American friends, in particular those choosing a Democratic candidate for President, something’s been bugging me about the debates I’ve been watching. It’s the rhetoric attacking Medicare for All.

In particular, it’s the concept that if you don’t make government-funded healthcare just one option among many private options, you will be unfairly taking something away from people. While the impetus for politicians to make such arguments clearly lies in the fear of losing donor money, those who believe their logic most likely do so out of a real fear of losing something they actually need or like.

I suspect it’s due to a fundamental conceptual misunderstanding of how Medicare for All works. With that in mind, I’d like to explain, or Canadian-splain if you will, how Universal Healthcare works here in Canada.

It’s in the Cards

All Canadians are entitled to a Medicare Card. They are issued by the government of the province you live in.

These cards need to be renewed at a minimal cost. The specifics vary from province to province, but they’re all in the same range.

In Quebec, where I live, renewal is every four to eight years and costs $25. If you move to a different province, you have to prove residency to get a new card.

Having lost my card once at the same time I moved, I know all too well that you really have to prove who you are and where you live. Given that your health card also serves as a photo ID for things like voting, it’s good to know that this is a secure system.

It’s Really Quite Simple

With the card, you can walk into any hospital you want and get the treatment you need. There’s no such thing as “out of network” or a “deductible” here.

When it comes to family doctors, you choose the one you want. They still have to accept you as a patient, but your bank balance won’t be a factor.

When you arrive at the hospital or the doctor’s office, they swipe your card, treat you and send the bill to the appropriate provincial government. The provinces administer and directly pay for the healthcare system with the help of transfer payments from the Federal Government, as universal coverage is mandated by the Canada Health Act.

It’s important to note that the cost of procedures the government pays for is standardized here. Given the fact that hospitals in the US can currently charge whatever they want, I get why the prospect of universal coverage may erroneously seem too pricey to many.

What’s Covered and What’s Not

In Canada, Medicare covers everything from AIDS and Cancer treatment and gunshot wounds to non life-threatening stuff like sprained ankles. While medicine you get when in a hospital is covered, prescription drugs you take after aren’t (except for in some cases like people on welfare), but they are considerably less expensive than in the US.

We also don’t cover dental care or surgery considered cosmetic. It’s interesting to note that the Medicare for All plan Bernie Sanders is proposing does cover dental as well as home healthcare and, from the looks of it, a better plan than Canada currently has.

In our recent election, one party, the NDP, was pushing for Universal Dentalcare and prescription drug coverage, but they lost to (everyone outside of Canada’s favourite Liberal) Justin Trudeau. While he’s not for expanding the Canada Health Act, he wouldn’t dare suggest scrapping it, and neither would our most right-wing politicians.

Currently, for stuff like dental, we still have private and workplace insurance. I seriously doubt that if our government started funding dental or pharmacare, people would fear losing their private insurance.

A Different Mindset

That’s because you don’t have to give up any treatment with Medicare for All. If your system turns out anything like ours, the only thing people will lose is the cost.

If people “like their insurance” what they really like is the healthcare they get. And they’ll still get the same healthcare.

Yes, treatment will be prioritized for those who need it most and then for those who arrived first. It’s possible a millionaire will have to wait in line behind a minimum wage worker and someone on welfare if all three require the same care at the same urgency, but that’s how it should be.

When you stop seeing healthcare as a commodity and instead see it as an essential public service, like the fire department or the roads, you’ll realize that you aren’t giving up anything with Medicare for All.

Featured image of a Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles 2017 by Molly Adams via Flickr Creative Commons

Adapted from Eileen Atkin’s 1994 play of the same name, Vita and Virginia is based on the real-life romance between aristocratic socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf. With a scandalous romance, the glamour of the 1920s, and famous works of literature, Vita and Virginia’s story in the right hands could have been a very special film. Unfortunately, despite some strong acting and beautiful cinematography, this film is an uneven mess that never quite comes together.

When we first meet Vita (Gemma Arterton) it’s hammered into us that she’s a thoroughly modern woman; she drives her own car, wears pants, declares proudly that “Independence has no sex.” When Vita goes to a party hosted by, as her mother (Isabella Rosselini) describes,  “bohemian communist socialists” that she meets the elusive Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). 

It’s made clear from their first meeting that their relationship will be a sexual one; Vita observes Virginia dancing from across the room with a decidedly male gaze. Virginia, as the object of desire, acknowledges that gaze and welcomes it.

Arterton and Debicki do what they can to save the film with their performances. Arterton is more than capable of showcasing the charm and insatiable lust of Vita, who while in an open marriage, had affairs with both men and women alike. And Debicki (who should have broken out after the criminally under-seen Widows) gives the strongest performance in the film. She is so good here she makes you forget all about a certain Australian actress who won an Oscar for portraying the same woman.

But despite these performances, the film falls apart under the direction of Chanya Button. While the melodic electro score (by Isobel Waller-Bridge) is beautiful and perhaps meant to show these women were not of their time, it takes you out of the story. The same goes for the decision to have the women read their letters to each other aloud while looking directly at the camera. It’s overly stagey and completely unnecessary. 

And then there’s the magical realism that’s thrown in to show Virginia’s increasingly unstable mental state. If it had been used all throughout the film perhaps it would have made more sense, but only used a few times it doesn’t work. Not to mention that Debicki is a more than capable performer who could have showcased Virginia’s bipolar disorder without a scene where a flock of birds who aren’t really there attack her.

The real-life Vita and Virginia continued a friendship long after their romance fizzled, until Virginia’s death in 1941, which for some reason, Button decided not to mention in the final title card was a suicide, although Virginia talks about death throughout the film.

Their relationship inspired one of Virginia’s most popular books, Orlando. If you’re curious about these fascinating women and their influence on each other, I recommend you read that book (or see the 1992 Tilda Swinton film adaptation) instead.

The moment we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. America’s greatest conman, Donald Trump, the narcissist-in-chief has finally been impeached. While many people are celebrating, thinking this will be the end of the Orange Racist’s term as president of the United States of America, I’m sad to say that these celebrations are premature and I’ll tell you why.

This article is going to give you a crash course on the American impeachment process. Though impeachment can be brought against the president, vice-president, as well as any civil officer in the United States, for the purposes of this article I’ll focus on impeachment of a sitting president.

It should be said right off the bat that impeachment does not guarantee a president will be kicked out of office. It’s just a formal charge of misconduct against the president – kind of like a criminal indictment. Removing a president from office comes later, if at all.

Here’s how it works.

The power to Impeach is vested in the House of Representatives (hereafter, “the House”), one of two houses making up the US Congress – the federal legislative body in America, the other being the Senate. If the president is suspected of misconduct, the House of Representatives holds an inquiry.

Those massive hearings in Congress you saw on the news before the impeachment? That was the inquiry.

If the House decides there is sufficient evidence, any one member can draft articles of impeachment – which is a list of charges against the president. It is then up to the House to approve or reject the articles of impeachment by a simple majority vote. If a majority in the House votes in favor of impeachment, the president is impeached.

After the president is impeached, the case goes to Senate which holds a sort of trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate acts a jury of sorts, each side can present witnesses, and the president can choose to be represented by his own lawyer if he wants.

At the end of the trial the Senate votes – with a two thirds majority or 67 votes required to remove a president from office. If the Senate votes in favor of removal, the president is removed from office and loses any and all privileges and immunities he had while president and the vice-president would have to take his place in office.

So how does this all play out now?

The House – largely controlled by the American Democratic Party – brought two articles of impeachment against the forty-fifth president of the United States: obstruction of Congress, and abuse of power, though in theory they could have added violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US constitution – an anti-corruption clause that prohibits foreign interference in American federal government – given the whole Russia thing.

On Wednesday a majority in the House voted to impeach Cheeto-Head – so now Donald Trump is impeached.

The case will now go to the Senate for trial. Presiding over said trial will be Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court John Roberts, a staunch Conservative appointed by George W. Bush and who is reputed to dislike the current president intensely. Once evidence is presented and witnesses are heard, the Senate will have to vote on whether or not to remove the president from office.

Historically we’ve seen presidents impeached before only to have the Senate vote to keep them in office. The most notable example being Bill Clinton, who was allowed to finish out his term despite being impeached, officially for lying to Congress during the Lewinski scandal.

Unfortunately the Senate is currently controlled by the president’s own political party – the Republican Party of the United States. Though there are people within the party who dislike the current president and the racist fascist direction the party is going in, most Republicans seem content to have any one of their own in office – even a bumbling rapey narcissistic whiner like Donald Trump. Among those happy to keep Trump in office is Senate Majority Leader and Republican Senator, “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, so-called because of his own corrupt ties to the Kremlin.

Alex Pareene of The New Republic wrote an article on McConnell called The Nihilist in Chief. In it, Pareene describes him as a cold-blooded opportunist who will side with anyone within his party who won’t touch his money or chances of re-election.

McConnell’s previous claims to fame include blocking Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, and stalling progressive legislation to death in the Senate. It is people like Moscow Mitch McConnell and Cheeto-Head’s die-hard acolytes in the Senate that will unfortunately determine whether or not the most corrupt president in history will be removed from office.

If the Senate miraculously has a change of heart and votes to remove Trump from the presidency, vice-president Mike Pence will become president. It must be noted that Mike Pence is even less progressive than Trump, given Pence’s well-known homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny masquerading as evangelical Christianity. It is very likely that should Mike Pence assume the office of president following Trump’s removal, the human rights violations carried out by the current administration would likely continue.

The trial of the forty-fifth president will likely begin in the New Year. Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to change the current state of American politics for the better.

Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold

December 12th, 2019 was a sad day for visible minorities in Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied the application to suspend certain sections of the Laicity Act aka Bill 21 until the Superior Court decides on their constitutionality.

A lot of eyes were on the Quebec Court of Appeal in anticipation of this ruling. Some in favor of Bill 21 even tried to undermine the court by questioning the impartiality of the chief justice, Nicole Duval Hesler. Among them were historian and Dawson College professor Frédéric Bastien, who publicly argued ten days before the ruling that Hesler could not be impartial because she has spoken in favor of multiculturalism and religious accommodation.

While most people would consider Hesler an enlightened judge, her critics cried bias, going insofar to file a complaint against her with the Canadian Judicial Council, the body responsible for ensuring the quality of judicial services in Canada.

The authors of the law knew that Bill 21 could not withstand a legal challenge by an objective court. It’s why they wrote the Notwithstanding Clause into the law, and why in anticipation of the Court of Appeal’s decision, they attempted to undermine its chief justice.

Turns out the bigots were wasting their time questioning Hesler’s impartiality, for while Hesler voted to grant the appeal, she was overruled by her fellow judges. In the 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Notwithstanding Clause written into the law made suspension of articles within it impossible until the Superior Court gave their own ruling on its constitutionality.

Now let’s talk about the Court of Appeal decision.

The ruling was the outcome of an appeal of a Superior Court decision rendered on July 18, 2019. The plaintiff in this case is Ichak Nourel Hak, a student scheduled to complete her Bachelor of Education this winter. She hoped to teach high school French in Quebec, but the passing of Bill 21 last June made that impossible.

The law bans many public service employees – including teachers – from wearing religious symbols while working. Hak wears a hijab, and the law as it stands only allows existing employees who wear such symbols to keep their jobs.

New hires and people seeking a promotion would have to remove the signs of their faith in order to work. As it stands, and in spite of the teacher shortage in Quebec, many people have found their job offers rescinded or their applications denied since the enactment of Bill 21.

Hak and three other groups, among them the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Council of Muslims, are all working to challenge the law in court, but until those challenges are heard and decided, the law remains in effect.

Hak went to the Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend articles 6 and 8 of the Laicity law until the constitutional challenges were decided.

Article 6 prohibits certain public employees from wearing religious symbols. It also defines religious symbols as all objects, especially clothing, symbols, jewelry, accessories and headgear worn with religious conviction or belief, as well as anything that could be considered religious clothing. Article 8 requires that members or employees of public institutions carry out their duties with their faces uncovered, and that anyone wishing to receive government services must uncover their faces in order to receive them – a clear reference to the Niqab worn by some Muslim women. Though the Laicity Law is supposed to apply to everyone equally, experts agree its effects will be felt mostly by Muslim women in Quebec.

The Superior Court refused to suspend these parts of the law because of the Notwithstanding Clause written into it. The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained that decision.

So what is the Notwithstanding Clause and why can it affect a provincial court decision?

All laws in Canada, be they provincial or federal, are subject to the Constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Included in the Constitution is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Laws that violate the Constitution can be challenged in court, and in the case of a successful challenge, struck down. In order to avoid such challenges, governments can use the Notwithstanding Clause.

The Notwithstanding Clause is section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is written into our constitution to allow governments, provincial and federal, to enact laws that violate sections seven to fifteen of the Canadian Charter – sections referring to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the rights of the accused in criminal cases – provided they indicate within the law that it applies notwithstanding the Charter.

The Clause is not, however, the great block to legal challenges Premier François Legault makes it out to be, as it’s only valid for five years. At the end of the five year period, the National Assembly can let it expire thus opening it to new legal challenges, or they can renew it by another act of parliament.

The five-year limit allows for governments to change and in cases where a law has been struck down by the courts, it can buy governments time to keep the law in effect while they rewrite the law so that it conforms to the Charter.

Any legal challenges to the Laicity law will either have to wait for the five years to expire, or find ways around the Notwithstanding Clause to successfully challenge the law. Current challenges include, but are not limited to:

  • That the law violates section 28 of the Canadian Charter guaranteeing equal treatment before the law of males and females given that the law disproportionally affects women. In the past, section 28 has only been used to interpret laws, not challenge them.
  • That the law criminalizes the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions and therefore is unconstitutional on jurisdictional grounds as it was enacted by a provincial government when only the Federal government can enact criminal legislation
  • The law is too vague

The Court of Appeal was not there to render a decision on the Laicity law’s merits. It was there to decide whether or not the law allowed them to suspend certain parts of the law until its merits are decided by another court.

The Court of Appeal recognized that the Laicity Law causes harm to the people it affects, especially women. It recognized that the grounds for the legal challenges – set to be heard by the Superior Court in October 2020 – have merit. It refused to suspend the law until those challenges are heard and decided, stating that the use of the Notwithstanding Clause tied their hands at this stage.

Until the actual challenges to the Laicity law are heard and decided, do not lose hope. Be an open and vocal critic of François Legault and his government and step between those using the law as an excuse to harass and assault innocent people.

Support movements like “Non à la Loi 21” and wear one of their buttons with pride. Show solidarity with Quebec’s religious minorities and laugh openly and loudly at people who defend the law as anything but the legalized bigotry it is.

The fight is not over until we say it is. So keep fighting.

Featured Image of the Quebec Court of Appeals building in Montreal by Jeangagnon via WikiMedia Commons

On October 30th, 2019 the Quebec government under François Legault and the CAQ announced that they would be making an addition to the requirements for people seeking to immigrate to Quebec. It’s a test of allegedly ‘democratic values and Quebec values’. The announcement resulted in praise by some, harsh criticism by others.

It should be said right off the bat that this article is not going to discuss how blatantly xenophobic this announcement is. It is not going to address the fact that, like Bill 21, this values test is clearly pandering to the most disgustingly xenophobic racist people in Quebec and that the path the government has taken may unfortunately culminate in a slew of hate crimes in Legault’s name. My colleague, Jason C. McLean did an excellent job of addressing this last week.

This article is going to look at the practical aspects of such a test and what impact it would really have on would-be immigrants to Quebec.

For those unfamiliar with the immigration process, federal and provincial governments have concurring jurisdiction on issues of immigration. However it must be noted that while Quebec can choose its immigrants through Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) program, it is Ottawa that ultimately gets the final say as to who gets to live in Canada permanently as permanent residents and eventually citizens.

The Quebec government announced that all adult immigration applicants and their adult family members will be required to take the test and get at least 75% to pass. If they fail, they will have an opportunity to take the test a second and third time. Minors and people with a medical condition preventing them from obtaining a selection certificate would be exempt.

The same day, the Quebec government released a series of sample questions that might appear on the test. The questions include those about the equal rights of men and women, LGBTQI rights, and regarding Quebec’s controversial religious symbols ban. If the samples are any indication, it is highly possible that some Canadian Conservative and People’s Party voters would not themselves pass it.

In order to fully grasp the actual impact this test would have, I reached out to the people with the Non à La Loi 21 group, who have been leading the fight against the religious symbols ban François Legault forced through the National Assembly last March. As they have been actively fighting prejudice in Quebec, I asked if they had any thoughts on this test. They put me in touch with Me William Korbatly, a lawyer operating out of Ville Saint Laurent.

He says that the Quebec government is within its rights to impose any condition in order to get a CSQ. Korbatly feels that such a test would be easier to pass than the mandatory French test required in order to get a CSQ, and would therefore not have a significant impact on the immigration process.

He points out that the test is useless because many people would have no problem giving the correct answers on the test even if they themselves don’t believe in what they’re answering. Once applicants have their CSQ or permanent residency, the government won’t be able to hurt them even if they openly declare their disagreement with so-called “Quebec values”.

“The problem lies not in the technicality but rather in its raison d’etre. We all know the hardline nationalist identity political agenda that the CAQ is pursuing. This test is merely another publicity populist coup to show to their audience that they stand up for their values and the ‘valeurs québécoises’.”

Me Korbatly feels that this values test is just another distraction from what is really going on in Quebec and the failures of our current government.

“Presenting the ‘laicité’ as defined by the CAQ and which was passed and integrated within the Quebec Charter of Rights by a closure motion, as a Quebec value is dishonest and doesn’t represent the real open and tolerant nature of Quebec and Quebeckers. What the CAQ is doing since the passing of Bill 21, is hijacking the opinions of all Quebecers and reducing them to their populist identity agenda and wedge politics so they can hide their failures in the execution of most of their promises such as the deal with specialist physicians, Hydro Quebec, the maternelle 4 ans, the maisons pour les ainés, and the list is long.”

Given that the test will be ultimately meaningless, here’s hoping new arrivals to Quebec say what is needed to pass so they can come here. After all, diversity is strength, and the more diverse Quebec is, the more our leaders will have to abandon their hate.

Featured image by abdallahh via Flickr Creative Commons

On a sunny Sunday in downtown Montreal, a group gathered at Place de la Paix with a purpose. It’s Pride month and the trans and non-binary people and those who support them have come out to march.

Some people are rocking Trans Pride flags and rainbows others are rocking leather and lace, while others come as they’re most comfortable. Some have picket signs saying “Trans Rights”, “Begone TERFs” aka Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or proclaiming the rights of transgender sex workers, while others proclaim solidarity through chants and yells.

There were speeches before the march and a chance for the more obvious members of the press to snap a photo. The speeches began with an acknowledgement that everyone was standing on stolen Kanien’kehá:ka indigenous territory.

In the speeches the overall sentiment you get is one of frustration. Vincent, who uses the pronouns “they/them” expressed frustration at self-proclaimed allies in the federal and provincial government, who show up in queer spaces and Pride marches but won’t allow breast augmentation for trans women except in very specific circumstances. They expressed frustration at people who call themselves allies but follow up with no action to support transgender people and transgender people of colour.

Harley, another of the organizers who is non-binary and goes by “they/them” spoke in their speech of the alarming suicide rates among transgender youth and how denying access to transgender medicine keeps people within the transgender community from realizing their full potential. When I spoke with Harley during the march, they told me of the insane hoops transgender people must go through in order to transition.

As it stands, in order receive government funded bottom surgery – meaning surgery to transform the genitalia you had at birth into the genitalia that matches your gender identity – you need confirmation from a doctor that you’ve received hormone therapy for at least twelve months and letters from two psychologists confirming you are transgender. As psychologists generally will not provide a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – the medical term for being transgender – with a single visit and most psychotherapy is not covered under medicare, the costs can be exorbitant.

Activists like Harley would like to see the right to transition as a simple matter of informed consent between doctor and patient, a pact they make to undertake the journey together. Under the current rules the right to transition puts doctors and transgender people at odds.

Despite increasing recognition from the medical and psychiatric community that being transgender is not a mental illness, transgender people are still encountering resistance from the government and medical community who are making decisions for them without consulting them, and who have clearly not absorbed or accepted the growing medical consensus.

With the march underway moving east towards Montreal’s gay village, the air was filled with chants of “Trans Rights Are Human Rights” and “This is a march, not a parade!” – the latter showing that this was not about pretty costumes and corporate sponsorships but a call to action and a proclamation of rights.

The march is not just for transgender and non-binary people. It’s for transgender people of colour who are murdered at alarming rates. It’s for transgender and non-binary youth who face high rates of suicide. It’s for transgender sex workers who are often the victims of violence and have no protection from law enforcement.

The march came to a close at Charles S. Campbell Park where a massive picnic was set up. Food consisting of hot dogs, salads, and tofu dogs was free for guests, but donations were welcome. A stage was set up for trans artists like Candice Mitchell Krol to perform. With the chanting over, people were welcome to chill and hang out in the name of equality and the right to exist.

What was most impressive about the Trans Pride march is the efforts organizers went to make sure people felt safe and welcome. Information was provided to help disabled marchers navigate the march’s route. Smoking was prohibited within the march itself, but there were instructions and accommodations made for people who had to leave the march to do so.

That said, these kinds of events are safe spaces for marginalized groups, so for those who are cisgender and want to show their support, be on your best behavior. If you want to call yourself an ally, prove yourself with actions not proclamations and public appearances.

Have you ever had one of those 3am conversations with a fellow music aficionado, sitting on the floor with vinyl records strewn about, debating the merits of certain genres of music in a kind of stream-of-consciousness free-flow of observations and criticisms? If not, Fred Armisen can give you the full experience.

Saturday night at the Olympia, the former Saturday Night Live star, co-creator of Portlandia and band leader for Late Night with Seth Meyers took to the stage for his one-man show and immediately began asking questions he’s clearly been pondering for years now: how can you tell when a jazz solo for upright bass has ended? Why don’t violinists cue up the orchestra? Why do horn players always talk about money?

The evening is a journey into the mind of a man who has spent the past several decades observing the oddities of both music and comedy. He calls the show “Comedy For Musicians… but everyone is welcome“. There really couldn’t be a more apt title. The audience ate it up, but those with a musical background clearly got more out of the show.

It helped that the crowd was well­­ warmed-up by local comedian Francois Bellefeuille, who gave a Nasty Show-worthy anecdote about his internship as a veterinarian, where he found himself having to masturbate a horse to completion and get graded for it.

Armisen, perhaps not having heard his set, awkwardly brought the subject back to horses at one point in his own act, noting that they always seem to look through you with little interest. To the audience‘s relief, the subject promptly swung back to music.

Like the best kind of high school teacher, Armisen exudes a casual warmth that immediately puts you at ease, while also piquing your interest. True, there were moments where his delivery almost recalled that of Nicholas Fehn, his SNL character who was famously unable to complete a single sentence without starting another.

Nevertheless, much of the pleasure in the show came from his ability to hop, skip and jump around. He even copped to the unorthodox nature of his comedy, saying “When I first came up with that – I guess I’ll call it a joke”. In a festival overflowing with punchlines, his approach to humour was a breath of fresh air.

Armisen took us through the percussive evolution of Punk Rock and vented on the following: needlessly long pieces of classical music, guitar players who sing along to their own solos, singers who pretend they can‘t reach their notes when they clearly can, and guitarists who make feedback a large part of their act.

In his best bit, he reenacted what he believed must have been the inner narrative of the studio drummer performing the opening to Diana Ross’ hit “I’m Coming Out”.

At one point, Armisen even lead the audience in an improvised sing-along reminiscent of his hilarious Garth and Kat SNL sketches, where he and costar Kristen Wiig would have to keep up with each other’s spur-of-the-moment lyrics.

The audience was able to follow along, and for their efforts were rewarded with a few short songs by some of Armisen’s fictional bands, Test Pattern and Blue Jean. They left with only one complaint: that the musician left without returning for an encore, which the crowd eagerly demanded. Here’s hoping the next time Armisen returns to Montreal, he is ready and willing to give them more of what they came for.

Tickets for other Just For Laughs shows are available at hahaha.com.

Would You Bang Him? is a show with a funny premise. Hosted by the Nasty Show’s Bonnie McFarlane and her husband, Rich Vos, it is a mock game show in which a panel of female comedians assesses a group of male stand-up comedians and decide whether or not they’d have sex with them. It’s one of Off-JFL & Zoofest’s late-night offerings, and it is hilarious.

The panel of judges consisted of female comedians Marina Franklin, Beth Stelling, Emma Willman, and Carmen Lynch. In addition to the judges on the programming, they invite a young woman from the audience to participate, though the eloquence and humour of her questions to the contestants told me she might have been a plant.

Competing for the judges affections were Jak Knight, Jim Norton, Bobby Lee – who also hosted the Nasty Show, Big Jay Oakerson who also played the Nasty Show and Donnell Rawlings – who was also part of the Ethnic Show this year.

Donnell Rawlings

It should be said that none of these guys are classically bang-able and mostly average – some are older, some are heavier, and some could definitely use clean clothes and a shower.

They are not being judged on their appearance, but rather their personalities and ability to make the judges laugh, and every competitor is supremely talented in this regard.

Each comedian has five minutes to plead their case. Some, like Jim Norton, went the route of dark self-deprecation. Others, like Jak Knight and Big Jay Oakerson, opted to keep it raunchy with discussions of semen and cunnilingus.

Jak Knight

Bobby Lee’s material was uniquely Asian in flavor, tackling stereotypes in his five minutes. Donnell Rawlings was particularly notable not just because he turned around and went judge by judge, saying whether he thought they’d bang him before they gave their ruling, but also because he made the only Montreal joke and it was hilariously on point. Of the construction holiday he said:

“How you on vacation from a job you ain’t even finished?!

As hosts, McFarlane and Vos are adorable and funny. Though they were constantly ribbing on each other, you can tell there is real affection there not just for themselves, but also for many of the comedians both performing and on the panel. While the judges gave their votes and opinions on the men, McFarlane and Vos were always ready with a snarky comment. The first performer, Jim Norton, affectionately referred to them as “Dummy and Cher”.

Jim Norton

Would You Bang Him is not for everyone. If you’re the kind of guy who loves watching female beauty pageants but will have a trolling mantrum when women judge men, you should probably avoid this show.

If you were hoping any of the judges will actually bang the competitors at the end, you probably won’t like this show either. If you want to have laughs delivered in a unique format and are willing to stay awake for an eleven forty-five show, check this out. It’s fun!

Adam Cayton-Holland is a comedian who endured something terrible. Shortly after his previous appearance at the Just for Laughs festival, he found that his sister Lydia, his best friend, had committed suicide.

A couple of weeks later while he was destroyed by grief, he and his friends sold their first pilot. He went to therapy and wrote a book called Tragedy Plus Time to help him process his grief. His Off-JFL Zoofest show, Happy Place, is a one-man show based loosely on his memoir.

Happy Place is a show that will make you uncomfortable. In it, Cayton-Holland has a frank discussion about suicide, mental illness, and grief. He talks about his upbringing in Denver, Colorado, his parents, and the unusual ticks he and his siblings have, or in Lydia’s case, had.

He talks openly about crying, about the depression he’s been through, and the therapy he went through to help him cope. It is as much a tribute to his sister as it is a step towards destigmatizing mental illness.

Every once in a while the show will veer off-topic from his family and his grief and tell a story or a fake statistic or make a snarky remark that hints at the comedian he used to be before tragedy struck. Though I was often laughing during the show, I found myself sniffling more than once.

You don’t feel like an audience member when you see this show, you feel like a friend letting another friend pour their heart out on stage. If I had one criticism, it’s that he describes depression as making the sufferer not realize how foolish and selfish they’re being, something that could exacerbate the shame often felt by people that are struggling with it.

Happy Place is not a typical Just for Laughs show. If you want to see a comedian on stage telling you jokes, look elsewhere. If you want something with a little more substance, something that will make you laugh and cry, something that uses comedy to destigmatize something horrific, check out Happy Place. It’s worth it.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

While this was not technically a comedy show in the traditional sense, rather a promotional panel of writers and TV personalities, it still garnered laughs from the audience, mostly resulting from Jann Arden’s brash humour and witty jabs.

Going into their sophomore season on CTV, the group was at Just For Laughs to promote the show, share their process and discuss feminism in the industry. As season one ends, Jann was revealed as #1 New Canadian Series of the Year with 1.4 million viewers in the first week.

As an avid watcher of The Social on CTV, I was excited to see Cynthia Loyst’s, a host of the morning talk show, name on the roster for the event. Loyst was the host for the panel which included namesake Jann Arden, co-creator of Jann Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier, writer for Jann.

I can also say that I am a fan of Arden’s, being a Canadian who grew up with female artists playing on repeat at home (thanks, mom). Along with many other Canadians, I have followed the success of many Canadian artists like Arden, and with a lot on her plate, she seems incredibly proud of her most recent endeavour: Jann.

The group discussed how the concept of the show began, and evolved, to include more and more real-life moments from Arden’s life, including her mother’s battle with dementia, and her career. “We call it the ‘tickle, tickle, punch’,” says Gauthier, agreeing that the sardonic nature of the show is increasingly popular to audiences.

In the writing room, which is happily outnumbered with women, is a collaborative space, according to the group. “We work really hard to include men,” jokes Arden, who says the sole male writer, Mike McPhaden, comes up with many of the best “girly” jokes for the show.

Harper confessed to working in other writers rooms that had been previously male-dominated, and sparked Arden to share the importance of mentoring other women, not letting your age limit you, and asking for what you want in your career.

When Loyst directed the audience to chime in with their own questions, they ranged from Arden’s take on the differences between the music and television industries, filming in Calgary and Canadianisms, to a sweet surprise when an audience member finished with “could you sing a little bit of Insensitive.”

This lead to Arden standing up, walking to their seat, creating a stir in the rest of the audience to begin taping as she serenaded in her signature and familiar voice amidst awe and giggles. Arden’s ability to connect with her audience and quick wit made the promotional panel feel like a fun conversation with a friend.

Check out Jann on CTV, season one is streaming on CTV.ca or CRAVE.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the Olympia theatre to see Steve-O: The Bucket List. Steve-O is mostly known for his work on the MTV stunt films and TV show, Jackass. The description said he’d be talking about stunts and showing us clips. It didn’t feel like the kind of thing you’d see at Just for Laughs, but it was that and a whole lot more.

It should be said that this show is not for the faint of heart. If you have issues with seeing feces, nudity, semen, pus, and excruciating pain, you might want to avoid it, but if you have a strong stomach and an open mind, you need to see this show.

Opening for Steve-O was Brad Williams, who’s been coming to Just for Laughs for years. Williams is a comedic powerhouse, a dwarf who is unafraid to make fun of himself and anything else.

True to the pattern in his comedy where he bitches about how he’s frequently mistaken for other famous dwarves, he came on stage announcing that he was NOT Wee Man, the dwarf from the Jackass series. The rest of his set was jokes about being married to a tall woman and the challenges it brings. It was a great intro.

When Steve-O took the stage my first thought was that he got old. He was clad in a plaid shirt and khakis – the clothing choice of middle aged men everywhere – and above his glasses he has a little gray about the temples. His hoarse voice proceeded to talk about getting older, proposing to his fiancé, and the challenge of what to do now that he’s in his forties.

Does he continue his ridiculous stunts or not? The show was about tackling his bucket list of crazy stunts he wants to do.

Before showing the video clip of every stunt, Steve-O tells the audience the tale of what inspired the stunt, the logistics involved, and any difficulties they ran into along the way.

The overall vibe you get from Steve-O is one of gratitude.  His storytelling is at once dramatic, engaging, and funny. He is self-deprecating and endearing and the video clips that follow his stories are every bit as hilariously absurd as he describes.

The stunts you will see include things like “Vasectomy Olympics”, which he attempts painful crotch torturing activities following his vasectomy, and “Skyjacking” in which he masturbates before skydiving nude.

One particularly hilarious stunt was when defecates into an electric fan. In the story preceding the video he describes how the stunt made him realize his fiancée was “the one”, as she was the only one who didn’t run when the stunt went awry. Though the show was graphically disgusting in many ways and I had to cover my eyes at least once, of all the Just for Laughs shows I’ve been to so far, it was at this one that I laughed the hardest.

That said, if you’re feeling brave see this show. You will laugh and cheer for Steve-O.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

When I interviewed Ronny Chieng a few weeks ago, he told me his favourite comedy to perform was on things that annoy him, and that we would see examples of this in his Just for Laughs show.

He is on the tail-end of his Tone Issues tour, the name drawn from his wife’s criticism that he always sounds either sarcastic or angry when he speaks. That said, I was stoked to see his show, as I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him appear on the Australian web series, The Katering Show

Opening for Chieng was Anthony DeVito, who is also playing the Ethnic Show this year. His set was hilarious and endearing, and though some of his material was repeated from the Ethnic Show, some of the jokes I hadn’t heard before. Like his crack about his obsession with shows about odd animal friendships and how he’d like to see a human version. It was a great warm up, and a promise of things to come.

Ronny Chieng came on stage immaculately dressed in monochromatic pants and shoes, each and every hair in place, and launched right into his first rant about anti-vaxxers. In this show, no one was safe. He took the piss out of everyone from Baby Boomers to Millenials, White supremacists to even the lowly comedy show reviewer. On Baby Boomers, he pointed out that they’re a group who’s on their way out and is trying to take everything with them.

Though Chieng’s show was mostly angry in tone, it wasn’t all negative. His comedy shows an infinite respect for women, New Yorkers, and Asians. Many of his jokes about Asians in America and how they’re generally better at running things were repeated from his other shows, but there was enough fresh material to keep it interesting.

When I interviewed him, he explained that he tries to add nuance to Asian stereotypes or destroy them when possible. He did that and more, at once praising the desire of Asian people to keep things working no matter the circumstance, and pointing out the absurdity of Asian weddings. When speaking about women, he praised the meticulousness of those who take the birth control pill and pointed out that they don’t owe men anything.

The only joke that fell flat was a joke he made about the wage gap, but to Chieng’s credit, he admitted during the show that he probably shouldn’t have included it.

That said, Tone Issues isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who likes “happy” comedy and can’t handle a little negativity, Ronny Chieng isn’t the comedian for you. If you want to laugh your butt off at some of the most brutal social criticism you’ll ever hear, check it out!

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in to She The People. Featuring an all female cast from Second City Toronto, it’s described by Just for Laughs as “a sketch show entirely created, designed, and performed by fearlessly funny women!”.

Sketch shows can often be hit or miss, with a couple of good skits and a ton of bad ones. When you add that to the mistaken belief that women aren’t funny, She the People has a lot to prove, and it does so spectacularly.

I knew this was feminist comedy going in, and I though I myself am a feminist, I was worried that it was going to consist of a slew of period jokes and rants about the patriarchy. She the People had that and more, tackling sexism, racism, rape culture, LGBTQI phobia, reproductive rights, and the pay gap and though I tried to find a serious flaw in this show, I found none. Every skit was funny, every actor made a mark, and every social criticism was hilarious, brutal, and on-point.

Whether it was the sketch about microwaving Lean Cuisine as a metaphor for the reproductive rights debate, or the skit in which the cast portrayed the women in ads, every joke was funny. One notable gag was when a cast member came on stage in a T-rex costume and pearls to talk about men who shame women for their clothing choices, though I have to admit that she could have gone on stage and praised Trump and I still would have giggled and said “T-rex costume!”

One of the best political jokes of the night was the ballet featuring cast members in masks of Canadian male politicians from Trudeau to Scheer to Ford, done appropriately to the song “Send in the Clowns”.

That said, whether you have doubts about whether women are funny, or simply want to laugh yourself silly, you need to see She The People. It doesn’t just smash the patriarchy, it’s a hilarious blow to the glass ceiling of comedy.

She the People is playing at the Centaur Theatre until July 27. Tickets available at hahaha.com.

Man thrusts fist at viewer

For eight seasons on the shameless sketch comedy series MadTV, comedian Bobby Lee cracked audiences up with his impersonations of celebs like Connie Chung and Kim Jong-il…but just as often by simply running around naked, even to the point where one sketch featured an Intervention-style sit-down with his concerned co-stars. It was a career-launching experience for the California native, who makes his Montreal debut this week as the host of Just For Laughs The Nasty Show. With his successful podcast introducing him to new fans, the 47-year old is happy to reflect on the good ol’ Mad days and share just how nasty he plans to get.

James Gartler: How did your popular TigerBelly podcast get started back in 2015?

Bobby Lee: My girlfriend asked “how come you don’t have a podcast?”And I said, “No one will listen if I have one.” So, she went to the store and bought all the equipment and told me “Well fine, I’m going to do it on my own then,” and for a couple of weeks she did. One day I just walked by the room and she was sitting by herself looking so sad, so I said “Fuck it, okay, I’ll do one with you”.

It turned out really well and we started accumulating a couple of episodes and building some good traction and eventually I was able to get really good guests, like Jordan Peele, Eric Stonestreet, Craig Ferguson and others. It kind of reinvented me in a sense. People wanted to see me again. So it’s been great.

JG: Do you feel podcasts are great medium for comedians? It seems like an open-mic night that can go on for as long as you want it to and no one can censor you really…

BL: Also you find your real audience that way, I’ve done a lot of different things – a couple of lines here and there in movies, TV shows and whatnot – but podcasts were the way to reach the people that share my real sensibilities and people that enjoy what I have to say. It’s reinvented my shit, man, and I’m pretty happy.

JG: Have you never performed in Montreal before?

BL: I’ve never performed in Montreal before. I’ve done Vancouver a bunch of times, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, all those rooms, but Montreal is the one festival I’ve never done, which is weird because I’ve been in the game for so long.

JG: You’re hosting JFL’s The Nasty Show, which is a popular ticket. How do you decide what material works best for that kind of evening?

BL: Well, not every joke I’m going to tell is going to be a dirty one. I feel like I’ll do an act that I would do in L.A. and that’ll suffice. People say that I’m really dirty – I don’t see that. I could have done The Ethnic Show a couple of years ago, but I decided that maybe the dirty one was more up my alley.

People think that when I perform that a lot of Korean people come out. I have no Asians come out. My audience is a mix of everyone. Obviously, I have Asian people that like me, but I wouldn’t say that’s my audience. If you see someone like Jo Koy, he has a huge Asian audience. I don’t think Asians like me that much.

JG: Why’s that?

BL: I won’t tell you who it was but many years ago there was a Korean actor at The Comedy Store who saw me perform and he came up to me and said: “you’re a disgrace to your people”. So that’s when I knew, “ohhhh, I don’t really connect with them really” (Laughs). Like, if you look at my audience, the people have tattoos on their eyeballs, or they have some weird thing they’re doing with their hair, they look a little dirtier, much like me. I’m just a dirty ethnic guy.

JG: On MadTV you showed a real propensity for running around naked. Did they request it or did it evolve over time?

BL: I just had this thing growing up where I just kinda liked being naked. It’s a control thing, to be honest with you. The other reason why I do it is because I never thought that I was that sexy, but once I started getting naked and being more comfortable with my body is when I feel like women started going “Oh – he thinks it’s good. Maybe it is good?”

It was a way to build my self-esteem, really to be honest with you. And also, getting naked on MadTV was nothing – I used to do some crazy shit. I used to poo in people’s dressing rooms. I pooed in the executive producer’s office once. So being naked is not the worst thing I did.

JG: So by comparison they overlooked it…

BL: Oh yeah. But MadTV taught me so many things about life. It really influenced me because it was so difficult being on that show, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s.

I was a little Korean guy on an American sketch show and that rarely happens.

For me to be able to get that show and learn how to act and memorize lines and perform on TV was so valuable. And also it taught me that “oh shit – maybe you can make it”. Getting there was so important to me on so many different levels.

JG: And a lot of the cast has moved on to great things. Alex Borstein, of course, has her great voiceover career and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are doing well for themselves. Who are most jealous of, from your costars, if anyone?

BL: Honestly, I’m not jealous of any of those guys because those guys are all family. I’m more jealous of people who are more my type. When people my type do better than me, then I get a little crazy.

JG: What’s your type?

BL: I think my fear is that when other when other Asians make it people think that I’m that person. Like when Ken (Jeong) got Hangover and it became a big hit, I would walk down the street and people would roll down the window and yell “Hangover!” so people thought I was Ken for years. That’s what I dread the most – when other Asians make it and people think that I’m them.

JG: Was there a backlash for MadTV alums after you left the show? The material didn’t pull any punches. You made fun of everything and everyone and it was hilarious. Was it hard to go into an audition and say “hello and yes – I’m the guy from MadTV”?

BL: At the time when we were doing it, it felt like… We had no control over what the show was.

When Keegan and Jordan and Ike (Barinholtz) were there, I knew, even though we weren’t really a hit, we were under the radar, but I still knew that the level of talent on MadTV that could rival SNL. I’m not saying we were better, but I was able to see so many good guys.

When I joined the show, Alex was still there, Will Sasso, Michael McDonald…all those guys are my friends and it was just a great introduction to comedy. Keegan and Jordan and Alex and all these people being successful only helps my cause. I feel like Key & Peele reinvented the way the industry views MadTV. I know that Key & Peele was their own thing, but they are MadTV people and they met on MadTV. The kind of talent I was exposed to completely and utterly blew me away.

And also, I got sober on that show. I discovered recovery on that show. I relapsed, I got sober and that’s how I was able to do movies after that. So even though there was some darkness, I have fond memories when it comes to Mad.

The Nasty Show runs July 17 to 27. Tickets are available at hahaha.com or by calling 514-845-2322. Follow Bobby Lee on Twitter @thetigerbelly.

Ronny Chieng is one of the few comics to bring an Asian perspective to the Just for Laughs stage. He is playing the Just for Laughs festival as part of his Tone Issues Tour but you can also see him on The Daily Show and in Crazy Rich Asians, his first role in a major motion picture. 

I had the chance to speak to Chieng over the phone. Being half-Asian myself, I know about the expectations Asian parents often have for their children so I asked if his family had different hopes for him career-wise. Chieng appreciated the question because one of his very first jokes at Just for Laughs addressed that.

He spoke of being sent to Australia to study law but he was a poor student. He became a comedian because he couldn’t get a job in law, and comedy ended up paying better. He even said that he didn’t tell his parents about his new career directly – they found out about it when he appeared in the local press in their home country, but they’re okay with his career choice now.

Since Chieng now works in America and a lot of his comedy is political, I asked him if he thinks Trump is good for comedy. He feels it’s fair to say that Trump is good for comedy.

“He’s bad for life, bad for the planet, and bad for the country, and bad for mental health everywhere. At The Daily Show we talk about him every day, so I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s not good for comedy. Would I want that? No, I would rather have someone else – he has more cons than pros for the comedy world.”

Though Chieng doesn’t like the Trump Administration, he doesn’t feel that comedians working in America should feel obligated to criticize it in their comedy.

Great stand-up, in his eyes, comes from really authentic points of view and pandering to trendy topics if you’re not personally passionate about them is not going to make for good comedy. 

While comedians shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about it, he feels that everyone – comedian or not – has an obligation to say something if they feel that something isn’t right.

Chieng’s comedy centers a lot on being Asian in predominantly white countries so I asked if his work was more about dispelling stereotypes or just about laughter. At first he joked that it was about making money, but then said that he is about fighting stereotypes or at least give them a little more nuance. 

“If there’s a stereotype, I would like to explain why that’s a stereotype and maybe take the stereotype to another level – explain the full story behind the stereotype or break the stereotype altogether if I feel a stereotype is unfair. I try to address it because I feel like no one is talking about it in society. I wanted someone to talk about it when I was growing up so that’s the kind of comedy I do. I hope I do the kind of comedy I wanted to see.”

While a lot of Chieng’s comedy is about lived experience, he does research on occasion to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to his favourite topics in comedy, he said it’s mostly things that make him angry, saying he has an hour of such examples in his Just for Laughs show.

Crazy Rich Asians was Ronny Chieng’s first film role, so I couldn’t help asking him about it. Chieng loved doing the film because it was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, where he’s from, which allowed him to see family and friends during filming. 

The film was considered ground-breaking because it supposedly opened the door for more Asian characters in film when Hollywood still didn’t think it was possible. While Chieng doesn’t consider the film to be the be-all and end-all of films featuring Asian characters, he thinks the fact it was so well-received is amazing. 

“What the movie was really good at was not over-explaining Asian things and showing Asian characters as complete three-dimensional characters with complicated needs and wants. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, some of them are in between, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they have complicated lives. I thought that was very useful. I think it also established a baseline for Asian storytelling moving forward. I think there’s no context for Asian stories usually in the West, so a lot of movies can’t be made because there’s no baseline understanding so I feel like Crazy Rich Asians is a very good baseline story for Asian people in the West.”

There have been criticisms of Crazy Rich Asians as only showcasing paler-skinned Asians. For example, Filipinos like myself tend to be darker. Chieng sees the problem in the fact that in North America, Asian is considered a single voting block despite the diversity in Asian nationalities and cultures among the Asian diaspora. 

“You got Koreans, you got Japanese, you got Burmese, you got Thai, you have Filipinos, you have Malaysians, you have Chinese people, not to mention Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Malaysians, Chinese people who live in Japan, Chinese people from different parts of China with all the different dialect groups. Then you have the same number of people Americanized… and each of those groups are very distinct cultures. To expect one movie to cover the entire diaspora of Asia is an unfair burden placed upon it by Western views of what Asia is,”

In terms of criticisms that the film only showcased wealthier Asians, Chieng considers the movie satirical and that it showcases the extreme wealth that’s in Asia right now because that’s how the West experiences Asia in 2019.

Ronny Chieng is playing Just for Laughs from July 23 to 25. Check him out.

If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.