Before I began watching Lost in 2004, I, as a viewer and certainly as a screenwriter, had always considered flashbacks to be a crutch meant to prop up weak narratives in almost all cases. Much like voiceover, if you’re going to use flashbacks in your script and pull it off, you have to do so masterfully and in a way that is innovative and integral to the narrative, the way that Stanley Kubrick used voiceover in A Clockwork Orange or Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi did in Goodfellas. The voiceover in those films wasn’t used to explain things or fill in holes in the narrative, but rather guided the narrative and fleshed out the characters, adding color to an already rich and detailed on-screen painting. In short, those two films exemplify how to utilize voiceover as a tool rather than a crutch, an integral part of a narrative, much more akin to the way first person narration is used in literature than the lazy, newsreel style of expository narration employed by weaker features.
The breath of innovation the use of voiceover in A Clockwork Orange and Goodfellas brought to cinema, Lost brought for flashbacks in television. What was so innovative about how the writers of Lost used flashbacks was that rather than have flashbacks merely provide information and backstory intended to aid the main narrative, the flashbacks on Lost ran parallel to the present day part of the story, not only providing character background and information, but following a five act narrative of their own, the climax of which coincided with the present day story. This combination provided an emotional impact on the viewer the likes of which hadn’t been seen on television and hasn’t been replicated since.
Lost at its best was a structural and emotional masterwork and no one directed more or more great episodes of Lost than Jack Bender, who directed “The Door” as well as the upcoming episode, “Blood of My Blood” for Game of Thrones. Unsurprisingly, Bender’s stamp was all over this episode in a variety of ways, most glaringly in the “Hodor” sequence, but there’s some compelling material before that point that he put his stamp on and resembled aspects of Lost stylistically and thematically.
There are two main things that stuck out to me about the Kingsmoot on Pyke. The first thing that relates to Bender is that it did remind me a bit of the very contentious policy arguments Jack and Locke repeatedly had on Lost. These tiffs between them were usually held in the presence of the very group they were arguing about leading, much like the Kingsmoot in this episode.
The other thing I just couldn’t stop thinking about and haven’t been able to shake during subsequent viewings is how much this sequence reminded me of the 2016 presidential election. I really don’t think any of this was on purpose, but I was struck by the uncanny parallels of a hawkish woman with an impeccable resume for the job in question making a convincing case with the help of some key surrogates (Theon) and seemingly on a steady path to victory when an enigmatic vulgarian who is quite well known but considered a joke for the most part and has never expressed any interest in the post shows up seemingly out of nowhere talking about the decline of their society, making outlandish promises to fill in the nebulous missing pieces that he can’t possibly back up, only to foster a rousing wave of popular support. I kept waiting for Euron to say “we’re losing on everything; we’re losing on ships, we’re losing on castles, nobody respects us anymore, but I know how to talk to Daenerys Targaryen, I’ve made so many deals with these people, these dragon people, I love dragon people, I have a great relationship with the dragons, and I am gonna make so many deals, such terrific deals, you will not believe.”
In all seriousness, the Kingsmoot on Pyke does connect to the rise of Donald Trump and other like phenomena in the way that it demonstrates the way that people and communities can get swept up in populist sentiment. Euron’s political style resembles Trump’s in that he doesn’t actually propose anything substantively different from what Yara proposes, but makes his case almost exclusively by belittling and insulting her and Theon. His repeated reminders of Theon’s castration to the assembled Iron Born has echoes of Trump’s constant jabs of “little Marco” and “lyin’ Ted” in his campaign rhetoric.
The introduction of Kinvara the High Red Priestess of Volantis and her scene with Tyrion and Varys was the highlight of the episode for me. The mise en scene was lovely; I can’t recall another time that set was lit quite that way, with no other visible light source but fire in the braziers. It almost felt like the fire was burning with a greater intensity than it usually does in that location, almost as if Kinvara’s very presence stokes the flames.
I really enjoyed Ania Bukstein’s performance as Kinvara and I hope we haven’t seen the last of this character. I’m not familiar with Bukstein apart from this appearance but she’s clearly one of those on-camera presences that demands all your attention and doesn’t let the viewer off the hook easily once she’s got it. I’m also very interested in another high-ranking and high profile religious leader entering the mix who could serve as quite an interesting counterpoint to the High Sparrow. As far as religions go, the figures inside the Faith of the Seven and how it relates to state power is much more interesting to me than the faith itself, which can seem a bit rudimentary in its theology at times, which is likely by design. The R’hllor faith, on the other hand, with all its blood magic and relative exoticism is totally fascinating to me. I’d love to learn more about the central authority of the faith to the extent it exists and what its agenda and ambitions are.
The scene itself was also wonderfully creepy and featured a classic reversal in the way that Lost was and Game of Thrones continues to be especially adept at, where a character, (Varys, in this case) comes into a scene thinking they have the upper hand and goes all-in only to find that their opponent (Kinvara, in this case) has a trump card and is thrown completely off their game. The look on Varys’ face when Kinvara describes various details of his castration that he himself revealed to Tyrion in season 3 was deliciously disconcerting from a dramatic standpoint. It was one of the more effective moments of the season.
Though the Meereen sequence was my favorite of this episode, the sequence beyond the wall was undoubtedly the most unforgettable sequence of the episode as well as the most representative of Jack Bender’s contribution and the most “Lostian” in the way that the flashback, which I would argue ceased to be a true flashback once Hodor’s present trauma seemingly caused the trauma in his past, which seemed to be Bran’s present in his greenseeing. This sort of time loop situation is reminiscent of “The Constant” from Lost season 4, arguably the best episode of the series, also directed by Bender.
The thing I found especially devastating about the Hodor revelation was how it perfectly illustrated the long reaching claws of feudalism and the iron grip that system has on the people living under it. Regardless of how much personal affection Bran has for Hodor and how much his intentions are free of malice, Hodor is not only forced to serve Bran and the Starks in perpetuity, but in a way he’s cursed to remain in such a situation for his entire life and is unable to object, abstain, or even properly communicate with his lords or associates. It’s an incredibly sad moment brought to us by a creative team especially adept at delivering such moments. It was an excellent demonstration of just how effective a medium television can be for material such as this.