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Right, so.

#GameOfThrones, then.

Where to start?
I’ve found myself a little frustrated by the tone of the discourse around “The Bells.”

Not criticisms of the execution, but criticisms of the idea.

Which is something that I find myself tired of in modern discussion of pop culture.

Not fear of execution, but fear of ideas.
A lot of criticism in pop culture is rooted in the implication that there are some things creators shouldn’t do; not things that they should do carefully, or well.

But just some ideas that are out of bounds. And we’re not talking about politics; we’re talking about characters.
You see it in a lot of criticism, most notably in criticism of things like “The Last Jedi.”

Where fans are like, “That’s not my Luke Skywalker!” Or, “Luke Skywalker would never do that!”

Because the version of Luke on screen conflicts with the version in their imagination.
Emily Nussbaum coined the term “bad fans” to describe the fans who watched “Breaking Bad” and rooted for Walter White.

As he cooked meth, as he murdered, as he sexually assaulted his wife.

A lot of fans responded to the character. Because he was well-written and well-realised.
To be fair, there are other cases where the execution is shakier, but where criticism seems more rooted in fandom’s idea of the character than in the potential or role of the character.

But the complaints are rarely “it’s a good idea, done badly”, but rather “it’s a bad idea!”
For the problems with “Man of Steel”, the loudest complaints came down to, “That’s NOT Superman!”

Or how many criticisms of “Batman vs. Superman” came down to the suggestion that the idea of an entitled and violent Batman was inherently “wrong”?
Or Marvel’s decision to have Steve Rogers become a fascist and have a black man become Captain America in 2016.

All ideas that - ignoring issues with execution - had merit to them in the context of the modern world. All of which were immediately rejected on a conceptual level.
It should be noted these waves of complaints kicked into high gear with things like the MCU selling itself on fidelity and Disney setting up a working group to define and codify “Star Wars” canon.

When fans started getting exactly what they expected.

It’s worth noting, for example, that modern fandom would never tolerate something like “The Wrath of Khan” or the Burton “Batman” movies.

We know because there were fan objections to them similar to what you get today, but they were just ignored.
And again, I’m not talking about criticism of “well the execution was awful.”

I’m talking about “even doing this thing in the first place was completely out of bounds.”

Which where a lot of this comes from. “You CAN’T kill Spock!” “You CAN’T make the Penguin a circus freak!”
Which is a concept of which I’m wary, because it’s growing stronger and stronger.

Are there issues with Daenerys’ descent into destruction and devastation? Undoubtedly.

It’s rushed, it’s hypercondensed. It might flow better if the show had three more episodes, but it doesn’t.
Are those criticisms of it unfair? Absolutely not. I’d agree with some criticisms of the pacing and connective tissue in “The Bells.”

Incidentally, I’d agree with similar criticisms of “The Last Jedi.”

What’s interesting is that this or not the tone of a lot of the criticism.
There’s a weirdly strong sense that “The Bells” represents a fundamental betrayal of Daenerys’ character. Like on a primal, fundamental level.

It’s not that it’s rushed or that connective tissue is missing. It’s that this development is fundamentally, morally “wrong.”
And, like the reaction to examples like Luke and like Superman and like Batman, and even like killing Spock, I think that’s a primarily emotional response.

Which isn’t a bad thing, to be clear! Stories move us! They make us feel! We emotionally invest!

And this is great!
I’m not being flippant. Emotional investment in characters is great and has meaning. It’s genuinely touching that so many people care about Luke or Superman or Daenerys.

And it’s not wrong to dislike a development because of that emotional attachment. You like what you like.
But there’s also an acceptance that your version of the character is not the only version that exists, and not the *right* version against which all must be measured.

I love “Doctor Who”, but there are large swathes of it that are “not for me”, and that’s fine.
But, back to “The Bell.”

This is very much where the story has been going, pretty much from the outset.

The wheel is integral to “Game of Thrones”, and this is the mirror of the Lannister/Baratheon sack of King’s Landing at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.
It’s also recalls the Targaryen conquest of Westeros.

No matter how romantic the fantasy of conquest of Westeros by TWO foreign armies and a dragon, it was always going to end like this.

That has always been how “Game of Thrones” works, teasing fantasy and delivering horror.
Worth noting that “Game of Thrones” is riffing on “Lord of the Rings.” Here, the series is playing with the Scouring of the Shire following the climactic battle against Sauron.

Martin is a big fan of the Scouring.

Except in this case the Scouring is the point. Not Sauron.
There’s something effective in how “The Bells” gives the audience something they thought they wanted - a big bad, Cersei gets what she probably deserves, Daenerys taking the throne - and makes it genuinely nightmarish.

Because that’s the point of it. It’s meant to upset.
You see it with Cleganebowl, which a lot of online fans *really, really* wanted.

But it just becomes sad and pathetic. Sandor even seems to realise this, telling Arya as much, but also seeming frustrated at how unsatisfying it is to him during the fight.

There’s no winner.
“Game of Thrones” is far from the first fantasy book to point out the uncomfortable subtext of sci-fi/fantasy novels; the details that are often obscured, the subtext often unarticulated.

“The Iron Dream” always comes to mind, sci-fi/fantasy tropes through the lens of fascism.
A recurring motif of “Game of Thrones” is that it would suck to live in a fantasy world, but especially if you weren’t royalty or a chosen one.

Again, the execution is less than ideal here. It drifted out of focus in the past three seasons, but is always present.
And, again, the execution is flawed.

Indeed, one of the reasons I am as fond of the show’s “difficult middle seasons” is that the diffused focus allows the series to touch on the lives impacted and shaped by the affairs of kings and lords.
It shouldn’t need to be said that monarchy is a terrible way of governing that lends itself to political chaos and brutality, no matter how alluring fantasy makes it seem.

Then again we live in a time experiencing the pull of authoritarianism. So maybe saying it is a good thing.
Incidentally, this is why I have soft spot for “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs. Superman”, despite their myriad flaws.

They make the power fantasy of the superhero deliberately and consciously uncomfortable in a way that few other blockbusters do.
Which brings us to Daenerys, who is interesting as a character.

Martin’s prose is highly subjective, allowing the reader to align themselves with the character in focus.

Television naturally has a harder time doing that, but...
It is notable that “Game of Thrones” is structured to isolate its two most classical heroes until the final act.

Both Jon and Daenerys are kept away from Westerosi politicking and essentially placed in their own plots for a lot of the story.

Jon at the Wall. Dany in Essos.
This has the luxury of leaving them “unsullied” (so to speak) by scheming of other major characters.

It means their stories are largely their own, not shared with other view point characters. Their narratives are also more traditional.

Jon the chosen one. Dany the exiled queen.
Bringing both characters into the main series narrative forces their stories to collide with others.

Jon is the chosen one up North, but he’s a political/military liability as soon as he comes back South.

Dany is the hero of her own story in Essos, but an invader in Westeros.
((And by the way, here I’ll concede nervousness. I don’t think the series will end with Jon on the Iron Throne.

But if it does, then it’s most likely a spectacular disaster. Jon is just as messed up as Dany, the show just tipped its hand with him earlier.))
Here’s the thing.

Dany is the hero of her own story in Essos. Liberator, the people’s champion.

She is that, only because we don’t know or care about the people up against which she comes.

They are non-entities, narratively speaking. Easy villains.
Daenerys talks a good game about “breaking the wheel”, but that’s when it’s both easy for her and it serves her purpose.

Even she doesn’t care about Essos, despite doing objectively good things like ending slavery.

She’s easy to root for, because it’s her story exclusively.
And even then, the show drops lots and lots of hints that maybe it’s not as simple as the narrative that Daenerys is writing for herself and of which nobody stands to contradict.

The show likens her time in Slaver’s Bay to the Iraq/Afghanistan War, most obviously.
And then there’s this scene of Daenerys as a white savior.

At the time, it made a lot people - myself included - VERY uncomfortable.

But, especially in hindsight, it’s clear that this is how Daenerys sees herself. She is a white savior.

It’s very much part of her identity.
Daenerys’ entire claim is based on her name and her family birthright. (She’s VERY into her dragons.) She’s not going to introduce democracy or power-sharing or devolution.

When Daenerys talks about breaking the wheel, she simply means stopping it turning away from her family.
And Daenerys is sympathetic, and well-motivated, and well-developed.

It isn’t an accident that audiences respond to her and care for her. That’s the entire point.

She presents the comforting romantic fantasy of the strong, just, authoritarian ruler. The royalty of fantasy.
You root for Daenerys, like you rooted for Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” or even Luke in “Star Wars.”

The one true ruler, robbed of their birthright and exiled. It’s one of the most common fantasy tropes.

Except when you actually think through the implications of it.
This is why the (non-) reveal of Rey’s parents in “The Last Jedi” is so good, and why I’ll be so disappointed if they reverse it in “The Rise of Skywalker.”

The rejection of the idea of divine right of blood in mainstream fantasy fiction is commendable, especially now.
This approach is upsetting; teasing the audience with what they have been conditioned to expect, only to pull the rig out from expectations.

Ideally, your audience asks why they wanted that thing in the first place. However, very often, they wonder why they can’t have it.
“Yeah, that’s you—that’s what you’ve always been,” Sandor remarks as Gregor removes his helmet and reveals a monster.

“The Bell” does that to Daenerys. She is not a liberator, but an occupier. She is not a rightful ruler, but an invader.

She does what empires have always done.
“I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”

The show told us what Daenerys was. We just didn’t want to listen. We would rather believe it was snow than ash falling in the House of the Undying.
One of the interesting threads of criticism of this is that Daenerys’ descent into madness is being gendered by the text.

I’m not entirely sure I buy that. Many of the male heroes are similarly blinded/undone by intense emotional responses.
Jon Snow is almost undone by Ramsay Bolton at the Battle of the Bastards because he can’t keep his emotions in check.

Robb loses the War of the Five Kings because he listens to his heart rather than his head, which arguably leads to countless suffering for Westeros.
Like, the central thesis of “Game of Thrones” is that monarchies are a terrible way to rule, but there’s no way that Robb’s reign would be worse for Westeros than Joffrey or Tommen or Cersei.

And his decision to follow his heart prolongs the chaos and carnage of war.
Incidentally, the reason that “Hame of Thrones” thinks that monarchies are terrible is because they invest absolute power in people.

And people are slaves to emotion and mood. And unchecked, these emotions can have catastrophic consequences when tied to the fate of a nation.
It should be noted as well, in terms of gendering Daenerys’ emotional breakdown, the most level-headed players in the eponymous game at the moment are not Jon or Tyrion. (Both also emotionally blinded.)

But Sansa and (arguably) Arya. Sansa is very much vindicated here.
And, yep.

I’ll be the first to concede that the late-stage development is a little rushed and that it could have been fleshed out more.

The execution is clumsy, undoubtedly. But the idea is sound. And always has been.
By the way, I should mention.

I’ve been caught out a few times by “Game of Thrones.” Once or twice, I’ve wanted a character to “win.”

But that’s the trick. The point is to realise that the game has no winner, and that the board as it stands needs to be flipped.
Anyway, every time anyone asks me who I want to “win” at “Game of Thrones”, I’ve answered with varying degrees of sincerity “Westerosi Magna Carta.”
People have been asking for my take on Jaime.

I’m hesitant to kick that hornet’s nest again, but...

On Dany’s characterisation, I just stumbled across “Battle of the Bastards” on television.

“Do we have a plan?”
”I will crucify the Masters. I will set their fleets afire, kill every last one of their soldiers, and return their cities to the dirt. That is my plan.”

I'll just add some very quick addendums here.

There's a lot of great "Game of Thrones" coverage out there, but I really enjoy @drfarls analysis of the combat in the show.

The tactics, and the internal logic driving these sequences.

@drfarls I also really like @megangarber's piece here on power and horror.

"Everyday people become subject to the workings of leaderly minds and hearts and spleens. The world and its inhabitants get shaped by the fickle emotions of the powerful."

@drfarls @megangarber This is great, even if I give the show more credit.

"The problem is not that Daenerys is a mad queen; there is no such thing. It’s a redundant phrase. To be a king or queen is to win the game, and to win the game, everyone else has to lose, and die."

And some more good takes on “The Bells”, this one from @thejimsmith brought to my attention by @film_quiz.

“No one owes you the story you wanted – even if far more people resent having their expectations overturned than would ever admit to it.”

And here is @theseantcollins on “The Bells”:

“While Daenerys’s brutality is unusual for heroes of fantasy sagas when they reach the high point of their story, brutality itself is the rule among the rulers of Westeros, rather than the exception.”

.@theseantcollins named “The Bells” the best episode of “Game of Thrones.”

He makes a great conceptual argument for the episode, and I think he’s right.

It’s the most important episode, even if issues with execution’d keep it off the top spot for me.

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