Game of Thrones, “Dragonstone”

If you masculinize knowledge, then you feminize its limits. (And she is right, they will). Without scholarship, real scholarship, humankind would be little better than dogs, thinking only of their last meal and their next meal. Even Sam has finally gotten married and enrolled in a good graduate program. While George R. But take a step back: when has Westeros ever made sense? Others asserted that people can’t be influenced to make change simply through fear; the way to influence people, they maintained, is through facts and more careful research findings. Jon is complacent about the south, but Sansa knows what he doesn’t: the Lannisters might be broke and outnumbered and beset on all sides, but the machinations of the plot will not allow them to fall, not yet. Now what? And why would it start now? It is important not to overstate our sense of doom, went the counterargument; let’s have a sense of proportion. What if the truth is something that our science can’t prove, and its gravity something that our scientific method—with its focus on the timeless, ceaseless increase of gradual human knowledge—is poorly equipped to appreciate? Jon and Sansa have Winterfell. It’s hard to overstate the extent of this shift; at the end of season six, most of the most long-suffering characters on the show had finally gotten exactly what they had long wanted, but which we had had no reason to expect they would ever get. Someone has to bring them their soup; someone has to carry away their poop. In between episode one’s stage setting, as we rearrange the board for the next clima(c)tic battle(s), the show touches on the problem that emerged last week, when a New York Magazine feature suggested the unseemly possibility that climate change will make the earth literally uninhabitable. We’re not people, he wants to say. And so, with the exception of Arya murdering every single Frey, episode one is prologue, a lot of stage setting and character work. In short, while the story used to be that when you played the game of thrones, you win or you die—such that die-ers are losers and winners are killers—we now have a narrative in which good people can get good jobs and thrive. All it had was spectacle: good characters suffered at the hands of bad characters, and then, when they suffered, in turn, they became the good guys. To ally yourself with eternity, in other words, is to make yourself the well-meaning enemy of day-to-day people. JULY 17, 2017

This week on Dear Television, we begin our weekly coverage of season seven of   HBO’s   Game of Thrones. But the fact that there are no women in The Citadel—that there are no women-bodies there, just man-minds—is a mark of the prejudice that blinds the Maesters to what those who make the soup and carry the poop—of any gender—might know. “We’re not like the people south of the Twins; we’re not like the people north of the Twins,” he says. In his conversation with Sam, Archmaester Marwyn makes an interesting point. This is a problem that afflicts Westeros as a whole. On Game of Thrones, Sam is right and the Archmaester is wrong. Good fortune! It’s a deeper, more interesting point than a show which is primarily about war and desire is really capable of making well, but to its credit, it does try. Experience teaches a different set of expectations; men who tell you it will be fine, it turns out, are usually full of shit. (Remember: soup is the key to the entire mythology.) As it turns out, the Archmaester has it hilariously wrong. Fans were shipping Tormund and Brienne? People who make the soup understand this, as do the people who clean up the shit. Sansa doesn’t know the military stuff—her father never allowed her to learn—but she knows what Jon seems not to, that Cersei is a nightmarish vortex of danger for them, and that she will find a way. Martin’s source material was still the show’s bible, it was essentially a story of dispersion, an endless exodotic wandering in the wilderness in which the remaining children of dead fathers struggled to survive. And the problem with thinking in terms of eternal humanity is that humans aren’t eternal. Instead of bloodshed and gore, we get some interesting scenes with big maps; we get a few tentative openings for alliances; we get check-ins with characters whose relationships were left muddy and unclear; we get a few key scenes in which an army is seen walking towards the wars to come. How do you prepare for the thing that your preparation, by definition, cannot imagine? More than a few climate scientists were quick to poo-poo that suggestion. There is something precious at stake in both of these desperately brief windows of life; we would do well to keep that in mind. His faith that the wheel will turn the same as it always has, and the game of thrones will go on—such that the key thing is to keep producing timeless scholarship—rests on an assumption that academic scholarship can exist outside of time. It doesn’t do to be realistic in a world where reason doesn’t rule. I wish us all good fortune in the wars to come,
Aaron And then, HBO took over, and once the network ran out of books to adapt, there was a decided shift in the writing. Daenerys has her army, and Tyrion got a sweet Hand of the Queen job. In a world where “everywhere…they hurt little girls,” as Cersei reminded Oberyn, the limits to rational knowledge are something only those who have been hurt seem to understand. Our president, after all, is a person who could not have become president. In the Citadel, Sam is introduced to the glacial pace of scholarly publishing and to the problem of academic paywalls: Peer review takes TIME, my friend; we’re the Maesters, not a bunch of assholes with blogs. Some argued that the science of that assertion was shaky at best—that we can’t know for sure­ that the earth’s capacity to bear human life is as endangered by climate change as that article made it seem, and that doomsday scenarios are still just science fiction. There are spoilers below so, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, hasn’t anybody told you this show is the dying   gasp of the monoculture? DONE: now she’s taking over scenes. We live in the Anthropocene, a human-made temporality that humans can un-make, and are, in fact, vigorously un-making; we also, each of us, live in a life that came to a beginning and will come to an end. It will be really bad, probably, just not that bad, not definitely; let us confine ourselves to what we can be sure about, what we can know for certain. It’s not a good term to think with, as such, especially now that every other new book of psychology is about how we think with our bodies. It was hard to say what their characters really were, constrained as they were by the desperate necessity of not being murdered or raped as much as humanly possible. Now, because everybody is out of check, the question is whether you think two or three moves ahead of time—how do I get my armies to where they are going and win the battle—or ten moves: how do I ensure the long-term survival of the living? At this point, it’s very hard to tell what the show will do with this novel problem. The world makes sense to them, as the patriarchy does for patriarchs. In the long crisis that followed the deaths of the parents, it was all about survival: because you could easily die tomorrow, you had the luxury of thinking exactly one move ahead. And a show once notorious for its vicious narrative sadism has suddenly, perversely, gotten into the business of fan service. He has a sense of perspective on those who lack it, and since he believes that nothing really ever ends—telling Sam that “The wall stood through it all, and every winter that ever came, has ended”—he thinks Sam should focus on finishing his coursework and qualifying exams first, so that when the time comes to do real scholarship, he’ll be ready. And if the Maesters have the luxury of taking the long view—consuming books and churning out more books—then someone has to live life in the sequence of increasingly short and fast cuts in which soup after soup becomes poop after poop; to live the disembodied life of the mind, someone has to be reduced to laborer. DONE: now that’s happening. But it’s not because they’re women that they know something that men don’t know, or not precisely that: having had their worlds destroyed around them—having had the unthinkable and unspeakable happen to them—they have brought out of their experiences a useful skepticism about the things that people think they know, in their security. It’s irrational to expect the unexpected; it’s the opposite of the scientific method and a contradiction in terms. The White Walkers have always been an obvious metaphor for climate change, and they are, now, suddenly real. So many of the show’s most important plotlines reached important climaxes last season that they’re not ready to get moving again, just yet; this season will soon involve two big armies somehow arriving in Westeros, but: the White Walkers aren’t here yet, and Danaerys, also, isn’t here, yet. It’s a hard question but it doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one. If you take the long view, after all, soup and poop are the same thing. All a term like that does is mark the speaker as the kind of mind that can’t hear what people with bodies are saying, along with a latent layer of fundamental sexism. Arya is now free to murder all her enemies. We also get an interesting discussion of epistemology, and we have a forthright discussion of temporal perspective. But what the soup-poop montage demonstrates is that, in fact, they are people, and even if they don’t think about their last and next meal, someone certainly does. What even is this show if its characters can make choices and have agency? Martin’s creation struggle through an awkward adolescence, without a plan or plausible endgame. This ending is The End! Cersei and Jaime rule King’s Landing together while Yara and Theon, together, rule the seas. For quite a while, we were watching George R. Because Westeros is a place where women, of all people, have learned very well the limits of secure knowledge, it has been left to women and unmanly men to feel and fear what lies beyond the wall of rational knowledge. I’ve written elsewhere about how the show began as an anti-fantasy in which the chivalric and honorable patriarchy either turns evil or dies—the nihilistic cynicism that made Ned Stark’s death and the Red Wedding the structural climaxes of the show’s natural course—and then lost itself in an apparently endless melodrama of violent pornography. The bloodbath that opened the season was there, in terms of structure, to distract viewers from the fact that everything else that happens in this episode is prep-work for the wars to come. But if the soup-poop montage stands out from the rest of the show’s slow, luxurious cinematography—and it really, really does—it does a nice job of signaling that the narrative problem our characters are facing is fundamentally very different. Everybody loves the little girl queen of Bear Island? What if our world is a world not of science, but of science fiction? Meanwhile Cersei knows what her brother doesn’t seem to know, that troop numbers and logistics and gold are not so important in a world where Euron Greyjoy can have his best ships stolen but still somehow show up with an armada of a thousand ships. First up, Aaron Bady on the season premiere episode, “Dragonstone.” And watch this space for a new essay by Sarah Mesle tomorrow morning. Soup, Poop, and Climate Change
Dear Television,
That Game of Thrones has continued long after the original inspiration went dry is one of the most interesting things about it. R. People have a propensity to capitalize the current troubles and give them a false sense of finality: this crisis is The Crisis! Sam isn’t smarter, and he isn’t a better scholar than the Archmaester; of what there is to know, we can be sure, the Archmaester knows it all. It’s because Jon and Jaime only know what they know, and are satisfied with it, that their knowledge has limits. They all had ambitions, sure, but those were very long-term and hypothetical; in the meanwhile, the protagonists mainly just struggled to keep their heads above ground. “Hysteria” is a word that Serious Rationalists sometime use to describe people whose embodied emotions get the better of them, a gendered insult based in the notion that women think with their wombs and scientists with disembodied man-brains. But how does that long view taste? R. But Game of Thrones is fantasy, so the White Walkers are real: what the rational, scholarly Archmaester knows is a poor guide, it turns out, to a fantasy world beyond his rational ken. Bran has leveled up to Full Raven. Go watch it and hurry back to the   water cooler. But it’s the one thing a canny watcher of this show must do…and also people who need to live in bodies in a world that has a good record of often not doing what scientific minds have expected it to. But that has ended, now, and we suddenly see a lot of orphaned protagonists in the driver’s seat of their respective plotlines.