Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

June 27 2016 4:07 PM

What Does Sansa Stark Really Want? The Game of Thrones Season Finale Offered a Few Clues.

In a few short seasons, Sansa Stark (–Lannister Bolton, if you want to be precise) has transformed from one of Game of Thrones’ most overshadowed characters to a fan favorite, especially among younger female viewers. Bullied by Cersei and Joffrey, married off to two men she despised (one of whom was a sociopathic sadist), and mentored, whether she liked it or not, by Littlefinger, who has redirected his obsessive love for her late mother toward her, Sansa has suffered as much as most major characters in the series and has seldom been more than a pawn in someone else’s game. Fans are eager for the eldest surviving Stark child to claim her day in the sun, and perhaps the throne of Winterfell.

June 27 2016 1:18 PM

Here’s Our First Peek at What the New Season of High Maintenance Will Look Like on HBO

HBO has released the first teaser for High Maintenance, the stoner comedy web series with a cult following that the network announced it had picked up last year. As in the Vimeo series, Ben Sinclair stars as an anonymous weed dealer whose business transactions take him all over New York City. Now, though, his exploits will stretch over a full half-hour, as opposed to the five- to 15-minute vignettes they once were.

In the show’s early days, creators Katja Blichfield and Sinclair told Slate’s Dana Stevens that they enjoyed “the freedom that being online gives us to say whatever the fuck we want,” but that if they ever did move to longer-format television, they’d aim to keep the show’s pacing the same as in the web series. The teaser is too short to tell if any of that has remained true, but it does feature a promising array of guest stars and some lovingly shot images of New York City.


High Maintenance will premiere on HBO in the fall.

June 27 2016 12:38 PM

How Did Varys Get from Dorne to Meereen So Quickly? He’s a Merman, Obviously.

For a show that opens each episode with an elaborately animated map, Game of Thrones has a very flexible understanding of distance and travel times. Sometimes characters will take multiple episodes—whole months of narrative time—to move from one location to another. On other occasions, they cross continents and oceans in a flash. The sixth season is replete with such enigmas: Littlefinger and his knights seemingly cross the distance between Moat Cailin and Winterfell overnight. Likewise, Arya makes it back from Braavos so quickly that it’s not clear she ever really left.

No one, however, moves faster than Varys. The erstwhile spymaster of King’s Landing typically oozes into scenes. In the series’ sixth-season finale, however, he all but teleports from one location to the next. Early on, he makes a surprising appearance in Dorne, showing up to help the Sand Snakes persuade Lady Olenna to join their cause. Seemingly mere moments later, he’s back at Daenerys’ side on a ship from Meereen, ready for adventure. The most reasonable explanation for such jarring jaunts is lazy storytelling: Varys doesn’t really need to travel to Dorne (presumably he could have just sent a raven or something), but his presence there has more visual impact, more directly signifying the budding matriarchal alliance that will, presumably, back Daenerys’ campaign of conquest in the coming seasons. He’s there, in other words, because it looks better, not because it actually makes sense for him to go. For much the same reason, the show needs him to return to Meereen so we can get a cool shot of all our pals on the deck of a ship.


So yes, there are bad reasons for Varys’ rapid transit. But what if there was a good reason? What if—bear with me here—Varys is a merman?

This, at any rate, is the theory put forward in a 2013 Reddit post that goes into elaborate, delightful  detail. Look, maybe it’s not that crazy. Merpeople—or Merlings as they’re apparently called in Westeros—do apparently exist in George R.R. Martin’s fictional world. And there’s definitely something going on with that whole Drowned God business in the Iron Islands.

On Reddit, facts accumulate. Here are just a few: “Varys is noted to have a peculiar, slimy smile,” the post’s author observes. That makes sense, right? If he makes his home beneath the waves, his mouth probably would be icky. Likewise, the user notes, “When the subject of eating people came up, Varys licked his lips.” Fair point: Obviously mermen would like eating humans. Does most of this evidence seem circumstantial? Sure it does, but it adds up! Are most of the details derived from the novels rather than the show? They are, but that’s also true of other fan theories, plenty of which have proved correct.

Does Varys ever wear pants? Nope, it’s long robes for our Master of Whispers. What if that isn’t a fashion preference but a choice forced upon Varys so as not to reveal his hideous, fishy tail? That’s how Varys got from one place to another so quickly: He swam. Obviously.

June 27 2016 12:14 PM

What I Learned From Bill Cunningham and His Very Unconventional Peacock

Adapted from The Asylum: A Collage of Couture Reminiscences ... and Hysteria by Simon Doonan

In 1985, I was hired by Diana Vreeland to design the displays for a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit entitled Costumes of Royal India. I spent four sequin-encrusted months zhooshing bejeweled saris onto mannequins. And yes, there was no shortage of pink ones—Vreeland once famously declared that “Pink is the navy blue of India.” I have many happy memories of this period, not the least of which was meeting Bill Cunningham—an irreplaceable creative original who will be dearly missed after his death on Saturday.

I was immediately struck by how much Vreeland loved and respected Mr. Cunningham. D.V. was convinced that every Met costume installation needed to have a contribution from the bicycle riding photographer/milliner/fashion sage. She saw him as a good-luck talisman.

June 27 2016 11:30 AM

John Oliver Turned the Brexit Disaster Into a Warning About Trump: “There Are No F--king Do-Overs”

John Oliver spent most of Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight covering the Russian Olympic doping scandal—but not before seizing the opportunity to deliver a rueful “I told you so” to regretful Brexit voters. Just a week ago, Oliver had delivered a persuasive case for why the United Kingdom should vote to remain in the European Union (while still indulging the British impulse to insult Europe as much as possible). His countrymen didn’t listen, so Oliver dedicated the opening of his show to ripping the British leadership who caused this disaster, including Leave campaigners Nigel Farage (“leader of UKIP and three-time cover model for Punchable Face magazine”) and former London mayor Boris Johnson (“a shaved orangutan with Owen Wilson’s hair”).

Likely feeling a bit like Cassandra, Oliver delivered another warning, this time to voters on the other side of the pond, cautioning them not to underestimate Donald Trump, who made a fool of himself while discussing Brexit in Scotland:

June 27 2016 11:09 AM

House Slate: Revenge Turns the Ladies of Westeros Into Stonehearted Killers

Revenge is a dish best served in pie form. But, as delicious as Frey pies are, House Slate hosts Marc Faletti and Amanda Marcotte worry that the drive for vengeance is turning the women of Westeros into stone-hearted killers.

Jon Snow is crowned King of the North, but little does he know, he was born King of all Westeros. But whether Daenerys wants to fight him or marry him for the crown, the real question is: How are all these kings and queens going to hold onto power when everything, including their own families, is falling apart?

June 27 2016 9:45 AM

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Cersei Lannister, Obviously

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate Group general manager Ava Lubell.

Jacob Brogan: Hi, Ava! Thanks for joining me to talk about “The Winds of Winter,” a season that is, we’re told, finally here, just as this uneven season of television ends. This was a supersized episode, and for once the show mostly used that time well. Of everything our characters did, though, I think all the wine-sipping will stick with me most, especially that perfect shot of Cersei tipping back a glass as she looked out on the ruins of King’s landing. I’m not sure about you, but I had a tumbler of vinho verde in hand while I was watching. It may not be the perfectGame of Thrones beverage (that would be these three cocktails), but it got the job done.

June 27 2016 8:03 AM

How Giant, Exactly, Are All the Pop Culture Giants? In One Chart.

This Friday marks the release of The BFG, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story about a lovable hero whose initials stand for “the Big Friendly Giant.” But just how B is this FG? To compare him with the other iconic giants of pop culture, we created the chart above.

A note on methodology: We limited our giants to humanoids or figures who are explicitly identified as giants, which means no giant apes, giant lizards, or the like. Also: We selected only one giant per movie, TV show, or book, and no half-giants. (Hagrid fans should please refrain from sending us their angry owls.) Finally, where heights were not explicitly defined, we strived to use the best estimates available—though height sometimes varies even from scene to scene.

June 27 2016 5:56 AM

Watch Actor and Activist Jesse Williams’ Fiery Speech at the BET Awards

Between all the performances, the BET Awards also found time to fit in one of the most remarkable acceptance speeches since Sacheen Littlefeather. Actor and activist Jesse Williams was this year’s recipient of the BET Humanitarian Award, joining the ranks of past honorees including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Muhammad Ali. Williams, who plays Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, rose to national prominence after traveling to Ferguson, Missouri, to participate in protests after the shooting of Michael Brown. BET also cited his service on the boards of the Advancement Project and, as well as his work as an executive producer of documentary art installation/website Question Bridge: Black Males.

Williams, who’s known to be refreshingly blunt, pulled no punches on stage. After thanking his parents and wife, he gave a barnburner of a speech about systemic racism and oppression, ranging from police brutality to capitalism to cultural appropriation, with a little aside about the promises of the hereafter that would have made Joe Hill proud. It's worth watching in full, but here are some of the highlights:

June 27 2016 1:55 AM

In Its Immensely Satisfying Season Finale, Game of Thrones Became the Show It Has Always Tried Not to Be

Game of Thrones, like many of the great dramas of the past two decades, has gotten its power and punch from using its audiences’ expectations against them. In its first three seasons, the series murdered Ned and then Robb Stark, the kind of noble alpha warriors one expects to be the long-term heroes of a medieval saga, to say nothing of a prestige drama.* In killing them, Game of Thrones, like the books it is based on, was declaring itself. History doesn't hew to the demands of storytelling. It doesn't protect its heroes. Neither would the show.

Having taught viewers that anyone could die, the show came for another narrative fantasy: that revenge feels good. Despite having primed the audience for the death of the tyrannical, vicious Joffrey over many episodes, his end was not cathartic but pathetic, grotesque, a teenager drowning in his own lungs, calling for his mother. (This season, his death was reinterpreted as tragedy by a theatrical troupe roving Braavos.) Even the sadistic Ramsay Bolton’s death last week did not have quite the triumphant tenor one might have expected, if one, like me, had spent multiple episodes razzing Ramsay every time he appeared on screen with “die already!!” Instead, Ramsay’s death came following a battle in which he exacted far too great a toll on the Stark forces, only to be defeated at the last minute thanks to some of Sansa’s ethically suspect strategizing. Sansa’s decision to feed Ramsay to the very dogs to which he had recently fed his infant brother was another reminder of Thrones’ original lesson: Heroes fall one way or another.