Luke Cage

Marvel’s Netflix division is still going strong with Luke Cage.  While it’s an excellent TV series, there is one pet peeve:  While its plot references fellow series Jessica Jones, Luke Cage doesn’t keep the main thing that should carry over.  Jessica Jones‘ penultimate episode and finale established that Luke Cage, despite his toughness and strength, is vulnerable to concussive force.  That doesn’t carry over into Luke Cage and there’s at least two instances where the lead should be dead.

It should go without saying there will be spoilers for the first seasons of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Towards the end of Jessica Jones, Jessica and Luke (who’s mind-controlled by Kilgrave) fight and Luke ends up taking a shotgun blast under his chin.  Now the bullets themselves don’t kill him since they can’t puncture the skin.  However, the concussive force of having shotgun pellets impact his face can knock the brain loose from the cranial spinal fluid it’s floating around in.  This can have all sorts of effects, from inducing dizziness and headaches to altering a personality (if they survive).  Further reading on the effects of internal injuries induced by blast trauma can be read at National Geographic.

At the end of Luke Cage‘s third episode, Luke is in a building with his landlady and is subjected to a blast from a rocket launcher when he uses his body to shield her.  The resulting explosion brings down the building on top of him.  Regardless of his super durability, Luke should have died from the resulting internal injuries either from the blast going off next to him or the building coming down on him.

What if he hand-wave all that way and chalk up the discrepancy to Jessica Jones‘ writers not coordinating with Luke Cage‘s?  Maybe someone wrote Luke to be tougher than it really was?  This is a pretty plausible explanation, especially with a corporate umbrella as expansive as Disney’s.  Even if we buy into that explanation, though, someone didn’t do the research on what happens when a rocket explodes next to you.

Obviously, the fire from the explosion wouldn’t have incinerated his skin but it could still affect him internally.  Luke would have died from the fire eating up all the oxygen in his vicinity, resulting in either a collapsed lung or the fire scorching his respiratory system.  A collapsed lung would have resulted from the air pressure rapidly changing due to the force of the blast.  The rapidity of this change flattens the lung and makes it impossible to breathe.  Luke and his landlady would have then suffocated to death.  If the lung doesn’t collapse, then the explosion’s heat and chemicals used to create would have scorched the airways of the victims.  With the airways set ablaze and respiratory system torched, both of them would have asphyxiated.

I’m no Doctor or even WebMD but TV Tropes pointed this out too.  This is also only the first instance Luke should be dead.

The other instance occurs shortly after mid-season when Luke is shot twice by bullets that can pierce his bulletproof skin.  Let’s put aside “there are safe places to shoot someone” trope and marvel at the fact that Luke Cage is able to move around, defend himself, fight (not at his best but still…) and not bleed out on a 12 hour drive to Georgia from Harlem.  Let’s also marvel at how Luke and Claire can travel across multiple states through multiple congested metros (Philadelphia, Washington D.C….) notorious for how congested they are traffic-wise without stopping for 12 hours.  It’s almost as if a writer ran directions through Google maps and rolled with it…

This piece detracts from an otherwise brilliant show.  Luke Cage has kickass music, a unique yet suitable tone and presentation as well as some great moments and themes that it explores.  Thinking the main lead should be dead after 3 episodes really hung over the series though.  It keeps the show from eclipsing Daredevil as the best Netflix show.

 

 

Viewers Will Complain Yet Continue to Watch

This was published two months ago but it’s worth revisiting its central thesis:  That people will complain about a show yet continue to watch.  In this case, the show in question in Game of Thrones.  With the current sixth season of the show only a few episodes away from ending, let’s see if season 5 was enough to turn viewers off from the show.

Before we start comparing seasons, though, we should look at what data we’re dealing with:  the TV ratings for each episode and the seasons as a whole.

Season 1:  2.22 (premiere), 2.20 (lowest rated), 2.44, 2.45, 2.58, 2.44, 2.40, 2.72, 2.66, 3.04 (finale)

Season 2:  3.86 (premiere), 3.76, 3.77, 3.65, 3.90, 3.88, 3.69, 3.86, 3.38 (lowest rated), 4.20 (finale)

Season 3:  4.37, (premiere) 4.27 (lowest rated), 4.72, 4.87, 5.35, 5.50 (highest rated), 4.84, 5.13, 5.22, 5.39 (finale)

Season 4:  6.64 (premiere), 6.31 (lowest rated), 6.59, 6.95, 7.16, 6.40, 7.20 (highest rated), 7.17, 6.95, 7.09 (finale)

Season 5:  8.00 (premiere), 6.81, 6.71, 6.82, 6.56, 6.24, 5.40 (lowest rated), 7.01, 7.14, 8.11 (finale)

Season 6:  7.94 (premiere), 7.29, 7.28, 7.82, 7.89, 6.71 (lowest rated), 7.80 (with 3 episodes yet to air)

We can see a few trend lines right away:  Viewership tends to have increased from the first episode to the finale.  Viewership also grows exponentially by the time of the next season (the jump to season 3 from season 2 only nets a .17 whereas the others are all above .82).  While the premiere and finale episodes have higher ratings, viewers don’t really depart in mass droves throughout the season.  Season 1’s audience is fairly consistent (the first two episodes are the ones with the lowest ratings) and the other good seasons never drop by more than half a million (0.5).

Season 5 has some of the highest ratings yet but viewership does crash throughout.  Despite never having ratings drop by more than half a point at any time throughout the first four seasons, season 5’s 2nd episode falls off by almost 1.20 points!  The 5.40 rating for season 5’s episode 7 is the lowest the show did since season 3!  While the finale continued the trend of having a higher rating than the premiere, it was the lowest increase in the history of the show.  To top this argument off, season 6’s premiere was the first in show history to actually lose viewers from a previous season!

So the logic that “people will complain yet continue to watch” is complete bunk.  If a show’s as terrible as season 5 Game of Thrones, viewers won’t even stick around to complain…they’ll just stop watching entirely.

Now, Maisie’s right in that people have continued to watch the show.  Aside from the premiere, Season 6’s ratings are a pretty considerable jump over season 5’s.  With three episodes left to air, it’s quite possible the show could jump back into the 8’s.  However, based on the above data, the show should already be performing in the 8’s and possibly the 9’s.

Look at the average in ratings for each season:  Season 1 (2.52), Season 2 (3.80), Season 3 (4.97), Season 4 (6.85), Season 5 (6.88), Season 6 (7.49).  Ratings jump substantially until season 5, which grinds everything to a halt.  Hell, season 5’s average is thrown out of proportion by the premiere and finale episodes.  Take those out and season 5 averages 6.59, a lower number than season 4’s (6.84) if the same standard is applied.

So, it doesn’t look like season 5 was awful enough to keep people away from the show.  It was terrible enough to severely cut into the show’s growth and quite a chunk of the audience did quit watching for a substantial period of time.  As for why people are still watching, there’s a myriad of reasons:  The plot’s actually moving, curiosity from book readers to see where plots could be headed, etc.  I only keep up through the Internet to see what all is going to happen but watching it via HBO is a step too far.  In essence, I’m complaining about a show I used to watch but don’t anymore.

Arrow

Saw this headline, read the ensuing article and found it to be a bit hilarious.  Not because a show’s fandom has turned against it to the point they’re hyping up another show but because of the article’s last sentence:  “If even these die-hard Arrow fans who made it through 4 seasons of camp can’t continue, it probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.”  Now there’s no point in arguing Arrow season 4 is any good because it isn’t (the penultimate episode of the season got the lowest rating in the show’s history) but we can take issue with a pessimistic take on the show’s future.  We can also argue whether Arrow’s camp or not (it isn’t).

“It probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.”  Well, Arrow just got renewed for a 5th season.  Obviously, The CW isn’t going to hold shows to the same standards as FOX or CBS would…but a renewal (especially after 5 seasons) is pretty good for what a network thinks about a show’s prospects.  Having a full season order to turn possibly turn things around is a lot more than the majority of TV shows get.

The above paragraph is only taking issue with half the quote, the other half labeling Arrow as “camp.”  Considering that using the word “camp” to describe a superhero TV show brings to mind the 1960’s Batman series, it’s absolutely hilarious to imply Arrow‘s in the same league.  In fact, the majority of complaints about the show are that it’s “too dark/serious/brooding, especially when compared to more ‘fun’ shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow.”  It’s actually quite nice that Arrow stands out in that regard and gives people who prefer grittier, street-level heroes a watchable option.

So, if Arrow‘s not campy and the show’s prospects look good, what the hell went wrong the past two seasons?  Well, look at the correlation.  Most people enjoyed the pilot but the show didn’t really take off until The Odyssey episode, where Slade and Oliver develop an unlikely friendship in the flashback.  Sara Lance and her mother’s search for her also becomes a plot point around this time and Sara eventually appears.  From that episode on until the end of season 2 is considered the pinnacle of the show.

Season 2 bears some more mentioning because of how fucking awesome it is!  Slade basically gets injected with a drug that gives him superpowers (strength and accelerated healing) as well as making him crazy.  Events on the island cause Slade to lose his grip on reality and his friendship with Oliver disintegrates.  Things go south on the island, to the point where Oliver has to kill Slade…except he didn’t.  Slade survived and now wants revenge on Oliver, planning to achieve this by murdering everyone he lives (the entirety of Star City).  Sara reappears and some plot is devoted to figuring out how she’ll go about rekindling her relationships with various loved one while being pursued by the League of Assassins.  There’s also various other excellent subplots (Oliver training a sidekick, what happens when a rich idiot doesn’t do his day job, to name two).

Season 2 ends with the Slade plot being resolved and the third season opens with Sara being killed by a mystery assailant.  In two episodes, the show had neutralized one of its best villains and killed off one of its strongest characters.  This results in two of the show’s best actors (Manu Bennett and Caity Lotz) no longer being on the show.  There’s an episode of season 3 that encapsulates the decline; the episode where Slade escapes from his prison on the island and Oliver has to team with/protect his sister.  Now, Slade as a villain had a season and a half’s worth of focus so he’d be worthy of a multi-episode arc, right?  Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see how Ra’s al-Guhl figures Slade into his plans to make Oliver his successor (or how Slade would interact with the League)?  Instead, the issue’s resolved at the end of a single episode.

As for Caity Lotz’s Sara, she’s eventually revived via the Lazarus Pit so she can have a lead role on Legends of Tomorrow.  Unlike Slade, she at least gets some focus.  She’ll be missed on Arrow full-time, however, because of the talent and intensity she brought to the show (watch her fight scenes and compare them to anyone else’s).

Arrow has a future and it could be a good one.  Bringing back Slade or Sara would be a cheap fix but a better way would be to look at that stretch of episodes from The Odyssey to the season 2 finale; all the while taking notes on what worked.  Strong characters, drama between them, a competent villain, more science and street-level heroics than magic nonsense…these are the elements that made Arrow a great show.  Re-implementing them will give the show an excellent shot at returning to its season 2 form.

Hold the Inconsistencies

An HBO affiliate ended up releasing “The Door” episode of Game of Thrones a day early. The spoilers for that episode and the feedback for it was so wut-tastic that I had to lift the moratorium on watching the show to see the craziness for myself. The episode did not disappoint. It also looks like the source for this insanity is the laziness of the show-runners, as evident from all the narrative inconsistencies.

Without George R.R. Martin’s framework to keep the show in check, Game of Thrones has careened into a nonsensical mess. Just look at how Sansas interacts with Littlefinger, Jon and Brienne. She correctly tells off Littlefinger for “saving her from the people who murdered her family so he could give her to the other people who murdered her family.” Then she takes his word that the Blackfish has retaken Riverrun seriously enough that she sends Brienne away from Castle Black. Oh and she trusts Jon Snow enough to use him as a symbol to rally the Northern houses but not enough to tell him about Littlefinger’s visit?

The nonsense isn’t limited to the North either. The summit on Pyke to determine who will become the new King of the Iron Islands ends with Euron Greyjoy being chosen over Yara. They justify this by saying “Yara’s a woman and thus can’t rule” but it doesn’t Euron, who even admits to murdering the previous King (who is his own brother). Remember when Jamie Lannister’s reputation as the “King-slayer” was a major plot point and was used to develop his character? Or when the death of a character leading a house destabilized it?

These are but mere nitpicks compared to this visual…

fleet

So, Yara, can steal the entire Ironborn fleet to the point Euron’s first act as King is to order people to deforest the Iron Islands to “build 1,000 ships”….but she can’t win enough votes to become Queen? Maybe the writers should have played The Witcher 3, which shows how this type of plot should be done!

Of course, any review of this episode wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Bran. Bran in season 1 ignores an elder (his mother) to do something he’s not supposed to (climb a tower), the consequences of which results in him being paralyzed, the near-extinction of his entire family and the deaths of thousands (if not, millions) of people. So it makes total sense that he would ignore the wishes of an elder (Bloodraven) to do something he’s not supposed to (use his seer powers unsupervised); the consequences of which results in him being branded by the Night King, which allows the King to find where Bran’s located. The ensuing raid results in a near total party kill of Bran’s traveling company as well as the deaths of Bran’s mentor and the Children of the Forest.

Oh and the scene where Bran’s marked and Bloodraven has a sense of urgency of getting Bran to safety? The next scene shows them leisurely watching a past vision that doesn’t really relate to the story. Nothing says “immediate danger” like taking the time to casually view past events!

The real admission that Game of Thrones has gotten lazy and nonsensical is through an indirect admission by the writers themselves. From Slate: “When we first started working on the show, we did not want to do flashbacks because oftentimes it seems like a hallmark of lazy storytelling.” It’s no coincidence that season 5 (universally considered the worst season) began with a flashback and they’ve only become more frequent since.

Some book readers will cling to the hope that George R. R. Martin will handle these scenes better. Well, keep the following in mind when Brandon Sanderson eventually finishes the books: “[The Hodor twist came] from one of our conversations with [author George R.R. Martin]. This is one of his ideas that he told us in Santa Fe. We thought it was f–king fantastic.”

The Daredevil Dilemma

One of the main themes throughout Daredevil season 2 is the question of what vigilante superheroes should do with criminals once they’re apprehended.  There’s the approach taken by the title character:  Work within the law as much as possible and trust the system to reform the individual.  Contrasting this is Frank Castle’s idea that criminals are irredeemable and the legal system doesn’t go far enough to punish them.  While it’s appreciated that the writers don’t take sides and leave the viewer to decide who’s right or wrong, Daredevil’s argument is completely undercut by the narrative and its failure to properly reinforce his ideals.

The theme of trusting the law is apparent throughout all of season 2 but it’s best encapsulated in the third episode.  Daredevil is chained on top of a roof by Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) and the episode revolves around the two of them debating their approaches.  The relevant exchange is posted below with Daredevil’s words in red.

“I’m not a bad guy, Red.”
“You wanna explain that to the orphans and the widows of the men you killed?”
“For Christ’s sake, that’s what you think?  I’m just some crazy asshole going around unloading on whoever I want to?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I think.”
“That it?”
“You think you’re anything else?”
“I think that the people I kill need killing, that’s what I think.”
“You left men hanging from meat hooks!”
“They got off easy, in my opinion.”
“You shot up a hospital.”
“Yeah and nobody got hurt who didn’t deserve it.”
“Oh, yeah.  What about you, Frank?  What happens the day someone decides you deserve it?”
“I tell you what, they better not miss.”
“Come on, you run around this city like it’s your damn shooting gallery.  You think you do–“
“Yeah, what do you do?  What do you do?  You act like it’s a playground.  You beat up the bullies with your fists.  You throw ’em in jail, everybody calls you a hero, right?  And then a month, a week, a day later, they’re back on the streets doing the same goddamn thing–”
“Yeah, so you just put ’em in the morgue.”
“You’re goddamn right, I do.”
“You ever doubt yourself, Frank?”
“Not even for a second.”
“Really?  Really?  You never think for one second, ‘Shit, I just killed a human being’?”
“That’s being pretty generous.”
“A human being who did a lot of stupid shit, maybe even evil, but had one small piece of goodness in him.  Maybe just a scrap, Frank, but something.  And then you come along and that one tiny flicker of light gets snuffed out forever.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“Which part?”
“All of it.  I think there’s no good in the filth that I put down, that’s what I think.”
“And how do you know?”
“I just know.  Look around, Red.  This city, it stinks.  It’s a sewer.  It stinks and it smells like shit and I can’t get the stink out of my nose.  I think that this world, it needs men that are willing to make the hard call.  I think you and me are the same!”
“That’s bullshit, Frank, and you know it!”
“Only I do the one thing that you can’t.  You hit ’em and they get back up.  I hit ’em and they stay down.  It’s permanent.  I make sure that they don’t make it out on the street again.  I take pride in that.”
“Let me ask you this.”
“What’s that?”
“What about hope?”
“Oh, fuck.”
“Come on, Frank–“
“You wanna talk about Santa Claus?”
“I live in the real world too and I’ve seen it.”
“Yeah.  What have you seen?”
“Redemption, Frank.”
“Ah, Jesus Christ.”
“It’s real.  And it’s possible.  The people you murder deserve another chance.”
“What, to kill again?  Rape again?  Is that what you want?”
“No, Frank.  To try again, Frank.  To try.  And if you don’t get that, there’s something broken in you you can’t fix and you really are a nutjob.”

Clearly, Daredevil believes criminals can rehabilitate themselves or, at the very least, deserve the chance to do so.  Unfortunately, the narrative completely undercuts his entire argument.  He believes in the law despite admitting that it sometimes isn’t always enough to do what’s necessary, thus it’s acceptable to act outside of it.  His criticism of The Punisher’s actions and motives are understandable, they are also completely unsubstantiated.  Also, while Daredevil is convinced people should have a shot to redeem themselves, there’s no one in the story who actually does this.

It’s a bit hypocritical for Daredevil to be chastising The Punisher for operating outside the law when he has no qualms himself.  He even admits to his best friend, Foggy Nelson, that operating within the law has its limits.  His admission comes an episode after going to a warehouse with the intent to kill Wilson Fisk, to which Foggy responds, “It’s not enough playing judge and jury?  You gotta add executioner to the list?  What happened to all that talk about going after him through the system?  Making the law work for us?”  Daredevil’s reply:  “Sometimes the law isn’t enough.”  The Punisher’s absolutely right when he insists there’s no difference between the two of them other than methods.

Speaking of The Punisher’s methods, Daredevil’s critique of them is understandable but  also unsubstantiated.  Punisher’s right that nobody got hurt who didn’t deserve it when he “shot up” the hospital (i.e. nobody died and anyone thinking about the cop who got assaulted should remember most cops outside of Brett are corrupt and easily bought off by someone with power and influence).  Leaving criminals hanging by meat hooks is a valid criticism in Daredevil’s favor but can be countered by the bone-breaking interrogations he often commits.  Basically, if a vigilante is going to operate outside the law, what good does it do to half-ass it (other than to morally justify what they do)?

Daredevil believes in criminals having a chance to redeem themselves but so far, no one on the show has been able to successfully rehabilitate themselves.  Turk, for instance, is still a career criminal who (despite being monitored by the police) has gone from human trafficking to dealing in illegal weaponry.  Wilson Fisk is hellbent on becoming the Kingpin of crime in New York City again and seeking vengeance on the people who put him away.  The only person who can even be remotely argued to be “rehabbed” is Melvin, who was only threatened into making ballistic vests for Fisk.  In other words, if there was someone who had been engaged in serious criminal activity and then changed their ways, Daredevil’s argument that “people should have the chance to redeem themselves” would have some weight to it.  Instead, everyone on the show doubles down on being a criminal and Daredevil’s belief relies on a viewer’s preexisting beliefs to trust him.  A character who was once a criminal and turned away from it to the side of good would have been much more effective.

Ultimately, Foggy Nelson’s belief that it’s better to operate within the law has more merit than Daredevil’s approach.  However, if the drama of the show is going to revolve around how far vigilantism should go, than it’s no surprise The Punisher’s methods win out.  Daredevil’s argument lacks substance because he really is an ineffective half-measure.  Belief in people redeeming themselves is a nice sentiment but it’s not a practical one, seeing as how no one in the series has been able to turn away from their criminal nature.  Is it any surprise then that people empathize with The Punisher and support him over the archetypal superhero?

Game of Thrones: The Dance of Dragons

Some thoughts on the latest episode of Game of Thrones…

MERYN TRANT AND ARYA STARK

Meryn Trant being a pedophile just unnecessarily reeks of “the audience needs to know this guy’s really evil and deserves to die so let’s attach a character trait that hasn’t even been hinted at before to reinforce how much of an asshole he is because viewers are goldfish who can’t remember all the other terrible shit he’s done the past five seasons.” It’s also nice that the Stark girls have something in common:  They immediately forget all their previous character development over the past few seasons the very moment they see something from their past and/or something that’s unpleasant.

STANNIS BARATHEON

Stannis burning his daughter isn’t a moral issue. His character introduction had him burning people who refused to give up their worship of the Faith of the Seven instead of Rh’llor…but nobody cares about that because the audience didn’t get to know them. We know Shireen, though, so him burning her makes him a huge asshole despite the fact that he already was and everyone missed that point when it was established in season 2.

However, Stannis burning his daughter has lots of writing issues. His whole army is stuck between Castle Black and Winterfell because of the winter, which somehow isn’t a problem for Ramsay Bolton’s 20 man gang. The whole scenario seems less like “Ramsay Bolton being a tactical military genius” and more “Ramsay Bolton succeeding because the plot needs him to.” Especially so because just a couple episodes ago, Melissandre brought up burning Shireen and Stannis shot the idea down. A well-written arc would have had Stannis resort to burning Shireen as a last resort after exhausting every possible option or as a response to a greater evil (i.e. the White Walkers)…instead he burns her the moment things go south.

That last sentence really needs to be reinforced, so let’s examine Stannis’ character. If people had to describe Stannis Baratheon in one word, it would probably be stubborn. He held Storm’s End for over a year during Robert’s Rebellion through sheer force of will and the help of smugglers like Davos Seaworth. He declared for the Iron Throne after his brother’s death despite all his contenders at that time (Joffrey, Renly) having larger armies. We learned earlier this season that he made sure Shireen stay alive and in his care despite doctors recommending him to send her away…but Ramsay Bolton provides one sudden setback and damn it, he’s got to burn his daughter!

While we’re examining Stannis’ character, let’s bring up how he approached his daughter about this very idea.  I figured Stannis would be honest enough to tell his own daughter the truth about what she’d getting herself into when she volunteers herself unknowingly.  A simple “You may have to die so that I can win” speech followed by Shireen tearfully volunteering herself would have been interesting.  Instead, she’s kept in the dark about the whole burning thing.  Instead of the scene playing out like a remorseful yet determined father sacrificing his own blood so that he can win, Stannis looks like a giant asshole who just surprised his daughter with the worst birthday present ever.

Let’s talk about Shireen’s mother. Selyse has had nothing but contempt for Shireen since she was born. That view point had not changed at all this season until suddenly, she decides to give a shit and start freaking out over her daughter being burned alive. People could point to the whole “even the most abusive mother would freak out in this scenario” but that falls flat because Selyse was totally cool with the idea beforehand. What the fuck did she think was going to happen?  The audience needed scenes foreshadowing that, deep down, Selyse really does care for her daughter.  Selyse suddenly starting to care after her daughter’s set aflame comes across as comical farce instead of tearful drama.

Finally, for the people jumping off the Stannis bandwagon, remember that he is still the best person to sit on the Iron Throne. He is Robert Baratheon’s legitimate successor since all the others are illegitimate. Tommen is a bastard born of incest. Daenerys’ father was legitimately deposed, she can’t handle her own dragons or even an insurgency in a slaver city she conquered and she might not even have a valid claim on the Iron Throne herself depending on whether succession is purely agnatic. Renly had every intention to kill his brother and his “might makes right” mindset would have been ultimately destructive. Aegon/Young Grif is “Sir Not Appearing in This Series” and the whole “enlightened despot being the best form of government” idea has been thoroughly debunked by history.

DAENERYS TARGARYEN

I have never been a fan of Daenerys Targaryen. Her character arc was pretty great until she decided to faff about in Essos rather than get her ass on the Iron Throne. Most of her support is based on the fact that she has DRAGONS!!! despite the fact that DRAGONS!!! exist for one purpose in fantasy literature: To establish the person who kills them as a super badass. Daenerys’ dragon can’t even get that part right! A few spears thrown by an insurgency (that she created!) are enough for Daenerys to decide to get on her dragon’s back and book it…

…leaving her friends and allies alone in an empty gladiatorial arena surrounded by said insurgents. Yes, there were scenes showing the Sons of the Harpy getting killed off by either Daenerys’ bodyguards, Jorah or the dragon. Too bad the whole arena was filled with masked bad guys and it was never given the impression that all the fighting made much of an impact. It provides a nice hook for next week (“Where is she going? What happens to Tyrion/Jorah/etc.?”) but it’s still something that should be filed under “What the hell, Dany?”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Meaningful conflict is the soul of drama.” Game of Thrones (and the book series it’s based off of) have always been about deconstructing the idyllic fantasy viewpoint. If Lord of the Rings was idealized (in terms of characters) mythology, Game of Thrones is incredibly cynical with much of its elements influenced by historical events. It’s perfectly fine for writers to add shades of morality to characters so they aren’t just clear-cut good guys or bad guys. However, the more “gray” a character becomes at the expense of “black” or “white”, the writer risks losing the audience. The audience needs protagonists to root for and Game of Thrones is running out of them. Let’s look at the current conflicts going on in the show and see who sane people should root for…

BEYOND THE WALL:  Bran Stark hasn’t shown up at all this season. Some people aren’t a fan of Bran’s storyline but that’s mainly because it took him two seasons to reach his destination…then when he finally gets there, he’s ignored. It’d be pretty cool if he could warg into animals/people and use those abilities but being absent isn’t going to make the audience grow fond of him.  Bran’s been written into a corner unfortunately.  If he shows up next season having completely mastered his abilities, it’ll be fucking stupid.  However, if we get a more in-depth view of him training next season, we’ll wonder what the hell he was doing last year and why it couldn’t have been shown instead of, say, Dorne.

CASTLE BLACK:  Jon Snow knows the White Walkers are a greater threat than the Wildlings and is just trying to get his fellow brothers to see that. Unless people are jaded enough to want the White Walkers to kill everyone, we want Jon Snow to live and lead the fight against them. Unfortunately, his tolerance of the Wildlings is sowing dissent within the Watch.  Imagine if the next episode ends or next season starts with Jon getting killed via vicious mutiny…who does the audience root for with the Night’s Watch?  Sam?  Dolores Edd?

WINTERFELL:  Stannis just burned his daughter alive and the Boltons flay people alive.  Roose also let Jaime Lannister walk free instead of turning him back over to his liege lord, Robb Stark.  He then helped Tywin Lannister and Walder Frey orchestrate Robb Stark’s murder at the Red Wedding.  His legitimized bastard son, Ramsay, is enough of a psychopath to scare even Joffrey Baratheon.  Ramsay tortures people for fun, including his physical mutilation and psychological alteration of Theon Greyjoy.  Stannis as the lesser of the two evils but the audience most likely sees both as evil regardless and would like both to be killed by The Others.

We’d also like to see Sansa win against Ramsay but she can’t seem to remember any of the lessons Petyr Balish taught her.  She also continues to trust Theon despite the fact he’s psychologically broken.  Remember how one of the taglines for the show was “The North Remembers”?  “The North Remembers But Proceeds To Do Fuck All About Ned and Robb Stark’s Death” must have been too long and accurate.

KING’S LANDING: The Tyrells are a good house for the audience to root for, what with their charitable actions and their orchestration of Joffrey’s murder.  Unfortunately, Margerery is still in jail and they’re not able to do much about it.  We could root for the High Sparrow since he seems able and competent to dispense justice on just about anyone.  However, we’ve seen the dangers of religious fanaticism not only with the Sparrows earlier this season but with Melissandre and Stannis.  Cersei’s imprisoned and should be executed but that would be too satisfying to happen.

Littlefinger’s still around but people who root for him are similar to the ones who root for the White Walkers.  Sure, he threw crazy Lysa Arryn down the Moon Door and orchestrated Joffrey’s assassination but he’s still an amoral sociopath relentlessly obsessed with being a Westeros Bond villain and exacting revenge on houses that wronged him in his youth.  Is this someone a general audience is really going to root for?

DORNE: Jaime and Bronn essentially invaded Dorne, an act that should result in some pretty serious consequences for them both.  Instead, both are going back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, achieving their objective with considerably few strings attached.  The Sand Snakes seem to have been pacified and Ellaria’s at least cordial talking with a Lannister now.  Maybe this is all an elaborate ruse to throw us off for what happens next week but everything’s a little too nicely tied up.  When we consider how many other stories need a resolution this season (King’s Landing, Winterfell, Daenerys, Arya, possibly the Night’s Watch), Dorne’s pretty far down the list (which, given how terrible the sequences have been this season, seems appropriate).

BRAAVOS: A girl must choose between killing a Bravossi or some guy from her past.  As long as she doesn’t disguise herself as a child prostitute and get raped by Meryn Trant (which, no joke, is an entirely plausible scenario), this resolution should be pretty interesting although Arya’s damned either way.  She kills the Bravossi and not Meryn Trant, she’s turning her back on the very reason she turned to the Faceless Men in the first place.  She kills Trant instead of the Bravossi and she’s putting vengeance ahead of the mission.

MEEREEN: What do Jorah, Tyrion and the rest of Daenery’s team do now that the Queen has taken flight?  Where is Daenerys going?  What effect will Jorah’s grayscale have on the city?  And because I don’t know where he is but he’s affiliated with Team Targaryen, where is Varys?  These are all interesting questions but it’s worth remembering all these characters have supported Daenerys.  The Queen who can barely control one of her own easily damaged dragons, whose incompetent rule has left Meereen divided by class (and if Jorah/Tyrion/etc. abandon it, in the hands of a corrupt slaver elite) and just left her friends in a coliseum/city full of people trying to kill them.

Having looked at all the areas of conflict, there are very few worthy of the audience’s interest (Braavos, Mereen, Castle Black). A show covering as vast an area as Game of Thrones is going to run into the problem of not being able to please everyone…but what’s happening is that they’re starting to displease a majority. The scenes with Dorne were some of the worst of the season (and ultimately unnecessary), Bran’s missing and the conflicts surrounding Winterfell and King’s Landing have no interest to the audience. Meaningful conflict creates the best drama and the best way to do that is to have people the audience cares about. Game of Thrones should invest in that philosophy rather than making everyone unlikeable.

Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories

Spoilers:  The bane of all entertainment discussion.  Whenever a jaw-dropping event happens (like King Joffrey’s death on Game of Thrones), people have to be mindful of “spoiling” it for those who haven’t seen the event yet.  This is rather silly and when people cry foul about spoilers, they’re missing a major point that needs to be drilled into the heads of everyone…  The lesson being that spoilers don’t spoil stories.

If spoilers ruined stories, no one would re-read a book.  No one would buy a DVD of a movie they saw in a theater.  Titanic wouldn’t have been the highest grossing movie of all time for a decade plus!  Yet, despite “spoilers”, all these things exist and people continue to put money towards them.  Because how something ends is not the point of entertainment.  We watch, read and engage in something to see how it’s built up, how it’s resolved, what it can teach to help better ourselves, to support whoever created the story and other reasons that vary to the individual.

Knowing that Joffrey dies in the episode isn’t a spoiler that ruins Game of Thrones forever.  It’s a gateway to further enjoyment of the show.  Rather than complain about being spoiled, the person should ask themselves questions like “How does he die?”  If that can be answered ” isn’t his death still worth seeing?  Not to sound too sadistic but seeing a picture of Joffrey’s postmortem face differs vastly from watching the fucker choke to death.  The latter image is more likely to stick in the mind and leave a lasting impression, as opposed to the picture.

Other questions one should ask include, “Was Joffrey’s death worth the wait?”  It is something the audience has been expecting since the first season.  Did you feel that justice had been served?  Do you feel disappointed, especially when compared to how gruesome Robb Stark’s death was?

“Where does the show go from here?”  Tommen Baratheon is now King, so Cersei is Queen Regent again.  Tommen seems a good kid but he is a bastard of incest who could become another Joffrey.  Since Margerey was officially married to Joffrey, the Lannister-Tyrell arrangement is no longer linked by matrimony.  How will that alliance be renegotiated, if it even will be?  Who killed Joffrey and why was now the right moment?

Even if one gleans the answers from reading the books or has the upcoming events spoiled for them, they are still watching for other reasons.  Fans of the books still want to see these characters be brought to life by the actors who portray them.  They want to see the locations built by the production crew.  They want to see how the book translates to television.  Plot is filler, merely the structure by which the story can progress.

Spoilers don’t spoil stories.  Other issues like bad writing, poor acting and production failures are what ruin stories.  If knowing how something happens ruins the story, one should do some soul-searching and figure out what else is ruining their enjoyment…because it’ll go deeper than “aw man, I know what happens next now…”

Predicting Arya Stark

While talking with friends about the upcoming season of Game of Thrones, one of my friends mentioned he was really excited to see Arya Stark continuing to grow as a character.  I decided to rain on his parade by giving him my theory regarding how she’ll turn out.  Instead of being disappointed, he really liked it.  Below is an elaborate explanation of how Arya Stark will turn out based on the other members of her family as evidence.  A spoiler-free attempt will be made but they will be noted when warranted (and assume the reader has watched up to season 3 and/or read Storm of Swords).

To understand this theory, it’s important to realize just who and what House Stark is in relation to the universe it inhabits.  In a world inhabited by morally questionable people, House Stark has more in common with traditional fantasy protagonists.  They have a code of honor similar to the ideal medieval knights and the practice of chivalry.  A majority of people relate to them because they’re a family that cares for each other despite their differing personalities.  They’re placed as central protagonists of the first book/season and because of that, people expect them to succeed.

Except that expectation ends up being subverted.  The audience expects Ned Stark to prevail in Game of Thrones.   He might be exiled to the wall but he can always meet up with his bastard son and either redeem himself fighting the walkers.  He could also escape his captors and return to Winterfell and rally the north against Joffrey’s illegitimate rule.  We expect Joffrey, as a child king who’s at the mercy of his queen regent mother, to show Ned mercy (and especially so after he “confesses”).  Instead, Joffrey orders Ned beheaded for treason.

Sons are often expected to follow in the footsteps of their father and Robb Stark is no exception.  With Ned dead, the audience expects Robb to avenge his father and it looks like it might actually happen.  We see Robb as a boy king who’s pretty wise beyond his years in military matters.  He’s someone who gives Tywin Lannister fits with his cunning strategies.  Even when he screws up and marries someone he loves instead of someone he’s betrothed to, the audience still wants him to prevail.  That expectation is once again subverted when Robb dies at the Red Wedding and House Stark is dealt a serious blow from which it may never recover.

Robb’s death leaves the audience wondering who to root for now.  If they don’t switch allegiances to a different house (who all have their positives and negatives…some more positive than others), they’re left with Ned’s surviving children:  Jon Snow, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon.  Rickon is too young and also has no character whatsoever.  As the rightful heir of Wintefell, Bran’s a possibility but it’ll be a few seasons before he masters his powers.  He also has to deal with all the crazy shit going on up north (House Bolton now Lord Protector of the North, Mance Rayder’s wildlings, other wildings, White Walkers, Night’s Watch…).  Jon Snow seems to have the put the politics of Westeros behind him after getting a pep talk from the old Targaryen in season 1.

That leaves Sansa and Arya.  Sansa’s been following Ned and Robb’s example of subverting audience expectations.  In season 1, she’s a Disney Princess who’s betrothed to her Prince Charming…only to find out Prince Charming is really Prince Psychopath.  When she escapes that engagement, she ends up being married to Tyrion.  Tyrion’s essentially an inverted Joffrey (ugly on the outside but a lot nicer on the inside) but she doesn’t love him or even attempt to try.  Granted, Tyrion being a part of the house that killed her dad and brother would complicate things.  Even if we go with the Tyrell plot in the TV show and she marries Loras, that marriage would have fizzled out too.  She’d have found out he’s gay or spent the rest of her life why this handsome guy just doesn’t seem that interested to her, a far cry from the genuine love Ned and Catelyn had for each other.

Given what happened to the rest of her family, the forecast for Arya Stark isn’t too promising.  Yeah, she has the coin from Jaqen Hagar and there’s hints of her being a master assassin (Melisandre absolutely freaks when she sees Arya) but we’ve seen moments of promise from the other Stark children before they endured further trauma.  Also, like Bran, Arya will need a couple of seasons to develop into a master assassin.

Because of what’s happened to the other Stark children as well as factoring in the time it’ll take for Arya to train, I think by the time she’s ready to exact revenge she won’t be able to…because all the people she recites by name every night will be dead.  Although it would really suck, it would also be most applicable.  The audience expects Arya to become an action hero, one who uses that coin Jaqen gave her and becomes the feared killer Melisandre sees.  While I won’t dispute Melisandre’s statement that Arya will shut many eyes forever, I do think that the people Arya’s targeting will have already been killed by various other people.  She’ll either find out when she’s set to enact her revenge or cope with that denial by becoming a feared, cold-hearted killer who takes any job so long as it pays.

Addendum:  I kinda want Bran to take control of a giant eagle and pick Cersei and Jaime up before dropping them hundreds of feet in front of him.  Given how the Stark children have fared, I’m not holding out hope for this to happen…but it would be awesome!