Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Eastwatch”

The Moment: Tyrion and Varys talk about serving Targaryens

Setting the Scene: After Tyrion watches Daenerys burn her enemies, he returns to Dragonstone and shares a drink and some deep conversation with Varys.

Why It’s Awesome: I know, I know—But Katie, Jon Snow petted a dragon and Kit Harrington’s eyes filled with tears of awe and how can that not be your moment of the week?! Don’t get me wrong; I have re-watched that moment many times since Sunday and have come to appreciate the nuances in Harrington’s performance more and more each time. (Jon Snow is just such a good and decent human being that sometimes I cry about it—and by sometimes I mean all the time.) However, the moment I can’t stop thinking about was a quiet conversation about two people that could very well be about the world we’re actually living in—if you take out the mentions of dragons—and that’s when Game of Thrones is at its very best.

In a week where inhuman acts of cruelty were sadly not just the stuff of fiction and the idea of sitting back silently as people do horrible things in the name of “reclaiming” their place has been on everyone’s mind, this moment feels even more powerful. Although it was specifically about these two men and their relationship to the rulers they’ve served, it felt disturbingly universal in light of recent events in the United States.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

That refrain from Varys will haunt me just like it should haunt everyone who watched this episode. Although he may not have been the person who killed the supposed traitors, he was complicit in their deaths because he did nothing to stop Aerys. Conleth Hill is always brilliant, but he was especially captivating in this scene, showing that Varys will always feel a deep sense of guilt and responsibility over what happened under his watch. You can feel the weight of that refrain—“I’m not the one doing it”—in Hill’s pained delivery, and you could also feel his sense of fear that he’s watching it all start to happen again.

The men who served Aerys Targaryen—especially Varys and Jaime Lannister—bear incredible psychological scars from that time in their lives. While Jaime tried to ensure that history wouldn’t repeat itself by attempting to kill Daenerys, Varys has taken a different approach—trying to guide Daenerys on a different path than the one her father had taken. So it’s understandable that this news of what she did to the Lannister army and to the Tarly family would bring back horrible memories for him and conjure up a deep sense of anxiety that history could repeat itself.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

If that refrain showed us anything, it’s that silence makes you complicit. You can tell yourself over and over that you can’t control what people in power do, but that’s no excuse not to speak out and take action when you know something is wrong. Varys sees himself as complicit in the deaths of so many because he allowed himself to believe it was out of his hands. But as he reminded Tyrion, it’s his job to make his queen listen, to make her see reason, and to help her make the right choices. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who felt like Varys’s speech about the responsibilities of an advisor when a leader is doing awful things felt just as applicable to Washington, D.C., as it did to Westeros.

At a time in both the world of Westeros and the world away from our television screens in which the stakes are high and the lines of right and wrong are clearly drawn, this scene served as a reminder of what can happen when people watch those in power do terrible things but fail to speak up and fight back.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

No matter how many times you tell yourself that, it never absolves the guilt. Just ask Varys.

Honorable Mentions: Jon pets Drogon, Jon and Daenerys say goodbye, Jon meets Gendry, Davos bribes the soldiers, the “wight capturing crew” assembles

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Spoils of War”

The Moment: Arya and Sansa reunite

Setting the Scene: When Arya comes home to Winterfell, she shares a quiet moment with her sister.

Why It’s Awesome: I will always have a soft spot for the complex relationship between Arya and Sansa Stark. I have a younger sister, and people have always separated us into the “girly older sister” and “tomboy younger sister,” which made it hard at times for us to find common ground as young kids. But as we grew up, we came to learn that those stereotypes and differences in interests meant so little in the grand scheme of things. When you’re family, it doesn’t matter how different you may seem, your roots are the same, and they connect your stories forever.

Arya and Sansa are the last Starks left (since Bran has basically lost all sense of his former identity), so to see them finally reunite after so many seasons of following their separate journeys was incredibly cathartic. But what I loved about their reunion scene was that it wasn’t immediately filled with relief and joy; there was a tension there that I wasn’t expecting but was actually the perfect choice for their dynamic. Knowing how close Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner are in real life, I have to give them a lot of credit for playing their initial interactions with pointed restraint. These two characters were never close, and they didn’t exactly have a happy parting. So for them to cry happy tears and tell each other all they’d been through wouldn’t have been true to their characters. Instead, Arya didn’t really return Sansa’s initial embrace, and they seemed unsure what to say to each other. There was happiness and relief there, but it was understandably guarded.

However, things began to soften when they talked of their father. When Sansa mentioned that everyone who knew him was dead and Arya replied, “We’re not,” a warmth began to spread between them. Because Arya was right—their father’s legacy lives on in them. No matter what they’ve gone through, they’re still alive, and as long as they’re still alive, House Stark is still alive. It was a reminder that they’re family, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

There was still some believable uncertainty and hesitation between them—like when Sansa laughed at Arya’s very real list of names of people to kill—but as they spoke of their mutual hatred of Joffrey and the hard roads they’d traveled alone, they felt more like sisters than perhaps they ever have. There was a quiet understanding between them when they spoke of the long stories that brought them back home. They didn’t pry (unlike Bran’s super creepy mentions of Sansa’s rape); there was a depth of understanding between them that showed they both understand that the other has faced traumas of her own that are best left unspoken.

Williams and Turner played those last interactions in the crypt with a level of mutual respect that was actually far more beautiful than any tearful reunion would have been. When Arya remarked to Sansa that their stories aren’t over, I felt a swell of hope that I don’t often get to feel when I watch this show. They get to write the next chapter in their story—in the story of the Stark family—and I hope we get to watch them write it together.

The realistic ebb and flow of awkwardness and affection in that scene made their second hug—filled with genuine emotion—feel incredibly earned and powerful. (It was the first moment of the season to make me cry.) It was a moment between two sisters who, on the surface, could not appear more different but who, at their core, have always been connected. They get to choose how their stories go from this point on, and that hug seemed to be a sign that—at least for this moment—they’re choosing to make each other a part of their story. In a season where family ties and loyalty seem to be playing more important roles than ever, it was beautiful to see the bond between these two sisters strengthen even over the course of one short scene. After all they’ve been through, they need allies they can trust, and it seems they might have found that in a place neither would have expected years ago—each other.

Honorable Mentions: Brienne watches the Starks, Arya and Brienne spar, Bran sees straight through Littlefinger, Jon counsels Daenerys, Daenerys and Missandei have a moment of “girl talk,” Drogon and the Dothraki make their Westeros debut (featuring Jaime experiencing some very painful flashbacks to another Targaryen who wanted to “burn them all”)—basically this entire episode was one phenomenal scene after another

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Queen’s Justice”

The Moment: Olenna Tyrell has the last word

Setting the Scene: After the Lannister army takes Highgarden, Jaime goes to Olenna Tyrell to deliver the queen’s justice. However, Olenna still has some final truths to tell.

Why It’s Awesome: I know many people find the battle scenes on Game of Thrones to be some of the best parts of the show, but I would trade all the cinematic battles in the world for great conversations between excellent actors. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got in “The Queen’s Justice.” There were so many fantastic monologues and dialogues in this episode that it was the hardest so far to choose my favorite moment to single out. I toyed for a long time with choosing Jon and Tyrion’s perfect reunion and subsequent discussion of brooding, and part of me wanted to discuss Lena Headey’s insane (in more ways than one) talent in Cersei’s big scene with Ellaria Sand. However, sometimes sentimentality gets the better of you, and if this is the last time I get to write about how amazing Diana Rigg has been as Olenna Tyrell and how brilliant that character is in general, then I’m going to write about it.

My favorite thing about this scene was that it was a match made in heaven between a great actor and a great reactor. No one delivers lines like Rigg, and no one reacts with the subtlety and depth of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Watching his expressions change as Olenna touched on some hard truths about Jaime and Cersei was a true treat, and it gave us some real insight into the depth of his delusions. Jaime Lannister is a man of action who has become completely stuck. He believes his love for his sister means he must stay with her—until death do they part—no matter what she’s done. That’s all he’s ever known of “love”—a toxic kind of codependency that has him convincing himself that she’s going to bring peace and all will be well soon. But once Olenna reminded him that he could be honest with her because she was never going to reveal his secrets, he showed in small ways that he was finally being more honest with himself, too. The completely flat way Coster-Waldau delivered his line about Jaime knowing Cersei will be the end of him showed how much he’s given up even thinking about who he could be without her. And the flash of anger that sprang to the surface when Olenna told him he’d regret spreading the “disease” of Cersei was a very interesting tell; Jaime wants to live in a make-believe world where Cersei is going to bring peace, and if he can’t convince himself of that, then everything could fall apart inside of him. There’s an emptiness to Jaime right now that’s tragic to see from such a formerly lively and impassioned character—almost as if the more powerful Cersei gets, the more he loses his sense of self. But there is still some honor in him, telling Olenna that he didn’t want her to die a painful death, despite what Cersei preferred.

Instead, Olenna was painlessly poisoned, which provided the perfect parallel for her to exploit in her final moments. Yes, it was fun to watch her pick apart Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and to call Joffrey what he truly was. But the best part of the entire scene was her slow, detailed description of Joffrey’s death to Jaime—preying on his helplessness in the moment of his son’s death before dropping the mic and finally saying the words out loud: “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”

Even in her own death scene, Olenna ended up with the upper hand. She played her last card at exactly the right moment, and Rigg gave that moment all the gravitas it deserved. This show is all about power, and Olenna died making a true power play. She never begged for her life or asked for forgiveness. She owned her crimes and admitted to never losing sleep over them. And she confessed to perhaps her biggest crime with a twinkle in her eye and an unwavering voice.

If you’re going to die on this show, that’s the kind of death scene you hope you get. And it was the kind of death scene a legend like Rigg deserved.

Honorable Mentions: “This is Jon Snow…He’s King in the North,” Jon and Tyrion reunite, Sansa proves herself to be a smart ruler of Winterfell, Tyrion narrates the attack on Casterly Rock, Cersei taunts Ellaria

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Stormborn”

The Moment: Nymeria finds Arya

Setting the Scene: After learning from Hot Pie that Jon has taken control of Winterfell, Arya decides to head home to the North instead of traveling to the South to kill Cersei. Along the way, she finds herself surrounded by wolves—until a familiar face arrives.

Why It’s Awesome: Stark reunions are awesome—whether they’re between two people or between people and direwolves. After so many seasons of watching this family get ripped apart and come close to reuniting only to be ripped apart again, even the briefest moments of togetherness have an immense power. And although this reunion was certainly brief, its emotional payoff was huge. The connection between the Starks and their direwolves represent a connection to the selves they once were, and that connection was honored in a powerful way in this scene.

In order to talk about the emotional power of this moment, we need to talk about the power of Arya deciding to turn her horse around and head North after learning that Jon took Winterfell. In that moment, Arya decided to put love above hate, family above vengeance—and I have wanted her to do that for so long. All that was missing was for her to return home with her beloved Nymeria by her side, but we all know nothing on this show can ever be that perfectly happy.

Instead, Arya came to the same conclusion a lot of characters seem to be coming to this season: After you leave home, you can’t be expected to come back and return to exactly the same life you had before. No matter how much Arya (and the audience, by extension) wanted Nymeria to go with her, we know the truth; she doesn’t belong in Winterfell. She’s been on her own for too long. She has her own pack now.

Arya gets it, and I’m sure there’s part of her that knows the same will ultimately be true for her. She wasn’t meant for a domesticated life in Winterfell. She knew that long before her life took her far from home. And that’s what made Maisie Williams’s reaction to Nymeria so beautiful. That small, sad smile after Nymeria walked away said it all; Arya knows that some creatures have to make their own way and can’t be expected to be anyone’s pet. The gentle, loving way she whispered, “That’s not you,” harkened back to her telling her father “That’s not me” when he talked about her being a proper lady. Arya and Nymeria have always been meant for more than a simple, safe life at home.

This scene’s bittersweet tone was clearly foreshadowing Arya’s inability to be content with a life in Winterfell—even if that means a life with people who love her. However, the emotion Maisie Williams packed into this moment opposite her direwolf makes me cry just thinking about an Arya/Sansa or Arya/Jon reunion. Even if the joy doesn’t last, these actors are good enough to give us the smallest moments of beauty in a seemingly endless sea of hard times and harsh punishments. And if nothing else, this scene was worth it just for the sheer goosebump factor of hearing Arya say the words “I’m going home” out loud.

Honorable Mentions: Missandei and Grey Worm get intimate, Jon threatens Littlefinger, Jon and Tyrion speak kindly of each other, Olenna tells Daenerys to be a dragon

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Dragonstone”

Welcome (or welcome back) to a feature that used to be a staple here at NGN: our weekly discussion of my favorite moment in each episode of Game of Thrones! I took some time off from this feature because the show itself had become too violent for me to handle on a week-to-week basis, but I have returned from that hiatus feeling more excited than ever before to talk about the world (and especially the women) of Westeros with all of you!

The Moment: A call for equality in the North

Setting the Scene: As Jon settles into his role as King in the North, he makes a proclamation that all Northerners—including girls and women—should be trained to defend themselves and their lands. When his judgment in this matter is called into question, Lyanna Mormont makes the case for the women of the North to be trained to fight for what’s theirs.

Why It’s Awesome: “Dragonstone” was a reminder that Game of Thrones is at its best when its female characters are allowed to be women of action—exactly the kind of women Jon calls them to be in this moment. This scene was the perfect example of the fact that this world may have its rigid gender norms, but it is also populated by women who defy those norms outright or use those norms to change the game from the inside.

The three main women in this scene—Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa—all represent women who are willing to fight for what matters to them. As Lyanna made her case, I was once again struck by the thought that I’d follow that girl into battle today if she asked me. The confidence and strength she possesses are so clear that no man—no matter how old or how powerful—would dare challenge her. And I loved the way the camera cut to Brienne during her speech. The slight smile on Gwendoline Christie’s face said it all; in this girl, Brienne sees a kindred spirit, and in this place, she has finally found somewhere to belong. She’s no longer a freak; she’s exactly who Jon wants the women of Winterfell to aspire to be as they train. The affectionate pride Christie showed in her reaction to Lyanna’s speech was such a small but powerful nod to the fact that Brienne may be a warrior, but she has a gentle and kind heart—a heart that is devoted to protecting and serving other strong women.

I also liked that the camera cut to Sansa when Lyanna talked about not letting other people fight for her. Just because Sansa isn’t skilled with a sword, that doesn’t mean she’s not a fighter. She uses a different skill set—words and appearances, courtesy and strategy—but she is every bit as fierce as Lyanna and Brienne. And as she proved by bringing the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards, she’s not one to sit around and let other people fight her battles, either. She may not hold a sword or a bow, but she is still a force to be reckoned with.

It makes sense for Winterfell—under the watchful eye of Jon—to be a place where women are treated as equals in combat. Jon has always been a champion of strong women—even as far back as his close relationship with Arya before everything went to hell. And once he fell in love with Ygritte, he became even more convinced that women could fight just as fiercely in battle—and die just as bravely—as men. Jon’s time with Ygritte changed him forever, and it changed him for the better. Her spirit was in that room with Jon when he promised to put a sword or a spear into the hands of every person in the North, and she would have been proud of him in that moment.

“Dragonstone” allowed the women of Westeros to shine in all their complex, fierce, and frightening glory. Just as Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa are all strong women but none show their strength in exactly the same way, the other prominent female characters in this world are also uniquely strong and powerful, and this episode focused on each of them as women with an incredible amount of agency who now face the question of what to do with it. Jon gave all the Northern women a kind of agency by proclaiming that they will learn to fight for themselves, but the main female players in this episode didn’t need any kind of proclamation to do so. From Cersei and Sansa to Arya and Daenerys, these women play the game on their own terms and won’t back down when challenged—whether it’s by an enemy (Arya slaying all the Freys in the episode’s most badass moment) or by someone who they believe means well but doesn’t know the world the way they do (both Cersei and Sansa dealing with brothers who disagree with their methods of trying to protect their worlds). These women are fighters in every way a person can be—using their swords, their wits, their sexuality, and any other weapon at their disposal to get the job done and done their way. And when one achieves a victory (like Daenerys finally coming home in one of the single most emotionally satisfying and cinematically beautiful scenes in the series), it’s her victory—not anyone else’s.

As the final battlefields are set and the final chess pieces are moved into play, one thing has become crystal clear: The women of Westeros will fight for what’s theirs, and they’re not to be underestimated.

Honorable Mentions: Arya takes out all the male Freys, Sansa shuts down Littlefinger, Euron pledges his two good hands to Cersei, Sandor deals with his guilt, Daenerys finally comes home

Fangirl Thursday: The End of an Era

OUAT

“Now we get to do what’s next…”

After this season’s finale of Once Upon a Time, I had to ask myself, what’s next? The show isn’t ending (Although it is moving to a new night—Fridays.), and the glimpse we were given into what the next season might look like—featuring an adult, unbelieving Henry and his young daughter—was promising. However, the version of the show that drew me to my TV every Sunday and drew me to my computer every Monday to write about it for years—Emma Swan’s story—has ended. It’s the end of an era for “Oncers,” and it’s caused many of us—especially those of us who have been inspired to write, draw, create videos, or participate in fandom at any level—to evaluate our relationship with the show now and going forward.

I’m still planning on watching Once Upon a Time (as long as its message of hope and optimism is still present). And maybe the next season will still inspire me to write about it from time to time. But as far as weekly posts are concerned, I think it’s time for me to do what’s next.

This season’s finale post will be my last Once Upon a Time episode analysis for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to fill that gap in my posting schedule with analysis of another television show (the identity of which has yet to be determined), and if you find yourself missing NGN television discussions, you can always catch up on The Americans and visit our discussions of its episodes until the show airs its final season next year. There will always be plenty of nerdy fun to be had here at NGN, and I hope those of you who first came here because of my Once Upon a Time posts stick around to see what comes next.

Once Upon a Time will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the building blocks of NGN in this website’s earliest days. It’s the show I’ve written about the most in terms of years and word counts, and it was the show I watched for the first time the day I decided to start this site. There would be no NGN—at least not as we know it today—without Once Upon a Time. And that’s why I can’t walk away from my weekly posts about it without saying thank you.

Thank you, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, for creating a show that spoke to a lost girl in her 20s who was looking for something positive to believe in. Thank you for never losing sight of your vision and for never letting go of your belief that hopeful media still matters. Thank you for creating a story about complex, flawed, relatable women who find strength through many different kinds of love—a new set of fairytales women in today’s world can be inspired and empowered by.

Thank you to all the writers who took their vision and made it your own, and thank you to the most underrated cast on television for bringing these fairytales to life with depth, charm, and sincerity; this show could never have worked without the right cast. But even more than bringing these stories to life, thank you for caring so deeply about those who care so deeply about the show. The kindness and enthusiasm this entire cast has shown toward their fans is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years in various fandoms. We have been truly lucky to have our favorite characters be played not only by talented actors but also by genuinely good people who truly believed in what they were doing. That makes all the difference in the world.

This show has changed my life. It was the reason I attended my first major fan convention. It was the inspiration behind some of my best and bravest writing. It introduced me to people I would never have known without it who have now become close friends of mine, and it helped strengthen my relationships with friends and family members by watching and talking about this special show together. And thanks to the incredibly encouraging corner of the fandom that I was a part of as well as the support and kindness I was shown by the incomparably thoughtful Jennifer Morrison, it gave me the confidence that I needed not just to make NGN the best it can be but also to push myself forward in my career as a writer and editor.

Once Upon a Time is a true light in the darkness. It has reminded me to never give up hope, that it’s never too late to be the best version of yourself, and that there is no darkness so powerful that it can’t be overcome by belief in yourself and the love of those around you. It has helped me learn to define myself on my own terms—to punch back and say “No, this is who I am.” And it has given me the courage to believe and to keep believing at a time in my life when it is all too easy to become cynical and apathetic.

More than anything, though, the most precious thing Once Upon a Time has given me is a place to belong. I’ve had different fandom “homes” before, but I’ve never stayed in one this long. And along the way, I have met so many incredible people—all because this show about fairytales brought us together. I feel honored to be a part of a close-knit community of fan writers who have written about every episode of this show for years and have formed our own support group to offer encouragement to each other in hard times and to celebrate with each other when things are good. To be surrounded by such positive, enthusiastic women and to be part of a group of ladies supporting ladies the way we have for as long as we have is a true joy and a gift that I don’t take for granted. I can’t wait to see what all of them do next.

Finally, when I look back on the years I spent writing about Once Upon a Time, I will think about the growth of the NGN Family during this time. I will think about the incredible discussions we had in the comments, the words of support I cherish to this day, the friendships I watched form with smiles on my face and tears in my eyes, and the reminders in a million tiny ways that I have the most beautiful chosen family on the Internet—a group of people who always has my back, who makes me want to be a better writer and a better woman because they deserve the very best of me, and who has shown me the true meaning of love being strength. It’s been an honor talking about this show and the journeys of these incredible characters with all of you, and I hope you know how much I value your readership and, more importantly, your friendship.

So let’s raise our Doctoberfest mugs to the show that brought us together. Cheers, Oncers!

ouat cheers

TV Time: The Americans 5.12

the americans WCC

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: The World Council of Churches

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
“The World Council of Churches” wasn’t a particularly Elizabeth-centric episode, but it still allowed Keri Russell to show the many facets she’s given to this character over the years. When I think about the complexity of Russell’s work in this episode and in the course of this show as a whole, I keep coming back to the final 10 minutes of this episode, which showcased her brilliant ability to seamlessly transition between soft and hard, warm and cold, certain and conflicted.

I think I’ve watched the moment Philip and Elizabeth talk about the names they and their children will take back in Russia about 100 times, and I still can’t get enough of it. The matter-of-fact way Elizabeth tells him that Paige and Henry will take his name was sweet, but it was the beat after—when Philip asked her what name she’d take—that was most affecting. Without any words—with only the softest smile and nod—Russell conveyed so much about Elizabeth’s commitment to her husband and to making their marriage something real no matter where they are. Once again, this scene reminded us that when Elizabeth commits herself to something, she does so with everything she is. And now she’s chosen to commit herself to Philip. The most beautiful thing about that is how happy it makes her. This isn’t Elizabeth choosing him because she has no other options or because someone else forced her to be with him; she’s so happy with her choice that it makes her glow in the darkness. The way Russell has slowly allowed us to see the warmth Elizabeth has hidden underneath compartmentalized trauma and a devotion to her mission made this moment feel believable and realistic. A smile and a nod are not often monumental moments for a character, but for this character, they are. For one moment, Russell allowed us to see what a truly content Elizabeth looks like, and it was a beautiful sight to see.

On the heels of this moment of unguarded happiness and warmth, though, came a reminder that Elizabeth Jennings is still not a woman to mess with. The complexity of emotions that crossed her face upon hearing Tuan’s awful plan was brilliant—Russell showed in a brief flash that Elizabeth understood that Tuan’s plan could work, but her emotions as a mother were stronger than her emotions as an agent. When Elizabeth decides to do something, there’s no hesitation—no waffling. That was my favorite thing about the beat immediately after Philip told her the plan could work, but Pasha could also end up dead—they silently, definitively came to the same conclusion (a lovely reminder of the power of the partnership between Russell and Matthew Rhys and what they can convey without words), and then Elizabeth went into “badass agent mode.” Russell has a very specific tone to her voice when Elizabeth is giving orders, and it was wonderful to see it used to try to save a life this time. The cold, harsh way she shoved the phone at Tuan and the deliberate way she seemed to use all the force she had to press the numbers on the phone conveyed the kind of complete authority that Russell projects with effortless confidence.

Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most complex female characters I’ve ever seen on television. She can smile with such genuine affection that it’ll make you melt in one scene, and then she can immediately follow that with a reminder that she is also a force to be reckoned with and a terror for anyone who stands in the way of her getting what she wants. That dichotomy may have rang false in the hands of a lesser actress, but luckily, Russell has always been more than up to the task of showing us that Elizabeth—like all women—can’t be made to fix into one nice little box.

Continue reading

TV Time: The Americans 5.11

Title: Dyatkovo

Episode M.V.P.: Irina Dubova
What has always made The Americans resonate with me is the way it makes you care about basically every character—from Philip, Elizabeth, and Stan to the various men, women, and even children who find themselves caught up in the tangled web they’re weaving. The casting department for this show consistently manages to find actors who are able to break my heart in even the smallest roles. That was certainly true in this episode, as Irina Dubova (who only has 11 acting credits to her name dating back to just 2013, according to IMDB) made me feel physically sick over a soon-to-be victim’s fate in a way I haven’t felt since Lois Smith’s incredible work as Betty in Season Three’s “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

What I found most impressive about Dubova’s work in this episode was the way she embodied the very core of The Americans—the concepts of truth, identity, and reality versus artifice—in such a short amount of time onscreen. The fact that I spent most of her scene truly wondering whether or not “Natalie” was who the Center believed she was is a credit to Dubova. In order for the scene to work, we had to be unsure, we had to doubt the Center at first, and then we also had to ask the same question Philip asks: Does it even matter if she really is who she the Center claims she is? Does she deserve to die?

That question can be asked of every one of Philip and Elizabeth’s victims over the years, but for some reason, it weighed heavier on me during this scene than perhaps any other. So much of the horror of this episode’s final minutes came from the absolutely heartbreaking performance Dubova gave as the truth came out. Dubova made every word, every pause, and every breath feel deeply personal. When she begged Philip and Elizabeth not to let her husband know because “He thinks I’m wonderful,” I felt absolutely gutted. It was such a simple line, but Dubova’s delivery of it was devastating. The fact that what mattered most to her was not her own life but her husband’s belief that she was a good person made every second that came afterward even more painful.

When “Natalie” and her husband were killed, I found myself more horrified than I have ever been over one of Philip and Elizabeth’s kills on this show. Part of that was because her husband was completely innocent, but the main reason I was so viscerally upset was because Dubova made me care about her character despite my own best instincts. Did she do terrible things to survive? Yes. Was she perhaps “more deserving” (if that can ever be said) of the violence that befell her than Betty or the lab worker from earlier this season or the man Philip killed on the bus in that infamous “Tainted Love” scene? Yes. But the whole point of this scene was to put us in Philip’s shoes, asking if that matters at all. She might have done the Nazis’ dirty work, but she is still a human being who feels, who loves, and who has a family she wants to protect. And Dubova made all of that so horribly clear in that scene, making me feel every bit as broken as Philip over the idea of this woman having to die. “Natalie” wasn’t just a target; she was a person, and for the ending of this episode to hit as heavily as it did, she needed to feel like a fully realized, complex person, which Dubova did with heartbreaking honesty as her character’s true story began to unfold.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.21/6.22

JENNIFER MORRISON

Source: ew.com

Title The Final Battle: Part 1/The Final Battle: Part 2

Two-Sentence Summary After the Black Fairy casts her curse, Henry has to try to get Emma to believe the truth about herself and her family, who are trapped in an Enchanted Forest that is rapidly disappearing along with her belief. Meanwhile, flash-forwards reveal the next generation’s Truest Believer and her skeptical parent.

Favorite Line “Now we get to do what’s next. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing, but living with that kind of belief—that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope. So you ask ‘What now?’ Now, we get to keep going on. We get to keep doing what we love with people we love. An ending isn’t happiness. Being together is.” (Snow White)

My Thoughts
“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”

Once Upon a Time has always been a show for believers and for those who want once again to believe. It’s a show that reminds its viewers that there is power in believing—in magic, in your loved ones, and in yourself. Belief—and the hope that comes from living out that belief even when others try to tell you that you’re crazy for it—is a saving grace in a world that all too often has forgotten that being hopeful isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.

This chapter of Once Upon a Time was the story of a woman’s journey to believe in the face of incredible obstacles, and it was also the story of the boy who helped her find that belief. This chapter taught its viewers many lessons, but one of its most lasting messages , which was reflected in an important way in this finale, was that it’s okay to need help sometimes; you don’t have to do everything on your own—including believing in yourself.

The power of belief was at the center of “The Final Battle,” to the point where the titular battle wasn’t really referring to the swordfight that occurred near the end of the episode but was actually the battle for Emma’s belief, which began—as Rumplestiltskin predicted it would—when Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday with the goal of getting her to believe in her true self.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.20

JENNIFER MORRISON, COLIN O'DONOGHUE

Source: telltaletv.com

Title The Song in Your Heart

Two-Sentence Summary When the Black Fairy challenges Emma on her wedding day and brings her back to a time when she felt alone, flashbacks reveal that her mother’s wish to help her find her happy ending gave her a song that she’s always carried with her, which helps her understand that she’s never truly been alone. After facing the Black Fairy, Emma is finally able to marry Killian—right before a new curse descends on Storybrooke.

Favorite Line “They say that a captain’s heart belongs to his ship, but with this ring, it now belongs to you.” (Killian)

My Thoughts Greetings, fellow Oncers! I’m coming to you from my hotel room at Walt Disney World’s lovely Contemporary Resort, where I’m enjoying a much-needed dose of magic this week. Typically, I try to avoid writing of any sort on my vacations since I do so much writing when I’m home, but I couldn’t leave the NGN Family without a place to talk about this episode. And after hearing the news of Jennifer Morrison’s departure from Once Upon a Time this morning, I also knew I couldn’t leave you without a space to talk about what she has meant to you, what Emma Swan has meant to you, and what you think is going to happen to the show without her should it be picked up for a seventh season.

I know that I am going to miss both Emma Swan as a character and Jennifer Morrison as an actor on my favorite television show more than I ever imagined before learning the news today. Writing about Emma’s journey completely changed me as a writer and as a woman, and meeting Morrison remains one of the highlights of my life as a fangirl. While I’m incredibly sad to lose this character (and am really hoping the show just ends instead of trying to go on without her), I’m so thankful for what Emma brought into my life—including most of you reading this. NGN became what it is today because of how much fun I’ve had writing about Emma’s journey and how much I’ve loved connecting with all of you about it.

A few members of the NGN Family have reached out to me today about writing a letter to Emma for The Fan Mail Project, and I wanted to let all of you know that you can definitely do so. I haven’t started putting together that part of the book yet, so please don’t shy away from writing something about this character if she’s meant something to you over the years. You can send them to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com whenever inspiration strikes you. And if you already wrote to Emma but want to edit your letter, you can always do that, too. (Lord knows I’m going to be adding so much more to mine!)

But enough talk of endings…Let’s talk happy beginnings instead! Since I have to be up early to catch a flight on Soarin’ Around the World at EPCOT, I’ll leave most of the analysis up to you this week, but here are some discussion topics to get you started:

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