Monday, April 29, 2019

Winter Came, Winter Saw, and Winter Fell

And so the much anticipated Battle of Winterfell has concluded and, along with it, many storylines on Game of Thrones. Filled with a lot of impressive visuals, it was much more of a fantasy battle than "Battle of the Bastards", much more of a thematic clash than a realistic portrayal of mediaeval battle. I feel a little frustrated that it fell short of some of the series' previous battles, particularly since it marks the permanent end to some plotlines, but maybe nothing could've made good on all of that build-up.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I really loved the visuals. I'm most definitely in favour of one of the more divisive elements: the lighting. For years I've complained about how night scenes in fantasy movies tend to be lit with massive floodlights. Darkness is a potent source of drama, provided your audience has the impression they're getting the character's perspective and not that there's something wrong with the footage, the latter apparently being the gist of the complaints, as though no-one who worked on the show knew how to adjust exposure on a camera. The fact that the zombies are concealed by ice and darkness is a big part of what makes them so unnerving.

I saw on Twitter a thread of someone who works in web series production talking about how you can tell the audience it's dark without preventing them from seeing what's going, apparently arguing that it couldn't possibly be an artistic choice for people to find the action difficult to see. I frankly expect no less from a Twitter critic with a job in the industry. It reminded me of a review that called David Lynch's work on the new Twin Peaks "amateurish". There are lot of people now who haven't been brought up to appreciate art as a sensory experience, people who don't understand that you shouldn't be able to appreciate a cinematic experience while also texting. Such people see little difference between watching a film and reading the synopsis.

The shots of dragons fighting in the stormclouds were terrific. They looked like oil paintings, like art from Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings, particularly Dragonlance. It's a shame Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is down to one dragon now.

There were a few character deaths, probably the most prominent one being Jorah (Iain Glen), though you wouldn't know it from Twitter, where his name wasn't trending at all. People seemed more interested in the younger Mormont, Lyanna (Bella Ramsay). One of the really pleasing moments in the episode for me was when she was killed. I hated her so much. She was like the cartoon tiger on Walking Dead or the sharks that Fonzi jumped over on Happy Days, a cheap, silly element that undermined the emotional reality of the whole series. Seeing her get killed was like seeing a little piece of the show Game of Thrones used to be getting its revenge. It was only slightly spoiled when the girl got a chance to stab the giant's eye, White Walker giants apparently suffering from more self-destructive curiosity than the little ones.

But the real walking dead on the show was Jorah, who's basically been neutered of all his underlying motivation since he got his skin fixed. His literal death was almost redundant, though the old storyline felt like it was poignantly present in the moment where Daenerys was crying over his body. The actors surely remember they spent six years building a relationship with chemistry.

There was a nice, unexpected tender moment between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), though I always saw him as more of a father figure for her than a potential love interest. I know we're supposed to regard her as matured now, maybe I'll eventually adjust.

I was disappointed Cersei's army didn't show up as I expected it to. I figured it would because everyone last week was so certain it wouldn't based only on basically no evidence except Jaime's (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) word. Personally, I think that would've been a more satisfying ending than Arya (Maisie Williams) stabbing the Night King (Vladimir Furdik). Like I said, I know this wasn't supposed to be a realistic portrayal of the experience of battle, but someone just hitting a button and all the enemy vanishing felt kind of cheap. I guess you could say it's like the end of the first Star Wars movie or Lord of the Rings but in both those cases there was more built up around the action, it was more of a meaningful development for the characters involved instead of someone suddenly jumping out of the shadows to spoil a meeting between two expressionless guys. It seemed odd, too, that Arya was able to sneak by after she was having so much trouble avoiding White Walkers in the Winterfell library, a tonally ill-fitting scene I felt the episode would've benefited from cutting.

Mostly I had the feeling that Benioff and Weiss just wanted to get past the White Walkers to concentrate on the conflict with Cersei. Which certainly has a lot more classic dramatic potential. The White Walkers were set up as a more Lovecraftian menace of weirdness and atmosphere that I don't think Benioff and Weiss knew what to do with. All in all, though, the episode was a really nice sequence of hacking and slashing and giant fighting reptiles. It was a good way to spend the evening.

Twitter Sonnet #1230

The painted wrapper stuck to plastic bowl.
The space between was thin as grains of sand.
A sound of clubs rebounds from off the hole.
A tangled halyard caught the spider band.
A field of lanterns parts to carry nights.
In dusty rooms the weeds begin to grow.
On ev'ry leaf a watcher takes the sights.
An afternoon is drifting very slow.
A silence came and made the fighter wait.
A tangled mass beneath the timbre sunk.
A fire's red will light the blizzard late.
A button pressed will launch the kid to dunk.
Beneath the deathless leaves the game's a court.
More branches grew than eye or flame could sort.

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