“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”
When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.
Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.
It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.
There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.
And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.
The Moment: Jaime Lannister Leaves Brienne of Tarth
Setting the Scene: After the consummation of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship and seemingly a period of happiness in Winterfell, Jaime hears that Cersei and Euron have done serious damage to Daenerys’s forces, which causes him to do some soul-searching.
Why It Matters: If you’ll notice, I changed the title of this section. “Why It’s Awesome” didn’t feel right for a scene that left my favorite character sobbing and my other favorite character riding off to what seems to be certain death with the most unclear motives in television history. Despite its inherently tragic (and possibly frustrating) nature, this scene deserved a closer look.
Let’s start with the obvious: None of us have any idea why Jaime really left the North—and the life he was building there with Brienne—to return South. We can make educated guesses, make up various theories, and even claim to use the actors’ performances, small pieces of what we think is foreshadowing, and potential spoilers to gain insight into Jaime’s mind in this moment. Is he leaving to kill Cersei because he knows he’s the only one who can get close enough? Is he leaving to die with her because he feels that’s the only way to fully atone for the sins he committed out of his love for her? Is he leaving to try to save her because he still loves her? Is he leaving because of the child Cersei is pregnant with? Does he plan to die in her arms as her soulmate? Did he always only love Cersei, or does he truly love Brienne now? Does he think he’s not worthy of Brienne? Is he trying to protect Brienne by pushing her away so she won’t follow him?
There are probably a thousand more ways to interpret this scene and what Jaime is going through during it, but we won’t know until the next episode airs, or the series finale, or maybe not even then. And for some people, that might be fine. Obscuring character motivations for the sake of preserving shock value is not a new trick on this show—it was my main complaint with last season’s Arya/Sansa storyline. But it’s not fine for me. I want to leave every scene of this final season feeling something—whatever that feeling may be—deeply. I prefer when the characters drive the plot, not the other way around. So Jaime’s lack of clear motivation—and the lack of relationship building between him and Brienne (in this episode rather than in the many seasons of gorgeous development we got before their love scene)—left me feeling confused more than anything else. By trying to hit two huge beats (the sex and the “breakup”) in one of the show’s most nuanced and beloved relationships all in the course of an episode, it just cemented my belief that this final season is more about moving characters into predetermined places as quickly as possible instead of creating a story whose final highs and lows feel earned.
With that being said, I don’t want to talk much about Jaime in this scene. I want to believe that the tears in his eyes gave away his true feelings (because how deeply unsatisfying would it be for him to actually go back to Cersei because he loves her after all this?), but my lack of faith in these writers when it comes to Jaime’s character arc is telling me that might have just been the result of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau once again bringing so much more depth to his character than the writers believe exists in Jaime.
And how could he not bring everything he had to this scene when he was met with his best scene partner giving what may have been her best performance yet?
Setting the Scene: Just as all hope seems lost for the living in Winterfell and with the Night King seemingly about to draw his sword against Bran, Arya jumps out of the darkness and fulfills her destiny to close blue eyes forever.
Why It’s Awesome: I’ll be honest: I didn’t love “The Long Night.” Last week’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is much more my style of storytelling and provided far more of what I want from Game of Thrones. However, this episode delivered when it counted, with a moment that had me leaping off my couch in shock and will forever be immortalized in reaction videos that bring tears to my eyes when I watch them.
This is what fandom is all about. It’s what entertainment is all about. It’s about these kinds of moments—ones that make us hold our breath and then explode with emotion, ones that make us want to talk to everyone we know about how it made us feel, and ones that bring us together in shared excitement.
Arya killing the Night King was unexpected in the moment. It seemed like it was Jon’s destiny—or maybe even Bran’s. And then, as the episode neared its end and the fates of all the main characters looked pretty grim, I actually started to worry if maybe the Night King would actually win. But that wasn’t the subversion the writers were going for. Instead, it was the subversion of our expectations of whose hero’s journey we’re actually on when it comes to this story. After Arya stabbed the Night King, I had the best kind of reaction imaginable to a piece of media—I immediately thought about going back and rewatching the entire show with this knowledge in mind, because I knew that I’d see everything differently now. This was a moment that changed not just the future of the show, but how I will now view its previous episodes, too. Because, in her own twisted way, Arya was on a hero’s journey. She had to travel far from home, encounter monsters of all kinds, let her old self die, survive hell, and return home with new knowledge that could be used to create a better future. It doesn’t get more quintessentially Joseph Campbell than that.
I love that Arya’s journey had a real purpose. I struggled for a long time with her story because it felt like a depressing tale of a haunted girl learning to become a soulless killer for revenge. And that kind of story is never interesting to me. But now it all makes sense. She had to become intimately familiar with death in order to kill its greatest agent and symbol. She had to know death to destroy death. All of her training led her to that moment of sticking death itself with the pointy end to defend her brother and her home. When you look at who Arya is and what she was fighting for, there was no better way for this part of the story to end. It managed to be both surprising and satisfying, which doesn’t happen very often on television.
I have no idea where this story is going to go now, but I’m ready to move on from the Night King and get back to the interpersonal, human dramas that have made this show so compelling from the pilot onward. And if this moment taught me anything, it’s that satisfying surprises are still lurking around every corner.
Honorable Mentions: Tyrion kissing Sansa’s hand, Bran telling Theon he’s a good man, Arya giving Sansa a dagger, and literally any of the approximately 800 times Jaime and Brienne saved each other
The Moment: Brienne of Tarth Becomes a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Setting the Scene: When Tormund asks Brienne why she’s not a knight, Jaime is inspired to break tradition on what might be their last night alive.
Why It’s Awesome: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is all about the answer to one question: If you thought you only had one night left to live, how would you want to spend it? It’s one of the all-time great episodes of Game of Thrones because of how perfectly that question is answered for each character. Arya wants to spend it experiencing one last pleasurable human act that’s about life and not death. (Get it, girl!) Tyrion wants to spend it getting drunk. Sam wants to spend it with his new family. Sansa wants to spend it eating among her people with a man who makes her feel safe. At the end of the world, some people choose to forget, some people choose to pray, some people choose to sing.
And some people choose to hope.
For Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister, hope is not something that comes naturally—at least not anymore. They’re both masters of pushing down their deepest desires to the point that even they no longer believe they want those things anymore. Jaime has fooled most people into believing he doesn’t care if anyone respects him or sees him as honorable, and Brienne knows she’ll never be a knight—will never have that public acceptance of who she is—so why bother wanting it?
But when facing the end of the world, it was finally time for both of these characters to admit that those things mattered to them—and to find that when they finally looked out from behind their self-imposed walls, they were staring into the eyes of someone who wanted to give them exactly what they desired most.
The buildup to this moment was perfect—from Jaime jumping to his feet when Brienne entered the room (complete with Tyrion’s knowing eyebrow raise) to her downright adorable blush when Jaime asked her to stay. Gwendoline Christie played those early moments with an innocent sense of romantic anticipation—the kind of barely-restrained glee and fear a person feels when they realize the object of their affection might actually like them too. And then throw in Tormund and his hilariously misguided attempts to woo Brienne and it was like a Westeros romantic comedy, despite the impending sense of doom. I wasn’t sure what kind of payoff we were going to get, but I knew something was coming. I just had no idea how great it would be.
Welcome, friends, to our final round of Game of Thrones analysis before our watch ends! If you’re new to these posts, each week I’ll break down a different moment that I loved in that week’s episode. However, the comments are open for you to talk about any and all aspects of the episode that you loved. There are always more moments I want to discuss, and I’m usually just looking for one magical commenter to give me an opening! I can’t wait to take one last journey through Westeros with all of you, so join in the fun whenever and however you can!
The Moment: Arya Reunites with Gendry
Setting the Scene: After Gendry arrives in Winterfell, Arya visits him to ask him to make her a new weapon.
Why It’s Awesome: “Winterfell” was an episode filled with reunions—Tyrion and Sansa, Jon and Bran, Jon and Sam—but many of the most emotional and compelling centered on Arya. As we all expected, her embrace with Jon was a moment of joy and love that was worth all the years we spent waiting for it, and her scene with the Hound was filled with the complex mixture of antagonism and respect that made their relationship one of the show’s most interesting. However, the moment I’ve found myself rewatching the most was the surprisingly sweet—and dare I say, flirtatious—reunion between Arya and Gendry.
I’ll admit it—part of me loves this scene purely because it put a ship I thought was long dead back into circulation. (I shipped these characters from early on in my reading of A Song of Ice and Fire and still think that Ned and Robert’s discussion about the marriage of their daughter and son was actually foreshadowing Arya and Gendry as a romantic pair.) With the passage of time and plenty of growing up on Maisie Williams’s part, it now feels okay for me to say that there was some real sexual tension in this scene that was fun to see. (Sparks were flying for reasons beyond the smithing, if you know what I mean.) It was playful and coy, and those are unexpected tones for Game of Thrones, especially for a scene featuring Arya.
Characters don’t get to smile a lot on Game of Thrones, so when a genuinely happy moment happens, it deserves to be treasured. And what I’ll remember most about Arya seeing Gendry again after so many years and so many changes was seeing her smile. Even in the scene with Jon, there was a hesitancy and a tension there—after the initial relief and emotional payoff of all these years of waiting, viewers were left with a sense that Jon, once again, knows nothing. He has no idea what kind of killer his sister has become and has no idea how strongly she’s aligned herself with Sansa, adding a layer of discomfort to their final hug. In contrast, there was nothing ambiguous about Arya’s demeanor with Gendry. She’s never going to be a cheerful character or even a relatively light one, but this was the most consistently at ease we’ve seen her since the show’s early days. And in showing this side of her, it made her feel like a more well-rounded character.
And that’s what made it so important. Arya is a young woman—she’s not a killing machine. And sometimes it feels like the show forgets that she is a person and that people have different dimensions and desires and emotions beyond their primary motivating factor (in her case, revenge). But in this scene, Arya got to behave in many ways like a young woman who hasn’t seen the death, destruction, violence, and trauma that have plagued her since the start of the show. She laughed and grinned and bantered and flirted with a young man in the same way she might have had her life not been upended by her father’s death all those years ago. And that’s all I have ever wanted for this character—for her to have a normal moment of happiness, even if it’s only for a stolen moment in the darkness of the coming winter.
I loved the way Joe Dempsie played Gendry’s realization that the girl he left behind had grown into a woman—and a woman he’s found himself attracted to. As his initial—almost comedic—tongue-tied reaction gave way to that fun place between warmth and heat, I felt like I was watching two partners remember the steps to a dance they thought they’d never do again—while also discovering some new moves along the way.
Although I’m a sucker for any time a man tells a woman “As you wish” (and we all know the writers are genre-savvy enough to know what that line means), my favorite part of the whole scene was Arya literally twirling around to give him one last look as he stood staring at her, completely transfixed. This is Arya discovering a whole new kind of power and loving it and Gendry loving it too. It’s Arya getting to have a moment of being desired for something beyond her skills as an assassin and relishing in it. And it’s the show giving its characters a moment of pure, uncomplicated, relatively innocent fun before tragedy strikes.
Game of Thrones is at its best when it allows its characters to have room to breathe and be human beings in between all the battles and killings, and this scene is a perfect example of that. It added a fun new dimension to Arya’s character while upping the emotional stakes of the battle to come because both Gendry and Arya now have something else to lose in it—the hope of what might be if they acted on those sparks between them.
Honorable Mentions: Sansa and Tyrion reunite, Arya and Jon hug, Sam tells Jon the truth, Jaime sees Bran across the Winterfell courtyard
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the time when we look back on all the great media we consumed during the last 12 months and talk about our favorites! These Best of the Year lists have been a part of NGN since our earliest days, and they’ve always served as a way to start great conversations about the TV shows we love and provide recommendations to fellow fans. (Comments on these lists were actually the reason I started watching The Americans a few years ago!) So please share your own lists and your thoughts on my picks in the comments. This has been a crazy year, and I’ve missed all our discussions about great TV more than I can say, so before 2017 is done, let’s get back to what’s always made NGN so fun—conversations with each other about the media that means the most to us.
Today, I’ll be sharing my picks for my favorite performances on television in 2017. It was a fantastic year for actors on the small screen, which made this list wonderfully challenging to compile. As I’ve been doing in recent years, I limited myself to only one actor from a particular show, or else I probably would have picked some entire casts. Don’t forget to tell me who turned in your favorite work on television this year in the comments, and for more year-end fun, check out the lists over at TVexamined and Marvelous Geek Circles!
1. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright (Big Little Lies) Big Little Lies was the show that challenged my “one actor per show” rule the most, but when it came down to choosing just one member of this extraordinary ensemble, there was ultimately no question that it would be Kidman. Her performance was heartbreaking in its vulnerability; the physical and emotional trauma Celeste went through was depicted with unflinching realism, and such a harrowing portrayal of the complexities of life in an abusive relationship required an actress who isn’t afraid to go to dark places and take the audience there with her. Kidman is exactly that kind of actress, putting her whole body into this performance—not just in the horrifying scenes of abuse but in the way she made her statuesque body seem small and fragile throughout the series, as if she was curling in on herself in a constant state of fear. Kidman’s gift for nuance was used to brilliant effect, as so much of who Celeste is exists under her picture-perfect surface. In those moments when Kidman let the façade slip momentarily (like when Celeste reveals to Jane that sometimes little boys who bully little girls don’t grow out of it), the quiet force of her performance left me breathless. I watched Big Little Lies months ago, and I still feel haunted by Kidman’s performance. It got under my skin and has refused to let go of my mind and heart, which is when you know an actor did something extraordinary.
2. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
The fact that Russell still doesn’t have an Emmy for this role is criminal. (You have one more chance, Emmy voters! Don’t screw it up.) This season more than any other pushed Elizabeth in new directions emotionally, and Russell made the new layers added to this character feel believable, which is no small feat for a character who has always been defined by her lack of overt emotion. Of course, she was just as fierce as ever, but Russell was also able to show a gentler side of Elizabeth, deepening the character in complex new ways. The things Russell can do with just her eyes, her smile, and her body language never fail to astound me. So much of what makes this show work is the fact that it can go for long stretches without dialogue because its cast is so good at making quiet beats living, breathing moments, and it all starts with Russell. Every emotion seems to radiate just under her skin—just restrained enough to remind us that this is a woman who plays things so close to the vest it almost hurts to watch her struggle to find the words to show her husband or children the truth of how she feels. This was the season in which Elizabeth Jennings allowed herself to love someone enough to put their needs above the cause—with all the joy and pain that comes with it—and Russell made that journey breathtaking from start to finish.
3. Ted Danson as Michael (The Good Place) The Good Place has an incredible cast, but the reason its many twists and turns have worked as well as they have (and they work SO WELL) is because of Danson. He gave Michael just the right amount of anxious energy in Season One to make us initially care about this bumbling architect, but his entire performance (and the entirety of the show’s plot) hinged on one moment: that laugh. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about. That devious, gleefully evil laugh turned what was an entertaining performance into something so much bigger and bolder—a performance that becomes even better when watched again with the knowledge of the truth. And that performance only got more entertaining in Season Two, as Danson was able to let Michael’s annoyance with the characters around him drive his scenes to great comedic effect. But it wasn’t until we were able to see that Michael has a heart buried under all his evil plans when faced with the possibility of “killing” Janet that the full range of Danson’s skills as an actor were utilized. Danson’s career is already legendary, and after this year, that legend has added another fantastic chapter.
Now, let’s wrap this thing up and start looking toward the coming winter!
Before we go our separate ways, “The Dragon and the Wolf” ended a season that had everyone talking—even more than usual. What were your feelings on this season and on the way this episode closed it? Katie: This was the first season of Game of Thrones I’ve watched live from premiere to finale since Season 4, and I was honestly happy that I came back after how this season ended. It had its fair share of bothersome moments (the Arya/Sansa tension, Cersei’s pregnancy, the plot holes and logical flaws in the timeline, the general lack of Brienne), but it also had some incredible moments that will rank among my favorites when the whole show is done (Arya/Brienne sparring, Jon and Daenerys holding hands on the ship, Tyrion and Varys talking about the leaders they’ve served, the first dragon attack on the Lannister forces, etc.). After a lot of thought, I’ve come to appreciate this season as a place-setting season. It got the characters where they needed to be physically and emotionally for the final battles to come, but it didn’t always do so in the most graceful way. However, I do like where most of the characters found themselves at the end of this season in terms of the stories set up for the final six episodes, so as a penultimate season, I think it did its main job—preparing us for the end—really well.
Who’s ready for the next installment of NGN’s Game of Thrones finale roundtable? To recap, I gathered some fellow writers and beloved members of the NGN Family to join me in sharing our feelings on “The Dragon and the Wolf.” In Part 1, we gave our general thoughts on the finale, and in Part 2, we broke down some of the show’s most important dynamics.
Today, it’s time to start playing favorites!
Littlefinger’s death was a huge “OMG!” moment, and this finale was filled with others, too. What moment produced the biggest reaction from you? Katie: I was spoiled for quite a few of the episode’s biggest moments (because I have no willpower), but I think the part that still managed to genuinely shock me was Bran finally putting his powers to good use and proving that what Sansa said about Littlefinger was true. And even though I knew the Wall was going to come down, actually seeing it happen still made me freak out. There are no spoilers you can read that will accurately prepare you for the visual of the Night King riding an ice dragon and using its flames to bring down something that has been a constant in this universe from the very beginning.
Shauna:Again, I cheated and read spoilers, so nothing here was too much of a shock for me. There were a few little moments that still got to me though—Jaime challenging Cersei to kill him, the undead army emerging from the haunted forest, that first shot of the Night King on the back of the undead dragon, Tormund in danger—I was definitely holding my breath during those scenes.
Maii: For me, it was Littlefinger’s death. I knew it was probably coming, but it still got me so hyped. Just know it’s the scene I’ve rewatched the most from the finale, other than the final Stark Sisters scene, of course.
Runner Up: Theon coming into his own and achieving the point of half Stark/half Greyjoy. It was fantastic and everything that was needed. The way he kept getting up and used what they saw as a weakness to his advantage, culminating in his rebirth in the Greyjoy fashion (baptising himself). Theon was one of the few that had a clear arc in this season and Alfie Allen was just so good. This is the rebirth of Theon Greyjoy (Stark), and I can’t wait to see what Allen has in store for us in the last season.
Heather: Since I was spoiled, nothing really shocked me, but lots of things made me strongly react. The biggest was Sansa and Arya taking down Littlefinger. Not even his death necessarily, but the moments leading up to it with Sansa verbally taking him down with Arya smirking at him. I was so proud of these girls and happy that they would finally be free of the toxic presence Littlefinger had been in their lives for so long. It was taking all of my willpower not to scream at my computer screen (and I didn’t want to miss things), but I did nearly leap of my bed.
Lizzie: I wasn’t spoiled, so yay me! My biggest reaction came at the Jaime/Brienne conversation and also at Jon being so stupidly noble and good, which both made me want to strangle him and hug him. I imagine that’s a good thing, that something so predictable—Jon being honorable—can still get me riled up. Also, the Theon/Jon scene gave me unexpected feels, which I think speaks more to the acting than anything.
Gissane: Yeah, I wasn’t spoiled either, so essentially, a lot surprised me, but other than the scene with Littlefinger, it was definitely the ending. I feel like I had been holding my breath for a solid 10 minutes (seemingly forever) at that point where the dragon brought the Wall down. That was it. It’s the finale that showcases the fact that everything we’ve ever known about Game of Thrones is changing and the end is near.
Dalissa:I didn’t see Littlefinger’s comeuppance coming in the moment it did, especially his death. So it was a definite OMG moment. But the moment that made me hold my breath was when Tyrion calls Cersei’s bluff to have him killed and she doesn’t do it. Peter Dinklage had me convinced he wasn’t getting out of that room alive—Cersei killing off her last Achilles heel. The ending, while spectacular, was anticlimactic for me because frankly, I still wasn’t over pulling the dragon from the water and resurrecting it for the army of the dead. Of all the things for this show, that was one I never saw coming.
Welcome back to our Game of Thrones Season 7 finale roundtable! In Part 1, I assembled some of the most intelligent and passionate fangirls I know to share their thoughts on “The Dragon and the Wolf” as a whole and the Dragon Pit scene specifically. Today, the discussion moves on to some of the show’s core relationships.
Jon revealing that he’d bent the knee to Daenerys was a major part of the Dragon Pit scene, and, of course, that wasn’t the only major moment those two shared in this episode. What did you think of their season arc’s climax (pun totally intended) on the ship? Was it sexy and romantic, or did Bran narrating over it make it weird? And—the eternal question for us fangirls—do you ship it? Katie: First of all, if you couldn’t tell by my post after “Beyond the Wall,” of course I ship it. I love Jon Snow so much at this point that I will pretty much ship him with anyone, and I can’t deny that he and Daenerys have shown a level of mutual respect and understanding that’s rare in this world between men and women. However, I will admit that I found “Beyond the Wall’s” boat scene to be actually more satisfying than this one (with the exception of the work of art that is Kit Harington’s butt, which was very satisfying…). Don’t get me wrong—there were some lovely beats in that scene, such as the moment they locked eyes and he held her face, which was so romantic it was downright swoon-worthy, and the lovely parallel between Bran saying Jon’s parents were in love just as Daenerys opened the door to Jon, proving that this wasn’t just some passionate tryst; it’s love—potentially (and probably) tragic love, but still love. But that narration was also the thing that made this moment less romantic than I would have liked it to be. It’s not that I cared too much about the reminder that they’re aunt and nephew; I got past that long ago. It’s that using this love scene to also remind us that Jon is going to be revealed as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne made it hard to be fully happy with what was happening when you know things are going to get way more complicated very soon. I just wanted to enjoy a ship sailing (in more ways than one), but the combination of the narration and Tyrion’s very creepy presence near their door made it feel more ominous than I was expecting, which was probably the point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Winter has officially come, fellow Game of Thrones fans! As the penultimate season came to a close, we’ve been left with so much to talk about—more than I could ever cover on my own. So I enlisted the help of some amazingly articulate and passionate members of the NGN Family to talk about the finale and the season as a whole. Naturally, we all had so many feelings that one post can’t contain them all, so our entire roundtable discussion will be posted as a series, with the first part available today and a new portion posted every day for the rest of this week.
Today’s segment will cover our general thoughts on the finale and one of its centerpiece scenes: the Dragon Pit.
Without further ado, let the discussion begin!
Let’s start fairly general: What was your overall opinion of this episode? Did you love it, or did it leave you underwhelmed? Did it live up to the incredible amounts of hype surrounding it? Katie: Although this wasn’t my favorite Game of Thrones finale (That goes to last season’s epic ending.) or my favorite episode of the season (I still can’t stop thinking about “The Spoils of War.”), I still really enjoyed it—and I have come to appreciate it even more as I rewatch certain scenes and see the nuances different actors brought to their time on screen. Overall, it did exactly what a penultimate season finale should do: It set the table and raised the stakes for the final season while still containing some genuinely shocking, compelling, and moving moments of its own.