Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Our Devils and Dragons

Still thinking about Game of Thrones, this morning I read the new, very good Sirenia Digest, which includes Caitlin R. Kiernan's new story "The Last Thing You Should Do". The title reminds me of the David Bowie song from his 1997 album Earthling. Like the song, Caitlin's story seems to be about an anxiety revolving around a compulsive self destruction. It consists of a dialogue between two people who might be one person as they discuss the dream one has had and the action of crushing the sun with one's fingers, or appearing to, due to forced perspective, is described. There's discussion of fairy tales involving bears and dragons eating the sun which of course also put me in mind of Sunday's Game of Thrones.

Spoilers for Sunday's Game of Thrones ahead

Like a lot of people, I suspect Daenerys going mad is probably close to the ending George R.R. Martin had planned because there's plenty of evidence for it in the books and can be seen in episodes that were still following the books. Going back through my own old reviews, there were two things that I often thought were mistakes in the writing that I now suspect were calculated--Daenerys making obviously despotic decisions and the near total avoidance of any depiction of commoners in King's Landing. We don't actually know what the people thought of Cersei, other than the fact that they liked Margaery better, for reasons that were clearly established as superficial. Like any political faction, Cersei's camp must have had supporters but we never heard from them. Even if there were only a few, they must have existed and the fact that their voices were omitted is telling.

Here are a few quotes from myself that seem pertinent now. From my review for the episode "Eastwatch" from 2017:

Cersei believes that her choices are either losing the war and dying and surrendering and dying so it makes sense she's willing to parley especially now that she's pregnant. She doesn't know yet that Daenerys was willing to spare any of the Lannister allies who bent the knee to her--it would be interesting to find out what Cersei would do if she did know. I don't quite follow the logic that it's better to roast uncooperative families alive than imprison them, especially when Daenerys has her father's reputation to live down.

From my review of "The Winds of Winter" in 2016:

Daario who? I'm only half joking--I kind of have to struggle to remember how Daenerys met him and why he's important. I think we're meant to consider how heartless Daenerys is becoming from the fact that she doesn't care about cutting him loose but could it simply be he's very dull?

From my review for "Home" in 2016:

We actually have one moment among the lower classes in last night's episode where a man in a tavern in King's Landing makes drunken boasts regarding Cersei's "Walk of Shame" last season. This is a reminder of the distinctly unrealistic and unexplored reactions from the crowd last season. The point of the scene now is not to explore the thoughts and feelings of the common people but rather to show Cersei is taking vengeance on each and every heckler with her cool new zombie Mountain.

From my review for "Mother's Mercy" from 2015:

I felt a little bad for Cersei but it's really hard to connect with the reality of the scene when none of the people around her feel authentic. Who are the citizens of King's Landing? Cersei's unpopular but why, exactly? When Charles I was beheaded, it turned popular opinion against the regicides partly because the execution of a ruling king by his own subjects was unprecedented, rulers were seen almost as divinity. So one being forced to walk naked through the streets might excite the derision you see if she's unpopular but it also would have provoked some awe just for the significance of such a person being so humbled. People throwing food at her ought to have also exhibited quite a bit of nervous energy. Not only because you're basically looking at a rather potent symbol of your whole universe not functioning properly but also throwing crap at your sovereign when she's two feet away from you and can see and possibly remember your face doesn't seem like it's in the interest of living a long life. Has anyone heard of "The Emperor's New Clothes"? The people jeering at Cersei seem less like actual citizens and more like manifestations of Cersei's nightmares, or tools to punish her for her pride which is tied to sexuality by the focus of the High Sparrow's questions in her confession

From my review for "The Dance of Dragons" in 2015:

And, finally, the moment I think we all knew was coming but were really pleased to see it anyway, Drogon Dragon shows up and starts roasting the fuckers. I kind of liked that it still wasn't completely one sided, that the dragon seemed to be sustaining real injury from the Sons. Though, again; who are these guys? Maybe we'll learn they're a sect of elite martial artists who live in the mountains only to be called down when the slave masters are in direst need. Or something like that. It could work.

From my review for "Hardhome" in 2015:

"A ruler who kills those who are devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion." It's funny because it's obvious. Too bad Tyrion wasn't around when Daenerys publicly executed that one devoted fellow popular with the "common people". When Tyrion asks her what it was like when she only had the support of the common people and not the rich I noticed she wasn't quite able to divulge she hadn't exactly allowed that scenario to play out organically.

But Tyrion and Daenerys sitting down together over wine came out so much better than I'd dared hope. The actors have chemistry--Emilia Clarke seems to up her game quite a bit acting opposite Peter Dinklage, she has layers, visibly suppressing strong emotions provoked by Jorah and by Tyrion's criticism, consequently making her sexier than she's been in quite a while. And, yes, I'm a little ashamed of myself for saying it but, gosh, when she said she was going to "break the wheel" it was just so adorable. The music swelled so Tyrion didn't get a chance to say, "How? And to what end?"


Poor Cersei. I feel like I'm the only one who likes her. Think about how much harder it is to endure solitary confinement when you have no faith in a greater good. Of all the characters on the show, Cersei has always seemed the most alone to me, and that's saying something. The only thing she has faith in is fundamental human corruption and I rather think her current circumstances only confirm her belief, only they make her realise she wasn't broad minded enough. She thought life was cruel but it's even crueller than she thought. Reviews I read consistently try to read other things into her--people talk about how, for once, her name can't protect her. She hasn't had faith in her name since she was a kid, we saw that in the first episode's flashback. She always regarded it as a tool she would use for all it's worth because nothing else was going to save her, either.

From my review for "Kill the Boy" in 2015:

First [Danaerys] arbitrarily imprisons all the heads of great families in Meereen after the gold mask Klansmen killed Ser Barristan, then she randomly executes one of them whose name and personality we never hear anything about, then she decides to propose marriage to Hizadr, one of the family heads, in the hopes of making an alliance that makes her part of the society. That should sit really well the former slaves who were pissed off when she summarily executed a former slave.

From my review for "The House of Black and White" in 2015:

Do you execute someone without trial for executing someone without trial? No, that would be too self-evidently stupid, no-one could possibly carry out that action without being overburdened by the massive weight of obvious irony. Oh, but that's exactly what happened last night. Or was Daenerys questioning the guy in the throne room supposed to be his trial? If that's the case, why all the hand wringing about having a trial for the first guy? Now everyone in the city hates her which she and all of her advisers should have seen as inevitable as noon but none of them do.

From my review for "The Breaker of Chains" in 2014:

More and more, I think about how Revenge of the Sith was really the Star Wars appropriate for this generation. Whatever flaws that movie has, I think George Lucas is due some credit for the courage to show his anti-hero walking into a school and slaughtering children in a time when school shootings seem to have become an epidemic. Those who cry for the cool power of going against the social codes ought to be reminded now and then how very, very ugly it can be.

You could say what happened in "The Bells" was basically Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. In both cases, there was a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of times where we saw that our good hero has a very simple morality that's based on the idea of the unquestionably good side, his side, having the right to use destructive force to stop his enemies. Anakin killing the younglings in Revenge of the Sith is a little more plausible, though, than Danaerys going after the civilians in King's Landing because Anakin was specifically targeting a culture and an institution. There was a religious element to it.

Lately I've also been re-reading The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1880 novel, and its debates on morality and the inherent capacity for cruelty in human nature have loomed over everything I've watched and thought about the past few days. I've just finished the section featuring Father Zosima's biographical narratives, Zosima being a religious leader, a kind hearted Elder in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His section follows a long conversation between two of the brothers Karamazov, Alyosha and Ivan, mostly consisting of Ivan, an intellectual and atheist, outlining his beliefs and his reasoning for them. Ivan's words and Zosima's are clearly paired for a purpose. Wikipedia says "Zosima provides a refutation to Ivan's atheistic arguments" but it's not actually so simple as that. Zosima provides an alternative perspective to Ivan's but he never categorically refutes Ivan. Ivan presents questions about existence and human nature that still haunt us.

“By the way, a Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow,” Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother's words, “told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them—all sorts of things you can't imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother's womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers' eyes. Doing it before the mothers' eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They've planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby's face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn't it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.”

“Brother, what are you driving at?” asked Alyosha.

“I think if the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”

The alternate perspective comes much later on from Zosima who talks about his own experience having nearly murdered a man in a duel and then having a colleague confess to him that he has committed murder.

Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of any one. For no one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he will be able to be a judge. Though that sounds absurd, it is true. If I had been righteous myself, perhaps there would have been no criminal standing before me. If you can take upon yourself the crime of the criminal your heart is judging, take it at once, suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach. And even if the law itself makes you his judge, act in the same spirit so far as possible, for he will go away and condemn himself more bitterly than you have done.

There's nothing in what Zosima says that absolutely settles Ivan's questions about human nature. Fundamentally the question over whether having free will makes up for the suffering which innocent people, particularly children, experience is not satisfied. But if Danaerys had learned the lesson Zosima articulated then the people of King's Landing may have had much longer lives. We loved Danaerys, we loved the punishment she inflicted on her enemies because we are like her.

Twitter Sonnet #1235

To those for coffee find the greatest thirst.
The diner's grace derives from Greater Went.
Her steady eyes in dreams'll see us first.
Where cherry pies'll go hereafter sent.
We watched precisely things we always saw.
Competing flames it seems were ever one.
Effects were slowly pitched upon the draw.
The dust of crumbled walls obscured the sun.
The glow of sabres lit the story's shapes.
Again the flashing steps alert the mind.
An errant mass disturbs the sway of drapes.
Our metal hands and hands we hope to find.
A set of dreams recall the branching choice.
From stone and cloud there came the strangest voice.

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