Game of Thrones Episode 8.02 - Starks and Humanity

By: Daphne Olive

Recording a podcast about Game of Thrones Season 7 put me in the perfect frame of mind to be more excited about the beginning of Season 8 than I have been about Game of Thrones for a while, and I really enjoyed these first two episodes of the season. I had been vocal about wanting more of what I originally loved about Game of Thrones at every opportunity - on panels at Con of Thrones, in the podcast, to friends and pretty much anyone who would listen. My favorite version of Game of Thrones is that which centers characters and relationships. These episodes were very much that; likely before we move on to a whole lot of bombast, which is also fun, but not my personal favorite.

!! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS !!
From this point on there will be spoilers for Game of Thrones through and including the first 2 episodes of Season 8. Stop here if you do not want to be spoiled. I will offer you a delightful gif of Brienne and Jaime giving each other what would be in the world of Black Sails the most emotional of Pirate Hugs:

look at them…❤️❤️❤️

look at them…❤️❤️❤️

I am not planning on recapping this season. I just wanted to bring up one aspect of the beginning of Season 8 that has really struck me. I love the Starks. Seeing the remaining Starks back together and in their home, Winterfell, coupled with the many call backs to the first episode of Season 1, we naturally find ourselves thinking back to earlier parts of the story and the emotional distances the characters have traveled.

And now I am laughing at myself for saying “emotional distances” when I need words so much stronger but can’t think of an umbrella term to describe all of their varied roads of horror. Each Stark survived in their own way and their survival tools had personal costs. Season 8 has them inhabiting their childhood home again, but they are each so very different from the people they were. The Stark children are not only not children any longer, but also exist in spaces somewhat separate from the humanity around them. That separateness takes a different form for each of them that matches the lives of survival they have led since they parted from each other so long ago. The time since their reunion in Winterfell has also offered each Stark opportunities to inch closer back into the world of human community and connection.

The Starks have had a connection to magic from the beginning. They found their direwolves early in the story - long before Daenerys hatched her dragon babies. Still they always felt like the highborn family that was most ‘of the people’ for me, perhaps from the time we spent with them at Winterfell in the beginning of Game of Thrones. We saw Ned and his family interact comfortably with the smallfolk around them. Their family always felt very grounded in the more mundane world of humanity. Winterfell is messy and less glamorous than the other locations we have seen in Westeros and Essos. The people who would be framed more as servants in other settings feel almost like family when interacting with the Starks. Perhaps Winterfell is the key to the hints of personal transformations in Season 8. Perhaps it is the reassembling of the pack, but also the influence of the rootedness of home. I am not sure yet the catalyst. I am interested in the parallels that struck me in the very different stories of the four Starks as we see them shift from their Season 7 to Season 8 stories.

Let’s start with Arya. Her separation from humanity is encoded in her choice to become No One, and even before that she had been forced to deny her identity to survive after Ned was beheaded. Her early and continuing traumatic conditions took her from a little girl with a death list to an older girl serving the God of Death. She did not completely leave behind her humanity: she did save Lady Crane. Still, when she comes back to Westeros, we see her inability to function in the most basic human interactions when she meets up with Hot Pie again. His warmth towards her contrasted with her weirdness really highlights Arya’s separateness.

Then she arrived to Winterfell and has been gradually coming back to the world of life. Arya is still a fascinatingly strange person. I enjoy not being able to predict what form that strangeness will take in her interactions (I am going to ignore the way they used her strangeness to trick the viewers in Season 7 - listen to the podcast episode for that discussion) Her two meetings with Sandor Clegane show her process of thawing. In Episode 8.01 Arya shows him almost no recognition, and then in 8.02, she is still her prickly self but in a way that recognizes their connection. We watch Arya turning towards life; towards relating to people again. Of course the most significant turn is towards Gendry. We can almost see the child she was in looks she gives him. Gendry was the person she told of her true identity when she was Arry. It makes sense that reuniting with a trusted friend would help Arya turn away from Death (want to fight Death even) and renew her connection with humanity, community, and pursuits that don't involve murder; one that even can lead to new life (not that I am at all even remotely suggesting that is where the story is going! Seriously, that is not going to be a thing or I will not be happy at all)

Arya adjusting her list to just the one name: death - Maybe cersei is still there too. Probably, eVen

Arya adjusting her list to just the one name: death - Maybe cersei is still there too. Probably, eVen

Sansa has become my favorite character. Her response to trauma has been to learn and build around herself fortifications of practicality and smart strategic analysis of potential dangers. Heartbreaking and so beautifully developed in the story and through Sophie Turner's flawless performance. Fortifications are also barriers, and her self preservation has required separation from community even when she returns to the home of her people, surrounded by her people. Sansa’s story follows her increasing isolation at the hands of smart and brutal enemies who pretend to offer her benevolence at first. She has value for her tormentors throughout the story as an object - as a key to power through her lineage. In every stage of Sansa’s subjugation, the most human aspects of her personality become tools for her enemies to use against her: her romanticism, her nativity, her longing for love and acceptance, her status as a woman. We then see her wrap herself in the emotional armor of rejecting those human vulnerabilities as she carefully chooses which of her enemies’ lessons to adopt. Sansa's initial stage of return to Winterfell was part of her story of separation from humanity and community, and also part of what allowed her to reconnect. Her abuse by Ramsay Bolton went way beyond anything Joffrey, Cersei, and Littlefinger could do.

During the period of Ramsay’s abuse, a tiny opening in that armor that would allow her to start finding her way back remained, fostered by the quiet support of the smallfolk around her. The Sansa who left Ramsay to his hounds is almost unrecognizable from the naive girl she once was. Her early time as Lady Stark was an image of a stoic figure, so smart, so practical, but also so alone, even when surrounded by people. At the same time, she was connected to the community around her through her care and service to her people underneath that veneer of stoicism. Sansa’s Season 7 connection to her people flowed from her heart but could not break the protective barriers she had built around her. I had a vision of Sansa's connection as the non-magical, emotional version of how the Three Eyed Raven connects to the world. Both seem disconnected through lack of visible emotionality, but have invisible tendrils of connection: The Three Eyed Raven through his mystical ties to the eyes in all of the weirwood trees and Sansa through her service to her people that manifests in thoughtfulness about things like stores of food and proper padding of armor for winter. Each sibling reunion allowed her to soften the barriers she had built, until in 8.02, her reunion with Theon broke through completely. It took reconnection with a character who could touch her through shared experience and understanding of the reason for the fortress to melt its walls enough to widen that opening. Seeing Sansa with Theon in Episode 8.02 gave me such hope for her.

Sansa allowing herself a momemt without the barriers

Sansa allowing herself a momemt without the barriers

The male Starks have stories that involve transformations more magical by nature than psychological. That feels like a topic for me to think about going forward....

Jon died and came back to life. That is a pretty big separation from the rest of humanity. His return to Winterfell has reconnected him to humanity in an odd way. Finding out about his parentage and claim to the throne feels like a swift turn off the very magic-centered path he has been on of possible Azor Ahai / Fire Wight / Dragon Rider super prophecy-imbued story. Being a Targaryen is not without connection to magic, but a claim to the Iron Throne is also firmly based in the mundane world of politics and actually ruling people. We know Jon is pretty good at ruling people, despite his reluctance to do so (because of it?) His new identity coupled with his reunion in 8.02 with his Night's Watch brothers, who he had ruled well, feels like a bit of grounding for our broody hero.

Bran is the Stark most obviously distant from the person he was and the human world around him. This one is pretty obvious. He has spent a lot of time telling people he is not Bran anymore. When Jon says he is a man, he says "almost" (cue Sansa's smirk). When I decided to write about this my plan was to pass over the idea of his reconnection with humanity, but his speech about the Night King hunting him as he had past Three Eyed Ravens changed my mind. Bran's connection to humanity is abstract and certainly doesn't show on his face, but it is profound: "He wants to erase this world and I am its memory." Whether inspired by or merely coinciding with his homecoming, Bran also sees his place as one of service to humanity: he seems to see benefit in having become the Three Eyed Raven when speaking to Jaime. He wants to potentially sacrifice himself as bait for the greater good. He is still quite disconnected and truly not entirely human himself, but that is as close as we are going to get, and the idea of being the embodied memory of the world is cool enough for me to stop there.

It is impossible to know where this story will go in the last four episodes. These two episodes were a gift both tonally and in the sense of hope more generally that I got from seeing the Starks reconnect with their humanity to the extent that each did. I hope that the philosophical and thematic conversation between the magical and the mundane in the world continues in the story of Game of Thrones to the end. I feel that the developments of the first two episodes of Season 8 imply that the Stark family will continue their interesting place in that conversation - you know, if they survive :)

Here is the link to our podcast episode on Season 7 of Game of Thrones: click here

with cohost @kiippinsk and many links to other sources of great Game of Thrones content creators.

Thank you Meghan for your editing excellence 🖤

bonus image because i love Tormund, and especially Supportive friend version of tormund

bonus image because i love Tormund, and especially Supportive friend version of tormund

Captain Marvel: I didn't expect this

By: Daphne Olive

So, Captain Marvel caught me by surprise. I knew I would love Brie Larson and Samuel Jackson together and I did, immensely. We wanted to make this blog space for exactly this: when we aren’t going to podcast about a thing but have ideas in our heads demanding to be said. 

I am going to try to do something I don’t normally do - write and publish without driving myself mad editing and re editing as I have been doing with my book. Here goes. There is really one point I want to make. I am going to add links below to people making other amazing points about Captain Marvel. 

There are universal stories and stories more specific to a group of people. I am absolutely of the opinion that most of the stories we have been told in film are based more in the experiences of cisgender white men and I am not here to talk about the history or politics of that right here. What do I want to talk about is the extremely novel experience I had with Captain Marvel that lit up parts of my mind based in my own experience in the land of navigating the world of gender. 

!! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS !!
If you have not watched Captain Marvel, stop here. Trust me, it is much more fun to go into this movie not knowing stuff. I will offer you a delightful gif of Fury and Goose. Now go watch and come back after.

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OK. On to the SPOILERS:

This movie felt like it drew from the experiences of women - and not only in the usual “fuck the patriarchy” ways. I love a good “fuck the patriarchy” moment, and Captain Marvel certainly has some good ones like Carol being told to smile and the whole ‘COCK-pit’ bit, but what interests me here is deeper and more structural. I really enjoyed the shaken up origin story that starts with Carol not knowing who she is. I am positive that the amnesia structure works better for someone like me who went in knowing almost nothing about her story and nothing about the Skrulls. I remember bad Kree from Agents of Shield, but I have experienced the MCU with almost no knowledge of the comic books. I was perfectly ready to accept Carol’s initial understanding of her world at face value and to believe those around Carol telling her that they gave her her powers and that she must learn to control her emotions to better control her powers.

And that is the thing that later lit up for me. Carol Danvers is a lot of things, but overly emotional is not one of them. We have all seen stories of women experiencing gaslighting (manipulating someone to question their own reality). Gaslighting is not an exclusively female experience, but it is an extremely common one for women. In the SlashFilmCast (link below) Joanna Robinson, senior writer at Vanity Fair, podcaster, and all around fabulous human being called what the Kree were doing with Carol “handicapping presented as support” and those were the perfect words. They had convinced Carol that her strengths - both her powers and her ability to feel anger - were 1) not hers to begin with and 2) liabilities. This tracked so well with how women generally spend so much of our energy in self-editing and self-regulating so as to not be defined as too emotional/shrill/hysterical and to be taken seriously. We are constantly told that to be heard and to be strong we must reign in our emotions and that when we are dismissed it is our own fault for having been so emotional.

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Now, the part that inspired me to write this. Usually, stories of gaslighting exist as an element in a larger story - a ‘women’s story’ showing the effects of that manipulation on women. In Captain Marvel, the entire structure of the of the story, with its time jumps and memory recovery, was built on gaslighting as the narrative scaffolding. A common, or maybe essential, experience of women in our culture is no longer an element of the story; it is the story even though this is not a film specifically about womanhood. This feels like the first time I have seen a plot so subtly built from the bottom up from the specific experiences of women without congratulating itself for noticing women and without being a movie primarily about women’s experiences. The conflict and resolution of the plot which will ultimately save everyone (I assume Carol’s powers will be pretty important in Endgame) stem directly from Carol discovering and rejecting gaslighting. I am so used to universal human issues, and/or the gendered issues men confront being used as the framework for a story meant to be universal. I didn’t realize until watching this film, how refreshing it would feel to have experiences I know intimately used the same way. This is not a perfect movie but it truly surprised me in this one essential way. Women’s experiences are human experiences and it is really cool to have a story structured with that perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this - you can comment here or find me on Twitter:
@daphneolive

Here is the /Film Podcast about Captain Marvel with Joanna Robinson:
https://www.slashfilm.com/filmcast-ep-508-captain-marvel/


Here is Rowan Ellis explaining how Carol and Maria are absolutely a couple (as was my assumption):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SJ1q2nq8Xw

I will add more links as I find other cool Captain Marvel coverage.

Iron, Roses, Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones and Gender Imagery

By: Elizabeth Rae Stevens

Before the scientific revolution in the 16th century, the natural world was seen as as an organism with a feminine soul. It has been argued (perhaps most notably by Carolyn Merchant in her 1980 work The Death of Nature) that as the culture moved to a mechanistic worldview and began seeing the earth as a collection of resources, the dominion over nature was concomitant with the subjugation of women. Centuries later, we are still using metaphors of nature as female, and the dominion over nature as a masculine evil.

As a species of storytellers, we consistently fall back on centuries-old tropes and motifs as a kind of shorthand. In a modern culture of sound bites and “too long; didn’t read” memes, it is a particular challenge to leave behind those stereotypes and tropes to engage the audience in a new, subtle, and progressive take on character and story. In our media-saturated and hyper-literate world, even when we subvert those expectations we are drawing on the assumption that the audience will recognize the stereotype before the twist.

This is particularly evident in one of the most successful and influential pop-culture phenomena of recent years: the HBO TV adaptation of George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Game of Thrones. In this series, we can clearly see how gendered images and metaphors for the natural world influence our expectations.

The Iron Throne

The Iron Throne

The Iron Throne itself is a definitively masculine structure. Dark, metallic, hard edged, composed of weaponry, it bespeaks a ruthlessness and physical strength that is closely connected with classic masculine traits, and reminiscent of the ancient beliefs and texts that the mining of ores is an act of violence against Mother Earth. Here, her riches have been plundered, forged, and turned to political purpose.

By season seven, the reigning monarch on the Iron Throne is female. Queen Cersei, however, has undergone a dramatic evolution from her early representation as a classically feminine character with flowing tresses and sweeping gowns to donning a much more masculine costume that speaks to her increased ruthlessness and hunger for power, traits of her Lannister lineage.

Season One Cersei will teach you how to achieve soft waves with your flat iron

Season One Cersei will teach you how to achieve soft waves with your flat iron

Season Seven Cersei will kill your children.

Season Seven Cersei will kill your children.

Margaery Tyrell.jpg

On the other end of the gender spectrum, we have House Tyrell. Their house crest is a rose and their words are “growing strong”. Their costumes are soft and flowing, and their ancestral home is called Highgarden. In every way, they are set up immediately as the feminine side of Westeros, contrasted with the masculine strength of the North.

Margaery Tyrell, one of the most powerfully feminine characters in Westeros.

The florals, soft colors, and draping fabrics of House Tyrell.

The florals, soft colors, and draping fabrics of House Tyrell.

Living in the North means leather and fur and the exploitation of the natural world. The Stark family is a fascinating study of gender and power in a patriarchy.

Living in the North means leather and fur and the exploitation of the natural world. The Stark family is a fascinating study of gender and power in a patriarchy.

Then, of course, we have the Targaryans. Classically feminine in style and character, Daenarys is an archetypal Earth Mother Goddess, ruling with mercy and justice, beloved of her people. She brings a certain balance to this hyper masculine world, and as “Mother of Dragons” works in concert with the natural world. Season One Daenerys and her brother, Viserys, both portrayed as being stereotypically feminine, particularly when opposed with the exaggerated masculinity of the Dothraki horde.

Daenerys and Viserys

Daenerys and Viserys

Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, mastering  natura naturata .

Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, mastering natura naturata.

Game of Thrones is in many ways a study of opposition and contrast: summer and winter, North and South, West and East, civil and savage, life and death, and, of course, ice and fire. Each of these conflicts is given form in the metaphor and imagery of the oldest conflict in human narrative, the masculine and the feminine. Even as Game of Thrones evolves and subverts the established stereotypes of the fantasy genre, it is drawing upon and adding to the complexity and texture of our ancient shared culture, and to our understanding of the ages-old connections between the natural world and the feminine. There is a deep well to draw from here, with connections to the more stereotypically masculine kingdoms being at war with nature and the more feminine kingdoms embracing sensuality and the natural world, the theology of Westeros, the harnessing of feminine power, the subjugation of women, the subversion of traditional gender roles in characters such as Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark, and examinations of maternity and paternity. However, even a cursory glance shows us how many character traits and themes are established with outmoded gender stereotypes and their explicit link to the natural world, and how immediately and subconsciously we recognize the metaphor.