Space Pirate: Harlock, Game of Thrones, and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief

For starters, we probably shouldn’t commonly leave the “willing” part out of the definition.

As an actor, a writer, and a nitpicker of stories in every imaginable medium it probably does not surprise you to learn that I have plentiful and strong thoughts on the willing suspension of disbelief. Before we continue, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page as to what that even is. Wikipedia puts it pretty succinctly:

The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.

There’s a lot to unpack in even that simple sentence. For starters, as you can see,  the term has two forms. One of them includes the word “willing” while the other omits it. I and many others learned it that first way but I would argue now that the “willing” part is crucial to the definition. When Game of Thrones ran into some criticism for the way it handled its penultimate episode, last season, the director responded with his own criticism of the fans. This was a mistake on his part for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that insulting your fanbase rarely seems like a wise course of action. But beyond that, he was also wrong. It isn’t the audience’s job to suspend their disbelief for whatever you put on the screen. It is your job as the creative staff to make them want to suspend their disbelief. In other words, to make them willing.

This willingness usually exists on a spectrum depending upon content and vehicle.

There is actually an interesting spectrum upon which you have more or fewer restrictions on how far you must go to convince the audience to suspend their disbelief. Consider, for a moment, whether you would willingly suspend your disbelief if a movie you were watching used obvious drop curtains and plyboard sets with frequent pauses where crew members could be seen shifting things around in order to set up the next scene.  Probably not, right? But you do that for the majority of stage plays you see and don’t even think twice about it. Why is that?

The willing suspension of disbelief also takes into account venue and subject matter. This means that a stage play is held to entirely different set of standards than a TV show or a movie. Other examples are cartoons vs. live-action, kids movies vs. more adult-themed fare, and comedies vs. dramas. I was recently watching Space Pirate: Harlock and was particularly struck by a particular moment in that film – one of the twists in that movie, actually. *** SPOILERS FOR SPACE PIRATE: HARLOCK*** In the last part of the film it is finally revealed that the earth has been destroyed by liberal application of dark matter. In real life no one actually has a clue what dark matter is or whether it even exists, but because science fiction is a sub-genre of fantasy the writers of this movie chose to re-define it as a destructive substance. We find out that sometime before the movie started the titular space pirate piloted his vessel into some dark matter, as well, when he felt regret over the part he had played in destroying the earth. However, he came out the other side with a ship that was now indestructible and had had its entire front-end replaced with a giant skull and crossbones rather than being destroyed. Imagine for a moment that that had happened in Star Trek. That franchise takes itself pretty seriously and it would be unreasonable to expect its audience to just go along for that ride as it seems patently obvious that whatever dark matter is it isn’t something that would simultaneously destroy a planet but render a spaceship indestructible and re-design the front half. *** END SPOILERS *** However, because Space Pirate: Harlock doesn’t really bill itself as a super realistic take on the genre even I, the super nitpicker extraordinaire, didn’t bat an eye when this reveal was made.

I have determined that if you disregard the complexities of sub-genre, vehicle of story, and setting there are two hard and fast rules when it comes to establishing a willing suspension of disbelief in your audience:

  1. Out-of-the-norm traits in a story must be established.
  2. Such traits must be established or foreshadowed before they become critical to the story’s climax.

Out-of-the-norm traits in a story must be established.

The Game of Thrones director from earlier also seemed to think that because the audience was willing to believe in dragons that they should be willing to ignore any plot holes or time inconsistencies that appear in their fantasy stories. As I argued at the time both here and on Twitter, story universes, even fantasies, must remain internally and logically consistent. Plot holes are still plot holes. Writers, depending on the universe they set themselves in, get to work with a certain set of pre-established rules, environments, and creatures. For example, if you set a story in medieval England and market it to a western audience you usually won’t have to completely re-establish castles, moats, forests, horses, rain, etc. Your audience will grasp these things using cultural consciousness. Cultural consciousness can be a bit of a complicated topic but for now, you just need to understand that, for example, almost everyone in America and England knows what a castle is even if they’ve never seen one in person and most of them can’t remember when or how they first gained that knowledge. That’s an aspect of cultural consciousness. Something we know about because of our culture.

Now one of the joys of being a writer, especially in the fantasy genres and sub-genres, is that you can add new definitions and re-define existing ideas that break away from the logical consistency defined by the cultural consciousness. For example, if your story is set in a fantasy variant of medieval England perhaps your moats are always populated by sarcastic mermaids. And if you establish it in your story before it becomes important to a climax in the plot, your audience will probably not bat an eye at this change. (This is also known as foreshadowing when a writer establishes something that is actually plausible both in the collective consciousness and in the story but might otherwise seem abrupt in an important reveal, later.) There are two important keys in that sentence that I don’t want you to miss, though. You must establish it. And you must establish it before it becomes important to a climax. Otherwise, you’re still dealing with a plot hole, even if it’s a fantasy story.

Such traits must be established or foreshadowed before they become critical to the story’s climax.

So in Game of Thrones up until that fateful episode the creators were willing to let the cultural consciousness define their ravens for them. What that means is that everyone perceived the ravens in the show as being identical to the everyday birds we are all familiar with. If they had really meant to include supersonic ravens they needed to be established. But even if they had chosen to establish such creatures at that moment, it still would have been a writing faux pas. When you fail to establish something like that until it becomes critical to the plot, especially as it pertains to resolving climaxes or saving protagonists, you are performing what is known as a Deus Ex Machina which is Greek for “God from Machine”. It turns out the ancient Greeks weren’t, as a whole, necessarily any better writers than the ones we have now. Some were great but others had failings. Sometimes writers write themselves into a hole and have no idea what to do to resolve the plot. It was at this moment that some ancient Greek writers would write a scene in which a god or gods would be dropped into or above the set using a machine and they would simply assign the outcomes the playwright desired regardless of how much trouble the story or characters were in. For a modern example of what this might look like we need look no further than the Mass Effect 3 ending.

*** SPOILERS FOR MASS EFFECT 3 *** 

In that game, the crew of the Normandy is tasked with gathering allies and resources to build some sort of mystery machine with undefined capabilities in order to fend off the enemy Reaper fleet. By the end of the game the machine is built and still no one has a clue what it might actually do to help preserve the galaxy – this should be reminding you of the first rule of the willing suspension of disbelief in regards to fantasy elements. Shepard turns the mystery device on at the last moment and… a simulacrum of a child appears which offers Shepard three impossibly simple choices with which to conclude the story. This seems almost a direct ripoff of the original Deus Ex Machina where a god-like being appears for no discernible reason established within the story to neatly ties up all the loose ends. It is simply adapted to the medium of video games and Mass Effect’s primary conceit of player choice. At least the Greeks had preestablished tropes of such gods doing those kinds of things in the beginnings and middles of even better-written stories when they implemented such poorly-written endings.

*** END SPOILERS ***

 

No matter the story a creator must rely on some willing suspension of disbelief from their audience. Even in something as simple as a story about a love triangle between three high school students you must convince your audience that they want to believe these fictional characters actually exist. As long as people are creating stories that need the willing suspension of disbelief they must remember to establish or foreshadow and to do it before it becomes vital to the plot. Or else I’ll come for them with mouse and keyboard and crit them with my Wall of Text.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

A ridiculously long, overly-detailed review.

Two years ago Star Wars fans finally received the first cinematic entry in the universe since  Revenge of the Sith came out a decade previous. The Force Awakens was not a perfect movie but it was a strong return all the same. Star Wars fans rejoiced, sure that this prototype had proven that Disney could successfully create decent movies and would likely improve as they continued their plan to release yearly entries into the new canon.

Unfortunately the first stand-alone Star Wars movie, Rogue One, was a giant mess. There were people who loved it but in a fan base as rabid as Star Wars boasts there will always be a vocal group who love the movies regardless. But that was a stand-alone movie. And it was in an awkward place as another prequel. And it had had shooting issues. Surely The Last Jedi would be better? This was the mainline series, it had Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in it. Disney and Rian Johnson had to know what needed to happen to ensure a terrific experience for their adoring fans, right?

Wrong.

To put it bluntly – and spoiler free for the moment – Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a mess thematically, character-wise, and story-wise. The movie does have it’s good moments. For all his flaws as a writer Rian Johnson really knows how to set up a gorgeous shot. There were some original shots and some re-creations of shots from the original trilogy that were both gorgeous and terrific homages. The fight scenes – outside of one particular fight – is terrific, well-shot and just about everything you could ask for across a variety of battle types and environments. Not everyone enjoyed the humor in the movie but it wasn’t anything drastically different from the kind of stuff that’s been present in the series from the beginning despite the protests of some that it has been “Disney-ified.”

OK now the Spoilers are coming. ALL THE SPOILERS because I want to dig into why the story and characers are so very bad. You’ve been warned.

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First I want to reiterate that the movie is not without its good points. The cold open – as remiscent of The Empire Strikes Back as it is – is terrific. It’s got Poe Dameron doing over-the-top amazing X-Wing stuff, last minute escapes, and exciting explosions. It’s got classic Star Wars humor with BB-8 attempting to repair a short in the X-Wing and a bit of dialog where Poe attempts to distract and delay his enemy with unusual remarks that is very remiscent of Han Solo’s attempts to delay the storm troopers when he and Luke Skywalker invade the prison block on the original Death Star, though Poe’s attempt is significantly more successful.

But ultimately the good stuff is just a candy shell on solidified, raw sewage. There are many people complaining about the pointlessness of Finn’s subplot but by the end of the movie absolutely nothing has changed in any meaningful way for the state of any of the surviving characters as compared to the beginning. At the beginning the resistance fighters are fleeing from an Imperial attack on their lone base, greatly outnumbered and with practically no resources. At the end of the movie they are even more outnumbered, have even fewer resources, and are fleeing from a different base but that’s it.

In the previous paragraph you’ll note that I specifically mentioned the “surviving characters” that’s because almost all of the Resistance fighters died. This includes Admiral Ackbar unceremoniously being blown out into space – don’t worry I’ve got more on that in a minute – and Luke Skywalker dying at the very end. Luke’s death was problematic for a variety of reasons. First, though most subjectively, I doubt very seriously that any of the Star Wars fans who have been begging for a sequel trilogy for so long were doing so in the hopes that they could watch their childhood or young adulthood heroes die one by one. I know that’s definitely not what I had hoped for. There exist plenty of ways to pass the torch to a new generation of heroes without killing the old. Unfortunately as we learn from a snippet of an internal e-mail that somehow made it into Adam Driver’s script Disney’s plans for these movies are, “Let the past die. Kill it if you must.” Some people will laud this as creative story telling or a maturation of the series. I’ve long argued that character deaths are the crutch of writers who want to raise the stakes but can’t think of a creative way to do so and so they fall back on the easiest trick in the book. That’s not necessarily the entire motivation here, but they’re certainly using that shortcut and eliminating all those old, ugly people so they can have fresh, more attractive faces for the next generation of Star Wars collectibles.

Luke Skywalker's death was troubling for old fans, it breaks a cardinal rule of writing, and it ignores multiple more satisfying narrative choices for no apparent reason.

By far the bigger issue with Luke Skywalker’s death, however, is the how and why of it. There was a moment when it appeared Luke would die the same way as his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, sacrificing himself following a lightsaber duel with his old apprentice in order to distract the enemy so his allies could escape and bring hope to the galaxy. That death would have been actually pretty good and full of symbolism, especially since Leia’s old message to Obi-Wan Kenobi was what spurred Luke to even consider doing anything useful to begin with. However, that’s not what we got. We soon discovered that Luke hadn’t come to actually face his old apprentice, he had stayed on his hidden island and done some sort of force-astral projection to confront his enemy. This could have been a fine moment where Luke proved that he was both smarter than Kylo and that he had learned from his master’s mistakes. That’s not what we got either.

Instead what we got was the following:

  1. Proof that Luke had not overcome his fears. He stayed on his hidden planet, did not come to help his sister, and lost the opportunity to redeem his earlier cowardice by facing Kylo Ren now (both the attempt to murder Ben Solo and then running and hiding instead of cleaning up after himself are high cowardice for the once-hero of the Rebellion)
  2. A cheap death fake-out.
  3. An immediate reversal where Luke, apparently over-taxed by his force exertions, dies anyway.

The fake death has been overdone to almost the same degree as the character-death-solely-to-raise-the-stakes trick. But the cardinal rule of the fake death is that if you do it you don’t then kill that character in the same movie, book, or television season. If you do you are insulting your audience, not wowing them. Furthermore this particular death, happening so quickly on the heels of the fake out and resulting in no body, apparently lead to plenty of confusion:

Luke sample
A sampling of the search results for “Is Luke Skywalker dead”

Let’s go back to an earlier moment in the movie; Ackbar, Leia, and apparently the entire command staff of the rebellion are on the bridge of their primary cruiser. The bridge is destroyed and they’re all killed. except Leia. She floats in space, her body freezing for several seconds, apparently dead before the force finally takes over and wills her back into the ship. The moment would have been weird and pointless even if Carrie Fisher had not tragically passed earlier this year. Given that she did it was incredibly uncomfortable for an audience that was already hyper aware that every moment she was on screen they were watching the last artistic effort of a dead woman. To sit and stare at her seemingly lifeless body for several long seconds was among the most awkward things I’ve ever experienced. To watch her force powers zip her back into the ship felt like the height of nonsense and disrespect. This scene really should have been re-worked following her death. Some people suggest she should have just died then and there. As much as I think many were there to drink in as much Carrie Fisher as they could before the movie ended she really wasn’t allowed to do much of anything after this point beyond standing around existing as Carrie Fisher and throwing out a few quips. So this probably could have worked with a couple of reshoots. Alternately they could have simply had a rescue shuttle recover her and claimed that she was wearing some sort of forcefield tech that had protected her from space temporarily until they could get to her – this actually fits into previous canon which showed that pilots could eject from their spacecraft and survive for a period of time before rescue shuttles retrieved them. Nothing else in the movie would have had to change, it just would have allowed us to avoid this awkward scene.

The reason, of course, that Leia is rendered into a prop for the majority of the film is to allow the conflict between Poe Dameron and Vice Admiral Holdo. This conflict is utterly inane and doesn’t even come close to conveying any sort of moral, though it pretty confidently struts on the screen as if it did. Leia’s last act before being blown out into space is to demote Poe Dameron – the problem is that neither she nor anyone else bothers to promote anyone else to be the leader of the pilots. Since this is only a rank change and not a responsibility change it ultimately accomplishes nothing and serves no purpose. Leia does it because she’s mad at him for disobeying an order, which is fine, but she says it’s because he’s too concerned with appearing to be a hero and not with being a leader. The reasoning for his disobedience has nothing to do with appearing to be a hero and everything to do with his assertion that if they didn’t take out the dreadnought now it would just hunt them down again later.

Enter Vice Admiral Holdo, a flag officer in a fleet of three ships that already has an admiral and a general, who wears a fancy party dress instead of a uniform, and is destined to teach Poe how to be a leader. Or something. She does this by completely ignoring him for most of the movie. When he finally storms on to the bridge and demands she reveal her plan for dealing with the main crisis of the movie – that the fleet is running low on fuel and cannot lose the First Order because they are being tracked, even through hyperspace – she still refuses to tell him, or anyone else, what her plan is. He investigates the bridge and comes to the conclusion that she is planning to have everyone disembark from the ship in the unarmed, unarmored transports that lack hyperdrives and flee when the cruiser runs out of fuel. He accuses her of being a traitor though “Criminally Incompetent” would probably be the better descriptor based on the information he has. Of course, when she discovers his plan to have Finn and Rose attempt to disable the tracker, she accuses him of endangering everyone’s lives but Poe and Rose don’t know anything that could possibly put the resistance fighters in any more danger than they are already in so I guess they’re even in the stupid accusations department. In any case, Holdo allows Poe and everyone else to believe she really is a coward, an idiot, or a traitor. When she finally orders the evacuation on to the transports he performs a mutiny with the help of his fellow pilots who were never removed from his command, and attempts to wait for Finn and Rose to complete the plan they came up with at the beginning of the movie. Holdo still doesn’t tell him or anyone else the plan. When Finn and Poe’s plan fails Leia storms the bridge and stuns Poe – her last true action of the movie and something that could as well have been done by someone else or no one else considering what happens next.

Poe wakes up in the shuttle bay again and, finally, Holdo reveals the true plan. Leia tells Poe, “She was more concerned with doing the right thing than appearing heroic.” Which is great, I guess? It’s the thing she wanted him to learn. But this particular example makes no sense. There was never any reason to not tell people the plan. Holdo gained nothing from not telling people the plan. In fact, she cost everyone valuable time by not telling people the plan because Poe wouldn’t have mutinied if she had told everyone the plan. That’s not leadership and while it is being willing to be seen as something less than you are, it’s more in service of pointless secrecy than leadership. It’s also still better described as incompetence. She continues this incompetence by staying behind on the cruiser to distract the enemy fleet but she doesn’t even bother to do so much as to maneuver the cruiser to block the line of sight of the First Order ships and her incredibly vulnerable transports. This directly leads to the destruction of half or more of those transports before she decides to do something. She ultimately sacrifices her life by aiming a hyperspace jump directly at the enemy fleet, destroying most or all of it. That… actually would have been a better plan, come to think of it.

Pause here in the description of this idiocy for a moment because the scene is truly well shot and directed. There are approximately 10 seconds of silence and bright visuals that allow you time to just gawk at the sheer destruction she has wrought upon the enemy with her sacrifice. It’s beautiful and terrifying and everything you could ask for in that moment.

Anyway, General Holdo, who is supposed to be an example of the best kind of leadership for her people and for Poe to learn from, is an example of terrible leadership who keeps people in the dark and waits far too long to do the job that needs doing. Poe who is supposed to learn from this that appearances are less important than actually just doing the right thing doesn’t ever get an opportunity to show that he learned that – not that the example provided him was actually a good one. And, as previously mentioned, Poe didn’t really exhibit this tendency to begin with. Is he reckless, insubordinate, and impetuous? Sure. Is he overly concerned with appearances? Not so far as we are ever shown. People talk about Finn and Rose’s trip to the casino planet being a complete waste of the time because the hacker they get ends up being unable to do the job in time, but the true waste of this movie was in the Poe/Holdo plotline which spins its wheels, albeit loudly, for approximately the same amount of run time.

Speaking of wasted time, how about when Rey follows another Empire Strikes Back plot point and goes into an area of Dark Side Force Energy despite the pleading of her master? When Luke did it back in Empire he was shown that if he allowed his anger to continue to dominate him he would become like Vader. When Rey did it it took longer, involved much fancier special effects, and resulted in…nothing. She went in looking for the answer to who her parents were and left having observed some trippy mirror special effects but gained absolutely nothing from the experience beyond knowledge of what the back of her head looks like.

Let’s go back to Finn and Rose for a moment because their trip to the casino planet actually has my favorite moment from the movie. There’s plenty of heavy handed stuff about evil rich people, followed by some other foreshadowing stuff about how people who want to survive/profit in this galaxy must be willing to work with both sides from their hacker friend, DJ. But in between there’s a fun moment where Finn and Rose set free a bunch of abused, giant horse-equivalent creatures. Finn and Rose ride one of these majestic beasties into chaos and property destruction but eventually find themselves trapped at the precipice of a cliff. As the enemy hovercraft close in they realize they won’t be able to escape and Finn says to Rose, “Well, it was worth it, right?” referring to the destruction they wreaked on the jerk weapons dealers. Rose unsaddles the horse creature they had been riding and sends it to join its herd and replies, “Now it is.”

You can point out that the horse creatures are quite likely to be recaptured in short order all you want. The point isn’t the actual end result, it’s what you see about Rose’s character and what she represents for the Resistance through her actions. A desire for freedom for everyone, freedom for even the least creatures, freedom for those you might have used for your own goals. It’s one of the few ‘victories’ for the heroes in the entire movie and a very touching moment. Also, listen everybody, plans fail. All the time. If every plan in a story had to succeed to be interesting that would actually make for a lot of dull stories where you know the moment a plan is introduced that it will succeed. Following plots with failed plans is natural, then, and can progress a story even without solving a problem. In The Force Awakens Han develops a plan to go to a smuggler planet to get aid in getting Finn and Rey to the resistance. His plan fails because the First Order shows up and starts blasting everything before they kidnap Rey. Does that mean it was a wasted trip? Of course not. We learn more about the situation of the story, new characters are introduced and old characters learn and grow. Or how about in Independence Day when President Whitmore finally OK’s a nuclear attack against the aliens over Houston. That plan also fails. But you learn more about situation and the characters because of it.  That’s all true after the trip to the casino planet, as well.

I’ve already spent nearly 3000 words on this review so I’ll just provide the rest of the errors in this movie as a list in no particular order:

  • There is no way for Don’t Join, aka DJ the Hacker, to know about the cloaked transports. Finn and Rose can’t know because no one knows except for Vice Admiral Party Dress until after they’re captured. It’s a giant plot hole. I just hope we don’t get a Rogue Two to try to address it. It turns out that Poe does tell them they need to hurry up because the transports are being loaded up. So that’s a miss on my part.
  • Throughout the movie various resistance members assert they do have allies in the Outer Rim, that they might have allies in the Outer Rim, or that they do not have allies in the Outer Rim but someone might decide to help them anyway if they send a distress signal. Any of those assumptions would have been fine – even as it turns out they do not have any allies and no one is willing to become one – but the fact that they acted confident it had never been stated any other way was awkward and annoying. Pick one of those and stick to it!
  • If the First Order had been smart during the opening battle they would have used their first volley from the dreadnought’s cannons on the capital ships. Then the resistance members in transports between the surface and the ships would have had nowhere to go and could have been picked off easily.
  • Kylo Ren is an incredibly boring villain, now. There existed a possibility where he turned to the dark side for some interesting reason – to try to infiltrate Snoke’s group or any of a hundred other reasons you might imagine – but the end result is that he’s just another spoiled white boy throwing a tantrum. Sure he had a right to be upset about his uncle trying to kill him but he was apparently turning evil before that. It also doesn’t justify attempting to destroy the entire galaxy or killing your own father. He’s apparently not even conflicted anymore and may never have been. What a terrible, one-note character.
  • Turns out all the theorizing about Supreme Leader Snoke’s “true identity” was pointless. Not only was he not someone we had ever heard of before, but he died unceremoniously without directly affecting the trilogy other than being the original impetus for Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side. Kylo might as well have turned because he prefers to set his marshmallows on fire for all the difference it makes in his character or the story.
  • As with the prequel trilogy all of the actors appear borderline incompetent. As with the prequel trilogy I’m left to assume it’s terrible writing and poor directing that cause it because Oscar Isaac, at least, has been nails in other roles I’ve seen him perform. Other than him, Adam Driver, and Mark Hamill the acting was subpar to say the least. Actually, I take that back, Kelly Marie Tran did the best she could with some admittedly dumb dialog. Before you flame me, Carrie Fisher wasn’t given a role to act, she was a given a prop to be. Just in case you missed the fact that Rian Johnson, in particular, doesn’t want any of those old people messing up his perfect movie.
  • The huge deal they made out Captain Phasma’s existence continues to be mind boggling as she continues to do absolutely nothing.
  • Finn spent the entire first movie and the beginning of this movie having a major character flaw of being a coward despite confronting his cowardice at the end of the last movie. The character flaw suddenly switched to naivete, instead, when he got to the Casino planet.
  • When Leia uses the force/the force guides her back into the cruiser through the destroyed bridge and the blast door is opened to admit her air comes into the corridor from the bridge. That’s the opposite of how vacuum works. Even if you want to argue that there were magfield emitters that we just couldn’t see it seems unlikely that the bridge would be over-pressurized compared to the hallway immediately after it had been so thoroughly depressurized.
  • Why is every First Order ship capable of tracking the Resistance Fleet through hyperspace but only one of them does at a time? Why don’t they track the Falcon when the handful of Resistance survivors flee in it at the end of the film? It’s not like there was a tracking device on the cruiser or they could have spent time trying to find that instead of having stupid contests of who can tell who the least about their plans. Actually, since we established in A New Hope that tracking devices existed which could be tracked through hyperspace I’m not sure why they were using some fancy tracker instead of one of those devices, anyway. Or why everyone assumed there wasn’t a tracking device, at least.
  • If you use miniaturized Death Star tech it counts as putting another Death Star in your movie. Also, lasers aren’t battering rams. They’re lasers. Even in the Star Wars universe they use focused energy to melt, not force to break. Look at the blast door after the cannon fires, it isn’t broken, it has a hole melted in it.
  • For all their desire to replace the old Star Wars heroes with the new they sure can’t be bothered to give them any kind of concrete motivation. Luke’s goal was to become a great hero and then a Jedi Master like his father and then to redeem his father. Han Solo wanted to make enough money to pay off a crime lord then he wanted to woo a Princess. Leia worked hard to use her position and talents to bring freedom to the downtrodden people of the galaxy. Rey wanted to find her parents in the first movie but kind of forgot about that except when people mentioned it and then it turns out that she apparently knew her parents were dead drunks all along? Finn wanted to escape war in the first movie but now he wants Rey? Except if someone else kisses him? Does Poe even want anything in particular? It seems like he’s only part of the Resistance because the script put him there.
  • Why did the frigate captain stay on the frigate when it ran out of fuel? There was nothing he could do and I find it hard to believe there wasn’t room for one more person on the escape transports. Also, why didn’t anyone think of the kamikaze hyper jump idea earlier and use those two ships to clear the First Order off of their trail?
  • Similarly, why did all of those soldiers with rifles go out to fight the walkers and TIE fighters on the salt planet? Rifles have never so much as scratched the paint on any of those vehicles so those guys all basically just went out there to die and they had to know it.
  • There are just so, so many ways the Jedi failed and Luke can only give Rey that they were at their strongest when Palpatine rose to power? That’s the best you’ve got? What happened to third lesson?
  • I think we’ve pretty well established through third party articles and essays at this point that the Jedi order was actually pretty messed up and might be more properly classified as a dangerous cult than a beacon of light, hope, and justice. I was actually really happy when Yoda destroyed the tree. He certainly implied that it was time for the Jedi to end. That’s all undercut by the end of the movie when you discover that Rey stole the ancient Jedi texts and apparently means to train at least herself and possibly a new generation of Jedi, after all. I guess it might be interesting to see if she can do it without turning them into a cult but only time will tell.

I’ll leave you on a positive note because I hate to spend too much time dwelling on the bad without acknowledging the good. John Williams knows how write a score to make you feel things so strongly you can’t even think. He writes beautiful themes for characters and locations and then expertly blends them together based on what’s happening on screen and then adds in the necessary movements for the emotion on the screen. John Williams isn’t just a conductor or composer, he is the Supreme Leader of movie music.

The Defenders: Final 2 Episodes and Wrap-up

You can do better than this, Marvel and Netflix.

SPOILERS FOLLOW for the entirety of the Netflix Marvel shows through The Defenders season 1.

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Sorry about missing last week but there were a few problems that precluded my ability to write on schedule. Beyond that the penultimate episode of this season was…dull. It culminated in what should have been the coolest, most fun battle we’ve yet seen: Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones versus Madame Gao, Bakuto, and Murakami. Unfortunately it was so dark and it was so chopped up to show the fight between Iron Fist and Elektra simultaneously that it was indecipherable and boring.

The final episode wasn’t significantly better. It leaned heavily on some comic/TV tropes in a way that was not enjoyable at all. Tropes are not automatically bad. There is power in using something familiar to help guide the audience through a complicated story or to a powerful catharsis. Unfortunately the tropes they chose to share with us in this episode of television didn’t try to accomplish either of those things and were some of the worst tropes in existence to begin with.

The episode starts with Luke Cage arguing with everyone else about how he won’t blow up the building because that’s just not how he does things. He doesn’t ever give a real solid explanation for why he doesn’t want to do it; he just doesn’t want to. The error in writing is compounded when he finally begins to capitulate – as we all knew he must even 5 minutes prior when he first started arguing – and he insists that if they’re going to do it they have to make sure no innocents gets hurt. They established at the end of the last episode, using Matt’s murky powers of blindness (which probably deserves its own post), that the building was already empty of all but Hand agents. So when Luke gives in it’s with a caveat that they’ve already established. Beyond that one has to wonder what the alternative was, for Luke. Did he intend them to all comb through the building – while the police were tracking them – to find every single Hand agent and ensure they were arrested, tried, and convicted so that they could never come back and complete their dastardly plan? He wasn’t thinking it through and that was pretty par for the course of the entire episode.

Misty Knight finds her way into the building using her amazing ability of…shooting a lock off of a door. So how come the rest of the cops aren’t all over the place early on? The cops also decide they need to evacuate a two-block radius to protect the civilians from the destruction of the tower. But the cops are all still sitting around their cars outside the building when it goes up. And of course it collapses straight down, neatly plugging the hole without damaging any of the nearby buildings.

Only a day or two ago Colleen suffered a nasty gut wound and didn’t even have it treated at a hospital but merely a little police department first aid. When she first suffered the injury she was pale and barely able to walk. But how does Misty find her? Fighting as if absolutely nothing were wrong. She even takes another nasty slash across her back but keeps on fighting. Daredevil does something similar as he fights Elektra, later. Watching heroes completely shrug off mortal or disabling wounds is tiresome and eliminates any stakes to the conflict which eliminates any audience participation, emotionally or intellectually.

Another thing that removes stakes from your story? Characters returning from the dead before the audience can even fully process that death. Especially when the character death was neither plausible nor suited to the story being told in the first place. When Daredevil “died” underneath the Midland Circle Tower I would be very surprised to discover that even 1% of audience members thought he was actually dead. Neither the story nor his personality really seemed to points toward his “sacrifice” being a necessity, either. It more or less happened to check off a box the writers apparently felt needed checking. I wish they would have asked themselves, “How awkward and annoying will it be for our audience to watch Karen and Nelson cry when they realize that Matt isn’t coming back while the audience is 100% sure that he is?”

I could go on about the various tropes and inconsistencies of the final episode – you know how bad I can get if you read my article about the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones season seven, Beyond the Wall,  – but I think we’ve probably covered enough ground. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Defenders has not yet earned enough good will from me to cause me to really dig in to all of the flaws.

The show started with a good deal of promise and an excellent cast but by the end it was another formulaic mess with poorly-lit, chopped up fight  scenes and a bland story that didn’t even give its characters a chance to grow. Much like season seven of Game of Thrones it suffered both from being too long and too short. Had the season been longer they might have been able to spend more time developing the villains and making them as interesting as their varied backgrounds promised they would be at the start. There might have been time to grow some of the heroes other than Matt Murdock, too. Maybe even tell a slightly more complex story. Had the season been shorter – perhaps 2-3 hours – we could have worried less about character growth and stretching things out; the simplified plot would have been perfectly serviceable in such a dumb action flick. Less screen time in that scenario would also have meant far fewer fight scenes which would have allowed the choreographers and actors to work harder on making the scenes that remained far better. We might also have avoided the heroes standing arguing for minutes at a time about things we all knew they were going to do, anyway. It doesn’t have to end this way, though. Marvel shows automatically bring in a certain number of audience members so there will inevitably be a sequel season. Hopefully the writers, producers, and directors can learn from the mistakes they’ve made and deliver a much improved season 2.

The Defenders: Take Shelter

A comics-to-video trope rears its ugly head.

SPOILER WARNING through episode 5 of The Defenders, minor spoilers for DC shows on The CW.

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We could talk about how the fights weren’t nearly as interesting from a character perspective, to say nothing of the technical perspective, in this episode as most of them have been. We could talk about how Bakuto is still alive after all – shocking, I know. We could even talk about the scene where all of the sidekicks, friends, and love interests from our shows were all gathered together in one place – a missed opportunity for more crossover hijinks as well as problematic, logically.

Instead we are going to talk about the terrible, terrible comic trope that has appeared in very nearly every Marvel and DC movie and TV show: characters withholding vital information from other characters in the name of keeping them safe. In fairness to these intellectual properties, not revealing your status as a vigilante is safer for your friends and family. They’re far less likely to be prosecuted as an accessory if they have no idea what it is you are up to. However, most of the time, this isn’t the kind of ‘safe’ the heroes or other characters are referring to.

The most common form this takes is the super hero/vigilante/whomever refusing to tell a loved one about their secret identity  because they want to protect them from possible reprisal by the villains they battle. You see Barry “The Flash” Allen and Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen use this excuse on almost every single recurring non-villain – along with even the occasional villain still in waiting – in their respective shows. This is just flat out wrong. They are only in danger from the villains if those villains already know the hero’s true identity or if they have tied your secret identity and true identity together in a way that makes them think you can lead them to yourself – a common danger for Peter Parker. In either of those cases they might kidnap one of your friends to threaten you with; your friend not having a clue what’s going on does not protect them. In fact it does the opposite of protect them because it leaves them oblivious to the possible actual danger they are in because of your choices.

The absolute worst part about this trope is that the vast majority of the time it’s implemented the people being lied to find out anyway. Either the villain kidnaps them based on the criteria I laid about above or their natural curiosity combined with their closeness to the hero allows them to make some deductions. Frequently they could have taken steps to protect themselves – by distancing themselves from the hero, at the very least – or even sometimes offer valuable help. This trope is nearly always simply used as a delaying tactic to prevent the problem from being solved more quickly. It is lazy, sloppy writing and it is incredibly frustrating to viewers.

It shows up in an even worse form in this episode. When Colleen and Luke refuse to give details to actual law enforcement officer Misty Knight and Matt refuses to give details to actual investigative reporter Karen Page they use this idiotic excuse. The problem is that Misty and Karen have chosen professions where they do battle with evil, in their own ways, every day. They aren’t here to be safe. It isn’t the place of our “heroes” to protect them in this way. The ladies are here to do the same thing you guys are trying to do. At least in the case of Oliver not wanting to tell his mother or Barry not wanting to tell Iris it’s a case of protecting a loved one who has taken no interest, training, or resources with which to join the fight. Misty and Karen have those things and it does a disservice to them to refuse to allow them to do their part.

The other vital consideration is that The Hand already wants to kill them. That’s why you’ve sent them to relative safety in the police station break room. Telling them who The Hand is or what they are up to cannot put them in any more danger because they are literally already in as much danger as is possible for them to be in. Knowing the kind of enemy that wants them dead could only help them prepare to face that enemy if The Defenders fail to derail their plans in time. And you just know that they will. The Hand is absolutely going to storm that police station and dozens of people are going to die because none of them have a clue what’s coming because none of you are willing to try to explain it. And that is going to be on the heads of our four heroes plus Colleen. If Luke had said, “I do not have time to try to explain this right now. I have to hurry if I’m going to stop them.” That would have made some sense and been a much better excuse. Colleen could then have done the honors as they all sat around waiting to be attacked. What else does she have to do, right now?

This was a very disappointing turn for the show which should be better than this nonsense. For an eight-hour mini-series event it continues to pad it’s run-time with nonsensical filler in a way that simply should not have been necessary or allowed.

The show does deserve a bit of praise, however, for at least some aspects of the handling of Sowande’s death. First of all, the scene where the other four fingers bicker back and forth was a terrific scene, managing to accomplish multiple goals at the same time. When a show can fill in back-story without direct exposition like reading or narration it’s always a plus. Not only do we learn something of how the Fingers have been living their eternal lives but we also set up some conflict between these powerful warlords and establish that Sowande actually is in danger through the lens of people who have spent centuries being functionally unkillable suddenly feeling fear instead of a blatant single line of dialog untied to character motivations like you’d see in another show. When he dies in the next scene you can be safe in the knowledge that, unlike Bakuto, he won’t be coming back.

They also did a very credible job establishing how Sowande could escape without any of our heroes noticing. Their conflict is fairly realistic – I take issue with everyone complaining at Matt for not ‘laying everything out on the table’ when he didn’t keep it to himself for all that long, but it still makes more sense than many TV conflicts I’ve seen lately. The result of the escape attempt is also interesting in multiple ways. The visual of a beheaded Sowande is pretty powerful, it’s a eye-grabbber and an additional way of proving that he is really, really dead for sure. We see the intelligence, arrogance, ruthlessness and quick-thinking of Sowande followed immediately by Stick showing all of the same characteristics – just as we should expect from both of them, by now. Character driven events and explanations are always the way to go and Netflix followed through in those two scenes.

Get ready for next week when our heroes will inevitably suffer a setback and their friends will probably come under attack. It will be interesting to see if The Defenders is willing to let any of the named characters die.

 

Beyond the Wall: Beyond Belief

No one is perfect, but this episode was bad.

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers follow, as usual, for every episode of Game of Thrones up to and including Beyond the Wall, the sixth episode of the seventh season.

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Beyond the Wall had some really great moments in it. Almost every line of dialog between Jon’s crew in the titular location was pure gold. The final reveal at the end of the episode was devastating, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once. But everything that came in between was such a godawful mess that it really ruined those moments for many viewers. If you still enjoyed it anyway, that’s great!  There’s nothing wrong or bad with you at all. But that doesn’t make the writing and decision-making that went into episode any less poor.

I, personally, was so distracted by the flaws in the episode that they’re all I’ve been able to think about all week and a quick search of the internet shows I’m not alone. So here I have decided to rate from 1-4 every flaw I could identify in the episode. 1 will be a flaw that is extremely nitpicky to the point that even people like me would be willing to overlook it most of the time, 2 is annoying but not ultimately a big deal, 3 is pretty glaring problem but not quite the end of the world, and 4 is a storytelling flaw so deep that it never should have made it out of the first draft.

Prior to even the beginning of this episode the first flaw is Jon’s entire plan. We’re now nearly two weeks since this plan was introduced so plenty of digital ink has already been spilled about the issues here already so I’ll only touch on them briefly:

  • How exactly did Jon and company expect to find the enemy? Bran’s letter said the dead were marching on East Watch but there’s still at least a 90 degree radius and an undisclosed distance to search.
  • Why on earth does anyone think Cersei isn’t going to kill them the moment they show their faces in or near King’s Landing?
  • Similarly, why does anyone think that Cersei will help or at least not hinder them even if she believes the evidence they bring her and she doesn’t immediately kill them?
  • Was their plan really just to hope to stumble across a small enough band of wights that they could separate their target or kill the rest and make off with it? There is no way their plan would have worked if they had bumped into the main force first, instead.

There is never at any point any reason to believe that any part of this plan is feasible or possible. The planning that goes into it is so slipshod that when they miraculously succeed in separating a single wight from the enemy they take their sweet time in binding and silencing it ultimately leading to all the trouble that follows. ****

Remember when I said almost every word of dialog north of the wall was amazing? Tormund’s little speech to Jon about Mance Rayder was inane and misses the point entirely. Mance’s story is actually a huge divergence point for the TV series and books, but they both start in the same place: Mance can’t bend the knee even if he wanted to because his people wouldn’t stand for it, would probably disavow him as their leader, and might even kill him. In the books Stannis Baratheon sees this conundrum and works around it. In the TV series he simply, ruthlessly murders Mance for it. Something similar is true of Jon, but we’ll come back to this later. You can make an argument that maybe Tormund doesn’t understand the reality of Mance’s or Jon’s situations, but he has been a leader among the Wild Folk for a long time and has also had plenty of time to see how the northerners do things as well, by now. **

And now we get to Winterfell. Again, we have to take a step back to a prior episode to fully expand upon what’s wrong here. Arya spent years training to become a deadly assassin and master of deception. She got so good at it that she was able to defeat and evade others who had received identical training and had been practicing it for much longer. Yet somehow she gets back to Winterfell and apparently starts losing her edge. Time for another list!

  • Arya spies on Littlefinger so poorly that he is able to catch her at it.
  • Arya finds the note and instead of wondering why Littlefinger wanted it – if he wants it to protect Sansa then it would have made more sense to destroy it than to hide it under his bed – she starts wondering why Sansa wants it hidden.
  • Arya confronts Sansa with the letter, listens to her perfectly reasonable explanations and dismisses them.
  • Arya accuses Sansa of doing nothing to stop their father’s execution, but Arya didn’t do anything either. When Sansa points this out Arya’s only defense is, “Well, I wanted to.” Arya was there and she did see Sansa. They both were prevented from helping Ned because someone else held them back. This is a stupid argument.
  • Sansa responds to this argument by reminding Arya that they wouldn’t be in Winterfell right now if it wasn’t for her. This is true! But it also has no bearing on what Arya is saying or doing right now.
  • Littlefinger started this entire plot but his only contribution when Sansa comes to him for advice is to suggest that Sansa go to Brienne for protection. This continues his recent trend of making senseless decisions for no discernible gain. Why did he want the sisters fighting? What does he gain by inserting Brienne in the middle of it? It’s not like Brienne will take sides, she will try to mediate since she is pledged to protect them both. The best outcome from his point of view is that she does it so poorly that Arya attacks and Brienne is forced to kill her or is killed by Arya. But that seems overly complicated and unlikely to succeed.

The problem with this entire sequence is that there is obviously plotting and planning going on but there are no obvious goals for any of the participants – not even any red herring goals. It’s strife with no discernible goal or purpose other than to allow the writers to include those characters in the show while they wait for events to get back to them. ***

Daenerys continues to accuse Tyrion of treason every single time he says something she doesn’t like. This makes sense if they’re foreshadowing a paranoia which will lead her to become the Mad Queen, but I’m still not convinced they want to go there even though I’ve already detailed a mountain of evidence as to how she appears to be headed there anyway. Dany seems to have two different personalities – the kind Mother who wants to save all the little people by destroying the wheel and the paranoid, cruel Queen who is more than happy to burn everything to the ground to get her way, even if that means threatening and killing the very people she claims to want to save. The problem is that while both of these personalities are on display there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to which one will be at the forefront at any given time and there also appears to be no internal conflict whatsoever between these two sides. We need better writing or better acting to help us understand what’s happening with her and at this point I’m not sure which. ***

During his argument with Daenerys, Tyrion accuses her of both having a temper and being impulsive. He’s not wrong, both traits are display in this very episode when she immediately gets angry at him and later impulsively flies off on a reckless rescue mission. The example he uses, however, is not a good way to demonstrate either of those tendencies. The burning of the Tarleys both appeared to be planned out and done very calmly. Was it cruel and unnecessary? Probably. Did it show her temper or impulsiveness? Not really. *

Back past the wall, the crew encounters an undead bear. This is really cool scene and actually important to the story beyond being cool because it foreshadows that humans are not the only possible form of wights. However, Beric and Thoros wait until two men had been murdered by the bear to bother to light their swords. Everyone is standing there waiting to fight but it’s not until the second man is killed that they light their swords and retake a ready stance. Waiting until a choreographed death to perform your choreographed sword lighting is a good way to draw attention to the fact that it has all been choreographed. *

Later in the same fight Thoros grabs his flaming sword by the blade. That seems like a better way to burn your own hand and cut it off than it does to hold off a super-strong undead bear intent on devouring your insides. *

They go through all the trouble of having Thoros immediately survive the bear mauling long enough to have his wounds cauterized – a process that stops the bleeding but ordinarily still leaves the “patient” weak and severely injured. Later, more trouble was then taken to show that he’s still capable or marching, fighting, and running for his life which all seem like questionable propositions after being mauled by an undead bear. He then freezes to death in his sleep without contributing again to the mission. The only thing worse than a person surviving what should have been a sure death is when they don’t even use their respite to contribute to the story.  **

To this point none of Jon and his crew know how dead people are turned to wights. Jon is the only one who has experienced walkers turning. Back in the first season some black cloaks died north of the wall but didn’t turn until they were brought back to the Black Castle and interred. So after the bear kills two of their crew why don’t they just wait to see if those guys will turn into wights and hope to drag them back without having to continue their march looking for an entire undead army? **

Sansa makes a point of noting that Jon hasn’t written to her since he left for Dragonstone. Why on earth hasn’t he written her? It would be kind of important to reassure her and the rest of the north that he isn’t dead and that they should both keep following his commands and not try to name a successor. If he’s worried that she won’t approve of his plans that’s one of the great advantages of non-supersonic ravens over cell phones: she can’t argue back. ***

The convenience of Jon and company finding a small band including only one walker and a handful of wights is absolutely dwarfed by the fact that only one wight survive’s Jon killing the walker. Great, the writer’s wanted to convey the important info that killing walkers will kill the wights bound to them. Either kill all the wights and force Jon’s team to try again or leave a handful alive so that the hand of the writers is slightly less visible. If you think an Ed Sheeran cameo is distracting it’s nothing like being reminded that this has all been intentionally written to happen the way it is happening. ***

At absolutely no point in this entire series has anyone ever mentioned that Gendry is fast. If you’re going to make a big deal of Gendry being their only hope of getting help in time because he’s fast then viewers really needed to know about him being faster than everyone else before that moment and with something better than a throw-away line. *

Even more important than informing your audience that Gendry is fast is the need to explain how a man with no knowledge of the north is able to run and find his way back to the wall on his own. It’s also important to detail how he could expected to arrive there while carrying no supplies and wielding no weapon in enemy territory. **

Might as well go ahead and dig into the time problems now. The various cuts to tell other stories as the crew is marching up north make it feel as if 3-4 days pass as they search for the army of the dead. The cuts after that make it seem as if Gendry gets to back to Eastwatch in a single afternoon and the ravens get to Dany the next morning. She appears to arrive where Jon’s team are fighting for their lives later that same day. The distance between her and Jon is more than 1000 miles, this doesn’t seem possible.

Some people argue that more time passed than appeared to pass. If we accept that then we’re still left with some bad editing to leave viewers with the wrong impression of passing time. We’re also left with how long it should have taken and what should have been possible. Let’s say they walk out to a certain point and then wandered in a kind of arc to patrol for walkers, never getting very far from the castle. That would allow for Gendry to run back in a day, though it makes it even more likely he’d get lost. Based on this math from a dedicated Redditor it should take about 6 days for the raven to get to Dany and for her to get back. So that means Jon’s friends were hanging out on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake for a week with no food, no water, and no shelter. The shelter is a huge deal; being exposed on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake during incredibly cold temperatures with lots of wind and occasional blizzards is a good way to freeze to death. But no only do they not freeze, starve, or die of thirst but they are all able to fight a pitched battle at the end of that week and appear to be at full strength while doing so.

Also it seems unlikely that the Night King would have just stood around for a week watching them sleep and complain. At one point they all appeared to wake up at the same time which means they were all asleep at the same time. Even if only a day passed the Night King should have taken that opportunity to kill them all with his magic spears or send a couple of walkers or even wights across the ice to stab them all in their sleep.

No matter how you slice it, it doesn’t seem possible for Jon and his friends to be rescued in the manner depicted by the show. ****

Back to Winterfell. Sansa receives an invitation from Cersei to come down for the meeting about the wight. It’s confusing that Cersei would think to invite Sansa to a meeting that Jon was already supposed to be attending. There is no reason for Sansa to send anyone to this meeting, but she chooses to send Brienne and Podric.

Back in the day there was a real-time strategy game called Rebellion based on Star Wars. It featured many of the characters that could be found in the movies and books and they could be sent on various missions. If you played it you would quickly learn that you don’t send Mon Mothma on a spy mission because she’s a diplomat with no skills as a spy to speak of. Similarly you don’t send Han Solo on a diplomatic mission; he’s a smuggler. The point is that Sansa would be bad at this game; Brienne is not a diplomat, she’s a bodyguard. Removing her from a task she’s good at to send her on a mission she’s wholly unsuited for is a terrible idea. Even if she wasn’t worried about Arya or Little Finger or someone else attacking her – which she very much should be. This is pretty clearly only done so that Brienne has a reason to be at King’s Landing in the season finale. ****

Returning north of the wall, Jon and company are still surrounded. The Hound is angry, scared, and bored so he starts throwing rocks at the walkers. One of these rocks lands on the ice and doesn’t break it. This somehow tips off the undead army that it’s safe to march across the ice now. Last time I checked a rock the size of a fist weighs less than a person, much less an army. In fact, moments later as the attack begins the Hound smashes the ice with Gendry’s warhammer and shatters it. Where he does so it appears to be no thicker than it was when they first ran across it to safety. Those wights should all be breaking through the ice to swim in the icy water, again. If you want to argue that the ice at that thickness can support the weight of the army, it was only because it was weakened before I’d remind you that it was actually weakened by a handful of people standing on it to begin with and that The Hound’s hammer blow definitely should have weakened the ice in that area and caused a chain reaction of more breaking ice the same as before. **

As Dany lands Drogon to rescue everyone Jon finds himself still fighting off zombies in order to allow his friends to board the dragon. The thing is, he is intentionally moving further and further away from the dragon for no discernible reason. Had he stayed nearer to Drogon during his defense and obeyed the call to retreat instead of pressing even further forward it’s possible no one important would have had to die. This would be a one-star if it didn’t result in the second most impactful death of the series. ***

Moments later Jon falls into the lake with two ice zombies wrapped around him. He drops his sword. There is no reasonable logic that would allow an unarmed man heavily laden with sodden furs and leather armor to escape the grasp of a pair of ice zombies under a frozen lake and return to the surface. At least when Bronn pulled Jaime from the water they acted like it was a big deal. *

Beyond that, the entire falling into the lake sequence causes a ton of problems for not nearly enough payoff. At least when ravens fly at supersonic speeds it allows one hero to save another in a situation that has been brewing for a considerable period of time and results in some brilliant spectacle. In this case we get Jon escaping an underwater attack somehow, we get Benjen Stark coming out of nowhere, and we get a hypothermic and probably frostbitten Jon somehow surviving the entire ride back to Eastwatch – which is at least 1 day and possibly as many as 3. A little bit of research indicates that a person can survive in 41 degree Fahrenheit water for as many as 20 minutes. He’s not underwater for that long but after emerging he’s still in soaking wet clothes in presumably well below freezing above ground weather.

There has got to be a less disastrous way to achieve those goals. If you wanted Benjen to die you could have had him join up with Jon’s party earlier and he could have died helping defend the rock. If Jon needed to have his shirt removed then simply have Daenerys accidentally walk in on him while he’s changing back at Eastwatch before they head out to the meeting with Cersei. **

Daenerys literally tells Jon that she’s happy he went north and got her child killed because now she understands the reality of the threat. You can admit the benefit of understanding the threat without speaking words that seem to celebrate the death of your child. *

And now we finally return to Jon bending his knee. As noted earlier, Jon’s problem is a lot like Mance’s. He’s less likely to be killed for his choice, but there’s no reason to think the northerners will respect this him or obey this decision. He’s been missing for probably weeks with no word to his allies and he thinks he can return to his group of hard-bitten warriors in the north and tell them that now they’ll follow some woman who isn’t even from Westeros and think they’ll be OK with that? Based on the way we’ve seen them act the most likely outcome would seem to be that they would decide he’d been coerced into it, name Sansa Queen in the North and ask her to lead them into battle against Daenerys to avenge the loss of their latest king. That’s setting aside the fact that he doesn’t even have any benefit from bending the knee anymore; she’s already agreed to help him which is all he ever needed anyway. I’ve seen men do stupid things before but giving away your entire kingdom and responsibility to your people in order to impress your aunt has got to take the prize. ***

Game of Thrones made its bones by willingly killing the man who most closely resembled its protagonist in the first book of the series while the plot seemed to point toward his being a vital part of it for books/episodes to come. It is no longer willing to kill main characters, which makes sense as we’re nearing the end of the story and there are many fewer main characters to kill and who all still have roles to play. It is still, however, a distinctly bad idea to draw attention to this fact. As each unnamed party member fell during Jon’s trip north it emphasized just how many named characters weren’t dying. And it does so in a way that nameless mooks dying in large swaths just can’t do. Tormund almost dying for the second time in two seasons – and in a way that was reminiscent of how one of the nameless Brothers died just minutes earlier – makes this infinitely worse. **

Now that we’ve listed all the flaws but before you start arguing: yes, it is important for mundane things to make sense even in a fantasy setting. If anything can happen at any time because it’s a fantasy story with no rhyme or reason then there can be no dramatic tension. For example, how would you have felt if Jon and company, after being trapped on the rock in the middle of the frozen lake for a short time, just teleported back to King’s Landing. No explanation provided, nor even any acknowledgement that this was a tiny bit out of the ordinary. Not even a brief shot of Captain Kirk smiling from the bridge of the USS Enterprise. How would that make you feel? Would you have enjoyed the drama of the moment?

A near-earth fantasy setting still relies on audience familiarity with mundane things. So do the more outlandish stories, but that’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Humans still eat, breathe, and defecate. Birds still fly. Horses still carry riders from place to place. Doors still lead from one area to the next. In a fantasy setting it’s possible to break any of those rules, but you have to establish somehow that those rules can and should be broken.

The reason fans are willing to accept dragons is because they have been long established in the setting. Characters talked about them, saw their skulls, described their abilities and characteristics. For that matter, the particulars of these dragons rely a lot on the existing common perception of dragons at large. They are giant lizards that can fly and breathe fire. That’s a basic definition of very nearly every dragon ever written about. If you want your audience to accept that ravens in Game of Thrones can fly at supersonic speeds, that’s fine!  But you have to establish it as a possibility somehow. Instead, up until this point, Game of Thrones ravens have appeared to be identical to real ravens – the common perception of ravens – in every way. Breaking the rules of reality is fine, but it must be done intentionally and you must define the new set of rules for your audience; if you simply ignore this world altering ability it becomes a plot hole. Any story worth reading, watching, or otherwise consuming has to have rules that define the possible and impossible; break those rules too many times and the story can become meaningless and unsatisfying.