The Goddess Picks Her Top Five Most Emotionally Wrenching Moments from “The Walking Dead”

As much as I like to use this blog to discuss older and lesser-known horror films, TV shows, and books, I have to confess that I, like millions of others, am endlessly captivated by The Little Zombie Drama That Could. Every Sunday night during the season, the GoH and I can be found piled in our recliners in front of the TV, bouncing up and down with anxious excitement to see what awful shit is gonna go down this week with characters that at this point almost seem like members of our own family.

I actually find it really cool that a straight-up horror series—with copious gore and a decidedly gray morality—has made such deep inroads into popular culture. Twenty or thirty years ago, proposing a serious drama based on a comic about a zombie apocalypse would have got you laughed out of every TV exec’s office in America, and yet today, “The Walking Dead” is the most successful cable television series OF ALL TIME, regularly pulling in millions and millions of viewers in its Sunday night time slot and even more on DVR. I think the secret to its success, aside from the admittedly awesome gore and violence, is the terrific acting, the depths of the relationships portrayed, and the way it gives viewers the chance to put themselves in the middle of the terrible moral decisions the characters have to face and wonder what they would have done in the same situation. At least that’s what I’ve always liked about it.

I’ve not yet had a chance to read the comics, so I don’t have a point of comparison for the scenes I chose as the most emotionally taxing for me. I don’t care if it didn’t happen that way in the comic, or if it was so much better in the comic, or whatever. This is based on the TV series only, and I guess it goes without saying, but there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS below. You have been warned. Onward.

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Tyreese Goes Out for a Bite

This is the most recent scene that slayed me, having only occurred on last night’s (as I write this) mid-season premiere of season five. At this point in the show, I really like and root for all the remaining main characters (except maybe Father Gabriel), so ANY death is gonna have me reaching for the tissues, no matter whose it is. This couldn’t have been said for previous episodes, by the way, as Beth’s end earlier this season, while kind of a bummer, didn’t really bother me that much, and Andrea’s death at the end of season three had me cheering, because come on. It was Andrea. Nobody liked Andrea.

Anyway, last night’s episode, titled “What Happened and What’s Going On,” saw Rick, Glenn, Michonne, and Tyreese traveling to Richmond, Virginia to take Noah back home to his family. Noah had helped Beth when they were both prisoners at Grady Memorial, and Rick felt that completing her mission of getting Noah home would be the best way to honor the departed Beth. Unfortunately, this being the show it is, things very quickly turn ugly. The walled neighborhood where Noah had been living has been raided and overrun, and everyone is dead. Noah insists on going into his house to see his dead family, and Tyreese insists on accompanying him. While inside, Tyreese is distracted by photos of Noah’s twin brothers, and is set upon by a walker, who bites him on the forearm (at which point both I and the GoH screamed, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” simultaneously). The zombie fever begins to set in, and Tyreese starts to hallucinate many of the dead characters, who either chastise him for his failings or tell him that everything is better now that they’re dead. The episode toys with your emotions big time: Tyreese was only bitten on the forearm, you think, and Michonne is right outside the house with her katana. If they find Tyreese in time and chop off his arm (as they did with Herschel’s leg), then maybe he can still survive! COME ON, SHOW, DON’T KILL OFF TYREESE!!! And indeed, the gang do find Tyreese and cut off his arm, as you would. They fight through a horde of zombies and pile Tyreese into their waiting SUV. Rick radios ahead to Carol and tells her to get everything ready so they can cauterize the wound. TYREESE IS GONNA MAKE IT, YOU GUYS!!! YAAAAYYYYY!!! But then, Tyresse begins hallucinating the dead characters again in the car. Uh oh, you think. And indeed, I’m sad to say, your “uh oh” was justified. The next scene shows the SUV stopping in the middle of the road, and the gang dragging the dead Tyreese out of the back seat. Cut to his funeral, with Father Gabriel presiding. Fuck. FUCK. I liked Tyreese a lot, and I felt like he was just coming into his own as a character. FUCK. Rest in peace, ya big teddy bear. Sigh.

Note: There was a lot of foreshadowing in this episode, what with all the zombie torsos in the truck, and the hint that the town was taken down by a group of bloodthirsty humans. Readers of the comic are already speculating that this could portend the introduction of big bad Negan and/or the zombie-skin-wearing Whisperers, so we’ll see how that goes.

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Rick Goes Full Shane, Gets His Teeth Into It

Holy shit, this scene. Coming from the season four finale, “A,” which was one of the very best episodes of the series in my humble opinion, this stunning sequence sees Rick, Michonne, and Carl camping out in the woods on their way to Terminus. They are set upon by the assholic Claimers, who are seeking revenge on Rick for killing one of their gang. It’s looking pretty bad; our heroes are outnumbered and outgunned, and it looks like both Carl and Michonne are gonna get a raping, and that all three of them are then gonna get blown away or beaten to death. But then Daryl, who had been traveling with the Claimers but had been hanging back in order to make his escape, intervenes and tries to give his life for Rick’s. The Claimers ain’t having it, and proceed to beat the stuffing out of Daryl. But Rick, sent into a Shane-worthy rage by the sight of some fat fuck attempting to rape his son, head-butts main Claimer Joe, then gets the drop on him and TEARS THE GUY’S THROAT OUT WITH HIS TEETH. Holy SHIT, y’all. In the ensuing melee, the good guys kill all the Claimers, and Rick takes the would-be rapist and slowly guts him from stem to stern. Brutal and amazing, and the point at which Rick comes completely to terms with the world as it is now. A great, GREAT scene, and the one that caused the loudest screams from the GoH and myself when we first saw it.

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The Problem With Lizzie

Let me just say that Carol is one of my favorite characters on the show. She started out the series as such a shrinking violet, but she has had the most interesting character arc by far, simultaneously embodying the caring mother figure while also being completely willing to make and act upon the hardest decisions when no one else will do it. While I still question her pre-emptive murder of Karen and David at the prison in order to try to stem the influenza outbreak, I feel like her heart is always in the right place, and I think the group needs her to take care of business, particularly when that business is morally repugnant and awful. In a way, she’s almost like a good-guy version of Merle, in that she’ll step up to do the “dirty work,” but with a much more defined moral center and a highly developed instinct to do what she feels will be best for the group.

Her resolve is tested, though, in another of the all-time best episodes, season four’s “The Grove.” Carol and Tyreese have been heading toward Terminus with three children in tow: Lizzie, her sister Mika, and Rick’s baby daughter Judith. There have been hints for several episodes that Lizzie is really not right in the head, but so far Carol and Tyreese have been able to keep her mostly under control. However, it soon becomes clear that Lizzie’s strange ideas about the walkers and her sadly broken brain are making her a terrible danger. While Carol and Tyreese are distracted, Lizzie kills her sister and waits for her to turn, in order to demonstrate to her caretakers that the walkers are still people. She also seems set to murder Judith next. Carol, holding back tears, plays along with Lizzie’s delusions in order to get her into the house and away from the baby. A heart-wrenching conversation with Tyreese ensues, in which they come to the conclusion that Lizzie will have to be eliminated for the safety of everyone else. Can you imagine having to make such a decision about a child in a world in which there is no longer any help or resources for treating mental illness? Carol, badass woman that she is, takes on the mantle of responsibility, telling Lizzie to “look at the flowers” (which was Mika’s calming phrase whenever Lizzie was having one of her panic attacks) and then shooting her right in the head, execution style. Devastating. And not only that, but in this episode, Carol also confesses to Tyreese that she was the one who killed Karen, and bravely hands Tyreese a gun and tells him that he may kill her if he cannot forgive her. Tyreese does forgive her, and they live to fight another day. I fucking love Carol.

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Herschel Loses His Head

It’s really ironic, because when the character of Herschel Greene was introduced in season two, I really couldn’t stand the dude. He was unpleasantly rigid, delusionally religious, and willing to put his own family and Rick’s group in danger because of his stupidly unrealistic ideas about the walkers. Sure, he saved Carl, and his medical expertise was a tremendous boon, but to be honest, if Shane had killed him after the barn clear-out, I wouldn’t have been the least bit upset about it. But then, dagnabbit, Herschel came to his senses and turned into the awesome, grandfatherly, moral backbone of the show, a man who was happily willing to sacrifice his own life to save others and who was always there to take the high road and get things done when Rick lost his shit after Lori’s death. I loved Herschel so much in the later seasons that I actually felt bad that I had once rooted for his demise. And of course, because I loved him, the show had to fuck all that up.

The good guys, still holed up at the prison, fall prey to a second incursion by the Governor, who has taken Herschel and Michonne hostage. Rick tries to reason with the man (never a great idea), telling him that they can all live in the prison and work together for the common good of Rick’s people and the innocent people of Woodbury. The Governor, being a psycho, doesn’t want any part of a sissy-ass compromise, and to demonstrate his commitment to general evil and craziness, grabs Michonne’s katana and chops off Herschel’s head right in front of the horrified heroes. The shots of Maggie’s and Beth’s screaming faces behind the fence was almost too much for me to take, and I ain’t ashamed to admit it. Poor fuckin’ Herschel. He was such a fantastic character, so necessary to the group’s cohesion, and to have him taken out in such an ignominious way was like a punch in the gut. It made me hate the Governor even more (which I suppose was the intention) and feel tremendous satisfaction at his eventual death. Damn. I really should stop watching this shit; I think it’s giving me a hint of PTSD.

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The Search for Sophia

The first half of season two was all but consumed with the endless search for Carol’s lost daughter Sophia, and though some viewers complained that it went on for an unrealistically long time, I think that particular plot arc was an important catalyst for a lot of the interpersonal dramas playing out among the characters. The search finally brought the aloof Daryl completely on board with the group, for example, and it brought the group closer than ever before as they banded together to pursue a noble goal. Besides that, it gave everyone something to hope for, a purpose. It also brought the conflict between the brutally practical but unstable Shane and the still-trying-to-be-the-good-guy Rick to a tragic head as they struggled over leadership and direction of the group.

In “Pretty Much Dead Already,” Shane, who despite his batshittiness is actually correct that the search for Sophia is taking up too much of their time and resources, has learned that Herschel has been keeping (and feeding) a bunch of walkers that had once been his family members and neighbors. The zombies are all locked up in the barn, and much conflict ensues as the group try to reconcile Herschel’s wish to keep the walkers with their own wish to, y’know, not have a horde of zombies milling around only yards from where they sleep. Rick hems and haws, not wishing to piss off Herschel and alienate the only man who can safely deliver Lori’s baby, but finally Shane has had enough and decides to take matters into his own hands. He gathers up the guns and a few people in the group who agree with him, busts open the barn, and mows all the zombies down.

At the end of the carnage, we think the barn is empty, but just then, the door opens a little, and out emerges…a zombified Sophia. She has been dead in the barn for the entire time the group have been looking for her, and if that revelation didn’t hit you like a freight train, then you’re probably dead inside. Rick steps up and tearfully shoots Sophia in the head while Carol howls in grief in Daryl’s arms. Holy SHIT. This scene codified so much of the ensuing story; it made Rick question his leadership, it justified a lot of Shane’s previously questionable opinions, it woke Herschel up to the fact that the world had gone to shit and he’d better pull his head out of his ass and deal with it. It also unified the group once and for all, and directly led to the final showdown between Shane and Rick, which ended up with Rick having to take on some of Shane’s less savory characteristics in order to keep his people alive. Pretty much all the badass character traits that everyone took on in later seasons was directly attributable to that one scene, and as such, it is probably my favorite of the entire series.

Honorable Mentions: This post was long enough as it was, but I also wanted to give a shout-out to two more scenes that got me right in the feels. First was the scene in which a horribly distraught Daryl has to kill the zombified Merle, who had redeemed himself before his death by taking out a bunch of the Governor’s henchmen. The other scene was, surprisingly, the death of Lori. I never really liked Lori as a character, as many viewers didn’t; I thought she was a manipulative bitch who purposely set Rick and Shane against each other for her own bizarre reasons. But the scene where she tells Maggie to go ahead and perform the Cesarean section that she knows will kill her was pretty damn hard to watch. Maggie’s reaction, Lori’s final speech to Carl, and the subsequent reaction of Rick when he first lays eyes on the baby and realizes that Lori is dead, were pretty fucking shattering. So there’s that.

Agree? Disagree? Fight it out in the comments, if you’re so inclined. Until next time, Goddess out.

We Painters Use the Same License as Poets and Madmen: Paolo Veronese Faces the Inquisition

If you liked my graphic novel The Tenebrist, which told the fictionalized tale of batshit Renaissance painter Caravaggio, then you might like this article I wrote on Paolo Veronese and his run-in with the Inquisition in Venice. Give it a read, why don’t you? Oh, and also, don’t forget that I have a Patreon campaign up to raise some filthy lucre for my horrific writing endeavors, so please help out if you can! Thanks, and on with the show!

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Born in Verona in 1528, Paolo Caliari, Il Veronese was one of the unquestioned leaders of the Italian Renaissance; along with the work of fellow Venetian School artists Titian and Tintoretto, Veronese’s paintings and drawings would serve as an influence on later artists as diverse as Rubens, Velázquez, Délacroix and Cézanne. He was lauded for his opulent use of color and the realism of his drawing; after settling in Venice in 1553 his work was much in demand by both secular and ecclesiastical patrons. But despite his fame and success, his well-known credo of complete artistic license would eventually land him in a spot of hot water.

Veronese’s Last Supper

In 1573, Veronese set to work on a commission for the convent of San Giovanni e Paolo. It was to be a Last Supper, a massive work on canvas, measuring about thirty-nine feet wide and seventeen feet high. The work is a sumptuous feast of reds and golds, with stately columned arches framing the action, which features not only Christ and the twelve disciples, but also a host of other figures. These include servants, dwarfs, jesters, soldiers, and other “extras” not usually found in artistic depictions of the scene.

Veronese was clearly taking liberties with the well-worn subject, but apparently the authorities did not appreciate the painter’s creativity. No sooner was the work delivered to the convent than Veronese was summoned before the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition to answer to a charge of heresy.

The Inquisition in Venice

Though at that point in the 16th century the Inquisition still held full, terrible sway over most of central and western Europe, in Venice its power was decidedly limited by the Senate. Nonetheless, the Inquisition certainly had the power to harass and threaten (if not necessarily torture) subjects it deemed guilty of impiety, and in July of 1573 Veronese fell into the crosshairs.

At issue were the many extraneous figures appearing in the painter’s Last Supper. Veronese had painted the same subject several times before and drawn little comment, but in this particular picture he admitted the great size of the canvas had compelled him to embellish the scene with nearly three dozen unnecessary people. At the tribunal, the inquisitors asked Veronese if he felt it was “suitable” that the Last Supper contain “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and other such absurdities,” and went on to state that heretical German artists often added such figures into religious paintings in order to ridicule the Catholic church. The inquisitors also seemed highly offended by the figure of a servant with a bloody nose, the notable absence of the Magdalene, and the very obvious presence of a dog sitting directly in the foreground of the picture, looking out at the viewer.

Veronese’s Meager Defense

For his part, it was highly fortunate that the Inquisition didn’t have quite the teeth it had in other parts of Europe, for as Veronese listened to the litany of charges against his work, he could offer only feeble justifications. He claimed he had only added the figures as “ornament” to fill up the space, and that the offending dwarfs, servants and buffoons were supposed to be understood as occupying a separate room from Christ and the disciples. He further argued that the house of Simon, where the Last Supper took place, might realistically have contained such people.

Finally, he pulled out the “everyone else does it” defense, pointing out that the exalted Michelangelo had painted Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and other religious figures in the nude in the Pope’s Chapel in Rome. “We painters use the same license as poets and madmen,” Veronese explained to the inquisitors, pleading his case for leniency. “I had not thought that I was doing wrong.”

The Aftermath of the Trial

After his grilling before the tribunal, Veronese was ordered to “correct” the painting within three months. Specifically, the Magdalene was to be painted in place of the dog, and the offending “drunken Germans” were to be blotted out entirely. On this condition, Veronese was set free, much to his great relief.

As meek and frightened as the painter had been while facing the inquisitors, once he was released he took a rather cavalier attitude toward their judgment. The news of his trial made his work more popular and sought-after than ever, and Veronese took up his brush with zeal in order to keep up with the new commissions. But he never took his brush to the notorious Last Supper, leaving dog, dwarfs, and drunken Germans just as he had originally painted them. His only sop to the Inquisition was changing the work’s title from The Last Supper to The Feast in the House of Levi. It is under this title that the famed heretical canvas can still be seen today, at the Galleria della Academia in Venice.

Veronese, the passive-aggressive badass.

Veronese, passive-aggressive badass.

Sources:
Janson, H.W. (2001). History of Art. Abrams Books. ISBN: 0130197327.
MacFall, Haldane (1911). A History of Painting. D. D. Nickerson and Company. ASIN: B000YFTXCW.

A Trailer for My Fabulous Graphic Novel “The Tenebrist”

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I’ve used some of my admittedly lackluster video-fu to make this short trailer for my illustrated/graphic designed/collage-type book The Tenebrist. It’s a somewhat fictionalized account of the tragic (and murderous) career of the mad genius painter Caravaggio, and it’s illustrated with a bunch of his gorgeously luminous paintings. Watch the trailer, if you please, and then buy your brand-spanking new copy right here. Thanks ever so much.

Excerpt from “Bluebottle”

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When the next day passed with no sign of The God Who Brings Rain, and then the next day, Monarch knew it was time for him and his subjects to take definitive action. The butterflies were growing weak from lack of water, and some of them could barely keep their heads up as Monarch addressed them from his flower. He knew that even if they chose to move to another garden now, some of them would not make it.

As he finished his speech, in which he outlined the plan for the exodus, Monarch happened to glance down into the soil. The beetles were gathered there in their numbers, carapaces shimmering in the sun. The head beetle, the one who had found the orphaned worm, stepped forward and spoke. “We would like to be included in any plans you have for relocation,” she said, her tiny voice almost lost, coming from so far below. “Surely there is another garden nearby where The God Who Brings Rain will see fit to be more generous.”

“You will only slow us down,” Monarch said, fluttering his wings as if to remind them of his superior attributes. “You can make your own way, if you wish to.”

“But you can scout farther ahead, tell us where to go,” the beetle protested, but already Monarch was tuning her out. He turned to the other butterflies and signaled them for takeoff.

But just at that moment, a curious buzzing was heard coming across the garden, from where The God Who Brings Rain had last been seen. Monarch looked around, confused and hopeful, but then he saw that it was just that creature, the horrid one he had raised, thinking it would be a princess someday. He couldn’t believe he’d ever actually thought anything good could have come from that detestable little grub. “What are you doing back here?” he shouted with all the scorn he could muster.

The little creature hovered, clear wings flapping so quickly that they were nearly invisible. “I don’t know where else to go,” came the plaintive reply. “I am not at home here, but all that I found beyond the garden was a lonely plain with none of my kind to be seen. Out there is only a large pale creature who lies on the grass, as still as death.”

“We have our own problems here, as you can see,” Monarch said testily.

The head beetle was waving frantically with her black legs as Monarch talked, as though trying to get his attention. When he finally deigned to give it, the beetle spoke with breathless rapidity. “The worms we saw crawling on The God Who Brings Rain were not his pets at all,” the beetle cried. “They killed him! Surely they did! Isn’t it true that The God Who Brings Rain has not been seen since we brought this creature here?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Monarch answered, glancing sidelong at the other butterflies.

“She and her kind killed The God Who Brings Rain, with the sole intention of ridding us of our water supply! It all makes sense!” The beetles around her were chattering their agreement, and some of the butterflies seemed to be picking up on the mood of the crowd.

“What have you to say for yourself?” Monarch asked the tiny creature pointedly.

“Please! I don’t know what you all are talking about,” the ugly outcast said. “All I remember is coming out of my cocoon and seeing all of you around me. I bear you no ill will.”

“Then what have you done to The God Who Brings Rain?” the beetle demanded.

“Nothing! I don’t know!” The little creature was frantic, her wings beating the air so hard that the flower petals around her danced crazily.

“We cannot let something like this go unpunished,” Monarch intoned. He signaled to the other butterflies, who immediately took to the air and surrounded the buzzing little murderer. They closed in, gripping her minuscule legs with their much larger ones, barring her escape with their massive and gaily colored wings. Monarch watched her as she struggled, eyes wild with fear. “We will take her to the sill, where we take all enemies of our kind,” he said. “Perhaps this act will purify the garden, and return us to favor with The God Who Brings Rain, so that we may remain in this place that has always been our home.”

The insects were all in agreement, and moving slowly as befitted the solemnity of the occasion, they began the short journey to the residence of The God Who Brings Rain, which was a wooden shed at the north edge of the garden, a shed with a large open window and a smooth white sill.

Excerpt from “The Tenebrist”

 

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The remainder of the afternoon was spent trying to convince Michel of his folly, but deep down I’m sure we all knew it was futile. Only Onorio seemed unconcerned. “Did you see the look on the boy’s face?” he said with a snide grin. “He isn’t even going to come. Don’t worry.”

But I was worrying, and I knew the Cesari brothers were too. They had just nursed Michel back from the brink of death, and I don’t imagine they were keen to see their recovered patient cut to ribbons over a ten scudi bet. Thinking I might be able to talk some sense into him, I took Michel aside and pleaded with him, using every appeal I could think of, but Michel was locked, single-minded; he looked at me as though I was nothing but a particularly annoying insect.

The light in the sky began to wane, and my anxiety grew to a towering edifice. Michel began making his way back to the courts, and though he did not make any indication that he wished us to accompany him, we all followed closely; if anything should go wrong, it would be better for all of us to be there to prevent or correct it. The thought of Michel slowly bleeding to death, alone in the middle of the ball courts, was too much for me to bear.

When we first arrived, I was relieved to see the courts empty of people; perhaps Onorio had been right, and Ranuccio was a coward after all. My relief, however, was short-lived, for after a few minutes Ranuccio and his friends—more of them than earlier—strode onto the court, full of false bluster, though I could see that Ranuccio was pale and had already begun to sweat.

It started with little fanfare as both men raised their swords. I backed away, wanting more than anything to cover my eyes, but unwilling to do so. If my love were to die before me, I would be dishonoring him by looking away.

The first clash of the metal blades was deafening, and there was a general murmur among the assembled bystanders. I suppose they were all wondering, as I was, how an innocent game had come to this, to the point where death hovered in the air.

Ranuccio was obviously frightened, but he fought well. Michel was strangely calm, wielding his sword in the cavalier way he handled his brush, confident to the point of callousness. He fought now as if he had no fear of dying at all.

Ranuccio made a lunge and Michel grunted; I gasped as I saw blood bloom on the sleeve of his white shirt. But it appeared a superficial wound, and only served to make Michel fight back more aggressively, pressing forward into Ranuccio’s range with his chin thrust out.

The sun had nearly sunk behind the horizon and the two men’s faces were nothing but shadowed blurs. Other than the clanging of their swords and the ragged huffs of their breathing, the courts were engulfed in a pocket of silence.

Ranuccio had almost got another blow in, at the chest this time, which likely would have been fatal, but Michel blocked it, only just. Both of them were getting tired, but only Michel seemed to retain that cold but somehow hellish glint in his eye.

A moment later, in the space of an eyeblink, Michel had fairly leaped forward and struck at Ranuccio.

The blow was low, a clean, deep slash on Ranuccio’s thigh, and the boy crumpled to the ground with a wail. The blood was immediate and copious, and I was horrified, but also exultant, for Michel had won, and with only minor wounds. I took a step forward, whether to congratulate Michel or help tend to Ranuccio I didn’t know. But then Michel’s head snapped up and his eyes met mine. I stopped in my tracks, terrified by what I saw there.

It seemed a very long time that he and I stared at each other over the fallen form of Ranuccio, though in reality it must have been only a few seconds. In Michel’s steady gaze I saw reflected all of the demons that haunted him, all of the troubled history between us. I saw melancholy and madness, and most frightening of all, I saw a sort of resignation, a recognition that the demons were too powerful, and that he wasn’t going to fight them anymore. There was a sense that this moment was one that could never be turned back from.

And then, very deliberately, Michel turned his gaze upon Ranuccio, bleeding and cowering at his feet. A long moment passed in which time seemed to have stopped altogether, and then he drew back his sword, and completely ran the boy through.