Commentary: *sigh* Damn it, Dorne.

Last Monday, I sat down to watch the first episode of Season Six of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which just so happens to be my favourite TV show at the minute by a long shot. Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss– despite recent criticism over certain writing decisions – have managed to make many viewers enjoy their adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s (hereafter referred to as the great GRRM) A Song of Ice and Fire. A generous proportion of GoT’s television-only viewers are those who would never consider watching or reading any sort of fantasy before its premiere, so the show has done a fantastic job acting as the introductory phase to fantasy for many fans around the world.

(On another note, my addiction to ASoIaF and GoT is such that I will find it very difficult to stray away from these topics on this blog, so you’ll probably see this sort of stuff coming up in the future relating to the show and the books. I think everyone has that one fandom that they can never get away from.)

Naturally, there will be SPOILERS for everything up to Season Six, Episode One in my review/rant/rambling, so I’m making sure that etiquette is observed.

Here, have a big colourful box-thing that says spoilers on it.

Game of Thrones is no stranger to controversy. This is, after all, the show where the first episode concludes with a ten-year old boy being thrown from a window after witnessing an incestuous encounter between a disgraced knight and his sister. (Incidentally, this is also the point where a friend’s dad decided that the show was for him). So GoT ticks the ‘crippling of children’ box and the ‘incestuous sex’ box pretty early on.

Perhaps the first instance of true controversy, however, comes in Season 4’s Breaker of Chains. In a scene within the Great Sept of Baelor, Ser Jaime Lannister presents himself before his sister and after a brief exchange the pair engage in arguably-not-quite-consensual sex. Naturally, this brought backlash from critics of the show, in which writers were accused of using ‘rape as a plot device’, a view that was staunchly opposed by the show’s cast and crew.

However, the main example of this sort of controversy would be the final scene of Season 5, Episode 6, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, an episode which currently holds the lowest Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of any of the episodes of the show, at 58%, well below the 91% approval of Season Four’s The Watchers on the Wall. S5E6 was marred by poor writing in some places, and criticised for poor cinematography during a fight scene that was filmed on site at Seville’s historic Alcazar palace, where filming regulations limited the freedom of the crew severely. However, the issue that was most pressing with Unbowed was the scene that took place on Ramsay Bolton and Sansa Stark’s wedding night, in which Ramsay essentially forces his new wife while emasculated slave Theon Greyjoy looks on in fright, with the camera panning to his face immediately before the cut to black.

The case of rape here cannot be argued. Sansa was an unwilling participant in the events of the scene, as was Theon/Reek. Indeed, it is presented in a not dissimilar way in the books, although Jeyne Poole replaces Sansa in the role of the victim. Unlike some ‘book purists’ I do not criticise Benioff and Weiss for their creative decision to send Sansa to replace Jeyne Poole at Winterfell, from the standpoint of her arc. A year following Alayne Stone and Littlefinger around the Vale would have made for very dull television, even with the inclusion of characters such as Randa Royce, Harrold Hardyng and Ser Lyn Corbray.

However, it is with respect to Sansa’s arc that Unbowed received most of its criticism. Some, like Vanity Fair’s Joanna Hudson, criticised the decision to make the scene about Theon’s emotions, seeing Sansa’s rape – to paraphrase – as a plot device to bring depth to Theon rather than Sansa herself. Others, like Hypable’s Michael Schick, argued that no plot development could be found in Sansa’s rape for any of the characters involved.

I agree to some extent with the latter view. There seemed to be a lack of character development in the Winterfell plot in the following episode, The Gift, wherein Reek, (Reek, it rhymes with freak) seems to have the same attitude towards Ramsay as he did in previous episodes. More notably, Sansa, whom many had named ‘Dark Sansa’ to symbolise her progression from puppet to player sometime at the end of Season 4, seemed to have reverted to a somewhat tormented version of herself.

Some viewers swore never to watch the show again. Viewing figures dropped from 6.24 million for Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken to 5.40 million for The Gift, the lowest since Season 3. On that note, I cannot help but praise The Gift. Despite its shortfalls, it was a fantastic episode, lifting Thrones out of the muddy quagmire it had dug itself with Unbowed, gave well-deserved justice to one character and saw the long-awaited meeting of two fan favourites. All in all, it was just what the show needed after a long, dark week.

But now, on to the present. After watching The Red Woman on Monday, I proceeded to engage in the typical week of Ye Thrones Obsessor, which consists of endless theorising, at least two rewatches of the episode and a close analysis of a bloodstain on the ground at Castle Black that looks sort of like a dragon… cos R+L=J, amirite? This also involves watching a number of other people react to the episode, including a certain reviewer named Ozzy Man Reviews, who is, to put it lightly, mildly humorous.

Ozzy starts off with a recap of the episode that involves a healthy dose of traditional Australian banter, and is followed by a surprisingly in-depth analysis of the episode’s themes. And this week Ozzy decided that The Red Woman is an episode based on returning to your roots.

He’s right. Cersei and Jaime – or Carol and Larry as ‘book purists’ dub them – had an emotional reunion in King’s Landing, concluding with Jaime’s statement that ‘we [the Lannisters] are the only ones who matter’ or something similar. This is almost exactly the same to Jaime’s statement way back in Season 1. Meanwhile, Brienne and Sansa met for a second time, and this time the lady knight was accepted into her lady’s service, in a scene mirroring an interaction between Catelyn and Brienne back in Season 2. Tyrion and Varys collaborated to rule Meereen, similar to their ruling of King’s Landing back in the good old days. Dany returned to the Brothraki in the Great Grass Sea. And Melisandre – the Red Woman of the episode’s title – went back to her roots quite literally, finally taking off her guise to reveal something rather different to what we expected.

But every show has its shitty parts. Game of Thrones has the unholy mess we call Dorne. You can tell how badly it’s been done when you look at the title sequence, where instead of the Water Gardens or Sunspear, the word ‘Dorne’ is simply stated, leading casual visitors to believe that the entire Principality of Dorne is just one palace in the middle of a desert. It’s like calling Winterfell ‘the North.’

After Season 4, Benioff and Weiss likely wanted to return to Dorne after a certain Dornishman’s popularity with viewers became apparent. We’d only been introduced to two Dornish characters at this point, Prince Oberyn and his paramour Ellaria Sand. As Oberyn had received a minor case of head-smashed-in during S4’s The Mountain and the Viper, Ellaria seemed to be a logical character to introduce viewers to the Dornish plot. We had Doran. We had Areo Hotah. No Arianne or Arys Oakheart was mentioned, but everything seemed to be fine. The Dorne plot might not be as interesting as its book counterpart, but fair enough – a story can be salvaged using some of Bronn’s dry wit and a bit of ingenuity with the writing. Benioff and Weiss have made good changes to D&D’s source material, such as the Tywin/Arya scenes in Season 2, and the streamlining of Tyrion’s journey to Meereen.

Sons of the Harpy, the fourth episode of GoT’s fifth season, was panned by book-readers for the death of beloved knight Ser Barristan Selmy, but that was not the only anti-book atrocity committed in this episode.

Enter the Sand Snakes Fakes. Obara. Nym. Tyene. Three women, all played by talented actresses, who sadly suffered from a bout of terrible writing. I understand that book-Tyene might not have fit the ‘warrior woman’ position, but she was interesting in her own right. Instead we got three interchangeable women, or ‘the hot one’, ‘the spear one’, and ‘the other one’.

We come to the end of Season Five with a bitter taste in our mouths. Dorne has turned into a weird dumping ground to keep Jaime occupied with Myrcella until the time comes for his Riverlands plot in Season Six. Nothing actually happens. Prince Doran sits in his chair, and we await his epic ‘fire and blood’ speech.

Nothing happens.

In The Red Woman, Prince Doran is sitting in his chair again when he receives grave news of Myrcella’s death. For a moment there, I expected him to give Areo Hotah the order to execute the Sand Fakes. Maybe the ‘fire and blood’ speech? Nope. Instead, Ellaria and Tyene pull their knives and stab both Hotah – a massive man who dies from a tiny dagger to the back – and Prince Doran.

Apparently, ‘weak men will never rule Dorne again.’ We cut to a scene of Trystane being killed on a boat and I cease to care when Nym quips ‘you’re a greedy bitch, you know’, ignoring the fact that Obara has become a kinslayer.

What do we do now, Dorne? Benioff and Weiss expect me to believe that the Yronwoods and the Allyrions and the Daynes are just going to sit around while Ellaria Sand and the Sand Fakes take over the Water Gardens, Sunspear, and everything. I did get the feeling that the writers just wanted to get Dorne out of the way quickly so that we never have to see it again. The only thing I want to see in Dorne is Ser Robert Strong storming the palace, killing Obara during one of her ‘I am Obara Sand. I fight for Dorne. Who do you fight for?’ monologues. That might even make me laugh.

But the worst, worst thing about it is that we are expected to like the Sand Fakes. They’re gutsy female characters who ensure that ‘weak men will never rule Dorne again’.

‘Weak men will never rule Dorne again’. GoT has its share of great female characters who have even acceded to the status of cultural icons. Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains… is a woman. Cersei Lannister, the (former) Queen Regent… is a woman. Brienne of Tarth – though I dislike the way she has become a killing machine – is a woman.

Margaery Tyrell. Sansa and Arya. Catelyn Stark and Ygritte and the Queen of Thorns. Game of Thrones has succeeded time and time again in making likeable, strong female characters. I’m male myself, but Sansa is my favourite Stark, for her pure resilience and shrewdness. The Red Woman made me appreciate the strength of Cersei and Melisandre, and I even enjoyed our first sighting of Daenerys – whom I dislike intensely in the show. So why, why, why in the name of the old gods do we have the Sand Fakes and Faullaria Sand clogging up this list. It’s time the Dornish decide to look at these four women for what they are; mindlessly violent, kinslayers and murderers of children. Or perhaps it’s better that we never see Dorne again.

I suppose, in the end, we wanted the good plot, but we needed the bad pooseh.

 

 

 

 

 

Credit for images of Game of Thrones is to HBO.

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Commentary: does society favour the extroverts?

Recently I’ve been looking into personality and some other stuff, and I’ve discovered the prominence of the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) in personality testing circles. Now, some people may doubt the usefulness and reliability of a test such as MBTI, but I’m not here to talk about that. What I’m here to talk about is my personal experiences of this testing, and some observations.

Now, I know that there is professional testing out there where you go and sit down in a room and some person who is probably more knowledgeable about psychology than you are stares at you for a while and asks a plethora of questions and then tells you everything you could ever want to know. However, I instead opted to take the free online personality test at https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test. I’ve taken this test twice and received two different results – further proving that MBTI can be inconsistent/inaccurate, but I digress – the first result was INFP and the second result (taken several months later) was INFJ.

INFJ

The only difference between these two types is the P/J indicator, which stands for Perceiving or Judging.

Now, having thoroughly read through the descriptions for both types, I’d agree that I identify fairly strongly with both of them in different ways. However, I do have a hunch (perhaps that’s my Ni-function kicking in) that I sort of lied to myself on the first test, where I received INFP – and thus I choose to identify primarily as an INFJ.

(I might talk about this some other time, but that isn’t the focus of this post).

And that brings me on nicely to my next point: why do we lie to ourselves about these sorts of things? Is it because the status quo teaches us that the more introverted personality types are somehow inferior? I don’t think so, but there is a certain social pressure on us introverts that tends to encourage us to become more and more extroverted.

Take, for example, the school environment as a base example. I wonder how many of you introverts have received school reports that tell you ‘this person is a hard worker/good student, but is very quiet in class.’ Here, the phrase ‘quiet in class’ is levelled as a criticism – but why should that be a criticism? In many environments, the more carefully thought out and considered ideas and arguments are often better-reasoned than those that are shouted out as half-finished ramblings.

(Although, I guess this blog is a half-finished rambling, in its own special way.)

A possible answer is that we are living in an increasingly extroverted society. For example, think about the stereotypes of big business executives: commanding presences with big ideas, big words, big power. Yet the truth is that there are introverts among these executives as well. Altruistic personality types such as the INFJ and the INFP may be among those best suited to dreaming up an idea, and the INTJ and ISTJ to get an overview of a situation. Yet these personalities are frequently passed over for their extroverted counterparts, who – while admittedly much stronger in some areas – are weaker in others.

There are, of course, introverts who have thrived in these big business environments – INT and IST types in particular may be well-suited to the areas of business, economics and politics. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are among the most successful businesspeople in the world, and they have been classified as introverts. In the field of politics, several US presidents – among them George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman and George H.W. Bush have been classified as introverts (though admittedly there is a lot of debate about some of these). Then there are spiritual and philosophical leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Plato…Plato Quote

You may have noticed that I’ve picked out some of those who are seen in a rather positive light by many people. Of course, I’m naturally biased towards the introverts, being one myself. But obviously we aren’t knights in shining armour or anything – I myself share a personality with Hitler…  and among the pantheon of introverts we can count such paragons of virtue as Robert Mugabe, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden.

And that is exactly why introverts should never be allowed to take over the world…

But I’m rambling a bit here (unsurprisingly), so let’s get back to that question: does society favour the introverts?

Well, while looking through this data of the expected MBTI of US presidents, I found a trend that over the years we seem to be tending more and more towards extroverted leaders. The most recent introverted president is George H.W. Bush, whose tenure as President of the United States ended in 1993-

(random note: I’m British myself, but our Prime Ministers have an uncanny tendency to be quite boring. I think that instead of asking what David Cameron’s personality is, we should be asking whether or not he has one.)

-whereas at the other end of America’s history, every president from 1789 up until James Monroe in 1817 – has been identified as an introvert.

FDRArguably the most significant extroverted president of the last 100 years has been Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw the end of the Great Depression and most of World War II during his tenure. Roosevelt is often viewed as one of the greatest American presidents, alongside Abraham Lincoln and George Washington (reportedly both introverts, yay!). Now, FDR’s successes cannot entirely be attributed to his extroverted status (he’s an ESTP), but perhaps it contributed in part to FDR’s work ethic during both the Great Depression and World War II.

There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.

 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR, of course, suffered with a crippling disability for much of his tenure as president. Yet, in keeping with his progressive ideologies, he decided to move forward, and his ethic of keeping going forward gave America a strong leader to carry it through the difficulties of the 1930s.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, incidentally, is the only president to have been elected four times by voters – before the introduction of the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951 . He also won a landslide victory in his first election over the Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, winning 57.4% of the popular vote and 472 electoral college votes to Hoover’s 59. 1932 Election MapThe obvious reason for this is because the American people had been tortured by the Wall Street Crash and the ensuing depression. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party’s plans to eliminate the worst effects of said depression by – which eventually led to the New Deal – were seen as a breath of fresh air, compared to the policies of the incumbent Republican party, which were held (perhaps unfairly) responsible for causing the Depression.

Yet there is another interesting thing to note: Roosevelt was the first extroverted president since his relative Theodore Roosevelt, whose tenure lasted between 1901 and 1909. Of the introverted presidents who came between the two Roosevelts, only Woodrow Wilson managed to be elected to two consecutive terms.

So maybe the American public were not looking just for a leader who promised change, but someone who could outwardly inspire rather than inwardly administrate.

However, presidents of the United States are obviously a very small sample size, and obviously the voted-in president does not represent the beliefs of an entire nation.

Yet we see that in recent times society is becoming more and more extroverted. Social media is largely a purely extroverted idea, and those who don’t want the ceaseless Facebook updates and onslaught of Snapchat notifications can often feel trapped within the social media bubble. We introverts (particularly the more extreme ones among us) need the opportunity to escape, and to unwind, and to get away from it all, something that is becoming more and more difficult in an age where hyperconnectivity is seen as normal, and anything other than that is seen as abnormal.

But I’m going against the status quo here. You won’t find me posting on Facebook or plastering my face all over Instagram. I’ll just be here, quietly venting my frustrations, until I get bored of my own rambling – and that will probably never happen.