Game of Thrones, “The Dragon and the Wolf”

The show is not wrong that the future is what will be washed away, if we continue as we are; planning for the future is what makes the concept meaningful—and there is no future without our ability to imagine and anticipate it—but the fact that there is no planning for this is fundamental to what “it” is. It was gentle with its characters, and mindful of their arcs. And the same is true of the scene with Jaime. It’s a fantasy. But what if the waters keep rising? Would it make you willing to switch sides? We saw the Hound and Brienne bond like the foster parents of Arya they are, and we saw Brienne teach Jaime how to keep his oath. Perhaps common cause can be made. The army of the dead is on the march, but as we all know—as the fantasy conventions tell us—somebody will kill the Night King and then he’ll be gone forever. Cersei is better at switching the game you think you’re playing, while you’re playing it, than anyone else in the show; her rise from the ashes is the most interesting narrative in it. It might, perhaps, if you are pregnant; the show has defined Cersei through her family, her children, insisting that they are the only thing that matters to her. And so, when her three children were dead, she had no family and no future, and was glad to see the world burn. Tolkien to Anne McCaffrey—that clearly tell Game of Thrones how to tell its story, all the more so when it’s trying to disrupt and deconstruct them. We saw Arya appreciate her sister’s skill at being a Lady, and we saw Sansa appreciate her sister’s usefulness as a killer (and complain about what a PAIN her brother is, correctly). Watching Cersei play poker with Tyrion and Jaime and apparently lose both hands was riveting, especially when you realize she might have lost them both on purpose. It was a welcome return to the bluff and double-bluff of When Game of Thrones Was Still Good. It’s as dumb as it sounds, when you put it like that, which is why Game of Thrones doesn’t put it like that. Hurricane Rita demonstrated that an evacuation can kill as many people as the storm, and the freeways that became jammed-up parking lots in 2005 are all, now, underwater. Like Kaiju movies in which The Bomb is a monster you can stick back under the ocean—as Gerry Canavan observed to me this morning—the Big Monster is the fantasy of an apocalyptic enemy that you can kill, and then it’s gone forever (or at least until the next time you have to kill it). It’s not a show about how the industrial fabric of our civilization—our cars, our electricity, our factories, our cities, our agriculture—is destroying the conditions which make that civilization possible. Climate change cancels the future. Every city in the world is built on wildfire. In cities like Galveston, the hurricanes are inscribed in the landscape—and rebuilding from the last one is a way of life—but how can you plan to rebuild if the next storm is not a decade away, but next year? They are familiar enough for us to experience the terror, and recognize it as such, but they are altered in ways that allow survival to seem possible. That made sense. There are spoilers below…LORD   BAELISH! Perhaps she can imagine the future again, and do what is necessary to save it. Like the “children of the forest”—who created the Night’s King to fight one enemy, only to be destroyed by him—we are our own true enemy; in our hubristic folly, we gave “the one true enemy” exactly the weapon that he needed to destroy us. AUGUST 28, 2017

This week on Dear Television:
Aaron Bady and Sarah   Mesle show up to the dragon pit for a summit of all of the show’s main characters—while editor Phil Maciak has to carry a giant wooden crate with a white walker in it BY HIMSELF FOR SOME REASON—and talk about “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the finale of the seventh season of   Game of Thrones. Ryan and Trump aren’t masterminds, and we’d still be on course for climate apocalypse if Hillary Clinton was president: it wasn’t a GOP monster who peddled fracking technology across the globe, it was Barack Obama’s policies carried out by his secretary of state. What if that happens every year? What might that purpose be? I enjoyed last night’s episode, much more than I had expected. A classic example is police procedurals about sex crimes, in which violence against women is depicted, horrifyingly, but in a world where the police are competent, dedicated, and always catch the criminal. It’s still raining in Houston, and Game of Thrones is not a show about climate change, not really, because it’s possible to win The Game of Thrones. If you step back from the scene it falls apart, but while you’re in it, it’s Game of Thrones doing what Game of Thrones does best. And so, the show asks an unanswerable question: while we might proclaim that the living and the dead are the only two sides that matter, if it’s the living who feed the army of the dead, are there really two sides? Theon and Jon had a nice scene of reconciliation, and though the fight that followed was terrible, I do kind of enjoy the show’s realization that testicles can be a liability. Would it make you calculate your self-interest differently? Game of Thrones is this, as well, but it’s also a fantasy in the sense that it’s a dream, the kind of dream where the things that most terrify us are superficially represented in fundamentally altered forms. Perhaps. But all of this is a fantasy. It’s the fantasy that we don’t carry the agents of our undoing in our own bodies and minds. But if she is pregnant, again, then perhaps she can be reasoned with. We get the wish-fulfillment fantasy of a monster that can be slain, and isn’t us; we get the high fantasy dream that we’re all queens and knights and related to each other, and that no one else exists. She lets you think you’ve already won, and then she hits you where you aren’t looking. High Fantasy is a comfortable narrative, because we know the repertoire of stories; we know how wizards and warriors and druids and zombies work. What if a rainfall that brushes up against the theoretical limit for rainfall can not only happen, but can become part of the new abnormal—if the 500-year storms can come any year now, now that every year is hotter than the one before it—then what we are describing is a world where the only sensible evacuation is the one where you come back. But what if they hadn’t? Why would anyone want to live that way? There is no human civilization without cities and agriculture; what if climate change makes both of them unviable? But it’s still raining in Houston. Dreams are helpful because they help you break out of fears that might paralyze you. As dire as the situation for Our Heroes is, at the end of last night’s episode, our reality is so much worse. You don’t plan for that future, because it isn’t one, and you don’t win it, either: you flee or you die. She might not be pregnant at all, and if she’ll lie about that—and if she has been conspiring with Euron—what if she sent Jaime away on purpose? What we’ve learned from these scenes—and this season—is how Cersei can sit down with a busted straight and walk away with all the chips. Aaron Someone will throw the ring of power into the cracks of doom, and all the armies of the enemy will pass away; after WWII, the Shire might need scouring, but things will return to normal. If your nightmares tell you what you fear, after all, then the work of dreaming is how you reconcile yourself to those fears, how you touch them and discover that you are strong enough to survive. We see the violence, and yet are untouched, and then we see the violator punished. As it continues to rain in Houston, winter has come, and the outlines of the Anthropocene are finally visible: dragons are weapons of mass destruction—the height of human power—and it was our own dragons that brought down the wall. Both of her brothers thought she was going to kill them, and then when she didn’t—when she did nothing—they thought they had won. In the new abnormal, the past no longer helps us understand how to proceed, at a much more basic level than anything we’ve ever seen before. Perhaps we’re all marching in one direction, in unison, towards death. The debate over evacuating Houston helpfully demonstrates the conceptual problem: while it is possible to evacuate a city of many millions, under certain circumstances—which is to say, there are circumstances under which “evacuating a city” would save more lives than not doing so—our ability to tell the difference relies on a playbook and a calculus that is ceasing to obtain. What if climate change changes the rules of the game? Her plan doesn’t make as much sense as it is supposed to—as Lili points out, won’t The Good Guys notice when she hasn’t sent her armies to fight?—but the way she lets Tyrion think he’s called her bluff, and caught her—when he cleverly deduces that she’s pregnant because she screams it at him in body language—this is exactly what allows her to trick him into thinking he’s won and to do what she wants. So they didn’t order an evacuation; there wasn’t time, there weren’t resources, and it would have cost too much. As it rains, and rains, and rains, the army of the dead marches on, and when the wall comes down, they flow forward, slowly and inexorably and endlessly. If we can just kill the bad guys then there will be no more winter, you see; we’re all just building a better world. Most of all, I enjoyed Cersei dueling with her brothers. If Arya or Jaime kills Cersei and Jon kills the Night’s King, then the monsters will be vanquished and the good Kings and Queens will be able to build a democracy in peace, forever. She is also, as such, occupying the place of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan; as Ashik Siddique works out in this thread, she’s the GOP who are happy to gamble that the apocalypse will hit other people first, the monster who knows that chaos is a ladder and is happy to climb; Jon and Dany are the liberals who appeal with facts and reason, rather than simply building power and crushing her (we can even slot Jaime in as “a Republican congressman with a crisis of conscience, realizing need to fight common threat to humanity [who] gets kicked out of office”). In generic terms, “High Fantasy” is an array of conventions and clichés—from J.R.R. Instead, we get a ragtag band of brothers who, together, will cancel the apocalypse. By fantasy, I mean something more specific than genre. It isn’t a right wing demagogue who’s pushing pipelines in Canada, it’s beautiful Justin Trudeau. If you’re Cersei, would this demonstration impress you? It’s not a show that can end with the real ending, which is death, the death we occasionally remember we all will succumb to—and which, we might also remember, all civilizations will as well—because the show is not, in the end, Snowpiercer. (You thought I was talking to you, but I was actually talking to him the whole time.)
The Fantasy of an Enemy
by Aaron Bady
Dear Television,
If you think Game of Thrones is a show about climate change, then we are finally here. In other words, our dreams—when they work—are telling a much more optimistic story than you might realize, and a lot of television functions in exactly the same way. Let me ask a different question: Does what’s happening on our screens look like what’s happening in Houston? What if Houston gets another one of these, this year? After she convinced everyone that she’s the mad queen, people stopped trying to anticipate her reasoning; when she told the men that she was pregnant, they immediately leaped to unwarranted conclusions about what it meant. I even enjoyed the initial Wow, Everyone On The Show Is In This Scene scene, which was tense and unpredictable and interesting. It’s the fantasy of an enemy.