may not seem like it right now, but Littlefinger is not exactly anyone's friend at the moment, nor does he have any sort of significant influence over what Jon and the other Northern Lords decide to do. The only thing that is keeping him from being driven out of Winterfell is his status as Lord of the Vale, and no matter how loyal he claims to be to Sansa, we all know Littlefinger will do anything and everything he can to climb further up the ladder, not caring one bit who falls and dies along the way. Bran being able to mimic Littlefinger's words back to him is a hugely important sign about where things are going both for Bran and Littlefinger. It's a sign that Bran is continuing to expand his encyclopedia, while Littlefinger is starting to feel that, now with all the Starks back together and having seen what they're all capable of, he might no longer be the most dangerous man in Winterfell.
Well, as busy as "The Spoils of War" is with the Starks and Winterfell, it's even more busy with Daenerys and everyone who is currently hanging out at Dragonstone. Jon is able to get Daenerys a little closer to believing that the White Walkers are real, showing her cave paintings depicting the Children of the Forest and the First Men fighting together against the White Walkers. Unfortunately for Jon, Daenerys is still unwilling to put aside her quest for the Iron Throne to go and assist in fighting the Army of the Dead. It's time like these you wish that video cameras and photographs existed in Westeros. It wouldn't change the series too much, right?
So then, all that's left is to get into the final ten minutes, where, the word "battle" does not at all describe what happens. Daenerys, Drogon, and the Dothraki versus Jaime, Bronn, the Lannisters, and the Tarlys. "Blackwater" was a battle. The wildling attack on Castle Black was a battle. This here, in "The Spoils of War" is not a battle. This is a slaughter: a slaughter that finally gives us a glimpse of what Daenerys' full power truly looks like. Some of the dialogue throughout the previous three episodes gave us hints of what Daenerys could do if she went at her enemies at full strength. Could you imagine if Daenerys brought all three of her dragons to this massacre? Maybe that's asking for too much, but hey, right now, nothing beats three grown dragons flying and breathing fire at hapless enemies.
Anyway, director Matt Shakman deserves high praise for having the battle largely be shown from Jaime's perspective, as we get several stationary, low angle shots that look like someone staring upward and watching helplessly as Drogon incinerates soldiers and wagons everywhere. The irony is seeing the psychological trauma wash over Jaime's face, when technically, he's on the side we should be rooting against. For years, the Lannisters have found a way to triumph over any House that has dared to stand in their way: the Starks, the Baratheons, and the Tyrells, just to name all the big ones. They've spearheaded so many of the events that broke our hearts and made us curse the day that House Lannister was born. Through all of seasons one through six, their only significant setback was the death of Tywin, but even after Tywin's death, Cersei and Jaime found a way to overcome all the new enemies that crept up beneath her feet. Finally though, here at the midway point of season seven, the Lannisters have run into a foe they cannot defeat. This massacre on the Roseroad is a loss so devastating and so substantial, it pretty much ends the war for the Iron Throne as we know it.
As satisfying as it may be to watch Lannister soliders get cut up by the Dothraki and get burnt to a crisp by Drogon, you can't help but think that Jaime is living out his worst nightmare. A part of why Jaime killed Daenerys' father Aerys was to prevent Aerys from burning innocent people alive and to prevent the Capital from going down in flames. As Jaime watches Drogon burn his men to death and turn the Roseroad into a war zone of fire and ash, he can't help but be reminded of the Mad King's final days and the day he was forever tagged with the name "Kingslayer". The nightmare he so desperately sought to avoid has, many years later, finally become a reality, and he is seeing all of it with his own two eyes. It should be no wonder that Jaime doesn't do a lot of fighting and commanding as the massacre takes place. When it becomes perfectly clear what he's up against, he can only stand back and watch, shaken by the very horror he thought he had permanently destroyed.
The only slightly disappointing thing to happen during "The Spoils of War" is how it ends, with one of the dumbest cliffhangers the show could ever give us: Jaime sinking into the Blackwater Rush, presumably to drown. Jaime Lannister did not survive this long just to drown, especially when we know that Bronn also fell into the water. I am guessing D&D wrote the ending to this episode knowing nobody would think Jaime would drown. They probably just couldn't think of a better closing shot. I'm willing to let this one go though, because, God damn it, those previous ten minutes are just so glorious.
I honestly do not care what kind of flaws may exist in "The Spoils of War". The massacre of the Lannister army is one of the most gripping and emotionally satisfying sequences that Game of Thrones has ever given us. After watching the Lannister army succeed time and time again, it does our hearts a ton of good to finally see them be squashed like a bug, while at the same time, finally getting to see what Daenerys' army would look like in an actual war. On top of everything that happens between Daenerys and the Lannisters, the siblings of House Stark continue to shine, with Arya taking the spotlight with her return to Winterfell and her enjoyable training bout with Brienne. For what will be the shortest Game of Thrones episode ever, it sure is one of the most memorable. There's not one single wasted second in "The Spoils of War", and I think you can watch it over and over again and not ever get the least bit bored with it. If that's not terrific television, then I don't know what is.
If we don't put aside our enmities and band together, we will die.
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Game of Thrones got its name from the first novel of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones. The series has a flurry of story lines that would take forever and a day to describe in length, so the easiest way to summarize Game of Thrones' story is that several noble Houses fight for supremacy in the country of Westeros, while an ancient evil awakens and threatens to wipe out everyone in their path. Of course, Game of Thrones is telling the same overarching story that Martin is telling in his book series, and since the novel series as a whole is known as A Song of Ice and Fire, it does make one wonder what exactly is the "Song" of this story, and what exactly does Martin mean by "Ice and Fire". I have no doubt that when Martin started writing his book series back in the 1990's, he had a vision of how this story would come to an end, and time will tell how much Game of Thrones' ending will compare to the ending of Martin's novels. With the show having surpassed the novels, D&D have now more so adapted material that Martin revealed to them about his upcoming novels, and with "The Queen's Justice", I think we get a pretty clear picture of what Martin has meant all along about "Ice and Fire".
From the very beginning, A Song of Ice and Fire and likewise Game of Thrones has been a story about Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, representing ice and fire, respectively. Now, that's not to diminish the importance of other characters like the Starks and the Lannisters, but as we get closer and closer to the end game, it is pretty clear that just about everything that will decide who rules Westeros when all is said and done, rests in the hands of Jon and Daenerys. I hate to sound a bit corny and say something is "destined", but honestly, I think it was always destined for Jon and Daenerys to meet, because, as Melisandre tells us during "Stormborn", Jon and Daenerys each have a role to play when The Long Night arrives. The exact details of this "role" are still a mystery, but for now, ice and fire have finally been brought together. The conversation between Jon and Daenerys to start off the episode is one of the strongest character discussions that Game of Thrones has ever had. It's not just because it's two of the series' main characters finally being in the same room together; it's because the conversation revolves purely around the two things that have been troubling Westeros ever since the series began: the fight for the Iron Throne and the impending threat of the Army of the Dead. Jon and Daenerys have been on similar journeys over the past seven seasons, and both have found a way to persevere. Despite this, their interests have been mutually exclusive: Daenerys has always sought to build up her power and return to Westeros in order to seize the Iron Throne. Jon, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to prepare for war with the White Walkers. It should not be any sort of surprise that the two disagree with each other, especially because Daenerys has never known of the Army of the Dead's existence. Why would she believe such a claim from a man she just met? Not surprisingly, the conversation ends without either side agreeing to anything, and unfortunately for Jon, he's basically stuck on Dragonstone for the time being.
I'll come back to what happens at Dragonstone later, because I do want to get to the other things that happen in this episode. Holy moly, is "The Queen's Justice" another jam-packed episode. The episode is plot-heavy, but it's the good kind of plot-heavy, featuring a boat-load of surprises and leaving us with a ton to digest before moving on to the next episode. After Euron and his fleet blew a hole in Daernerys' forces in "Stormborn", it only gets tougher for the Dragon Queen, as the Lannisters find another way to outmaneuver her. First, the Unsullied invade Casterly Rock and successfully take the castle. Although the siege lasts all of a few minutes, I disapprove of the decision to have the siege be frequently interrupted by shots of Tyrion back at Dragonstone, because it assures us the Unsullied will prevail, thus depriving the siege of any sort of suspense. However, this is followed up with a clever little surprise: Grey Worm and the Unsullied find that Casterly Rock had far fewer Lannister soldiers than expected, and this is because Jaime took the bulk of the Lannister army to Highgarden, where they wipe out the Tyrell army and seize their gold. If you don't recall, this was a bait-and-switch tactic that Robb Stark used against Jaime and the Lannisters back in season one, so it's pretty cool to now see Jaime use this same tactic. Props to D&D because this strategy is something I think hardly anyone was thinking about before season seven first aired.
Unfortunately, the fall of Highgarden means that everyone's favorite grandmother, Olenna, is a goner. It's bittersweet, though: even during her final scene, D&D ensure that Olenna goes out a winner. She reveals that she was the one who poisoned Joffrey, telling Jaime smugly to let Cersei know it was her who murdered their son. This will be one enemy that Cersei will never be able to deliver justice to. Olenna will go to her grave, happily content that she got away with murdering the boy king. The good news for Cersei is that she is able to deliver justice for the death of one of her other children: Euron returns to King's Landing and offers Ellaria and Tyene Sand as gifts to Cersei. Cersei throws Ellaria and Tyene in a dungeon, where Cersei poisons Tyene with the same poison that Ellaria used to kill Myrcella. Indira Varma confirmed that this was Ellaria' final scene, even though we don't see her die. Not that there's anything wrong with this being the end of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes; I just find it a bit odd that Ellaria and her daughter will be spending the rest of the series rotting in a dungeon while King's Landing is going to be the sight of a lot of special happenings for the rest of season seven, and likely at some point during season eight. It's honestly a disturbing way for Ellaria and her daughter to go out: being left to die a slow and horrible death, with the rest of the world having pretty much given up on you.
So while things are pretty grim right now for Team Daenerys, things only continue to get better for Team Stark, as we get our first legitimate Stark reunion with Sansa reuniting with Bran. Again, things are bittersweet, as these two Stark siblings are no longer who they were the last time they were in Winterfell together. Sansa has grown into a promising ruler, while Bran has developed psychic powers that stripped him of all personality. It's not bad writing nor bad acting that Bran is now about as exciting as a block of wood; when you've acquired as much new knowledge as he has had since season six, it's overwhelming, and doesn't really open any doors to be happy and excited. I would like to talk more about why the Sansa and Bran reunion is bittersweet, but I am going to push it off until next episode, because it'll make more sense when I can include the events in Winterfell from next episode.
For now, and to wrap things up in this review, let's go back to Dragonstone, where Tyrion acts as a middle man between Jon and Daenerys, following their initial conversation. I disagree with people claiming that Tyrion takes a major backseat in season seven. Tyrion has absolutely made his presence felt in these first three episodes, which I say is pretty impressive on the parts of D&D and Bryan Cogman. From his war planning to his counseling of Daenerys, Tyrion is far from an irrelevant figure right now, especially if you throw in the discussion he has with Jon about the White Walkers' existence and the reasons for why Daenerys' followers are loyal to her. I think Tyrion has always thought of Jon as a friend, because he knows Jon has struggled with his status as a bastard in the same way he has struggled with his own status as a dwarf. Though Tyrion is loyal to Daenerys' cause, he trusts that Jon would never lie and try to stab them someone in the back. Even if Jon says something as outrageous as, "The Dead are the enemy", he has to feel that Jon is telling the truth. So to further prove his underlying friendship to Jon, Tyrion is able to convince Daenerys to let Jon mine the dragonglass/obsidian on Dragonstone.
I think that's it then. Boy, does a lot go down in "The Queen's Justice": Cersei getting her revenge on the Sand Snakes, Sansa reuniting with Bran, the Unsullied taking Casterly Rock, and Jaime pulling off the same bait-and-switch tactic he once fell for. All of these are great highlights that deliver a flurry of surprises, and on top of it all, we get the meeting between ice and fire, the coming together of the two characters that will undoubtedly have the biggest role(s) to play when The Long Night arrives. In some ways, Game of Thrones has always been building up to Jon Snow meeting Daenerys Targaryen, and though the two are a bit on edge with each other at the moment, you can just tell that we will be seeing a lot more of these two together in the near future. Who knows what kind of song these two will play? Knowing Game of Thrones, even if it's a lovely song, it's going to hurt us one way or another.
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