Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Last of the Starks”

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?

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Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Long Night”

The Moment: Arya Stark Kills the Night King

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

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

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.

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TV Time: Fosse/Verdon 1.02

FosseVerdonEp2

Source: New York Times

Title: Who’s Got the Pain?

Worth a Second Look: The Use of the Rehearsal Studio
This episode used the rehearsal studio to show the way intimate spaces—and intimacy, by extension—can be alternately exciting and stifling. When you’re first falling in love with someone, the idea of being alone in a room with them is thrilling, but when things are going poorly, those same spaces that once sheltered a growing attraction can make you feel trapped with no way out.

Bob and Gwen met in a rehearsal studio, and that first meeting changed their lives—and the course of musical theater history. It was a meeting between two soul mates who didn’t take long to figure out that’s what they were; you could see it developing as soon as Gwen realized Bob was choreographing a striptease and as soon as Bob saw Gwen hit that burlesque pose. What started as two people trying to get the upper hand quickly morphed into a dynamic partnership all in the course of a few counts of 8. Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams brilliantly conveyed the initial tension dissolving as they discovered their shared experiences using the language they knew best: dance. With just one pose, Gwen opened the door to her burlesque past, and with one shake of his shoulders, Bob did the same. Alone in an isolated space, they couldn’t hide, but instead of being afraid of the vulnerability that comes with intimacy, they embraced it. They grew more comfortable—with Gwen adding bits of herself to the choreography—creating something together as partners minutes into their first meeting. And the way Rockwell and Williams played the excitement of two people finding a kindred spirit was electric. The moment after she finished the choreography and sprang up in front of him, breathless with exertion and joy, was magical. It was the most fun kind of foreplay—a perfectly matched pair riding the high of love at first dance.

The highs of that scene, though, were matched in brilliant execution by the lows of the moment Bob cornered Gwen in the small room off the main rehearsal studio after she discovered his wife was dying. The heat and playful passion of that first time alone together had faded to the point where Gwen seemed almost like a wounded animal in a cage with a predator. Just like before, they couldn’t hide from each other, but that wasn’t exciting anymore. The shift in tone was breathtaking and brilliant—with even the camera closing in tighter to emphasize the way intimacy can be claustrophobic at times.

The final scene with Bob and Gwen (essentially) alone in a rehearsal studio felt like a mixture of the previous two scenes. It lacked the overt sexual tension and playful energy of their first meeting but it also felt less stifling than Bob’s cornering of Gwen as she got ready to rehearse. Instead, it spoke to the lived-in intimacy of two people who are most at home with each other. As Bob spoke about art being about pain, the close-up on Gwen’s face said it all: She’d made her choice. Alone with Bob—away from everything and everyone else—it was impossible to ignore the singular understanding they had between them and the rarity of their partnership. And no matter how bad it got between them, things would continue to make sense when it was just them in a rehearsal space, away from the other influences and other women and focused on the magic that happened when they were left alone to dance.

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Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Winterfell”

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

TV Time: The Americans 6.10

americansfinale

Source: vox.com

Title: START

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Value of Staying True to Yourself
“I just want you to be yourself, okay? Because you’re great.”

Beyond being one of the most heartbreaking lines of the entire series, this final piece of advice from Philip Jennings to his son Henry was also one of the most meaningful on a meta level. So many shows live by the “Go big or go home” motto in their series finales, and I’ll admit that all of my predictions for The Americans were in that same vein: melodramatic moments, big twists, major character deaths, shootouts, car chases, etc. But I should have known that this show would continue to whisper where other shows would scream (in a very literal way in some of the finale’s most important scenes). It’s always had its own voice, and it stayed true to that voice when it would have been easy to try to be a different show in such a big moment. The writers, actors, director, and everyone else involved seemed to take Philip’s words to Henry to heart—the show stayed true to itself until the final credits rolled, and in doing so, proved how great it really is.

The temptation seemed strong for the show to lean into its espionage elements in its final 90 minutes. Philip and Elizabeth were on the run, Stan was putting the pieces together, the FBI was interrogating suspects who knew too much, and the fate of Russia (and, in many ways, the rest of the world) rested on a message Oleg was trying to get back home. However, The Americans was never a spy show at its heart; it was a story about marriage and other interpersonal relationships. And in the end, it was that identity that mattered most. When the stakes were at their highest, the show seemed to walk itself back from the brink of becoming a different drama altogether—ending not with bloodshed and body counts but with broken relationships, and proving that the latter might be even more devastating than the former. After all, there are some fates worse than death.

On The Americans, the most heartbreaking sound isn’t a gunshot or a dying breath; it’s the strangled, pained gasp of a mother who knows she has to leave her son behind not because she doesn’t care about him—but because she cares about him more than she cares about herself. (Keri Russell could just submit that gasp, and it should be enough for her to win the Emmy.)

On The Americans, the most romantic gesture isn’t sacrificing your life for someone else and dying in their arms; it’s sitting next to a person when you know they need you—even if you can’t touch them or even look at them.

And on The Americans, the most shocking sight isn’t a dead body, a spy revealing their identity, or a person being put in handcuffs; it’s a young woman, standing alone on a train platform.

The Americans never lost sight of what made it special. In the end, it trusted its actors and it trusted its audience; it put its faith in people. And as this finale showed, that’s all that really matters when all is said and done.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.09

Title: Jennings, Elizabeth

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Finding Yourself When Everything Else Is Lost
“We do not want you to lose who you are.”

When illegal-in-training Nadezhda was told this near the end of the episode bearing the title of the name she was given by the KGB, I was struck by the irony of the fact that people have continually tried to tell her who she is. How can a person not lose who they are in some way when even their name is given to them by someone else? In this episode alone, the two women Elizabeth is closest to—her mother figure and her daughter—both tried to define her by their narrow views of her actions. To Claudia, she’s a selfish traitor to the Cause. To Paige, she’s a liar and a whore.

So who is Elizabeth Jennings—or, perhaps more accurately, who is Nadezhda? She’s a woman who never had the luxury of self-reflection. In that final flashback, her downcast eyes and hunched posture (How great was Keri Russell at making her look so young?) showed the truth: Self-definition has always been a foreign concept to Elizabeth. When you’re just trying to survive, you don’t really have time to care about how you see yourself and what you value.

However, this episode showed that it’s often in those kinds of traumatic circumstances that our identity reveals itself. When a person’s back is against the wall, they often revert to the truest version of themselves. And nearly every character’s back is against the wall now. In that sense, “Jennings, Elizabeth” gave us not only an action-packed penultimate episode, but a penultimate episode that reminded us exactly who these characters are and what matters to them when they have nothing left to lose.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.08

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Source: indiewire.com

Title: The Summit

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Heartbreaking, Heroic Humanity of Elizabeth Jennings
“You don’t think I’m a human being?”

That question looms over every moment of “The Summit,” and by the end of the episode, no one who’s been paying attention could accuse Elizabeth Jennings of being devoid of humanity. This was an episode devoted to putting the show’s truest believer through the emotional wringer until every speck of soul she tried to burn away with ideological zeal and every bit of conscience she tried to bury under her devotion to her cause were finally laid bare. And from that vulnerable place emerged a woman who’s more dangerous and in more danger than ever before—because humanity can be a strength, but in the world these characters inhabit, it can also get you killed.

Elizabeth’s awakening sense of agency didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of small moments of humanity throughout the show’s run, including the powerful moment in last week’s “Harvest” when she let herself finally accept the magnitude of Philip’s love for her and the lengths her will go to for her. The opening of “The Summit” was fueled by that revelation, with Elizabeth entering their living room in a much less guarded and more sincere emotional state than we’ve seen her in previously this season. The softness on her face when she told Philip she knows he cares about what happened in Chicago and that he worries about her was a shocking contrast from how she’s looked at her husband for much of this season. Elizabeth’s walls were down with her husband in that moment, and that made everything that came after even more painful because Keri Russell let us see exactly why Elizabeth puts those walls up in the first place—because anyone she lets behind those walls has the power to destroy her.

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Thanks for the Magic

leaving storybrooke

“And you may think this is just a story, but that’s the thing about stories—they’re more than just words. They live inside us. They make us who we are. And as long as someone believes that, there will always be magic.” (Henry Mills) 

I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always believed in the power of stories—the stories we’re told, the stories we tell, the stories that reflect who we are, and the stories that show us who we can become. When I look at my life, I can see that I’m the sum of a million different stories that all showed up to shape me exactly when I needed them.

One of those stories ended last night, and I can’t let it go without a proper sendoff.

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things—crazy timelines, strong women, second chances, and hope. But it’s also a show about stories. One of the most prominent themes throughout the show’s seven seasons has been that you have the power to control your life’s narrative; you can write your own happy ending. You can choose whether people see you as a villain or a hero. You are the author of your story. And that’s where hope comes from—knowing that it’s never too late to change your story, to find your happily ever after.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.07

After a little hiatus, I’m back and ready (but also completely NOT READY) to discuss this final run of episodes with all of you! And because I feel these last episodes of such a deep and complex show deserve a little more attention, the format for these posts will be changing slightly to accommodate even more analysis. I’ll be taking one major theme/discussion point each week and developing it into an essay, but please feel free to bring up other discussion points, too. I hope you all find the change to be a welcome one, and I also hope to see your thoughts, hopes, fears, and favorite moments in the comments section!

the-americans-episode-607-harvest-promotional-photos

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Harvest

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Epiphanies, Emotional Connections, and the Truths We Try to Bury
“Harvest” was an episode that lived up to its name. So many moments in the episode harkened back to similar moments in the pilot, and it was both thrilling and gut-wrenching to watch those seeds planted so many years ago—in both the show’s timeline and our own—begin to finally sprout into something fruitful for the plot. But where this episode truly excelled was in using the time that’s passed and the emotional connections that have developed between these characters to turn those parallels to the pilot into explorations of how far these characters have come and how much higher the stakes are because of those emotional connections.

This episode was anchored by three key epiphanies for its three major players—Stan, Elizabeth, and Philip. But, in typical The Americans fashion, these moments didn’t lead to huge shifts in plot momentum or dramatic “Aha!” scenes. Instead, they were quiet moments of shifting understanding, handled with no dialogue or in the spaces between words where so much of the emotional weight of this show has always existed. These moments were less about propelling the plot forward into the final stretch of episodes than they were about reminding us what this show has always been and will always be about: the connections between people. While this episode certainly moved the characters closer to the endgame, it did so in a way that prioritized the interpersonal consequences of those moves and, in doing so, ensured that absolutely no one (including those of us watching) will be able to escape the coming carnage unscathed.

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