The Alienist Episode One: The Boy on the Bridge

TNT’s limited series The Alienist, based on the book of the same name by Caleb Carr, follows three main characters: Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, our titular alienist, who seeks to understand the minds of those afflicted with mental illness; John Moore, an illustrator for the New York Times, who assists Kreizler by lending his eyes and his pen to the investigation; and Sarah Howard, longtime acquaintance of Moore and the first woman to be employed in any capacity with the New York Police Department.  The show takes viewers on a tour of 1896 New York’s seamy underside of boy prostitution and police corruption as Kreizler and his allies race to catch a serial killer.  The first episode introduces our characters and showcases the first gruesome murder.

John Moore, an apparent patron of brothels, is roused from an amorous encounter by the arrival of Stevie Taggert, employee of Dr. Kreizler, who drives him in a carriage to the construction site of the Williamsburg Bridge.  Talking his way past the police by claiming to have been sent for by Theodore Roosevelt (yes, that Teddy Roosevelt), he finds that he is to sketch a horrific murder scene.  A young boy clad in a girl’s dress has had his throat slit, his eyes gouged out, and his right hand cut off, among numerous other injuries.  His sketches don’t please Kreizler, though, as the doctor finds them too artistic and asks Moore for every detail he can describe.  The reason for Kreizler’s interest?  It turns out a former patient of his, also a cross-dressing boy, was killed in a very similar way three years earlier.  Unable to examine the recent body, he exhumes the earlier victim.  His longtime friendship with Roosevelt gets him the loan of two detectives who use “modern methods” to solve crimes.  Moore’s friendship with Sarah Howard, secretary to Roosevelt, gets him a peek at the autopsy file (although this proves useless).  Kreizler vows to do whatever he can, even dive into the murderer’s thoughts and become like him, to stop any further killings from happening.

Having read the book for the first time not too long ago, the story is pretty fresh in my memory.  A couple of changes jumped out at me right away, with the biggest one being that Moore is an illustrator for the New York Times in the series, as he’s a reporter in the book.  I think that this might give the character in the TNT series less of an active role to play than he did in the book.  The literary Moore was used to digging for information and questioning people to get what he wanted.  I hope that shifting his expertise to drawing won’t relegate him too much to the background, or perhaps worse, cast him as the hanger-on who merely follows the others and has little agency.

Sarah seems more “in-your-face” than her book counterpart, although neither version allows men to run roughshod over them.  This might be simply a factor of having to get the character established immediately on the screen, and thus we get scenes of her smoking and saying “To hell with” men, as well as flinging insults at one of the resident corrupt cops.  I hope they show her character’s intelligence as much as her moxie.

Kriezler is, for me, a breath of fresh air in the “turn of the century detective” genre.  Unlike the many portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, Kreizler’s is a contained genius.  He’s calm, collected, and obviously compassionate towards those he tries to help.  It makes his wild chase after someone who may be the killer, careening between horse-drawn carriages and into an abandoned warehouse, all the more stark by contrast.

I almost want to say that New York itself is a character.  There are wonderful CGI renditions of the New York skyline, the crowded buildings, the squalor and the beauty side by side.  It’s the soul of those streets that informs much of what we see here–if the show follows the book, viewers will see firsthand the living conditions of those less fortunate, as well as what it drives people to do.

My one complaint about this first episode is that it was a little hard to follow.  There’s a lot that needed to be set up in a single hour–the main characters, the setting, the corruption of the local police, the prevalence of prostitution, the attitudes towards those considered to be of a lower class–and because of this, I felt that some information was flying by so quickly that it was tough to take in.  I watched this show with Scott, who hasn’t read the book, and there were a few times that he was asking me for clarification of what was happening.  His attention wasn’t wandering, but he was having a little trouble connecting all the dots in so rapid a fashion, and if I hadn’t read the book, I would have as well.  My synopsis touches on the most important of plot details, because I can’t really document the significance of every glance, every slow motion passage of a shady character, every bit of background that paints the setting.

I’m interested enough to keep watching, so we’ll see what happens next week when we, presumably, see the next victim turn up.

Outlander Season Three Episode Four: “Of Lost Things”

Welcome to our recap of Season 3 of Outlander!  This season is based on the novel Voyager, a beefy book that follows the storylines of both Claire and Jamie, separated by two centuries.  It’s early days in the season, and we’re still going through the process of finding out exactly what Claire and Jamie have been up to over the course of twenty years.  So far, we’ve seen Claire decide to follow her dream of attending medical school, and we’ve seen Jamie sacrificing his freedom for his family after hiding in a cave for six years.  Tonight, Claire’s story catches up to her present-day timeline, and Jamie serves out his indenture at the estate of Helwater.  Another beloved character makes his first appearance as well, prompting both smiles and tears in anybody with a heart.

Let’s start with Claire’s storyline, since she’s not in the episode all that much.  She, Brianna, and Roger are searching for evidence of Jamie’s survival during the twenty years since Culloden.  Claire stumbles upon his name in the rolls of prisoners at Ardsmuir, and the trio are excited until they find that the prison closed and the prisoners were transported to America.  Subsequent searches of ships’ manifests and passenger logs turn up nothing further.  Roger is willing to travel to all the actual ports and see if more records exist, but Claire decides to call it quits and returns to Boston.

Oh, and Roger and Brianna finally kiss.  Seriously, how did she resist those sweaters for so long?

Back in the 1700s, Jamie is looking smart in a groom’s uniform and stylish ponytail.  He works for the Dunsany family, consisting of the lord and lady and their two daughters, Geneva and Isobel.  (As a side note, I squinted at the actor playing Lord Dunsany for the entire hour before realizing that he’s the actor who played Mr. Hurst in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.  Small world.)  The grooms all have a habit of drawing straws to see who has the, ahem, good fortune to accompany Geneva on her daily ride.  Not very popular, that one.  Her sister even realizes it, as she is fairly nonplussed at overhearing Jamie express the desire to give Geneva a kick in the butt.

But Geneva has some reason to be grumpy, since she’s headed for an arranged marriage with a guy old enough to be her grandfather, Lord Ellesmere.  And one thing she doesn’t want is to lose her virginity to an ancient lecher.  Luckily for her (unluckily for our hero), she cooks up a scheme to fix that.

Lord John has been keeping his promise to visit Jamie, and the pair are enjoying a quiet game of chess when the girls show up with John’s brother Hal–the same one who saved Jamie’s life at Culloden.  Geneva notices Hal’s reaction, although the older brother follows John’s lead and pretends (not very convincingly) to be meeting “Alex Mackenzie” for the first time.  But Geneva plies Hal with wine that night and gets the truth out of him.  This truth allows her to blackmail Jamie: if he wants her to keep his identity a secret, and possibly avoid complications for his family, Jamie will come to her room and take her virginity.  Jamie is understandably pissed off, but bows to the inevitable.  (This is different from the book, in which Geneva intercepts a letter from Jenny that is enough to give away who he is.)

Jamie grits his teeth and does what he has to do.  It turns out that Geneva isn’t nearly as confident as she makes out to be.  She’s scared and completely in the dark as to what is supposed to happen in bed.  You can sympathize with her, to a degree, because she’s basically been bartered off to a stranger.  As uncomfortable as it is to see a sex scene with Jamie that doesn’t include Claire, you have to give it to him–he tries to make it not-too-terrible for Geneva.  Later, after the wedding, Geneva and her husband visit Helwater and we see that she’s hugely pregnant.  Oh dear…

One night, Jamie is summoned by Isobel to ready the carriage.  Geneva is giving birth and is in distress.  The family hurries to the Ellesmere estate to find that Geneva has given birth to a baby boy.  And Jamie finds out that Isobel knows who the real father is when he comes upon her crying in the hall: Geneva has bled to death after the birth.  And the chaos doesn’t end there, as Lord Ellesmere also knows that the baby isn’t his, since he says he never shared her bed.  (He’s freaking out now after the birth?  Did this not occur to him in the previous nine months?)  Jamie and Isobel round the corner to see Ellesmere holding a knife to the infant, and Lord Dunsany holding a pistol aimed at Ellesmere.  Jamie tries to calm everyone down and manages to get the pistol, but when Ellesmere threatens to stab the infant, Jamie fires one perfect shot that takes Ellesmere down without harming the baby.  (Damn, I’m proud of that screencap.)

Days later, Jamie is confronted by Lady Dunsany, who reveals that she knows Jamie is a Jacobite prisoner, but in her gratitude for saving her grandson, she not only tells him that he won’t be held responsible for Ellesmere’s death, she will help Jamie get paroled so that he can go home.  But Jamie won’t go yet–he needs to watch over his son.  But as the boy grows, the resemblance between the pair gets too obvious.  And so, Jamie decides to leave his son and go home.

But he wants his son to have a guardian, and so he asks Lord John to watch over little William.  He offers John his body in exchange, to which John reacts with horror.  He says that he will never stop wanting Jamie, but that he won’t force himself on his friend.  And hey, he’s marrying Isobel, who has custody of William, so… instant stepfather.  He may not be a Murtagh, but John ain’t half bad.

Before Jamie leaves, William sneaks into Jamie’s room to see him.  He finds Jamie praying to the patron saint of lost things, and Williams declares that he wants to be “a stinking Papist” like his beloved “Mac”.  Jamie baptizes him “William James”, and gives him a carved snake just like the one his older brother (also named William) made for him.  The next day, he takes his leave of John, Isobel, and his son, and rides away without looking back.

Next week brings us to the moment when Claire returns to the past to finally be reunited with Jamie!  I wonder if that will end the episode, or if the showrunners will tease us by ending the episode with the print shop door opening…

Outlander Season Three Episode Three: “All Debts Paid”

Welcome to our recap of Season 3 of Outlander!  This season is based on the novel Voyager, a beefy book that follows the storylines of both Claire and Jamie, separated by two centuries.  It’s early days in the season, and we’re still going through the process of finding out exactly what Claire and Jamie have been up to over the course of twenty years.  So far, we’ve seen Claire decide to follow her dream of attending medical school, and we’ve seen Jamie sacrificing his freedom for his family after hiding in a cave for six years.  Tonight, we can both rejoice and grieve—rejoice at two characters that we’ve all wanted to see, and grieve for the final exit of someone we’ve come to know and love.

The past two weeks we’ve started with Claire’s storyline, but I think this week we’ll reverse that, as there are some massive events in Claire’s life that deserve a little drama in their telling.

Somewhere in Scotland is Ardsmuir Prison, a bleak posting that is thought of as a punishment post for the officers unlucky enough to be stationed there.  Arriving at this inauspicious place is one of the series’ most anticipated characters: Lord John Grey, who has come to take up the post of Governor of the prison.  Colonel Quarrie, whom Lord John will replace, is all too happy to flee to parts more civilized, and he warns John that his only society will be his officers… and one prisoner.  Red Jamie Fraser is at Ardsmuir, kept in irons, and the other Jacobite prisoners treat him as their chief, calling him Mac Dubh.  John doesn’t like that suggestion, and if you paid attention to the “Previously on” segment of the show, you remember that Jamie spared John’s life at Carryarrick, for which John, perversely, hasn’t forgiven him.

Still, John seems to realize the value of cultivating Jamie’s acquaintance and asks to speak to him.  Jamie is obviously wary of him, and doesn’t seem to recognize John.  Their first conversation is brief, although John does get a bit of an earful about the rats in the cells and how the prisoners will eat them if they catch them.  In the aforementioned cells is the most welcome sight imaginable: Murtagh!!!  CRANKY OTTER LIVES!!!  Okay, he’s a bit the worse for wear, with a nasty cough and a festering rat bite on his wrist (anybody else think he’s going to replace Duncan Innes later down the line?) but still, he’s alive!  And I am a happy recapper.

Later, a British patrol comes across a man walking alone across the moor, muttering about cursed gold.  Immediately thinking of the Frenchman’s gold—the fortune that King Louis of France was supposed to have sent to Charles Stuart—they swoop down on the poor guy and spirit him off to the prison.  Lord John, realizing that he needs help to translate the man’s hodgepodge of English, French, and Gaelic, asks for Jamie’s help.  Jamie initially refuses, but John promises to strike off his irons if he helps.  All he wants is a true and accurate telling of what the man (Duncan Kerr) says, and Jamie’s silence on the matter.  Jamie wants John’s help in treating the prisoners who are sick, but when John protests that he hasn’t the resources to do so, Jamie asks him to help one in specific: Murtagh.  Duncan Kerr is near death, babbling about selkies and Jamie’s mother Ellen, but it’s his mention of a white witch that gets Jamie’s attention.  Duncan dies without giving Jamie any real information, but Jamie becomes determined to find out if the “white witch” is Claire, and the next day, he escapes while the prisoners are being marched out to cut peat.

John is, as you can imagine, less than pleased with this development, but searches diligently for the rogue Highlander.  As John is leading the search, Jamie pops up behind him (how can a guy that big move so quietly?) and reveals that he knows who John is.  And he wants John to honor his promise to kill him.  John won’t kill an unarmed prisoner, though, leaving Jamie reluctantly in possession of his life.  Jamie does explain to John why he ran, and John begins to see how lost Jamie feels without his wife.  The two men begin to bond over dinners and games of chess, and eventually, Jamie talks about Claire with John.  In return, John tells Jamie about the loss of his dear friend on the battlefield at Culloden, with the clear intimation that they were more than friends.  John tries to console Jamie by putting a hand over his, but almost unconsciously strokes Jamie’s hand with his thumb, causing Jamie to shut down and threaten to kill John.

The pair still haven’t reconciled their friendship when Ardsmuir is closed and the prisoners set to be transported to America and into fourteen years of indentured servitude.  Jamie, however, seems bound for a different fate, as John ropes him to his saddle and sets off across the countryside with him.  He’s gotten Jamie’s indenture transferred to a landowner at a place called Helwater—the best he could do to give Jamie his freedom.  When Jamie questions him, saying “I didn’t give you what you wanted”, John expresses his regret for that moment, and says he wanted to discharge his debt to Jamie.  The pair proceed to Helwater.

Off to the 1950s we go!  Claire and Frank are having breakfast together—a proper English breakfast, prompted by Brianna having asked for Eggo toaster waffles.  Over the meal, Claire suggests that she and Frank see a movie that night, which he’s willing to do, but he admits to having seen the two that she’s suggesting.  Claire is taken aback, but a comment from Frank explains things to the viewers: Frank and Claire have agreed to lead separate lives, which includes seeing other people.  He has promised to be discreet, for the sake of her and Brianna, but he is obviously seeking companionship elsewhere.  This is actually a fairly neat and tidy way to resolve the contradiction of the book version of Frank, whom the author says can’t be proved to have cheated but whom we are told (by Claire, who may not be the most reliable narrator in this regard) that he had definitely had affairs.  It also keeps the essence of the book version of Frank while making him more likeable to those who have only seen the show.  After all, if Claire cooked up the idea of letting him see other women, he’s not quite the cad he might otherwise have seemed.  Okay, book nerdishness off now.

A few years later, Claire and Joe have gotten their medical degrees and they’re having a graduation party at Claire and Frank’s house.  Frank is a bit concerned about their dinner reservations, having misremembered them as being at six, when in fact they’re at seven.  His nerves are explained when a young woman rings their doorbell and is visibly shocked to see Claire, who answers the door.  Claire covers her anger by suggesting that the party go to the restaurant early.  But you know this is a fight that won’t be put off forever.  In fact, as soon as Frank gets home, Claire confronts him.  How dare he bring a woman to the house where their daughter lives?  Even if she was just picking him up, Claire feels that Frank is throwing his affair in her face, and on the night of her graduation.  Frank admits that he might just have wanted to hurt her, to make her feel what he’s felt for so long.  But when Claire tells him to file for divorce, he refuses, afraid that he’ll lose his connection with Brianna.

1966 rolls around, and Brianna graduates from high school.  That night, Frank confronts Claire with his request for a divorce.  Brianna is eighteen now, and Frank has been offered a job in Cambridge—and he hopes Bree will go to England with him.  For good.  Claire accuses him of waiting for the clock to run out to make his escape, but he pleads with her to understand that he wants to live what life he can while he can.  He asks her if she could have forgotten Jamie with time, if Brianna hadn’t been a living reminder.  She replies “That amount of time doesn’t exist.”  Frank grabs his car keys and leaves the house, leaving Claire briefly alone before being called to the hospital for a surgery.

Later that evening, as Claire comforts the husband of the woman she just operated on, Joe approaches her with a shocked look.  It’s Frank, he says.  He’s been in a car accident.  Claire runs out to the ER, only to find Frank lying dead on a gurney.  Now that it’s too late, Claire is finally able to admit that she did love Frank, and that he was her first love.  She kisses him goodbye, visibly pulls herself together, and walks out.

And thus exits a great character and a wonderful actor.  Tobias, we’ll miss you and we hope that you return in a flashback or two.  Next week, we return to 1968 as Claire, Brianna, and Roger search for evidence of Jamie’s continued survival through history.

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Outlander Season Three Episode Two: “Surrender”

Welcome to our recap of Season 3 of Outlander!  This season is based on the novel Voyager, a beefy book that follows the storylines of both Claire and Jamie, separated by two centuries.  When last we saw our intrepid hero and heroine, it was April 16, 1746, and the Battle of Culloden was beginning–the battle that would mark the destruction of the Highland way of life.  Jamie had sent a pregnant Claire back to her own time through the stones at Craig na Dun and then returned to the Highland army with the expectation of dying on the battlefield.  Twenty years later, Claire discovers that Jamie did not actually die that day and vows to return to the eighteenth century to find him again.  The first few episodes are going to be covering what happened in Jamie and Claire’s lives after their separation.

Claire’s storyline isn’t too hard to recap this week, as it all runs along the lines of her trying to insert Frank into Jamie’s place.  Yes, I know what i just said… it was deliberate.  That’s because there’s a lot of focus on Claire and Frank’s sexual relationship in this episode.  It reminds me strongly of the very first episode of this series, when the two were reunited and on their second honeymoon.  Claire says straight out that she and Frank used sex to find their way back to each other after being separated for several years in the war.  Back then, they were torn apart before they could really complete the process of reconnecting, and I see the writers showing that they’re on a similar path again.  They seem to find some measure of comfort in each other physically, but not much else.

Or do they?  Claire appears to be a bit, um, distracted in realms fleshly.  Dreams of Jamie haunt her (and my God, does Jamie have some smolder–even my husband Scott said that Jamie’s look over his shoulder at Claire in her dream was sexy).  So much so that she awakens from a dream and decides to take matters into her own hands.  Yes, Claire, we see where your hands are.

But you can’t say that Claire isn’t trying to make it work.  She and Frank do seem to be bonding over Brianna, with whom Frank is clearly completely smitten.  When Bree turns over by herself for the first time, Frank has just jumped out of the shower and is walking through with nothing on but a towel when he detours to cuddle the baby.  And is anybody going to deny that he looked adorable holding little Bree?  Claire and Frank share a moment as she realizes that he’s wet and almost naked and… ahem.  Off goes Frank to fix the hot water heater, and I’m pretty sure all he’ll have to do is smile at the thing to get some steam a-goin’.  That night, Claire reaches out to him and whispers “I miss my husband” before jumping his bones.  WE SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE, LADY.

Next up is a dinner party, with Neighbor Millie and her husband.  The two are flirting heavily with each other (how much wine was involved in this dinner, anyway?) and it really underlines what Claire and Frank are missing in their relationship.  After the lovebirds leave, Claire and Frank share a nightcap in front of the fireplace, and then Claire offers to share more than that.  They end up having sex on the floor by the fire, but Frank can’t help but notice that Claire’s eyes are closed… and he knows what that probably means.  He pulls away from her, saying “When I’m with you, I’m with you… but you’re with him.”

Claire realizes that her new life is a prison of a different kind than the one that Jamie will soon be enduring, but it’s a prison nonetheless.  Reaching for a purpose in her life, she enrolls in medical school, the only woman in her class.  This is something that the professor (and what IS it with white men in Boston???) can’t resist pointing out, also noting that the class contains their first black student.  And thus does Claire meet Joe Abernathy, one of her closest friends in years to come.  Readers didn’t get to see this meeting in the book, but the showrunners included it here to give viewers the beginning of their friendship.

Our last glimpse of our strained pair is at bedtime one night, in which the camera pulls out to reveal that Frank and Claire now sleep in separate twin beds.  Ouch.

Back in the early 1750s, the family at Lallybroch has been living with regular invasions of British soldiers, hunting for the elusive outlaw Red Jamie, whom they believe is the same person as a figure who’s cropped up called the Dunbonnet.  Jenny and Ian deny harboring a Jacobite traitor, and they’re not lying–Jamie isn’t at the estate.  He’s lurking around in the hills above Lallybroch, feral and hollow-eyed and sporting a truly awe-inspiring beard.  He watches from the shadows as Fergus taunts the British soldiers (especially a Scot who sided with the Crown and is now viewed as a traitor himself among the Highlanders) and as the soldiers drag Ian away to prison (mostly just because they can).  Jenny, hugely pregnant, is confident Ian will be back soon, just like all the other times.

Later, Jamie takes down a deer and hauls it back to Lallybroch.  It’s not made really clear in the show, but in the book readers are made well aware of the fact that Jamie’s hunting is helping keep his family from starvation.  Tromping into the courtyard with his load of fast food (heh), his imagination shows him Claire waiting for him and smiling at him.  Alas for our hearts, it’s actually Jenny standing there.  Gotta wait longer for that reunion scene.  In the kitchen, Jamie silently butchers the deer and seems content to communicate in expressive glares.  Joking aside, Sam is doing a great job at portraying how lost Jamie is without Claire.  The blank looks, the silence, the hoarse voice when he does eventually talk–they all hint at a man who never really came back from that battlefield, as Jenny succinctly notes later in the episdoe.

Fergus has distinctly mixed feelings about his beloved Milord by this point.  After finding a pistol hidden in the dovecote, Jamie growls at him to put it back, because weapons are now forbidden in the Highlands.  Fergus wants to learn to shoot and fight, so that he’s ready for the next time it comes to war, but Jamie refuses to give in to his demands.  Fergus lashes out at Jamie calling him a coward.  Jamie barely reacts.

The next time Jamie shows up (scaring Mary McNab this time), he finds out that Jenny is giving birth!  While he paces upstairs, Fergus, Rabbie McNab and young Jamie see a raven on the roof and, fetching the pistol, shoot the bird.  Ravens are bad luck, and they don’t want any harm to come to the baby.  (The showrunners said that this is a callback to Fergus’s reaction to the death of baby Faith.)  And it’s bad luck, all right–a Redcoat patrol is nearby and hears the shot.

Upstairs, Jamie cradles his new nephew, who is to be named after his father (HELLO WEE IAN!), while Jenny quizzes Jamie on when he last had sex.  Um, nosy much, Jenny?  Yes, she’s worried about Jamie’s state of mind, but wow.  This tender scene of sibling companionship is interrupted by the arrival of the British patrol, who demand to know who has the gun.  Jenny dissembles like a pro, playing on her condition as having recently given birth and lying through her teeth that the infant died, hoping the soldiers will leave.  Instead, they demand to see the body.  WHAT THE HELL, SOLDIER BOYS.  Meanwhile, Jamie is hiding in an antechamber with the baby, trying desperately to keep it from crying.  Just when all seems lost, Mary McNab comes in with the pistol, saying she shot it to kill the raven in an effort to save the baby.  The soldiers are disgusted with the superstition, but do no more than confiscate the gun and leave.

But our wily limeys haven’t actually gone anywhere–the Scottish corporal has stuck around hoping that someone will lead him to Jamie, and he think he’s hit the jackpot when he sees Fergus head into the woods.  But the boy is leading them in circles, and soon starts taunting the Redcoats with both language and gestures.  Fergus, where did you hear such things?… oh yeah, you were raised in a brothel.  Carry on, then.  Jamie watches the goings-on with grumpy disbelief, and no small measure of fear.  Well-founded fear, as more soldiers show up and Fergus is cornered and grabbed.  In a fit of rage, the Scottish soldier draws his sword, and with one stroke, he severs Fergus’s left hand.  The soldiers quickly decamp after this, leaving Fergus to bleed out.  Lucky that Jamie was nearby, because he’s able to carry Fergus to Lallybroch in time to staunch the bleeding.

It finally sinks in to Jamie’s stubborn Scottish skull that others are suffering on his behalf and that he does still have things to fight for.  With that in mind, he hatches a plan: Jenny will turn Jamie in to the soldiers, thus earning the reward (which will feed the family) and proving the Frasers to be loyal to the Crown.  To say that Jenny isn’t happy with this idea is an understatement, but Jamie out-stubborns her.  That night, in his cave, Jamie gets a visit from Mary McNab, who not only cuts his hair and shaves his beard off, but offers the complete spa treatment in the form of, well… her.  Jamie initially demurs, but Mary says she knows what he had with Claire and is only offering comfort before he goes to somewhere that will have nothing of the kind.  Crying, eyes closed, he kisses her.

The next day, a clean-shaven Jamie shows up at the front gate of Lallybroch only to be grabbed by British soldiers.  Jenny, playing her part, screams at him “You forced me to do this, and I’ll never forgive you!”  Methinks this is more than just playing the part here…

Our episode ends with Claire walking through the streets of Boston and hearing a bagpiper playing “Scotland the Brave”.  She puts some money in his hat and continues on her way.

Next time, one of the characters we’ve all been waiting to see makes his appearance: Lord John Gray, a man who will eventually become one of Jamie’s best friends, but for now, their relationship can best be described as “fraught’.  Fraught with what?  We’ll see next week!

Outlander Season 3 Episode One: “The Battle Joined”

Welcome to our recap of Season 3 of Outlander!  This season is based on the novel Voyager, a beefy book that follows the storylines of both Claire and Jamie, separated by two centuries.  When last we saw our intrepid hero and heroine, it was April 16, 1746, and the Battle of Culloden was beginning–the battle that would mark the destruction of the Highland way of life.  Jamie had sent a pregnant Claire back to her own time through the stones at Craig na Dun and then returned to the Highland army with the expectation of dying on the battlefield.  Twenty years later, Claire discovers that Jamie did not actually die that day and vows to return to the eighteenth century to find him again.  The first few episodes are going to be covering what happened in Jamie and Claire’s lives after their separation.

Let’s start by following Claire’s storyline–yes, I’m going to make you wait for news of the hot Highlander.

Cast your mind waaaaaaay back to the first episode of season one and you’ll remember that Claire and Frank had moved to Boston to get a fresh start after Claire’s disappearance and reappearance.  We catch up with them checking out their new digs in America.  Frank has gone all-out finding a place for them to live and raise their child, so much so that Claire asks if they can afford it.  Frank admits it will make things a little tight, but that he knows that she wants a real home.  Frank, you are too sweet for words.  (Speaking of words, Tobias Menzies as Frank gets to bust out an American drawl that makes me want to see him star in the new Kingsmen movie, but I digress.)  It is so obvious that he still adores Claire and wants to make things work–I want to hug him and pretend that everything is going to be okay.

Flash forward a few months and Claire is most definitely sporting a baby bump… well, more like a baby beach ball.  The woman who patched up wounded men and traveled with an eighteenth century army camp is now reduced to trying to get a gas stove to light.  Oh, how far we have fallen.  But wait!… Claire has a bright idea to cook dinner in the fireplace, and to heck with the stove!  She goes out for firewood, and upon returning meets her neighbor, Millie.  This lady seems a little empty-headed, but basically decent–throwback to the ladies she hung out with in Paris?  Perhaps.

Claire also goes with Frank to a faculty party and meets his boss, who is stunned to discover that Claire has a brain and expresses political opinions!  How gauche!  He suggests that Frank police his wife’s reading, lest she start thinking that women can go to school, and, you know, not be dependent on men.  Give Frank some credit, he stands up for Claire by pointing out that she was a combat nurse, but all this gets is the smug assertion that Claire must be glad to get back to cleaning house and making babies.  We actually see her swallow down about fifteen different responses before she finally answers “Yes” with a big, bright, I’m-humoring-you-for-my-husband’s-sake smile.

Forward a bit more and Claire and Frank are having breakfast and actually talking like normal human beings.  Yay, some progress!  Except that when Frank goes to touch her belly, she shies away from him.  A vicious argument ensues, one which includes thrown ashtrays, and it ends with Frank telling Claire that she can stay or go, but to make sure she’s doing what she wants to do.  The shot of the two of them separated by a wall as he hesitates at the front door is heartbreaking.  But you have to wonder: how much has Claire told him about his ancestor Jack Randall?  She obviously told him some of the terrible things Jack did, as last season Roger and Brianna found a letter from Frank saying that Jack “wasn’t the man he thought he was”.  Does he really understand what it would be like for Claire to see love in the face of a sadist?  Granted, she’s also grieving for Jamie, but I bet Frank’s resemblance to Jack is just eating her up as well.

Later that night, Frank’s exile to the couch leads to nothing but noting every little noise in his house, so he gets up to write a letter.  It’s to the Reverend back in Inverness, and he asks him to find info on Jamie.  Starting to believe a bit, are we, Frank?  However, he is interrupted by the imminent appearance of a baby.  Claire’s in labor!  At the hospital, the doctor on call is a real jackass, talking over Claire and telling her not to worry her “pretty little head” and knocking her out over her objections.  Sheesh, those women, thinking they can dictate what happens to their bodies.  When she wakes up, she is sans beach ball and starts panic, but a besotted Frank walks in with little Brianna.  The two actually kiss and promise to make a new start together… and then the nurse, with the world’s worst sense of timing, asks where the baby got her red hair.  You can literally see the walls slam closed behind Frank’s eyes.

And now, back to Scotland, April 16, 1746.  The Battle of Culloden is over and the Highland army has been almost entirely wiped out.  Bodies litter the field, and British soldiers wander around looting the bodies and delivering a death blow to anyone still living.  In the middle of one of those piles lies Jamie, pinned under the body of a British soldier.  He’s gravely wounded, and as he drifts in and out of consciousness, bits and pieces of the battle come back to him.  He remembers the moments at Craig na Dun after Claire vanishes through the stones.  He returns to the army and urges Prince Charles to order a charge immediately “while there’s still a chance”.  The Highlanders charge as cannon blasts land in their ranks, red-coated British infantrymen fire indiscriminately, and bayonets are leveled at them.  At one point, Jamie smothers a British soldier with a clump of turf–the Highlands themselves are fighting back!  At another point, Jamie encounters Murtagh, still up and fighting with a crazed grin on his face, assuring Jamie that the Lallybroch men are safe before returning to the fighting.  And can I just say how brutal this whole sequence was?  This battle wasn’t noble or heroic.  It was slaughter, butchery, desperate hand to hand struggle, plain and simple.  Of all the battle scenes in this show, I think this one caught the terrible savagery of bladed combat the best.

And then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Jamie and Black Jack Randall lock eyes across a crowded battlefield… okay, I’ll be serious now.  The pair launch themselves at each other with all the power of their mutual history behind them.  Jack slashes Jamie’s leg (so THAT’S how  he got that scar!), and in return, Jamie stabs him in the gut.  The two continue to struggle until, at last, they’re the only ones left on their feet and they’re blindly swiping at each other with the last of their strength.  In the end, Jack reaches out to Jamie, a look almost of grief on his face, before the two collapse together… and we realize that it’s Jack’s body that’s on top of Jamie.  Kudos to Tobias Menzies for his final portrayal as Black Jack.  The showrunners said that Menzies ad-libbed the gesture towards Jamie at the very end of their fight, and they left it in because it summed up their relationship so very well.  Hard on the heels of this memory is a vision of Claire walking to Jamie across the battlefield.  She asks if he’s alive, but he rouses enough to realize that it’s actually Rupert who has found him and who then drags him into a nearby farmhouse with a group of wounded Jacobites hoping to escape the notice of the British.  Jamie asks what happened to Murtagh, but no one knows if he survived.  In the books, Jamie remembers holding Murtagh as he died, so the fact that we didn’t see his fate gives me hope that he’ll be back.  GIVE ME BACK MY CRANKY OTTER.  Ahem.  I am somewhat fond of Murtagh.  #AlwaysTakeAMurtagh.

The next day, the small group is found by a group of British soldiers under the command of Lord Melton.  He informs the Highlanders that they are all to be executed, although he will give them an hour to prepare themselves and write letters to their families.  It’s a weird way of giving the Highlanders honor as soldiers, but he says they will be shot instead of hanged.  You take what you can get, I guess.  Rupert tries to argue for the lives of two teenage boys but is told no exceptions can be made.  As each man goes to his doom, his name is taken down for the official records.  Rupert takes his final leave of Jamie, telling him that he may not forgive him for killing Dougal, but he won’t go to his grave hating him for it.  He marches off, secure in the knowledge that he is about to see Angus again.  And we all weep uncontrollably at the thought.

When Jamie’s turn comes and he says his full name, Lord Melton does the proper British equivalent of a tea-less spit take.  Remember the kid whose life Jamie spared back in season two?  John Gray?  Turns out Lord Melton is his older brother!  Since John Gray told his brother that he owes Jamie his life, Lord Melton can’t allow Jamie to be executed without completely destroying his family’s honor.  He decides to send Jamie home to Lallybroch on a cart, reasoning that if he doesn’t survive, at least Jamie’s death won’t be on his hands (or his honor).  Jamie jounces along in the cart for a few days before opening his eyes to see Jenny and Ian looking down at him.  The war is over, and Jamie has come home.  But to what?  Tune in next time to find out!

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Game of Thrones Episode Seven: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

Welcome to our weekly recap of Game of Thrones, the show that makes you scream obscenities at your television. We’re well beyond the books and no one knows what’s going to happen, although as you might imagine, there are as many theories as there are characters in the series—and that’s not a small number. This season promises to be epic—winter has come, the dragon queen has returned home, and the stage seems set for one last, monumental war…

I know up above I said that this show makes you curse at the screen, but tonight, at least in parts, I was screaming with excitement.  Lots of things have finally come together, some things are unraveling, and dear God, I’m not sure I can recap this in any coherent fashion.  I’ve been involved with this story since the first book came out, and here we are seeing the culmination of so many storylines.  Help…

Okay, here we go.  The big climate summit at King’s Landing goes off on schedule, with Dany making a dramatic entrance on Drogo.  Once again, just like with the Traveling Therapy Group last episode, there are characters meeting up and chatting–Tyrion and Podrick, Tyrion and Bronn, Brienne and Jaime, and even the Hound and the Mountain do the sibling glare for a couple of minutes.  But nothing tops this tension-filled discussion of the Great War.  Tyrion tries to start everybody out politely, only to be immediately interrupted by Euron, threatening to kill Yara if Theon doesn’t bugger off.  A semblance of order is eventually restored, and the Hound brings in a crate full of WTF.  He kicks it over and the wight goes straight for Cersei, who actually displays a facial expression as the Hound pulls the wight up just short of her face.  Jon demonstrates how to kill the thing with fire and dragonglass, and Qyburn looks like he can think of no better pastime than dissecting one of these freaky things.  Euron does what he wanted Theon to do and buggers off to the Iron Islands, reasoning that if wights can’t swim, he’ll just wait things out.

However, even though Cersei now believes in the wights, she has no intention of helping unless Jon agrees to be neutral.  He could lie at this point, but instead he tells the truth: he’s pledged to Dany.  Cersei flounces off in a huff, with Brienne catching Jaime and begging him to talk to her.  But that’s not the important conversation that we’re about to see.  That honor goes to Tyrion realizing that his only option is to go and talk to Cersei himself.  He walks into the lioness’s den, and the conversation initially goes about as well as you’d think.  Cersei nearly orders the Mountain to kill Tyrion, but can’t bring herself to kill a family member–the thing she is most angry at Tyrion for.  She’s more concerned with saving her family than anything else, and Tyrion clues in to the fact that she’s pregnant.

Back in the dragonpit, Dany and Jon are having a chat about Jon’s inability to lie, when Tyrion comes back, followed by Cersei.  She pledges to send her armies to help fight the army of the dead, and everybody begins to think that maybe the world isn’t screwed after all.  But wait… Jaime finds that Cersei was lying all along.  Euron didn’t abandon them–he’s off to Essos to bring back the Golden Company (including elephants!) and Cersei has no intention of committing her armies to a losing battle.  Jaime’s attempts to reason with her come to nothing, but almost get him killed by the Mountain too.  But in the end, he leaves Cersei behind, leaving King’s Landing as snow begins to fall.  Winter has come to the South.

Back at Dragonstone, plans are moving on apace to get their armies moving North, and Jon and Dany decide to sail North together, to show everyone that they’re united.  Theon, who’s had little to do this season but get his ass kicked, has a heart to heart with Jon, who forgives him for what he can.  Theon races off to save his sister, but runs up against the contempt of the Iron Islands sailors.  He and the leader have a seemingly one-sided fight, with Theon getting his ass handed to him, until the other guy tries to knee him in the balls… and nothing happens.  Theon actually smiles at this, and turns the ass-kicking back on his opponent.  Off they go to save Yara.

Back up at Winterfell, Littlefinger is continuing his quest to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya.  He tells Sansa about a little game he plays, in which he thinks of the worst reason for someone to do and say what they do, and then see how well their actions and words fit that reason.  Sansa realizes that the worst thing that Arya might want to do is kill her and become Lady of Winterfell.  So now what does Sansa do?  After a lot of thought, she calls Arya to the Great Hall.  Arya faces Sansa calmly, asking her if she really wants to go through with what’s coming, and Sansa does.  She pronounces charges of murder and treason, and then asks “How do you plead… Lord Baelish?”  And I have never screamed so loud at a TV show in my life.  Littlefinger tries desperately to weasel his way out of what’s coming, even dropping to his knees to beg, but all for nothing.  Apparently the Stark siblings have been gathering evidence with Bran’s neat new abilities, and they know all of his secrets, all of the ways he turned the Starks against each other.  Sansa pronounces him guilty, and Arya slits his throat with Catspaw–his own dagger.  He collapses and dies as the siblings watch silently.

Later, Samwell arrives at Winterfell and goes to see Bran.  The conversation that ensues is the biggest bombshell of this series.  Bran knows that Jon wasn’t Ned’s bastard, but instead he’s Lyanna Stark’s son.  But it’s Samwell who provides the crucial piece of information–proving that was listening to Gilly after all!–that Rhaegar and Lyanna were married.  Bran immediately wargs off to check this intel, and sure enough, we see the pair getting married.  And we finally, finally, get Jon Snow’s real name: Aegon Targaryen, the rightfully born ruler of the Iron Throne.  Robert’s Rebellion was founded on a lie.  None of these terrible events need to have happened.

Meanwhile, on a boat, Jon goes to Dany’s cabin and the next thing we know, the two are having a passionate love scene.  Interspersed with this is the aforementioned revelation of Jon’s parentage, which we viewers all know means that Jon is screwing his aunt.  We’re not sure how to feel about this, but we’re still kind of rooting for these two crazy kids.

But none of this may matter in the end, because at Eastwatch, the army of the dead has finally arrived.  The Night King swoops in on Viserion, and the dragon breathes what looks to be cold fire.  The Wall, which has stood for eight thousand years, crumbles.  The army of the dead enters Westeros.

And that’s our season!  At this point, all I can think is that the showrunners better not make us wait two years to finish the story, or all the fans may riot.  But at least this season has been immensely satisfying, bringing many characters together and resolving some long-standing questions.  I’m looking forward to what comes next.  Thanks for reading!

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Game of Thrones Episode Six: “Beyond the Wall”

Welcome to our weekly recap of Game of Thrones, the show that makes you scream obscenities at your television. We’re well beyond the books and no one knows what’s going to happen, although as you might imagine, there are as many theories as there are characters in the series—and that’s not a small number. This season promises to be epic—winter has come, the dragon queen has returned home, and the stage seems set for one last, monumental war…

So, you’ll have to pardon me if I scream incoherently for a few minutes about this episode.  Not that it wasn’t good, but oh my GOD, things have just gotten exponentially worse.  And so many characters are being so, so stupid.  I seriously want to reach through the screen and slap them. Fair warning, there may be some cursing in this recap.

Let’s start at Winterfell.  Littlefinger is still slinking around and causing trouble.  Exhibit A: that letter that he planted for Arya to find.  Arya confronts Sansa about it and just won’t listen when Sansa says she was forced to write it.  Sansa plays the “I was just a child” card, Arya points out that Lyanna Mormont is older than she was then, Sansa asks why Arya didn’t rush up to stop Ned’s execution if she’s so set on blaming Sansa for letting Ned die… round and round we go.  I want to slap them both.  They both need to wise up and stop letting Littlefinger jerk their chains.  Arya knows what Littlefinger is like, and yet she still thinks she’s such hot shit that she can outthink him.  No, my dear, he has a couple of decades on you, at least, and he’s honed his sleaziness that whole time.  And Sansa, stand up for yourself, girl!

Littlefinger plays on Sansa’s fears of the Northern lords abandoning Winterfell and suggests that since Brienne is the protector of the Stark girls, perhaps she could help solve the little problem that Arya seems to be presenting.  This leads to Sansa sending Brienne south to King’s Landing for the big powwow coming up next episode.  I hope Brienne didn’t actually go, because I think Sansa is going to need her really soon.

Later, Sansa sneaks into Arya’s room looking for the letter and instead finds a bag full of faces (and was that Walder Frey she pulled out???).  Arya materializes out of thin air to make some vaguely threatening statements to Sansa, hinting that with Sansa’s face, she could swan around as the Lady of Winterfell.  Then she leaves without another word, and no, that’s not creepy at all.

A brief stint at Dragonstone shows Tyrion putting the cart before the horse and thinking about who will rule after Dany.  She rightly calls him on playing the long game instead of working to win the war that’s going on right now.  She’s also right to start taking action with those dragons of hers.  Tyrion may be smart, but he’s completely forgotten that when one person plays by the rules and the other doesn’t, the rule breaker usually wins.  In this case, Dany is showing too much restraint against Cersei, who has no issue blowing up anything and anybody to get what she wants.  No, Dany shouldn’t go in slaughtering like that, but she needs to do something more definitive, and Tyrion’s advice isn’t helping.

Beyond the Wall, the Traveling Therapy Group seems hell bent on working out all their mutual issues while tramping through the snow.  At one point, a wight bear appears out of a blizzard.  (Oh great, animals can be raised too?  This will become relevant later.)  Thoros is the unlucky recipient of a bite to the chest, which Beric helpfully cauterizes with his flaming sword.  Badass points are awarded to Thoros for getting up and soldiering on.

A bit later, the group finds an advance group of wights trailing a White Walker.  Our heroes ambush the group, and when Jon kills the White Walker, all but one of the wights collapse.  The lone survivor is pounced on and tied up in short order, but the noise attracts the entire rest of the wight army.  Jon and company channel their inner Sir Robin and take off running.  Gendry is sent on ahead to Eastwatch to have a raven sent to Dany asking for rescue.  The group ends up on a small island in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by the wights who can’t approach without falling through.  Beric realizes that taking out the Night King would stop the army, but there’s no way to get to him.

At Dragonstone, Dany gets the message and Tyrion tries desperately to persuade her not to go.  But Dany is tired of sitting around doing nothing and takes off with all three dragons.

Back up North, Thoros has passed away during the night and Beric burns his body so that he won’t reanimate.  The Hound has gotten bored and starts throwing rocks at the wights.  This gets them moving across the frozen lake in small groups that don’t break through the ice, and now the group (still toting a trussed up wight) have to fight the army as it slowly but steadily starts crossing towards them.  Chaos ensues as the group’s redshirts get nommed on by wights until, overhead, dragons appear!  Dany has arrived and her dragons start blasting wights right and left.  Landing Drogon, Dany starts loading people onto the dragon’s back–all except Jon, who has a stupidity complex to go along with his heroic impulses.  Seriously, do you think wights can gnaw through dragon scales?  Or that Drogon’s tail can’t take out more wights than you?  Honestly, Jon, you really do know nothing.

And his puddlefutzing around on the ground leads to tragedy: the Night King throws a lance of ice at one of the dragons (the internet seems to agree that it was Viseryon) and kills it.  The body slips beneath the ice, and Jon does more stupid heroism and distracts the wights so that Drogon can take off.  He is tackled by wights and falls through the ice.  But at least the dragons escape.  Jon manages to pull himself out of the water and prepares for a last stand (more dumb heroism) when out of nowhere comes Benjen!  He tosses Jon on his horse and sends him on his way.  Jon’s last glimpse of his uncle is of him being overwhelmed by wights.

Jon makes it back to Eastwatch more or less intact, and he is loaded onto a ship with the trussed up wight and the others going to the big powwow down South.  Jon wakes up with Dany sitting next to him, and he swears himself to her.  She, in turn, promises to help him fight the Night King and destroy him.

Meanwhile, the army of the dead has apparently gotten some chains from the Narrative Supply Store north of the Wall (thank you, Scott, for that term) and pulls Viseryon’s body to the surface.  The Night King touches its forehead, and its eye opens–and it’s bright blue.  So, the Night King has a dragon now.  That surely won’t be disastrous for Westeros.

This is it–one more episode to go!  Next week, the major players all finally come together to talk.  Any bets on who makes it out alive?  I’m sure Cersei has something up her sleeve.

Game of Thrones Episode Five: “Eastwatch”

Welcome to our weekly recap of Game of Thrones, the show that makes you scream obscenities at your television. We’re well beyond the books and no one knows what’s going to happen, although as you might imagine, there are as many theories as there are characters in the series—and that’s not a small number. This season promises to be epic—winter has come, the dragon queen has returned home, and the stage seems set for one last, monumental war…

This was a weird episode, but in a very good way.  Characters who haven’t been in the same place in quite a long time are suddenly meeting up and interacting.  We even got the reappearance of a long-vanished character whom many had cause to wonder when we would see again.  I’m so used to these people being scattered to the four corners of Westeros that seeing them together was strange.  But like I said, in a good way.

In the aftermath of the loot train battle, the defeated Lannister soldiers are brought before Dany and Drogon and given a choice: bend the knee or die.  Randall and Dickon Tarly refuse, and against Tyrion’s frantic counsel, Dany has Drogon burn them alive.  The rest of the soldiers, naturally, decide not to share that fate.  While this is going on, Bronn and Jaime pop out of the lake like beached fish, and Jaime realizes that he has to get to Cersei with the news of what happened.

And that talk goes about as well as you’d expect.  Jaime is all for trying to talk with Dany, but Cersei rejects that idea flat out.  She sarcastically says that maybe Tyrion will intercede for them and atone for killing their father and Joffrey.  This is the opening Jaime needs to tell Cersei that Olenna was Joffrey’s killer.  At first, Cersei doesn’t believe him, but when Jaime points out that Olenna would have wanted Margery married to Tommen, who was easier to control, she finally believes him.

Back at Dragonstone, Jon sees Dany and Drogon returning, and to his (probably) pants-wetting consternation, Drogon lands in front of him and approaches him.  Jon takes off a glove and reaches out to touch the dragon on the muzzle (shades of Toothless and Hiccup), which it seems to not only accept, but like.  Dany seems surprised at this, as her dragons don’t usually like anybody but her.  (Jon’s Targaryen blood showing through?  Scott and I were joking that Drogon was thinking “He smells like Mom!”)  The two are interrupted by the return of Jorah, back to serve his queen.  I squeed a little when Dany hugged him.

In Winterfell, Bran is using ravens to spy on the Night King’s army, and what he sees causes him to tell Maester Wolkan to send ravens out with the news.  The Maesters in the Citadel get the message, but as usual, debate what to do about it and whether to believe it.  Most of them are of the opinion that it’s more likely from Dany, trying to lure the Southern armies to the North.  Samwell, bringing scrolls and books into the room, breaks in to tell them–AGAIN–that the army of the dead is real.  He begs the Maesters to endorse the news, because people trust them and will listen to them.  All the Arch Maester can promise, though, is to send a raven to Winterfell to confirm the message.  As Samwell leaves, we learn that he doesn’t even know yet that he’s the last of his House.  Tired of, as he says, “reading about the achievements of better men”, he leaves the Citadel for good.  Good on you for wanting to take some action, Samwell.

At Dragonstone, Tyrion and Varys are sharing a drink.  And when Varys drinks, you know shit is going down.  They’re worried about Dany’s decision to burn the Tarlys, and Varys tells Tyrion to find a way to convince her to take a different tack.  He remembers standing by when the Mad King burned people, telling himself that he only provided the information that led to that moment.  The showrunners point out in the behind the scenes video that Dany has felt constrained by the advice to take the high road when Cersei isn’t and is therefore winning.  I wonder if Tyrion and Varys have taken into consideration that, in this world, it’s harder for a woman to hold power, and therefore, they can’t back down once they say they’re going to do something.  Dany gave the soldiers a choice, and the Tarlys chose to stand on their honor instead of saving their lives.  And as the showrunners say, while Dany thinks one thing of her actions, and Tyrion and Varys think something else, it’s up to viewers to decide on her motives for themselves.

But anyway, back to the story.  In the map room, Dany and her allies debate what to do next, in the middle of which Jon finds out for the first time that Arya and Bran are alive.  So, a bit of a shock for him.  But he realizes that he has to go home and fight the Night King.  Dany won’t lend him men, because if she leaves, Cersei will take the country.  Tyrion, however, comes up with a genius idea: prove to Cersei that the army of the dead is real by bringing a wight to her.  That means setting up a meeting between the queens, though, and figuring out how to do that is tricky, to say the least.  Tyrion again comes to the rescue on this, offering to go to King’s Landing and talk to Jaime, who will likely listen to him, and Davos will sneak him in.

Upon arriving at King’s Landing, Bronn somehow gets in on this little surprise reunion and lures Jaime to the lower levels where the dragon skulls are so that the brothers can talk.  Jaime isn’t inclined to listen at first, not even when Tyrion pleads with him to understand that he only killed their father because he was going to have Tyrion killed, knowing his innocence.  But finally, Jaime does listen, and Tyrion tells him that Dany wants to meet about something more important than who’s going to be the eventual ruler.

Davos, meanwhile, has gone into Fleabottom to find someone–Gendry!  When Davos finds him, he says what we’re all thinking: “I thought you might still be rowing.”  I see what you did there, Game of Thrones.  Davos came to get Gendry and take him along, which he eagerly agrees to.  Instead of a sword, though, he brings along one of the most badass hammers I’ve ever seen.  And pretty soon, we get to see him use it as a pair of King’s Landing soldiers come down to investigate the boat Davos and Tyrion left and nearly run right into the aforementioned dwarf.  When the soldiers can’t be deterred from asking questions, Gendry knocks their heads in.  Yeah, the boy can take care of himself.

Jaime brings Tyrion’s proposal to Cersei, only to find out that she already knew Tyrion was coming.  She allowed the meeting to happen because she thinks a meeting with Dany might be in her best interest at present.  She also has news of a more… interesting kind for Jaime.  Cersei is pregnant.  As she embraces Jaime, she whispers “Don’t ever betray me again.”

Once again at Dragonstone, Davos takes Gendry to meet Jon and advises that he keep his identity a secret.  Gendry immediately ignores that advice and introduces himself to Jon and points out that their fathers were good friends and comrades in arms.  The two seem to take to each other right away, and Gendry offers to go North with them.  Jorah again takes leave of his queen, kissing her hand, and I admit that I squeed a bit here too.  Of course, there’s also some chemistry between Jon and Dany–she says that she’s gotten used to having him around–so who knows how this will play out.  The small group heads out to sea to return to the Wall.

Up in Winterfell, Sansa is starting to realize that her sister has turned into a scary person.  Arya thinks that the Northern lords who were insulting Jon should have been beheaded, but Sansa tells her that Jon needs their support–and their men–to defend the North.  Arya is suspicious of Sansa’s motives, and along with that, suspicious of Littlefinger.  She follows him around, seeing him maybe bribing a woman, talking to the Northern lords, and receiving a raven message from the Winterfell archives that Littlefinger seems very pleased to have in hand.  Arya breaks into his room and finds it hidden in a slit in the mattress.  After pausing the video and squinting a bit, you can see that it says the following (brackets where I either guessed what it says or don’t know): “[King] Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt.  Father […] Joffrey and tried to steal his throne.  The Lannisters […] to King’s Landing and swear fealty to Kingn Joffrey and […] Your faithful sister, Sansa”.  Arya, shocked, pockets the note and leaves the room, not noticing Littlefinger watching her.

The showrunners explain that Littlefinger’s goal is to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya.  If Sansa continues to suspect that Arya is a psychopathic little monster, she’ll turn to Littlefinger for advice and support, which is what he wants.  Since Arya is used to being the smart one in the room, she underestimates Littlefinger, who is more clever than any of us are comfortable with.

And finally, Eastwatch.  Apparently Thoros, Beric, and the Hound were caught and brought to Eastwatch and are now hanging out in the cells.  They want to go north of the wall as well, so they join the intrepid band heading out the gate.  It’s worth noting that most of the people in this bunch don’t like some of the others: Tormund doesn’t like Jorah because his father hunted wildlings, and Jorah feels the same about him.  Gendry doesn’t like the Brotherhood guys for trying to kill him.  And so on.  But they all come together (at least for now), marching out the gate and into the blizzard beyond.

Now, there’s one little piece of info that I haven’t mentioned yet, but that astute watchers no doubt picked up on.  Gilly is reading from an old Maester’s book and annoying Samwell by constantly interrupting him with trivial facts.  He misses one that isn’t trivial, though–the fact that Rhaegar Targaryen got an annulment from his wife and was legally married to someone else in Dorne.  This means that Jon isn’t a bastard–he’s the legitimate son of Rhaegar and therefore has a legal claim to the throne.  Well, well, well…

And that’s it for this week.  Looks like next week will bring the army of the dead into contact with Jon and company, perhaps even making it to the Wall at last.  I leave you with this screencap, courtesy of Scott:

Game of Thrones Episode Four: “The Spoils of War”

Welcome to our weekly recap of Game of Thrones, the show that makes you scream obscenities at your television. We’re well beyond the books and no one knows what’s going to happen, although as you might imagine, there are as many theories as there are characters in the series—and that’s not a small number. This season promises to be epic—winter has come, the dragon queen has returned home, and the stage seems set for one last, monumental war…

So, who needs a breather after that episode?  Finally, we get some Dothraki and Drogon action as Dany decides to stop pussyfooting around.  But first, let’s check in on some of the other characters.

This week we had the distinct pleasure of watching the Stark kids make Littlefinger squirm.  Our slimy Lord Baelish is first seen talking to Bran and giving him, of all things, his dagger Catspaw.  He thinks that Bran would want it, given that he almost got his throat slit with it.  The usual “you can count on me” speech is coming out of his mouth when Bran says “Chaos is a ladder”, something that Littlefinger said to Varys in season 3 (yes, I had to look it up) and that Bran couldn’t have known about.  Except that Bran sees everything now and isn’t above using it to creep people out.  Baelish uses Meera’s arrival to beat a hasty retreat.

Meera is leaving Winterfell to go back to her family and is there to say goodbye to Bran.  She’s not real thrilled with his deadpan courtesies and chews him out.  Bran gets her to understand that, in many ways, he’s not Bran anymore–he’s the Three Eyed Raven and the sum of all who came before him.  Meera says “You died in that cave”, and we’re afraid that she’s right.

But even better things are in store as Arya finally comes home!  At the gate, a pair of guards on loan from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise try to stop her from entering, but she gives them the slip as they argue about which of them gets to go tell Sansa about the weird girl at the gate.  On hearing this, Sansa knows where Arya has gone, and she’s right–Arya is in the crypt at their father’s grave.  The two embrace, although there’s still tension between them, and Arya tells Sansa that she has a list of people she’s going to kill.  Not creepy in the slightest.  The pair meet up with Bran in the godswood, where Bran gives Catspaw to Arya.  Viewers across the country fantasize about her planting it between Littlefinger’s shoulders.

A bit later, Arya approaches Brienne, who is training Podrick, and asks to be trained also.  Brienne is hesitant until Arya points out that she swore to serve the Stark daughters.  Faced with this immutable logic, Brienne spars with Arya and finds that this tiny waif is no pushover.  She and Arya score several hits on each other, and Arya loses her grip on Needle, before the bout ends in a draw.  Sansa and Littlefinger are watching, and Sansa now realizes what Arya has become.   Littlefinger does too, as he visibly blanches when Arya stares directly at him.  Again, he slithers away.

Our time on Dragonstone starts with Missandai and Dany talking about, of all things, what Missandai and Greyworm did before he left for Casterly Rock.  Dany is giving Missandai the kinds of looks that say “Girl, you had better be ready to dish later!” when Jon approaches them.  He leads Dany to a cave and shows her the dragonglass deposit–and it’s massive.  But he also shows her, deeper in the mountain, a room of cave paintings done by the Children of the Forest.  They depict humans and the Children fighting together against the White Walkers.  Jon uses this fortuitous discovery to again push for them to work together.  Dany promises to do just that… as soon as he bends the knee.  (At which I yelled “Dammit, Dany!” at the screen.)

Outside the cave, Dany gets the bad news about Casterly Rock and Highgarden from the nervous duo of Tyrion and Varys.  Dany finally seems fed up with waiting and with Tyrion’s “clever plans” and again agitates to ride her dragons into battle.  But first, she asks Jon’s advice, and after he gets the “Who, me???” look off of his face, he warns her against attacking King’s Landing, because that will make her just as bad as all the others.

Later, Davos is teasing Jon about how much he notices Dany’s good “heart” when they come upon Missandai, who tells the men that Dany is their queen by their own choice and that they serve her because they love her.  The conversation is interrupted by the approach of a Greyjoy ship, and none other than Theon beaches on the shore.  Jon is understandably not happy to see him, but he holds off on killing Theon because Sansa told him about Theon’s help in her getting away from Ramsey.  Theon brings the news that Yara is in Euron’s hands and he’s there to beg Dany for help.  But Dany isn’t there, and thus begins one hell of an action sequence.

Jaime and Bronn are riding back to King’s Landing, escorting the wagonloads of gold from Highgarden that will be used to pay off the Lannister’s debts to the Iron Bank.  The pair are talking to Dickon Tarly when Bronn hears something ominous.  The Lannister army forms ranks just as the Dothraki horde crests the rise and thunders towards them.  Jaime thinks they can hold the line, even against the whole khalasar, but that notion gets chucked when Drogon flies overhead, Dany on his back.  The battle degenerates into the Dothraki slaughtering the Lannister soldiers–at least, the ones that haven’t been reduced to man-shaped piles of ash by Drogon’s fire.  (Who else shrieked with happiness when Dany said “Dracaeris”?)  But Jaime has an ace up his sleeve.  On the way, he swung by Laketown to get Bard’s weapon… oh wait, wrong story.  Jaime apparently had a prescient moment and brought Qyburn’s scorpion with him.  Bronn gets to it and begins firing at Drogon.  Jaime watches in horror as his army is hacked to bits and burned to a crisp.  Tyrion is seen watching the battle from a ridge nearby, and the conflict between his loyalty to Dany and his love for his brother is plain on his face.

Then Bronn gets off a lucky shot that nails Drogon in the shoulder.  The great dragon falls from the sky for several agonizing seconds before righting himself and hovering directly in front of the scorpion (and a rather startled Bronn).  The mercenary just manages to jump away and avoid Drogon’s gout of flame.  The dragon lands, contemptuously destroys the scorpion, and then commences a series of draconic complaints that probably translate to “Mom, I’ve got an owie, fix it!”  Seeing Dany on the ground attempting to yank the spear out of the dragon’s shoulder, Jaime has an “Oh, fuck it” moment, grabs a spear, and charges the Dragon Queen.  Tyrion tries to mentally signal Jaime that this is an exceptionally terrible idea, but it doesn’t work.  And soon Jaime is getting an all-too-detailed look at Drogon’s teeth as the pair turn to face him and Drogon starts to flame…

… and Bronn flings himself at Jaime, knocking them both out of the fire’s path and into the water.  The last thing we see is Jaime sinking rapidly, pulled down by his own armor.

And that’s the end of one heck of an episode.  God knows what’s going to happen next week, as we’re more than halfway through this much-too-short season.  Will Jaime survive his dunking?  Will Arya do interesting things with Catspaw?  Will Tyrion ever outbrood Jon?  Tune in next week and find out!

Game of Thrones Episode Three: “The Queen’s Justice”

Welcome to our weekly recap of Game of Thrones, the show that makes you scream obscenities at your television. We’re well beyond the books and no one knows what’s going to happen, although as you might imagine, there are as many theories as there are characters in the series—and that’s not a small number. This season promises to be epic—winter has come, the dragon queen has returned home, and the stage seems set for one last, monumental war…

Although there were no hugely epic battles scenes this episode, that doesn’t mean the action wasn’t tense.  The showrunners dispensed with the big budget sword-fests for the most part and concentrated on moving pieces around on the big game board of Westeros… and on removing a piece or two altogether.

Let’s start with the night’s big meeting: Fire and Ice!  Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen come to face to face, and a more tense encounter you can’t imagine.  Dany wants Jon to bend the knee to her, citing their houses longstanding alliance in centuries past.  Jon feels that her father’s burning of some of his family merits a mention, and Dany feels that she’s still the rightful heir and that Jon is in open rebellion.  Whatever, says Jon, we have a bigger problem.  Dany is predictably skeptical about the White Walkers and the army of the dead, even though Tyrion indicates that he thinks Jon should be trusted.  While Jon and Davos aren’t prisoners–yet–they’re definitely not getting what they want at this point.

While all this is going on, Melisande prepares to leave Westeros.  Varys tells her that she won’t be welcome back, but the Red Priestess tells him that she’ll be back one more time.  She’s fated to die in Westeros, as is Varys.  She leaves Varys looking somewhat concerned.

Later, Tyrion goes to the cliffs to brood, and he finds himself out-brooded by Jon, who’s already there.  (And in a great bit of dialogue, Tyrion acknowledges Jon’s superior brooding skills.)  Tyrion points out the reasons that Dany isn’t likely to ally with Jon, but he asks for Jon to give him something that it’s reasonable to ask.  Thus, dragonglass.  Dany is still skeptical, but a private conversation with Jon convinces her to let him mine the dragonglass for weapons to kill the White Walkers.  Well, that’s some progress, at least.

At Winterfell, Sansa is settling into the routine of ruling the North, directing everything from the making of armor to the storing of grain.  Littlefinger is oozing along beside her as always, but he does give her some good advice: live as if everyone is your friend and everyone is your enemy.  Basically, he tells her to learn to anticipate everything by wargaming it out in advance; that way, nothing will surprise her.  This pep talk is interrupted by a visitor–it’s Bran!  (Admittedly, I was hoping for Arya, but Bran is good too.)  The two siblings go to the Godswood for a chat, and Bran tries to explain his role as the Three-Eyed Raven.  Sansa doesn’t quite get it until Bran reveals that he saw Sansa’s wedding to Ramsey by using his powers… and by inference, he saw what came after too.  Sansa does not react well.

In Oldtown, Jorah’s greyscale is cured!  He’s off to find Dany, and Sam faces the Arch Maester about his disobeying the order to not treat Jorah.  Although the Arch Maester isn’t pleased, he acknowledges that Sam did something that many full Maesters couldn’t have done.  His reward?  Not getting kicked out of the Citadel.  Also, he’s now on scroll copying duty.  Hey, Sam, at least it’s not bedpans anymore.

In King’s Landing, Euron sashays in with Yara, Ellaria, and Tyene in tow.  Riding his horse right into the throne room, he presents the Dornish ladies to Cersei as his gift to her.  Cersei promises him the reward he wants, but only after the war is won.  Euron’s a little disappointed, but he takes his place next to Jamie and begins quizzing him on how to please Cersei in bed.  Jamie’s expression during this conversation is priceless.

In the dungeon, Ellaria and Tyene are chained in the same cell, just out of reach of each other.  Cersei gives an awesome villain monologue in which she details all the things she thought about doing to them, reminiscing about the sound of Ellaria’s lover Oberyn’s skull cracking with the Mountain crushed it and lamenting the death of her own daughter Myrcella.  Cersei turns to Tyene and kisses her, and it’s obvious she’s just delivered the same poison that killed Myrcella.  Ellaria’s punishment?… to watch as her only remaining daughter dies in agony, and then rots away.  Cersei promises to keep Ellaria alive for a very long time to witness this.  Damn, girl.  She goes from there to Jamie and, well, let’s just say that Jamie better hope she got all of that poison off of her lips.  And in the background, George Takei says “Ohhh myyyyyyyyyy…”

A bit later, Cersei meets with a representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos.  The Lannisters owe them a lot of money, but Cersei reminds the gentleman that Lannisters always pay their debts, unlike former slaves and Unsullied.  By painting Dany as a bad deal, she gets the Iron Bank guy on her side, and then she promises to pay the debt in full in two weeks.

The armies have begun to move–the Unsullied are sailing for Casterly Rock.  Tyrion narrates a scenario in which the troops storm the walls with disastrous results, but then reveals that he knows a weakness in the Rock: a back way in that he himself engineered when he designed the sewer system at his father’s behest.  Have we ever heard about any of this before?  If not, I call deus ex machina.  But it turns out not to make a difference to the plot, as Grey Worm and his men roll over the Lannister forces and realize that they won way too easily.  Only then do they notice that the Greyjoy fleet has shown up and is in the process of destroying their ships.  You can see Grey Worm thinking “Hey, wait, aren’t they on our side?”

The rest of the Lannister army has opted not to defend Casterly Rock, but to instead march on Highgarden, seat of the Tyrells.  One unseen (and presumably one-sided) battle later, Jamie goes in search of Olenna.  A nice touch in this scene is that if you listen carefully, you’ll hear “The Rains of Castamere” playing in the background music.  Jamie and Olenna have their final face-off alone in a high tower room, where the Queen of Thorns has been waiting for him.  Jamie confirms that he’s come to kill her and that he talked Cersei out of some deaths that were… inventive, to say the least.  Olenna frankly tells Jamie that she regrets supporting Cersei, calling her a disease, and predicts that Jamie will have the same regrets one day.  Jamie pours poison into a goblet of wine for Olenna to drink, promising that it will be painless.  Olenna doesn’t even hesitate before slamming it back.  And then, the Queen of Thorns produces one last barb for Jamie–she confesses to killing Joffrey.  Her final words are “Tell Cersei.  I want her to know it was me.”

So, here’s how things stand: in the North are the Wildlings manning the Wall and the Knights of the Vale at Winterfell.  The seas are almost totally taken by Euron Greyjoy’s fleet.  The Unsullied, deprived of their ships, are stuck at Casterly Rock.  The Lannister army is in the West at Highgarden.  Dany is in the East with her dragons and not much else.  And of course, the White Walkers are approaching the Wall.  Bran’s crossing the Wall may not matter–the Hound’s vision of the army of the dead near the sea is ominous when you consider that the opening credits are now showing the ocean as completely frozen over.  Will they just walk around the Wall?  Tune in next week to see what happens next!

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