But I’m back, and my absence at least let Nik and I mix things up a bit--she's posted her response without me
At this point I’m wondering when we’re going to see a tepid episode … they keep ratcheting everything up, it becomes hard to imagine how the next episode will top whatever we’ve just seen—and I say that knowing more or less what comes next—but each episode so far has improved on what preceded it. This one was no exception.
I quite liked the opening—the Lannister rank and file jawing around the fire, telling jokes, and, most importantly, engaging in the time-honored tradition of “who would win a fight with …?” It was a rare glimpse of the common soldier, and the conversation very deliberately echoed something falling between celebrity gossip and sports bar argument, with a bit of geeky hypotheticals thrown in. It made the class divisions palpable in a cleverly contemporary way—knights and lords and ladies are the elite athletes and the celebrities of this world. Had the conversation not been so rudely interrupted by a direwolf and an army, we might have expected to hear competing sexual fantasies about Cersei.
One thing worth pointing out is the handiness of British accents in delineating class: you saw this in Rome as well, with patricians like Caesar and Attia speaking in clipped, precise, educated aristocratic accents, while Titus Pullo came across as essentially a genial soccer hooligan. And in neither case does it tend to be jarring, as it would be if American accents were employed. Lower class accents in that case would be invariably regional, which isn`t to say that British accents aren`t … but thanks to popular film, we`re accustomed to a generic yob accent that falls somewhere between Cockney, Yorkshire, and Liverpool.
But that`s neither here nor there. The scene that followed gives us a glimpse of a fellow we`re going to see more of, though probably not in this season—Roose Bolton is the man urging Robb to torture his prisoners, though I cannot recall if he was named. The commanders walking the battlefield was a powerful sequence, and true to GRRM`s general tendency to not glorify combat. He makes it exciting, at times triumphant, but he never glosses its butcher`s bill. We were spared a more graphic depiction of battlefield surgery, but I suspect I wasn`t alone in cringing as we saw the “nurse” sawing away at the leg. Sometimes leaving things off camera is more effective.
The nurse—whose name, I believe, is Talisa—is not a figure in the novels. As has been observed in the comments, it looks as though she’s going to be conflated with a character who appears later in the novels … and that’s all I’m going to say about that, as I’ve seen what happens to people who offer spoilers.
Speaking of brutal torture and death … ye gods. Nikki had it right when she said Jee … SUS. Much of what we see of Joffrey is in the book, at least in terms of his humiliation of Sansa, his threat of execution, and his by-proxy beating of her (as is Tyrion’s rescue—admirably word-for-word, and yet again Dinklage does a masterful job of bringing GRRM’s dialogue to life. Beautiful.) But the scene with the whores? It was mentioned in the comments that Tyrion had considered sending women to Joffrey in the hopes that a sexual release might temper his behaviour, but he never actually does it. Which according to the series was eminently wise, as yet again the show makes explicit what the books imply. Reading the novels, you know that any time someone gives Joffrey complete control over someone’s fate, he’s going to enact some imaginative cruelty. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the scene (between slitted eyes) that if ever you wanted more proof that Joffrey isn’t Robert’s son, here it is. Robert Baratheon was a brute, a buffoon, and a fool, but he was never unnecessarily cruel.
Jen said in her post that “this is an episode about torture,” and I emphatically agree … but it also raises the question of what lies behind the impulse to torture. Robb Stark refuses to even countenance the idea, and that’s one of the ways we know he’s a good guy, and indeed is his father’s son. But it’s the arrival of Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal that drives the point home. His men are reavers—in the novel, they’re the beasts that, Tywin curtly lectures Tyrion at one point, are necessary for the spread of terror. We get much more familiar with the individual Lannister pet monsters in the books, from Polliver (the one with Arya’s sword), the Tickler (the torturer), and the Mountain himself, but these brief sequences admirably communicate everything we need to know about them. For Joffrey, torture is sadistic pleasure; for these men, it is a means of terrorizing people and (very occasionally) gleaning information. Which is not to say they don’t seem to get pleasure from inflicting pain, but with the arrival of their liege lord, the fun comes to an end.
The scene with Tywin does a lovely job of showing us, in a few economical moments, what makes Tywin such a formidable foe. He is not unnecessarily cruel or sadistic, makes good use of his available resources, and sees very clearly what others are blind to. He’s an interesting figure in the novels for these very reasons, presented as stern and unforgiving, utterly ruthless when necessary, but not actually evil like his grandson. He does not however shrink from employing evil men to do his dirty work.
I had forgotten about Yoren’s story in the previous episode, which wasn’t in the books. I’m dense at times, and I never connected it with Arya’s revenge list until I heard her whispering the names. In the novels, she does it of her own accord, but it’s a nice little moment for Yoren—whose awesomeness on the show greater than in the novels—just before he goes to a pretty gallant death. And as predicted in the comments … yes, that list does get pretty damn long.
I don’t really have much to say about the Renly/Catelyn/Littlefinger and Daenerys scenes that Nikki hasn’t already covered, other than to say Margaery Tyrell is proving to be a much more interesting character on the show than in the books (which is good, because it would have been a waste of Natalie Dormer’s talents otherwise). I’ll also just tip a wink and a nudge to the others who have read the novels—because this means that future Margaery will have even more opportunities to be awesome as the story continues.
Some questions from Jen’s post:
- “The Brotherhood”—we hear the Tickler questioning people about this mysterious group. I do not believe we’ve heard of them so far in the series, so I’ll say nothing about them now aside from this: there was a very brief scene in the first season, when Robert was out hunting Boar and Ned was sitting on the Iron Throne in his stead. On hearing that Lannister soldiers led by The Mountain were pillaging and killing, Ned charged a knight named Beric Dondarrion with bringing the King’s Justice to the marauders. Remember that name.
- "What are Robb’s plans?"—that scene, and the questions posed to him by Talisa, were lovely, because it gets right to the heart of the motivation and justification for war, and the desire for power. Robb Stark does not want to sit on the Iron Throne, but cannot suffer his father’s murderer to do so. So what is he fighting for? If he follows his father’s will, he’ll put Stannis on the throne; if he’s pragmatic, he’ll join forces with Renly, but both have made clear they’ll not allow a divided Westeros. And yet the loyalty animating his men is for the “King in the North,” so bending the knee to whomever succeeds Joffrey is not an option. A bit of a sticky wicket for the poor boy (and yes, I know I didn’t answer your question there, heh).
- “Will Catelyn ever see her girls again?”—no comment. Heh.
- “Could Daenerys be the one who will take out the Lannisters?”—again, not saying anything. But it’s as good a spot as any to make a few observations about Harrenhal, which is presented as essentially a bunch of ruins. Harrenhal in the novels is the biggest castle in Westeros, built by Harren the Black and assaulted the same year it was finished by the Targaryen invasion. It’s not as much of a ruin in the novels—it’s still a viable castle and fortress—but it does show the scars of the Targaryens’ dragons. In the series, they make the destruction much worse.
I’ll end by just mentioning the closing scene of Melisandre’s monstrous birth. And quoting Nikki again. Jee … SUS. That was one of those moments that could have been done so badly, but they really pulled it off. And one of the benefits of this belated post is that now I only have twenty-four hours to wait for the next episode.