Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 1.10: "Fire and Blood"

Well, here we are at the end of all things … or, well, the end of Game of Thrones for the time being, as we say goodbye with the rather spectacular image of a naked Daenerys with a dragon on her shoulder. I must say: I knew that was coming, and it was still a moment that took my breath away.

As always, I am blogging with my friend Nikki Stafford from Nik at Nite, who has not read the novels … and I write from the perspective of one who has read the books from day one, and is currently counting down the days until book five in the series finally makes its long (LONG!) anticipated appearance in less than a month (squee!)

Chris: Well, I am devastated. I don’t know what I am going to do next Sunday. I think I can however safely say, and I will say this very quietly and only once, WELL FUCKING DONE, HBO. So often is fantasy brought to either the big or small screen completely ruined in the process (I’m lookin’ at you, Earthsea!). Peter Jackson, happily, reversed that trend with the Lord of the Rings trilogy; and HBO has pulled off something magnificent with Game of Thrones.

(Quick TV geek digression for Nikki’s benefit, re: casting for the upcoming The Hobbit. Evangeline Lilly of Lost and Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies have both been cast? Are you kidding? ).

But back to GoT … where to even begin? I think I’ll begin with the huge pleasure I have had these past few days reading people’s Facebook status updates after watching the finale (the winner is my former student Ashley’s blog post . Incidentally, half the images from the episode I’m putting in this post are stolen from hers), and talking to people who have not read the books. SO MANY great moments from the novel translated beautifully into the episode: Robb being hailed as King in the North; Jon’s brothers of the Watch reciting the vow to him; the Lord Commander revealing he knew of Jon’s attempted flight (“Honor set you on the Kingsroad. And honor brought you back.” “My friends brought me back.” “I didn’t say it was your honor.”); Arya facing down the boys with Needle; Tyrion being sent to act as Hand; Sansa finding some steel in her spine; Daenerys killing the shell of Drogo; and of course DRAGONS.

Deep sigh. It was all done so well, with such a deft touch. I wondered, going into the episode, how they would begin. And that opening shot with the bloody sword, and Ser Illyn picking up Ned’s head to brandish before the crowd; Sansa fainting; and Yoren cutting Arya’s hair and his repeated insistence that she is now a boy. I had been concerned about Yoren when we first met him—he seemed so different from the novel’s depiction, a hearty and hail-and-well-met kind of fellow. But seeing Ned Stark executed took the good humour out of him, I think, and his tough love where Arya is concerned is much closer to what we see of him in the novel.

Of course, the question I want to ask you is about the last moments of the show, but we should probably save that for the end. So let’s begin a little more innocuously: I really, really hope that in season two they continue with the Littlefinger/Varys show. That conversation, like all their conversations over the course of the season, was an invention of the writers. I have quite come to love the way Baelish and Varys have these little mini-plays where they poke and prod each other and reflect on the nature of power and ambition. What do you think?

Nikki: While the ending of this episode, however surprising, seemed muted compared to last week’s jaw-dropper, this was a great finale that definitely set up many, many plot points for season 2.

Oh absolutely, the conversation between those two keeps you on your toes throughout. Listening to those two talk is like watching a chess match: you know at one point there’s going to be a trick, and one is going to topple, but you don’t know when that moment is coming, or which one will be victorious. Their wits are evenly matched, with Littlefinger lobbing an insult at Varys, who’s unhurt by it and lobs something back, and Littlefinger is equally unfazed by what Varys just said. Those two are fantastic, and the actors play it brilliantly.

I like that you said Sansa found steel in her spine, because that’s almost exactly what I exclaimed when she verbally spat in that little sniveling idiot’s face, when I said, “Yes! Sansa has a spine after all!” Of all the siblings, she truly is trapped right now. Moments after we saw her faint, we see her on the sidelines of the court, red-eyed and done up in her finery with her crazy halo hair matching Cersei’s, and I thought, she just can’t escape. These people are her worst enemies, and she’s still betrothed to that piece of shit. Cersei looks uncomfortable all the time now (for the little we saw her in the episode), and I LOVED that Sansa forced herself to look at her father’s face, and instead of recoiling, she found power in it. She didn’t do what Joffrey wanted her to do in this scene. At first when I saw her look down, I thought she would throw herself over the edge of that bridge, until she took a step forward. Damn the Hound for stopping her, although he was right to do so. I’m actually quite fascinated by the Hound, to be honest, and hope he plays a significant role in the next season.

I also enjoyed the scene where we find out the old fart (whose name escapes me) isn’t an old fart at all, but a spry man pretending to be old and decrepit. That scene was very amusing, but if he were able to be with Roxanne, she had to figure there’s SOME life in the old guy!

Arya making the long walk north pretending to be a boy – alongside Robert’s bastard son, no less – should provide some very interesting fodder for the next season. My first question to you is, does book 2 pick up immediately where book 1 left off?

Chris: Not exactly. The prologue of A Clash of Kings takes us to the island of Dragonstone, where we meet Stannis Baratheon for the first time. And then the first chapter of the novel proper is Arya walking north with Yoren and the rest of the Night’s Watch “recruits.”

And you are correct in assuming that Arya’s journey north is compelling and, as you say, excellent narrative fodder. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that the journey ends up being, ah, more circuitous than was planned at the outset. ;-)

And the old fart whose name you’re forgetting is Grand Maester Pycelle … the scene was interesting, and a complete invention. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I kind of liked it in the end … he is about as much of a schemer as Littlefinger and Varys, so it’s kind of cool that they’re establishing his dotage as just a façade. Which will be good for the next season—he and Tyrion have quite the showdown, heh.

Speaking of everyone’s favourite Halfling, what did you think of the interaction between Tywin and Tyrion? We know quite well at this point that Tyrion is one of the smartest (if not the smartest) character in the series … obviously his father sees in him some value, even as he despises him for his whoring and the sin of being a dwarf. Again, not giving anything away in saying that this sets up Tyrion’s principal plotline for season two—he takes his wildlings to King’s Landing, and has the unenviable task of trying to rein in Joffrey’s worst tendencies.

Nikki: That was a great scene, especially the look on Tyrion’s face when it slowly dawns on him that his father is complimenting him. I loved the line, “I took you for a stunted fool,” with Tyrion’s response, “Well, you were half right.” I cannot WAIT to see him try to be the Hand of THAT king.

How old is Joffrey meant to be when he becomes king, do you know? Is he about 15 or older than that? I couldn’t quite remember how old he was said to be at the beginning of the series.

But as the new king rises, it’s time to talk about the other king falling, and the death of Khal Drogo. What a devastating moment. It reminded me of a scene in a later season of Buffy (because of our ongoing Buffy Rewatch, I don’t want to give anything away), where someone wants to raise the dead and is warned that what you bring back might look like them, but it isn’t actually them. Daenerys asked for Drogo’s life, and she got it, but that’s not what she meant. I was on the verge of tears watching her begging her “sun and stars” to come back to her. I thought perhaps there would be a strange scene of the sun appearing to rise in the west and he’d come back to her, but it wasn’t meant to be.

And the very end was interesting, because early in the season, I can’t remember which episode, she places a dragon egg in the fire and picks it up, but it doesn’t hurt her hand. I remember saying to my husband, “Maybe the eggs are like popcorn and they’ll pop open and the dragons will jump out.” Of course, when Daenerys herself was walking toward the pyre that image was the LAST thing on my mind, and all I could think of is when Daenerys was told in last week’s episode that once Drogo was dead, she was nothing, but man, if that woman survives the pyre burning, they’ll be loathe to walk away from her! So when Ser Jorah walked up to her and she lifted her head, I thought that was the miracle. Until something popped up behind her and I thought, “Oh my GOD she spilled water on Gizmo and there’s a Gremlin behi— no, wait… OMG it’s a dragon.”

A freakin’ DRAGON.

Oh, take THAT, Joffrey!!!!!!

Chris: In the novel, Joffrey is thirteen. I think he’s supposed to be fifteen or so in the series.

What I love most about GRRM’s storytelling is how consistently he subverts your expectations. Ned is the hero? He’s going to escape to join Daenerys? NO! BAM! He’s dead. Drogo is going to cross the sea with Daenerys and reclaim her kingdom? NO! BAM! He’s dead. But then into those shocked spaces he instead advances less expected, and better plots … Dany seems to lose everything, but emerges from the fire with dragons. Ned is killed, but his son is crowned King of the North. Jon Snow finds himself in the vanguard of the only war that really matters.

And so on.

This final episode was really emotionally charged for me, and not just because I knew what was coming … the final bit with the dragon appearing over Daenerys’ shoulder was simply perfect, and I rewound and watched the last three minutes no fewer than half a dozen times. The emotional timbre of the scene was pitch-perfect, with Jorah’s shocked and amazed expression as he, and everyone around Dany, sinks to their knees to pledge themselves to her. That is the moment that she becomes a queen.

The death of Drogo, however, is genuinely heartbreaking, because of course he does not die at first. Seeing him as an empty husk is worse than seeing him fall in a fight; and the ambivalence we feel when Mirri Maz Duur unapologetically admits that she knew exactly what she was doing is emblematic of the way the series (and the novel) never panders or gives us clear-cut rights and wrongs. Drogo’s khalasar DID commit atrocities—they did take women to be raped, even in spite of Dany’s intervention, and enslave half a village and slaughter the other half. Of course Mirri Maz Duur didn’t want Drogo’s son to be born, and none of Daenerys’ best intentions can change the woman’s hatred of the Dothraki.

I also have to give props to Sophie Turner. Playing Sansa is something of a thankless role, as she had to be bratty and annoying for the better part of the season while everyone rhapsodized in reviews and online about Arya and Daenerys. A question that frequently came up among the n00bs was “Does Sansa ever get less annoying?” And the answer, of course, is a resounding yes. She has learned hard lessons, and the hatred on her face when she faces down Joffrey at the end makes up for all her previous simpering.

And as long as we’re on the topic of thankless roles, let’s not forget to give a shout-out to Jack Gleeson, whose excruciatingly hateful portrayal of Joffrey was brilliantly done—and spot on, as far as the novel goes. And unlike Sansa, he gets no redeeming moment … we end the season hating him even more than we did at its outset.

So there we are. Big sigh … Now we have to wait a year, or however long it’s going to take HBO to get season two together (pleasepleaseplease do not pull a year and a half hiatus, a la The Sopranos … it was bad enough waiting six years between books).

Take it home, Nikki!

Nikki: Wow, the last word on such a fantastic season. I didn’t say anything about the King of the North scene, but yes, that was amazing, and I loved the look of pride on Catelyn’s so recently anguished face, as well as her earlier promise to Robb that they will go to King’s Landing, find Sansa and Arya, and then kill all of the Lannisters (the women in this episode are SO strong). And while I hope Jaime Lannister gets beaned in the head by a few more boulders along the way, I found the scene between him and Catelyn to be intriguing when he simply tells her the truth when answering every one of her questions about Bran… all except that last “why?” of course.

I can’t wait for next season, and I plan to read the first book now to see for myself what the show was based on (but I’ll have the opposite experience of you, because my reading will be coloured by the way the TV characters are now in my head, whereas your viewing of the show was influenced by what you’d read). But the way they’ve left it, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to wait on reading the second book.

But the one thing that will hold me off from reading that second book is the chance to do this again with you. I want to extend a huge thank-you on behalf of myself and my readers for agreeing to do this every week with me, giving us your insight without spoiling what was to come (where else could we get the perspective of a GRRM fan and still have Ned’s death be an absolute shock?) and making this a much richer experience for all of us. I do hope we can do it again on the second season.

Until then, may the warm winds blow from the South, may the Dragon make her way to King’s Landing, may the King of the North prevail, and may Joffrey cut himself with a razor, trip and fall into a vat of peroxide, break both his legs on the way in, end up in a half-body cast, and have the inside of that cast invaded by fire ants.

Ah, I knew playing “Worst-Case Scenario” in public school would pay off some day…

See y’all in season 2!


Zach said...

Thanks for providing the best weekly recaps for this show, becuase you and Nikki go beyond a play-by-play and really delve into deaper meanings and share your reactions to what happen in a fun style...

Cannot wait til season 2 and book 5 will hold me over for a short while...

phoenix888 said...

Hey Chris and Nikki,

I watched GoT as a newbie, and loved every minute of it!

I also loved your reviews, and looked forward to reading them each week after watching the episode.

Thanks for sharing your keen insights and thoughts on my new favourite show!

Now, to read the first book...


Don said...

Your comments and in-depth analyses have enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of this magnificent story.
Thank You

Stephanie said...

What a great episode! I've been waiting this entire time for Daenerys to step up and unleash the fire that she's been holding in. I’ve never been so addicted to a show before but I love it! I work for DISH and came across Game of Thrones at and boy am I glad. As for Arya, this girl has some spunk and I'm glad to see she can finally develop her fighting to its full potential. I can’t wait for season 2!!