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THE LEFTOVERS: The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)

The Leftovers, Kevin Garvey standing in white suit in front of portrait of himself

“This isn’t my first visit to the other side of the world. Each time I’m here, it gets harder and harder to leave.” — Pres. Kevin Garvey, The Leftovers

“Of course this is all happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?” — Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Everything is… just comes together.” — Aron Ralston, 127 Hours

The penultimate episode to the fantastic and under-appreciated series, The Leftovers, was the most enlightening, explanatory episode of all three seasons (which is no small feat, considering the majority of it follows Kevin through the world of the dead). It also is, quite possibly, the most explanation we may ever get about anything. Take the Departure, the event the series is born from: 2% of the population of Earth suddenly disappears one day. What the foop?! (As Titus Andronmedon would say.) But the series has never really been about where those people went, but about those left behind. How do you cope with an event that no one will ever be able to understand? How do you live with just never knowing why? I don’t think we can expect answers to those questions. And, honestly, I don’t really want them–I feel certain that any explanation would be an underwhelming disappointment.

Co-creator of the show, Damon Lindelof, is no stranger to the grand themes explored in The Leftovers, nor to a show that presents mysteries with clearly no intention of ever solving them. This show has so many echoes of his other series, LOST, that it captures both what was great and what was completely infuriating about that series.

But those themes lend themselves quite well to this story, based (kind of loosely) off of a book by the same name, by author (and series co-creator) Tom Perrotta. The show’s protagonists grapple with faith, existentialism, belief, higher purpose….all with a kinda-maybe-sorta mystical science-fiction thing going on. Is the show going to explain how Kevin can die and come back to life? Apparently not. Does this mean that Kevin is important at all? Maybe not. Do random occurrences just happen, with no meaning behind them whatsoever? Probably. Is that infuriating to learn at the end of the series, once you have already theorized online with other people and have a million questions? KIND OF.

Like LOSTThe Leftovers has relied on creating intriguing mysteries that, ultimately, really have nothing at all to do with the story. LOST never told us what the Island was. It led us on a series-long path to the god-like character of Jacob, only to take him away almost immediately and show how little he mattered to the whole story. But a show filled with characters who have faith in something that maybe isn’t there is a compelling story to tell. It’s just, when Lindelof tells it, you have to wait until the very end to learn that all of those questions you have? Yeah, they don’t have answers. They’re simply catalysts. Like I said…infuriating. 

But he does it so damn well.

The choice of faith.

The Leftovers, Matt Jamison

The Leftovers has presented a dichotomy between choosing to believe in a higher purpose, or choosing to believe in nothing at all. We turn to faith for answers about the world, or we see the events of the world as a random occurrence, and we react accordingly. Following the Departure, Pastor Matt believes even more than he ever did before that he is God’s instrument. Whereas Kevin’s ex-wife, Laurie, joins the Guilty Remnant cult, where they believe that nothing matters at all. Matt searches for a reason for the Departure. The Guilty Remnant sees no reason in anything, including being alive.

Nora, whose entire family departed, works for the Department of Sudden Departure, an agency investigating whether there are any links between the people who departed, in order to find any kind of explanation whatsoever. Her job is to visit the homes of people whose loved ones Departed and ask them a series of questions from a questionnaire. She asks questions as seemingly inconsequential as, “To your knowledge, did the departed have any food allergies,” or, “To your knowledge, did the departed enjoy cooking;” questions that suggest a scientific approach, “To your knowledge, did the departed regularly use aerosol hairspray and or deodorant;” and questions that insinuate that a higher power may have had a hand in this, “To your knowledge, did the departed ever attempt suicide,” or, “in your opinion, was the departed a charitable person?”

Nora leans in to her pain. In season one, she puts on a bullet proof vest and regularly hires hookers to shoot her in the chest. And while she investigates fraud following the Departure (people who claim they have some sort of answer), she also participates in it (hugging Holy Wayne of season one, and now entering a machine in season three that claims to Depart people using radiation). But she also only wants to believe it. She’s furious at the world–her job in the Department of Sudden Departure demonstrates how hell-bent she is on exposing fraud, and how offended she is that anyone would try and capitalize on her pain, which she clearly believes she has more of than anyone else.

There is simply too much about this show to unpack in one essay. And this particular essay is about the episode, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother).” Like I said, this episode provided answers. For three seasons, we’ve been following Kevin Garvey through his seeming psychosis, consistently speaking with a dead person tethered to him (the inimitable Anne Dowd, as Patti Levin, the leader of the Guilty Remnant). Through Kevin’s character arc, we are exposed to many of the mysteries of the show. In season one, we see him black out for long periods of time, not knowing what happened to him, and not knowing what is and isn’t real. In season two, we see him take increasingly more dangerous measures to rid himself of the dead Patti, culminating in his death and rebirth. And in season three, we see a Kevin who seems to have it together on the outside, but is also duct-taping a bag to his head when he’s alone in his bedroom.

And we see him come to the conviction that he has a Messiah-like purpose; a mission, a reason.

“Why does it matter?”

And that’s where we open in “The Most Powerful Man in the World.” Kevin, who told Laurie an episode earlier, that he had never felt more alive than when he had died the last time, is convinced he must drown, return to the other world he visited to rid himself of Patti in season two, and learn a song that will stop a flood that may or may not be coming to destroy the world. Kevin feels a sense of importance, ready to drown with a series of tasks that he goes over before submerging–find Evie and tell her she was loved (the message from John), find Faith’s children and ask them where their shoes went when they died, and most importantly, find Christopher Sunday, the aboriginal Kevin Sr. sought out, and learn the song that will stop the rain. And so, with these missions and a staunch dedication to a purpose he believes he has, Kevin allows himself to be drowned.

And now we’re seeing a sequel, of sorts, to the season two episode in which Kevin dies the first time, “International Assassin.” Post-death, he emerges from the ocean on a secluded beach in Australia. Once again, no clothes (which we’re all okay with). Immediately, a Russian man tries to kill him. He is saved by, lo and behold, good-old dog-killer Dean, who takes him to a hut a ways down the beach and gives him his assignment–he must assassinate the President of the United States. But first, he must destroy all reflective surfaces, as that is how “they found him” at all to begin with (“they” being the enemy we haven’t been introduced to yet). Shoving an earpiece in Kevin’s ear, we hear the voice of “God,” AKA David Burton, the man mauled by a lion two episodes prior to this, and the man who met Kevin on the afterlife bridge right before he pushed Patti into the well.

The Leftovers, David Burton talking to Kevin on bridge

And guess what? We finally learn what he whispered in Kevin’s ear on that bridge! He whispered, “You’re the most powerful man in the world.” You’ll also remember that he told Kevin on that bridge that what was happening was more real than Kevin even knew. This is an important piece of the puzzle.

There’s also a typewriter in the room with him, where Kevin is apparently writing a romance novel. Dean reads out loud the line, “He stood on the bow of The Merciful. The water endlessly stretching to the infinite horizon as he contemplated the impossible distance between them but he would not stop until he found her.” More on this later.

Kevin notices a scar on his chest as he is informed that his target is getting ready to launch a nuclear attack that will destroy the world, and he must put a stop to it. But Kevin demands something in exchange–he needs to talk to Evie, Faith’s children, and Christopher Sunday, who is the Prime Minister of Australia in this world. Cue God in Kevin’s earpiece: Look into the shard of the mirror that Dean smashed.

Kevin does, and we cut to a clean-shaven Kevin, standing at a podium in a white suit, addressing a cheering crowd. With teleprompters feeding him a speech, Kevin realizes that he is the President, and that he speaks on behalf of The Guilty Remnant. And there, in the front row, are Faith’s children, dressed in white, ready to perform a skit they prepared on the futility and pointlessness of the family. None of them are wearing shoes.

So Kevin, ready to accomplish his first important mission, asks them why they aren’t wearing shoes. And one of the children, a boy, responds, “Why does it matter?” And because in this world, Faith’s kids are in the Guilty Remnant, nothing matters, especially a family member who wanted to know. Here is the first crack in Kevin’s belief that he is important–his first mission doesn’t have a reason. Or an answer.

Time for crack two.

“That was just a pickup line.”

Evie appears in the crowd, in a red shirt that says, “I remember.” She is singing Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” into a megaphone. As Kevin is whisked away by secret service, he ensures Evie gets in the car with him, so he can complete his second important mission. He tells Evie that her father wanted her to know that she was loved. But in this world, Evie’s entire family was blown up by the Guilty Remnant, not the other way around. She doesn’t know what the hell Kevin is talking about. There is no closure here, no meaning behind Kevin’s delivering of her message, no point to the Evie mission. On to crack three.

Kevin begins to throw up water, and is briefly pulled back into the world of the living, as the ranch is flooding. He lets John know that he delivered his message to Evie (but leaves out the part where it didn’t mean anything). He also tells Faith that her kids had no answer about their shoes (but leaves out the part where they don’t care about family at all). As Kevin is carried inside, John and Michael start to question whether they’re taking this too far. Kevin Sr. locks them all out of the bathroom, fills the tub, and drowns his son.

And it’s back to the world of the dead, with Kevin as President. The secret service takes Kevin to a secret bunker that only he can access. Unless, of course, he has “an identical twin brother, which would be ridiculous,” as his chief of staff quips. Haha. Kevin knows he’s the assassin that is coming to kill himself, the President.

In order to enter the bunker, Kevin has to have his face scanned, and his penis scanned (more on that later), and he has to answer three security questions, the final one being, “Who is your Secretary of Defense?” Kevin thinks. He chooses here. He names…”Patti Levin.”

The Leftovers, Patti Levin

Enter: Patti Levin. Dressed in her white Guilty Remnant garb, the politician that she was in “International Assassin.” She informs Kevin of the mission that he is to carry out: He needs to launch a nuclear missile at Russia, who will retaliate with a nuke of their own, and then that will be the end of the world. Patti says that this is the ultimate purpose of the Guilty Remnant: “We give the people what they’re too chicken-shit to do themselves, what they elected us for. We give them what they want. And they want to die.”

BUT before any of this Armageddon can go down, they will need to follow what is called, “The Fisher Protocol,” an ethical deterrent where the nuclear launch key was surgically embedded into the heart of a volunteer, so the President has to murder that volunteer himself in order to launch the nuke. We learn this because the Vice President arrives to tell us, and it is Liv Tyler’s Meg, the one who inherited the Guilty Remnant from Patti and who, I think we can all agree, was a total bitch. And whose heart is the key in? Someone who discovered a scar on his chest in a hut on the beach. And he’s 15 minutes away!

Kevin looks at his reflection in Patti’s glasses and we’re back to International Assassin Kevin, who passes the security measures with flying colors, being identical in every way to himself.

Turns out, Meg is on Kevin (and God’s) side; she’s here to help. She tells Kevin that she is in love with the most wonderful man, and that man is…God. Kevin then shoots Meg, killing her. God, on his earpiece, asked what the noise was. Kevin says that he should know, if he’s God. David Burton replies, “That was just a pick up line.” While it seemed pretty clear that David Burton wasn’t really God, it’s nice to have this overt confirmation that he is a fraud. Kevin then removes his earpiece and destroys it; no Meg and no “God”–now he’s on his own.

Kevin is now hell-bent on finishing mission three (this one HAS to be important, right?): talking to Christopher Sunday, who is the Prime Minister of Australia here, remember. He video chats Sunday, who is aware that they are dead. International Assassin Kevin tells Christopher that he needs to learn the song. Christopher informs him that he already told Kevin’s father that his song brings the rain, it won’t stop a flood. Furthermore, he asks Kevin if he truly believes that his father can sing a song that will stop a flood coming to destroy the world. And you know what? Kevin actually doesn’t believe that. Crack three. Chicka-plao! (Just gotta throw in a Hamilton reference there, sorry not sorry.)

So, if Kevin isn’t here to tell Evie she was loved, or learn from Faith’s kids where their shoes are, and if he absolutely isn’t here to learn a song then, as Christopher Sunday asks Kevin: why is he here? At this point, Kevin is attacked by security. He looks at himself in the computer screen and now he’s back as Kevin the President, with Patti pressuring him to launch the nuclear missiles. But Kevin says all he wants to do is go home, to which Patti replies, “Do you? Because you keep coming back here.” And now here is the crux of the episode: Why is Kevin back here? What does he really want?

The bow of The Merciful

Enter International Assassin Kevin, brought in as a prisoner with a bag on his head. Sitting at opposite ends of the table, the two Kevin’s finally come face-to-face.

Both Kevin’s say they don’t want anything to do with the removal of the key. Patti pulls out Kevin’s untitled romance novel, a page of which was on the typewriter back at the hut on the beach. Both Kevin’s insist they didn’t write it, but Patti suggests that both of them wrote it. As Kevin reads aloud the last page, he begins to cry. The ending of his book has Kevin on a ship, alone, sailing and thinking of a woman he lost, who he drove away. It is filled with tragedy, and doubt, and fear. And it ends with the woman being alone, far away from Kevin, and because she is far from him, all is well. Kevin finishes reading and stands up and says, through tears, “Take the thing out of me… so we can’t ever come back here ever again.”

So President Kevin cuts himself, International Assassin Kevin, open, and digs around in his heart until he extracts the key. And the International Assassin bleeds out and dies, but not before telling Kevin, “We fucked up with Nora.” Kevin takes the key, launches the missiles, and stands hand-in-hand with Patti as they watch them fly across the sky.

The world ends.

The Leftovers, Kevin and Patti hold hands look at missiles in sky

Kevin wakes up back in the world of the living, covered in a sheet, outside on the church that was being built on Faith’s farm. He is calm. His agony seems to have dissipated. John and Michael are asleep and his father is on the roof of the house (which harkens back to the opening scene of the season, where we see a woman in a cult continue to stand on top of her house, awaiting God, and God continues to never show up). Kevin Sr. tells Kevin Jr. that he thought that he had lost him (it seems they had covered him in the sheet believing he wouldn’t be coming back to life this time around). And that now he doesn’t know what to do. “Now what?” he asks. And Kevin smiles, a face of hope.

“Now what?”

In this episode, we have here a group of characters who believe they are working towards a higher purpose, only for them to discover that they are not. A tale as old as time, when you consider the cult woman on the roof all those years ago. Kevin, especially, believes he is important on a grand scale. And can you blame him? He did die and come back to life, after all. David Burton told him that he was the most powerful man in the world; he told him that all of it was real even when Kevin doubted it.

At this point, there is no disputing that Kevin has died and come back to life. He’s done it four times. But the things Kevin encounters on the other side are simply versions of things Kevin has already experienced, in the world of the living. The people on the other side are people Kevin knows or has met–Patti, Meg, Dean, David Burton. They are just playing different roles than their living roles. This other side is a Kevin-specific other side. And Kevin chose his role. The first time Kevin dies, when he emerges naked from the tub in the hotel room in “International Assassin” and opens his closet to grab clothes, a note tells him,

“Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

Leftovers_adorn

Kevin passed over his police uniform, which was also hanging in the closet, and donned a suit. He chose International Assassin. Which means Kevin sees himself as some harbinger of justice, revenge. He’s powerful, skilled. James Bond. And when he returns to the other side in “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” he is the International Assassin again, and the President of the United States. Double power and importance!

One by one, Kevin’s belief in his importance and his higher purpose is systematically torn down. As Faith’s son says to him, “Why does it matter?” It doesn’t. Kevin is not as important as he thinks he is. The whole thing where he has to pull out his penis and have it scanned to get into the bunker? What a display of ego! Every part of this world puts Kevin at the center of his own greatness, his superior skills, his savior-complex.

But maybe there is nothing important about Kevin. When David Burton told Matt that he was God, he also said that nothing mattered, and he didn’t even care about Matt, who spent his life trying to get God’s attention. Why is Meg the Vice President in Kevin’s dead world? Why does it matter? Why is Evie’s whole family dead from a bomb? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything. Even Kevin doesn’t believe that a song his father sings will stop a flood. Why is it that Kevin can die and come back to life? It doesn’t matter! He’s not the only one able to do so–David Burton has done it several times as well, and Evie’s grandfather. Who knows why. But he’s not special.

Kevin’s death trips to the other side have served one purpose and one purpose only: For Kevin to rid himself of something. He died and released himself from Patti’s hold on his life. And then as President, he brings her back to help him release the part of himself that feels guilt and fear, that pushes other people away, that can’t be satisfied, that sails off on The Merciful in the end of his romance novel, without Nora. He tears that man’s heart out, he takes the key, and he blows up the whole goddamn world to make sure that part of him is gone forever.

The Leftovers, Kevin and young Patti at well

And now, Kevin seems to finally be at peace. He destroyed the world that allowed him to die and come back to life; he doesn’t need it anymore. But Kevin Sr. isn’t ready to let go yet, he’s not ready to come down from the roof yet, to accept that he has no grand purpose. Kevin Sr. asks, “Now what?”

Next week, we’ll find out. Or not, it’s Damon Lindelof so who knows. But I think what we should all prepare for, just in case, is the show’s Departure, of sorts: How do you cope with an event that no one will ever be able to understand? How do you live with just never knowing why? Because that might be what The Leftovers leaves us with–questions with absolutely no answers. Adorn yourself accordingly.

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The Walking Dead: No. Eff you, you effing eff.

Even before the end of season 6 of The Walking Dead, I was so over this show. Having watched it religiously for 6 years, (even suffering through season 2), as a loyal fan, I felt completely disrespected by the showrunners. This is one of the highest-rated shows on television. There’s even a show AFTER the show, where the sole purpose is to talk about the show for ANOTHER HOUR. And yet, for whatever reason, The Walking Dead has turned away from even attempting to write compelling storylines, and instead has chosen to throw cheap tricks at us, for nothing more than a lazy grab at ratings they don’t even need.

The Walking Dead spent almost all of last season crawling along at a glacial pace, telling the same goddamn story they have been telling from the beginning–you either accept this new world as corrupt, or you believe there is salvation still to be had (except you’re wrong, you freaking idiots). Our heroes arrive at a town in Alexandria, Virginia, which has managed to escape the worst of the zombie outbreak. The people living there are naive to the reality of the world. And so we spend yet another season watching the consequences of people either choosing to accept it or not choosing to accept it. YAWN.

The thing that has always angered me about The Walking Dead, is that the show spends time making you care about these characters, only to rip them away from you, usually by the next episode. There’s a huge difference between killing a character for the sake of the story to move forward (i.e., Hershel), and killing a character just to kill them (i.e., pretty much everyone else). That’s not entertainment.

Let’s talk about the shit the show pulled with Glenn last season. He seemingly fell off of a dumpster and had his intestines ripped out and eaten before his very eyes. Several episodes later, we learn that the other guy on the dumpster had fallen on top of Glenn, and HIS intestines were being eaten, while Glenn pulled himself under the dumpster until all the zombies eventually shuffled away.

Why. Why would you do that? Why would you tell that story? It’s not a story! It’s a cop out. It’s a ratings grab. It’s bullshit. It’s disrespectful to the fans.

And then let’s bring in Negan–the show’s new Big Bad, who has been hinted at for quite some time, and has excited the fan base who has read the comics. Negan is pure evil. And everyone knew he was going to kill someone.

Of course, I tuned in for the last 10 minutes of the finale to find out: Who was Negan going to kill? Pulling the SAME SHIT they pulled with Glenn’s dumpster dive “death,” The Walking Dead hyped this finale up, only to make us wait until the next season to learn everyone’s fate.

Of course, I was not even the least bit excited to learn who got killed. The Walking Dead marketed the forthcoming death(s) as a game; as a teaser. Posting videos to their Facebook page of each character and asking, “Is this the end for Maggie?”, “Is this the end for Daryl?” No, I don’t want to play that game! These are characters that I care about. I have been with these characters since the beginning. I love them all. I don’t want to take bets on who is going to die!

So, season 7 opens with an extreme close up of Rick, sweating and wearing a smear of someone else’s brains on his face. People sobbing around him. Horrifying, horrible, awful stuff. Where is the entertainment value in this? We learn fairly quickly that it was Abraham who took the bat to the head again, and again, and again, until his head was nothing more than a puddle of blood on the ground. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Later in the episode (and the point at which I stopped watching), the bat is brought down on Glenn’s head. He didn’t die right away though. His eyeball popped out, and he struggled to say one last thing to his pregnant wife as she knelt horrified and hysterical, watching her husband (and a beloved character, plus one of the only Asian men on TV right now) ALSO have his head beaten to a soup of blood. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Not only did it happen, but we had to watch it. Violence for the sake of violence. Gratuitous horror for the sake of gratuitous horror. Why? Why?

I’m not buying Jeffery Dean Morgan’s portrayal as Negan–if this is supposed to be a psychotic, maniacal villain, Morgan is just not selling it. I imagine there are few actors in this world who can deliver the line “pee pee pants city” with any kind of believable conviction to make it not ridiculous. Negan doesn’t scare me, he doesn’t seem unhinged. Which makes the violence even more unnecessary than it already is. If the story is to demonstrate a psychopath, then yeah, maybe the brutal deaths would have been warranted. But Jeffery Dean Morgan is just not pulling that off. He’s not a worthy adversary to Rick. And frankly, I’m sick of seeing Rick’s sweaty hair in his face as he trembles in baffled agony at the events unfolding before him.

What I find particularly disturbing is the reaction of the audience to Negan. They couldn’t wait for this character to show up. Knowing how horrible he would be. Jeffery Dean Morgan is undoubtably a babe (Denny Duquette forever and ever amen), but what was this that I saw at Hot Topic last night:

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The description of this shirt on the Hot Topic website is:
“You really like the bad boys, don’t you?!

This fitted black tee from AMC’s The Walking Dead features a black & white photo design of Negan and his bat Lucille with text that reads “I (heart) Negan.”

There are not enough emoticons in the world to depict how I am feeling. This character BEAT THE LITERAL BRAINS OUT OF TWO CHARACTERS. HE’S NOT A BAD BOY, HE’S A SICK TWISTED MOTHERFUCKER WITH NO REDEEMABLE QUALITIES.

Seriously, what the actual fuck am I looking at? Negan is not a misunderstood emotionally unavailable man with a secret heart of gold and the ability to be saved if a woman loves him enough. This disturbs me to my core. Why aren’t more people angry about this? Where is the entertainment value in this?!?

You know who the target customer at Hot Topic is? Teenagers. Teenagers. TEENAGERS. (And me, but we’re not talking about that right now.)

The Walking Dead is one of (if not THE) most popular shows on television right now. Its scope stretches far and wide. Its marketing suggests entertainment in violent death, and now it glorifies villains. This shirt has a man on it, holding a bat that is dripping in blood, with the words a middle schooler would doodle on the sides of their looseleaf paper. Do you like me? Yes. No. Maybe. Circle One.

No. No. Fuck you The Walking Dead you fucking fuck. This show is dead to me. And yet, like every dead thing on this show, it rises back up from the dead and crawls toward me with evil intentions–it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.

 

Backstreet’s Back ALL RIGHT (or someone else, spoilers duh)

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Game of Thrones is back! Jon Snow is back! Even Ned Stark is back (kinda). It is an exciting time to be tuned it to Westeros, because Game of Thrones is entering uncharted territory. That’s right, this season they are going off book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because, seriously, have you read the 5th book? I tried. I tried so hard. I got maybe a quarter of the way through (which, in my defense, is like 300 pages) and I just couldn’t do it anymore because NOTHING. IS. HAPPENING. Do I need 3 pages of Tyrion musing about turtles? No. And honestly, that is really all I remember from the 5th book because literally nothing else happens. And so it is with extreme excitement that I let this season take me beyond the books to heretofore unseen places and storylines, with nary a turtle in sight.

And I’m okay with the show runners doing whatever they want to this story, because it is going places and I am 110% here for it. A brief recap of where we left off last season:

In King’s Landing, Cersei gave a little too much power to a religious extremist group who imprisoned her, as well as Margaery and Loras Tyrell for the sins of incest, homosexuality, etc. Cersei confessed to her crimes so she could be released, but in exchange had to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked and shamed in front of all of the people she has ruled (who obviously hate her, for good reason because she’s a total bitch). As of the opening of season 6, the Tyrell’s are still held captive, refusing to confess.

In Dorne, Jamie travels to fetch his niece/daughter, Myrcella, and take her back to King’s Landing. Myrcella is very much in love with betrothed Dornish Prince, Tristane, and doesn’t want to leave. Ellaria Sand returns to Dorne, mourning Oberyn Martell, who got his skull crushed by the Mountain during a duel (it basically exploded, I’m still not over it). She is hell-bent on vengeance and seeks help from the Sand Snakes (a group of Oberyn’s bastard daughters, both by Ellaria Sand and other women), who are also interested in avenging their father. Oberyn’s brother, Prince Doran, wishes to maintain peace. So the sand ladies take things into their own hands (and whips), poisoning Myrcella just before she gets on the boat that is to take her and Tristane back to King’s Landing. Myrcella tells Jamie that she knows he’s her Uncle-Father, and she’s okay with it. But then she dies.

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Heyyy Uncle-Father

In Braavos, Arya is still training with Jaqen H’ghar and all the weirdos at the House of Black and White. She insists that she is “no one” when asked but she is still holding on to a part of Arya that she doesn’t want to let go. Jaqen obviously knows this. A man knows a lot of stuff. He knows that Arya assumes a disguise in order to murder one of the men on her hit list (Meryn Trant who, it turns out, was into molesting kids almost as much as he was in to cutting people’s heads off, so no one is even remotely sorry that he’s dead now). BUT, since Arya disobeyed orders and acted in her own interests, she’s blind now.

Across the sea, Tyrion emerges from his smuggling after killing his father with an arrow to the crotch. Varys came along too and tries convincing Tyrion to join the Targaryen cause. Ser Jorrah, who is depressed and in Daenerys’ exile, comes across Tyrion and kidnaps him to take him to Dani to try and win retribution (I guess?). On their way there, they are attacked by stone men who infect Ser Jorrah with greyscale (though he has revealed that to no one–and I can’t help noticing he’s still going around touching everyone he pleases!). Tyron meets Dani and joins her Queen’s Guard. Ser Jorrah enters the fighting pits to impress the queen because the dude just cannot take a hint. Then the Sons of the Harpy show up, trying to assassinate the queen. Jorrah saves her, and it looks like a pretty stick situation, until DROGON comes out of nowhere, obliterating Dani’s enemies as she mounts him and together they fly away into the sunset! BUT then she gets kidnapped by the Dothraki.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton legitimizes his bastard, Ramsey, and arranges that he marry Sansa Stark. Sansa is brought down from the Vale by Littlefinger, who she trusts (girl, that’s a mistake), and he leaves her there with her future husband. Theon, of course, is there (or at least what’s left of him is there. That does not include his penis. That’s gone forever). Surprising no one, Ramsey brutally rapes and tortures his new bride, but Sansa and Theon manage to escape and run away.

Also at Winterfell, Brienne and Pod had reached out to Sansa pre Sansa getting married and offered their protection, which she denied (girl, that was a mistake). Stannis marches on Winterfell (girl, that was a mistake) and his army is completely obliterated. Brienne comes upon a dying Stannis and avenges the gay love of her life, Renly, by chopping off Stannis’ head. Everyone collectively breathes a sigh of relief because no one likes Stannis because he’s so boring plus he just burned his daughter alive.

Which leads me to: The Wall. Where all kinds of shit is going down. Like the White Walker army attacking and killing the crap out of the Wildlings. Stannis was at the Wall with the Red Woman, his family, and Ser Davos. Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, and Davos had formed a special friendship as she taught him how to read. This girl is like the sweetest little thing you ever could see. She also survived greyscale (so don’t give up hope, Ser Jorrah!). But perhaps greyscale would have been preferable to what did happen to her, which was death by fire. Melisandre saw Stannis’ victory at Winterfell in the flames but he needed to make a sacrifice of someone with king’s blood. Well, in his general vicinity, that was pretty much only Shireen. And Davos wasn’t there to save her, as he had already headed towards Winterfell. The fire was lit and this poor child was burned alive. All for nothing because Stannis lost anyway (which Melisandre was really bummed out about).

So, finally, we come to Jon Snow. He who knows nothing. He with the fantastic hair that looks so amazing when snow falls in it. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Murdered. Stabbed to death by his own Brothers. The closing scene of the season is Jon Snow lying dead in the….well….in the snow.

Thus began the year of speculation! Is he really dead? Turns out yes. But does he stay dead. No he does not.

(Okay, I guess that recap wasn’t so brief but I had to set the stage!)

Game of Thrones hit the ground running this season, pushing the story forward at a quick but satisfying pace. In the 2 episodes that have aired so far, already 3 significant characters have been killed (Balon Greyjoy, Prince Doran of Dorne, and Roose Bolton). Sansa was rescued by Brienne. Tyrion unshackled the freaking DRAGONS (in a heart-pounding scene for sure–could he have dragon’s blood in him? Hmm?). Melisandre was revealed to be secretly super old (which absolutely none of us saw coming). Ramsey brutally murdered his father’s widow and newborn son (it was grisly and completely unnecessary that we had to watch/hear that. Too far GoT. Seriously, too far). The more boring storylines (and by that I mean nothing has really happened yet): Arya is still blind, and Cersei and the Lannisters are plotting their revenge.

But now we get to the most intriguing storylines. First, Bran is using his mystical white eye warg powers to insert himself into moments in the past. The first of these puts Bran at Winterfell, where he sees young Ned Stark practicing sword-fighting with brother Benjen, as his sister Lyanna rides up on horseback. We also see Hodor, but he was a boy named Wylis back  then and could still speak English. The preview for next week promises more flashback scenes. GIVE ME RHAEGAR FLASHBACKS AND GIVE ME THEM NOW. My hopes and dreams are that these scenes will culminate in the reveal of the highly popular theory that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. I’m thirsting for that story, and the show better quench it because I deserve it! We all deserve it.

And finally, we’re back to Jon Snow. Surprising probably no one, he does come back from the dead. Melisandre sensuously washes his wounds (so many abs, so many abs), cuts his hair (tone it down lady, don’t cut it all off), and mumbles a bunch of Valyrian (I think) over him, all resulting in Jon Snow drawing breath and being alive again. YES.

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The show has consistently done a good job of taking the story from the books and condensing it down, either eliminating minor characters (or storylines) completely or replacing them with more important ones. (See: Sansa Stark as Ramsey’s wife, instead of Jeyne Poole from the books who is masqueraded as Arya. So confusing. Or Ellaria Sand as the one pushing for a war with the Lannisters, instead of introducing a new character to do so.) And now that they have surpassed the plot of the books, they’re doing something even better: Removing all boring moments from the books and giving the fans storylines that are interesting and satisfying.

As of the end of book 5, Tyrion had yet to meet Daenerys. In the show, not only has he met her, he now advises her and befriends her dragons, all while maintaining a comedic wit that the show desperately needs to break up the horror of most other plots. I have no idea what’s going on with Sansa in book 5 but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much further than the Vale. In the show, she has now escaped Ramsey, learned that Bran and Rickon are alive, reunited with and forgiven Theon, and has been saved by Brienne. And on and on it goes for each character. And now, the icing on the cake, we are getting flashback scenes. I’m so excited I feel like I’m taking a ride on that dragon, soaring over my enemies (namely father of the realm G.R.R.M., the maintenance people who won’t come and fix my bathroom ceiling, and any and all haters). I cannot wait to watch the rest of this season.

Side note: Do you think anyone is going to get raped this season? Who am I kidding, it’s Game of Thrones, of COURSE someone is getting raped.

The Rape of Cersei Lannister

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A lot has been said about this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones entitled, “Breaker of Chains.” The episode depicts a famous scene from book three of the A Song of Ice and Fire series from which the show is based, yet changed one key element from the book, and caused an internet uproar.

The scene in question involved Cersei and Jamie Lannister, twins and lovers. In the book, Cersei stands in a Sept (a holy house in this universe) over the corpse of her dead son (fathered by her brother, Jamie). Jamie, who until that point had been kidnapped and tortured and absent from King’s Landing for quite some time, arrives on the scene. Cersei is overcome by relief at seeing Jamie and passion because she’s all hot for her brother. And although at first she thinks it would be wrong to have sex with her brother in a holy place beside the corpse of their dead son who was the product of incest (and I would agree with her for so many reasons), she willingly and consensually and happily does end up having sex with Jamie. She also is on her “moon blood” during the process, meaning she has the Westeros equivalent of a period and the whole scene in general is gross for every reason I just listed above.

The show took this exact scene and changed one very important part: The part where Cersei gives consent. In the book Cersei literally guides Jamie into her with her hand. In the show, it was nothing short of rape, with Cersei consistently saying no and trying to push Jamie off of her, to no avail.

People are not happy, but maybe not entirely for the reasons that you would think.

My initial reaction to this scene was one of shock followed by anger. The scene itself was very difficult to watch (as all scenes of rape should be) and I was quite flabbergasted and confused as to what I was witnessing, as I am someone who has read the books.

I was really excited when I saw Cersei in the Sept and it looked exactly like I pictured it. Then Jamie walked in, just like in the book and everything was going kind of word for word, and I was sitting on the couch crunching on potato chips and thinking to myself, “I wonder if they’re going to be bold enough to show her moon blood” and then all of a sudden Jamie is raping her. And I’m sitting there wondering when it’s going to turn consensual because that’s what a reader of the book would expect but it never does. And as soon as the scene ends, I turned to my roommate aghast and said, “THAT didn’t happen in the book!”

Which seems to be the predominant reaction that people are having: That it didn’t happen in the book. This article from The A.V. Club posed the question that I immediately asked as well which was: While inevitably television or movie adaptations of books have to change scenes in order to work in a different medium, why change this particular scene? Everything else was exactly the same as the scene in the book except for the question of consent. But what was the motivation behind taking an act of consensual sex and turning it into an act of sexual violence? Because upon doing so, the showrunners have changed the very integrity of the characters themselves.

In the books and the show, at this point Jamie is well into his redemption story. He is a man who has done terrible things but is beginning to recognize that about himself and take measures to change. He is misunderstood in a lot of ways, and although his relationship with his sister is incestuous (and therefore really gross), he is honorable in his love and devotion to her. The choice on the part of the show to have him rape Cersei throws a wrench in all of that previous character development. And I understand why fans of the book are angry because it is my belief that Jamie would never rape anyone, especially not Cersei, no matter what other horrific things he may have done. The show essentially destroyed the very integrity of the character with this one very violent and disturbing scene.

Granted, the show is in no way required to stay so close to canon, but it’s disturbing because the motivation behind altering the character in this way is unclear. And while it’s possible that in the coming episodes it will become clearer why they chose to take this character in this direction, as it stands it’s a hard pill to swallow.

This article from Wired included a quote from the director of the episode, that suggested that the scene they filmed wasn’t even really a rape scene (at least not to their knowledge), but a power struggle, with Cersei ultimately wanting it, and one that ended in consent. This is disturbing in so many ways, because it suggests that the power that the showrunners wield (which is to entertain and influence an audience of millions of people) is abused in ignorance of the scenes that they are portraying. Perhaps when it was filmed it was a power struggle and not a rape scene but that’s not how it was edited and not the final product, as the scene cut away before Cersei ever consented (if that was a thing that was supposed to happen). Game of Thrones is a show that depicts a lot of violence and a lot of sex, often for no other purpose but to be exploitative and titillating and shocking. I would hate to think that this scene was used for the same purpose, or to prove that this is how the world of Westeros works—it’s a dark and particularly dangerous realm and the rules of existence are different there.

Because the rules are different when watching a show about a fictional universe. The world of Game of Thrones is filled with war and ruthless murder and rape. With the killing of children, with the marriage of siblings and 13-year-olds to 30-year-old savages, with eunuchs and slaves. There are also dragons, and zombie-like creatures that can only be killed by fire. It’s mystical and twisted and dark. It’s also completely fictional and therefore I think it’s a safe space to examine something I found very interesting about the reaction to this episode.

I’m very interested in the reaction of the audience to violence in Game of Thrones versus violence against women in Game of Thrones. Particularly the dichotomy between the reaction to Joffrey’s death and the reaction Cersei’s rape. Because by all accounts Cersei is a terrible person. She is cruel and manipulative and hateful. She has murdered and she would step on anyone to rise to the top, including her own younger brother, Tyrion. She has an incestuous relationship with her brother, all of her children were the product of that relationship, and she helped to murder her husband in order to keep that secret. Basically everybody in the audience hates her. And the same was true for Joffrey. He was a spoiled, sadistic brat who murdered and tortured. He was cruel and impulsive and maniacal. And when he was killed last week, everyone in the audience cheered and celebrated.

Now before I continue remember that I am speaking here entirely of a fictional world. I don’t think that anyone deserves to be raped. I don’t even think Cersei deserved to be raped, and she’s a horrible person. But I thought that Joffrey deserved to die, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did, too. Are we not the same audience that just last week threw a Twitter party upon Joffrey dying in a truly gruesome and graphic and horrific fashion? But in this fictional world where the rules are different, we feel outrage at Cersei’s rape. If Jamie had walked into that Sept and stabbed her in the heart, we would be celebrating again this week. But because he raped her, we are angry.

And don’t get me wrong, I think we should be angry. But where is the source of that anger? We are desensitized enough to violence that we applaud it when distributed upon a truly heinous character. But sexual violence is enough of a taboo in our culture that there is a public outcry when a character who most would say deserves to die is raped. I think it is very interesting but I also see it as problematic. Because if rape and sexual assault are such a taboo that it pains us to witness fictional characters who we hate experience it, then why is it that when you pull back and examine real-life rape in our society, victim-blaming and other facets of rape culture still run rampant with not as many people as the audience of Game of Thrones (which is millions) caring as much about real rape as they do about Cersei’s rape. You would think that the outrage on behalf of a fictional character would translate to outrage in the real world but it really doesn’t.

If we believe as an audience that rape is inexcusable no matter what the crimes of the victim may be, then why doesn’t that concern for a horrible person of a female character extend out of pop culture and into our own culture towards real-life victims of sexual violence? Do we care more about the fictional rape of a fictional person than we do about the actual injustices that happen to real people?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I am happy that so many people are asking these kinds of questions and talking about depictions of rape in popular culture and storytelling through the medium of television. I think it’s important to hold showrunners accountable for their choices, because it seems to me that they chose to have Cersei raped for no other reason except they kind of didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing? Which opens a giant can of worms regarding misogyny, the way rape is viewed in America, and the treatment of women on Game of Thrones especially. This show has come under fire for this before, which is such a shame since George R.R. Martin’s female characters in the book are some of the strongest and most complicated female characters I’ve ever read, and they’re written with respect.

But I also think we should see where they take these characters this season. Because rape as a storytelling device isn’t inherently wrong and can be used to a very powerful effect, but it’s very tricky to do so, and I feel that it is often used lazily and as a throwaway character arc for women. Perhaps this particular rape scene will create an excellent story for Jamie and Cersei’s characters (though I wouldn’t count on it) and we should wait to see if that happens (but I really doubt it will). In the meantime, I hope the discussion about rape depictions in popular culture continues because while I think the showrunners have done all of it inadvertently, they opened a really great national dialogue, so applause to Game of Thrones for doing something great by doing something bad, while both were probably unintentional.

A final interesting thing to note: Author George R.R. Martin posted something about this episode and this scene in particular on his blog, in response to fan criticism over the whole thing. In his response, GRRM spoke of the difference in where the characters were in the books versus the show (in the book, it was the first time Cersei was seeing Jamie in a long time, and in the show he had been there with her for a few weeks with mounting tension). He also said the scene in the book was always intended to be disturbing and that he wasn’t brought into discussion for this episode but that he apologizes if anyone was disturbed by either scene.

First of all, George, you are the father of the REALM, you bow to NO ONE. I’m not into the idea that artists should apologize for their work (though that seems to be happening a lot lately). But more than that, people SHOULD be disturbed by those scenes, whether it was the one in the book or the one on television. People SHOULD be disturbed when they’re watching a rape scene! If you’re not disturbed then you’re probably a rapist or the director of this episode. Furthermore, if GRRM is going to start apologizing for things in his books that disturbed me, I have a LONG list starting with his synonyms for “vagina” which include “lower lips” and “the wetness between her legs.” Please apologize for that, forever. Thank you.

The Walking Dead, 4×14: That Scene. No, Not That One. The Other One.

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I want to talk about the events of last night’s The Walking Dead episode, ‘The Grove.’ But first I have to say: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. So read only if you, y’know, want to be spoiled.

I have refrained from writing about The Walking Dead until now because I love the show so much that I feel like I can’t articulate it well. Whereas scathing criticism comes naturally to me, when I try and talk about things I love, it always just comes out as a string of, “OMG FDIFJDLF THAT WAS AMAZEBALLS, I CAN’T EVEN. OMG.” Which, y’know, nobody wants to read (except Tumblr, with accompanying gifs). So I’ll do my best here but just know that I don’t have anything but sheer praise and worship to bestow upon this show, and therefore have difficulty forming coherent sentences.

Every week I am astounded that The Walking Dead manages to outdo what it did the previous week. The back episodes of season 4, following its winter hiatus, have been the strongest and most compelling episodes of the series so far. With the characters separated into various groups (and most convinced that everyone else is dead) following the tragic events at the prison, each episode either focuses on one group, or a handful of groups. Rather than being disjointed, these episodes unite each arc under a common theme. Particularly strong were the kinda-bottle episodes that focused on only: Rick/Carl, Beth/Daryl, and now this episode which centered on Tyreese, Carol, Lizzie, and Mika. Removed from the action and the larger cast as a whole, these character-centric episodes allowed the deepest and most intimate examination of humanity in this new post-apocalyptic reality that we have seen on this show yet.

‘The Grove’ contained revelations that the fans have been waiting for all season, with paramount suspense. We (and by “we” I mean “I”) thought we knew what those revelations would be but The Walking Dead never fails to surprise. I’m referring specifically to who killed Karen and David. Because I thought (and I think a lot of the internet thought as well) that it was always Lizzie, and that Carol covered it up and took the fall for it. But we learned in this episode that it was, in fact, always Carol. I hate being wrong. But what I like is that with it always being Carol who committed that crime, it seems that Carol really didn’t have any idea how sick Lizzie truly was.

Which I find strange because Lizzie has consistently said odd things throughout the season, with an eerie detachment from emotions. Why did no one find her behavior disconcerting? She always struck me as manipulative and sociopathic, if not schizophrenic, and it seems her younger sister was always aware that there were some mental health issues present. No one picked up on this? Is it because this new world of zombies has forced everyone to develop a detachment from their emotions? But Lizzie’s just a kid.

Particularly concerning in last night’s episode was Carol’s non-reaction to Lizzie’s dramatic and borderline psychotic reaction to Carol killing a walker that Lizzie was “playing tag” with. Lizzie screaming, “YOU KILLED HER! SHE WAS MY FRIEND! WHAT IF I KILLED YOU? YOU KILLED HER! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.” Carol walked away from that encounter seeming to think that Lizzie was still just confused about what walkers really were, and perhaps had thrown a temper tantrum. (But Lizzie is like, what, nine, ten? Do ten year olds still throw temper tantrums?)

Equally chilling was the scene where Lizzie fed a walker a mouse, and told her sister that she could hear them, that they wanted her to be one of them, and that maybe she should join them so that she could prove to everyone that she’s right. She stretched her hand out for the walker to bite her, but then a bunch of walkers showed up (as they always do, to literally push the plot forward by chasing the characters). Lizzie ended up having to kill some of them herself, though she wasn’t happy about it. Carol asked her later did she now understand what they were and Lizzie responded, “I understand what I have to do now.” That is not what Carol asked, Lizzie! Carol, open your eyes!

I admit, while I did think Lizzie was going to attempt to kill someone else, I thought it more likely she was going to kill herself–to come back as a walker and prove to everyone that they’re still people. Or at least they’re something else altogether. What actually happened was…horrifying. Lizzie, killing her sister. Carol and Tyreese returning from hunting to find a knife in Lizzie’s hands, her hands dripping blood, her sister on the ground beside her, stabbed to death, and baby Judith perched on a picnic blanket, unaware of the horror unfolding at the world’s worst picnic.

As Carol and Tyreese rushed forward, terrified yet calm, Lizzie says, “Don’t worry. She’ll come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” Then she mentions how she was just about to do this to Judith too. Carol steps forward but Lizzie pulls out a gun and points it at Carol and insists that they have to wait for Mika to come back. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my couch clutching my cat and screaming, “SOMEONE PICK UP THE BABY. GET THE BABY.” Carol manages to coax Lizzie away with the false promise that she just wants to tie Mika up for when she comes back. She sends Lizzie off with Tyreese and Judith (um, sending Judith anywhere with Lizzie would not have been my first instinct, but OKAY) and then Carol breaks down and cries, before stabbing Mika in the head to ensure that she doesn’t turn.

The episode concludes with Carol doing what needed to be done. She takes Lizzie out into the grove (y’know the grove of ‘The Grove’). Lizzie begins to cry and begs Carol to not be mad at her for pointing her gun at her. (Not for, y’know, murdering her sweet younger sister with the intention of murdering an INFANT next. Just don’t be mad she pointed a gun.) Carol tells Lizzie to look at the flowers, to just keep looking at the flowers, and then Carol kills Lizzie, executes her really, but it had to be done. How very Of Mice and Men.

And I sat there and thought that while I can sit on my couch in my heated apartment as someone not in the midst of an apocalypse and say assuredly that killing Lizzie was the right thing to do and absolutely had to happen, I can also recognize how complicated that actually is. Carol had to murder a child. Granted, one that was dangerous, sick, and could not be trusted. But a child nonetheless. It added another layer to this world of The Walking Dead. The choices that these characters have to make. Where are the lines of right and wrong as they are newly defined in this world? And how does anyone live with themselves after making decisions like this? These questions aren’t new–The Walking Dead has been asking them from the beginning. But every season, the circumstances surrounding them get more chilling, complicated, and difficult. Who will Carol be after this? She lost her daughter. She killed Karen and David to protect the rest of the prison from the flu outbreak and it didn’t work. She swore to protect these two little girls–these surrogate daughters–and failed. She had to kill one of them. What impact does that have on her going forward?

And can I love this show more?

But I actually didn’t write this to talk about the scene where Lizzie kills her sister. Or the scene where Carol kills Lizzie. I wanted to talk about the scene where Tyreese tells Carol about his nightmares (which is the scene right before they stumble on the nightmarish image of Lizzie brandishing a bloody knife over two children, one of which is dead). This scene absolutely blew my mind. Carol in the foreground, Tyreese in the background, clutching a gun. With Carol’s back turned to him, Tyreese explains that he thinks they should stay at this house they’ve found instead of heading towards this alleged sanctuary called “Terminus” because they’re “not ready to be around people yet.” He then proceeds to tell Carol that he has nightmares every night about Karen, and “some stranger” who kills her. The whole time clutching his gun and the whole time Carol refusing to turn and look at him.

The brilliance of this scene lies in the suspense. We, the audience, know that Carol knows who killed Karen and David (though we didn’t yet have confirmation that it was Carol who did it), and Carol knows who killed Karen and David as well. But at the same time, the audience suspects that Tyreese also knows–the way he’s talking, clutching his gun. And Carol suspects it too. She standing there waiting for Tyreese to take his vengeance, and the audience is sitting there watching and waiting for it to happen as well. But the scene ends with Tyreese still unawares who killed them, still trusting of Carol completely.

It was mind-blowing! That level of suspense for a secret that only the audience and Carol share in this scene. The way The Walking Dead tricked us into believing one thing and doing another. And this is what I love about this show. The zombies are scary, and it’s true that you never know when they’ll show up and when someone will die (though it’s pretty obvious when they’ll show up at this point–which is at every opportune moment). But the scariest parts, the most suspenseful parts, are when the audience asks itself, “What will these characters do to each other?” 

Which is so much more compelling. These characters aren’t afraid of zombies anymore. They basically take them down as though swatting particularly large and pesky flies. They’ve become desensitized to them. But they fear each other. And themselves–the people they’ve become. And the parts of the show that are scariest to watch are the interactions between the humans as they struggle to hold on to humanity within themselves.

So, y’know: OMG FDIFJDLF THAT WAS AMAZEBALLS, I CAN’T EVEN. OMG.