Friday, June 29, 2012

The Next Chapter

Several years ago, my uncle gave me a copy of a book called In Praise of Slow, a non-fiction book about how much our society measures everything by time (our lack of it, how there’s never enough of it, how we’ve always run out of it) more than ever, and how we never take the time to just slow things down and enjoy life. For months after, he’d ask me if I’d gotten around to reading it, and I’d joke that I just didn’t have time. We’d both laugh.

A few months ago I read an article in The Guardian about a palliative care nurse who has spent many years sitting by the bedsides of patients at the ends of their lives, and she was talking about the Top 5 regrets people have on their deathbeds. Number 1 was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life that was true to myself, not the one that others expected of me.” Number 2 was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

My kids are 4 and 7. Today they graduate junior kindergarten and grade 2. In the fall they’ll be in senior kindergarten and grade 3. I don’t know how this happens. I could swear my oldest was just born yesterday. When she was 2 years old, I wrote this in a journal: “I want to keep her at this age for the rest of my life, still small enough to hold in my lap and rock to sleep, but big enough to walk beside me down the street while I hold her hand. Small enough to want kisses and hugs, but big enough to have a conversation with. Young enough to still be learning new things and not be jaded, but old enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong. I just want her to stay two forever. The other night we went out for a walk with her new wagon and I was walking behind her while she insisted on pulling it. Rob was in the front. I walked behind her, watching this little girl with the blonde hair that’s starting to curl up in the back, pulling this big wagon and not giving up when it got caught on things, walking in her flip-flops that are much too big for her (they’re for a 4-year-old, but she loves them because they’re too big), in her little sundress, with such a look of determination as she pulled that wagon, stopping every once in a while to pick a dandelion and turn to me and say, “Here, Mommy! Dandelion!” and turn and keep walking, and I thought how do I stop time and just preserve her like this forever?”

That was 6 years ago. And I can still see her walking in front of me in that little sundress, looking for the next dandelion. Now she disappears to a corner with her nose in a book, waving me off because she wants to finish this chapter. Part of me is delighted looking at a tiny version of myself at that age (any nook I could find, I’d squeeze into it and sit there for hours with a book), and part of me wishes she still needed me to read those books to her. I go into her room at night as she sleeps and I stare at her, marvelling at how tall she is, how big her feet are, how she takes up most of her bed in her perpetual octopus-like state when she's asleep. My hand used to engulf hers. Now, when she takes mine in hers, her long fingers wrap around mine and I’m once again surprised at how big she's become. (I know many of you are thinking, “Wait til she gets to university!!”) ;) 

But we get up in the morning, I rush to get ready for work while my husband gets the kids fed and clothed, and I hurriedly pull her hair up and brush their teeth, throw snacks into their bags and sign any paperwork that needs signing, zip up their bags, slather on sunscreen, pop hats on their heads and run out to the car to drop them off at their caregiver’s. My daughter runs into the school (usually seconds before the bell) and my son trots off with the caregiver to spend the morning with the other kindergarteners before he goes to his afternoon class. After school, caregiver picks them up and my husband grabs them from her house at 5, and I get home around 5:30, rush to make dinner (sometimes my husband’s already got it going), kids cry and moan and whine about something that’s happened that’s colossal and devastating because they both have really low blood sugar before they eat, and then we eat and then it’s rushing off to whatever extracurricular activities my daughter has, then get baths, and off to bed. Bed is usually a long fight where they want just one more page read or another glass of water, etc. That’s when I remember I needed to work with my daughter on her math and my son on his alphabet, but oh well… we’ll do that tomorrow night, right? Right?

Of course, at work I’m working on half a dozen things at once, I have a to-do list that on some days I can work through like a madwoman, on others it barely gets touched. And all day long my mind is half on them. I’m slipping out into the hall to call doctors or dentists or teachers, but usually I’m just calling my husband to remind him to pay the caregiver, or to run back to the school because I forgot the sunscreen, or I forgot to stick in those cupcakes I baked last night and they need them for the party that afternoon. My mind is always scattered these days, because there are so many things warring for its attention. I used to have a mind like a steel trap. Now I have to write down everything or I’ll forget. 

I used to write books. Remember those? I used to blog a lot, too. Now I’m lucky if I get a post up once a week. Or every two.

And with all this going on, I’ve hit that moment in my life that we all come to: the infamous crossroads, where you need to make a decision. Do you keep along the path you’re on, no matter how tough it is, because it’s a known place? Or do you venture into the great unknown and take a massive risk, hoping things will get better? How many of us wake up every morning determined to do something different, and at the end of the day realize we’ve done the same thing we always have, but tomorrow will be different? How many of us vow to slow down, to turn off that computer, put away the smartphone, and be engaged with family and friends and spend as much time as we can with our children? When I’m away from my kids, I want to be with them the whole time. When I’m with them, I’m constantly worried about the work things I should be doing. Even on weekends. I’m wired a certain way, and I’ve surrounded myself with people wired exactly the way I am. We have to be moving all the time, doing things. Multitasking.

Multitasking is just doing a bunch of things at once, and not doing any of them well.

The last two years of my life have taken me on an emotional rollercoaster. Two years ago, I was on top of the world: Lost was coming to an end, I was doing a ton of publicity for it, I had the final Lost book in the works, my kids were both healthy and happy and doing well in everything they did, I loved all the books I was working on at my workplace, my husband and I were happy and doing all the things we wanted to do, I was on my way to Slayage to deliver a keynote… and then it was just one of those things, where starting from the moment I got back from Slayage and lasting the next two years, if something could go wrong, it did. Things happened, my world was jolted several times, the rug was torn out from under me repeatedly, people I thought I could count on suddenly were not the people I could count on, and I began seeing those little inspirational sayings and NOT rolling my eyes, but thinking, “Yeah, that is totally true.”

I KNOW, right?? Crazy. ;)

And so, I’m taking the plunge. There’s a reason this blog has become a ghost town. Today, June 29, is my last day working in the offices of ECW Press, where I’ve been an editor since 1997 (outside of my freelance job as a writer, since 1998). That’s a really long time to be at one place. I’ve watched people come and go, and the office evolve, and the atmosphere change time and again, and the way books are made has changed drastically from when I started there. But I’ve always been the constant. I stuck with that place through three bankruptcies. I found some of my best friends in that place, and watched many of them leave and move on to other things, but thank goodness for email and phones to keep in touch with so many of them. My boss has been my mentor, a father figure, and a dear friend.

When I started working at ECW, I was a student, I still hadn’t finished my graduate degree, and I was engaged to be married. After I started working there, I moved in with my fiancĂ©, then married him. I became an author many times over. I discovered new writers and watched them grow into rather well known ones. I got three cats. And after 14 years, I lost one of those cats. I’ve had four addresses since I started there, and bought my first house, then sold it and bought the second, and now I just sold this one and bought what may very well be the last one.

And, most importantly, I became a mother. I have watched my daughter grow from a feisty, demanding, high-maintenance baby into a confident, stubborn, imaginative, daydreaming, obstinate, beautiful little girl. I have watched my son grow from a quiet, easygoing, laid-back baby into a shy, sensitive, smart, hilarious, inquisitive little boy. They are the source of my biggest laughs, my deepest worries and frustrations, and my greatest joys. And my husband, who has gone from being a grad student to becoming one of the biggest golf journalists in North America, has been by my side every step of the way. When he’s not off golfing and calling it “work.” (Ahem.)

I used to keep a crazy pace. Before I had kids, I’d be in the office for 10 or 11 hours, every day. When I worked from home I’d work even longer, well into the evening hours. I’d come into the office on weekends and continue working because I loved the quiet. I threw myself into every aspect of the job, and LOVED it. And when I wrote books on top of it, I could start writing the moment I got home, while eating my dinner at my desk (my husband was a freelance writer so he’d be doing a similar thing down the hall) and write until midnight. I would start writing early in the morning on weekends and go all day and into the evenings. I wrote two books while I was pregnant with my daughter (books on Alias and Angel), and I figured they’d be my swan songs. I mean, how do you keep up this pace with kids?

And then I realized, you can. Or, at least, I can. On my daughter’s second birthday, the first Lost book was released. When I was pregnant with my son, I was writing the next one, and on maternity leave, I wrote the third. When I went back to work after he was born, I realized I still had the discipline I had before, but I was no longer working 11-hour days and part of the weekends; I was working 8-hour days, then coming home, being with the kids until they went to bed at 8 and then working until 12. Back up at 6 (that’s when the kids woke up) and continuing on. My husband took the kids home on weekends and I learned to work from 7am until 11pm, with two one-hour breaks in between. The most I wrote in a week was 65,000 words; the most I wrote in a single day was just over 15,000.

But then again, ask any mom who’s been on maternity leave with a baby whose feeding schedule is every 40 minutes and who never naps. Trust me, if that child naps for 15 minutes, we can do laundry, clean 3 rooms, and cook an entire lasagna in that time. You learn to become extremely productive in small spurts.

But something happened during that final book: my body said nope, I’m tired of you trying to be Wonder Woman. I was pushing myself too hard at work and trying to write a book on the side while using up my much-needed holiday time to do publicity for the end of Lost. I’ll never forget the long weekend where my husband took the kids away for a long weekend, leaving on Thursday morning, and I worked my 7am to 11pm days, and on Sunday I suddenly felt my head… vibrate. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was a buzzing feeling. I remember glancing at the time on my computer, and it was 3pm. Not late enough to quit, I thought. I glanced out the window at the house across the street. Then I looked back at my computer. 5pm. I rubbed my eyes… 5pm. I sat there for a moment as a jolt of shock ran through me. How could that have happened? I hadn’t fallen asleep, I was awake. But I had absolutely no memory of those two hours. It’s as if I had just powered down like a robot. It terrified me… and I also took the hint. I immediately stood up, went downstairs, and watched sitcoms for the rest of the evening.

While I was finishing up the final book, a dormant heart arrhythmia I’d been born with decided to wake up and say hello (apparently it’s brought on by extreme stress). Remember that scene in season 5 of Buffy when Riley goes to the hospital and they clock his heart at 150bpm and Buffy says, “Oh my god, no one can live with a heart that fast”? On last year’s rewatch, I thought that line was hilarious… because that’s what mine had clocked at. 155, actually.

I’ll say it again: Riley was a wuss.

Oh, but it didn’t stop there. Every time I thought I’d have one thing under control, something else would happen that would turn my world upside down. And it was all stressful. To protect the privacy of my kids I won’t go into details, but let’s just say the heart thing turned out to be the least of my worries. I can deal with me being sick, but when others get sick, I feel like the bottom drops out of my world. It’s ongoing, and we’re dealing with it, but much of my time has been spent reading books, trying to figure out what’s happening, and doing my very best to keep things under control. My kids, my extended family, my friends… one bad thing after another happened, and like I usually do, I internalized it, put on the happy face I’d learned to use since I was a kid (people have always commented on how I laugh constantly…). I’m one of those people who talks and talks and TALKS incessantly about everything in my life… until it starts to go wrong. And then I clam up. I stop telling people what’s up, I avoid any conversation that might lead to a, “So how are things?” because I don’t like lying, and I don’t like sounding like a pity whore. And that’s why I’m uncomfortable about writing what I just wrote: I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Trust me, I know people who have gone through things in the last 2 years that make me look wussier than Riley. And that’s saying a lot. I used to handle anything that came my way. It was like I had Wonder Woman’s bracelets and could just “Ping! Ping!” any difficult thing away from me. Now I have a bodily organ that’s betrayed me, and it destroyed my bracelets, dammit!!

I know you noticed the blog wasn’t being kept up. Tumbleweeds were floating across my screen. And I tried to keep it occupied. The Buffy Rewatch helped hide the emptiness of it during 2011, but 2012 has been more obvious.

I was used to doing a million things at once and getting them all right. Now I couldn’t do anything right, or at least it felt like I was failing on all fronts. And every day I felt like there were people reminding me of things I was doing wrong. So I decided, ENOUGH. I had to make a change. I want to take on less work, but do an excellent job at it. I want to write on my blog, and bring people back to it and return to what I used to do here, and just schedule time in my day to do just that. I want to be an organized mom (HAHAHAHA!!! Oh… oh… that’s hilarious, I know… ) and actually have everything in on time, not realizing the day a permission slip is due that it’s due and I have to drive back to the house, sign it, and run into the classroom waving it in the air. But you can’t be a full-time mom, a full-time editor, and a part-time writer. There’s simply not enough time.

And so. I am leaving ECW… and Toronto. Yup, after 16 years, I’m leaving the big T-Dot, and heading back to my home town of London, Ontario. My husband and I have sold our house and bought a beautiful house that not only gives me my own office (MY OWN OFFICE… Oh, Virginia, you were SO RIGHT about me needing a room of my own!), but it backs onto a wooded area with several miles of walking trails. My daughter the explorer completely freaked out when she saw the place. And so did I. I will be near most of my family, and, very importantly to me, my best friend, who has been a rock to me for many, many years. 

I love so much about ECW, not least of which are my bosses, who not only supported my move, but offered me a chance to keep acquiring books for the press, and to keep editing. I’m going to continue pretty much doing exactly what I do now… but part-time. The other part of my time will be spending time with my wonderful children, being organized, blogging, and trying to find some sense of order in my life that went away about two years ago. And I will spend hours and hours in that forest with my kids, roaming the trails and climbing trees and just… slowing… down. Phones will be left at home, computers will be turned off, and lives will be lived. And I get to continue to work with my authors, who are also my dear friends, and keep in touch with the people in my office and continue to hone the skills I’ve developed for 15 years.

And maybe I’ll find the time to write that next book I’ve been thinking about.

Earlier this week my fellow employees had a good-bye dinner for me and one other person who’s actually leaving this week as well. My boss gave a heartfelt speech, I got verklempt, and when I got home I felt drained. I looked at my husband and said, “Fifteen years in the same company.” He said, “That’s quite an accomplishment.” I said, “Yeah… but it also makes me feel kind of old. Like, I’m retiring already.” He said, “No, you’re not. You’re preparing to begin the next chapter. You’ve completed phase one, and now it’s on to phase two. Who knows what that will bring?”

As I posted elusively on Facebook earlier this week (before realizing I was one of THOSE FB posters, like those people who post, “OMG I can’t believe that just happened!!” and people write, “What happened?” And they respond, “I don’t want to talk about it.”), I’m ending a chapter of my life this week and beginning the process to a new stage in my life. But I’m going to try really hard not to see this as a week of lasts, and hope that instead it’s a gateway to a lifetime of firsts.

I’m sad, but also happier and freer than I’ve felt in a very long time. I’ve made it through a very difficult period and I’ve come out on the other side, and I feel stronger because of it. I’ve gotten back to where I was, and yes, it shows. There are more grey hairs, there are more lines around my eyes and on my forehead where the worry planted itself. But I’m back, and wonky heart notwithstanding, I’m better. The people who matter are by my side. And the two littlest people who matter will be at my side more than they have in a long time.

And I do promise MUCH more activity – and interesting things – coming soon on this blog… which, with any luck, will soon be a website. You’ve all had enough down time. I’ll be back very soon, and I’ll make it worth your wait, I promise.

One of the most oft-repeated lines on Lost was “See you on the other side.” I feel like somehow, I’m on that other side, and I can’t quite see what’s out there yet (much like Christian opening those doors at the end... SOMETHING was there, but we didn’t know what) but I’m excited to see what it’s going to be. 

A few months ago, I finally read the first chapter of In Praise of Slow, and it was a catalyst for the decisions I’ve since made. I called my uncle to tell him I’d actually started it, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it earlier, and we talked about me possibly moving back to London. He said to me, “You know, no one gets to the end of their lives and says, ‘I wish I’d spent less time with my kids.’ You’re doing the right thing, kiddo.” I really do hope so. And maybe I’ll finally find time to read the rest of that book. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just Because...

You can never watch this scene too many times. ;)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Why I Love Buffy Scholars (Reason #144)

I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but most of my (rare) free time lately was being spent on Game of Thrones posts. So with the season being at an end, I’m writing this on Wednesday so it’ll go live on Saturday (oooohhh… time travel…)

The last week of March my family and I went to the Dominican Republic. The day before we left, there was a large package on our front doorstep, and I said to my husband, “Wow, I wish that large package was full of merch from HBO.” No, really, I actually said that, since almost all packages that come to our house are filled with golf balls or new golf clubs (the shape of those tall boxes are giveaways) or golf shirts or shorts or new monogrammed golf shoes… in case you’re wondering, my husband is a golf writer. So I never get cool stuff.

We went up to the door, and sure enough, the package was from HBO! And it was full of Game of Thrones stuff. So just when I was thinking this was the best mail day ever, I walked into the house and saw another large envelope sitting on our stairs. The postmark was North Carolina, and the only people I knew from North Carolina were the Guffeys, Dale and Ensley, who I knew through Buffy fandom (they’re both Whedon scholars who have been at various pop culture conferences) and who are writing a Breaking Bad book for me. I opened the package, and sure enough, it was from them. And, turns out, from a bunch of other Buffy scholars.

As many of you know, this site hosted a Buffy Rewatch last year. I was joined by 30 people — scholars, bloggers, poets, novelists, and fans — and among all of us, we took on the task of watching up to three episodes a week and posting on them. You can go to the archive here if you’re newer to the site, and these posts will always be there for new viewers to read along the way we did. I was so grateful to everyone who helped me out, as you’ll see throughout the Rewatch.

But even though I felt the thanks should all be from me to them, a few thought differently, and wanted to thank me for hosting it and having all these wonderful people come together. And they surprised me with THIS:

A bracelet with the entire Finding Lost series on it, plus my Buffy and Angel books!! Can you believe it?? They’re tiny little books that actually spin around, and the sculptor even wrote my name on each spine in the font from the book cover. I was speechless. (And as many people will tell you, that’s a great feat.) I’ve since contacted the woman who made them, and she’s currently doing a custom job for me for a gift for someone else. It’s just a fabulous idea. (If you’re interested, her work is on Etsy here, and she has a lot of premade jewellery and also takes custom orders.) Thank you to her!

But a big, big thank you to Ensley and Dale Guffey for being the ringleaders and putting it together and having it made for me, as well as those lovely people who signed the card and were a part of the big surprise: Tanya Cochran, Rhonda Wilcox, Alyson Buckman, Elizabeth Rambo, Matthew Pateman, Stacey Abbott, David Lavery, Christina Boulard, Jennifer K. Stuller, Mary Evans, and Cynthea Masson. From what I’ve heard after, Pateman was charged with finding out if I was allergic to gold and silver, but since he could never come up with a casual way to fit that into the conversation (hahaha!!), when I was at Tanya’s house in January she gleaned an answer somehow and got it back over to Dale and Ensley. I have no idea how she did it, since I don’t remember that coming up in conversation at all (maybe I was wearing both or something?) but these guys are amazing spies and I had no idea this was in the works.

Thank you, you guys. This is one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me, and I’ve always wanted to have some way to commemorate all of my books, and this is perfect. Every person I’ve shown it to has gasped with delight. I can’t wait to thank everyone in person at Slayage.

UPDATE: I wrote all of that up on Wednesday, and last night I went to see Joel McHale at Casino Rama (yay!) and discovered afterwards that while I’d been offline, it was announced that the Whedon Studies Association has nominated the Buffy Rewatch for a Mr. Pointy Award!!! You have no idea how awesome I think this award is, and never thought I could ever be nominated for one because I’m not an academic. You can see the complete list of nominees here, and I was THRILLED to be included in the group and considered for something I hold up to be very important. I am so happy right now!! (And yes, for anyone who is wondering, it’s actually an award that is fashioned like Buffy’s stake Mr. Pointy, which she inherited from Kendra.) 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Game of Thrones: Valar Morghulis

Welcome to the final week of our Game of Thrones blog post! I’m once again joined by Christopher “I read the books so you don’t have to, but you really should because they are awesome” Lockett, who, well, reads the books and tells us how the adaptation deviates from them. We have a lot to cover this week, so let’s get started.

Oh, but first, THIS:

Cake of Thrones!!

Yes, if anyone’s looking to send something to Chris and me, that cake would be just dandy. ;)

Nikki: After last week’s unbelievable episode, this week’s was definitely a lot slower, serving the purpose of wrapping up this season’s many plot threads while setting us up for the next season. We covered off every house, every player, and pretty much every character we’ve seen this season. That’s not to say it was a bad episode — I’m starting to think that’s simply not possible on Game of Thrones — but just that it was a bit of a letdown after last week. And there were certainly some highlights.

What I really enjoyed from last night’s episode is that it almost felt like it was paying homage to every other show I watch on TV!
-Lost: We open on Tyrion’s eyeball, as if the key character for the episode is him.
-Revenge: Arya tells Jaqen that she’s going to spend years training and learning how to fight and get revenge on the people who killed her father. She’s like a little Amanda Clark.
-The Walking Dead: Duh. Was it just me, or was the final scene with the wight walkers set up exactly like the end of the penultimate season of TWD, with the legions of walkers stumbling towards Herschel’s farm, complete with the camera panning back to show how many of them there were?
-The Wire: Tyrion now sports the exact same scar as Omar Little. As if he wasn’t already a bad mofo, he’s probably going to be worse now.
-Buffy: Brienne the Douchebag Slayer!!

No, Jaime, I haven't had sex. Have you ever
had sex with a girl who wasn't your sibling?

Yes, for me, the best part was probably Brienne taking on the three Stark devotees in the forest. She saw the women strung up in the trees and even before the men entered the scene, she tied Jaime to a tree and moved to cut down the women so she could give them a proper burial. Like the previously mentioned Omar Little, Brienne lives by a code of honour, one that she will not sacrifice even when charged with a very important and time-sensitive mission. But before she’s cut the first one down, along come the louts who put them there in the first place. Jaime whisper-screams, “CUT ME LOOSE!!” when he sees them coming, which killed me because I actually shouted at the TV, “Kingslayer, Schmingslayer; she doesn’t need you, Jaime!!” And no. She so did NOT need him. At first she kept her head low and answered quickly, but asked a few questions of her own. Once she’d ascertained that these men did indeed kill these poor tavern women, and that one of them had been killed quickly and the third real slow, her mind was made up. With the flick of both wrists, she kills two of the three men and knocks over the third. Striding up to him with a grimace of pure venom on her face, she draws her sword and snarls, “Two quick deaths,” before making sure his death will be slow and painful. And then she unties Jaime, declaring, “I don’t serve the Starks. I serve Lady Catelyn.”

What this episode really highlighted was the ambiguity of the entire war. There are no good guys and bad guys, something that the Hound was trying to drive home to Sansa last week. There are only people doing what they feel they have to do. We cheer for Tyrion, even though we don’t want the Lannisters to win. Stannis is a brilliant fighter and probably deserves the crown more than anyone, but we’re not rooting for him, either. Brienne just killed the men that would have followed Ned Stark into battle and stood behind him, but they were bad men, and Ned made terrible choices and trusted the wrong people. Pycelle tosses a coin at Tyrion and sneers, “For your trouble,” in the same way Tyrion had given coins to Pycelle’s whore. We look at that as him being terribly cruel, but Tyrion acted first, and from Pycelle’s point of view, it was lovely vengeance. Jaqen opened the gates to let Arya out, but he killed men who had done him no wrong and probably had wives and children. Daenerys locks her favourite girl in a chamber with Xaro, where they will most likely suffocate to death before he’ll be able to rape her repeatedly and eat her corpse (I’m really hoping they run out of air).

These are not good people. But, like candidates in any Canadian federal election, they’re all we’ve got, and we have to find a reason to like one more than the others. Unlike a Canadian federal election, it’s much easier to find things I like in the GoT characters.

Now, my first question of the week that’s kind of driving me batty: I thought Sansa was leaving with the Hound last week. What was she still doing standing in Joffrey’s court? Did I miss something?

Christopher:  Huh. Interesting. I never assumed she was going with him—it seemed clear to me that she was turning down his offer. But then, that might have been because I’ve read the book and know she doesn’t go with him (that would have been a BIG deviation from the story). Perhaps we should poll our readers and see who thought as you did?

I didn’t find this episode to be any sort of letdown, though the shift back to the usual form of storytelling was a bit jarring. One way or another, I don’t see how they avoid that in the aftermath of “Blackwater” (aside from not doing “Blackwater” to start with … and, well, that’s just silly-talk). But for all the slower pacing of the episode, there were some pretty spectacular moments: Brienne showing the Kingslayer she can handle a sword, Jon Snow killing Qhorin, the triumphant return of Daenerys as something more than a petulant girl—and running into Drogo on the way!—and burning creepy Abed the warlock to a crisp, Jaqen H’ghar changing his face after offering to train Arya to be a Faceless Man … and of course that chilling (ha!) final shot of the White Walkers and their army of snow zombies.

Snow zombies. Let me say it one more time: snow zombies. OK, I think I’ve geeked out enough over that now.

We need Herschel and his infinite supply of bullets.

I might as well start with that ending sequence. I’m interested to hear what other avid GRRM readers thought of it—do you think it does your own image of the wights and their masters justice? Our first really good “look” at an Other doesn’t happen until book three, but I certainly am not complaining here. I’m also a little relieved, as the one real glimpse we’ve had previously, in the prologue of the very first episode, made the Walker look like some sort of tribal savage (I seem to remember complaining about that). But here it looked more obviously like something born of winter. Here is how the Other gets described in A Storm of Swords:

A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. [He] felt a moment’s relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back was a rider pale as ice … The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow.

So we do have a vaguely primitivist conception of the Walkers on the show—the Others we see are milky white, as described in the book (or blue-white, at any rate), but are naked but for breechclouts, and they look something like frozen mummies, with gnarled and dessicated bodies. But they’re pretty terrifying one way or another, especially considering they seem to be shepherding a rather large army of wights.

I did wonder why that final scene looked familiar, and you put your finger right on it—it is TOTALLY reminiscent of The Walking Dead. I don’t imagine we can accuse Weiss and Benioff of ripping of TWD, given how closely in time both episodes would have been in production. I wonder if W&B watch TWD—if perhaps they saw that penultimate episode and thought, “Ah, crap.”

Probably not. There was a certain similarity, but then it’s not exactly an original shot, having been done in a variety of ways in a host of zombie films. But GoT does have one thing going for it: snow zombies!

Nikki: The snow zombies were awesome. And I’m not sure poor Sam can survive that (will all of them walk right by him and leave him alone? Not likely…) The mantra from the first episode onward has been “Winter is coming…” and it appears that the wights actually brought winter with them. The guy on the horse was absolutely terrifying, and you’re right: they DO look like frozen mummies! Well put. Craster’s daughter-wives had better have some more sons, quick. Looks like those wights will need some sacrifices soon.

Very strange on the Sansa thing! In my write-up last week I talked a lot about how her decision to go with the Hound was an awesome moment, and you didn’t correct me at all (in fact, I believe you said it was an excellent reading of the scene). You are one sneaky guy.

I was discussing this final episode with the people at work, and none of us read the books and all of us had assumed Sansa had gone with the Hound and were completely confused. Hm… That’s too bad. I really would have loved to see those two roaming the countryside together.

The OTHER two people who I’d love to see roaming the countryside are Arya and Jaqen. Last week I made a comment that I wish he’d have joined her, Gendry, and the fat kid. So when they looked up and saw him on a hill, I squealed with joy. My dreams had come true! He’s going to travel with Arya! He’ll be her mentor and we get to continue to hear him speak funny and give those strange sidelong glances at her and HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO HIS FACE??!!

I know the writers have to adhere to the books, but
couldn't they just have changed his hair and kept
the same actor? :( 

The… HELL?? He gives Arya a coin and tells her if she ever runs into a man from Braavos, to say “Valar Morghulis” to him, and she will find Jaqen. “Jaqen” is dead (perhaps because she used his name in vain two episodes ago by naming “Jaqen” as the third person she wanted dead?), and she must now use the name Valar Morghulis. Wasn’t Arya’s “dance instructor” from Braavos? If he and Jaqen are from the same city, I want to go to there. It’s clearly the city of awesome.

Is it possible that Jaqen and Arya’s dance instructor are the same person with different faces? Her instructor was left behind to defend himself, and we didn’t see him die, if I remember correctly.

And I’m not sure how much you can reveal at this point, but are we to assume he’s from a particular group of people who can change their faces, OR is that just something he can do, OR is it something that men from Braavos do?

I will miss the old red-haired/white-haired Jaqen. The new guy looked a little snarly.

Christopher: Huh. I just reread last week’s post, and I totally didn’t get that you meant Sansa was leaving with the Hound. It’s a good thing I’m not in a profession that values close reading or anything.

It never occurred to me that Syrio and Jaqen could be the same person—as you pointed out, we don’t see him die (we don’t see him die in the novel, either), and the three men in the cage with Yoren’s group all come from the dungeons of King’s Landing. It’s an intriguing thought … but as much as I like the idea, I don’t think it’s likely. The Faceless Men of Braavos are a secret society of assassins; Syrio was a master swordsman serving the Sealord. From what I know of those two groups of people in Braavos, it seems unlikely that the latter would moonlight as the former, or vice versa. Too bad, really …

Braavos DOES seem like a wicked cool place though, and I’ll be very interested to see how they render it visually for the series. It won’t happen until at least season four, though … five if they split A Storm of Swords into two. It’s described as being a lot like renaissance Venice.

(To be clear, I’m not giving anything away about Arya’s future: maybe she goes to Braavos, maybe she doesn’t. There are other characters who go there).

To shift to another part of the story: what did you think of Varys this week? I love how they’re developing his character. He’s so obviously out of sorts when Littlefinger is honored by the king that one wonders if his overtures to Ros are partly out of revenge. That scene with her was invented, by the way: and though it was a vindication of the principle that the writers can’t have Ros on screen for more than thirty seconds without getting her naked, I thought the entire sequence added a level of depth and nuance to Varys that, frankly, we don’t get in the novels. His reasons for approaching Ros are obviously complex: on one hand, he sees an opportunity to get a spy in Littlefinger’s camp, and exploits her abuse at Joffrey’s hands to that end. But unless he’s feigning concern (not out of the realm of possibility), he seemed genuinely upset at what she suffered. We understand that, however much his polite fencing with Littlefinger looks just like two old hands playing a game, he genuinely despises Baelish … perhaps as someone who has himself suffered grievously at someone else’s hands, he has the kind of empathy unavailable to Littlefinger.

"Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?"

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and that was all just an act. But my sense is that we’re supposed to see him as genuine in these moments, as we are when he thanks Tyrion and tells him that some people know he’s the city’s true savior.

Though not, apparently, his father or sister or nephew. He wakes in a slovenly little room, having been ignominiously kicked out of the Hand’s apartments by his father. He has had everything he built up taken away—Bronn relieved of command, the city guard in the pocket of either Tywin or Cersei, his hillsmen sent packing with a handsome recompense that takes them out of Tyrion’s debt and into Tywin’s. And to top it off, his sister’s pet Pycelle has been restored and he smugly throws that fact in Tyrion’s gravely scarred face.

Last week you said the following, apropos of Tyrion’s possible death: “I don’t think he could be dead. He’s important, he’s KEY, and Tywin just showed up. Tyrion and Tywin could be a serious force to be reckoned with … Tyrion — the ironically nicknamed ‘Half Man’ — has just proven himself to be the only worthy Lannister. Tywin should be pretty impressed, and I doubt they’d kill him off the show just when he’s finally about to prove himself once and for all to his father.” You noted that my response might be spoilery, and you were right … because I was sitting there, sort of flapping my hands, saying “Omigodomigod, you have no idea how bloody ungrateful everyone is going to be!” Tyrion can’t win with his family—his sister loathes him, his nephew is never about to forgive him his slights, and his father will never allow him to forget that he’s (1) a dwarf, and (2) not Jaime. Give him credit for, you know, saving the city? Not likely.

Nikki: And you have no idea how much I just laughed, picturing you bouncing up and down on your chair and squealing, “You are so wrong!!” That is hilarious. I don’t say this enough, but you deserve major kudos for letting me blather on week after week (and also letting the commenters say things in the comments below when they haven’t read the books, either) and never saying, “Oh, you think so? WAIT TIL YOU SEE!!” Instead you use some enigmatic words and I never glom on to what’s going to happen. (See Stark, Ned: execution) So thank you for that, my friend!

But yes, I was completely shocked that rather than finally being lauded as the One True Lannister, he’s locked up in an attic. I guess the hint was back in season 1, in the scene where Tyrion faced Tywin in his tent as Tywin was skinning a deer. I don’t remember much of what was said in the scene, since my eyes were fiercely trained on the ghastly nature of Tywin skinning a deer, but it was clear that he respected Tyrion’s mind, but Jaime was the beloved one.

Man's gotta have a code.

And while I’m watching the battle scene last week and thinking that Tyrion was a true hero, even in the moment where he appears to have vanquished the baddies, the others are yelling, “Half Man!” to cheer him on. Not exactly the chant any Lannister would want their house associated with. Tyrion might have won, but he made a grave error in Tywin’s eyes: he was seen. Tyrion’s mind is important, and Tywin wants him to use it, as long as he stays in the background and works out strategies so heroes like Jaime can execute them. Tyrion is NOT meant to be paraded in front of the world, reminding them all that Tywin’s sperm helped create a dwarf. Tyrion is supposed to be the brains behind the operation, and Jaime is the one to be lauded publicly as the true hero.

Tyrion is well fond of the phrase, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” And I’m thinking that, in his eyes, Cersei and Tywin have some serious repaying to do.

I, too, am really enjoying Varys this season. As you suggest, it’s not clear if he’s on the up-and-up – we’ve learned to question everything that man says – but he really does seem sincere when he speaks to Tyrion, and the scene with Ros was very interesting. (That actress doesn’t get enough credit for having to shed her clothing every time she’s on screen.) His vengeance really does seem to spring from his hatred for Baelish. They seemed like two sides of the same coin last season, but as that analogy would suggest, two sides of one coin would never actually see eye to eye, and while they smile at each other, there’s always a seething resentment that each man harbours toward the other.

It’s understandable that Varys would then align himself with Tyrion, since Baelish has already declared Tyrion his enemy. Baelish clearly seems to relish Tyrion’s comeuppance in this episode, when King Asshat Joffrey grants him Harrenhal. You’ll recall that a few episodes ago, when Tyrion was pulling the old trick of telling three different stories and seeing which spy would run to Cersei, he promised Harrenhal to Baelish. The smirk on Baelish’s face speaks volumes.

And then Queen Margaery steps up and expresses her desire to wed Joffrey, which Joffrey accepts. There’s so much to say about this I don’t know where to start, but while her move is definitely political, is she cunning enough to know what a sick bastard Joffrey is? Also, isn’t she about a decade his senior? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…) Will she know how to handle him, or will he shock her? She seemed to see right through Renly and was able to control that situation as best she could, so maybe Joffrey may have met his match. If that’s the case, I can’t WAIT to see what Queen Margaery has up her sleeve for season 3.

"I think you'd like me, Your Grace.
Just look at the cleavage I can offer you." 

Sansa, meanwhile, puts on the stricken face for the courts, but can’t contain her overflowing joy very long as she quickly shuffles out of the king’s court, a huge smile on her face and the relief palpable. At first she even had me tricked, thinking she was truly scared; I mean, if her father was executed for being a traitor, and Joffrey clearly loathes her and now she can’t offer him anything, couldn’t he just kill her and be done with the Starks? But Baelish is the smarter one – see, as far as they know, Jaime’s still a prisoner of Robb Stark, and Sansa must be kept close. That doesn’t mean Joffrey can’t do to her what he already did to Ros, and defile her in nasty, sick ways. What better way to get back at the traitor Ned Stark than to ruin his eldest daughter? She should have gone with the Hound…

Back over to Winterfell, which, sadly, is no more, here’s my next (possibly dumbass) question for you: Theon was bemoaning the hornblower outside, and was saying he was going to kill that guy and the 500 Stark men that were surrounding Winterfell. But when Bran and Rickon escaped with Hodor and Osha, there are no men. I was discussing this with people at work and this scene came up, and it had left people very confused: where did they all go? Did Theon’s men really beat them all?

To be honest, when I watched it, I assumed they’d just tricked Theon the whole time, and there were no men. I thought one of them was blowing the horn to drive him insane, since we already know the Stark forces are far away. But other people didn’t read the scene that way, and a friend of mine reminded me that he was often looking out the window, as if he could see the troops. Can you shed some light on what happened, Chris?

Christopher: Really not, unfortunately.  Perhaps they blew their budget on “Blackwater,” and couldn’t afford to depict another siege. I don’t know. And as much as I’d love to share what happened in the novel, I’m afraid of inadvertently giving spoilers—suffice to say, what we saw of Theon’s fate this week is not how it happened in the book, but I have no idea whether they plan on re-merging with the original storyline in season three, or how. So I will remain frustratedly mum (not to be confused with comfortably numb) for the time being. Do you plan to read A Clash of Kings now? If so, we need to talk when you finish it about the way they ended Theon’s story this season, and perhaps offer a spoilery blog post. Of all the things they’ve done on this show, this was one of the most puzzling. I was expecting something very different, and those who have read the books will know what I mean when I say they’ve been preparing the groundwork for Theon’s story to follow the way it happens in the novels.

"What's that? Duck? But I don't see a du-"

But to return to King’s Landing: what did you make of Joffrey’s little pantomime about having sworn an oath to Sansa? That was pretty much exactly as it feel out in the novel, and I was never sure what I thought of it then, either. Was this a ritual series of denials before the king finally accedes to his new betrothal? Or is Joffrey really just being that truculent, reluctant to give up his plaything? As Littlefinger points out, he can pretty much do with Sansa as he pleases, but he might not know that just yet.

I am VERY curious to see what happens with Margaery and Joffrey now … their betrothal in the novels isn’t that surprising or odd, considering that she is just a year or two older than him there. But casting Natalie Dormer in the role means we have a much older and more worldly-wise Margaery, so I’m guessing we should expect some interaction between her and Joffrey in season three that we do not see in the books. Which, in the aftermath of her rather frank discussion with Renly, is quite promising …

But we’ve skirted two of the big events of the last episode: Jon Snow joining the wildlings, and Daenerys getting her mojo (i.e. dragons) back. His long side-journey with Ygritte was not in the novel. In the book, he lets her go and rejoins Qhorin; and when it becomes clear at a certain point that they are going to be taken by the wildlings, Qhorin tells Jon that he must join them in order to find out their intentions … and that to convincingly do so, he must kill Qhorin. I’m glad they kept that part—though we don’t see much of him, Qhorin is a great character, and his duel with Jon is a brilliant and heartbreaking moment of sacrifice.

I guess my final question to you is: what did you think of the Daenerys sequence? I wasn’t impressed at first … and then she walks into the snowy ruins of the throne room at King’s Landing. And then through the gate in the Wall, and into a tent to see … Drogo! Drogo, sitting there with their son! I do confess, I squeed a little …

Nikki: And I squeed a LOT. As I put it to my work colleagues, after kind of boring me all season long, the Daenerys story went out with a bang this season. Her dream walk through key landmarks on the show was fascinating — she walks through the burned ruins of the king’s court at King’s Landing; the doorway of the Wall; the tent where she and Khal had set up house (complete with baby and Khal!!). First, she’s never seen King’s Landing first-hand, so this is some sort of vision that’s showing her a possible future with her dragons, I’m assuming. (I hope in this scenario Joffrey’s death was even more slow and painful than the one suffered at the end of Brienne’s sword this week.) But the scene with Khal was astounding. I gasped aloud, I was SO HAPPY to see him again, but that scene was very painful to watch. Sitting before her are the two people she longs for more than anyone — her beloved husband, and the baby that never had a chance to be born. But her reaction shows just how determined this woman is: she walks away. We see the saddened look on Khal’s face as he’s left behind, less important to her than her destiny. She recognizes that he’s not real, but that the destroyed King’s Landing very well might be. So she’s going to make that happen.

I wasn’t surprised when her dreamwalk ended with evil Abed chaining her up, since I knew that wasn’t going to last very long. The SFX on the dragons was amazing. They reminded me of a cross between my daughter’s geckos (their heads and faces) and our cats, in the way they cock their heads and their movements.

Note to HBO: You want to get fans to pony up and pay a ton of money on merchandising? Make us some dragons. I WANT ONE.

I was literally cheering when the dragons blew the fire through Daenerys and killed the warlock, and the way she triumphantly walked out of there with all three of them hanging off her. What she did next was shocking (I’ve already covered that above) but it shows that she has gone from an innocent girl to a nasty force to be reckoned with.

And so, we move to season 3:
-Daenerys is coming, and she’s on the hunt with dragons that now know how to breathe fire.
-Joffrey is still a little shit, and yet one I don’t want to be killed off right away because I’ve realized just how much I enjoy hating him.
-Theon, on the other hand, I can no longer stand, and wish someone would just off him. And those teeth of his, which look like they belong in The Big Book of British Smiles from The Simpsons
-Sansa is no longer betrothed to Joffrey (oh, and to answer your question, I believe that he was being overly dramatic on purpose, pretending that he was being talked out of something, but basically humiliating Sansa in front of the court, which seems to be his only mandate these days). Now she must find a way to escape King’s Landing.
-Arya is on the road, minus Jaqen H’ghar, but she does have a direct line to him should she ever need him. She’s filled with vengeance, and could be the one Stark who finally manages to make the Lannisters pay their debts.
-Tyrion is locked up in a tower with the ever-loyal Shae at his side (oh, how I loved that scene between them!) and the control he’s had over his sister and her son all season has been snatched from him. I’m worried about the comeuppance he’s about to face.
-Tywin is back, and seems to have put his own pride in his virility over common sense.
-Cersei will continue to drink herself stupid and be generally miserable until Jaime returns.
-Jaime’s on his way back, but he’s been a disgrace and I wonder if anything will change when he gets there. Or… is it possible he won’t get there?
-Brienne continues to be totally awesome
-Catelyn is under house arrest by her son, Robb, who feels betrayed by her. As he spits at her in this episode when she questions him breaking his betrothal vow: “Father is dead, and the only parent I have left doesn’t have the right to call anyone reckless.”
-Robb has just married Talisa and broken the vow Catelyn was talking about, which will destroy a very powerful alliance.
-Baelish has just been given more power, which is always dangerous.
-Margaery is betrothed to Joffrey, which could turn out to be bad for her, or bad for him. But one of them is going to trump the other, and I’m thinking Joffrey doesn’t know what’s coming.
-Rickon and Bran are wandering through the countryside with Hodor and Osha. Winterfell is gone, so they have to find Robb.
-Jon Snow has effectively joined the wildlings.
-Stannis has retreated from the battle despite his amazing fighting skills, and he’s angry with Melisandre for tricking him into thinking he was going to win (he almost chokes her to death). However, when she reminds him that her god is inside him, he steps back, and realizes maybe he’s got to come at things a different way. She tells him he’s the warrior of light, and he will be king. Between him and Daenerys, the Game of Thrones might come down to just who wants it more.
-Oh, and to bring it all back to where we started, TERRIFYING SNOW ZOMBIES ARE ON THE WAY!!!

Wow. And all that in 10 episodes. Game of Thrones is starting to make 22-episode network TV look ridiculously inefficient.

Thank you, once again, Chris, for being our eye into the book version of this. Last season I said I would definitely read book 1, and then I didn’t because I didn’t want to affect our banter, but now that we’re two seasons in, I might just give in. I don’t think it’ll affect our banter much, it’ll just mean we can both speak on a similar level, but bringing two perspectives to everything.

And thank you to everyone who has been reading along. We will see you again in season 3!