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Mmmmmm, fermented fish.

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Josh Marshall:

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The Dragon and the Wolf

Game of Thrones   Season 7   Episode 7

The season ends with an episode that contains tension, drama, great one-on-one character scenes, and a number of plot threads tied up or at least significantly advanced, yet feels somehow hollow. It had no major surprises and only one (long overdue) character death.

The summit of the various remaining forces occurs, in the dragonpits in King’s Landing. (If I were working for Danaerys I would have picked a more neutral spot.) A long trek to this location allows for a few great character interactions: Tyrion with Podrick and Bronn; The Hound with Brienne. Dany is not with them, but arrives via dragon-based transit. The Hound gets a scene with his zombie brother where he basically guarantees Cleganebowl will happen next season sometime(!). Team Dany releases their prize wight, and Cersei seems convinced and open to the proposed truce – until she insists that “the King in the North” stay in the north and not fight against her alongside Dany. To his allies’ dismay, Jon is unable to lie and says uh sorry, I already bent the knee, no can do. Cersei storms off, no truce.

Tyrion decides that only he can change her mind. Whatever the logic of that decision, it makes for a good scene. (The preceding sentence could be the tagline of this season.) Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage always have good scenes together, and it’s been a while, and a lot has happened. And a lot does happen in this scene. Among other things, Tyrion learns Cersei is in fact pregnant – and I didn’t believe it myself! There is a curious lacuna, after which Tyrion and his sister emerge in the dragonpit; she announces she will not only agree to the truce, she will march her forces north to help fight what is now being called “The Great War”. Hope it has 80% fewer trenches and despair than its real life namesake.

If Cersei doing what’s right seems like a stretch, good, because a couple scenes later, she’s calling Jaime an idiot for actually believing she’d go through with it. In fact, Euron, who pretended to run off to the Iron Islands earlier, is actually going to Essos to pick up The Golden Company and ferry them back with his fleet. Jaime doesn’t like the idea of Cersei and Euron scheming without him; things go south, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought Jaime was going to get cut down by the Mountain. But he finally leaves her side and heads north alone.

In Winterfell, we get some buildup between Sansa and Littlefinger in which it seems she is finally succumbing to his manipulations and preparing to kill her sister. Then, we get a fakeout: Sansa summons Arya to the hall and starts talking about murder and treason – BUT she accuses Littlefinger instead. Clearly Bran is good for something, as he’s used his near omniscience to fill his sisters in on the full extent of Petyr’s shenanigans. Now let me just point out that Littlefinger doesn’t get a fair trial here… in fact he gets his throat slit with his own fancy dagger, courtesy Arya. The sisters get a wonderful scene later in which they recall their father, and his lesson to them, which is something like: “when winter comes, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. Ned Stark glows Obi-Wan like in the background of many of the scenes in this episode, as his children and other characters deal with the challenges of doing what’s right in a world that too often rewards what’s wrong.

Speaking of which, back on Dragonstone, Theon more or less apologizes to Jon, who more or less forgives him. Theon sees that Jon finds it easy to do what’s right, whereas Theon never knew if he was a Stark or a Greyjoy. Jon responds with a line whose full significance will only be understood later: “you have to be both”. Fired up with righteous resolve, Theon murders his second in command so as to win back the allegiance of his men for a mission to save his sister Yara… or something? It was very rushed.

Jon and Dany sail for the North, and their story reaches its…. climax [puts on shades]. At the same time, Sam gets to Winterfell and has an info dump with Bran. By which I mean, while Jon and Dany are getting it on, Bran is narrating how Jon’s real name is Aegon Targaryen and he’s the true heir to the throne and yeah that means Dany is his aunt. Yuck! But not really a surprise: all these “revelations” have been in the works since last season.

The episode ends with a scene that is grand yet inevitable and predictable: the Army of the Dead shows up at Eastwatch and the Night King uses his un-dragon to blow a hole in the wall. They had to bust through at some point, or what a lame Great War this is, and once they picked up the dragon last ep it became clear how they’d do it. So that happened.

Despite the occasional glimpses of epic scale, this episode again relied on one-on-one scenes that were gripping, well-wrought and satisfying, and further explored themes that feel central to the show. If Game of Thrones often deals with models of leadership, it just came heavily down on the side of Ned Stark. We all know he was good and all – in fact he was the stereotypical fantasy hero knight – but his surprise death in the first season expressed the point that this is a world in which heroes die. We have had seven seasons of the biggest payouts going to the liars, cheats, backstabbers and schemers. And yet in one hour, one of the most successful at such dark arts, Petyr “Chaos is a Ladder” Baelish, gets killed. Another, Cersei “Fuck You, I’m Cersei Lannister” Lannister is abandoned by her only remaining family and also only remaining sane ally, Jaime. Meanwhile the good guys follow Ned’s wisdom, band together, and…. [shudders] I mean, what is next season, just one long battle scene? Surely there are some backs left to be stabbed, right? I mean, this is Game of Thrones.

The season’s rushed pace continued to strain credulity. Really? Tyrion had to walk in undefended to talk to the sister who wanted him dead? And did all those heroes of presumably average or better intelligence really think Cersei’s word could be trusted in any shape or fashion? At the same time, maybe I’m bloodthirsty, but I expected at least one major surprise death. Jaime was a likely candidate, but Beric and Tormund surviving the wall’s collapse doesn’t make sense to me. I’m going to try to do a post about the season as a whole if I get the time and explore some of this stuff in more detail. I still felt on balance this was a good episode, but not without substantial flaws that perhaps belong more to the season as a whole.

A collection of unrelated points, you say? That calls for Unordered Liiiist Maaaaannn! The least dangerous, least sexy superhero.

  • The Sansa/Arya conflict was a season-long fakeout to keep a couple beloved characters busy. I called it last time, and it’s one of the few things I’ve correctly predicted, but I get no joy in it, as I thought… I thought it would get more interesting. But it’s better than the sisters killing each other, I suppose.

  • I also predicted Jon would knock Dany up: still looking good! Sex would be necessary for that to happen, and Jon even questioned her barrenness himself. I think that was Jon’s way of flirting?

  • Speaking of: why was Tyrion skulking around Dany’s bedroom when she and Jon were sexifying?

  • How did Tyrion get Cersei to agree to the truce? We don’t see the whole action. Did he assent to her lie about sending her forces north? Did he promise her unborn child the crown, thinking Dany barren? Explaining the skulking? Or did he propose some sort of rotating rule, or a democracy? Or did they just play tiddlywinks with the wizard guy and the brainless zombie?

  • Speaking of the wizard guy (ok I know his name, he’s Qyburn, Necromancer to the Stars): loved his rapt fascination with the wight. Time for some more evil science? Upgrades for Mountain-bot?

  • “You have to be both.” Jon has to be both Stark and Targaryen, then. Aka both wolf and dragon of the episode’s title.

  • There are so many heroes heading up north for A Good Cause I’m hoping Bob Geldof shows up and they record a chart-topping charity single. “Sending My Love Past the Wall.” “(Starting to Feel a Lot Like) Winterfell.” “All the Wight Weasons.”

As they say: thanks for reading, see you next year, or the year after, it horribly seems.

How an urban farming collective is planting seeds of change

Beyond the Wall

Game of Thrones   Season 7   Episode 6

(Sorry this is so late: I’m at a cottage with no internet.)

So here’s the action extravaganza I was expecting last episode. The bulk of this one is the Strike Team on its mission to range “North of the Wall” and kidnap a wight, with a few flicks back to goings on south of the wall, at Winterfell and Dragonstone. If you can stop worrying about travel times and distances and such (how far are they from the wall? How long would it take a raven to get to Dragonstone? Etc.), and I think you should, you’ll find this to be among the top action episodes of the show. A lot of shit happens, that’s for sure.

Early on we get a few scenes of dialogue between different members of the Strike Team: Tormund and The Hound, Jon and Jorah, etc. Certainly the Hound and Tormund were on fire. Jon offers Longclaw to Jorah (it was originally the Mormont ancestral sword), but Jorah says it belongs with Jon.

In Winterfell, Arya tells her sister she has the scroll Sansa sent to Robb (that could potentially be interpreted as evidence of her collaborating with the Lannisters). Sansa is concerned and turns to Littlefinger for advice; he suggests getting Brienne involved, as she is sworn to protect both Arya and Sansa. Rather than use Brienne to protect herself from her sister, when Sansa gets a summons to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei, she sends Brienne. Confident! Slightly menacing!

There’s a curious scene with Dany and Tyrion where they also mention the meeting with Cersei. Dany notes that Cersei will be setting a trap for them, and asks what trap they are setting for her. Tyrion doesn’t go as far as to deny they have a trap lined up, but he does urge Dany to rule via other means than deceit and war. Open to suggestions here, buddy! He brings up the problem of succession. Dany is (believed to be) infertile, but Tyrion mentions the Night’s Watch and the Ironborn, groups that select leaders via democratic systems.

Back to the main plot. After an undead bear mauls Thoros, the group finds a scouting party of a dozen wights led by a White Walker, and attack them. When Jon shatters the Walker, all of the wights drop except one, and they succeed in bagging it – but its heavily sound designed cries alert the main Army of the Dead, which comes knockin’. Jon sends Gendry running back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Dany for help, triggering a last-minute-rescue storyline, but before you know it, Jon and the gang are stuck on a minuscule island, completely surrounded by thousands of wights, with only a rapidly freezing-over lake to keep them from danger.

Time passes. Dany gets the message and leaves. Thoros dies in the night. Finally the lake freezes over, the wights charge, and things look bad for Strike Team Wight until – you guessed it – Dany and her dragons come to the rescue. But the White Walkers are ready for them: the Night King lets a huge ice lance fly and downs Viserion, while all except Jon escape on Drogon. Jon falls through the ice fighting off wights, but manages to get out and escapes with the help of Benjen “Coldhands” Stark.

In the aftermath, Jon and Dany don’t quite french, but they do hold hands(!). Dany swears to help with the fight against the Night King, and Jon bends the knee (figuratively). The coda shows wights hauling Viserion out of the water – and the Night King walker-ifies him.

Heroes last-standing it against an army of zombies, last-minute rescues, dragons torching shit: yeah, this season is in full action movie mode. As I mentioned last week, these episodes are packed so densely that clearly Dan & Dan are choosing to drop some of the more prosaic scenes – with the downside that certain barely-set-up plot events can strain credulity just a touch. In this ep, one can’t help try to make sense of the geography involved. How long would it take for Gendry to run back to the wall, for a raven to fly to Dragonstone, and for dragons to fly back? It’s a moot point; we don’t know how long our heroes were out on that rock, any more than we know how fast dragons can fly. Also, it’s more fun enjoying the ride than it is playing amateur fantasy geographer. This show is like nothing else on TV right now, or ever, in terms of scale, spectacle and budget, and if it seems different from previous seasons, remember we’re at hour 66: certainly we are in the climax of the 73-hour story, so a faster pace is warranted. But I suppose it feels a bit weird nonetheless, as if the final season of I Claudius turned into Hard Target.

First world problems.

Strays:

  • I have this funny feeling that the battle of the ice lake is taken from the books. Or rather, from Martin’s notes.
  • So now we know how the Army of the Dead is getting over/through the wall, yeah? If that thing breathes fire, it can blow a hole in the wall. Or, the Night King could fly over it, and start a new army on the other side.
  • If Tyrion does have a plan other than “trust the sister he knows not to trust”, and I would hope he does: what is it? Did his conversation with Jaime have an off-screen component we have not yet been privy to?
  • That Winterfell storyline though. I think we all wanted Arya to be more hero and less anti-. Same goes for Sansa. My hunch is it doesn’t come to blows and this whole storyline has been a fake out, a way to keep a number of characters busy while more important plots were playing out, but I‘ve given up trying to guess how it gets to its end.
  • Dany & Jon are obvs gonna hook up… next ep perhaps? And she is so totally getting knocked up.

Nasa’s ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano

Yellowstone explodes roughly every 600,000 years, and it is about 600,000 years since it last exploded, which should cause us to sit up and take notice.

Yup! (thanks y)

Stephen Bannon Out at the White House After Turbulent Run

‘I don’t like to bother people,’ says man who drove himself to the ER with a nail in his heart

This guy is my hero

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Trump’s Council of C.E.O.s in Disarray Following Remarks on Protest

Was just spouting off to y about how I expected all of his CEOs on advisory councils to have resigned by now, and at least that is in motion.