Our watch is ended. The eighth season of Game of Thrones, which at times seemed to have been penned by Benioff & Weiss as a sort of Westerosi Mad Lib, has aired and we now know who wins…the equivalent of the Iron Throne.
Bran the Broken.
Bran the Staring.
Bran the Evil.
I’ve been saying it publicly since January, 2017 (and privately since the autumn before)–Bran is a super villain who was overlooked because he was physically broken. Perhaps it’s because I was raised by a very loud, very tough wheelchair-bound mother that I did not ever underestimate Brandon Stark.
From the moment he set out to find the Three-Eyed Raven, everything about that boy’s quest was entirely self-serving, and at the peril and sacrifice of his family, friends, servants, and bystanders. And now we understand why he cut a path through the northern woods: The boy who was cheated out of being a knight decided that the alternative of sitting the throne was acceptable. No matter the cost.
Bran the Broken.
Bran the Breaker.
Granted, show runners Benioff & Weiss did not openly acknowledge Bran’s villainy. They scripted him as just this really interesting, keen totem from a noble family. He won’t father children or spend his days whoring. He won’t wed. He won’t ride dragons. He won’t scream and rant. And his mobile throne is made of wood, so he probably won’t play much with fire. He is merely a quiet, creepy, seemingly harmless man in a wheelchair who stares and sometimes goes comatose for a little while.
B&W may even believe in their talentless hearts that this was a happy ending of sorts. But they are wrong. Without realizing it, they have served up a Westerosi tragedy with a very ominous ending.
The Tale of Bran the Broken
Once upon a time, there was a boy with a darkness in his heart who lived in a keep far north in the icy wilderness. He has disturbing dreams about a mysterious three-eyed raven and was filled with a sense of purpose to follow that bird. His trusted friends, Jojen and Meera Reed appear unprompted to guide him north to find the Thraven, bringing along servant Hodor for assistance.
During their expedition, it is a curious thing that none of the predatory and lethal White Walkers cross their paths, as if they are shielded from afar. All others who tread north of the wall can scarcely avoid the monsters. Nevertheless, Bran and his crew wend their way north, dodging the attention of any family or friends, wishing to remain completely secretive. Along the way, Jojen Reed is killed by a zombie ambush while Meera and Hodor get Bran to his goal tree. Then servant Hodor is commanded to hold the door to allow the newly minted Three-Eyed Branven to escape.
Upon returning to his childhood home, Winterfell, Bran the Broken dismisses weary and mourning servant Meera without any thanks, sending her back to her home, never to be heard from again.
Sitting in front of a warm fire, the Three-Eyed Branven declares himself no longer human, and speaks to no one unless pushed to do so. Even when he does speak, he withholds valuable information. He doesn’t raise the alarm when an ice dragon begins melting the wall. He doesn’t suggest that a nimble little assassin be positioned to take out the Night King. He doesn’t tell the women and children to stay out of the crypt when fighting a necromancer. He doesn’t intercede to save Varys or Theon. And he sits by knowing full well that Daenarys will burn King’s Landing to ash, innocents and all.
Curiously, he does speak up only to spread word of Aegon Targaryen, knowing that it will cleave the fragile alliances, and that Sansa will fan the flames. He sows discord at precisely the right moments to bring about his envisioned fate: To rule the [six] kingdoms.
In the ashes of the fallen city, as the newly formed council convenes to choose a new leader, Bran whispers into a few minds that he is the perfect choice, even though clever leaders of Westeros should be rightfully weary of an omnipotent man with limitless control over time and thought–that such a gift is too powerful to wield over a kingdom. And come to think of it, how did he get that gift and why? Who wanted him to have that power? The clouds of doubt begin to roll through their minds. Never mind, whispers a voice in their heads. His story is so interesting. He should be king.
Just as he taunted Joffrey that sparing Ned Stark’s head would make him as weak as a woman. Just as he whispered “burn them all” to two different Targaryens, father and daughter. Historically important people making unlikely judgment calls at critical junctures for the kingdom. All a means to an end.
While his Small Council will debate matters and rebuild “the wheel”, Brandon will rest in front of his royal fire, staring into the flames. Only then will he go back in time and send green dreams to Jojen Reed to begin the quest.
Bran the Bootstrap Paradox.
Bran the Broken.
Brandon has always known he would rule, because Bran the Broken made sure that he would. Now he has exiled his best rival to the vast northern wilderness and positioned his loyal sister in the north. The Starks now have tentacles reaching from far north to south, and even to the west.
Brandon Stark has become one of the monsters from Old Nan’s stories. Maybe he craves power and reach. Maybe he is being used by the Children to exact revenge on mankind. Maybe after all he is the blue-eyed giant named Macumber.
All we know is that Benioff and Weiss scripted his ascent to power as a noble and diplomatic compromise, without any acknowledgement that the lords and ladies were bowing to a creature who considers himself no longer human.
Bran the Broken.
Bran the Monster.
If I am correct in my suppositions, there is a bit more to the story that I can easily envision for the books:
Bran the Broken is King of Westeros, and slowly the Old Gods reawaken. The Sept of Balor has been burned and the reputation of The Seven among the people of the land is tarnished due to reports of Sparrow abuses. Some still quietly and discreetly worship The Seven, but from north to south spreads a fervor for the gods of old. Come the spring, the people of Westeros notice saplings sprout from the ground that hadn’t been seen in ages. The Heart Trees are regrowing, this time in lands where they had never been previously seen. The eyes of the Old Gods are upon all of Westeros and beyond, perhaps only blind to a small assassin who has sailed beyond the reach of the roots. In the north, the Children gather and grow and decide how next to act.
Gail the Goldfish has already seen a lot during the first two seasons of The West Wing, and season 3 only gets more exciting! Gail gets active in the re-election campaign, launches a protest for women’s rights, meets some diseased livestock, and has a close encounter of the Charlie kind!
Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 3.
If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!
Season 3, Episode 01
No Gail. She is still in shock over the tragedy that occurred at the World Trade Center.
Season 3, Episode 2
- Prop: Curious. Appears to be some sort of pagoda-like structure, but it isn’t clear how this ties into the plot.
- Gravel: Dark green and white
- Nod to Plot: Could it be a nod to Haiti? Somehow? I don’t think so. Maybe it is a pagoda and it is Gail’s way of telling CJ she needs more zen in her life right now!
Season 3, Episode 3
- Prop: Complete mystery. A shark? We never get very close to Gail. I blame Blabbish.
- Gravel: Dark green
- Nod to Plot: If it is maybe a toy shark, it would be because that’s what CJ needs coming after the Bartlet administration.
Season 3, Episode 4
- Prop: A whiteboard on an easel. It appears that Gail is helping out Sam, tracking the House votes.
- Gravel: White
- Nod to Plot: President Bartlet wants to veto a repeal of the Estate Tax, but House shenanigans threaten a veto override.
Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.
Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.
I laughed and agreed, but that surprisingly stung. Okay, it’s true, I have no farm experience outside of video games and children’s books. I’ve watched Babe a lot, and Baby Boom. But those don’t prepare you to drive cattle down a road while wearing a faded “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t have any Paulie Shore chaps or straw hat, nor did I have any John Denver playing. I wasn’t ready. We’ve only just moved to rural-rural Ireland, and I was raised in Metro Detroit.
On my equally leisurely stroll back to my rental house I silently curated quips to explain my “urban skillset” that farmers wouldn’t possess. I came up empty. I know that you should chain your barbecue grill to the house or it’ll get stolen (my dad lost three Weber kettles that way). I know how to time rush hour to the best advantage and when the mega grocery stores are emptiest, but them I’m out.
And that really bothered me, because today’s developing theme is “SKILLS!”.
It first emerged when I updated my LinkedIn profile. See, I quit my job of six years this past weekend, and now I need a new one. Nothing is a more haunting assessment of one’s life than staring blankly at the “Add New Skills” section of LinkedIn. The mouse hovers and my mind is a dark sea. I can reenact The Big Chill. I can cook homemade chicken noodle soup (on tonight’s menu). I can move my fucking family across an ocean. I can draw a very wonky Garfield cat. I know the entire Greek alphabet. I can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting. I can take my bra off without removing my shirt.
And still the mouse hovers waiting to add a skill. SKILLS! After six years of wonderful and instructive employment, shouldn’t I be overflowing with credentials? I have had a mad and exciting life!
I’m a certified Master Gardener. I am a citizen of two nations, and I live in a third. I was a ghost writer for a squirrel guide booklet. I buried a beloved sister. I won awards for my charity work. I published an article in Canada’s History magazine about an ancestor of mine. I’ve gone from assistant to manager in my last three jobs. And I can complain really, really well. I mean, like an art form. I vote in every election and I diligently recycle. Kind of.
Still the mouse hovers. My life has been anything but boring, but I can’t drive cattle. And I haven’t gotten any certifications in “project management”. I wasn’t training for another company’s job this whole time, I was training for my job. My job! The one I left so I could watch cows eat my freshly planted shrubs and leave liquid brown puddles in my gravel driveway. And the farmer’s laugh echos in my brain, and my phone buzzes with texts from my husband. He’s on a business trip and showing me the exciting new machinery he’s overseeing. Or something like that. I try to listen whenever he explains, but then “The Ride of the Valkyries” starts playing in my brain and…I lose track. But whatever makes him so proud of those machines, I bet that’s a skill. He and the farmer and the cows and the people at LinkedIn are probably somewhere together right now laughing and laughing.
While they’re off chomping cigars and toasting their lives of deliberate purpose and clarified direction, I will just keep telling myself how scrappy I am, damnit. I haven’t cultivated my life around corporate labels or agricultural knowhow, but I’m damn good at working hard and being a lovely, bold monster. And tonight, after I settle in with my bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, I’m going to flick off my bra from under my t-shirt and celebrate being skilless. Tomorrow, I order steak. Lots and lots of steak.
Everybody, we have a long and bloody road ahead of us until Election Day, 2020. The Monster Politic is just starting to awaken from its very short slumber, and the cable news channels are already feeding the beast and prepping the arena for some of the most ungladiator-like combat in the history of the worrrrrrld.
So, Dems, who are we going to throw in the arena with Lumpy the Orange Foul-Mouthed Blob? Will it be the DNA-tested woman who likes to video herself drinking a beer according to a script? Will it be the fuzzy-domed muppet who admits to loving socialism? Or maybe the dude who brags about watching porn with his mom.
So many choices!
Realizing you might need a little help picking which hero to give your favor to, I have devised a very helpful, very scientific overview of every current 2020 Democratic primary candidate:
Choose your candidate wisely. We only get one chance to crowbar that orange lump out of the White House and spray for crabs.
A card game for 3-8 players that is good for a quiet evening at home, or some time ’round the campfire.
Many years ago I went on a camping trip with a friend’s family to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness where you could see the stars at night, and smell the fish during the day. I was only thirteen, but even way back in those ancient times, this was a vacation free of television, phones, and air conditioning. During those days when it poured rain, and late at night when the crickets sung to the stars, we had little to do but play card games, and my friend’s family had a clear favorite: Shanghai Rummy. It was competitive and exciting…and it helped pass long blocks of time without counting the cricket chirps.
Decades have passed and that friend and I had a very ugly falling out long ago, but I still remember loving that card game. Much more than I love her. So I pulled out a couple decks of cards not long ago to pass a quiet night, and realized I couldn’t remember a single damn rule. And worst of all, the interweb tubes cannot agree on any part of the rules.
In advance, I beg your forgiveness for not playing the way you and Granny or cousin BuberToober used to play. There are eighteen billion (no exaggeration) variations on how to deal, how to score, and even the round requirements. Are Jokers wild? Or should deuces be wild? Are there penalties for accidentally discarding a valid card? Make up your mind, Al Gore! Well, this is the awesomest, most consensusy set of rules that matches my memory.
This is a card game that take a couple hours to play, and involves collecting cards in your hand until you have the right combo to dump them onto the table in front of you. The cards in your hand are your enemy, and threaten to saddle you with points that keep adding up until your shameful, shameful defeat.
- 2 decks of cards + 1 Joker (3-4 players)
- 3 decks of cards + 2 Jokers (5-8 players)
Basics: Read More
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most peculiarly loved films of all-time. Something about a clever man dreaming behind bars speaks to more people than I would’ve ever thought possible. But Rita Hayworth and I have one little question about a pivotal plot point: Was Andy Dufresne’s tax advice to the Warden bullshit?
Here’s how it goes: It is 1949, and atop a roof at the Shawshank Prison, Warden Hadley loudly groans that he has inherited $35,000 from his brother, but he is livid that the government is going to “take a big wet bite out of [his] ass” in taxes.
Prisoner Andy Dufresne dangerously interjects himself into the conversation insisting that the Warden need not suffer any tax burden at all, suggesting:
“If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time-only gift to your spouse. It’s good up to $60,000…Tax-free. IRS can’t touch one cent.”
But is that true? Or was it at least true in 1949? Or was Andy just bullshitting for some beers and the fun of it. Let’s take a look at the tax law to understand.
One reason this plot line may have crept into the deliciously warped mind of Stephen King (and therefore, that of character Andy Dufresne) is because there was a major reform of the United States Tax Code in 1948, specifically impacting estate and gift taxes–including marital exemptions. But did it provide a tax shelter for Warden Hadley’s inheritance?
Okay, RPG fanatics, it’s time to play one of my favorite time-killing games, “The D&D Alignment Game”! Which of your favorite characters falls into which Dungeons & Dragons-prescribed boxes?
I think the most fascinating aspect of categorizing the Game of Thrones characters is how passionate every character is. It was surprisingly hard to select a “true neutral”, because even characters who should have been completely neutral (read: maesters), weren’t. Pycelle was evil. Luwin was good. Hodor was good. Granted, “true neutral” is supposed to be the rarest of alignments, but I think it speaks to just how electric each character is in a massive cast.
Forgive me in advance for not being able to list more characters. Varys is “neutral good”, as is Daenarys and Jorah Mormont. Hodor is good. Joffrey is mostly “neutral evil” (though at moments, the argument could be made for chaotic evil). Jon Snuhh is “lawful good” just like his foster father. And Bran Stark? The jury may be out for some. But I have made a very strong argument that Brandon Stark is “neutral evil”. Oh yes. So evil.
Game of Thrones D&D Alignment Grid
A Few Definitions
Thinking of visiting Ireland this year on vacation? Getting around in a new country can be tricky, confusing, and startling. Don’t panic.
This is why I have assembled the following guide to help you navigate the unfamiliar roads of the Irish countryside*. It is based on my wisdom gleaned from living here for just under a year’s time. And let me tell you, at first these signs were a bit befuddling, but I think I’ve finally caught on.
*Sign instructions are probably wrong. Do not consult for actual safety or driving purposes.
The West Wing ranking continues! We have made it through the good, the bad, and the Ted McGinley in PART I and PART II. There are a few flaws with some of these episodes, but on the whole, they’re classic–warts and all. And by warts, I mean Commander Crap Reese. So put on your oversized Josh jammies, grab some whiskey and Blow Pops, and snuggle up with Marion Coatsworth of Marblehay. It’s time for the best!
Here are the Top 50:
50. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” (season 4, episode 20)
I love that Toby’s accoutrements for poker include a giant bottle of whiskey and two Blow Pops. With that noted, let’s play some poker! Oh wait, other things keep getting in the way, including a job interview with an actor who just got out of rehab, a telephone farce with a Russian leader, and a shooting in the Briefing Room (!!). The titular evidence and things not seen relate to each of these distractions, including Josh not seeing Joe Quincy’s (yeesh, what a name!) little Republican sticking out, and suppressing any feelings over the shots fired. The spy plane, the egg, Will hitting the fifth row. Get it? Hope? Faith? Skepticism? Fear? This is Sorkin being a little cutesy, and also trying to scare us a bit. See, we all know the season finale is approaching, but know not what shape the menace might take. Last episode we wondered about a plane crash. Now we wonder about another shooting. In the meantime, this fake spider under the sheets doesn’t move us very far but allows us to enjoy our favorite characters for a bit. That ain’t all bad.
Points Lost For: Very special guest star Matthew Perry. Blech. Joe Quincy is written like a pancake.
Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment: Remember back in “20 Hours in LA”, when Donna’s at the fancy-pantsy party and she wants to try and meet Matthew Perry? That makes Joe Quincy’s appearance less believable than his name.
49. “Manchester: Part 2” (season 3, episode 2)
Finally, we’ve settled at the Bartlet Farm! Can I just say that every single White House speech should be written in a barn with a serpentine test audience? Ach, but we’re doing the time warp again and it really dampens any dramatic crescendo that I might’ve enjoyed. What elevates this episode over its previous counterpart is the levity that we get from apple cider and Toby handling all the campaign signs with his magic marker.
LOST Crossover Theory: Has anyone considered that Evan Handler’s character, Doug, might actually be a figment of Sam’s imagination, just as his character on LOST, “Dave”, was Hurley’s imaginary tormentor? He is Sam’s conscience and coping mechanism after his recent paternal meltdown, followed by the revelation that his father-like President was also leading a secret life. He wants an apology from everybody. So he has invented Doug, who shouts at him and pushes him. Just like Dave. Connie might be his therapist who tries to explain what
Dave Doug means and help him through this troubling time. Hmmmmm. I’m on to something here.
48. “Stirred” (season 3, episode 17)
It seems to me that over the past few episodes, Josh and Donna really don’t have much to do. First, they were prank calling the Flenders of Hartsfield’s Landing, and then they were blowing up Lemon-Lyman.com. Now they’re debating the legitimacy of making a teacher appreciation day. Donna really is sweet, though, and I love the solution that they eventually cultivated. Most of us really did have one of those teachers, didn’t we? Mine was Mrs. Barbara McClanaghan. English teacher. Twelfth grade. She told me she saw something in me when really no one had to that point in my life. A friend, a wry mind, and really supportive mentor. She passed away from breast cancer in 2002. Darn you, Donna, for digging all of that up.
Points Awarded For: PB’s commentary on James Bond’s snooty martini order
Points Lost For: The gang seriously floating High Priest Leo’s name for V.P. He brings nothing electorally, he isn’t the folksy yin to the President’s brainy yang, and…I have a premonition that Leo might be really bad at campaigning.
47. “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” (season 2, episode 13)
Do any of you people have accents? How about you, you special bastard, Ted McGinley? Is that gum in your filthy Alpha Beta mouth? I’m interested, because, see, I just do not get a lady-boner for the State of the Union. Never have, doubt I ever will. As a matter of fact, I loathe it. But at least my annoyance can be channeled into Abbey’s anger. She gives such good wrath. And just to tie a big ribbon on this episode, I’ll note that any day, any time, I’d rather be dancing and drinking a Pink Squirrel in the steam pipe trunk distribution venue over watching even two minutes the SOTU.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: Two of the most high-profile women in the White House are so bubble-brained they both sit on a bench with wet paint, in spite of signs. Therefore, they must go on TV bottomless, or dance in bathrobes. Why isn’t Rob Lowe in a banana hammock, damn it all?
Side Note: It always bugs me that Ted’s show is spelled “Capital Beat”, instead of “Capitol Beat”. The former isn’t exactly wrong, but the latter makes so much better sense.
Pink Squirrel Recipe: (Because you’re dying to know) 1 part almond liqueur, 1 part creme de cacao, and 1-2 parts heavy cream or vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm.