My (Fictional) Friend Died Sunday Night

I’ve known Jon Snow longer than all my friends at school (high school and college).

By now, you’ve scoured the world wide web. You want it to all be make believe. It was just a dream, you muttered this morning. You googled, “Is Jon Snow really dead?” Hundred–Hell thousands–of hit hungry posts led you–like Ollie led dear Jon to the stabbing post–to this Entertainment Weekly interview, where Kit Harrington and through him Benioff and Weiss explain that yes, Jon really seems dead, apparently. It wouldn’t be the first time someone lied to an Entertainment Weekly reporter. But if Jon Snow is really dead, so is the story.

As I often remind anyone within earshot, I’m a book reader! I know things! So I sort of knew Jon’s fate (since the summer of 2011) … but you never know. Benioff and Weiss had unchained themselves like our tired buddy Drogon once had from Martin’s plodding pace. In the first half of the season (the best half season of the show so far), the pair had killed characters still breathing in the holy source material and seemed bent on taking the story farther than even book readers could imagine. It was a liberating experience. It led and allowed me for the first time to see the show as something totally different than Martin’s original story. I began to see the show not as an interpretation of the books, but both as interpretations of one, very general outline in a world as ripe for stories as Marvel comics or Greek Mythology.

Ahh the good times never last do they? One minute, you’re delighted your daughter is accepting of incestual practices, the next she’s dead. Yeah, so I knew Jon was set for a midnight stabbing, but I thought … maybe the show will steer away … they wouldn’t kill him after spending half of an episode establishing him as the biggest action star on television? Like the most handsome knight on the planet Jorah ‘The Andal’ Mormont, I just keep coming back for more. Of course the little Ollie would sink a dagger into Jon’s heart, though next time little buddy, when you want to betray your Lord Commander, be a little more subtle about it. Don’t tell everyone wildings killed your parents.

I could have written this a week ago, but I waited. I hoped, and if Jon was really meant to face his end with daggers in the darkness, at least my gut would be raw and wriggling to flesh some of this out.

A few differences from Martin’s text. Book Jon goes farther than Head and Shoulders show Jon. In the book, Jon raises the wildings for a ranging south (a big black brother no-no). Stannis troops have aparently failed to take Winterfell, and Jon (still about 16) intends to march south with the wildings to take back Winterfell from the Boltons. I was heartbroken when I read the words of Jon’s death, but I knew where Dolorious Ed and the boys were coming from. And as you’ve probably found out, there are as many “Jon Death” theories as there are “Jon Parents.” I’ve read the end of Dance with Dragons at least fifty times. “He never felt the fourth knife…only the cold…” Which would seemingly indicate that after being resurrected by Mellisadre or warging into Ghost or (insert deus ex machina) Jon yanked those daggers out. Maybe he’s alive. Maybe we should buy the next book to find out.

Martin has given a lot of interviews. He loves it. One of the few interesting points he’s made has obviosly been about death. He’s talked about how shocked he was reading Gandalf’s death scene at twelve. Here’s mostly the full quote.

When I was a 12-year-old kid reading The Fellowship of the Ring and ‘Fly, you fools!’ and he goes into the chasm …  it was ‘Holy shit! [J.R.R. Tolkien] killed the wizard! That’s the guy who knew everything. How are they going to destroy the ring without him?’ And now the ‘kids’ have to grow up because their ‘daddy’ is dead. If Gandalf could die, anybody could die. And then just a few chapters later Boromir goes down. Those two deaths created in me the ‘anyone could die’ thing. At that point I was expecting [Tolkien] to pick off the whole Fellowship one by one. And then we also think in The Two Towers that Frodo is dead, since Shelob stung him and wrapped him up. I really bought it because he set me up with those other deaths. But then, of course, he brings Gandalf back. He’s a little strange at first, but then he’s basically the same old Gandalf. I liked the impact we got from him being gone.

Both Game of Thrones and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire delight in cleaving fantasy tropes. There’s magic, but (thankfully) no real wizards. Our honorable hero and lord was beheaded in the first book/season. The most enduring and dramatic love story is between a brother and his sister. The hero boy king was brutally murdered in a violation of guest rights. But as dependent on this one move–a bloody reversal of what it thinks we expect–both interpretations are as reliant on history and other stories–especially Shakespeare. The political aspect–as Martin has explained–is based off the English War of the Roses (which I un-coincidentally did a research report on my sophomore year of high school). The Red Wedding was based on a real event. The Wall is based on Hadrian’s wall that the Romans built in northern England. Martin just buffed it all up with a few inverted fantasy tropes. And didn’t the deaths Sunday night seem erily familiar?. Death from a kiss? Romeo and Juliet. Jon betrayed by his brothers and buried under daggers. Julius Caesar. Stannis’ descent into madness (driven by a mad woman and prophecy) and (supposed) death at the hands of Brienne. Macbeth

What drew me into Westeros and Martin’s expansive, fictional world was that it seemed real. There were consequences for fucking up. You can’t just parade around King’s Landing like a fool and expect to make it alive. You can win every pitched battle but if you refuse to play politics, you may end up dead at your brother in laws wedding. If you go about reversing a thousand years of tradition without some allies, yeah you might end up with some once friendly daggers in your chest. But somewhere along the line, killing the heroes became the story’s go to move. And it’s worn out.

“Hardhome” worked so well because it bucked trends that Game of Thrones had painfully set up for four seasons. The episode ran along like all the others had before. Daenaerys and Tyrion trade some theatrical declarations on power. Arya passes out some seafood. It’s running along like the typical Game of Thrones episode, everyone getting their alotted scene. Then we go beyond the Wall. Jon’s boat hits the shore and he strides out like a young, curly haired George Washington. We’re thinking … it’s the eighth episode, not the ninth. We’re not gonna have a battle, especially one that happens off book. We’ll spend ten minutes with Jon and be whisked off to Dorne for any meaningful additions to what could have been a wonderful sandy adventure with my boy Bronn. But Jon kept talking … a storm of zombies arrived at the gates … the clock kept ticking … the undead kept killing … Jon killed a White Walker! … The Night’s King raised his arms … silence.

Benioff, Weiss, and the director exploited our expectations–like they always do–but with what we expect from the story, not from Lord of the Rings. No one (even book readers) expected us to spend the last half of the eight episode in a battle against the mystical undead. That’s the move that’s work best this season. That’s the move that the show (and books) needs to make more. It’s the move both should make with Jon. We expect them to kill our favorite character. If Game of Thrones wants to avoid becoming a trope, it has to bring back Jon.

There’s also the equally pressing issue of investment. We simply don’t have the time or energy anymore to build up heroes in this story. Winter Is Coming in two to three seasons. It’d just be wasteful storytelling to kill Jon. All the other deaths have ramped up our investment in Jon, so to kill Jon would kill the narrative point of all the other deaths.

So yeah, sorry Kit, we’ll see you in Belfast again one day.

The Watch: The Season So Far

In the wake of The Massacre of Hardhome, my dear friend and frequent Nick Cage Review correspondent Brendan O’Connell exchanged a few emails about White Walkers, Sand Snakes, dear King Tommen. Warning: SPOILERS. Warning: OPINIONS.

Ryan: This has been the weirdest four week span in the show’s history (episodes 5-8). Two of the series worst, bookended by two of its best. Now, you’ve been burning through these to catch up. Has that blurred the distinction between the past few episodes?

Brendan: I think it has. I haven’t seen any of the episodes as stronger or weaker then the others, with the exception of last night’s episode. That one, in my opinion, is the strongest episode of the series since “The Rains of Castamere.” I thought each episode had its own merits, with moments that shined through in each. For instance, I thought Cersei being arrested last week was a great moment for the series, and especially for that episode. Also, I feel as though Sansa and Arya have been shining through this season, and as they have been my favorite characters since Day 1, I have appreciated that.

However, that is definitely due to the nature of binge watching. Episode 6 was so incredibly depressing, and ended in such a terrible way. But I felt like it was a strong episode, due to the fact that I started watching the next episode 30 seconds after I watched my favorite character brutalized. I think if I had to watch episode 7 a week later, I would have had very different feelings on those two episodes.

I think that’s the nature of a Game of Thrones season. There are so many parts that certain episodes definitely have amazing moments that redeem the series, whereas others are needed to just move the plot along to get to those great moments we all talk about.

Ryan: I take your point that the show is basically, a bunch of people talking around tables. And that the nature of the beast is that sometimes it’s a slow burn.

But I think at least for me, there was a lot of frustration with the way six and seven ended. This isn’t just with how the episodes ended or the motif the show is trying to build–narrative anarchy.

The Sansa stuff didn’t work, because it didn’t fit because it painted Littlefinger as either a dunce or someone who doesn’t care about Sansa. But the show has proved that both those things aren’t true. Littlefinger has continually been pulling the strings of the political plot–killing off Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, Joffrey. And since Catelyn’s death, Sansa is the only living, breathing character he cares about.

And Dorne? Dorne!? They ruined the only good part of Feast for Crows.

Brendan: I always forget to look at Sansa as part of a greater scheme on Littlefinger’s part, and more as the best character of the show.  But I agree with your anger over Dorne. One, that fight between the Sand Snakes and Jaime and Bronn was, to say the least, not well done.  Two, the Sand Snakes should be the best characters on the show. In the book they were basically three to eight Red Vipers, which would have been the greatest thing that ever happened to our television screens.  Instead, they’re the worst thing you can be on Game Of Thrones; boring.

At least with the Sansa stuff, there is something going on. You see Sansa’s survival mode kick in, and as the episodes are proving, its just making her this weird Littlefinger-Catelyn hybrid that is probably going to get revenge on Ramsay in a big way. But I just don’t see where the show is going with Dorne. They’ve gotten rid of half the Martell’s, who make up 3/4 of Feast for Crows, and then left us with some half baked characters who are looking for “revenge”, but are seemingly just going to sit in jail and show their boobs. It’s a weird choice.

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the Kings Landing bits, especially now that three of the four major characters still there (I’m not counting Tommen) are imprisoned by the High Sparrow. Do you like where the show is taking this storyline?  And are you intrigued by it, considering for about three seasons Kings Landing has been the most interesting portion of the series.

Ryan: For most of the series, Kings Landing was the center of the show. It wasn’t necessarily where all the action took place (Danery’s had her fair share before settling in Meren). But King’s Landing was where all the important decisions were made.

Here are three hot King’s Landing takes.

1. Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen) is as good at playing an ineffectual king as Jack Gleason (Joffrey) was as at playing a young Jack the Ripperr.. I hate kittens but I appreciate how far Chapman’s bought in.

2. I root for Cersei. I know she’s an incestual witch and oblivious to her own ineptitude. Lena Headey is just too good for her own good.

3. I think Kings Landing has been a huge win for The Seven. It’s always, oddly, been the most underused religion in the story. The Lord of Light and the Ol’ Tree Gods have always been really important to the story, but the Seven has always just been there. I’m all for narrative religious equality. The Seven is striking back!

I know I’ve generally avoided your question. You see, I just don’t care about Kings Landing anymore, especially after episode 8. After seeing Tyrion and Dany test barbed wits and The Dead King-Jon Snow Showdown, Kings Landing doesn’t matter. The Dead are coming. Dragons are coming. And I know that ultimate meeting is probably three years away, so I think the challenge for the showrunners is (as always) balance. And it’s harder now because the payoff is so much closer than it used to be. They have to keep bringing us closer to the payoff without losing that hard-boiled political element that I know you so love. Have you missed that this season?

Brendan: That’s basically what I was thinking. Kings Landing was by far my favorite during the Joffrey years, but after his death, plus Tyrion, Littlefinger and Sansa’s departures to other areas of the world (even though Littlefinger is technically back), I haven’t really been as interested in Kings Landing.

Other then that, I’ve been missing some of the interactions between characters. I miss the Arya-Hound banter; I miss the Sansa-Joffrey terror (as opposed to sociopath Ramsay, who seems just way worse); I miss the Cersei-Tyrion rivalry, and the Tyrion-Tywin hatred; I miss the Jon-Ygritte romance. Those interactions, for me, were the best parts of the show, and to bring it back, helped me get through those slow building episodes.

This season, more so then any other one, seems as though everyone is isolated. Even the characters that are together are isolated. Sansa and Arya are more alone then they ever have been. Cersei and Jaime are in jail, alone. Everyone is just so alone, and this makes those slower episodes harder. The only characters who are together, really, are Daenarys and Tyrion, and that was completely overshadowed by the epicness of Jon Snow and the white walkers. Those are the moments I miss.

I do hope they bring some of those back.

Ryan: Yeah, what the show has always done really well is pairs–Arya and the Hound being the paragon of pairs. And this year we had some promising pairs. Jamie and Bronn would have been great if Dorne would have been the wild Mediterranean/Basque dream land of dear Prince Oberyn. Maybe Bronn and the slutty sandsnake could be a good pair.

I think for a moment, Grey Worm and Sir Barristan were a great pair dueling in the alleys. You can’t say Sam and Gilly weren’t an explosive (GET IT?) pair.

I think pairs are so important to the show, as or more important than ice zombies and dragons, because the show is as much about anticipation, the big tease, than anything. And that goes right along with the books. I was always pissed when Martin would skip over battles–like the Robb’s victory at Whispering Wood. He never showed the battles. It was always about the planning and fallout. It’s a show about people talking–kind of like another great show–Entourage.

Brendan: Well I never saw Entourage, so I can’t agree or disagree with that comparison. But I agree that the actual events are less important then the fallout, and sometimes the planning.I agree some of those pairs have been okay, but they’ve been so one off that I can’t get invested. It’s weird.

Going back to the planning, I’m trying to think of how all of these events are going to play out. This is a weird moment as a book reader, as so many story lines are diverging. We are far beyond where Daenarys was in the books, Jeyne Poole is nonexistent, and Lady Stoneheart is sadly not a character. So it’s interesting to actually try to guess where all this planning and pre-main event is leading. How are these story lines going to be resolved? It’s a very exciting yet weird time to be a fan of A Song of Fire and Ice watching Game of Thrones.

Ryan: I think that’s as good a place as any to yield, before we breach 1,600 words. Now our watch has ended!

“Love Is Dead” –University of Michigan

Greatest HIMYM Moment

By Ryan Dowd

So, stick with me as I bury the lede here. I’m inclined to click on any article/list that includes any of the following: romantic comedies, cliches, beliefs, ect. Because I’ve seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall(500) Days of Summer, and Wedding Crashers about 30 times combined.

So a couple weeks ago I came across this little gem. In a nut shell, “University of Michigan researchers found that participants who claimed to be big fans of rom-coms and marriage-based reality shows also agree with sentiments about love at first sight and finding “The One.” So if you religiously watch the bachelor or cry during Pretty Woman, then you’re someone who looks on doe-eyed at a black red and white, cupid ruled world.

And…”On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who regularly watch sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory shared those shows’ slightly more cynical view of love as a troublesome subplot, to be greeted by the canned, mocking laughter of God’s studio audience.” True love is a farce. Disney is evil. We’ll all die alone. You can throw fans of (500) Days of Summer in there as well, and I guess consequently fans of indie music videos with these grizzled, gray eyed wanderers.

Much like The New York Times‘s yearly insistence that “college students/generation Y have a whole lot of casual sex and we should probably talk about this” and studies from NYU like this one, I take this apparent revelation from the University of Michigan with a pot of salt. I’m intrigued to learn that years spent watching How I Met Your Mother and listening to The Temper Trap has led me down a path of bleak romantic dissonance, but I think that at the sharp age of 20 there’s still some magic out there for me, and if I’ve indeed become this disillusioned romantic nihilist as the study suggests, than real world experience has led me down that path, not Ted Mosby.

I think the lede, now that I’ve found it, is that maybe we take romantic comedies a bit too seriously. Maybe romantic comedies haven’t really taught us anything, excpet that some of us really like watching attractive people fall in and out of love. Those who write about pop culture, and I’m guilty of this in my marginal, artificially constructed corner, make a bigger deal out of some art than it deserves. There’s a notion that art tells all, and sometimes that’s just not the case. Sometimes Zoey Deschanel’s eyes are just really, really blue. And the Mathew McConaughey’s abs are just abs.

Love is a fantasy (sob)
Love is a fantasy (sob)

Another aspect that our friends over there in Ann Arbor may have overlooked is the slow, somehow quiet recession of the romantic comedy. Sure we have romances, tear jerking affairs like The Fault in Our Stars. And we have comedies, like Neighbors and 22 Jumpstreet. The only straight romantic comedy coming out this summer will be Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (with Emma Stone by the way), and Woody Allen will be making romantic comedies til the perv finally drops dead so I don’t think it really counts. We’ve reached the end of the “friends with benefits” rom-com run. The Apatow machine has moved away as well.  Then there’s They Came Together, the cheeky parody starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.

Comical parodies are often indicators that a genre is reaching its twilight, not that you won’t see some form of romantic comedies in theaters in 2020, but they’ll be different, just like When Harry Met Sally… is different from old screwball comedies and Forgetting Sarah Marshall is different from Harry Met Sally. The form changes, sure, but our desire for these stories never really changes, because well, desire never changes.

The reason for this aparent lack of feature romantic comedies is probably the emergence of the television rom com–shows like How I Met Your MotherNew GirlThe Mindy Project have taken over that particular corner of the market. And they’ve done it better than enjoyable yet bland films like Friends With Benefits and Crazy, Stupid, Love. People ascribe to Jess and Nick, Ted and bimbos, Mindy and whoever (I don’t actually watch this show). Maybe their rocky, episodic stories feel more real to us. Maybe it’s the form, watching at home, that gives us the feels. Maybe a new study from our pals up in Michigan might give us the answer.

My half-baked analysis of industry movements aside (which you should take with a grain of salt), I don’t really care what the general population gets from romantic comedies. It’s more complicated than optimistic v. pessimistic, naive v. cynical. Romantic comedies are just sort of there to help us figure it out. Romantic comedies aren’t equations that lead to neat, clean answers. There are too many variables. Because what you get from romantic comedies is derived from your real life experience, which is obviously different for each individual. I know that Forgetting Sarah Marshall and (500) Days of Summer means different things to me than they do to you given when, where, and how I experienced them. I’m sure you have your own go to rom-coms, and if you don’t you probably don’t have a soul. But don’t let some grad level researcher (or me) tell you that. You go ahead and do that for yourself.