Category Archives: fantasy

Recovered Tales– The Black Tooth Gang

Today I was examining some old 3.5″ floppy drives, with an eye to recovering old writing files, when I came across this story.  I wrote it in 1994, which corresponds to the Jurassic period of my writing (I have Permian and Devonian periods, as well, about which the less said, the better).  It’s kinda silly and maudlin, and was part of that great mass of scribbling I produced decades ago that never saw daylight.  But it has some moments, and I thought I’d fling it out here just for fun.

I’ve previously posted old abandoned writing fragments, but I may just start posting a few more complete stories I find in my archives, assuming they’re not too embarrassing.

Copyright 1994 (whew, I feel old) Douglas Daniel

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“Keep your goddamn hands where I can see them,” the fairy said.

I did as I was told. The little creep had me dead to rights. The piece he leveled at me was a flechette-gun; tiny, like all fairy weapons, but also very high velocity and high rate of fire. It wouldn’t penetrate deep, but enough sustained hits could be unpleasant. And more of the little jamokes, hundreds of them, all armed and in a bad mood, were pouring out of the rafters of the old warehouse at the guard-fairy’s shout. They were an ill-favored crew– black leather, tattoos, and earrings. It looked like a fairy remake of The Wild One.

“What’cha got, Kekero, what’cha got?” they were all saying at once. Their voices were less like rainwater tinkling into forest pools than fingernails on a blackboard. The whole squadron circled me, exuding far more menace than fairy-dust.

“Got us a meat-mountain snooping around,” said the guard-fairy. “Gweezle, you and Slow-fizz search him. The rest of you joes, watch him.”

I kept very still while two of the fairies peeled off and started to search me. I’d been frisked by fairies before, but I had never gotten used it. Every search by fairies is a skin search.

The one called Gweezle came out the bottom of my trouser leg. “He’s clean, Kekero. Not even a pocketknife.” He looked up at me. “You should more talc, fella.”

The other one pulled out my wallet, opened it with the assistance of three others. Their wings hummed with the effort to keep the weight of the billfold aloft. “Hey, this guy’s a private dick.”

The guard-fairy buzzed closer to my face. He jammed the muzzle of the flechette-gun up my right nostril. “What are you doing here, human? You should know your kind ain’t welcome on this part of the waterfront.”

“I’m here to see your boss,” I said.

“You got an appointment?” Gweezle said. The whole, swirling, dancing bunch laughed; and if you’ve never heard gang-fairies laugh, count yourself lucky.

“What makes you think the big boss will want to see you, meat-mountain?” asked Kekero. The barrel of the flechette-gun went a little further up my nose.

“I have a message for him.” I stared the little punk down. “From the Seattle High Fairy Council.”

That persuaded them. Kekero put a heavy guard on the door I came in, and led me back into the depths of the warehouse. It was dusty, broken-down place; a lot of the freight that passed through Seattle had gone from ship to zeppelin-carried years before, and the surface trade wasn’t enough to keep all of Harbor Island busy. Large sections of the waterfront had gone to seed, and had been taken over by squatters, human, fairy, and otherwise. This warehouse was fairly typical. Broken crates littered the floor. Several shipping containers, rusting and empty, were scattered like some giant child’s forgotten toys. The place was built in the shape of a T– main storage area here, work space and loading docks in the back, through an archway large enough to squeeze three Russian dragons through. Sunlight shone dimly through the dirty encrusted window that penetrated the walls, high up close to the ceiling.

The fairies led me up a creaking flight of stairs that threatened to collapse under my weight at any moment. The dust lay thick on the steps. Kicking it up made me sneeze, which gave the tiny creeps something to laugh at.

Their headquarters was in one of the old warehouse offices, in a half-floor over the work-space. The only human piece of furniture left was an ancient mahogany desk. The rest of the office done up in Fairy Provincial. The floor was littered with bones, rat and other kinds I didn’t want to think about, an old, worn-out Playboy, and dust-balls.

I saw at once why these low-lives called their leader `the big boss’– he was eight inches tall and as burly as a fairy got. Uko the Pummeler, chief of the Black Tooth Gang, reclined on a throne carved from a single hunk of redwood, covered with the pelts of cats and festooned with the skulls of past enemies, set in the middle of that mahogany desk. Nymph-fairies dawdled about his booted feet. He smiled confidently as his boys brought me in. His golden eyes were touched with sardonic humor. Definitely too much Frazetta, I decided.

“My good fairies tell me you have a message from our worthy adversaries,” he said. For such a little guy, his voice sure carried. “Concerning what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I think we both know, oh mighty Uko.” I went into the pitch, just as I had practiced over and over. I found I had to work to stay focused. Uko had something I hadn’t counted on– charisma. Buckets more than most of the humans I knew.  In one of the Faerie Folk that sort of thing can be overwhelming, even when the package reads “individual serving”. I had to bite my cheek to stay on task.

“The High Fairy Council of Seattle wishes to inform you that it is ready to bargain for the release of your hostage. They are anxious to get her back.”

“I’m sure they are,” said Uko, smiling. Around the office his gang laughed, sending shivers racing down my spine and back. Several of the little thugs buzzed about my head, chortling, poking my hair with the muzzles of their weapons.  “Although it took them long enough to respond to our summons.”  He peered more closely at me.  “How did the High Council settle on a human to do its dirty work?”

I shrugged. “I’m a disinterested party. I get a commission however this turns out.”

Uko lounged back in his throne, stretched languidly. “So tell me– what inducements am I offered to surrender the best hostage we Black Tooths have had a couple of centuries?” he asked. “We won her fair and square, by the rules of feud that have governed the Faerie Folk since before you humans were knocking each other on the head with rocks. Holding the Queen means I hold the whole West Coast Fiefdom by their tiny, luminescent balls.” He leaned forward. “And I haven’t even begun to squeeze yet.”

“Let me be plain, sir.” I paused, waiting, then lifted my hand as if to emphasize a point. One of the little jamokes harassing me, making about his fifth orbit, smacked hard into the back of my hand. He moaned and spiraled to the littered floor. His compatriots, far from taking offense, thought it a great joke; there was much twittering and tittering. “I am very sorry. As I was about to say, I must be honest with you. It is true, that in the short run, you can cause a great deal of trouble. It is also true, sir, that a prolonged hostage situation will only exacerbate the feud between you and the Fiefdom, a heightened state of conflict which– I have to be honest with you– you cannot win.”

Uko cocked his head at me. “Can’t win? Did I hear you right? Did you hear what he said, boys?” The gang laughed, and if I shivered before, this group guffaw practically put icicles on my privates.

Uko stood. He rose up on wings a foot long each, until he was eye-level with me. “Do you think those pansy West Coast simps are any match for us, meat-mountain?”

At the moment I rather doubted it, but I merely shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not my place to judge such issues. My comment was prompted only the obvious fact that the Fiefdom outnumbers you considerably.”

He snorted with contempt. “Let’ em all come. We’ll kick their asses, like we always have. Right, boys?” The fairies cheered and brandished their weapons. It was like listening to a horde of combat-ready chipmunks. “We even got other hideouts. You found us here once, meat-mountain, but you won’t on a return visit.”

“Yet no hiding place is secure forever,” I said. It was hard, playing the voice of cool reason, with these little punks buzzing about and yelling. And the script wasn’t going quite to plan. “In the end you will be brought to battle.”

“Then we’ll cut her throat,” said the chief. “Tell the almighty Fiefdom that.”

I held up a hand again. Three of the bastards did evasive maneuvers. This was not going well. “Before I return to the Council, I must give you the whole message which they charged me to deliver. For the safe return of their Queen, they are prepared to offer the sum of one hundred thousand.”

Uko sneered. “Dollars? You’ve got to be joking.”

I shook my head. “Not Federal greenbacks. Damarzi scrip.”

The whole crowd fell silent, except for some character who let go a long whistle. The Dwarvish scrip was legal tender only in their stores and Caverns, but it traded as one scrip note to ten U.S. dollars on the black market. Uko stared at me, a gleam of calculation in his eye. No one said anything for a long moment.

Then a grin grew over Uko’s face. “Hell, if she’s worth that much now, she’ll be worth even more later. Sure, the High Council can give us the money. As a down payment!” He laughed, and the whole crew laughed with him. My heart shrank to a burnt nubbin. “You go tell the Council that, meat-mountain. You tell them send money, and keep it coming. And you tell them that if they try anything funny, we’ll kill their precious Queen and throw her stinking corpse into Elliot Bay.”

I kept control of myself. Everything we had been working for, the weeks of planning, was going down the toilet. The Fiefdom had been in an uproar for a month and more since the Black Tooths snatched their queen. This would go over like a lit match in a powder magazine.

“I’ll tell them, but…” was as far as I got.

The explosion shook the whole warehouse. I nearly lost my footing; the floor bucked and heaved like a carnival ride. The fairies around me wailed in fear and rage. Glass broke somewhere. There were shouts and gunfire.

“You double-dealing bastard!” Uko yelled. “You tricked us. Kill him!”

I didn’t try to reason with the little jerk. Even as he yelled I moved.

Two long steps, a leap up on the desk. One of the gang didn’t get out of the way fast enough; he squashed with a satisfying pop! under my shoe. The back wall of the old office was glass, dim with dirt and cobwebs. I covered my eyes and jumped.

Glass crashed around me as I landed in the corridor beyond, fetching up hard against the far wall. I scrambled up, ignoring the assorted new cuts and bruises I’d acquired. I jerked the heel off my right shoe, and flung it under the shattered window. In the room the beyond the gang was still milling in bright confusion. One of the punks got off a burst that splintered the wall over my head as the shoe-heel began to smoke. Blood agent, specific to fairies– most it would give me was the runs. Anybody who goes into a gang-fairy hideout completely unarmed deserves what they get.

Two of the jamokes tried to fly through the rapidly spreading cloud to get at me. They screamed and dropped to the floor, convulsing. I could hear Uko ordering a retreat. The sounds of gunfire downstairs swelled; another explosion rocked the walls.

I jerked the heel off my other shoe. It was now a low-yield grenade, would explode on contact once I threw it. I took off down the hall.

The corridor was lined with office doors. I checked each one, kicking down doors where I had to. I cursed the whole way. Someone had jumped the gun. The strike team was supposed to lie low and wait for me to come out. If the Black Tooths accepted the ransom, everything was on track to pay it and bring the Queen out. In any event, the Fiefdom forces were supposed to wait for me to come out. Some junior commander had gotten overeager.

All we had now was Plan B, which stood for bungle, and probably bollix and blunder, as well.  The real problem with Plan B, though, was who had the starring role.  Myself, of course, meat-mountain or sacrificial lamb, depending on your point of view.

I forced myself to focus.  The Queen was somewhere in this dump; that much we were certain of. I had to find her before Uko got to her first. I’d lied to him about one detail– if the Queen died as a result of this operation, I’d get no commission.

I kicked doors, shattered glass, and found nothing but dust and broken furniture. The sounds of fighting were louder. A thin layer of smoke permeated the corridor, making my eyes sting. I could hear shouted orders, those of the strike team amplified and resonating through the warehouse.

A burst of fire chewed the wood of the wall next to me. Three Black Tooths were buzzing at the head of the far stairs from the warehouse floor. They fired again. I felt pain rip through my left cheek and arm. Grunting with the hurt, I tossed the heel and dropped.

The explosion shattered all the remaining glass in the hallway. The shock wave crushed me against the floor and was gone. I looked up. Smoke rolled thick through the corridor, but no one was shooting at me.

I staggered up, wiped blood from my upper lip, and groped my way through the smoke. The remaining doors were all sprung from the blast; at the second one I heard, “In here!”

I battered the door aside and went in. High up, hanging from a hook in the ceiling, was an old bird-cage. Its bars were freshly painted gold. Those Black Tooths were some very sick customers.

As carefully as my wounds allowed, I stretched up and took down the bird-cage. Within– how do you describe beauty beyond the understanding of men? The Queen of the Western Fairies danced a dance of joy within the confines of her prison. Her wings shed light about the smoky, dirty room like a blessing; she was bright and glorious, exquisitely beautiful, golden and delicate. For a moment, I regretted being born a lumpish human– I could have wished to have been a fairy, if just to follow this wonderful creature.

“Thank you for coming for me,” she sang. It was like sweet chimes rung at midnight. “But hurry! You’re in grave danger.”

“That’s for damn sure.”

Uko hovered in the doorway, as his bully-boys, chortling and smirking, filtered into the space around him on buzzing wings, weapons ready. “You almost pulled it off, meat-mountain. Almost. Too bad we don’t give out prizes for second place.”

I wrapped my arms around the bird-cage and charged. If I could get through the cloud of creeps and make it to the stairs, I might be able to reach a Fiefdom strike team. I bellowed and ran.

Fairies squalled and tried to get out of my way. I ran two or three down– they crunched like bugs against the floor. Others battered into me as I ran, like moths against a windshield. Some of them tried to fire, but by then I was in the middle of them, and mostly they hit each other. Fairy screams rang in my ears. But the volume of fire was such that I took hits all over, including a burst that stitched me along the curve of my right butt-cheek.

Angry, contorted fairy-faces flashed before me and I was in the hall. All I had to do was turn right, go a few feet, down the stairs, and I’d be home free. Behind me the Black Tooths were yelling for my blood.

That’s when one of those coincidences happened that convince me that, not only is there a God, but He has an incredible sense of timing. As I turned, another explosion ripped through the warehouse. Maybe my hand-grenade had weakened the floor, maybe not; in any case, under this new insult the floorboards gave way with groaning shriek and collapsed.

I fell. It was twenty or so feet to the floor of the warehouse and I fell hard. I bounced off a pile of rotten burlap sacking, which probably saved my life, rolled and hit the concrete floor.

It knocked the wind out of me. I lay flat on my back for a long time, trying to re-establish comm links between brain and lungs, while all around me the battle raged. It didn’t help when I realized I had lost my grip on the bird-cage sometime during my misadventure. I glimpsed flame, smoke, and flitting forms; both Black Tooth and Fiefdom troops were zipping about, engaged in a flying firefight that surged back and forth. Flechettes sang through the air, chipping concrete and slicing tiny bodies.

My lungs caught with a wheeze. Breathing hard, I sat up. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I was sure going to have one hellacious bruise.

I glanced around. The bird-cage lay on its side ten or so feet away, rocking gently on the concrete. Gasping with pain, I crawled toward it.

The buzz of wings stopped me. Black Tooths swarmed down from the busted ceiling, like a cloud of well-armed hornets, and settled between me and the cage. Most of the itty-bitty bastards covered me, while others lifted the cage. The Queen was still alive, apparently unhurt– she gave a cry of distress that stabbed me.

Behind his gang came Uko. He hovered above me and smiled. “It’s just not your day, is it, meat-mountain? Look on the bright side; you won’t have to worry about how to spend that commission.” He nodded to his flunkies. “Kill him.”

Uko turned in mid-air. The back loading dock doors had been burst inward by explosions; October sunlight poured through. He headed for the open sky, followed by a gaggle of Black Tooths, who between them managed to get the cage airborne.

The fairies covering me closed in, charging their weapons. This time they couldn’t miss. I backed up, trying to see a weak spot in the crowd. There was none. I wouldn’t be running out of this spot. What I needed was a shotgun with birdshot, or a flamethrower.

As if in answer to a prayer I hadn’t spoken, a jet of flame shot from my left and washed over the Black Tooths. Screams reverberated. The flame was so close I had to shield my face. Tiny corpses, crispy black, rained out of the air, pattering on the concrete. The flame cut off; none of the Black Tooths had escaped.

A winged form the size of a horse came around the pile of burlap. Wicked claws scratched the cement; leather wings arched ten feet.

“That,” said the dragon, “will teach you to pick on somebody your own size.”

“Roscoe!” I said, overjoyed. “You scaly son-of-a-bitch! You saved my hide.”

“As usual, boss.” My junior partner examined the toasted evidence of his handiwork. “Looks like it’s a good thing I didn’t dawdle.”

“No argument here. Wait.” The joy went leaking out. I struggled to my feet. “They’re getting away.” Roscoe helped me up, a gentle, taloned claw pulling me to my feet. I hobbled to one of the loading dock doors. The steel doors had been blasted aside.

High over the rooftops of Harbor Island, I glimpsed a flash of gold in the sunshine.

“There! They’ve got the Queen. Lift me, Roscoe. We got to get after them.”

Roscoe looked mournful. “Boss, I ain’t wholly recovered from the hernia I got the last time.”

“Just do it!”

Roscoe moaned as he lifted me over the warehouses and docks and turned in pursuit of the Black Tooths. They were headed southwest, toward West Seattle, rather than north over the Sound as I expected. “Faster!” I said.

“I’m about to split a gut now!” Roscoe yelled back. But his wingbeats increased in frequency.

Fairies, at their fastest, hardly outpace the common housefly. Even loaded with me Roscoe could do twenty to thirty miles an hour. We steadily whittled away at the Black Tooths’ lead. The Duwamish Waterway passed underneath, with straggly trees and old houses behind the port terminals along its banks. We were close behind the bastards when they suddenly spiraled down toward a landing on the municipal golf course.

“Land, land!”

“I don’t like it, Boss.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion; just do it!”

Roscoe obeyed. He set me down a few yards from the Black Tooths, close by the ninth green. A party of golfers stared open-mouthed at the interruption, then betook themselves rapidly elsewhere.

I swayed to my feet as Uko screamed, “Get them!” His remaining gangsters charged us, wings whirring.

“Boss!” Roscoe tossed something to me; I recognized it in mid-air, caught it fair, and blessed the dragon. It was a revolver, one of my specials. Where Roscoe had had it hidden on him, I couldn’t tell, and at the moment I didn’t care.

The Black Tooths charged, firing; flechettes tore up the ground around us. Roscoe flamed three or four. I pointed at a cloud of the twerps and fired. The round burst in front of the barrel; a clouds of pellets scythed through the Black Tooths. It was a shaped-charge, set for muzzle-action and propelling a clouds of tiny balls– a miniature, airborne claymore round. I fire once, twice more, and there were no more Black Tooths flying.

I advanced on Uko. He had the Queen out of the cage; he was holding a knife, fairy-sized, but quite sharp, to her throat. “Stop right there!”

I did. There was maybe twenty feet between us. I calculated distance, speeds and trajectories and didn’t like the answer. “Let her go, Uko,” I called. “It’s over.”

“Bullshit!” The guy held the knife tighter against her throat. Even at this distance I could make out the Queen’s eyes. They were calm and ready, full of meaning. “I can still hurt this piece of baggage. So you and your pet iguana better back off.”

Iguana!?” Roscoe said. “You little…”

“Watch your language!” said Uko. “Nasty words can hurt.” He stared us down.

“Back away, Roscoe,” I said, waving a hand. Roscoe muttered but did as he was told.

“You, too,” said Uko.

I shook my head. “Not before I tell you something.”

He stared at me with suspicion in his golden eyes. He hesitated, but finally said, “What?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I lied. I’m not a disinterested party.” I said the words slowly, clearly, thinking them up as I went, hoping I had read this guy right, hoping I understood what the Queen was trying to silently tell me. “I took this job because I wanted the chance to kill fairies.”

“What?” said Uko.

“I like killing fairies. I like it when they go crunch and pop.” I sounded like some Humanity First street thug; it was their kind of rhetoric, and part of the reason gangs like the Black Tooths existed. “They squeal so nice. I think I killed several today. I’ll be glad when they’re all wiped out.”

“You shit meat-mountain!” yelled Uko. He glared at me, and his attention on his prisoner wavered. The pressure of his knife on her throat lessened.

The Queen writhed about in his grip and bit him on the face. Fairy teeth are sharp, even to other fairies. She bit hard, and Uko screamed and let go of her.

She dropped to the ground and huddled in a ball as I raised the revolver and fired. I aimed high, so most of the pellet-cloud would miss. Even so, three or four struck the chief. He toppled end-for-end, spraying blood on the green grass.

 

They drove the aid car right up on the green to tend to me, while a whole crowd of golfers stood by and complained about the interruption in their game. The Fiefdom troops came and hustled the Queen away under heavy guard; I hardly had a chance to say goodbye before she was a fading dot in the sky.

The paramedic checked me over. “You’re going to need to go to the hospital to get those fragments removed. Still, looks like you were pretty lucky. Nothing vital got hit. Sit quiet while we get ready.”

So I sat on the bumper of the aid car and just worked on catching my breath. Roscoe came and sat by me. He said nothing. He didn’t have to.

So it was he was around when General Hekuro, High Commander of the Fiefdom’s forces, came by with his retinue. He hovered, incandescent in the sun, and cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you, Mr. Parker,” he said in formal tones, “for your efforts today. If not for you, we might have had more difficulty recovering the Queen safely.”

I glared at the pompous little pimple. “You wouldn’t have had any trouble if one of your boys hadn’t jumped the gun. Which one was it? I’ve got some very choice words for him.”  Not to mention a nice thump on the noggin.

The General cleared his throat again. “No one, as you put it, `jumped the gun’. I ordered the assault.”

I guess I gaped. “You? You’re the butter-brained twit who nearly got me scragged?”

“We had to move. We had a high-gain mike on you, Mr. Parker, and heard most of your…ur, interview with Uko. We determined that her Highness was in grave danger, and that we had to move immediately.”

“You almost got her killed anyway,” I pointed out. I sighed and leaned back against the aid-car. My side and butt were singing harmony to the counterpoint of the most of the rest of my body. “All right, General, I don’t need your thanks. Just make sure my payment gets deposited as agreed.”

The General coughed discretely. “Well, yes, we need to speak about that. When I made those commitments, Mr. Parker, I did it in advance of formal approval from the Fiefdom’s Budget Oversight Committee. I’m afraid the matter will have to go to them first. I have to tell you that they may not authorize the full amount.”

I growled– an actual growl, from deep in my throat. “Oh, no, you little stuffed shirt. You’re going to pay me the money you promised or I’ll put you in a bird cage.”

Hekuro drew himself up. “You have no right to speak to me so. I’m the Queen’s first adviser, I’m General-in-Chief, I’m…”

His recitation was interrupted by a small burst of flame. Not much, by dragon standards– about the equivalent of a human sneeze. But it was enough to set the General’s golden hair smoking. He bounced around the sky for some seconds, yelping and yoodling, while his aides tried to pat his tonsure out.

“Sorry,” Roscoe said, wiping his snout.

I sat back against the aid-car’s door, feeling content. “Thanks, Roz. That’s another one I owe you.”

He waved a dismissive paw. “All in a day’s work, boss.  All in a day’s work.”

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Okay, one more– some predictions for Season 8 of Game of Thrones

I said I was going to put Game of Throne to rest for the hiatus, and now here I am again.  I wouldn’t quite use the word “obsession”, but I’m close, really close….

Naturally–

Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

I realized today that I didn’t get around to making any predictions for Season 8 in my last post.  Now, it has been proven that my ability to actually prognosticate the direction of the show, even in the short term, is pretty much crap, but my hubris, acknowledging no restraint, will not allow me to sleep tonight until I’ve scribbled down at least a few.  I can come back in a year or a year and a half (or two years, God forbid) and see how far off the mark I actually flung the predictive darts.  Hopefully nobody gets punctured in the volley….

  1. Dany and Jon will have perhaps one episode, perhaps less, of happiness, and then Bran and Sam are going to drop their bomb, and I-cannot-tell-a-lie Aegon Targaryen will tell Dany, and the two of them will breakup in sorrow and remorse.
  2. Not before Jon knocks Dany up, however.  It is known.
  3. Not sure how Dany will handle finding out that Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than she does, even though I am sure Jon will repudiate any interest in it.  Dany’s self-identified for so long as the one legitimate heir that finding out who Jon really is may send her spinning off in dangerous directions.
  4. Clegane Bowl will happen.  Count on it.  There is no way the two of them are going to settle their hatred any other way but with a knock-down, drag-out blood-match, not after their face-off the in the Dragonpit.  Anything less would be anti-climactic.
  5. You can also count on a showdown between Euron and Theon.  Theon’s redemptive arc demands it, and if he dies saving Yara, it will be with Theon having found himself at last.
  6. Drogon vs. Viserion– it’s coming.  There’s no way the showrunners can refuse to give us that spectacle. Just no way.
  7. Poor Rhaegal, though– something dire is going to happen to him in the Great War before we get to the climax, if only to even the odds for DvV.
  8. The writers appear to be positioning Tyrion to do something stupid/traitorous.  I hope I am wrong, and I think it would be a horrifying mistake with his character, but hey, I’m just a watcher, not a writer.  Otherwise the good guys would have fuel-air bombs to use on the wights.
  9. Wait a minute– wildfire?  High altitude bombing?  Hmmm….
  10. How Tyrion’s retrograde character development will play into the Jaime-Cersei dynamic is unclear, but that’s another face-off that will resolve itself, probably in blood.
  11. And talking about showdowns the story arc demands– how about the biggest of them all, Jon going mano-a-mano with the Night King?  This was set up right in front of us in Episode Six, when Beric pointed his sword at the Night King and suggested that killing him would destroy all the wights.  Even without that setup, how could we wrap this tale up without the lead good guy, Jon, facing off against the lead bad guy, the Night King?  Three thousand years of Western literary tradition insists on this climactic confrontation, from the Odyssey to Star Wars.
  12. Jon, of course, will die heroically in this fight, after vanquishing the Night King.  For extra points he’ll die in Dany’s arms (crap, this is writing itself).
  13. Which brings us to the subject of who will die.  Actually, it’s easier to say who I think will live.  Personally, I feel fairly secure in saying that the survivors will include–
    • Dany
    • Arya
    • Yara (if only because Theon has to rescue her)
    • Drogon
    • Sam
    • Gilly
    • Little Sam

And that’s about all I feel sure of.  Every other character in this show has at least the potential of supplying a really gripping death scene to the story.  Every other one.  I’m sure there will be other survivors, but my instinct cannot predict with certainty who they may be.  Brace for a blood-bath.

Thinking about what may happen in Season Eight actually sharpens for me an insight other people have shared, that Season Seven really was about getting all the pieces in place, and establishing the inevitable, climactic confrontations that have to play out so this epic can have a halfway satisfying resolution.  From that perspective, despite the haste that typified Season Seven, the show-runners did their job, and I applaud them.

And, now, for sure, I need to put GoT aside for a while.  It’s going to be a long wait, no doubt filled with frustration and spoilerish temptations.  Fortunately, I know, if not a remedy, then at least a means of distracting myself.

Write my own epic.  ‘Nuff said.

Later.

Okay, now that I’ve caught my breath, my take on Game of Thrones, Season Seven, Episode Seven. Woof….

One more time–

Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****Spoilers****

Wow.  Huh.  Sheer dumbfoundedness and gobsmackery.

In my last post I explicitly held off making a judgement about Season 7 in general, because Episode Seven had yet to air.  I am very, very happy I did, because this episode righted a lot of wrongs.

Until Sunday evening, for the most part, I was disappointed with Season Seven.  Not with the acting– it was generally superb.  Not with the writing– it was about as brilliant as ever.

It was the sketchy and rushed feeling of the season to which I objected.

Frankly, the writers, and show-runners Benioff and Weiss, were quite obviously trying to tie up too many loose-ends, connect too many characters,  and lay too much foundation for Season Eight in too little time.  From Jon and Dany’s rushed romance to the cockamamie raid beyond the Wall to grab a wight, it was a season sketched out in suggestive lines rather than painted with full-bodied shapes and colors.  The line-drawings are well-done, but inevitably they lacked the depth we’re used to.

I have no insight into why HBO decreed that Season Seven have only seven episodes (for some strange reason, I was never invited to the story-planning meetings).  Perhaps it was budgetary, even though that’s hard to imagine, considering the show’s success.  I hope that the haste in Season Seven has solid plot imperatives driving it, and that now we’re set for a balanced Season Eight (with only six, albeit longer, episodes).  I hope.

What I fear, however, is that six episodes will not be enough.  I tremble at the thought that GoT will suffer a fate similar to Lost, the poster child of brilliant shows that lose their way and fall flat in their last season. I would kill me, and probably a lot of other people, if Game of Thrones, brilliant as it has been, somehow just peters out and loses all its narrative power as it concludes.

Having said that, I take comfort from the fact that GoT has an distinct over-arching narrative structure passed to the show-runners by George R. R. Martin.  They at least have a general idea where they are headed, and how things will end, something that Lost never seemed to have.  Lost had so many elements thrown into a mix that never quite gelled into a distinct story-line, and so many threads that were never satisfactorily resolved, all coupled to an ending that was like drinking flat beer when you were promised sparkling champagne.  I think, and I believe with some justification, that GoT can avoid that fate because, ultimately, it has the brilliance of Martin behind it, and skilled show-runners in Benioff and Weiss (unlike a certain other popular producer/director, but J. J. is a topic for another rant, at another time).

Having said all that, however, Episode Seven went a long, long way to redeeming the season.  It was not entirely without sin– the whole interaction between Samwell and Bran seemed particularly to gallop past– but on the whole the episode seemed better paced, laced with tension and conflict in the right places, and it brought everybody to where they needed to be, not only to wrap up Season Seven, but to lay the groundwork for Season Eight.  The characters and their interactions felt right, and the action kept you riveted.  And the ending, which for me includes Bran and Sam talking about Jon’s true heritage, Dany and Jon acting on their feelings, and the destruction of the Wall, tied it all together.

So, even though we may have to wait until 2019 for Season Eight, I’m okay with that.  Naw, not really, it’s going to be hell, but it gives me something to look forward to in my lonely old age.  I have hope that Benioff and Weiss may actually pull off something that is, in truth, quite difficult– giving an tale of epic fantasy a truly satisfying ending that resolves the various threads and conflicts in a way that makes you say, “that’s the way it should have ended.”  No pressure, guys….

And now, to sum up, a few final random observations and thoughts on Season Seven–

  1. My personal predictions about the course of the show over the last few weeks have often been off the mark, but, man, did I miss it with Dany and Jon.  Maybe I’m an old romantic who thinks you should build slooowwwlllyyy to the mojo, but I admit it worked out okay– aside from the incest part, that is.  Despite the hurried nature of their romance in previous episodes, this moment felt as if it were a logical– if you will pardon the expression– consummation of how these two people have interacted down to this moment.
  2. From here on out, of course, nothing but heartbreak lies ahead for D&J, especially if Sam and Bran don’t keep their flapping mouths shut.  Does Jon really need to know this bit of family history, especially as it is really doubtful he will want any part of the Iron Throne for himself?  I don’t think so, but I didn’t set up this particular bomb in the story-line, and if you plant a bomb in Season Seven, it has to go off in Season Eight….
  3. One of the big question marks I do have about the characters is, what the hell is going on with Tyrion (or, more precisely, what are the writers doing to Tyrion)?  Working backwards from that look of anger and seeming jealousy he throws at Dany’s door while she and Jon are doing the naughty, to his interview with Cersei in which he seems willing to take the blame for the disasters the Lannisters have suffered, to what appears to be a deteriorating relationship with Dany, I wonder if he is being set up to do something foolish, drastic, or (gulp) treasonous in Season Eight?  I hope not, because that would seem to be the negation of much of his character arc through the whole show, which is why I find it puzzling.
  4. Note also, we seem not to be presented with the whole discussion between Cersei and Tyrion– it cut off right after Tyrion realizes Cersei is (allegedly) pregnant.  Did the two of them talk about something else?  Did the potential of a new nephew and/or niece change something in Tyrion’s attitude and– gasp!– loyalties?  Did he cut some sort of deal with Cersei to get her to come back out and mouth the words of truce and united purpose for Dany and Jon?  I fear we’re going to get an unpleasant surprise on this point in Season Eight.
  5. Littlefinger– yes.  It’s a wonder the collective shout of joy from fans didn’t set off seismometers around the world.  It was worth being played by the writers to be surprised along with Baelish.  Pleasantly for us, badly for him.  An excellent portrayal by Aidan Gillen of a schemer who realizes, too late, that if you plot against everyone, eventually you will find yourself in a cold room, surrounded by hard faces, confronted with the sharp edge of a knife, and with no friends to save you.  Oak-leaf clusters on Gillen’s medal for this scene in how he makes Littlefingers’ self-assurance crumble into whimpering on his knees.  It seemed a fitting way for this bastard to go out.
  6. I also applaud the writers for navigating what I perceived to be a particularly treacherous channel– if you convince Cersei of the reality of the Night King, how does that work with her self-centered take on everything?  But, of course, with utter consistency, Cersei says one thing and does another, still attempting to turn a situation that should be beyond political calculations to her advantage.  Jon would not lie, but of course Cersei did.
  7. For a moment I, and probably a lot of other people, really thought Jaime was going to die when he called Cersei on her BS.  With this open break with his sister Jaime is very close to completing a redemptive arc, possibly the greatest and most profound of the whole show, from an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who shoved a child out a window to someone who is willing to stand up for other people and not think of his political advantage– and who wants to live up to his word.  He sets out alone for the north (and I wonder if he tried to talk Bronn into going with him?), just maybe finally free from Cersei’s vampirism.  He’s probably going to die, but it looks very much as if he will die a man, and not a self-important little asshat.
  8. Also, Brienne is in the north.  I wonder….???
  9. But then, so is Tormund.  Oh, now we talking a serious triangle….
  10. Regarding Tormund (and Beric, for that matter) it took me looking at the scene a couple of times and reading some internet comments to realize that the two of them have mostly likely survived the destruction of the Wall at Eastwatch.  As people have pointed out, they fled westward along the top of the wall (the guys going down the stairs didn’t have a snowball’s chance, which is kinda ironic), and were past the point where the collapse began– and the collapse went from west to east, which means, almost certainly, the two of them are standing on what is now the sharp eastern edge of the wall, looking down on the army of the dead as it advances south.  This realization gave me a sense of relief, because 1). I didn’t want either one of them to die (yet), and 2). I didn’t want the writers to have to engage in some bogus hand-waving to allow them to survive the fall.  They live, without writerly fakery, to fight another day.
  11. The Wall’s destruction was just cinematic gold.  Most movies don’t do it this well….
  12. It’s snowing in King’s Landing.  Where Gendry, in a life of more-or-less twenty years, has never seen it snow.  The bad mojo is rising fast…..
  13. I mentioned heartbreak for Dany and Jon.  The truth is, in Season Eight, if the writers fulfill the promise of this last episode, sorrow and loss are going to spread over Westeros as thick as the winter snows beyond the Wall.  We still have death and betrayal and sorrow ahead.  And now no one– no one— is safe.  We should brace ourselves.

I think that’s all the observations I have at the moment.  Perhaps with GoT on hiatus I can spare some of the energy I’ve expended talking about it for my own writing.  There’s nothing more inspiring than watching good writing at work.

Farewell, Season Seven.  You ended strong.  Tell Season Eight to move its butt.

Later.

 

 

 

Still more random and wild-eyed thoughts on Season Seven of Game of Thrones

As always–

Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

And, as what follows is based, to a certain extent, on what I deem fairly reliable internet rumors, be doubly wary!

So, one more episode for this season, and it promises a great deal.  The meeting of the Lannisters, Dany, and Jon, plus all their assorted allies, followers and twisted mad scientists (I’m looking at you, Qyburn).  The final full revelation of Jon’s parentage.  Dany and Jon’s first smooch (probably, although I doubt they’ll get as far as second base in this season).  Arya turning Littlefinger into a throw rug (I admit, that’s just wishful thinking).  The continuing advance of the Night King’s army, now complete with its own undead air force.  And whatever stunning surprise the show-runners have in store for the season cliffhanger (although I don’t think it’s actually going to be that much of a surprise, as I shall explain below).

A few random predictions–

  1. I am definitely thinking just “first kiss”.  No mojo, no bedroom rodeo, no makin’ bacon.  If Dany and Jon do get down-and-dirty, I’ll actually be kind of disappointed– it’s still much too soon.  I have no patience for those fans who have been panting to see these two get it on.  C’mon, guys, take a cold shower or something.
  2. All the competing factions of Westeros– or, at least, the surviving ones– meet to under a flag of truce to see Jon and Dany’s evidence of the fact of the Night King and his army.  It’s the pay-off of Episode Six’s intense raid beyond the wall.  Unfortunately, for me the whole plan, concocted by Tyrion, has never made any sense.  It seems more than a little contrived, and I doubt it would have the intended effect, if the characters involved are true to their own arcs.  Cersei, in particular, with her superb ability to see only what she wants to see, will doubtless view it as some sort of trick.  If the writers suddenly turn her into someone amenable to logical argument, then I will be sorely disappointed.
  3. On the other hand, I can see from a story-perspective why the writers would want to somehow fashion an alliance out of all these enemies– it would be a logical course of action in the face of the Night King.  Of course, this would be the ultimate alliance of convenience, and if everyone survives then it will fall apart once the immediate danger is past.  That would lead to the end-game for the Game of Thrones being played out in the last moments of Season Eight.  That could be good, or it could be really bad….
  4. Tyrion’s deteriorating relationship with Dany– I don’t know where the writers are going with this.  I know the essence of drama is conflict, but this one feels not only contrived, but also like a major character is being marginalized prior to being…eliminated.  I hope I’m wrong….
  5. Just for the heck of it, I’m shipping Bronn and Arya.  It sure ain’t going to be Bronn and Sansa.
  6. Unless…he’s always wanted a high-born wife and a castle…no, no, no, I can’t go there….
  7. Brienne and Tormund have to have a scene in this last episode, one in which Brienne either starts to warm to Tormund a little bit, or slices him open to get at his liver, just as the Hound suggested.  It could go either way, but we need resolution.
  8. We also need to see Yara and Ellaria, at least just a brief scene each.  Doubtless Tyene is dead by now, so that’s a bit of inevitable heartbreak.  If a genuine truce is established between the Lannisters and Dany, it would be logical to me for Dany to demand Yara and Ellaria’s release as part of the truce.  Whether Cersei can be convinced to do so is another question.
  9. I predict the whole scary/weird interaction between Arya and Sansa is actually a ploy, at least by Arya and maybe by both of them, to wrong-foot Littlefinger and set him up for a fall.  Again, this may be wishful thinking.
  10. Actually, he’d make a pretty poor throw-rug.  Turn him into a drum-head instead.
  11. I am increasingly in the camp of those who think the Night King laid a trap for the Magnificent Seven so he could get a wight-dragon.
  12. Of course, one of the huge gaps in the story-line itself has been the motivation of the Night King.  What does Mr. Freeze want, anyway?  Aside from wiping out humanity and turning the world into a snow-cone.  At this point you got me.
  13. They’re probably going to hold off on killing off any major characters in the season finale.  Because they’ve never done that before, right?
  14. I think it’s obvious that the season cliffhanger is going to be Viserion destroying the Wall.  What else is the Night King going to use him for, aerial advertising?

Enough of that.  I was going to express some opinions about the overall course of Season Seven in general, but I decided to wait until after Episode Seven.  That’s because 1).  the season is not over and I want to be fair, and 2).  my opinion may just get me chased around the countryside with pitch-forks and torches.  I’ll wait.

Later.

Thoughts, questions and “OMG, Why did she do that?!”- Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5

More a review than previous posts, but I’m saving some space for the wild-eyed rants at the end.

SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS*****

Okay, a slower-paced episode than last week, which could be like saying a 747 is slower than an SR-71.  Almost anything would feel slow after the Battle of the Loot Train, so it’s a relative thing.

At the same time, the narrative seemed, ironically, sort of rushed.  Look how many high points the story hits– the aftermath of the battle, Randyll and Dickon Tarly are executed (more about that later), Jon gets to pet Drogon, Jorah returns, the plan to snatch a wight and bring it south is hatched (more about that later, too), Gendry is found (after what appears to be a fifteen minute search), Jaime and Tyrion meet, Gendry meets Jon, Jon and company head north to connect up with Tormund, Beric, Thoros, and the Hound join the party, and they all head out into the north.  That’s leaving out Arya’s spying on Littlefinger (and his disinformation campaign against her) and the fact that bat-fuck crazy Cersei is going to be a mother again.  If I left anything out it’s because it all went by really fast.

Oh, yeah, Samwell missing the secret of Jon’s birth because he wasn’t listening closely enough to Gilly.  Listen, son, if you’re going to be in a long-term relationship with a woman, you need to work on your listening skills….

Basically, I have the sense that the writers felt they had to cram a lot of sausage into the casing of one episode, in order to set up the climax of this season, and to properly lay the groundwork for Season Eight, which will have to be about the Great War, lots of major characters going down for the count, and that bittersweet ending GRRM has been promising us.  Because this particular kielbasa link is tightly packed, we spent mere minutes on reunions, plans, spying, dragon-petting (don’t try this at home, folks), executions, plotting and Avengers assembling that could have occupied two or three or even more episodes in previous seasons.  It’s not nearly as satisfying presented in this warp-speed manner, but I can’t fault the writers too much.  They are running out of time (to be precise, scheduled air-time), and I suspect that they felt it necessary to cover this much ground quickly so as to make sure the climax of the season, and the beginning of Season Eight, work the way their supposed to.  Hopefully the remainder of the season, and the remainder of the show, will be better paced.

Re: the execution of Randyll and Dickon– I agree with Tyrion, Dany shouldn’t have done it.  At the very least Cersei will use it against her.  Serious political mistake.  More than that, though, it reminds us that Dany does have a dark side, a willful insistence on her way that sometimes leads to unnecessary deaths.  It doesn’t make her mad, it makes her a frail, fallible human being who sometimes does things out of frustration and spite.  Also, as I feared, she has arrived at the point of demanding fealty she has not earned.  “Bend the knee, or die” is a threat as heavy as chains.  As Varys put it, someone indeed needs to make her listen.

And then there’s the plan to capture a wight and bring it south to convince Cersei the threat from the Night King is real.  Leaving aside the fact that Cersei will use any truce to her advantage, and that she will see anything Dany and Jon come up with as some sort of trick, the whole thing just sounds cockamamie to me.  Capturing a wight, transporting a wight, displaying a wight– I’d almost say its a waste of time, considering how oblivious Cersei is to anything but the agenda spooling out in her head.  I love the idea of a desperate raid into the North, but couldn’t the writers have come up with a better mcguffin than this for its object– a wonderblatt horn of the First Men, perhaps, or a pool of magic volcanic fire that would make effective ammunition against the Night King’s army?  I do wonder, but then, I’ve never had to write for TV show, nor have I ever been under the kind of pressure the writers for GoT are under.  The whole world, and probably a significant portion of the heavenly host, are watching, so I hesitate to criticize them too much.

But, as much as I quibble, it was a pretty good episode, and got us, however imperfectly, to where we needed to go.  Along the way, I should mention that I like how the writers are handling Dany and Jon’s growing affection for one another– again, a piece of business that would best have been developed over a whole season, but, again, the clock is ticking.  Instead they are doing it by expressions and looks and a few words spoken in just the right way.  If you have only so much time to work in, this is the way to do it.

I think I can refine a few of my first predictions now–

  1. Jon and Dany will share one romantic kiss before Season Seven ends.
  2. The real hanky-panky will start after about the five minute mark of Season Eight.
  3. Then Jon’s true parentage will be revealed, and the two will break up with tears and heartbreak and disappointment.
  4. Jon will then die heroically saving the world of men,
  5. Just about the time Dany discovers she’s pregnant.
  6. At some point Arya will slice Littlefinger open like a seven-layer red velvet cake.
  7. And the Night King will end Season Seven by blowing up all three hundred miles of the Wall.  Now that will be a season cliffhanger.

Later.

Game of Thrones and the Worrisome, Awkward, No-Good Topic

If you’re a fan of the show, you know what I’m talking about…..

***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

Okay, let’s tackle this puppy– Dany and Jon.  Such a cute couple.  I mean, these guys are obviously made for each other. Two dynamic leaders meeting after both have struggled and suffered and lost, and then triumphed, but who need each other.  Two youngsters with oodles and gobs of chemistry and probably lots of compatible psychological profile stuff and major inter-fertility and all the jazz that Make Relationships Work.

Except that she’s his aunt.

By most modern standards, we have entered serious no-no, uh-huh, hands off the girl-or-boy territory.  This is despite the fact that the Dany and Jon are about the same age, and have no idea, at least at this point in the show’s story arc, that they share anything other than leadership qualities and hormones.  In 21st Century American society we have been conditioned to consider anything that smacks of incest to be taboo, to be universally rejected and and even criminalized.  In my lifetime there has been a growing recognition of the terrible price incest and child-abuse exacts from its victims, and we rightly reject attempts to normalize it.

Except….

Well, here’s the deal.  We’re talking about a television show.  We’re talking about television show set in a fantasy world.  We’re talking about a television show set in a fantasy world with distinctly different rules about sexuality, consent and what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.  That has to alter the way we talk about this.

Allow me to digress for a moment to talk about the show’s source material– George R. R. Martin’s five (and counting– c’mon, George, Rome was built faster than this) books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Admittedly the show long ago diverged from the precise story- line of the books, but the universe Martin created, and the general story arc, remain its guidance system.  It is well known that Martin has drunk deeply from the well of history to inform his work, and particularly the history of Medieval Britain.  And part of that historical understanding is that the rules about sexuality, consent and incest that nowadays we think are set in stone were often very, very different in ancient or medieval societies.

Take, for example, age of consent.  In Martin’s universe, girls who have their first menses are immediately considered marriage material, which means thirteen year-olds are getting married.  In the books, Dany is, in fact, thirteen when she marries Khal Drogo (this was changed in the show to sixteen, for obvious legal reasons).   This attitude is distinctly at odds with modern sensibilities, but was actually common in previous eras, and is still prevalent in certain non-Western societies.  And the shift in Western attitudes is actually a comparatively recent phenomenon– the age of consent in Texas was ten– ten—  as recently as 1880, and that was not unusual among American states in that period.

Even what has been considered incest has varied from time to time and place to place.  Before the American Civil War it was legal in every state for first cousins to wed.  It still is in some states (e.g. California) while it is restricted in some and outright illegal in others (Texas– go figure).

Bear in mind, as well, the cross-cultural weirdness of how elites and nobles in different eras and cultures determined who could get hitched to who.  It’s well-known that the rulers of Ancient Egypt and Pre-Conquest Peru both permitted brothers and sisters of royal lineages to marry, to keep bloodlines “royal”.  Martin drew on this history directly when he created the Targaryens, whose kings often wed their own sisters.

And then there is the startling institution of “avunculate marriage“, which was a piece of history unknown to me before I started thinking about this subject.  Apparently this custom had a heyday among European royals in the Middle Ages and afterwards, in which uncles and nieces, and occasionally aunts and nephews (ding!) were wed to one another, again in the interest of keep bloodlines pure, and wealth and power in the family.  Unfortunately, it had the at least occasional effect of producing children with major mental and physical defects, such as Carlos II, the last Hapsburg king of Spain–

Rey_Carlos_II
Poor guy…not his fault his parents were uncle and niece….

Rather more startling, avunculate marriage is actually legal, sometimes with restrictions, in several modern countries, including Russia, Argentina, and the Netherlands.

Give me just a second– gotta slow down my brain’s RPMs.  Whew, that makes me dizzy….

Okay, so what does this all mean for Dany and Jon, two fictional characters in a fictional universe with way different rules about sex and marriage and such like?  And how wound up should we get that these two probably related characters may– and it’s still just potential at this point, folks– be doing the mambo sometime in the near future?

In all of this the saving grace is that there is no hint or suggestion of abuse, which, aside from genetic risks, is the most destructive aspect of sex between close kinsfolk.  Dany and Jon are consenting adults, even by American standards, and doubly so by Westerosi.  They have met as equals, however much Dany wants Jon to bend the knee, and the story-line so far gives every indication that their mutual respect and attraction will grow.  If Jon’s little secret never came out they would have nothing to cloud their budding relationship, aside, that is, from civil war, invasion, winter, the Night King and his hordes of White Walkers and undead.  You know, the little things that every couple has to put up with.

I think, in the final analysis, fans of the show (including me), whether pro-Dany-Jon or anti, all need to take a big calm pill and chill out.  This is fiction– moreover, it’s fiction about a time and place with its own rules.  We need to trust Martin and the showrunners Benioff and Weiss to take us where the story needs to go.

Of course, given that this is Game of Thrones, where heartbreak and disappointment are daily meat and drink, this may all be a lot of worrying about a whole lot of not much.  Westeros is not devoid of rules about incest– certainly Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is widely censured.  It may be that Dany and Jon will get really close, only to pull back with the aforementioned heartbreak and disappointment when Jon’s true heritage is revealed.  That’s one way this could go.  Another way, and maybe more likely, is that they establish a relationship, and then one of them (I’m betting Jon) dies heroically/tragically/spectacularly in the show’s finale, or close to it.  Either way, given the nature of this show and its willingness to impose suffering on its characters, the odds are way stacked against Dany and Jon walking hand-in-hand off into the sunset in the closing minutes of Season Eight, Episode Six.

And if, by chance, they do– well, I think I could deal with that.

So….everybody calm down (me, too).  Let the story unfold.  And brace yourself.

Later.

 

 

A few somewhat more focused thoughts on Game of Thrones

I’m going to have to start numbering these puppies or something.

***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***

Episode Four  was so epic that it just keeps on giving.  I’ve already stated my opinion that this sequence is one of the greatest battles ever on TV, and probably one of the greatest in any sort of cinematic presentation, period.  The editing and beats just keep you riveted to the screen, and our prior commitments to characters on both sides leave us in an ambiguous state of wanting everyone to win, or at least survive, simultaneously.

But online controversy about the sequence has sprung up like toxic weeds in a fair garden.  Some people, it seems, accuse Dany of being the “Mad Queen”, as her father was the Mad King Aerys, whose hobby of burning people set off Robert’s Rebellion in the first place, for burning Lannister soldiers in the battle.  Some of the criticism seems somehow tangled up with snarling diatribes against progressives, feminists, “SJWs”, and blab blah blah, as if Dany is somehow some man-hating feminist icon and anybody who roots for her is a limp-wristed, hypocritical “librul” who cheers when manly men are barbecued.

That kind of rant is too deep and convoluted for me to try to refute or even unpack here and now.  I’m going to focus instead on what I think Dany, as a character in the show, was trying to do in the Loot Train Battle, and maybe guess what show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were up to by having her do it.  And the best way I think I can do that is to compare Dany to the real mad Queen in the show, Cersei Lannister.

By now almost everyone hates Cersei.  I mean, holy shit, this is a woman who’s one redeeming feature, often noted by other characters in the show, was her love for her children, and now they’re all dead.  She blew up (with wildfire, note) the Sept of Baelor without batting an eyelash to settle the hash of her political foes, along with that of doubtless thousands of innocent bystanders.  Her treatment of Ellaria Sand and Tyene is not only the action of someone who’s never heard of “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”, but who would have thought it silly clap-trap if she had.  She has usurped a throne to which she has no right by terror and force, and now believes she can do what she wants precisely because she sits on the Iron Throne.  Lastly, her one remaining emotional attachment to the world of human beings is her incestuous relationship with her brother, in which she plays the role of emotional vampire on Jaime’s genuine affection for her– a parasitism to which Jaime’s starting to get wise.

Dany, for her part, is not without sin.  She has at times acted impulsively, even cruelly.  She arbitrarily put to death leading masters of Meereen as an act of vengeance.  She has at times been willing to engage in deception.  She lately has been displaying a distinct tendency toward political theater and intimidation, as well as a rather unpleasant arrogance toward Jon Snow, et. al.,  and she appears to be on the verge of accepting the idea that the ends justify the means.  Perhaps even more critically, her un-examined insistence that she is the rightful queen of the Seven Kingdoms based on her descent comes perilously close to demanding fealty she has not earned.  To put it another way, she needs to rethink the whole ‘bend the knee’ business.

Despite this, there is a qualitative difference between the actions of Cersei and what Dany has done.  Cersei has used terror, torture and outright murder as instruments of state policy.  Most spectacularly of all, she blew up the Sept of Baelor without regard to the cost in lives, an act perpetrated on largely unarmed (if we disregard the Faith Militant bozos) civilians.

For a moment in Episode Four it looked as if Dany were about to embark on the same path, when she says she will take her dragons to King’s Landing and burn her enemies out of the Red Keep (in the process, note, she quite cruelly attacks Tyrion, virtually accusing him of going easy on his relatives).  Critically, however, she does something Cersei has never done– she turns to an outsider, Jon Snow, for honest counsel.  It’s Jon who convinces her not to attack the Red Keep– and, I am convinced, is instrumental in redirecting her frustration into another course of action.

Instead, Dany launches her Dothraki and Drogon against the Lannister army.  Herein lies the qualitative difference– Cersei destroyed civilians in political vengeance, but Dany attacked soldiers as an act of war.  The two actions are not the same at all.  The online Dany haters who are trying to establish an equivalency need to rethink their premises, or perhaps, start thinking in the first place.

Cersei perpetrated a massacre.  Dany attacked soldiers who were, however inadequately, armed and ready.  The two situations are clean different.

Drogon’s attack is horrifying (it does bother me how some people in different reaction videos laugh and cheer when the Lannister soldiers burn.  Death by fire is very bad way to go, even for soldiers in the service of an evil queen).  It looks as terrible as it would be in real life, as terrible as I imagine getting hit by a pod of napalm would be.  As bad as it is, however, it is justifiable.  Because this is what you do in war.

War is the business of compelling your enemy to knuckle-under to your political will.  The mechanism of war is killing the enemy until they can no longer sustain the will to fight.  And killing, whether it’s done with a sword, or dragon-flame, or napalm, or a nuke, is always about turning another human being with feelings and hopes and loved ones into a mangled pile of meat, or, in this case, ashes.  That process is always, and inherently, horrible.

To accomplish the crushing of the enemy’s will to fight you employ every implement you have.  If you have a weapon to which the enemy has no effective reply, all the better.  It could well mean the killing will end sooner.  In effect, Dany ‘weaponized’ Drogon, and he’s a damned powerful weapon that probably sealed her victory at the start.  This is not the cruelty of Cersei, but the act of a leader intent on victory against a powerful foe.  It is not massacring innocents.  That’s Cersei’s path.  I think there’s a clear distinction between Cersei’s way and Dany’s.  I know which one I would pick.

To bring this back to the show as a show, what I believe Benioff and Weiss are doing is, quite simply, being honest about what war is and does.  If you try to pretty it up you’re lying about something that should not lied about.  B&W are too good a pair of storytellers to make that mistake.

I don’t think Dany is going to be the Mad Queen, not because she is sinless, but because she wants to do right, and listens to those who are trying to keep her on that path.  Hopefully Benioff and Weiss agree with me, and will keep on doing so right through the last episode of Season Eight.  If they have any problems, they should call me.  Really.

Later.

PS– I was also going to take on the subject of Dany and Jon, but I spent so much time on acquitting Dany of madness that I don’t think I have the energy to dive into such a fraught topic.  On top of that, I’m trying to digest my discovery of the historical fact of avunculate marriage  (it’s utterly amazing sometimes what you can learn from Wikipedia– or disturbing, depending on your point of view).  I’ll leave D&J as a subject for another post, some other time.

DD

 

 

Yet more random and wild-eyed thoughts on Game of Thrones, with particular reference to Episode Four, or, Holy crap!!!!

A day later and I’m still trying to catch my breath.

**Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers

This was probably one of the best episodes of the show ever.  It might even beat out the Battle of the Bastards.

One thing I will own up to right now– four episodes in and many if not most of my previous speculations are totally trashed and revealed to be the off-the-beam ramblings of an unhinged mind.  Oh, well, that’s the prophecy biz.  Melisandre can tell you about that….

  1. The episode started out slow with Jaime and Bronn on the road back from Highgarden,  Their relationship is fraying, and despite being handed a large bag of gold Bronn still complains that Jaime and the Lannisters (what’s left of them) haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain.  At the beginning of the episode, I would have said that Bronn would be looking for another situation soon, so to speak, but we have to take into account how this episode ended, which might throw all usual calculations out the window.
  2. Did they have to make Bran quite this distant and weird?  Some is understandable, but between when he and Meera left Benjen north of the Wall and when they reached the Wall, he turned into a total automaton.  Not sure I’m buying it.  Plus, he broke Meera’s heart.  Boo, hiss.
  3. Arya returns to Winterfell.  Talk about being wrong– my shot not only missed the target, it went over the wall, through the window of an inn, shattered a beaker of ale in a patron’s hand, and nicked the left ear in a picture of Donald Trump pinned to a dart-board.  The girl simply walks up and confronts Beavis and Butthead of Winterfell.  I kinda hope we see more of those two tossers in future episodes.
  4. Oh, wait, not Beavis and Butthead– Laurel and Hardy.  Oh, God, the potential!
  5. Not only was the scene in the obsidian mine between Jon and Dany full of eerie reveries of the most ancient past, it was the stage for escalating heat between these two.  I wish I wasn’t so damned ambivalent about the (apparent, probable?) fact that these two are related.  I’d enjoy the growing sexual tension more.
  6. It’s significant that Dany asks Jon directly for his advice about how to use her dragons.  Not only does it show Dany’s growing respect for Jon, I believe it’s something of a hidden turning-point in the episode, and maybe the show.  I suspect that, off-camera, Jon turns Dany’s attention to the fact that Lannister armies and fleets are completely fair game– this is war, and you use the weapons you have that are most likely to compel your enemy to quit the fight.  In any event, that’s how I would have written it.
  7. Speaking of sexual tension, I love the sequence where Davos and Jon are coming down the steps outside the castle at Dragonstone, Davos asks Jon what he thinks about Dany, Jon says, “I think she has a good heart” and Davos says, “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart.”  Brilliant.
  8. And then Davos has the sand to go and get all pimply-seventeen-year-old-guy-who-just-had-a-cheerleader-smile-at-him-goofy over Missandei.  She’s taken, you skeevy old fart.  On the other hand, I can’t fault Davos’ taste.
  9. Ah, Brienne has a little sister.  A fast, deadly, face-changing sister.  I meant no disrespect…..
  10. And, finally, a battle sequence that, if it doesn’t leave you simultaneously on the edge of your seat and totally wrung-out, may mean that you’re a wight.  It starts out almost like a classic (or cliched, but it worked) Western where the cavalry scouts go, “Wait– what’s that?” and suddenly it’s time to circle the wagons.
  11. Except the Lannisters are caught flat-footed and don’t circle the wagons.  The showrunners have generally done a fair-to-good job getting medieval military tactics right, and I knew the Lannister army was in trouble the moment I saw it drawn up in two thin lines, with shields and short spears.  Infantry in Westeros have probably suffered from playing second-fiddle to armored knights for centuries, and have apparently never heard of twenty-foot pikes and block formations.  They have never faced Dothraki before, either, and so the Lannisters brought inadequate weapons and bad tactics to this field.  Bronn called it at once– “these fuckers are about to swamp us.”
  12. In about a twelve-minute sequence the battle delivers horror, carnage, courage, confusion, more horror, and the crushing panic of infantry under air attack– as if an army of the Hundred Year’s War was on the receiving end of a pod of napalm from an A-10 Warthog.  Except that the foot-soldiers are not wholly without a defense, a fact that ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable point.  In some reaction videos I’ve seen (yes, I watch those, it’s almost like having a social life) people actually cling to one another for support.  The sequence is tightly edited, and yet there’s room for emotional moments, like when Tyrion is trying to telepathically get Jaime to flee and not charge the giant dragon that’s in a really foul mood at the moment, on the off-chance you might skewer its mother.  Who is a tiny, delicate little white-haired girl, and how could you even think of doing that, Jaime Lannister…?
  13. But perhaps the strangest aspect of the battle is how we find ourselves rooting for both sides.  Despite his residual moral ambiguity, we don’t want Jaime to fry; we don’t want Bronn, the cynical sellsword, to be barbecued; and we sure as hell don’t want Dany skewered, despite the fact that she’s showing some moral ambiguity of her own.  You don’t know who to root for, while you root for everybody.  I’ve never quite seen a film sequence that so effectively captures, in an emotional sense, how, at the level of the individual, there’s usually not a lot of difference between the two sides of a war.
  14. A final note about that moral ambiguity of Dany’s– she’s always been willing to do what is necessary, and she has been merciless with masters and slavers in the past.  But now that she is in Westeros she seems to be heeding Oleana Tyrell’s counsel to “be the dragon” a little too completely– the whole ‘bend-the-knee’ business is getting out of hand.  She seems to be on the verge of accepting the proposition that the ends justify the means– and that she is entitled to fealty she has not earned.  Dangerous stuff, and I am on tenterhooks waiting to see how it turns out.

Whew.  I don’t have the strength to launch any speculations at this point.  At some point major characters are doomed to die, although I begin to think most of that is going to be pushed to Season 8.  Jon’s expedition to the north is going to come a cropper, as is well known by now.  He and Dany are almost certainly going to grow closer, but what kind of heartbreak will that entail when his parentage is revealed?  Littlefinger is already surrounded by suspicious Starks; when will that suspicion turn into a Valyrian steel dagger in the dark?

And how the hell are they going to cram all this into just three more episodes?

Beats the crap out of me…..

Later.

A PS, a day later—

I hope I’m wrong.  I really, really hope I’m wrong.  But what if Jamie and Bronn are taken prisoner after the battle and Dany executes Bronn out of hand for hurting Drogon?  It would be another brick in the blood-slick road Dany is traveling toward becoming the tyrant everyone fears she might become.  In the previews for Episode 5 Tyrion looks pretty wrecked– I wonder if this is why?  I really want to be wrong on this one.

 

 

More random and wild-eyed thoughts on “Game of Thrones”

Okay, Episode Three is in the bag, and I’m feeling maybe a little less wild-eyed and more thoughtful about the show at the moment.  These are less predictions than they are reflections.  Still, I now have a stronger foundation for my whacky ideas about what is to come for the rest of the show, so buckle up– here we go.

And, of course….

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS**

Again, tentatively, but I don’t want somebody hunting me down with a catspaw blade because I ruined the show for them.

One note about spoilage– there has been a great deal of it online around leak episodes and scripts, and so far some of it has been pretty accurate.  At this point, for example, everyone knows Jon is going to lead an expedition north of the wall, probably in Episode Six, which apparently will get its ass kicked and cost Dany a dragon.  That common knowledge helps feed my speculations.

(What, you didn’t know?  Sorry about that.  Please put the knife down.)

  1. What is it with people online expecting Dany and Jon to get down to business (and I ain’t talking about accounting) in the next episode. Crap, she and Jon just met, and they are antagonists at the moment, people– their agendas are in direct conflict.  You’ve waited more than six seasons for this encounter, give it a chance to simmer.
  2. This, of course, ignores the fact that if Jon is, indeed, the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna, then Dany is his aunt.  Face it, folks, that’s kinda problematic.  How does this work, boo for incest if it’s between the bad guys, hurrah if the good guys are doing it?  Ugh.
  3. On the other hand, it may yet be just an assumption that R+L=J.  People watched the Tower of Joy sequence, and because it cut from an unidentified infant to Jon Snow, they assumed the theory was confirmed.  I think it is at least possible that the show runners may yet jerk that rug out from under us.
  4. Of course, if so, then Dany and Jon are not related.  In which case, Defcon One, Jon Snow….
  5. The whole interplay between Jon and Dany at their first meeting was worthy of a stage play.  No special effects, no epic battles, just two determined people with irreconcilable agendas confronting one another.  Some people thought it was boring, but I’m not one of them.  What were they supposed to do, get into a knife-fight?  Story-wise, this is exactly what needed to happen, as Dany’s plans begin to run up hard against the reality of what’s actually going down in Westeros, and Jon risks being eaten by a dragon because he knows his war is the real deal, not this petty dynastic squabble with which everyone else has been obsessed for the last six seasons.  A foundation had to be laid, and this was it.
  6. And no, they don’t like each other.  Think Beatrice and Benedick, only with dragons and undead.
  7. Damn, that sounds good.  They did it for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a wretched film, btw– can’t speak to the book), why not for Shakespeare?  Too bad Bill is dead, I think he’d love the concept.
  8. Speaking of reality checks, Dany has come to rely entirely too much on political theater (which was what the dragon fly-by was about, of course, and the whole recitation of titles).  I think she’s going to find that sort of thing doesn’t, well, fly as well in Westeros as it did in other parts of the world.
  9. The whole sequence where Cersei poisons Tyene and leaves her and Ellaria in the dungeon, just out of reach of each other, was heartrending.  Ellaria deserves to be punished, and Tyene has her own sins, but this is vengeance and cruelty, not justice.  Of course, one of the points of the show is that this is a world short on justice and very long on cruelty and revenge.  In that kind of world Cersei’s actions approach the status of logical consequences, which only tells you how depraved the moral order of Westeros is.
  10. Contrast, then, Jon’s treatment of Alice Karstark and Ned Umber –  where Cersei would have acted with petty cruelty, Jon shows mercy, even when his own sister is urging vengeance.  It makes you want to pledge fealty right there.
  11. In the realm of actual predictions, from here on out major characters are going to start dropping like whores’ knickers.  Melisandre hinted at her own death and Varys’ in Episode Three, and I suspect they won’t die in bed sipping cocoa.  Varys will probably get cross-ways of Dany somehow, because people who think in terms of “the realm” are sometimes awfully inconvenient to monarchs.
  12. I suspect the showrunners have a much dramatic end in mind for Melisandre.  Perhaps she’ll give her life in the fight against the Night King, and so atone in some degree for her crimes.  In any event, I doubt she will suffer a straw-death.
  13. Beric Dondarrion is going to get it (finally and for good) when he follows Jon north of the wall (oops, spoilers, remember?), but not before he gets to use Thoros’ flaming sword, which should rock hard as a scene.
  14. Arya will make it back to Winterfell, but I predict she’s going to cautiously infiltrate the place to determine the lay of the land, and there may not be the sort of uber-joyful reunion we had with between Sansa and Jon.
  15. In the process, Arya may kill Littlefinger.  I’m just hoping.
  16. If Littlefinger does make it past Arya’s return, at some point he’s going to spill the beans about Jon’s true parentage (if there be beans to spill).  There have been plenty of hints he knows the secret.  Who knows what will happen then; it could be someone will even silence him in a rather permanent fashion to keep the secret secret. From some points of view, Jon as a Targaryen would be an inconvenient truth– it would probably destroy the allegiance he has won from the northern lords, among other things.  This could go any number of ways, though, and nobody who isn’t named Benioff, Weiss or Martin has a genuine clue as to the whole story.

Enough for now.  With each episode the possibilities narrow and the dramatic tension becomes more focused.  Anyway you cut it, we’re in for a ride.

I just wish there were more than four episodes left in the season.

Later.

A few random and wild-eyed speculations on “Game of Thrones”

So, we are two episodes into Season Seven of Game of Thrones, and I feel the urge to speculate on the ultimate endpoint of the series.  Perhaps this is premature; it is almost certainly foolhardy, from a critical standpoint.  It smacks of hubris; it reeks (no pun intended) of chutzpah.

But what the heck, I’m going to go with it.

But first, of necessity–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Well, maybe.  Speculations do sometimes turn out to be accurate.  More than accurate, though, they are fun.

  1. Dany is never going to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.  That would be a disappointingly straight-line narrative, and Benioff, Weiss and Martin are all too canny a set of writers to give us that.  They are certain to monkey-wrench that story-line into oblivion.  One way or another Dany will be turned aside from that path and that destiny, to find another.  A better destiny?  Hard to say, since Martin has already said that the end of the Song of Ice and Fire will be ‘bittersweet’.
  2. The Night King is going to win– at least in Westeros, where Dany’s vision of a ruined Red Keep will come true.  I suspect he’s going to destroy the Wall at some point, somehow overcoming the magical protections built into it.  This will probably be the Season Seven cliffhanger.  Winter will spread over Westeros and millions will die.  Dorne may escape and maybe the Free Cities as well, but it will snow in Volantis and even Meereen.
  3. Dany and Jon will hook up for a poignantly short time.  Jon will die again, probably after giving Dany the son she wants, the true Stallion Who Mounts the World.
  4. Jon may or may not learn of his heritage.  It almost doesn’t matter at this point.
  5. Thousands of Westerosi will flee to Meereen and the other cities on Slaver’s Bay, which will become a warm refuge against the winter.  Changes in climate will bring abundant rainfall back to the region, and it will enjoy a rebirth.
  6. Drogon alone will survive the Winter War, but since dragons are hermaphroditic, she/he will still be able to lay new eggs and hatch a new generation flying flame-throwers.
  7. When Jon dies he may see Ygritte again.  This could just be the sentimental slob in me.
  8. Jaime will kill Cersei.  Or Tyrion will do it.  Or Dany.  Or Drogon.  Or the fifth Dothraki on the left.  I don’t really care, so long as someone snuffs the bat-fuck bitch.
  9. Jaime will probably kill himself after Cersei’s death.
  10. Tyrion and Sansa may decide getting married to each other wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
  11. Tyrion and Sansa, on the other hand, may die poignant deaths just as they realize they love each other.
  12. Tormund and Brienne are probably going to die poignant deaths, too, although Brienne will probably spend the last few minutes of her life rolling her eyes at Tormund.
  13. Grey Worm and Missandei, of course, are utterly doomed.  They may have the poignant death market cornered.
  14. Assuming she lives, Sansa will advise Queen Danerys in Meereen.
  15. Arya will survive and defend Meereen with her stealthy powers.  The showrunners don’t dare kill her.  There’d be rioting in the streets.
  16. Dany’s grandkids will reconquer Westeros with hordes of dragons, zeppelins, incendiary ammo, and fuel-air bombs.  I’d pay HBO’s full price to see that series.

That’s enough wild-eyed speculation for now.  Once we have a few more episodes for Season Seven in the bag I may refine these.  Or add others.  The sky’s the limit, actually.

Later.