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Jon Should Not Be King

[SPOILERS for the “Game of Thrones” Season Seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf”]

“It may seem that way from the outside.” – Jon Snow (or whoever)

There’s a scene in the Season Seven finale of “Game of Thrones” where Theon and Jon are talking about family. During this scene, Theon remarks that Jon always seems to do the right thing, that he always seems to make the right choice. In Theon’s eyes, Jon is the golden child. He can do no wrong. Then Jon says the above: “It may seem that way from the outside.”

Despite countless jokes about various sex organs in the season finale, I can safely say that this was the hardest I laughed the whole episode. Nope. Sorry, Jon. It does not seem that way at all from the outside. In fact, from the outside, you look like an idiot.

Pretty much every character did call him out for announcing his allegiance to Daenerys at the exact wrong time, so people are aware that he’s stupid. But this man is still the “King of the North.” And apparently, based on what we were told at the end of the episode, he may be much more than that, too. The same guy who led the dumbest expedition north of all-time could be the heir to the Iron Throne.

I apologize for harping on this, but we need to talk more about that expedition north. The events of the finale demand it. Two big things happened in this episode:

1) The Night King broke through The Wall using a dragon that died saving Jon and Co. from dying while they tried to get a White Walker to bring to Cersei.

2) Cersei is not interested in fighting in the North. She would like to continue plotting to kill her enemies instead.

I doubt the show will return to this, but this means the plan was a failure in literally every way. They brought the White Walker to Cersei. She didn’t care. (They might still think she did, but really, she didn’t.) This means they lost a dragon for nothing. Not only that, they lost a dragon that just one episode later helped burn down a wall that I’m pretty sure everyone was banking on keeping the living and the dead separated. So the plan didn’t work, and in fact, it made things much, much worse for the entire Westerosi race. I know the last two episodes have been cool and breathtaking and pretty entertaining, but I really don’t think this is something to gloss over as the show positions Jon as the rightful heir to the throne. The man is an idiot, and I don’t know if he could rule over a ham sandwich.

Some thoughts (because there was way too much going on in this episode to possibly process it all): 

  • The wall came down: I heard some whispers online in the last week that this might happen, so it wasn’t a total surprise (I really should stop reading the internet). But boy, did it look good. The visual effects on this show have become so good that you almost forget it’s TV. It’s almost like it’s not TV, it’s … just kidding.
  • No one died: Remember when “Game of Thrones” felt like a show where anybody could die? After this season, it’s starting to feel like that was a lie. Pretty much everyone of note survived this season. The ground has certainly become shakier beneath them, but it’s a bummer to have to wait years to make any significant plot movement with the way this show used to surprise.
  • Jon is King: Congrats, book readers. I’m sure this was a super fun moment for you.
  • Cersei + Tyrion 4ever: One thing “Thrones” can do like no other show is play on the deep, complex history of the characters when they share the screen together after years apart. This episode, we had Tyrion/Bronn, Hound/Brienne, Brienne/Jamie, Tyrion/Jamie, Jon/Theon, and I’m sure many more that I can’t remember. But putting Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage back in the same room might have been the best thing they’ve done all year. That scene was electric.
  • Cersei is not pregnant, right? This seems obvious. If she actually had a forthcoming heir, she might have honestly considered the truce. She certainly would have killed Jamie when he announced his intentions. She’s got plans, and I’m looking forward to seeing them end in her fiery death next season. (You can’t be wrong on a prediction if you just keep making it, right?) In all honesty, I’m glad she’s still on the board.
  • Theon back: [Insert joke about him not having balls here]
  • Littlefinger dead: The Winterfell stuff all kind of fell flat for me in the back half of this season. The Arya-Sansa stuff was tough to get through, even though (I guess?) most of it was intentionally contrived, and Littlefinger’s death seemed obvious a mile away. Also, the moment when Sansa called him out instead of Arya made me groan, which was probably not the desired reaction.
  • George R.R. Martin Up Arrow: This season was kind of a jumbled mess plot-wise, with a lot of things seeming to happen too quickly just so the writers could get to certain benchmarks. This gives the books a bright future if Martin ever finishes them, because he has a lot more room to explore (and possibly change) the events that led to this point. He can make the characters’ decisions sensible and consistent and make their plans much smarter.
  • Dany is Jon’s aunt: Ew. What is it with grand science fiction/fantasy epics and incest?
  • We are stupid: I mean … I’m still so in on this journey, you guys.

Does “Game of Thrones” Think We’re Stupid?

“We were thinking, how could you possibly survive that situation?” – D.B. Weiss (executive producer, “Game of Thrones”)

Stories can be written in different ways. You can improvise and come up with the plot as you go along, hoping to keep your characters tethered to the reality you’ve created. You can set up a track and know exactly where it’s heading and try to fit the plot points in like puzzle pieces. I’ve heard people say they can’t start writing a story without knowing how it ends, and I’ve heard people say they want to let their story unfold naturally. Ideally, the story creation process will involve a bit of each approach. Because as with many things in life, the right way to go about things often lies in the gray, blurry area in between the two extremes. If the story is going in a direction that doesn’t make sense, you have to be prepared to change direction. If it’s too loosey-goosey, it might never come together. There needs to be some sort of plan.

“Game of Thrones” is like the Titanic. It’s clearly heading toward a battle between the living and the dead, and the ship is much too large to change direction. Turning the ship and changing things would be exceedingly difficult and take far more time than the writers have left. Because of that, it’s become a show where solutions are looking for problems rather than the other way around. In this week’s episode, “Beyond The Wall,” that became incredibly distracting.

D.B. Weiss and co-showrunner David Benioff have a much shorter order of episodes to work with than usual as things wrap up on TV’s most-watched show. When this season comes to an end Sunday, there will have been seven episodes in 2017. There are expected to be six in the show’s final season. Given this compressed time frame, they seem to have given themselves markers to reach. Two stand out for this year: 1) Get Dany north of the wall so she can lose a dragon to the Army of the Dead and realize how real the threat is, and 2) Get all our main characters together in one place for the season finale.

They’ve accomplished those things now, but boy was it clumsy.

The quote at the top of this piece is referring to Jon Snow and Co.’s stupid plan to go north of the wall and bring back a living White Walker. Weiss is talking about an issue the writers apparently faced once they got there, face-to-face with the Army of the Dead: How do you get your important characters to survive an un-survivable situation so they can fight another day? Here’s what they came up with: The main characters will be surrounded by thousands of White Walkers, but they will find a spot in the frozen tundra perfectly surrounded by unstable ice so they can engage in a stand-off long enough for Dany to travel northward the distance of all of Westeros and save the day.


Putting aside the fact that there are literally no limits to how quickly people can travel places in “Game of Thrones” now, this wasn’t the only stupid contrivance that helped get the writers where they needed to go. The episode was full of them. The Actually Interesting Suicide Squad conveniently stumbles onto a group of White Walkers made up of like seven soldiers, enabling them to capture one. They are nearly eviscerated by a single evil polar bear thing but then somehow manage to fight off an insane number of White Walkers without anyone important dying. They are close enough to Eastwatch that Gendry can just run all the way back and hit up Danaerys real quick. Jon pretty much jumps on a grenade for everyone and doesn’t die. Benjen suuuuuper conveniently shows up to save the day. Did I mention Dany travels the length of the world in like five seconds? Also, think of the number of contrivances it took just to get us to this deus ex dragon. The plan to travel north of the wall to capture a White Walker was colossally stupid from the start. Dany and Jon could have taken out the Lannisters in a day, but because the writers were so tied to turning a dragon evil and having Dany see the Army of the Dead and having Jon and his aunt fall a little more in love and keeping Cersei on the board, they had to go through with it despite all logic and sense.

And that’s just north of the wall. Arya, consistently one of the most interesting and complex characters on the show, has rapidly devolved into a cartoonish villain over the course of like two episodes. And the drama manufactured between her and Sansa is just as transparently set up as the plan to go north. The writers want some friction so it will be interesting when things turn back around and they kill off Littlefinger. Unfortunately, they’re sacrificing character to get there. One of the great things about “Game of Thrones” was that it was always possible to empathize with, or at least understand, the show’s complicated characters. Now, for the sake of plot, they all seem to have become simple and stupid.

So now what? The writers wanted to get us to this point, and however ungraceful the execution, we’re here now. Perhaps with a longer season, the decisions of the characters could have been made to make a bit more sense, or at least seem a bit more justified. But with one week to go, we’re here. Everyone is coming together next week.

It’s frustrating that it took so much stupidity to get here, but there’s a chance it could be fine. They got through the BS and (here’s hoping) have set us up for the story they are prepared to tell. It was obvious what would happen when everyone went beyond the wall, but now things are a bit more unpredictable. I truly don’t know what will happen when all the great houses get together next week. Given the deep, complex history of this show, it’s going to be exciting. The thought of simply seeing Jon and Cersei and Daenerys and Tyrion and everyone in one place makes my heart jump. But thanks to the creaky bridge the show built to get us here, the expectations are higher than ever. They can still pull this off in a satisfying way, but the fireworks might have to be so bright that they blot out the past. Do Benioff and Weiss have it in them?

We shall see.

Television Needs More Shows Like ‘Room 104’

The people change, but the hotel room always stays the same.

Fresh towels, a well-made bed, a phone. Tables with nothing on them. Think of the things a hotel room could see. A babysitter watching a kid. A married couple ordering a pizza. A cult ceremony. Anything can happen in a hotel room.

That’s what Jay and Mark Duplass explore in their new HBO anthology series, “Room 104.” Each episode (three have aired) tells a different story in the same hotel room.  Everything happens in the confines of the room. The characters are new and different each time. The stories are simple in premise, and complicated in practice. And to this point, it has been absolutely compelling television.

There are a lot of television shows. You know that. I know that. But most of them follow a loose structure. There are characters we love, and they have a conflict they need to solve. We typically may not know exactly where every story is headed, but we have a sense of its general direction. The good guys are probably going to win, the bad guys are probably going to lose. Maybe a supporting player will die along the way.

The most gripping thing about “Room 104” is that it feels like truly anything can happen. With new people and limited information each time out, you never know where things are going or where they’re coming from. You’re just waiting in a hotel room, watching.

There’s something to be said for a show that makes your heart pound. I won’t pretend I totally understand the endings of the first three episodes of “Room 104,” but I don’t feel like it matters. The simple, economical shots that set up each episode have me hooked instantly. There’s something about the simple mundanity of the hotel room that gives it an eerie edge, something about its staidness that makes it feel like anything can happen. Everything appears controlled in a way that feels completely out of control.

So far, the show has been funny, scary, steamy, disturbing, beautiful and thrilling. The deft control of tone and easy shifts from drama to comedy and back and forth and all around, along with the brevity of the episodes, keeps you locked in. The camera – manned by Sarah Adina Smith twice and Patrick Brice once in the first three episodes –continues to find interesting and creative new ways to film people’s lives in the hotel room. The use of doors and colors and staging is fascinating. The simple, effective story set-ups leave room for all kinds of twists and turns.

The brilliant contradiction of “Room 104” is that it takes place in a tiny, confined space, but absolutely anything can happen.

The Duplasses have set out to “find some magic in the seemingly mundane.” And they’ve found much more than just magic. They’ve found life, death, love and many other confusing and beautiful things about our world. They’ve taken a room and welcomed in the whole world.

They don’t let us off the hook, though. You want to see what goes on behind closed doors? Fine, be a fly on the wall. You’ll see something you shouldn’t be seeing. You’ll realize that the simple act of watching makes normalcy seem strange. You’ll wonder what it would mean for someone to watch you.

There will be 12 episodes in the first season of “Room 104.” And I’m thrilled to explore them all. It can take us anywhere, and there are not a lot of shows with an element that exciting. I don’t know where it will take us, or what it will mean, or if I’ll even enjoy the ride. But the sheer thrill of not knowing where the ride will take us makes it worth the price of admission. Television needs more shows like “Room 104,” willing to try anything and everything to reinvent what it means to be telling stories in a small box, whether it’s the one in our pocket or the one in our living room.

Daenerys Is Evil

You may have noticed there was no podcast this week. That’s because I was on vacation. I promise we’ll make up for it in the coming weeks, but I wanted to throw out a little bonus blog post to fill the space. Here are some thoughts on “Game of Thrones” as it nears the end of its shortened seventh season.

Everybody keeps telling us that Daenerys is not like her father. That she’s not evil. That maybe she’s the “princess that was promised.”

Her supporters love her. She could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and burn somebody to death and not lose any of her loyal followers.

But guys, listen. Last week, Daenerys spent the better part of the episode riding her dragon around and burning men alive. This week, she burned some more just for good measure. This may not be relevant in Westeros, but I don’t think Daenerys is a good person.

She’ll tell you she just wants to destroy the wheel and not the people in her way. But it’s hard to take that too seriously when she’s telling people to bend the knee or die in the same breath. She tells Tyrion, “They made their choice.” But there were many other men than the two Tarlys she burned alive that also chose not to kneel. She didn’t murder all of them. She simply waited for them to become terrified after she cremated a couple of their friends.* Even before that, they didn’t really have much of a choice. At all points, the choice was “die” or “come with me if you want to not die.” The only thing that changed was that the soldiers knew they would die via dragon (which, c’mon, they had to have a pretty good idea was going to happen anyway).

*Side note: Daenerys really did seem to pick out Tarly Senior at random from the group of still-standing soldiers, but I’m sure there’s some reason why she somehow recognized he was the leader or something.

The “choice” she gave them reminded me of Cersei’s line from later in the episode.

“We fight and die, or we submit and die. I know my choice.” – Cersei

When it came down to it, the soldiers had two terrible options and choosing to not die is not the same as choosing to follow someone because they freed you from slavery. As Dany gets closer to power, she is becoming corruptible.

I’m concerned.

Plus, when it comes to the way the entire story is developing, a Dany heel turn feels inevitable. The story was about the Starks at the beginning, and it seems to be headed back that way now. (Screw you, book readers. Jon might be a Targaryen, but he was raised a Stark.) Jon is the de facto hero of the show, and Bran, Sansa and Arya are a couple speed bumps away from forming a hell of a team. Also, Jon is Ice and Dany is Fire, and Ice is good and Fire is bad. My bold prediction is that the Starks end up on top, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Right? What could possibly go wrong?

Other Thoughts

  • Jk, death is coming for us all, and with winter finally here, s*** is about to go down. This “Actually Interesting Suicide Squad” should be fun to watch.
  • I’ve always been a big Littlefinger fan, but I’m starting to think he’s just delaying the inevitable. Big player will die a big death, though, I say.
  • Cersei looks back in the game suddenly. Of course she’d use the White Walkers as a distraction to further her agenda. Tywin’s daughter ain’t dead yet. And there’s another incest baby on the way! (My prediction of her being dead by the end of this shortened season seems increasingly unlikely.)
  • Speaking of incest, can we not pair up Dany and Jon? I’m honestly not even saying that for incest-related reasons. Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington just don’t have any chemistry. Don’t do this to us.
  • A lot of comebacks this week to the game board with Jorah and Gendry and the Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners and everything. I gotta be honest, I don’t really remember who’s who or who’s met before or why everyone doesn’t like each other. Who cares?
  • Peter Dinklage’s work in that scene with Jaime was just next-level. The best performance on a show with a lot of good ones.
  • “Here we all are, at the edge of the world.”

We’re all on the same side.

Two episodes left!

‘Rick and Morty’ is the Darkest – and Funniest – Timeline

[This post includes spoilers for Season Three of “Rick and Morty”.]

Here’s a brief list of things that have happened on “Rick and Morty” so far this season.

  • Beth and Jerry get divorced.
  • Rick eats human flesh.
  • Morty takes on the phantom limb of a man whose entire family was burned to death, which leads to him murdering (conservatively) hundreds of people in incredibly gruesome and violent ways.
  • Rick and Morty drown a man together while hashing things out about the divorce of Morty’s parents.
  • While embodying a pickle, Rick murders a cockroach and dozens of rats in ways that would make John Wick flinch.
  • Before killing dozens of men (again, as a pickle), Rick says of their children, “I’m not gonna take their dreams. I’m gonna take their parents.”

I feel uncomfortable just typing all those things out. If you’ve never seen “Rick and Morty,” it probably sounds like the most disturbing thing on TV. And, well, you’re right. But – and this is a tough pivot – it’s also the funniest show on TV right now. You may not believe me, but there’s basically a solid laugh every 15-20 seconds on any given “Rick and Morty” episode. It’s hard to discern what makes this toxic balance of darkness and comedy work, but it’s undeniably all there. Maybe Dan Harmon’s recent divorce combined with his off-kilter comedic voice was a big part of it. Maybe it’s the appeal of an animated sci-fi show with infinite worlds to travel to, populated by seemingly infinite funny characters. I really don’t know. All I know is that “Rick and Morty” is one of the first shows to truly master the mix of sad and com. It’s like “BoJack Horseman” if “BoJack Horseman” was on cocaine and also had ADD.

“Rick and Morty” is absurd, but it’s also grounded in something frighteningly real. An episode about Rick turning into a pickle to get out of going to therapy with his family shifts from funny to depressing with ease. It winds up in a place of poignancy and nihilism that’s hard to describe. It’s a story that makes your heart hurt for whoever wrote it because it feels so real. But it’s also so funny! Because all we can do to get by is laugh, right?

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A crazy, ranting Rick monologue from the first episode of the season that vacillates wildly between one end of the spectrum and the other. (Warning: it’s also very meta.)

Morty: Geez, are my parents seriously gonna get divorced? Alright, Rick, I’m gonna go to my –

Rick: Not so fast, Morty. You heard your mom. We’ve got adventures to go on, Morty, just you and me. And sometimes your sister and sometimes your mom. But never your dad! You wanna know why, Morty? Because he crossed me!

Morty: Okay, take it easy, Rick. That’s dark.

Rick: Oh, it gets darker, Morty. Welcome to the darkest year of our adventures. First thing that’s different, no more Dad, Morty. He threatened to turn me in to the government, so I made him and the government go away.

Morty: Oh, [expletive].

Rick: I’ve replaced them both as the de facto patriarch of your family and your universe. Your mom wouldn’t have accepted me if I came home without you and your sister. So now you know the real reason I rescued you. I just took over the family, Morty! If you tell your mom or sister I said any of this, I’ll deny it, and they’ll take my side because I’m a hero, Morty. Now you’re gonna have to go and do whatever I say, Morty. Forever. And I’ll go out and I’ll find some more of that Mulan Szechuan Teriyaki dipping sauce, Morty.

Morty: (interjecting) What are you talking about?

Rick: Because that’s what this is all about, Morty. That’s my one-armed man. I’m not driven by avenging my dead family, Morty. That was fake. I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget sauce, Morty. That’s my series arc, Morty.

Morty: (interjecting) What the hell?

Rick: If it takes nine seasons. I want my McNuggets…dipping sauce, Szechuan sauce, Morty. That’s what’s gonna take us all the way to the end, Morty. Season – Nine more seasons, Morty. Nine more seasons until I get that dipping Szechuan sauce.

Morty: (interjecting) What is that?

Rick: For 97 more years, Morty. I want that McNugget sauce, Morty.

One second he’s talking about taking over the family, the next he’s talking about McNugget sauce. One second they’re talking about divorce, the next Rick is making meta jokes about season storylines and series arcs. One second they’re talking about leaving out Jerry, the next they’re talking about leaving out Jerry. It’s darkness, light, darkness, light, darkness, light everywhere. And it’s all from the very distinct viewpoint of a man who has to constantly be in control to keep moving forward. He always has to be the smartest guy in the room. Morty describes him more aptly earlier in the episode, saying Rick is not a hero or a villain, but some kind of a “super-f*****-up god.”

The strange thing is that there’s potential for a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone on “Rick and Morty” seems scared and alone and hopeless – a lot of the second episode took place in a “Mad Max”-like reality where survival for its own sake is all that matters. But then there was the end of the third episode, “Pickle Rick.” A moment when Rick’s nihilism was met with … something else. Here’s the scene from the family therapy session. (Keep in mind: Rick is a pickle in this scene.)


Therapist: Why didn’t you want to come here?

Rick: Because I don’t respect therapy. Because I’m a scientist. Because I invent, transform, create and destroy for a living, and when I don’t like something about the world, I change it. And I don’t think going to a rented office in a strip mall to listen to some agent of averageness explain which words mean which feelings has ever helped anyone do anything. I think it’s helped a lot of people get comfortable and stop panicking, which is a state of mind we value in the animals we eat, but not something I want for myself. I’m not a cow. I’m a pickle. When I feel like it. So … you asked.

Therapist: Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness. You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse, and I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control. You chose to come here. You chose to talk, to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces, your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand. I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy. The same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining and cleaning is, it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is some people are okay going to work, and some people, well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.

This exchange seems to set up the central conflict for the season, and for the series. Are Rick’s adventures just attempts to die in order to not have to contemplate the universe anymore? Does he have it in him to “choose work”? Can he build a life that has meaning?

I’m not sure what the answers to those questions are, and I’m not sure we’re going to like what we find. It’s going to be dark. We’re on a journey to the center of Rick’s soul, and there’s no telling what – if anything – we’re going to find.

Weirdly, the only thing I know for sure is that it’s going to be a really funny trip.

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