Mike’s Stupid Game of Thrones Final Season Predictions

Massive spoilers for all previous seasons of GOT follow.

There are really only two questions that interest me, and the possible answers are related:

  1. What happens when Jaime reaches the Starks?
  2. Who is Sam going to give the Tarly sword to?

Rather than answer these directly, I’d like to make death predictions instead and work my way back to them. Most of the chess pieces are in place at this point to be captured, so it’s mostly, at least in my mind, making the exchange, as they say.

Cersei and the Mountain

These two die in all possible scenarios. The only question is by who. Ayra, Tyrion, and Jaime are the top contenders. I think it will take all three.

I expect Jaime to reach Winterfell and offer his son’s sword, Widow’s Wail, as a peace offering so he is not killed immediately by Ayra, as well as his service. Sansa and Jon will back Ayra, but Brienne will defend him, citing her mission to find the Stark sisters on his behalf, his gift of Oathkeeper to her (and with Widow’s Wail, Ice can now be reforged), but she saves the best for last: the true story of how the Mad King died. Bran will confirm Brienne’s story. Minds are blown.

Then they will throw him in a dungeon just to be safe. Cue Tyrion at the cell door. “Why, hello there, brother. What do you say to killing our sister?”

Likely assassination squad: Jaime, Ayra, and the Hound, not long after, or perhaps while, Cersei backstabs the Starks and Daerenys. The most obvious course is to take Dragonstone with Euron Grayjoy’s fleet while the Starks are trying to fight the Night’s King, cutting off the Jon-Daenerys alliance off from their supply of dragonglass and setting themselves up to mop up whoever survives.

Naturally, the Hound distracts and fights his brother – regardless of outcome, their story ends. Jaime then confronts Cersei, but it’s a ruse to allow Ayra close to do the actual deed. After Jaime watches Cersei die, Ayra will probably kill him too, then wear his face or Cersei’s to command the Lannister army for the duration on the conflict (or, even better, kill Jaime first, wear his face to get close, and tada). Afterward, she will return to Sansa, leaving Casterly Rock to none other than Tyrion. If Ayra spares Jaime, he will wield Widow’s Wail in the final battle against the Night King and die fighting. Either way, Tyrion and Ayra “win,” as much as anyone in GOT “wins” anything.

Euron Greyjoy

Euron is No. 3 for zero chance of survival. Theon may fail to rescue his sister, but either he or she will kill their crazy uncle. My money is on her, as then the House can live on, potentially.

Jorah Mormont

No. 4 of the certain dead, Jorah has two tasks remaining in his very long arc. One is to have Sam Tarly offer him Heartsbane, the Tarly ancestral sword, which he gladly accepts.

Why Jorah? Well, there literally isn’t anyone else to give it to. Jon already has Longclaw, and Jorah is fine with that. Brienne has Oathkeeper. Ayra has that pesky dagger originating from Littlefinger that Bran gave her. Jaime, now on Team Stark, has Widow’s Wail. Sam ain’t going to give it to the Hound, so who’s left that favors a sword? Not Grey Worm. The guy that Sam knows well because he saved him from certain death from greyscale is the only logical pick. In fact, Sam’ll offer it to Jon first… who will suggest Jorah. This completes a five-person Murderer’s Row to fight the Night’s King on foot. Of though, Jorah is the most likely to perish in battle by saving Daenerys fresh from losing her dragon; he literally has nothing else to do in the story at this point.

But how are they going to get the Night’s King off Viserion, the undead ice dragon, to fight him at all?

The Viserion Problem

Sam has another obvious task besides getting Heartsbane to Jorah. He is going to tell Jon who his real parents are, at which point Jon will realize he has just had sex with his aunt, and Daenerys, given her knowledge, with her nephew. Ick. This may lead to a marriage, but more practically, they will realize Jon can ride the second dragon. That’s all a pretty straightforward reading of a series called, tada, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. I think they will both survive, oddly enough. But they may wish they did not.

The Night’s King isn’t going to be killed while an undead Viserion is still flying around. They really only have three things to fight Viserion with, alas. The remaining two dragons are one and two, and assuming Arya or Jaime control the Lannisters, the scorpion-like contraption that Cersei had built is three. A dragonclass bolt might do the trick. But I doubt the good guys are smart enough to use the remaining dragons to lure Viserion into such an ambush, as that would allow the other dragons to survive. More likely, though, for increased drama, both dragons will perish to take down Viserion in the final battle, leaving the Night’s King on foot and vulnerable, facing a Murderer’s Row of Brienne, Jorah, Jaime (if he lives that long), Arya, and Jon.

Let’s back up a bit. At the end of Season 7, everyone is heading to Winterfell. The Night’s King is headed there as that is where his real nemesis, Bran Stark, hangs out. I suggest two battles for pacing purposes. One to slow the walkers down before they get to Winterfell, which fails miserably and is made worse with whatever Cersei decides to backstab with (see Dragonstone musing earlier). Then, a last stand at Winterfell where all dragons are wiped out and any remaining forces try to give any Murderer’s Row survivors a chance to kill the Night’s King.

The Night’s King and the Murderer’s Row

Even GRRM isn’t going to let this guy win in the end, so who offs him? This assumes of course that he is truly a load-bearing baddie, where all the walkers he has created and any wights he has raised will crumble when he is defeated.

Of the remaining Valryian steel wielders, Arya has already had her moment by killing Cersei. So she’ll die. Ditto Jaime, if not offed by Arya. That leaves Brienne, Jorah, and Jon.

Brienne has two possible fates. Either she will die in battle, or live to hook up with Tormund. This is GOT, unfortunately, and if you think this will end well, you haven’t been paying attention. So no giant babies. And Jorah’s logical endpoint for his arc is to die saving Daenerys.

Jon, then, by process of elimination, is the only one left to do the deed. He has already died, so he has some serious plot armor. He has an appropriate weapon. Melissandre may even appear to resurrect him again if he missteps (and given his promise, his first act on waking up would be to kill her).

The Remaining Starks

The attack on Winterfell will be devastating, and dramatically speaking, at its most potent if the Starks are wiped out. Sansa dies defending Bran, and Bran is killed by the Night’s King, perhaps distracting or delaying him enough for Jon to kill him. With Arya already dead, Jon and Daenerys are left alone, the last Stark and Targaryen, destined to rule over a kingdom where almost everyone they know and love is dead. Tyrion, too, rules Casterly Rock alone, having killed (in some fashion or another) his entire nuclear family – mother, father, sister, and brother.






Mike’s 10 Best Games of 2018… or maybe less

I am not even sure I played 10 distinct games in 2018, what with son #2 spawning and a super-intense work-life balance, but let’s see.

Fallout 76

The multiplayer sucks. I don’t care. It’s got a huge fun sandbox and I can play it single-player. Not finished yet, but one does not play Fallout for the ending. One plays it to brutalize Super Mutants with their own weapons while wearing Power Armor.

Kingdom Come

This is still the only game I can recall where I murdered a Benedictine for criticizing my Latin. I would do it again.

Battletech

Backed it, early. Finally, a worthy successor to The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge. Only took over 20 years.

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption

I backed it early too. No regrets at all.

Subnautica

An excellent mix of free-form exploration, crafting, and light combat in a unique setting.

Pillars of Etetnity 2

Like its precursor, the middle of the game is the best part. Not enough quality endings, though.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

A little bit of Thiefy goodness.

Frostpunk

Good concept and flow, though it seems to me, after finishing, that it could have been more complex.

Civilization 6

Surprisingly good, especially on iPad.

Cultist Simulator

Dark and quirky, and also difficult.

Hey, what do you know, I did play ten! Most of these came before M, though.

Are We To Blame For Trump?

As I write in October 2018, criticism of Donald Trump’s competence and respect for the law as President of the United States has ceased to be a partisan affair and has become a duty of the citizenry. But all he is is a symptom, I’d argue, of a larger problem. From my perspective as an university professor, colleges haven’t been successful enough at iberal arts education in the last 40-50 years to prevent a Trump-like political event.

Consider these numbers.

First, 50% of voters in the 2016 exit polls claimed a college degree or higher, with another 32% “some college.” Pew has corrected this to 37% of voters having degrees. Either is higher than the national average of college degree holders, which is 33.4% as of 2016. Overall, 39% of registered Democrats have degrees and 31% have some college experience; 28% of registered Republicans have degrees, with another 35% having some college experience. Thus, I submit that less than one-third of the electorate had no college experience, one-third had some, and one-third graduated. I further suggest, then, that the majority of voters had encountered the basic required curriculum of any college, including a composition/writing course like the ones I teach.

Second, according to Pew, among white voters with a college degree, Clinton took 55% to Trump’s 38%, with initial exit polls claiming the reverse of Trump winning 49%-45%. Overall, among all college graduates, Clinton took 52% and Trump 42%, with a gender split among whites: white women with degrees, Clinton 51%, Trump 41%, and white men with degrees, Trump 53%, Clinton 39%. I cannot find numbers on non-white degree holders. I find these numbers incredible, whether or not you favor Pew or the exit polls.

Third, the default explanation that Trump voters were left behind economically is partially mistaken; rather, “growing domestic racial diversity and globalization contributed to a sense that white Americans are under siege by these engines of change” – a polite way of saying those same voters tended to be (but were not necessarily) racist, anti-immigrant, and isolationist.

Fourth, there were about 18 million college-degree-holding Trump voters; my estimate based on 36% of degreed voters being affiliated with the GOP. In accordance with the third point, they tended to view diversity as threatening, immigrants with fear, and their culture – predominately white – as under siege.

These four points form prima facie evidence that college, as the supposed champion of critical thinking and citizenship, has been a crapshoot for fostering critical thinking or citizenship. If those core courses, like composition, had reliably done the citizen-building job that they claimed to do, the degree holders voting for Trump would much be closer to zero. This failure is more apparent when factoring in the millions of graduates that did not vote at all. Turnout for college-educated citizens was about 70% and post-graduate was 80%.

Writing classrooms in 2016 were not the lone culprit, of course; this was a failure to vote against an authoritarian candidate that has its deep origins in previous decades, as most degree recipients got their degrees many years ago. Still, past Republican candidates – Romney, McCain, Dole, the Bushes, Reagan, McCain – were all moderates, worthy of some democratic consideration, compared to Trump’s odious strongman.

I could blame history or philosophy or political science – how can one get a post-WWII college degree without knowing that electing an authoritarian demagogue is undesirable? But no. Few undergraduates take many courses from these disciplines, but exposure to composition is almost guaranteed. My discipline must share some blame, too. We could have done more.

I used to think my teaching was formative of critical thinking and ethics and built at least a motte and bailey defense against the worst excesses. Writing needed teaching to all comers as a communicative civil right. All that seems dangerously stupid now. Increased writing skill does not magically lead to responsible citizenship. If you knew 42% of your composition class was going to note your citizen-building pedagogy and vote for Donald Trump, would you not change your strategy? Or would you “do your job” to “teach writing” like thousands of others, especially as an adjunct or lecturer if you did not have a reasonably secure job or control over your curriculum?

Repeatedly, we have thrown the difficult and lengthy task of teaching skilled writing to instructors that were underprepared, underpaid, and overworked. When we surrendered collectively and unconditionally to the conclusion that the task was not important enough for the best trained, best paid, and best-motivated instructors – who got to become “scholars” with minor teaching responsibilities – that was when the seeds were planted. Now the entire country pays for our neglect; a constitutional crisis that makes Nixon look like a paragon of integrity. If we could have taught just 1% more responsibility – just 1% – Trump would not be president.

Facing our miserable 58% showing (and I refuse to count those college degree holders that didn’t vote for Trump but didn’t vote; that’s sin by omission), we could salvage our idealistic faith in citizenship-building with a dose of realpolitik. Yes, I have the glimmerings of a solution. Still working it out, but I think writing classrooms, at least, need to explore and learn the techniques of the direct opposites of “ethical” citizenship – falsehood, obfuscation, and emotion. Our link between the teaching of writing and the promotion of citizenship has clearly failed to prevent the development of  “anti-citizens” that willfully voted in a demagogue without critical reflection as voting one into the highest office of the land undercuts the purpose of the system.We could teach writing as a neutral tool used for good, evil, and all the gray points in between, as much as we did the practice of democracy and the performance of citizenship – a marriage of realpolitik and idealism. We could study how to compose “unethical” communication through not just the increasingly prevalent examples, but practice, and thus stress the real-world consequences of rhetoric and writing used for nefarious purposes, particularly in civic/political contexts, using the lessons of history – and starting with Trump as Bad Example #1. We have to stress the consequences of dishonest communication and condemn them when we see them.

Or, is it too late? Have we bled out from a self-inflicted wound, and my musings here are part of the last flickers of a dying brain? Certainly, waiting passively for Robert Mueller to save America is a losing bet. The poison has settled in, and the problem is now long-term. Behind Trump is Pence, and behind Pence are other emboldened strongmen, many overseas in parallel tracks. Times are dire.

A college education, on the front lines of voting, may be the best hope for holding the democratic line, but blind idealism, our old pedagogical strategy, is not enough in the face of an evil that conceals its true nature all too well. There are many “anti-citizens” out there that think Trump is the second coming. Lower taxes, reduced immigration, tough trade talk, white male Supreme Court justices, racism and sexism carefully enshrined – all the little things they want, and at what they think is a great price, their souls bundled with the future.

You may note that I used the word evil. I did so purposefully. This is a path of evil we’re on. The election of Trump in 2016 was not a blip. It was a game-changer, a culmination of decades of poor education and careful politicking. Whatever happens in the midterms next month, even a Democratic takeover of both the House and the Senate, will not reverse it. It takes decades to make this kind of mess, and it will take decades to change it. I wonder, though, if we have decades left.

The Link Between Competence and Character

Tiger Woods’s recent “comeback kid” storyline and the ongoing accusations against Judge Kavanaugh remind me that America has an obsession with linking competence to character.

Americans understand competence in two ways. The first is as a minimum. Competent means you mean the minimum requirements for your job or role or sport. You can use it as a pejorative – “He’s just competent,” or as a compliment, “I think you’re competent,” signaling that we ourselves don’t quite know what to make of the concept.

The second way, which is much more insidious and worthy of analysis, is that competence signals good character; a competent person is a good person. When Woods was struggling on the links, it was far easier to link that struggle to personal failings of will, talent, or ethics. But when he’s winning, those concerns are forgotten and replaced by their opposites. He is “mentally tough” and “brilliant” and “disciplined” now, an object of celebration and adoration, a victim of his injuries rather than ruled by them, if he was still losing.

Kavanaugh, too, is a litmus test for how competence is viewed. On one hand, Republicans tend to point to his long career as evidence of competence, and this is extended, by the second definition, to his character. He could not possibly be an attempted rapist because he is competent professionally, the reasoning goes. On the other hand, Democrats reverse this – because he is competent in Republican eyes, they reason, his sterling resume is just the mask of a sexual offender. Either way, it’s a logical mistake. Kavanaugh’s competence as a judge does not cause better personal behavior, or the reverse, that an ethical life leads to competence.

Think over your life, of the many people you’ve known, and you’ll recognize many other examples. The selfless saint that can’t hold down a job, the crack businessman that made his fortune cheating customers, the immature star athlete, the idealistic employee passed over for promotion yet again. And yet we insist to ourselves that there must be a link between behavior and competence. There must be. But there isn’t.

All Trump voters in 2016 knew this very well, even though they might not admit such in public. Trump was rich and famous, with all the trappings of success, and a reputation, at least, of business acumen, but no one is seriously going to point to him as a paragon of moral character. And yet, even with his glaring, obvious example, this doesn’t change how we view Woods or Kavanaugh in the slightest.

Disengagement from this kind of thinking is difficult. Among the professoriate of which I am a member, the professors who publish often are seen as hardworking and industrious, and many sins are forgiven. The ones that don’t get as much in print are viewed as lazy, goldbricking deadwood. This happens despite the inherent randomness of the academic publishing process and despite all the other things professors do, like teaching and administrative work. We’re supposed to be the smart ones, but we can’t easily escape the fallacy either.

Curiously, when it comes time to fire someone, the two concepts of competence and character separate a little. Either can be used to fire you without recourse to the other, but there is always an implication that you failed in both areas. Many positions are apparently supposed to be better than the average Joe, character-wise, given employment clauses detailing the requirements of proper behavior. Behind this is the assumption that you can’t really do your job competently if people don’t view you as competent because your behavior suggests otherwise… even though your behavior has no necessary logical connection to your job performance. It is the appearance or performance of competence, then, that matters.

With Woods and Kavanaugh, we can see one figure ascendant, with his competence and character simultaneously restored; with the other man, both concepts are crashing rapidly because they are so closely linked. I am not suggesting that we do away with linking competence to character, or even if we could, given how hardwired it seemingly is to the American mindset, but we might want to start thinking about applying it more carefully and questioning whether the claims it makes are really warranted.

In Defense of Cheap Rhetoric

I agree with Meghan McCain’s recent eulogy of her father on whether Donald Trump partakes of “cheap rhetoric.” I would go further, though, and say his style is the cheapest kind of cheap. But I am also compelled, as an academic that studies rhetoric, to defend the word ‘rhetoric’ and even ‘cheap,’ when used to describe rhetoric.

Rhetoric as a word comes from ancient Athens, where philosophers such Plato and his student Aristotle, among many others, were deeply interested in how Athens’s democracy functioned through public persuasion, which they called ‘rhetoric.’ It had a bad name then, too, as empty and deceptive discourse, but some, such as the philosopher Isocrates, thought skill at rhetoric was at the very core of being a citizen. After all, it is hard to govern, especially in a citizen-state like Athens that chose its public officials by lot (random, essentially) if you cannot get people to accept your positions and ideas.

Aristotle recognized rhetoric as happening only in specific venues such as the assembly (Athens’s thousands-strong forerunner of our Congress), jury trials, and the eve of battle. Most rhetoric and communication scholars today have expanded upon these categories, though, and subscribe to some version of a “big rhetoric” concept, which states all communication is rhetorical, or, in other words, persuasive, down to the simplest “hello” or “how are you doing?” asked in public. Every instance of communication, according to this model, is trying to get its audience to do something, even if just to pay attention and accepting what the speaker or writer is saying to think is important. Modern advertising is probably the easiest to understand manifestation of this idea. Rhetoric is always a curator, selecting and deciding what to present.

But we do not need the “big rhetoric” perspective to see Meghan McCain is a wielder of rhetoric herself, and her powerful eulogy is a great example of what rhetoricians like myself use a ten-dollar Greek word to describe, epideictic, a ceremonial rhetoric that “praises or blames” at occasions like funerals or church services. An epideictic speech like a eulogy celebrates the values we hold and assaults the ones we detest. Mrs. McCain does both with her carefully chosen words. The subject of her blame is obvious.

Watch the video of her speech online. Her rhetoric is not cheap. Like her father, who had earned a massive amount of ethos – a Greek word that blends character and reputation – through his biography and statesmanship, Mrs. McCain has her own powerful ethos simply as a daughter who has lost a father.

I could mention the rhetorical techniques she used in her speech – her use of repetition to stress McCain’s fatherhood, her impassioned delivery, her stinging rebuke of Trump’s lame fundamentalist slogan – but I will not. I will just mention paralipsis, the technique I just used, where I said I would not say something, but did anyway. It is one of Trump’s favorite devices – an inherently dishonest maneuver. In other words, cheap rhetoric.

Unlike Donald Trump, who has acquired everything that he has with money, John McCain, while far from poor himself, or perfect, had many qualities that cannot be purchased with money. These qualities were learned through painful experience, won through tough conflict, and expressed through measured deeds. But the one I want to mention here, which ties most closely to the Athenian idea of rhetoric, is his renowned ability to be bipartisan in Congress. Like Isocrates, who I mentioned earlier tied skill in rhetoric directly to ideal citizenship, McCain understood better than perhaps any currently serving member of Congress that government cannot function effectively without eloquence that aims to help all (or at least most) and not some.

In this political age, ideas are rarely viewed on their merits. They are automatically checked for approval against one’s party line. Whether or not the idea is helpful or not is irrelevant. Good rhetoric, in the Isocratic view, is to be employed in support of the citizenry, not in the maintenance of power. And that is the difference between John McCain and Donald Trump – one sought to help Americans and embody virtue; the other seeks to defraud Americans and embodies vice. That’s another Greek device, antithesis, of course.

Perhaps I am reading too much into Meghan McCain’s remarks. Perhaps she subscribes to the usual view of ‘rhetoric’ as always being deceptive and cheap. But her father stood for decades in Congress as an example of how rhetoric is supposed to work. So, I hope she does not think only that. And, by writing this, I hope you do not think only that either.

The good and the bad and perhaps some ugly

My losing streak for journal submissions has finally dried up. Two strong R&Rs that look promising have arrived, along with another crushing and disappointing rejection where I apparently managed to erase scholars of color, queerness, and other diverse groups. Or at least that’s what I’m told.

I remember the first time I got a competent rejection. It was in 2008, while I was finishing my doctorate. I sent a piece to Rhetoric Review and the longtime editor, Theresa Enos, sent back a short letter that more or less said, “Sorry, but there’s not enough there there.”

I thought about this, and I realized she was right. The thesis was of the “gee, this is interesting” variety and ultimately not useful to anyone. After a lengthy revision, the next journal started with what seemed to be a solid R&R but became a bait and switch with a third reviewer who thought they had found the critical flaw in my argument (they hadn’t; they just hadn’t read closely the two-page rebuttal in the middle of the piece), but it hit on the third journal. This added up to a three-year delay in publication, of course. I don’t know how folks that don’t write essentially evergreen argument manage to sustain careers.

Speaking of Rhetoric Review, until recently I didn’t know it was the first rhetcomp journal to require peer review, in the early 80s. Which makes me think – most of the classic scholarship of rhetcomp is in the 70s. I wonder.

A guitar

I have not bought a guitar since 2003, and not a new one since, oh, 1993. This summer I decided to change that, and bought a brand new 2018 Gibson J-15.

It is the most inexpensive acoustic Gibson makes, which in layman’s terms means ‘not very bloody cheap’ because like all Gibsons, it is USA-made and gorgeous. I got it at a very steep discount online that felt almost criminal. Its main competition was a gently used 2013 Gibson Songwriter, which was a very nice guitar in its own right, but it didn’t scream BUY ME in my ear as the right guitar tends to do.

I tried a lot of Martins and Taylors. The Martin 000-015 was a live wire, but its lack of electronics was a dealbreaker. The Mexican Martins were all duds. Most of the Taylors, even the higher-end ones, were ok, but felt like toys. I found a nicely discounted GS Mini-e, but I could have snapped it in half over my knee.

I used to have a ’77 Gibson Heritage that I bought in Boston in 2001 or so. I sold it at a reasonable profit several years ago and have regretted it since. Now I feel much better. Getting a different guitar usually triggers a long period of increased playing for me, and I have been needing that.