Monday, May 27, 2013

Joss Whedon's Commencement Speech

A few years ago, I blogged about my experience of meeting Jeanine Basinger and listening to her give a talk at the third Slayage conference in Arkansas. Basinger is Joss Whedon's mentor, his professor in film school at Wesleyan, and the woman to whom he turns whenever he's working on anything new. This year she brought him back to Wesleyan to give the commencement speech, and it was amazing, even if he did open it by telling everyone they were going to die. At least he was being honest. Recalling his own commencement, where Bill Cosby told all of them they weren't going to change the world, so don't even try, he said he could see where the legendary comedian was going with that, but he wanted to do better. And he did:

So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been, and now, it becomes real on a level that it hasn’t been before.And that’s why I’ve been talking only about you and the tension within you, because you are—not in a clichéd sense, but in a weirdly literal sense—the future. After you walk up here and walk back down, you’re going to be the present. You will be the broken world and the act of changing it, in a way that you haven’t been before. You will be so many things, and the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is, don’t just been yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don’t just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it. And have fun.

Go here to read the entire speech.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The News That Changed My Life This Week

So, typically I write about 10 small things I loved in the week; occasionally there's a larger thing in there. Last week I didn't post anything (long weekend, guests at our house, occasion didn't present itself) so this week I have 14 days to make up for. But instead of making a list of 20, or even 10, I'm just going to list one.

Because it was AMAZING.

For years, I've heard the same refrain: getting older means everything in your body will eventually betray you, shut down, change for the worse, and you'd damn well better accept it. Don't try to tell a professional that you don't feel old, that you still feel like you're in your 20s. They know better.

Age: 30
Place: High-end spa (my husband is a golf writer, and as such he's often sent to resorts. Before we had kids, my job was to visit the spa and report back so he could write about it in his column. Tough gig, I know).
Her: So... you're over 30 now? You're going to have to start using an anti-wrinkle cream.
Me: ??? But... I just turned 30! I don't actually have any wrinkles...
Her: You will soon, so you should start using the cream, especially around your eyes.
Me: Butbutbut... I was just carded, like, yesterday at the beer store.
Her: Use a wrinkle cream.

Age: 34
Place: Chiropractor's office
Him: You're going to need to watch out for certain things; activities that you used to do without a care in the world before are changing now that you're in your mid-30s.
Me: I... don't feel mid-30s.
Him: Yes, but your body will tighten and things will fall out of place more readily. You're over 30.
Me: Sigh.

Age: 36
Place: Ob/gyn's office
Her: Are you thinking of having more kids?
Me: No, two is good.
Her: Good, because past the age of 35, your...
Me: Yeah yeah yeah, my ovaries have turned to quartz and my children would be born with horns. I'm old, I get it. Just yesterday I was sliding down the slides with my kids and challenging my daughter to a foot race and carrying my son all over the place, but yeah, I'm apparently over the hill.

Age: 37
Place: Cardiologist's office
Him: So, we've got all the test results back, and we've determined that you were born with a heart condition that has lain dormant all your life. For most people it's triggered in their early 20s when they're in university or starting a new job, because it's stress that turns it on. Somehow you've made it to your late 30s with it.
Me: So... that's good then?
Him: Well, no, it means your body simply can't handle stress anymore. We're booking you for heart surgery next year.
Me: Bloody hell.

And then... WAIT FOR IT...

Age: 40
Place: Optometrist's office
Her: So, no changes in your eyes over the past year?
Me [finally accepting everything they've said to me for the past 10 years]: Yes. I can't see things close up anymore. I have to tip my glasses up and look under them. I don't want bifocals. I'll just keep tipping my glasses up for now, but I know my eyes are getting worse.
Her: Have you considered laser surgery?
Me: Not really. My prescription is so low, and besides, my sister-in-law just had it, and she described it to me and I've decided she's some sort of warrior, because when she described them slicing her eyeball open and wiping the retina with a cloth? Um... I'll wear glasses for the rest of my life rather than go through that seven seconds of hell.
Her: Well, let's take a look at them and see what's going on then.
Testing... testing... testing...
Her: You're not a candidate for laser eye surgery.
Me: O...kay, that's good, I guess?
Her: It's really good, because here's what's happened: your eyes haven't gotten worse, they've gotten better.
Me: ...
Her: The reason you're lifting your glasses is because the prescription is too strong for your eyes now. They're getting better.
Me: They're... getting... sorry, I just don't understand.
Her: I've got a handful of patients like you, with lower prescriptions — I see here you're 2.75 in one eye, and 1.25 in the other — who approach the age of 40 and suddenly their muscles figure out what's what and begin focusing in a way they've never done before. With age your eyes can get better. According to my tests, you're now a 2.00 in one eye, and 0.75 in the other.
Me: They... get better with age?!
Her: I've got a couple of women who started improving at age 40, like you, and by age 45 they had perfect 20/20 vision. I think you could be like them, and soon you can toss those glasses out.
Me: I... I...

I was convinced I'd stepped into some fairy tale. I have NEVER heard of this in my life. But I did tell her that I have a tendency to take them off now for reading, editing, working on the computer, and even just walking around the house. I don't wear contacts much anymore because obviously you can't take those in and out, but glasses you can put up on your head. A couple of times in the past couple of months I've gotten the kids ready for school, jumped into the car and then realized I didn't have my glasses on.

So. I guess not EVERYTHING gets worse with age, right?? This is the best, most life-altering news I've gotten all year. There is hope for the four-eyed among us. :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Books in 2013: #7 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

For years, I was an English lit student, and I spent my weeks reading, reading, and reading some more. The Victorian classes were the real killers, with these massive books you had to fit into your reading weeks (each survey course put on usually a book a week, plus extra reading, which, being the brown-nosed keener I am, I did). I will never forget reading Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters and absolutely loving it, flying through the pages one by one and dying to find out what was going to happen until... I hit the page that basically said, "And here Mrs. Gaskell died suddenly, and the book remained unfinished." OMGWTF you have GOT to be kidding me?!

Hated the prof for putting that on there and not warning me.

But anyway, on to other books.

In all of my classes, only one Salman Rushdie book was ever on the course list as required reading, and it's not the one you'd think: Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as part of my beloved children's lit class. I revisited that book once again when it popped up in season 6 of Lost and I had to devote a chapter to it in that Finding Lost book. But even before that book, I was a book reviewer at the student newspaper at my university and I reviewed a book of short stories called East/West that was absolutely superb. And so, I began reading everything that he wrote, and along the way — probably 20 years ago now (gulp) — I bought Midnight's Children. His first book. What many consider still his best book. The one that won the 1981 Booker Prize. And then again, on the prize's 25th anniversary, was awarded the "Booker of Bookers" in 1993 for being the best of the prize winners.

But I never read it.

I read The Moor's Last Sigh and The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury (still haven't read The Satanic Verses but I heard the hype was more interesting than the book) and while there were times when I found his writing a little poppy and irritating, most of the time I just sat there taking in a particular phrase or sentence and thinking, "I will never write like this. Ever." I went to see him do a reading when I was taking my Masters in English, and it was the only time I had to walk through a metal detector and be frisked when entering an author reading. The fatwa was still out on him at the time, and it was rather stressful, but he was delightful and brilliant.

But every year I look at my shelf and think, "This year. I just know I'll finally read that book this year." And at the end of the year I look at it and think, "Dammit, NEXT year. Next year I will read that book."

My friend Sue finally bought the book, and we have this thing where when we both have a copy of a book that neither of us has read, we add it to a list and then read it together. And back in November we bit the bullet and dived in. We were going to read Midnight's Children.

And, on March 2 at approximately 11:30am (I logged it within minutes of closing the book), I finished it.

Now, I was reading other books at the same time. And Christmas was in there, and I believe an entire month went by when it was on my shelf, being neglected. But it's not an easy book to read. It's very heavy, full of satire and history and symbolism, and most of it is spectacularly written, but it's not one of those books you can pick up and put down and get back into easily. So whenever I'd pick it up again, I'd have to figure out where I'd left off (even if it was just the day before) and re-orient myself. Since most of my reading is done in the 20 minutes before I fall asleep, this wasn't a light read for that purpose.

Through the main character of Saleem (who tells the story) you get the history of India from its independence in August 1947, up to where the story ends in the early 1980s. The split between India and Pakistan, the discontent between the Hindus and Muslims, the civil wars, the caste system, the movement back and forth across the borders, is all mirrored in Saleem's life, and his doppelgänger, Silva, who comes in and out of the pages like a dark shadow threatening to break down Saleem's world.

I think most people know the big twist at the beginning of the book (it happens about 100 pages in, actually, but if you've seen the trailer of the film version, they lay it out right away) but at midnight the day of India's independence, 1001 children are born, and two of them in particular — Saleem and Silva, the ones closest to the actual stroke of midnight — are switched at birth by a woman who knows what she's doing, and believes she's testing the entire system upon which the country is based. And how their paths change based on where they end up — one family is rich, one is practically penniless — is what the book is all about, and parallels India's growth, Pakistan's birth, and the connection between the two.

As with all Rushdie books, it has moments of fabulous magic realism (the children of midnight have special powers), surrealist events, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. His characters are over-the-top, yet human, and while it did take a long time to read, I'm SO happy to have read it. It's like that moment when I finally got Ulysses out of the way (though it never felt like I was getting this one out of the way, per se).

So, this is probably sounding like a very mixed review, but I'm just being honest. This is one of those books for those who like heavy literature. Sue and I were hanging out with a group of people in January and one person asked what we were reading at the time, and she said, "Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children." The woman made a face and said, "Are you... taking a course or something?" "No." "Then... why are you reading it?" It was a question that took me by surprise, but I guess there are a lot of people who leave university and think, "Oh god, never again," and I understand that feeling. But I love reading literature and non-fiction and things that actually teach me something, mixed in with some light reading, of course. And wow, did this book ever open my eyes to a massive moment in history I knew very little about.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.8: "Second Sons"

Dear casting directors: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Love, Nikki.

Hello everyone, and welcome to week 8 of my weekly reviews of Game of Thrones with my co-captain, Christopher Lockett.

This week we had the pleasure of actually watching the episode together for the first time since we started these reviews back in season 1! Chris, as many of you know, is a friend of mine from the University of Toronto when we did our Masters together about *coughcough* years ago, and then, sadly (for me), he moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, eight years ago to become a professor in the English department at Memorial University. He emailed me a few weeks back saying he'd be in Ontario, and I said, "Is it possible for you to meet up with me on a... SUNDAY?!" And from that point on, we knew we had to make it happen.

And then, if we're actually together, why not do something we could only do when together?? And so, this week, we present our review in the form of a video podcast, in dim lighting, with dark barely decipherable faces in my basement rec room (I'm going to fire our lighting guy), filmed after a long afternoon out in the sun at a BBQ/fireworks display at my cousin's house.

I hope you enjoy our review, which, this week, is more me interviewing Chris and getting him to talk more about the new characters we met this week, while explaining some of the other things that have happened this season, without spoilers, of course. Also, I'm getting over a chest cold so I'm particularly croaky and so I wanted him to do most of the talking.

We loved this episode, and we hope you did, too!

But first, just to recap last week's episode, check out my new favourite online series, Gay of Thrones, where a gay hairdresser runs down last week's episode in a HI-LARIOUS fashion (my brother and I stumbled upon this on the weekend and were dying laughing while watching every single recap of the season). Just a quick warning: this is NSFW.

And now, on to our video podcast. Enjoy, and we'll see you next week!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Artistic Renderings of Doctor Who

My five-year-old son has moments where he disappears with his markers and paper, and he can be gone for an hour or so. When he first started doing this, I'd have those mom moments where I suddenly realized he's been gone an awfully long time, and I'd go looking for him. One hundred percent of the time, I've found him colouring with his markers.

The other day he did it again, second time that day, and I just left him alone. Then he came into the kitchen and said, "I drew some pictures I think you'll like!" And I did. :) And so now I shall share them with you.

This one should be obvious, right? It's the Doctor! Spinning through space in his police box, which just happens to be the exact same colour as space but hey! You can still tell it's him and the TARDIS, right? It's like looking at the Starry Night rendering in "Vincent and the Doctor," isn't it? 

And this is K-9! His favourite character on the show. He's not really on Doctor Who so I started watching The Sarah Jane Adventures with him, promising that K-9 would be there. And then, at least in season 1, he really wasn't. Sort of there in the first episode, sort of there in the last, but in between, my son kept asking where he was. He's drawn this from memory from the two times he saw him. :) I think his little antennae ears are folded in or something. Yeah, that's it. 

And finally, I wasn't so sure about this one, and he said, "It's Sarah Jane! And she's holding her sonic lipstick!" Hahaha! Amazing. 

Sorry this post is so short. I need to go call The Louvre. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.07: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

I was cleaning my bedroom the other day and discovered an old Entertainment Weekly from a few weeks back that I didn’t read, deciding instead to hold onto it until the Game of Thrones season was finished (I find they tend to spoil a lot of things up to about the middle of the season). On the cover it said something like, “Wild weddings! Lots of deaths! And one very big bear.” And I thought to myself, “Bear? What bear?”

That bear. Just when you thought you’d seen everything on this show, it’s Brienne fighting a bear with a wooden sword. What?!

Welcome to week 7 of our weekly Game of Thrones recap with me, Nikki, and my co-host, Christopher Lockett, as we talk about "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." 

Nikki: We’ll get to that amazing final scene soon, but first, I wanted to open with Daenerys. I don’t think there’s another character on the show whose absence is as notable as hers. When she’s not in the episode, it feels like something is missing. When she’s there, she’s almost all you can think about.

We already saw the incredible scene of her taking down Kraznys, making off with all three of her dragons and an 8,000-strong army of men whose loyalty to her is voluntary and undying. Now we see her moving into a new city, Yunkai. Rather than invade the city (not smart, as her advisors tell her, given their very high walls and excellent army), she simply sends a note along the lines of, “Dude, I have dragons. Surrender. Seriously. I’ll be waiting out in my tent.” And the guy comes running. If being carried in a wheel-less carriage counts as running. (I loved that they cast a guy who sort of looks like Kraznys.) He gives her ships, gold, more gold, and more ships, and tells her to simply leave them alone and move along on her way, knowing that he will support her in her bid for the throne. Any other of the players would have simply taken the money and run, but not Daenerys. Her advisors told her there were slaves in there, and if Dany is anything, it’s merciful and kind. Unless you’re the slaver. Then you’d better be-frickin’-ware.

The scene between Daenerys and the lord who meets her is brilliantly played, as she sits on a dais, staring at him with unmoving eyes, tossing raw meat to her dragons so they’ll give a quick show of strength and strike fear into his heart. She flatly says what needs to be said, shows absolutely no fear, and watches him squirm. He becomes more and more unsettled and upset, while she sits quietly, looking as confident as she did when he first walked in. There’s a moment of vulnerability — when she asks Ser Jorah to find out what cities the lord was referring to who would go up against her — but she doesn’t show that to the lord in front of her.

She’s only in the episode for one segment and we don’t return to her story again, but she makes an impact that is unforgettable, each time.

This episode was about deepening relationships, for better or worse — Robb and Talisa; Brienne and Jaime; Ygritte and Jon; Tywin and Joffrey — and developing the stories and personalities that were established earlier in the series: Daenerys’s confidence; Gendry finding out his birthright; Tyrion and Shae’s impossible relationship; Theon’s Clockwork Orange–type of psychological abuse; Sansa and Margaery’s similar yet vastly different situations; Bran and Jojen’s psychic attachment; Hodor’s boundless vocabulary. It was such a strong episode that really pushed things along at quite a pace.

Though I must add one thing: Jon Snow and Ygritte are starting to remind me of Marcie and Peppermint Patty. 

What did you think of the episode, Chris?

Chris: I was also delighted to have Daenerys back, as usual. As we’ve pointed out before, her storyline was pretty meh all last season, but this season it has been (as you say) almost all you can think about when she makes an appearance.

I’ve quite liked Daenerys’ evolution this season—really just a continuation of her evolution from the start—but we’re increasingly getting used to seeing her as an actual queen, rather than just a girl with the best claim to the Iron Throne. In this episode, she seemed that much closer to actually sitting on a throne, even if she was just in a sumptuous tent: flanked by her knights on one side and her dragons on the other and all approaches to her guarded by her Unsullied. Her demeanour is unflappable. When the Yunkai emissary protests shrilly that he was promised safe passage, her response is perfect: “My dragons made no such promise. And they get upset when their mother is threatened.” She’ll take that gold, thank you very much, and all your freed slaves besides.

As much as we miss Dany when she’s not there, I think the writers have made a wise decision to mete out her story parsimoniously. For one thing, if they hew closely to A Storm of Swords, next season we’ll get an awful lot more of her. For another thing, there’s so much happening this season—so much in the plotting and counter-plotting in Westeros as the main players make their elaborate plans—that when we do return to her storyline it’s a bit of a jolt. We get so wrapped up in the machinations of Varys and Littlefinger, in wondering whether Tywin will defeat Robb, or what kind of queen Margaery will be, or who will finally claim Winterfell, that we forget … dragons are coming. And their mama be pissed.

Elsewise in this episode, I think you’re spot-on Nikki to observe that it’s very much about relationships. I’d in fact go further and say it was very much about couples—actual couples like Jon and Ygritte or Robb and Talisa, or odd couples like Jaime and Brienne, or couples bound by circumstance like Sansa and Margaery … or even couples apparently thrown together by a god, as in Gendry and Melisandre.

And I’ll go even further than that and say it’s very much about couples misunderstanding each other—whose vocabularies are incompatible enough that they do not grasp what the other person is trying to tell them. The most obvious example, of course, is Jon Snow and Ygritte. Ygritte shows her ignorance of life south of the Wall, mistaking a mill for a palace, being ignorant of such concepts as swooning and fainting, and finding it utterly absurd that there would be soldiers whose entire duty is carrying a banner or beating a drum.

The moment provides a stark contrast (get it? A “Stark” contrast? Heh) between Jon’s world and Ygritte’s, and leads directly to his terse declaration that the wildlings will not succeed … that they will, in fact, fail bloodily. For, as he acknowledges, the wildlings are brave, and fierce—but they lack discipline. Jon’s words remind us (as does Ygritte’s amazement at the skill that went into building a rudimentary mill) that there is a price to be paid for absolute freedom. The radical egalitarianism of the wildlings means that there are no hierarchies, none of the structures of power and authority that allow for, among other things, the raising of castles or the mustering of armies. Karl Marx attempted to address this problem with his famous formulation, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” … which translates, more or less, as “Yes, we’re all equal, but somebody has to be in charge if any shit’s gonna get done.” (Or, if you like, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”)

Ygritte might well laugh, not unjustifiably, at the absurdity of a standard-bearer or a drummer-boy, but what she cannot see is what they represent: namely, the loyalty to an idea of authority (the sigil) and an army professionalized and specialized enough to have soldiers whose sole task is carrying a banner or beating a drum … armies, in other words, unified in their loyalty, disciplined enough to march in the lock-step she mocks, and well trained in specific duties. The wildlings, by contrast, are all fighters, and they are their own commanders, and are thus utterly undisciplined … and as the Roman legions taught all of Europe, a disciplined force will beat a rabble every time.

Ygritte’s misapprehension is mirrored in Shae’s inability to understand why Tyrion must do his duty as a Lannister (though to be fair, he seems less than convinced himself); in Gendry’s bafflement at Melisandre’s interest in him; and perhaps most comically in Sansa’s magisterial obtuseness in the face of every bloody thing Margaery tries to tell her. What did you make of Margaery’s attempts to school Sansa, Nikki?

Nikki: Let’s just say when Sansa uttered the line, “I’m a stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns,” my husband sat up and said, “And THAT is the most accurate thing that woman has ever uttered. Ha! Oh poor Sansa… During season 1 I shook my head at her stupidity. Throughout season 2 I felt sorry for her, having watched her father be executed while being betrothed to the monster who ordered his murder; not knowing where the heck her little sister is; assuming her little brothers to be dead; and hearing about her brother Robb and her mother only through the clenched teeth of the Lannisters (it’s not clear if she even really thinks of Jon or Theon, but considering her prissiness, probably not). While the other Starks can hate the Lannisters from the distance, she’s the only one embroiled in the spider’s web at all times, watching her step — and tongue — and so far, remaining alive somehow.

And then, in season 3, she seems to have reverted back to the silly girl in season 1 again. I don’t hate her, though; considering everything else, I just feel sorry for her. I believe there’s an arrested development there; after all, what girl doesn’t have lavish thoughts of a lavish wedding to a handsome man? Of course she was enamoured of Loras, and was too naïve to understand his true inclinations. Margaery sees Sansa’s vulnerability and it’s clear she is using her (as Tywin pointed out, if Robb is killed and the rest of the family is already gone, for all intents and purposes, then Sansa holds the keys to Winterfell, and marrying her secures that for the groom).

Despite the shock of Tywin’s pronouncement that Tyrion will have to marry Sansa, I’m now quite keen to see what will happen in that coupling. Tyrion is one of the smartest characters on the show: is it possible that under his tutelage, Sansa could mature very quickly and become an actual contender. You can tell during her conversation that she’s not repulsed by Tyrion, but taken aback. “But… he’s a dwarf,” she practically whispers. She doesn’t comment on his scar — it’s Margaery who says that — just his size, and, back to what I was saying earlier, when she was planning her wedding to end all weddings as a little girl, she wasn’t being walked down the aisle by a man half her size. Then again… dude, it’s Peter Dinklage. And he is hot.

I have heard that in the books Tyrion lost his nose, so I would assume that would be more frightful in the books for Sansa. But as Margaery says, the scar just makes him look more badass in an Omar Little kind of way.  

Tyrion, in the parallel conversation with Shae, is having problems of his own. He isn’t upset about having to marry Sansa, he’s upset that he can’t marry Shae. In his head, he’s worked out exactly how he’ll make it all work — set up Shae in a nice little house with servants and guards and she (and their children) will be well taken care of. Shae’s not stupid, though; she knows what Joffrey is capable of, and if he even hears a whisper of her connection to Tyrion he’ll have her and her children massacred in a heartbeat. And yet, that’s not the most unsettling thing of all to her: it’s that she will grow old, and Tyrion will cast her off like an old coat once he tires of her. Tyrion just stands there, defeated, as if he knows there’s a kernel of truth there. All he wants is to have two women who care for him and love him, and he’ll love them in return. But, as Bronn tells him, “You waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll end up the most popular dead man in town.”

The evil at the heart of all of this is Joffrey and Tywin, and they get one of the best scenes of the season so far. What did you think of that showdown, Chris?

Christopher: I loved their showdown. LOVED it. At this point, I am almost more excited to see Tywin enter a scene than anyone else in the series—not so much because his is the most compelling storyline, but because I know that it almost always involves some of the subtlest acting and some of the best writing. And normally it is Charles Dance delivering on the acting end of the equation, but this time I was deeply impressed with Jack Gleeson’s performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: that young man deserves some serious accolades for what he’s done. When you see him interviewed, it’s night and day—he’s a slightly bashful, slightly goofy, and totally charming guy, and he’s playing the most loathed character on this show … and doing it brilliantly.

This relatively brief scene was totally laden with tension, because (a) we know it is Tywin’s intent to bring his sociopathic grandson to heel, and (b) because we know Joffrey’s totally capable of screaming “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” at the slightest provocation, like the Red Queen on meth. Does Tywin still carry enough authority with the little shit to cow him? Or is Joffrey just batshit enough to order the head of Tywin Lannister lopped off? (and, perhaps more importantly, would anyone obey that order? What would happen if he gave it?)

For now, the Tywin Intimidation Factor carries the day. Having metaphorically smacked down Cersei and Tyrion, he now proceeds to do so with Joffrey. Joffrey manages to muster some petulance, but not much more—though he does (perhaps inadvertently) stumble on two questions of some significance, the first being Tywin’s removal of the Small Council from their normal space (the room that’s named for them, by the seven hells) to a chamber in the Tower of the Hand. This shift of location is emblematic of the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Tywin is ruling the Seven Kingdoms. He’s arrogated the main power of the council to himself, and Joffrey is astute enough to realize this (if, again, only inadvertently—he does seem more irked at having to climb all those stairs). Secondly, he asks after Daenerys and receives a contemptuous lecture from his grandfather on precisely why rumours from half a world away aren’t worth his attention … which shows, if nothing else, that however shrewd a leader Tywin is, he has his own blind spots. For one thing, he is quite stiff and unyielding in his authority, which makes it hard not to think about him in the next scene when Daenerys asks rhetorically, “What happens to things that don’t bend?”

Charles Dance gives his usual bravura show of arrogance and authority in this scene, but what made it sing for me was the visible fight on Joffrey’s face between petulance, irritation, and awe. However much he dismisses his own mother, hates his uncle, and has general contempt for almost everyone else in King’s Landing, he is still somewhat in awe of his grandfather. In the end, the awe (and not a little fear) wins out—though I cannot help but feel that Tywin overplayed his hand somewhat in speaking so condescendingly and, finally, advancing up the steps to loom over Joffrey. The latter had its desired effect—the king shrank back in his seat like a frightened child—but it’s a dangerous thing to humiliate a king … especially one with sociopathic tendencies. Tywin obviously thinks he’s won, but as he departs Joffrey reclines on the throne with a thoughtful expression on his face.

It’s a dangerous thing to inspire that little madman to think about things.

Something Sansa knows too well, but seems to have forgotten somewhat. She has the good grace to be embarrassed when Margaery gently chides her by reminding her that Tyrion is “far from the worst Lannister, wouldn’t you say?”, but still seems utterly deaf to everything else that Margaery’s trying to tell her. She was very nearly trapped in a marriage with Joffrey … by comparison, marriage to Tyrion is the stuff of grand romance.

And it’s a damn sight better than what Theon’s enduring. (How’s THAT for a segue?) What did you make of the erstwhile Lord Greyjoy’s continuing torments, Nikki?

Nikki: There’s only one person I like to see tortured more than Joffrey, and that’s Theon Greyjoy. As I mentioned in my opening, his torturer is pulling some serious Clockwork Orange Pavlovian shit. Every time Theon thinks, “Okay, THIS is the time he’s going to be nice and everything will go back to normal,” NOPE, think again, sucker!! The first time, I completely get him falling for it. The second time, sure, he thought he was guessing and even I was convinced the guy was actually a Karstark. But then suddenly he’s being let off the torture wheel while two beautiful women undress and straddle him and he thinks this is normal?! Right. Not a set-up at all. These two women brought down your torturer with their tits and now they’re going to give you a gift because you probably smell like roses and there’s no one they’d rather be with.

I think Theon and Sansa have degrees from the same School of Stupidity.

But it was amazing, wasn’t it? He begins by protesting, and then finally gives in, but this time the audience isn’t tricked at all and we’re just waiting for the moment when it’ll all come to a head (so to speak, ahem…). And when the horn blasts and the women jump to attention, I couldn’t help but giggle with glee to see what was going to happen next. I can’t figure out if it’s Theon I hate, or just the annoying actor playing him, but I’m thinking it’s a combination of both (is he more likeable in the books?!) And at first I thought this man was training him, in a Burgessian way, to respond to certain things. For the rest of his life, he’ll become aroused and then want to vomit because he will associate torture with sex. Or someone will be nice to him and he’ll vomit because he associates trust with betrayal.

But then his torturer takes it one further, and comes at him with a particularly horrific looking instrument, asking if Theon’s cock is actually the thing he loves the most. My eyes widened and I think I made an “AAAiiiiiyyiiiiii” noise, and when I looked at my husband he had suddenly crossed his legs very tightly. And then we cut to Ygritte. Thank god for merciful cuts, so we don’t have to watch the merciless ones.

As for Joffrey, I completely agree with you, as I’ve been saying for a couple of seasons now: Jack Gleeson is tremendous in this scene. He doesn’t immediately cower when Tywin comes up the stairs, but instead first the smug look disappears, and then his one arm comes down, and you see him jerkily, hesitantly, pull back in his chair just a bit, but not enough that it would be obvious to anyone for certain that he was terrified of his grandfather. He could have gripped the arms of the chair and shrunk back into the chair like a terrified child, but you see, as you say, the look on his face where he’s scared, but doesn’t want to betray that emotion to his grandfather, and then he looks up to him while realizing he’s standing in his way and is an even bigger threat to his throne than Daenerys. It’s such a fantastic scene.

And you’re right that Gleeson is quite charming in interviews. Here’s one he gave where he talked about the relationships between Joffrey and Margaery and Joffrey and Sansa, and you can hear his real Irish accent here, something I’ve never heard him slilp into on the show.

Now, we’ve been terribly lax when it comes to Bran/Osha/Jojen/Jojen’s sister whose name I can’t remember. Part of that is because they get about three minutes per episode, and their scenes rarely move the plot forward. Do they play a relatively small part in the third book? Are they getting any closer to their destination? (They just don’t seem to be getting very far to me, but it’s hard to tell how much headway they’re making when we only ever see them at camp.)

Christopher: They’re getting about precisely as much screen time as their story needs. The whole Bran-becoming-a-warg storyline is much more interesting in the book, mainly because we get all sorts of exposition and description that we don’t get in the series—probably because it’s not an easy thing to depict Bran’s experience of seeing through his direwolf Summer’s eyes and the sensation of possessing (or riding along in) his body. So, yeah … we’re just seeing them for a few minutes an episode as a means of reminding us that they’re there. Still … traveling … north. Though to be fair, they writers do shoehorn in some interesting dialogue here and there—it just doesn’t involve Bran (or the other one, wossname). This episode we are reminded of precisely why Osha came south, and why she was willing to give up the freedom of the wildlings to become first a servant and then a guardian to the youngest Starks. It is a useful bit of backstory (which I’m pretty sure isn’t in the novel, but I’m suddenly uncertain about that): Osha’s willingness to subordinate herself to the kneelers and her flat-out refusal to go north of the Wall proceeds from the same fear that allows Mance Rayder to unite the wildlings.

Speaking of brief appearances, we haven’t mentioned Arya’s few minutes of screen time—in which she manages to escape Beric et al in a fit of pique, only to run into the welcoming arms of the Hound. Did you see that coming?

Nikki: No, I didn’t, and it was definitely a shock. Arya thought she was with a trusted group of men, but they’re easily distracted and getting her to Riverrun certainly isn’t a priority for them. Again, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I still remember the Hound being a sympathetic character — tortured by the Mountain, trying to save Sansa, always being respectful to the Starks as far as I can remember — and then he’s turned back into the bad guy who killed the butcher’s boy in season 1 when he’s faced with Arya again. So there’s part of me that wonders if she might be better off with him than with the Brotherhood? They started off as a really positive group of men, and have become a little creepier since then, especially with He Who Cannot Be Killed and their allegiance to the Lord of Light.

And now over to the best scene of the episode: Brienne, Jaime and a freakin’ bear!!! I hope I wasn’t alone among Buffy fans when I immediately shouted, “They made a bear! Undo it! Undo it!” WOW. I mean, we had a hint a few weeks ago with the Hold Steady doing “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” song, but I guess I didn’t realize it would extend beyond the drunken singing of it.

And how much do I love that Brienne wasn’t cowering in a corner, but facing that beast head on, knowing she didn’t have a hope in hell but still giving it her all. She is absolutely fantastic. The scene of Jaime first telling the man that they must go back for Brienne (and using his cunning once again, explaining what he’ll tell Tywin if he helps him, and what he’ll tell Tywin if he doesn’t), followed by Jaime leaping into the pit with Brienne to help save her, once and for all solidifies his position as a fully sympathetic character with the audience on his side. He realizes that the only reason Brienne cannot be bought back by her father — because they’re holding out for sapphires — is his fault, and he’s going to fix it. And, we can tell from the goodbye scene between the two of them, he has an immense respect for her. Perhaps, now that she’s wearing an ugly dress, he also can see she’s actually a woman. But I think I’d like to see this relationship grow into one of mutual admiration and respect and not a romance. That said, I trust wherever GRRM is planning on taking this duo.

Christopher:  Didn’t Stephen Colbert do this in a Threatdown? “And the number one threat to freakishly tall female uber-warriors? Bears.”

Once again, a scene that is awesome in the book is made even more awesome on the show. In one of the trailers for season three, there is a very, very brief glimpse of a distraught, bloodied Brienne looking terrified, with men arrayed above her looking down. I (and probably everyone who has read the books) thought “Bear pit! Bear pit!”

And you’re right—Brienne is not one to cower in the corner of the pit, wooden sword or no. Gwendoline Christie continues to be amazing in this role, and her performance captures a heartbreaking mixture of terror and defiance as she faces down what is certainly going to be her death. Until Jaime comes to the rescue! For once in his life actually acting like a knight, throwing himself into harm’s way for the sake of doing what is right and just. It’s our first real glimpse of the new Jaime Lannister, who, finding himself symbolically emasculated and indebted to this strange, baffling woman, finds he cannot any longer behave in the cavalier and amoral manner that has marked him since he earned the name “Kingslayer.”
Well, dear friends, that is all for this week. Tune in next week for what promises to be, if my calculations are correct, the episode that will break the internet. And what’s even more exciting is that, because I am currently back in Ontario visiting friends and family, next Sunday Nikki and I will actually watch the episode together! Perhaps we’ll even take a picture or two to commemorate this world-changing event.

See everyone next week!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ten Moments of Motherhood This Week

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms, stepmoms, and grandmas out there! Today I decided to change things up a bit, and share with you only kid-related incidents that happened this week. Here are the 10 things that stick out the most during my week with my eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. Not all good things, but the good outweigh the bad.

1. My daughter came home absolutely frightened after a girl in her school, whose mother had given her the birds and the bees talk, passed on the "information" to the other girls. After I reassured her that she wouldn't be peeing blood every month for the rest of her life (!) I had to actually sit down and give her the talk myself — complete with my sketchy drawings — assuming that while, at age eight she's too young to truly understand why her body will eventually do these things, knowing what's happening before it happens will prevent the fear and misunderstandings later. I would tell you about the sometimes sad (for me) and also absolutely hilarious (for me) talk we had that followed, but if she finds this post when she's older I don't want her thinking I was making fun of her, which I'm not. I'm just sad that my baby girl is now learning about her reproductive system. :(

2. Summer activities are blending into the yearlong after-school activities, and they're overlapping now. Here is my schedule now:
Monday: singing lessons, Beaver Scouts, baseball
Tuesday: tee-ball, Brownie Scouts
Wednesday: swimming lessons, diving lessons, baseball
Thursday: tee-ball, baseball, yoga (for me... if I can find the time to actually go)
Friday: Peace. Quiet. I'm sure we'll fill this with something very soon.
Saturday: soccer
I fear I'll go completely nuts in a few more weeks.

3. As I've mentioned, my daughter has been dealing with a bullying situation, the worst kind: that relationship where the bully is, on alternating days, her BFF. Things seem fine for a few days, and just when my daughter's defences are down, the other girl tells her that she's no longer welcome at her house, or that she's not a good friend (to my daughter, the worst thing you could say to her), or, shockingly to me, that she'll never amount to anything. ("What does that even mean?" my daughter asked me through her tears.) This week it escalated to the girl telling her they're no longer friends, they're "frenemies." And at first, my daughter was very upset, but then after she and I sat and had a talk where I asked her questions about how this girl makes her feel, and how do her other friends make her feel, etc. she really began to think about the situation, and from that point on, she's no longer trying to make this girl like her, she's just avoiding her and focusing on her other friendships. She asked me why this girl was getting worse, and I said it's because you're not giving in to her and letting her hurt you. And with that, she seems to have regained her confidence, and this girl hasn't bothered her at all this week, and just left her alone. I know this isn't the end of it, but this is a HUGE step and I'm so proud of my girl for having this strength and confidence.

4. My son, referring to a story in the Sarah Jane Adventures, asked me why the father Slitheen told Sarah Jane to spare his son and kill him instead. I explained that parents make sacrifices for their children. I said that's just what we do: if the two of us were in danger, I would do the same. My son's eyes welled up with tears and he said, "But I don't understand... if they killed you instead, that wouldn't be helping me because I'd be crying for the rest of my life." ♥♥♥

5. I was chatting with two women this week about how busy we all were, and one of them said how they work all day and it makes it impossible to handle things with her child, and she looked at me and quickly added, "Oh, and I'm sure you're busy, too." And despite all of my talk about how stay-at-home moms are the most heroic and hard-working people I know, I had this moment where I was taken aback and thought, "Does she think I'm a stay-at-home mom because I work out of my home?" And for some reason I was offended. And it bothered me that I was offended. On a typical week, my son is in school two days and with me the other three, and on those two days I have five hours to work, each day. I'm with the kids shuttling them from one activity to the next after school (see above), and I'm up with them at 7am and putting them to bed at 9pm, and somehow working around 20 hours a week on top of that (mostly on the two days my son is in school and an hour every evening and more on the weekends). I read a book for about 20 minutes a day, and that's it for my "spare time." And if I didn't have to work on top of taking care of the kids, I assume I'd find a way to fill those two days of both kids in school with other things so I wouldn't be any less busy. Before, when I worked 40- to 50-hour weeks, I had my kids in fewer extracurricular activities and paid for daycare, and it felt less harried than my life does now. It's weird when you've achieved a busy and hectic, but happy, schedule for yourself, yet you're still preoccupied by how others perceive you. And the woman who made the comment didn't mean anything negative by it at all; I think she was genuine when she said she knew I was busy, too. Clearly this is all me, and not anyone else.

6. There were open houses in both my kids' classes this week, and their teachers told me they're both doing fantastically well and my daughter's teacher in particular said she was at the top of the class. After leaving my daughter's, the three of us went out to lunch nearby and it was fun just hanging out, eating with my two little monkeys while they chatted and talked about school and their friends and I just felt so proud of both of them and happy to hang out with them. I don't know how much longer they'll be in a stage where they both want to spend time with me, but I will enjoy every single second that they do.

7. My kids often fight like, well, siblings, but there are these moments where I see them outside playing together, and my daughter has her arm around my son's shoulders and is helping him do something or picking him up after he's fallen off his bike. This week there was a day just like that, where I watched from the window as he fell off his bike and was crying, and I fought the immediate instinct to run out there myself, as my daughter instead picked him up, bent down to reassure him, wiped off his legs and dried his tears, and smilingly got him back on the bike and he was laughing in mere seconds. Years from now he may only remember that she fought with him and forget all of the good big sister things she did with him, but I'll remember them. :)

8. My daughter announced this week, while we were outside and I was tidying up the gardens, that she no longer wanted to call me "Mommy," and thought that "Mom" was perhaps more appropriate given that she was eight and all. My heart broke into a million tiny pieces, and I think my face belied my "Oh, OK, if you think so" response. But it would appear that some habits are hard to break, because one moment later she yelled, "MOMMY, HE'S NOT LETTING ME ON THE SWING" and then I realized she might be learning about her growing body and wanting to put on the trappings of an older girl, but she's still my little baby at heart.

9. This conversation:
Son: Mommy, what does it mean to have a crush on someone?
[daughter hunches her shoulders and covers a mouth with one hand as she snickers]
Me: Um... it's when you see someone and you like them enough that you want them to be your girlfriend or boyfriend.
Son: Oh. Well... I know you can't be my girlfriend, but I still have a crush on you.
[daughter's eyes close as the snicker turns to giggles]
Me: Aw, that's so sweet! You know what, I have a crush on you too.
[daughter immediately stops laughing]
Daughter: Oh, THAT is just GROSS.

10. Getting up this morning — after sleeping in!!! — and coming downstairs to my son looking up and running over to me with his arms open wide, yelling, "Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!!" and my daughter grabbing my hand and telling me to follow her as I walked out into the kitchen with her and read their handmade cards and bookmarks and saw them eagerly jumping up and down and just SO HAPPY to be celebrating this day.

There is absolutely nothing I love more in my life than being a mom.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

#6 When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Today was the monthly meeting of the Graphic Novel Club that I go to the second Saturday of every month, and it reminded me that I'd fallen behind in logging the books that I'd read so far this year in an attempt to reach 25. (As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm much further along, I just need to catch up in writing about it!)

The sixth book I read this year is When God Was a Rabbit, about a girl, Elly, growing up in England and the relationship she has with her family, primarily her brother. The title refers to the fact that she had a pet rabbit named God, who she believed could talk to her, and that he represents the childhood that she moves past, but is always a part of her. I read this book very quickly, in a weekend, and absolutely adored it, laughing out loud at some of the truly ridiculous moments in the book (there's a school Christmas play that is pretty much unparalleled in anything I've ever read, including a death that, if it happened in real life, would be an absolute tragedy, but the author somehow makes us laugh out loud at it).

However, the book is not just a comedy, and when it moves into the 21st-century, and to New York in 2001 — specifically, September 2001 — an historical event that could have been used as a gimmick turns into a compelling story of what many, many people went through during 9/11.

I really enjoyed the book a lot, although I'll admit, some of the details simply didn't stick with me, since rather than one straight-ahead plot the book is made up of several vignettes held together only by the thread of it being Elly's life. But this book was still a fun, quick read, and sometimes that's exactly the sort of book I'm looking for.

Any good suggestions for me and my readers that might be similar to this book?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.6: The Climb

And... it's another week of Game of Thrones! Littlefinger proves he's the most evil SOB in the entirety of Westeros, Sansa makes moon-eyes at Loras, Olenna and Tywin have a war of words, and Rickon Stark actually gets a line!!

Seriously, how many people saw this kid and went, "Who the hell is that?!"
But first, if you haven't seen this, check out this parody, School of Thrones. I just saw it today (thanks Robyn!) and it's hysterically funny, imagining GoT played out in a high school. It's like Westeros meets Sunnydale!

This week my co-writer, Christopher Lockett, will start us off.

Christopher: Though we ranged all over Westeros in this episode, it felt in the end like the prominent narrative thread was Jon Snow’s. Certainly, the final shot of him and Ygritte kissing atop the Wall conveyed that idea, and while I admit to cringing just a little at the heavy-handed romanticism of the moment—made all the more jarring by how out of place it felt in this series—we know that there’s no such thing as unalloyed happiness in Westeros, and soon Jon Snow’s conflicted loyalties will complicate things rather a lot. Or, as Theon’s torturer puts it, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

What I found interesting about the Jon Snow / Ygritte storyline this episode was the way Ygritte framed the question of loyalty. It reminded me of E.M Forster’s famous line, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” The tension between personal relationships and devotion to a larger cause was a theme running through much of this episode. It is, really, the tension between the concrete and the abstract, between what one lives on a personal basis and the larger, often byzantine superstructure of ideology and politics, and the oaths and obligations they entail. Jon Snow learned honour at his father’s knee, and Ned Stark was one of the most honourable men in Westeros—to a fault, and to his demise. Jon took the black as a result of a combination of idealism, honour, and neglect, joining the Night’s Watch at least in part because his bastardy meant he would never rise to any prominence otherwise. But as we have seen, he idolized Ned and took all his lessons about leadership, loyalty and honour to heart.

But not so much that he didn’t attempt to desert when he heard of Ned’s execution in season one, only brought back by his friends. “Honour set you on the Kingsroad,” Commander Mormont said then. “And honour brought you back.” “My friends brought me back.” “I didn’t say it was your honour.” The Night’s Watch was, and remains, his new family.

But Ygritte is a spoiler, for she represents a form of love Jon has never experienced; and we know from his story about his one abortive experience at a brothel that he is no seducer. Ygritte sees more clearly than her fellow wildlings, in part because she understands Jon Snow, and she knows that one such as he would never turn his cloak. But she also sees in him the power that a personal bond has, and personal love—love that was strong enough to make him desert in season one, and she believes that, though he’ll not betray the Night’s Watch, he’s also incapable of betraying her. “I’m your woman right now,” she says. “You’re going to be loyal to your woman.” Their commanders and leaders, she points out, care nothing for them—for them, they’re just pieces in the game, just “soldiers in their armies.” They don’t matter to their leaders, but “with you and me, it matters to me and you. Don’t ever betray me.”

And however uncharacteristically sentimental the last shot of the episode was, its moment of happiness is cruelly undercut by the memory of the Brotherhood’s betrayal of Gendry—something that does not occur in the novels. At no point in the books is there a meeting between Melissandre and Thoros, and Gendry is not sold. Which makes the moment somewhat more significant in the show, for it specifically contrasts Ygritte’s trust in Jon Snow’s personal loyalty. Previously, Gendry avowed that he was done with serving and being loyal to inconstant leaders, preferring instead the familial egalitarianism of the Brotherhood. His betrayal—for purely pragmatic reasons—reminds us rather sharply of two sad realities: that Ygritte’s ethos about personal loyalty is just as uncertain as the caprices of the powerful; and that betrayal by those close to you is infinitely crueler than betrayal by an ideal.

What did you think of this episode, Nikki?

Nikki: You and I picked up on exactly the same overarching theme of this episode. I felt like it could have been subtitled, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” But… that would be a rather long and unwieldy subtitle, so…

I also disliked the overly sentimental ending between Ygritte and Jon (though I like that Gareth has made a serious enemy of both of them), and thought the special effects might have been the worst I’ve seen on the show. For the most part, I think the effects are spectacular, as opposed to the local cable network green-screen look of Once Upon a Time, but when the camera pulled back you could see the Wall in the foreground just not lining up with the fake scenery in the back, and it looked cheap. That’s a very, very tiny nitpick about an otherwise excellent episode.

Seriously, I think I've seen that mural in a Children's First Bible. 

The episode opened with Sam and Gilly. Both have betrayed their groups and set out together, with him remaining loyal to her, and her doing what she has to in order to save her son. (I’m looking forward to the memes involving Gilly telling Sam to use less wood to make her hot. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but someone else will have to make it.) Sam is incredibly charming in this scene, showing both his aptitude as a poet — he tells her that the Wall is 700 feet high, made of ice, and “on a warm day, you can see it weeping” — and with children, when he sings a lullaby to put the baby to sleep. A lullaby that, to be honest, seems to have a harsh irony to it considering what Gilly’s father was actually like (as opposed to the father in this song), but a sweet lullaby nonetheless.

Theon is also getting a harsh lesson in betrayal and loyalty. In episode 4 he trusted his “saviour” so much that he spilled his guts on what he really thought of his father, how he felt about the Starks, and revealed that Rickon and Bran were both, in fact, still very much alive. Or, at least they were the last time he saw them. But then his new confidante betrayed him in the most horrific turn I think we’ve seen yet on the show, and he’s back where he started. Now, in a room with his now-torturer, he plays the game of “guess who I am” with the boy, with his little finger taking the brunt of the cringe-inducing result of the game. Despite the boy turning on him and proving himself false, Theon is lulled back again into thinking he’s right about something, that he’s guessed where he is, who the boy is, and who his family is. As viewers, we’re stunned that this boy is actually a Karstark, the son of the man that Robb Stark beheaded in the previous episode. And… then it’s not true. The boy played his part to the hilt, just as he’d done before, and then leapt up, pronounced himself a liar, and went to town on Theon’s little finger. If nothing else, he’s going to teach Theon why you should never EVER trust another living soul.

And in further broken loyalties, members of the House Frey have shown up to confront Robb Stark about betraying the oath and alliance he previous made with them so they could make the Crossing back in season 1. They’re willing to let it be water under the bridge [rim shot] as long as Robb’s uncle marries one of the daughters instead. The uncle doesn’t want to marry a daughter at all, and Robb gives him a big lecture about loyalty and oaths and the good of the nation and I just wanted to smack him the entire time. While what he said had some merit, it seems more than a tad hypocritical coming from him, the guy who married a field nurse after the oath had been sworn. In fact, I think Robb’s made a lot of mistakes and seems to be handling leadership rather badly. In season 1, I think most viewers were on side with the Starks, but now, Robb comes off as grossly inefficient and ineffective, and part of me wants to see him fall in battle just so another Stark can step up to the plate as the head of that family. Arya could certainly bring some honour back to them, and considering Sansa had the gall to ask if her family would be invited to the wedding, let’s just quietly snuff her out for sheer stupidity, shall we?

I know people have said Sansa, at least, is more interesting in the books. How does Robb fare, Chris? Is his portrayal on the show accurate?

Christopher: I would say the show has done an excellent job of depicting Robb. He must be a bit trickier for the writers to shape, as he doesn’t get any POV chapters of his own, but to my mind they’ve captured him admirably. I agree with you entirely that he’s had some major cock-ups (not least of which was his impetuous marriage), but we should also remember how young he is … and in the books, he’s even younger. His mistakes are the mistakes of youth, while his successes show a more mature mind at work. But where age and experience would smooth out the hills and valleys of impetuousness and pride, he hasn’t quite gotten there.

It’s worth noting, so long as we’re talking a lot about honour today, that in the novels his marriage had as much to do with that than with the tempests of passion. In A Storm of Swords, he takes a wound in a battle and is nursed back to health by the daughter of a noblewoman whose castle he shelters in. Over his recuperation, she progresses from nursing to playing nurse, as it were; if Robb were more like Robert Baratheon or, really, ninety-nine percent of the men of Westeros, he’d have cheerfully notched his bedpost and moved on. But like Jon Snow, Robb is his father’s son, leaving him nothing else for it but to do the honourable thing and make an honest woman of his inadvertent conquest. We assume that, like Jon, he must have been genuinely in love to transgress his oath … but then, the Freys aren’t likely to forgive such weakness.

Hence, Robb’s romance with and marriage to Talisa on the show irked me a little last season. I understand why the writers made the change, but it detracts from the strength of Robb’s character somewhat (though it does make his wife something more than the shrinking violet she is in the books).

To be fair to Robb, he’s completely cognizant of his hypocrisy and acknowledges as much to Edmure, saying “You’re paying for my sins … It’s not fair or right.” I’m actually least sympathetic to Edmure in this scene, if for no other reason than that his main objection doesn’t seem to be the prospect of marrying beneath him but that he doesn’t get to pick one of the hot chicks from Walder Frey’s brood. In the novel he actually goes a step further, speculating darkly that Frey will probably stick him with someone fat and toothless out of spite.

But at least Edmure has a semblance of choice (the Blackfish’s threats to his teeth notwithstanding), which is a damn sight better than what Tyrion, Loras, Sansa, and Cersei have in King’s Landing. Once again, the Queen of Thorns is magnificent in her showdown with Tywin—proving utterly blasé when Tywin tries to leverage her with a not-so-subtle allusion Loras’ proclivities. Her frank admission is awesome enough, but her curiosity about Tywin’s own experimentation had me cheering: “Did you grow up with boy cousins, Lord Tywin? Sons of your father’s bannerman, squires, stableboys? … I congratulate you upon your restraint. But it’s a natural thing, two boys having a go at each other between the sheets … we don’t tie ourselves in knots over a discrete bit of buggery.” And even more awesome? She turns his game around on him: “But brothers and sisters. Where I come from, that stain would be very difficult to wash out.” As she then points out, the sexual frolics of the highborn matter very little; but a queen’s infidelity, incestuous or not, throws a very large monkey wrench into the question of succession.

But in the end, the question of lineage and the imperative of having viable heirs proves to be Olenna’s weakness: she might not care about who Loras fucks, but she does require him, eventually, to provide little Tyrells to carry on the family name. Thus Tywin’s threat to name him to the Kingsguard, an order who are forbidden to marry or father (legitimate) children, carries real weight, and the Queen of Thorns capitulates.

This scene was not, I should note, in the novel—nor for that matter is the plan to marry Cersei to Loras. In the books, Loras has an older brother named Wyllas, a gentle soul who has a club foot because of an injury sustained at a tournament in his youth. It is to Wyllas that Olenna plots to marry Sansa, and after that plan is rumbled by the Lannisters, it is to him that Tywin means to give Cersei. Loras is named to the Kingsguard immediately after the Battle of the Blackwater.

What did you think of this game of marriages, Nikki?

Nikki: How interesting! Out of curiosity, how old is Robb Stark in the book? I find their ages rather hard to determine on the show. He could be in his late twenties or early thirties for all you can tell on the show, but I gather from what you’re saying he’s a teenager in the books or thereabouts? And I agree with you that the story of his conquest in the book is far more sympathetic than the Talisa story here.

I should note, however, that I’ve never begrudged him that marriage; only the hypocrisy with which he looks upon Edmure, completely shocked that he won’t do it. He does, as you say, admit as much, but it doesn’t make it any better. And I also agree with you that regardless of Robb’s hypocrisy, Edmure is always the least sympathetic person in the room. Tobias Menzies just has that way about him (he was even on Doctor Who a couple of weeks ago, playing a spineless shit over there, too).

The Olenna/Tywin scene was absolutely delicious. As I watched it, my husband and I kept going, “Oooooohh… OOOOOHHHH…” as they lobbed one hardball after another at each other. It was like watching two skilled fencers parrying, or two grandmasters playing chess. Olenna clearly has the upper hand for most of the conversation (her comment about the incest was FANTASTIC), but as you say, Tywin comes in for the checkmate. It’s interesting that he doesn’t deny Cersei and Jaime’s relationship, but instead says that if this is true, then Joffrey isn’t the king, and the Tyrells are throwing their best girl to someone who’s not the rightful heir. ALL TRUE, of course, but it simply can’t be, not if she wants to carry on the family name, as you say. Just a brilliant scene. Diana Rigg has equalled Peter Dinklage now: they’re the two people I want in every episode, verbally sparring with another person. And both of them have done so with Tywin… and lost.

In addition to the dialogue you quoted, I want to add how much I loved it that when Tywin first hints at Loras’s proclivities, Olenna waves it all away with a “Yes, yes, he’s a sword swallower through and through.” HAHAHA!!!

Another scene worth noting, of course, linking to this one, is Tyrion and Cersei together. These two have been locking horns since the first season, but now they find themselves joined together in this horrible betrayal by their father. Tyrion asks who of the four of them is getting the worst deal, and if you look at it that way, no one wins. Sansa ends up with a Lannister, a family she hates, and the imp at that. Tyrion is deeply in love with Shae, and has to marry Sansa instead. Cersei is once again thrown into a political marriage, but this time it’s not with a boor, it’s with a man who has no attraction to her whatsoever because he’s gay. And Loras has to be tied down to a woman who is older than he is, belongs to a family he despises, and is, well, a woman. Loras embraces the idea of wedding Sansa, because he knows that Sansa is stupid and seems to be the only person in all of King’s Landing who hasn’t figured out he’s gay. He knows he’ll marry her and continue to climb into bed with other men. But will that be as easy with Cersei? And will he enjoy being the stepfather of the most evil little shit in Westeros? Mmm… no.

Tyrion uses this moment of weakness in Cersei to finally get to the bottom of what happened during the battle. She admits that he saved the city with the wildfire, and he realizes that Joffrey was the one who put the order through to have him killed. Cersei refers to Margaery as Joffrey’s little “doe-eyed whore,” and then the two of them look off into the distance together as they realize they are united in the sense that, as Cersei puts it, “We’re all being shipped off to hell together.” Oh, and the fact that they both believe Jaime is coming back, and they are both fiercely loyal to him.

This scene leads right into Tyrion having to tell Sansa what the hell has been going on, and the end of the episode moves very, very quickly, as Tyrion breaks the news to Sansa with Shae standing right there, Baelish and Varys talk about the throne and chaos and OH MY GOD JOFFREY HAS SAINT SEBASTIANED ROS RIGHT THERE IN HIS ROOM WTF?! and Sansa stands weeping on the shore as Littlefinger’s boat rides away, without her on it. Yikes.

So let’s back up a bit, and focus on Baelish and Varys’s final conversation. I know you’re dying to talk about this, Chris, so I’ll give you the floor to get it started.

Christopher: I am in fact dying to talk about it, not least because of Aiden Gillen’s chilling delivery … but mostly because it represents something of a shift from the Littlefinger of the novels. Petyr Baelish is unctuous, slippery, and treacherous in the books, to be certain, but not entirely unsympathetic. GRRM plays his cards close to the vest with Littlefinger, but allows us hints of a wistful humanity hidden under his long-forged armour of cynical cunning. In the novels we come to understand that one of his crucial impetuses for everything he has done is the torch he still carries for Catelyn—and that he sees much of her in Sansa. There are, as in the series, a lot of creepy interchanges between him and Sansa, but we’re led to believe he’s actually working to help her as much as himself. (Of course, this might all prove to be false).

Conversely, the series seems to have made a definitive choice about Baelish’s character, best summed up in Varys’ bleak pronouncement that “He’d see the realm burn if he could be king of the ashes.” There isn’t much to redeem him at this point, not after we’ve had half a season to get to know Ros with her clothes on and develop an emotional investment in her character. As we all know, GRRM is notorious for killing off his characters, often in shocking and surprising ways; the final montage of this episode demonstrated that the writers have learned that lesson well. The image of Joffrey lovingly fingering his crossbow was creepy enough, but as he rises and the camera pans left I realized an instant before we see Ros (incidentally, in my notes I have written “Holy St. Sebastian!”) which “client” Littlefinger had given her to.

His interchange with Varys begins as these fencing matches have since the series began—a few jabs and feints, the kind of I-loathe-you-politely banter we’ve come to expect. Initially, their point of discussion is about the stories we tell, and the way certain narratives work to cohere the body politics. Varys believes in the power of symbolism, and in the value of subordinating oneself to an idea. But the moment he acknowledges that he serves “the Realm,” Littlefinger’s snark turns into outright contempt. The “realm,” he sneers, is “a story we agree to tell each other over and over again until we forget that it’s a lie.”

As I listened to Littlefinger’s words, I wrote in my notes “Bet he has Atlas Shrugged on his bedside table.” Because the speech that follows is pure Ayn Rand: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. Some are given a chance to climb but they refuse. They cling to the realm. Or the Gods. Or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” What differentiates the Littlefinger on the show from the Littlefinger of the novels is precisely this Randian radical individualism—the “objectivism” of believing that the only concrete and therefore moral choice in life is pure self-interest. Hence the contempt in his voice when he rebukes Varys’ ostensible altruism.

Of course, Littlefinger’s speech ends with “The climb is all there is” spoken over the image of Jon Snow’s ice ax summiting the Wall. As Jon and Ygritte drag themselves up, gasping, and gaze down at the thrift shop landscape painting vista to the south, we have reason enough to see the poverty of Littlefinger’s philosophy. Orell cut Jon and Ygritte loose to save himself; but Jon chooses not to do the same, instead risking himself to save his lover.

Any last thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: So well put. Littlefinger has pretty much thrown everything to the wind to serve his own needs. He’s the epitome of someone climbing over the heads of others to get to the top, and he’ll stop at nothing, clearly. In season 1, he seemed like a wrench in the plans of the others moving across the chessboard to the Iron Throne. Now, he’s one of the pieces, working his way up as if he believes he has as much right to sit there as anyone else. When the Freys demand Harrenhal early in the episode, I rubbed my hands together and thought, “Oh, this’ll be good,” because we know that that is now Littlefinger’s domain, and he’s fought hard to get it. With so much parrying and movement among the parties, I can’t even begin to comprehend how GRRM is planning to fit all of this into a mere seven books, regardless of how long they are. This game has no end that I can see.

Thanks again for joining us, Chris, and we’ll see you all next week!