Game of Thrones, “Stormborn”

We’re all going to die anyway, lol. If you’ve read the books, you know that Martin likes using analogies for all the objects that clutter the narrative, but in my memory, those analogies also tended to run together, as a million different analogic chains for gritty medieval fantasy toughness: the sword “Ice” was black as ice, and Castle Black was cold as ice as black as night as leather as dark as black as cold as ice, and so on and on and on. As Grey Worm’s story seems to indicate, the people who really and truly do not GAF are also the most dangerous and powerful in this universe, and Daenerys might end up regretting leaving Daario in Essos (the only person on her team that comes from nowhere and doesn’t bother too much about worrying if he loses). The spectacle of her ranting about the “heathen” Dothraki and the threat that Daenerys will, “destroy the realm as we know it,” while standing under the spot where the sign of the seven used to be, before she destroyed the consensus religion of Westeros by blowing up the Sept, well, that’s quite a bold claim, Cersei! Randyll Tarly wants to insist that his name means something, but in the event, he seems pretty tempted by the prospect of making it mean, “Warden of the South.”
(Meanwhile, one cut later, Tarly’s dis-owned son tries to help another dis-owned son of a father-figure they share, cut, cut, cut…)
People keep insisting that names mean something because the alternative is just too dark and confusing: we strain to see something in the murky and underexposed blackness—and Lili has histograms, if you need convincing that the show is “dark” in the most literal way possible—because otherwise it all just runs together, and every frame is the same. JULY 24, 2017

This week on Dear Television: Aaron Bady and Sarah Mesle board a massive ship with ornate squid-kraken-festooned sails that takes them directly to “Stormborn,” the second episode of the seventh season of   Game of Thrones, the HBO television program. Sansa tells Jon that he can’t go to Dragonstone because the last time a Stark was summoned by the King, it didn’t go well, and wow, this argument-from-names is so clearly wrong that even Jon Snow can see through it. Randyll Tarly is going to fight for one side or the other, eventually; he seems confused by the fact that he swore allegiance to the crown and also to Olenna Tyrell—which, fair point, this show is really confusing—but there’s no obvious clear “right” side to fight for. The implication is clear: if all three sisters had been up there, they’d have won; but Yara told her to stay below and protect her mother, and she does, apparently dooming them all.)
Cersei’s current win streak probably stems from a similar kind of nothing-to-lose attitude. In Homeric poetry, epithets are a useful technology for improvisation on the fly—gotta keep those dactyls constant!—but Martin uses analogies like the show uses underexposed cinematography: a cool aesthetic bath to make the whole show feel of a piece, like something that was planned and constructed and stitched together, and not just a sprawling high fantasy being composed on the fly. This show is increasingly like Randyll Tarly, talking nonsense to Jaime Lannister about how he’s got to get moving, he’s got an army to mobilize because the name Tarly “means something” and Jaime Lannister is all, “cool cool cool, totally, but by the way, which side are you gonna be fighting on,” and Randyll Tarly is all, “by the way, my name is Tarly.”
War is the constant, and everyone has names, but beyond that, the difference between carving up a pus-dripping infectious madness monster disease and digging into a nice delicious pie is a matter of arbitrary perspectives: you never quite know what you’re cutting to until you pull back and see. But it makes as much sense as anything else anyone else says in this swampy confusing show, so why not. What’s that, you say; the other side has dragons? The overwhelming evidence, currently, would seem to be on the side of names not actually meaning anything. Or is it just some bullshit that powerful people sell? In the meantime, the show is stuck in a place where the only way to win is not to care about losing, and the only satisfying twists and turns are the truly unexpected ones. There are plenty of spoilers below, but, you know, whatever, who cares, what does   any of this mean anyway? Everything Jaime says about Olenna Tyrell is correct—she really does just want to burn everything down—but it’s also clear that Cersei is no great prize herself. Meanwhile, there’s Euron, a guy who was introduced into the show about twenty minutes ago—with no meaningful backstory except, “I sailed around the world a bunch and I’m evil and awesome and my goal is to marry the biggest and most awesome queen in the world, I enjoy smiling and laughing and killing”—and he’s crushing it, currently. This is the big question of the show, and as we crash heedlessly towards a conclusion—because the show actually does have to end, and much sooner than was really necessary, but there are only two more seasons to go—the showrunners are getting closer and closer to the point where they can’t have it both ways anymore, and the ship is starting to creak under the stress. The show has been teasing us with ICE + FIRE = CLIMAX for the entirety of its existence, but if there’s one thing that’s more boring than Dany and Jon joining forces, or dragonfire against ice zombies, it’s the predictable slide into Chosen One narratives and prophecy nonsense. Euron is winning because while everyone else just talks and talks and talks—and worries and worries and worries—Euron only lives to get radical. Thanks for the pie,
Aaron (Sarah’s post to follow shortly!)
My Name is Dickon, and That Name Means Something
by Aaron Bady
Dear Television,
The problem with Game of Thrones…
(and I take a breath here, disoriented with all the possibilities)
…is that it can’t decide if it wants to go into full nihilistic doom-and-gloom cynicism, or if it wants to believe in something. Watch it again: we see SS #1 bump, we see SS #2 set, and then we see SS #3 spike the ball… except then the camera pulls back and we realize that it wasn’t Euron she castrated. (He beat the Sand Snakes, it turns out, because one of the three stayed back to protect her mother: if all three Sand Snakes had been up on the deck to fight Euron, all the finishing blows we see the surviving Sand Snake deliver to various unnamed pirates, below deck, would have been delivered to Euron. I mean: in this episode, there is a dire wolf named “Nymeria” and also one of the Sand Snakes is named “Nymeria,” and that goes nowhere, plus, the wolf that was gifted to Arya by prophecy and legend, in the event, is all, “nah I’ve got a wolf pack to be queen of, laterz.” But if the “Prince that Was Promised” can also be a princess, because why not, and the guy who insists that the name Tarly means something also named his son “Dickon,” and nobody seems to laugh at him for it, then what’s in a name? Like Homeric poetry, Game of Thrones is at its best when something truly surprising happens and we watch intelligent, desperate people scheme an improvised response. OK, let’s build a really big crossbow, because why not see if that works. But if it’s all planned out, epithets just demonstrate a lack of imagination, the kind of paint-by-number plotting that only has one color paint. The answer to this question is going to be really unsatisfying. I mean, who builds a ship with a big hungry-hungry-hippos mouth cruncher thing and then RIDES IT DOWN? Let’s just hang out in Winterfell, basically the only castle that’s been successfully conquered by an invading army in the entire show, that’s just an excellent plan. With her, it seems to be the prophecy that all her children would die, and also she’ll be killed by “little brother” (which is going to be the next High Valyrian Translation Puzzler), but in the meantime, she’s living her what is best in life, not because it helps, but because, you know, why not? Daenerys spent the entire episode making a plan in her map room, a plan that’s clearly going to fail; she’s up against two people who aren’t looking for anything logical, who can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with; only Olenna, who just wants to watch the world burn, knows how to deal with that. Other than the guy who drowned himself just because that would be a baller move, and because those who die can never die. The argument from names wants to subordinate all the messy, senseless chaos—in a show whose plotlines are as mixed up and tangled and confusing as a battle between two Iron Fleets of basically identical ships, filled with basically identical pirates, all fighting under the same squid-kraken banner, at night—but regardless of how individual fights turn out, the show is eventually going to have to decide if names mean anything: do bloodlines and names and prophecies actually prove true? We’re faced with an overwhelming army of apocalyptic ice monsters who keep kicking our ass, and also a Mad Queen that hates us and keeps winning constantly, and the perfect enemy of both of them just slid into our DMs but we’re not going to even take a meeting, are you kidding me, Sansa?!