Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.09: Blackwater

Welcome back yet again to the Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog, in which we ... oh, seven hells, you know. I have no time for preamble this week! Blackwater! Wildfire! Things blowed up real good and green!

What an expensive-looking explosion ...

Christopher: OK, so I am dying to hear what you thought of last night’s episode—mainly because my own mind is in a total whirl about it. I’m not sure where to begin, because it was utterly unlike everything we’ve come to expect from GoT narratively: the episode focused on a single place and sequence of action, ignoring for the moment the stories of Daenerys, Theon, Bran and Rickon, Jon Snow, Robb and Catelyn, and Arya. Often episodes will leave out one narrative thread or another, which usually means we can expect something big to happen next episode. But usually we’re always aware of just how many balls the series has in the air at one time, and are (usually) impressed by how deftly it’s done.

But this episode? This was different. It makes sense narratively and thematically, as much of this season’s action has been building to the inevitable war. There have been battles along the way, of course, but we usually haven’t seen more than their aftermaths. And last season, we didn’t see the big battle because Tyrion got knocked on the head. The large-scale battle á là The Lord of the Rings or Gladiator still seems something of a bridge too far for television—which is unsurprising, considering the cost involved. When you’re spending one hundred million dollars on a two or three hour feature film, it’s all well and good … not so much when you have an entire season (with more to come) to worry about. So as much as we would love to see a proper Kurosawa-esque clash of massive armies, it’s simply not feasible.

All of which makes “Blackwater” all the more impressive. It should be noted that George R. R. Martin wrote the episode, which as he had observed is sort of an ironic return for him as a TV writer. In his many interviews, he has talked of how he sat down to start writing A Song of Ice and Fire after almost fifteen years in Hollywood, most notably as a producer and writer on Beauty and the Beast (he and Ron Perlman remain good friends). One of his frustrations with television, he has said many times, was how limited you are by budgets. His inclination was to expansive and epic storylines; many times he had pilots and proposals for new series rejected because he simply wanted to do too much. So he returned to his first love, prose fiction, in which he would never have to worry about someone else’s priorities when it came to depicting, say, a massive and complicated battle. Never once, he says, did he imagine Ice and Fire might be adapted to film or television … he’d simply made it too big and complicated.

So it was a bit of historical irony that landed him writing the climatic episode about the battle of the Blackwater … and having Benioff and Weiss keep sending back his drafts with notes that essentially said, “Uh, no … smaller, please.”

But however much they cramped his style, I have to tip my hat to GRRM for doing a very deft job of depicting battle on a massive scale while at the same time making it feel very focused and indeed almost claustrophobic at times. Changing the battle from day to night was a brilliant move in this respect—Stannis’ enormous fleet becomes a bunch of ominous and threatening shadows on the horizon, and we don’t need to see them (or be subjected to the sort crap-ass CGI we saw at the Battle of Philippi in Rome) to know they’re there. At the same time, everything becomes focused down on a small space and small group of soldiers—as I’m sure it must do in a real battle, when everything else disappears for the individuals fighting. And I would also argue it was very suggestive, in the same respect, of the fog of war …

And on top of all that, SO MUCH was going on in this episode. What do you want to talk about first, Nik?

Nikki: Let’s compare the St. Crispin’s Day motivational speeches of the week, shall we?

Cersei: Do you have any notion of what happens when a city is sacked? No, you wouldn’t. If the city falls, these fine women… shall be in for a bit of a rape. Half of them will have bastards in their bellies come morning; you’ll be glad of your red flower then.

Joffrey: Waaaaaah… sniffle, snort… soooobbb!! They’re coming ASHORE!!!

The Hound: Any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!

Joffrey: Are they gone yet? Ooh, I can’t look, I can’t look! I WANT MY MUMMY!!!

The Hound: Fuck the King’s Guard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king.

Joffrey: Sniffle, whimper… Stay with my uncle, and represent the king on the field of battle. [runs for cover, muppet arms flailing]

Tyrion: I’ll lead the attack! They said I’m half a man. But what does that make the lot of you? There’s another way out. I’m going to show you. Come up behind them and fuck them in their asses! Don’t fight for your king, and don’t fight for his kingdom. Don’t fight for honour, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches because you won’t get any. This is your city Stannis means to sack, that is your gate he’s ravaging. If he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!

"Coooooooooooooooool ..."

I know who I’d be following.

What an episode. As you say, they kept to one particular story, and I even found that when it skipped over to Cersei, I just wanted them to get back to the action. So they definitely knew better than to switch over to Daenerys (whose story has been lagging this season to begin with) or anyone else when the real action is here.

Tyrion is certainly the star of this piece, with Joffrey the simpering fool, Cersei the drunken lout, and Sansa the true queen. While she was falling back on hymns and prayers, things that in the end can’t actually do anything in this situation, at least she was trying to put these women’s fears to rest, which is more than what Cersei was doing. But while Cersei comes off as one cold bitch, the ones she is absolutely loyal to, and cares about more than herself, is her children. The scene near the end of her trying to feed the lethal nightshade to her son was devastating, and you could tell it was breaking her heart. Let’s just say her daddy has some impeccable timing.

But back to the battle. It reminded me of the battle of Helm’s Deep on screen in the second LOTR movie (I half expected to see an elf come sliding down the wall shooting arrows as he went) but the highlight of the battle is certainly the wildfire exploding. The way Davos stares at it as the ship slowly sails out to land amidst the enemy ships, and the horror on Davos’s face when he realizes what’s on it. It’s so quiet and ominous, and therefore terrifying. Tyrion makes his signal to Bronn, who makes the perfect shot out to the boat… and then if there were ever the perfect poster moment for the phrase “all hell broke loose,” this would be it. What is wonderful about this scene is the look of horror on Tyrion’s face. He needed to win the battle, but he can hear the screams of agony from these men, he can watch them catch on fire and their skin bubbling and trying to jump into the water just to stop the pain, only to land in more wildfire and be tortured even further. Contrast that with the look of absolute glee on Joffrey’s face. His only regret is that he can’t record this so he can watch it over and over and over again while eating popcorn.

What were your favourite moments in the episode?

"Oh, the year was seventeen seventy-eight ..."

Christopher: Oh gods, where to start? One great moment of geek love, certainly, was hearing Bronn leading a rousing rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” a song that appears several times in the novels. It’s sort of the unofficial Lannister national anthem, about an upstart lesser house—the Reynes—who challenge Lannister power and find themselves eradicated root and branch and their lands razed (really, it surprises anyone that this is what the Lannisters sing about to each other?). As I said, we “hear” snatches of it throughout the novels; but for the series it was put to music by the band The National. Theirs was the version playing over the credits, and the way they do it gives it a definitely funereal tone … but I think I liked it as Bronn’s drinking song better.

I also loved Varys in this episode … his little speech about hating bells was lovely, as was his revelation that he loathes sorcery.

Cersei, too. As I’ve said before, I’ve been tepid on Lena Headey as Cersei, but here she was brilliant—raging against the chromosomal lottery that put Jaime in armour and her in skirts, and getting slowly and magnificently drunk.

And of course, seeing Joffrey’s bravado from last episode melting into panic while Tyrion holds the wall and rallies the men. (I laughed at your St. Crispin’s Day reference above—in my notes under where Joffrey orders the Kingsguard to “represent the King,” I’ve written “not exactly the St. Crispin’s speech.” Ah, we few, we happy few, we band of buggered). Though I do have to say that the episode’s one false note was when all of the soldiers kind of muttered and shrugged and started to wander off after Joffrey left. “Oh, the king left? Huh. Well, then, I guess I don’t really feel like fighting these people outside the walls WHO WANT TO KILL ME.” Perhaps the fight goes out of them, and perhaps they won’t leave the safety of the walls to face the enemy, but they’re not about to sit on their hands.

Really, there’s too many great moments to geek out over—the wildfire explosion, Stannis kicking ass on top of the wall, Sansa telling Tyrion “I will pray for your safe return, my lord—just as I pray for the king’s” (ouch!), Davos answering the city’s bells with his drums …

But my favourite part of this episode? The Hound. He’s always been a disturbing, glowering, enigmatic character. But here we see what Rory McCann can do. The slow build of his panic in the face of fire throughout the battle was lovely, but his final fuck-you to Joffrey and his appearance in Sansa’s room were both beautiful moments. He’s singing the tune he sang before—“the world is built by killers”—but this time that fact has none of the harsh realism he was offering Sansa before and instead sounds elegiac. The world is built by killers and he is a consummate killer, and in this moment he has failed. When he cuts and runs, he becomes a poignant depiction of post-traumatic stress as we realize that the pain and fear he suffered at his brother’s hands has never gone away. And McCann conveys that with brutal elegance.

How about you, Nikki?

"What do you mean, I'm overcompensating?"

Nikki: You do realize you just gained major points on this blog by quoting Spike on Buffy, right? Of course you do. ;)

And you beat me to the National link. A couple of days ago Josh Winstead, who does the Walking Dead posts with me, sent me a link to the Rains of Castamere song. Problem was, I saw it at work, and decided to listen to it at home. And since I have a Leonard Shelby memory (you should see the tattoos on my arms…) I completely forgot. So when I heard it at the end of the episode, I said to my husband, “Is that… the National??” You can’t mistake that voice. Of course, I didn’t realize they were singing the Lannister song. Brilliant version of it. And considering the sadness of the end, the funereal way they sing it seemed perfect where it was placed.

Let us talk of the end. Now I’ve been trained that no one is too important to be killed off (see Stark, Ned), but at the same time, his death, in retrospect, was necessary to spark the rest of the events thus far. The way Bran and Rickon were displayed by Theon tipped me off that it wasn’t actually the boys; we would have seen him kill them, they still seem like they could play an important role (I mean, if you kill off all the Starks, you lose a lot of tension…), and the fact they were burned beyond recognition made me think Theon was just saving face.

But Tyrion? I don’t think he could be dead. He’s important, he’s KEY, and Tywin just showed up. Tyrion and Tywin could be a serious force to be reckoned with. Jaime’s been rotting in a cage, Cersei’s been moping about, she was just about to kill her own son rather than face the hordes (and perhaps herself, too), Joffrey runs crying from the battlefield, and Tyrion — the ironically nicknamed “Half Man” — has just proven himself to be the only worthy Lannister. Tywin should be pretty impressed, and I doubt they’d kill him off the show just when he’s finally about to prove himself once and for all to his father. Tyrion has always been the brains; Jaime’s the brawn. In this battle, Tyrion finally proved himself to be both. (I understand the response to my comment may be spoilery, so you can just jump to the next topic if you’d like.)

"I hate having to shop for armour at Gap Kids."

Christopher: I’ll avoid being spoilery by asking if it was clear to you who it was cut Tyrion. I know who it was, it being an important plot point in the novel, but wasn’t sure it came across in the scene. Did you catch who his assailant was?

The awkward moment when you realize your bodyguard
is handing you his letter of resignation. With his sword.

Nikki: You know when you think you see something but then something else happens so quickly afterward that your brain just moves on to the next thing? And then when someone like, oh, I don’t know, YOU mentions something that your brain had tweaked to, it instantly comes flooding back?

When Tyrion turned around on the field, he sort of smiles at a guy wearing a full facial helmet with three ridges on it. It’s the same helmet of the guy that Joffrey turned to (did he call him Ser Boris? I couldn’t hear the name he was using) and he said, “Stay with my uncle and represent the king.” Now your question had made it clear to me that it must have been the same guy. So… does that mean Joffrey’s demand had a double-meaning? In other words, don’t let my uncle out of my sight, and should the men begin to follow him, represent the king and get rid of him on my behalf as a traitor?

Oh, Joffrey. I hate you so much more now.


Christopher: Heh. Not to be spoilery, but don’t assume it was Joffrey. And for the record yes: he called him Ser Boris. Ser Boris Blount, to be precise.

So to return to your original question: yes, one of the things GRRM does is remove all of our confidence in who lives and dies. Bran and Rickon? Alive, yes. Tyrion? Well, obviously I’m not saying. And as sound as your reasoning is for why they couldn’t kill him off, I’ll say: (1) Ned died in the penultimate episode last season; (2) wouldn’t it just be just SO painful if Tyrion died just as he was about to finally be recognized by his father as worthwhile?

And don’t forget our other beloved MIA: Davos was blown overboard by the wildfire explosion. Alive, or dead?

If I can bring us back from the ending, I’m curious to know what you thought of the near-fight between the Hound and Bronn. It is a scene, incidentally, that does not occur in the novels … I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure those two never speak to each other. And in any other episode, I’d just chalk it up to the writers being inventive, but this was a GRRM-penned ep … meaning that this was a confrontation that came from his mind.

I thought it was such an interesting scene. The Hound, again, was singing his favourite tune re: the love of killing, to which Bronn cheerfully copped. (Extended aside: I have quite grown to love Bronn in this series. Some characters have not lived up to the novels; but some have exceeded them, and Bronn is Exhibit A. Jerome Flynn has played him with such dark humour that he’s really quite difficult not to like, a far cry from the hard-bitten version in the novels). The Hound is obviously spoiling for a fight, and Bronn is not one to back down, and has his hand on his knife when the bells toll (in my notes I’ve written “saved by the bell!” heh).

The point, obviously I think, is to provide a contrast between two incarnations of the Hound’s world-view—two born killers, one dour and dedicated, the other hale and well-met (the naked whore in his lap was somewhat overdone, we got the point), both of whom find themselves in the service of a possibly doomed master. Thoughts?

"Wait, are you SURE there isn't some EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
business underneath my bed I have to attend to?"

Nikki: Yes, I wonder if there are some people watching who were staring at the girl in his lap and afterwards said, “What? There was a discussion between Bronn and the Hound? I… didn’t notice.”

I liked that scene a lot. The Hound has always been a character I’ve liked. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but last season when Baelish told Sansa the Hound’s backstory, and how his brother had pushed his face into the fire and seared it, the Hound instantly had my sympathies. Especially when Baelish made him out to be a monster, telling Sansa never to reveal this information to him or he’d kill her on the spot. The way the Hound glances in her direction in that moment made me think he could hear Baelish telling her, but it was unclear.

From that moment there’s been a link between the Hound and Sansa. On the one hand, he calls her the little bird and seems sympathetic to her. He knows how insipid Joffrey is (his distaste of the little shit every time Joffrey calls him “Dog” is written all over his disfigured face), and how awful the Lannisters are, and he sees Sansa as someone who is about to get wrapped up in this family because her father made a bad decision.

Bronn is an interesting character; I don’t like him as much as you do, because in a fight between him and the Hound I’d be rooting for the latter, but he’s the one person who seems to outwit Tyrion on a regular basis, and their “final” words to one another suggest he’s far more educated than he lets on. I’m very intrigued by him, and I hope we find out more in the upcoming seasons.

But the Hound is fantastic. The final scene was extraordinary. Sansa enters the room, and goes right for her doll. Until now she’s tried to keep it together, she mutters only to Shae her hatred for Joffrey (Shae’s constantly shushing her), she says exactly what she’s supposed to say, she watches Cersei’s drunken rantings with a wide-eyed fear, people tell her what to do and she rarely talks back, and after her outbursts in season 1 many of us had very little time for her. But you can’t forget she’s still a little girl. The actress playing her is much older than Sansa is supposed to be. She’s just getting her period for the first time, so that puts her at early high school age. She stands there and holds her dolly, reverting back to the little girl she was just a few short months ago, before her red rose was blooming (as Cersei put it), before her future husband was threatening her life on a regular basis, before she had a future husband, before her father was beheaded, before she was separated from her entire family, before she’d had to leave Winterfell.

And then the Hound speaks, and unnerves her. She does what she’s done all season: stares wide-eyed at him, doesn’t say a word, speaks only when spoken to, and then he tells her that everyone around her is a killer and she’d better get used to it. And watch how her eyes change. That wide-eyed little bird look disappears, she narrows her eyes and stares at him as if she’s trying to suss out the situation. And then she says, “You won’t hurt me.” She doesn’t ask it, she states it, as if knowing it’s true. He assures her he won’t, and heads for the door. She makes her own decision for the first time in her life, drops the doll, and leaves the room… finally a woman.

"I have a better idea for what you can do with your sword."

Christopher: What a great reading of that scene. Poor Sophie Turner … playing Sansa must be a mostly thankless role—for most of last season she was a whiny princess, and for most of this season she’s essentially cowered under the capricious threat of Joffrey’s violence. But then she gets these moments of extraordinary strength and grace, as she did last season when Joffrey makes her look at her father’s head, and pretty much all throughout this episode. She has spent all this time being terrified of the Hound, but in the final estimation she gets his measure. Having her pick up the doll as she comes into her room was incredibly poignant. That she has kept the doll as a keepsake of her father is unsurprising, but still powerful. It reminds us of Ned’s hamfisted attempt to cheer her up last season, only to be told that she wasn’t a little girl any more. Well, now she knows that she was … and as you point out, is no longer.

If growing up is in part about losing your illusions—putting aside childish things, as it were—Sansa has had to grow up pretty damn fast in King’s Landing. She’s something of a surrogate for that part of us that still wants to believe fairy tales and traditional stories of knights and kings, or for that matter that understanding of the fantasy genre coloured by the moral absolutism of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. Kings can be venal and buffoonish like Robert, or cruel and sadistic like Joffrey; queens can be power-hungry and conniving like Cersei; knights can be cold killing machines like the Hound or Jaime Lannister; and men with unshakeable honour like her father don’t last long in their company, because they don’t understand how the game of thrones is played.

But Sansa is learning. All in the game, yo.

So … we have one more episode to go, which makes me very, very sad … any final thoughts on the penultimate episode?

"Varys, you know I'd love to hear how you lost your johnson, but
I've got a city to defend, my whore to hide, my nephew to humilate,
and a fleet to blow up. I'm swamped."

Nikki: These seasons are far too short. But there was a lot in this episode that hinted at larger things, and created some tension and drama that will continue into season 3:

  • Varys talks about when he was cut, as if there’s some major meaning behind it. I don’t think anyone chooses to be a eunuch, but in his case, I’m thinking there was a particularly sinister reason for why he is one.
  • As mentioned earlier, the men showed their loyalty to Tyrion on the field, which may have led to him being sliced. I particularly loved Joffrey threatening Tyrion, and Tyrion’s blasé response: “Then I’ll be the quarter man. Doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
  • Joffrey arrogantly calls his sword “Hearteater”; I do hope that’s prescient, but that it will be turned on him. Then again, he doesn’t have a heart to remove, so…
  • Sansa brilliantly goads Joffrey into joining the vanguard on the field by telling him how brave her brother Robb is in battle. He’ll be looking to make her pay for that.
  • I was shocked when Davos blew off the boat in the wildfire attack. He’s a brilliant character, played wonderfully by Liam Cunningham. I feel like there’s a lot more backstory there to be explored, but how could he have survived that attack? If he does, he’s likely horribly mangled.
  • Shae. I wasn’t sure what I thought of her at first, but I REALLY like her now. She has an oldness about her, like she’s wise beyond her years, and I loved it when she lifted her skirt to reveal the knife and told Sansa in no uncertain terms that no one will be raping her.
  • In her drunkenness, Cersei reveals that her father told her there were no gods when she was only four years old and praying to them for her mother. No wonder she became so cold.
  • Stannis looks like he’s done for, but I’m thinking Melisandre is going to enter the story again to deal with this situation.
  • Y’all know what I think about shipping, but if I did that sort of thing, I’d be shipping the Hound and Sansa right now. I’m rooting for a beauty and the beast sort of thing to happen there.

Can’t wait for next week!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.08: The Prince of Winterfell

Welcome back to the latest installment of the Chris and Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog, in which we offer you an episode-by-episode example of how to geek out over a fantasy television series if (1) you’ve read all the books, and (2) you haven’t. We do this as part of our court-ordered public service in the aftermath of an unfortunate Lost-related mishap in which, as I told the judge, I was merely an unwitting accessory. Seriously, Desmond—I just drove the car. Everything else was Nikki’s idea.

Nikki: Well, let’s get the big cliffhanger out of the way: the Stark boys are not dead. I didn’t think they were, as I said last week, but considering what happened to the MAIN CHARACTER last season, I’m not hanging my hat on, “but he seems important!” as a reason to keep anyone around. At the beginning of the episode when Theon was talking to Yara about their deaths, I started to get uncomfortable and actually said to my husband, “Do you think I was wrong? Were those really the boys hanging there?” Turns out it wasn’t, but the reality was just as horrid… Theon went to the farm where the boys had passed through, believed the farmer was hiding information from them, and burned the farmer’s boys… and paid him off to keep him quiet. Horrid.

Yara told Theon in this episode, “You were a terrible baby, do you know that?” and related to him a story of how he would scream and scream and one day she looked at him and wanted to kill him, and he looked at her and smiled. She never forgot that, and it seems to be the reason she has a tiny amount of sympathy for him now and wants him to get out of there while he still can. But it also suggests that Theon responds to people despising him. Even as an infant, it was someone staring at him with loathing that made him respond to her. Now it’s like he thrives on the hatred of others. I, for one, can’t stand him. At least Joffrey wears his evil on his sleeve. Theon is just despicable to try to impress people. Is that worse?

What did you think of the episode this week, Chris?

Christopher: Yep, the Stark boys live on … and as you say, it was hard to buy that they were actually dead, absent actually seeing Theon kill them, but then that’s the uncertainty GRRM inspires. You just never know! And also as you say, the relief we feel at knowing they’re alive is tempered by the knowledge that Theon did in fact kill a pair of other, utterly blameless, boys in the name of showing his “strength” to his men and Winterfell. Whatever else happens to the little git, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him.

For the record, the reveal that Bran et al are alive takes place somewhat later in the novel … after ahem something else happens.

I enjoyed this episode, though I did find it a little more monologue-y than normal … which is odd, considering that this show has not lacked for lengthy speeches. And on the balance, I don’t know that there were more monologues than normal, but this time it felt more expository … such as with Bronn’s speech about life during a siege, and why it’s necessary to kill thieves in advance. As much as I thought the actor playing Bronn did a fantastic job of it (as he has of everything so far), it had the feel of a “and now, your moment of medieval socio-historical culture!” to it.

That being said, it did set us up for next week’s episode, where we finally see battle joined on a large scale as Stannis Baratheon assaults King’s Landing. The brief promo is here:

Squee? Squee. Incidentally, the episode—titled “Blackwater,” after the river that passes by King’s Landing and not the shady American mercenaries (though really, who knows?)—was written by the man GRRM himself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself … plenty of time to geek out about that next week.

Returning to this past Sunday’s episode, I suppose we should also deal with the inevitable—Robb and Talisa giving into their desires, in spite of his royal obligations. Which comes, I am certain, as a great galloping shock to no one, considering they’ve essentially been telegraphing that moment since we first saw the nurse with moxie. And as he explained to her earlier in the episode, he’s engaged to a daughter of the obstreperous Walder Frey, as part of the alliance between their houses.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Robb from bedding Talisa and also marrying the Frey girl. But then … he did inherit his father’s overdeveloped sense of honour …

One way or another, he was upset and disturbed, probably because his mother SET JAIME LANNISTER FREE. Considering that I read the novel and knew that was coming, I probably didn’t need to put that all in caps. But I can well remember my shock on that being revealed back when I read the novel for the first time, and it was right up there with the decapitation of Ned Stark for “WTF?” moments. As in the show, she asks Brienne for her sword just after Jaime has been taunting her … and the assumption is that she’s going to hurt him, but of course she makes him swear on the sword to release Sansa and Arya.

What did you think of that, Nikki?

Nikki: I see your caps and raise you a boldface WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE THINKING?! I actually have it written and underlined in my notes: Ask Chris why Catelyn did that! For the life of me, it made no sense. But here’s the only thing I can come up with (which is absolutely along the lines of what you said) that what Jaime said to her just hit home in a way nothing else has til this point. She finally realized how awful everything is, and that he’s the only one who can change that.

What I loved about the scene between Catelyn and Robb (which was just fantastic) is that once again, we have the parallel between him and Joffrey. Both are self-proclaimed kings with followers and detractors, and both have mothers in the wings. Cersei has no power at all, and when she acted like a mother and slapped her son across his face, he quietly and bluntly threatened her life should she ever do that again. Catelyn doesn’t treat Robb like a child (mostly because he isn’t one) and in turn he treats her with respect, but in this moment she acted without consulting him, and forgot her place, so to speak. While he doesn’t threaten her life, he treats her as a prisoner and walks out on her, which you know is a painful thing for him to do, but her actions, done for personal reasons, has cost him a lot of ground. It was such a shock, and I was with him 100% — yet at the same time felt sympathy for her… It’s a conundrum we never have with the Lannisters.

Speaking of the little shit, Joffrey tells Tyrion that he’s going to give Stannis what he has coming to him. “They say Stannis never smiles — I’ll give him a red smile, ear to ear.” To which Tyrion hilariously responds in mock awe, “Imagine Stannis’s terror!” In this episode, we’re set up to believe Tyrion is fallible, when he can’t decipher books and Bronn has to explain things to him, as you mention above (and I agree it was a little long-winded and mechanical). Later, Cersei sees him and tells him that she’d found out about his little whore. Tyrion looks dumbfounded, and you can see the colour drain from his face completely, imagining what they’ve done to Shae and what his sister (and her vicious offspring) are capable of, especially now that he’s sent Myrcella away. But when another whore, not Shae, walks in, you see Tyrion’s face change just as quickly, as he’s relieved but has to hide it. His emotions almost get the better of him (for a second I thought there was no way Cersei would fall for his bumbling, “Oh… wow, this is, um… wow, so AWFUL, and…” but she does, because she’s so confident she’s right. His desperation when he goes to see Shae shows us that she has become his one Achilles heel. He truly loves her, and can’t let anything happen to her. If it does, we may see an entirely new Tyrion.

Christopher: Yes, the Case of the Mistaken Whore (as I now think of it) was a nice little moment—especially considering how hatefully smug Cersei is about the whole thing. I’m still not entirely sold on Lena Headey’s Cersei—she lets herself be more vulnerable than the Cersei of the novels, while at the same time playing her, to my mind, as overly icy when GRRM’s Cersei, for all her arrogance, fairly oozes sex and sensuality—but where she totally nails the character is when she’s being hateful, and when she thinks she has the upper hand. Interestingly, all of my favourite Cersei moments in the show are the ones not present in the books (most notably, her frankly honest exchange with Robert last season, and her “power is power” exchange with Littlefinger); conversely, all my favourite Tyrion moments are pretty much taken verbatim from the text. I’m not yet sure what that implies about the actors and their characters.

I loved the little exchange between Joffrey and Tyrion on the walls. I hope that next episode we’ll have a moment of genuine fear for the young king—something to make him quail and whimper, like he did when Arya threatened him with his own sword last season. He doesn’t have much of a memory, does he? Heh. Little shit. Once again, props to Jack Gleeson for playing such a hateful character so well—after watching his promise to give Stannis a red smile, I was sorely tempted to fire up YouTube and watch my favourite mash-up from season one:

The best part is where Joffrey gets slapped.

Of course, some of the inchoate rage Joffrey inevitably inspires was tempered by Tyrion’s great quip. Some.

I think you’re spot on with Catelyn’s motivations in letting Jaime go … she is, at this point, so sick at heart from the war, from the death of Ned, fear for her children in King’s Landing and back at Winterfell (and she hasn’t ever heard the “news” about Bran and Rickon yet—which she has in the novel when she sets Jaime free), that she does the one thing in her power to try and rescue what remains of her family … even though it means essentially committing treason. Depending on where they take the story, there is a rapprochement between her and Robb; but for now she is a prisoner in her son’s army, reviled by all of his lords and commanders. And though they have been telegraphing Robb’s indiscretion with Talisa, the suggestion here is that he succumbs because he feels alone and beset, betrayed even by his own mother.

If you buy that sort of thing.

But we’re ignoring what I found one of the most compelling stories this week, which is Jon and Qhorin’s capture by the wildlings, and Ygritte’s payback—saving him from the Lord o’ Bones blade (for the moment). AND Qhorin’s evolving scheme to have Jon pretend to turn his cloak and join the wildlings … going so far to shout angrily at him and send him tumbling down a hill. Ygritte’s little smile of triumph as he looks up at her suggests that she, at least, can see where things are going … even if she doesn’t entirely understand why.

What did you think, Nik?

Nikki: It was a really nice touch when Ygritte begged for Jon’s life, and I, too, liked the smirk on her face when he rolled down the hill. She heard what Qhorin had said to him – that Jon was fond of the ginger – and she’s definitely developed a bit of an attachment to him as well. I’m really looking forward to where this story goes.

And I just have to mention one moment in the episode that made me laugh out loud, and it had nothing to do with the dialogue of the show itself. When Talisa and Robb finally succumb to their passion, I loved how they were fumbling with the ties on their outfits and seemed to take forever to disrobe. I started giggling and said, “Well, THIS is more complicated than it should be,” and Talisa began struggling with the strings on Robb’s top. Then my husband said, “It’s like a neverending shoelace, your grace!” and we both laughed and laughed… probably not the audience reaction they were looking for. But we make our own fun.

We of course have to mention Jaqen H’ghar this week… and in previous episodes he’s pronounced his name “Jacken-higher” but Arya called him “Jacken Ha-garr,” like she was pronouncing the name the way it appears on the page. Any sense of who is saying it correctly? I prefer his way.

Every week I mean to transcribe some of his dialogue, because I LOVE the way he talks, referring to himself as “the man” instead of “I” or “me.” To get his attention, Arya names him as the third man to kill, and the look on his face is priceless. He’s a man of honour, so he must do as she says, and rather than scoffing and saying, “OK, let’s be serious,” he looks at her, stricken, and asks her very politely to unname him. At first she refuses, and he becomes panicked, demanding that she unname him. Arya’s testing him here, making sure he’s really going to stick to his vow, and clearly he will, because he’s now imagining his own life rather than taking hers out of anger, and he will do as she says. So, she tells him to get her out of Harrenhal, and that gives us the beautifully spooky scene of her leaving with her two cohorts (why did they bring the annoying guy? Ugh, it’s like heading on a road trip with Cartman) as they pass all the murdered guards. He told her he’d kill three people, and now he’s killed five. I’m sad we’re leaving him behind, but hopeful that we’ll see him again.

I forgot to mention how much I loved Tyrion’s comeback at Cersei earlier in the episode when he tells her, “A day will come when all your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know my debt is paid.” Oh YES.

Couple of questions for you as you wrap us up this week:
-How does news travel north of the Wall? The wildlings knew of Ned Stark’s death. How would they know about that? Do they have rangers that go south? Do they use ravens, too? Do they have smartphones?
-You mentioned a few episodes ago that Talisa is entirely fabricated for the show, and wasn’t in the books. So is everything happening with Robb new to you, or is it a different take on something else he did in the books?
-Am I the only person who just stares at Emilia Clarke’s hair the entire time Daenerys is on screen?

And lastly, what did you make of Tyrion’s discussion with Varys at the end of the episode?

Christopher: To address your questions in order …

1. In the novels, it’s made clear that the Wall is not impermeable—wildlings frequently scale it or otherwise skirt it, though obviously not in large numbers, to raid and plunder the lands south. It is also made clear that there is more congress between the rangers and the wildlings than the Night’s Watch would ever acknowledge, so they have their sources, and news like the lord of Winterfell being executed is something that would spread north of the Wall like some sort of unruly flame.

2. Talisa is entirely fabricated, but she is not unfamiliar … Robb does in fact have a romance with someone he shouldn’t, but she’s not a foreign woman who was once an aristo turned healer … Once more is revealed on the show, I will tell you whom his love in the books is, but for now I’ll stay mum for fear of spoilers. Rest assured, however, that Talisa is only a surprise in terms of who she is and how she shows up.

3. Um, yes. Emilia Clarke’s hair. Definitely what I tend to stare at.

As for your last question … I loved it. With Littlefinger roving around Westeros, Varys turns to Tyrion for someone with wits, and finds a better partner … in part, because Tyrion doesn’t joust as much, and Varys makes it clear he actually likes Tyrion. I recently reread the fifth Ice and Fire novel, A Dance With Dragons, and have been interested in the number of times text from that book has appeared in season two episodes. I hope I’m not giving anything away when I say that Tyrion’s little speech about being made master of Casterly Rock’s drains was from that novel … or that Varys’ interest in Tyrion will resonate in future narratives, heh.

The last thing I should mention is the conversation between Stannis and Davos … which was at once both poignant and irritating. Poignant because we are given further insight into Stannis’ mind and the resentment that underwrites his iron discipline, and because we hear more of Davos’ backstory. (Once again: Liam Cunningham rocks the stage in this bit, and Stephen Dillane is no slouch). Irritating, however, because it was one of those moments of unwieldy exposition … necessary, perhaps, but a little heavy-handed. But then, as Davos is rapidly becoming one of my favourite televisual realizations of a GRRM character, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Also, because we know that next week things get blowed up real good. Onward!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.07: A Man Without Honor

Hello all, and welcome again to the Nikki/Chris Game of Thrones experience, in which I speak from the perspective of one who has been reading the books from the FREAKING START--I mean, really George, five books in fifteen years? That's just torture, and really, I ... OK ... breathe--versus someone (i.e. Nikki) who has never read the books, which  when you think of it is the way to go, because, seriously, SIX FUCKING YEARS on A Dance With Dragons, George? Really?

OK ... OK ... meds are kicking in. While they do their work, here's the vid Nikki posted ....

Christopher: I think it’s safe to say that this episode’s recurrent theme was all about oaths and loyalty, with Ygritte and Jaime Lannister playing devil’s advocates and pricking holes in the hypocrisy of their interlocutors. Ned was the de facto protagonist of season one, which put the question of honour and integrity versus pragmatism and opportunism center stage right up until the point when his head went rolling down the steps of Baelor’s Sept. At which point—as we observed in our comments at the time—all bets were off in terms of our expectations for Game of Thrones. That was when we knew it was an HBO show through and through—that the typical narrative of embattled honour winning out against snide relativism was not to be. Indeed, many of the early reviews of season two observed that in hindsight, season one was really just an elaborate set-up—that the real action started with this season.

As both watcher and reader, I must agree. Season one and A Game of Thrones went to great lengths to chip away at our generic expectations—to dash all the Tolkien-based conceptions of what fantasy is and does.

Watching “A Man Without Honor” managed to bring all this home once again. In an interview, when asked what his favourite episode of the series so far is, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said it was this one. And no freakin’ wonder! Jaime Lannister has been more or less absent all season so far, so it was wonderful to have him back in all his arrogant glory. And Nikolaj has a lot of reason to be proud of this performance—his portrayal of Jaime is pitch-perfect. If Joffrey functions as the unalloyed villain of GoT, cruel and sadistic and sociopathic and easy (and fun) to loathe, Jaime is the spoiler—he is, in many ways, as cruel and ruthless as his son, but is extremely intelligent and capable as well. He is painfully adept at pointing out others’ hypocrisies, especially where he is concerned—his speech to Catelyn about oaths and their profusion, and the inevitable conflicts that arise, is faithful to GRRM’s text and beautifully articulated here.

I was also reflecting in admiration about how GRRM has set up this story (meaning, this entire series) … Jaime Lannister’s prehistory as the Kingslayer, the man who killed the Mad King and thus broke his oath as a member of the Kingsguard—but in the process (1) giving justice to a monarch as (ironically) sadistic and cruel as Joffrey, and (2) keeping faith with his father—provides such an ambivalent and shifting foundation for everything that follows. He is reviled as a man without honour, but as he points out to Catelyn, it’s unclear to whom he owes his ultimate allegiance. We recall some of his moments in season one—for example, when he was reviled by Ned—in the same conversation!—for standing by and watching King Aerys burn Rickard and Brandon Stark to death, and for breaking his oath to that same king. Which is the right course?

Ygritte gives Jon Snow a taste of similar medicine as he marches her across the tundra. (Quick question: did anyone else find it ENTIRELY unbelievable that she couldn’t get out of his rather clumsily tied ropes at night? I mean, seriously—this show is otherwise so good, why would they make such a stupid gaffe?). What is freedom? What is “proper” behavior? Her mocking of his virginity, which she quickly discerns, and his prudery, is merely reflective of the broader question—which is, what gives one person the right to rule another? What makes one person a king or queen, and another a vassal? As she suggests to Jon Snow, it’s always a matter of choice—to which he responds, yes, I chose to join the Night’s Watch, for which she chides him for being a fool and a slave.

Nikki: I loved the scenes with Ygritte; she’s a fabulous character, one who knows who she is in the world and has such an arrogant self-confidence you can’t help but admire her for it. The way she chides Jon Snow, even as he’s holding the ropes and seems to be in charge, is wonderful. First she asks him if he pulled a knife on her in the night (snicker), then asks if they have to keep sheep at the Wall (HAHA), and just seems astounded that any man would pledge to remain a virgin while keeping a rather brutal post at the Night’s Watch. It’s a great question… what is the point?

I agree entirely with you about this episode being about oaths and loyalty, which is evident in the scenes you mention. And from that theme, the episode — and the season — asks the question, why? All season we’ve seen lesser characters asking the main characters to explain their motivations, their loyalties, their reasons for doing what they do. Why is Robb Stark fighting this war? What does he hope to achieve by it? Why is Theon fighting the Starks? Is it just to prove himself to a group of people that he can never prove himself to? Why are the men from the Wall fighting the wildings, when they come from the same ancestry, and should be working together?

Once again we get some more extraordinary scenes between Arya and Tywin, where he tells her that she reminds him of his daughter and she does her best to hide the fact she just threw up in her mouth a little at the comparison between her and Cersei. Tywin does speak to her as if she’s one of his own; in fact, he probably gives her more of his time that he ever gave one of his own, and he’s impressed by her knowledge and the way she knows the stories of the dragons. In this scene, not only do they go toe to toe like they did last episode, but Tywin knows he’s being matched, and calls her on it. She tells him she learned everything from her father, and he says, “I can’t say I’ve met any literate stonemasons.” She snidely responds, “Have you met many stonemasons, my lord?” While he’s amused by her, he does know when to let her know it’s time to back off, and calls her on it here, telling her to eat her food elsewhere. But lest she become haughty that she’d just shown him up, he points out that he can see through her ruse, and if she really were as low-born as she says, she’d say “m’lord” instead of “my lord.” Arya, Miss I-Have-An-Answer-For-Everything, simply turns on her heel and tells him that her mother taught her to speak propah! Then corrects herself (on purpose) by saying, “properly.” Of course, he sees through that, too, and doesn’t buy her story for an instant. Oh, I can’t wait for the day he discovers she’s Ned’s daughter.

The truly bizarro moment of this episode happened in Qarth, where the Warlock worked with Zaro to rise up and kill the rest of the Thirteen, but then the Warlock threatens Dany and scares the bejesus out of everyone. How did that play out in the books? I know the dragon-napping didn’t happen, but did this scene?

Christopher: Nope. Totally invented. They don’t explain much of anything about the inside politics of Qarth in the novel, so there’s a lot of room for the series to do their own thing. I’m not sure what I think about this tack they’ve taken, though the warlock’s invitation/command to Dany to come to the House of the Undying means that we’re soon going to link up again with the original storyline. Without giving anything away, that visit is a pretty crucial moment in the novel, but not from a narrative perspective—so I’d started to assume they were going to skip it.

Apparently not. Which makes me very interested to see how they translate it to the screen.

(Can I also just say that the warlock’s uncanny resemblance to a white, heroin-addicted Abed from Community saps some of the character’s eeriness? I keep expecting him to end his creepy proclamations with “Cool, cool … coolly cool.”)

I have to say, I’m disappointed with Daenerys this season … she was such a force to be reckoned with last year, but now she just comes across as something of a petulant child—stamping her feet and threatening people a lot, but no one is inclined to take her seriously. She certainly seems out of her depth: until the shocking scene when Xaro and the warlock take out everyone on the council, all of the spice lords and merchants are utterly unimpressed with her. All of her conversations with the fat man have merely served to highlight just how powerless she is; but worse than that, she lacks any sort of gravitas this season. One can just imagine how well Tyrion might fare in a similar situation, given just his wits; I would have hoped that Dany would and could do more than just throw temper tantrums. But alas, that seems to be all she has in her quiver.

Which is a shame, considering that the women on GoT are otherwise pretty awesome. In contrast to Daenerys’ petulance we have Catelyn being AWESOME yet again when she faces down Robb’s truculent lords over the fate of Jaime Lannister, and then facing down the man himself in his cage. Michelle Fairley is so freakin’ good in these scenes—especially facing down the Karstarks as they want to behead Jaime. It was reminiscent of her dealings with Renly … no wonder Brienne has sworn her sword to Catelyn’s service.

And of course, as you mentioned, we have the most recent installment of the Arya/Tywin show, which continues to rock. This time it is used to give us some history, and we get the story of how Harrenhal was built and the hubris of Harren the Black in the face of dragons. “Aegon Targaryen changed the rules,” Tywin reflects, but Arya isn’t about to let him get away with that. “And his sisters,” she reminds him. Heh.

Tywin’s odd comparison of Arya to Cersei (and yes, ick) would seem to the suggest that the old man is given to some sentimentalism after all. Basically, he’s remembering his daughter’s impudence and fire; but of course we see a very different Cersei than Tywin remembers, though in this episode the conversations between her and Sansa and then her and Tyrion are a little odd. Odd, but in keeping with Lena Headey’s portrayal—Cersei is cold and ruthless, but much more given to melancholic reflection than in the novels. Her little disquisition to Sansa about who to love was really quite sad and poignant … especially when she admits to Tyrion that Joffrey is essentially a psychopath and wonders out loud what they can do with him.

That, I should point out, is entirely out of step with the novels … in the books, Joffrey is Cersei’s massive blind spot—she simply cannot see that he is anything but her precious boy. That they have her acknowledging her son’s, um, batshit insanity in the series is interesting. It makes me wonder where they plan to go with it.

And there was a moment where Tyrion looked almost like he was about to put his hand on her arm to comfort her. Were you also waiting for him to do that, and receive a stinging slap for his presumption?

Nikki: That was a wonderful moment, played beautifully by Dinklage. He moves toward her, pauses, moves again, pauses, and you can see the conflict in his face. He’s disgusted by what his sister has done, and while he knew in his heart she and Jaime had had an incestuous relationship, she actually admits it outright to him in this scene. He wants to comfort her, and yet he doesn’t. She’s his sister, but also his enemy. She’s vulnerable in this moment and wanting of comfort, but as you say, she could slap his hand away so quickly he’d be reeling. We’ve seen her push him over, we’ve seen her cut him to the quick by reminding him that he was the biggest joke she’d ever seen.

And then, of course, the confusion in his face almost translated to, “Wait a minute… in this family brothers comfort their sisters in different ways, and… yeah. I’m going to go over here now.”

I was also intrigued by the scenes with Sansa. She gets her period for the first time (she comes off as so much older than that; we keep forgetting she’s just a child) and desperately wants to keep the news from anyone, knowing that the moment she’s fertile, she’ll be expected to have Joffrey’s baby. And god only knows what sex with Joffrey would be like. (SHUDDER.) Earlier in the episode she thanked the Hound for saving her life, and he gruffly reminds her that he’ll be the only person saving her from her husband one day. Interesting that in the moment of her needing to hide the menstrual evidence, who should suddenly be standing there but the Hound.

The scene cuts to her and Cersei, where Sansa says she thought it would be less messy, and Cersei snorts, “Wait til you have a baby.” Sansa’s mother is gone, off fighting a war with her older brother, and so Cersei steps in as the distant mother figure in this scene. But her words are far from comforting. She tells Sansa that Robert went off hunting whenever she gave birth, but Jaime was at her side. She likens her marriage of convenience to Robert to what Sansa will face with Joffrey: “You may never love the king, but you will love his children… Love no one but your children; on that front, a mother has no choice.”

I couldn’t help but laugh that this episode aired on Mother’s Day.

And as you mentioned earlier, this is only the second time we see Jaime this season, and he’s great. For the first time I truly felt sympathy for his character, and again as you mention, realized just how richly wrought he is. We see Cersei admit to the incest, and now Jaime admits to it as well, telling Catelyn about the relationship. He escapes momentarily, only to be brought back, and he pushes and pushes Catelyn, but she refuses to budge… until he pisses her off one too many times, and she draws a sword. The scene ends there, but I know Catelyn’s too smart to kill him off; she needs him to get her girls back. I’m thinking the next time we see Jaime he’ll be missing a body part.

But that wasn’t the only cliffhanger of the episode. The major one was still to come, as Theon head off looking for the Starks, humiliated that somehow a paraplegic, an idiot giant, a wild whore, and a small child (this sounds like the opening line of a sick joke) eluded his capture. The Maester pleads with him to let them all just go, but Theon has his reputation to protect. His men look upon him with more respect now than they did just a few episodes ago, and when he finds Hodor’s telltale walnut shells, he sends the old man back to Winterfell… presumably so he can get the boys and do terrible things to them.

The episode ends with him in the square of Winterfell, reminding them all that he had reassured them that if they crossed him, they’d pay. And then he raises the two tiny charred bodies that are presumably Bran and Rickon. Despite watching Ned’s head get lopped off and realizing no one is safe on this show, I don’t believe those two bodies belong to the boys (of course, I could be terribly wrong). We didn’t see them die, we know Theon is crafty, and I feel like Bran has a longer story than this. But then again, I thought Ned had a longer one, too. So we’ll see what happens next week!

Any final words, Chris? I do have one final question for you: what’s with the weird facial mask on that woman in Qarth? Is it a traditional mask, or is there something wrong with her face? And are we supposed to know what she means when she asks Ser Jorah if he’ll betray Dany again, or was that as mystifying to everyone else as it was to me?

Christopher: A paraplegic, an idiot giant, a wild whore, and a small child walk into a bar. Possibly because the priest, the imam and the rabbi had the day off.

Yup, can’t do anything with that. Ordering drinks for their direwolves? “Anything but walnuts”?

It’ll come.

In the novels, Daenerys receives cryptic advice from time to time from a woman in a lacquered wooden mask whom she meets in Qarth, and who then shows up for her periodically in what I assume are visions. I have to assume the sorceress in the weird mask is the same character, so presumably the mask is traditional or a sign of office or some such thing. The scene in which Jorah talks to her is another invention, but was quite interesting and not just a little eerie and tense.

Jorah betrayed Dany at the start—he was a spy for King Robert, reporting on her. When the wineseller tried to poison her, that happened just after Jorah was given a letter telling him he could come home, remember? But he chose Dany, realizing that the wine was poisoned and intervening before she could drink. So Jorah has always already committed a sort of original sin with Daenerys, joining her initially out of self-interest, but eventually becoming won over to her cause … and falling in love with her, as we see.

The sequences with Sansa were heartbreaking, as they were in the novel. They haven’t done quite as much in the show with her relationship with the Hound, but we get a sense of their odd connection—he is among those who tells Sansa hard truths, especially in terms of fracturing her love of old songs and stories in which knights are handsome and virtuous. The Hound rescuing her from her would-be rapists was not romantic but brutal, as brutal as the men he killed; and when she tries to thank him for his gallantry, he’s having none of it. He reminds us that knights are warriors and fighters, and that their principal role is killing. His little speech about killing as the sweetest thing there is, and suggesting that her father took pleasure in it (even if he pretended otherwise) is not exactly on par with Jaime and Ygritte’s reality checks, but falls into much the same category.

The scene with the blood in the bed reflects in part the problem with aging the characters—in the novel, Sansa is twelve. In the series, she’s obviously still young, but it is hard to believe she is only just now starting to menstruate. Which I suppose in the grand scheme of things is really neither here nor there, but it does add a wrinkle to the show’s otherwise smooth continuity.

That being said, it remains an extremely poignant moment, for it reminds us that if girls are vulnerable in this world, becoming women is also an ambivalent passage—for as Sansa’s panic makes clear, she is all too aware of the fact that she will now be seen as a more valuable playing piece in the game of thrones. That, and her revulsion at fathering Joffrey’s children sends her into a frenzy that is, if anything, entirely understated.

So … three episodes to go, Nikki, with an awful lot that still has to happen! Excited?

Nikki: Nah, I’ll probably just let the last three pile up on the PVR and watch them some time in August or something, and… YES YES YES I’m so crazy excited! And sad there are only three episodes. Who do you have to bribe in this town to get the season upped to 13??

Just one last thing about the ages; girls can menstruate for the first time at age 16 or 17; it’s extremely rare, but it does happen. So I suppose it’s possible, if a bit of a long-shot. However, for me the even more distracting age discrepancy was with Jon. As you know, I started reading the first book before realizing it would give me your insight to the characters, and I wanted to continue doing the back-and-forth with you being the only one who knew the books, so I stopped. But I got far enough to discover that Jon Snow is all of 14 at the beginning of the book, and thinking of him being younger with Ygritte — 15 or 16, as opposed to the TV version, who is played by a 25-year-old — the scene made more sense. Jon should be really green, a young boy just coming into puberty, which would make his sacrifice greater, and make Ygritte’s taunting more effective and hurtful. Of course, being taunted as a 25-year-old virgin is worse than a 15-year-old one, but a younger boy would lack the maturity to handle what she says.

These are all minor nitpicks, since I still enjoyed these scenes immensely. (Oh, and earlier you mentioned the ropes that Ygritte had around her; I think she chose to stay put, knowing he wouldn’t kill or hurt her, and instead she could lure him into her trap.)

And thank you for the reminder of Ser Jorah! I’d completely forgotten that he had indeed betrayed her already. It’s moments like that that are important to remember — like in season 1, when Baelish tells Sansa the history of the Hound and then whispers to her that if the Hound finds out she knows, he’ll rip her from limb to limb, establishing her fear of him from the start.

On to next week!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.06: The Old Gods and the New

Welcome to week six of the Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog.Wait, what? Week six? That can't be right ... I'm pretty sure we just watched the first episode yesterday! Right? Right?

Sigh. Oh, well ... I suppose I shouldn't lament too much the too-fast passage of time, if for no other reason than HBO is pretty good at keeping to a schedule (the year and a half hiatus of The Sopranos notwithstanding), which means we'll be watching season three long before GRRM finishes the next novel. And season four, and season five ... come to think of it, it's entirely likely that the schedule of Game of Thrones will force the bearded one to write faster. Here's hoping.

ANYWAY ... welcome to week six of the gabfest what is me & Nikki "The best part was when Joffrey was hit in the face with cow shit!" Stafford holding forth on GoT ... me from the perspective of .... yeah, you know what? If you're reading this, you probably know the routine. So, without further prevarication, Nikki? Your thoughts?

"Grr! Argh!"

Nikki: Arya almost being spotted by Baelish; Jon getting hit on by a wildling; Theon executing a man with a death by vicious hacking; and Daenerys losing her dragons… where do we begin?

Oh, you know where I’ll begin: The Great Cowpie Flinging Incident! Hahaha… never have I been so happy to see shit hit someone’s face. BRILL-YANT. Just as he’s watched his sister Myrcella ride off into the sunset on a boat (while he shows no emotion, natch), Joffrey walks back through the streets with the Lannister clan in tow, and at first he hears what he wants to. Silence, followed by, “Hail, King Joffrey.” Of course, the viewers at home (and Tyrion) immediately glom on to the sarcasm dripping with every syllable, and soon you can hear shouts of, “He’s a bastard! Freak!” Joffrey makes the completely reasonable and calm decision to KILL THEM ALL!! EXECUTE THEM!!... while his far more intelligent uncle realizes the true urgency: Where the hell is Sansa? At first, you may think he’s genuinely worried for her safety (and that may be a tiny part of his motivation) but in truth, he’s really worried about his only bargaining chip. Cersei let Arya slip through her fingers, and if he will ever get his beloved Jaime back, he needs Sansa.

The shouty repartee that follows once Tyrion and Joffrey are safe is brilliant.

"Protect the king! But not, you know, if you don't want to."

Tyrion: We’ve had vicious kings, and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot boy king…
Joffrey: They attacked ME!!
Tyrion: They threw a cowpie at you so you decide to kill them all!
Joffrey: You are talking to a king!
Tyrion: [SMACK!!] And now I’ve struck a king! Did my hand fall from my wrist? … [to the others] Where is the Stark girl?
Joffrey: Let them HAVE HER!
Tyrion: If she dies you’ll never get your Uncle Jaime back… and you owe him quite a bit, you know.

I thought for sure something terrible was going to happen to Sansa, but luckily the Hound gets her in time. I’ve liked the Hound since season 1, ever since Baelish said he couldn’t be trusted (from that point on I assumed he probably could be trusted), and watching the look of barely suppressed rage on his face every time Joffrey calls him “Dog” makes me hope that Joffrey has his coming to him soon (but by that same token, as we saw a man get his arm pulled off, I began to worry that Joffrey may be killed; he’s too much fun to hate to lose him so soon…)

What did you think of the episode, Chris?

It never occurred to me before now, but the Lannister
guardsmen all sort if look like Darth Vader.

Christopher: I loved this week’s episode, both because it satisfied my expectations as a reader, and completely took me by surprise. I’ll come to what surprised me in a moment—let’s start with satisfied expectations.

Joffrey continues to be the best villain on television, and the riot scenes gave us yet another glimpse into his sociopathic worldview. He has no human feelings on seeing his sister sent off to what will most likely be a loveless marriage; and even more than that, scorns those who do express emotions as weak. But where his personal dignity and need for absolute submission is challenged, we see him fly off the handle. Jack Gleason was brilliant here: his is the most thankless role on the show, and he does a lovely job. His rage completely consumes him, but his voice cracking as he screams is both hilarious and pathetic, reminding us that he is a petulant child. But a petulant child with the power of life and death, and who must be obeyed. But even kings have limits to their power, and that fact completely escapes him. He is still the same mewling brat he was when Arya took his sword and made him sob in terror (as Sansa reminded him subtly), but here he doesn’t even have the common sense to be terrified.

One of the things I’ve come to look for when I sit down after watching one of these episodes is the moments of rhyme—often we’ll see a similar scene or situation played out in parallel between different narrative threads. This week the two most striking instances were Bran and Joffrey dealing with rebellions; and the beheading scenes, with Theon and Rodrik and Jon and Ygritte. There was also the inappropriate flirtations—Jon and Ygritte again, and Robb and Talisa. Overall we return to the recurring themes of governance and duty, and what makes a good leader. Joffrey reminds us that he is just a child; Bran is a child too, but he behaves in a calm and measured way, looking to the good of his people and only losing his calm when Rodrik is on the block (which is not something that happened in the novel). Theon’s behavior at Winterfell echoes Joffrey’s childish petulance—as if he honestly doesn’t get why these people might resent him. The botched beheading is gruesome and cringe-inducing, but was such a powerful moment. It recalled Ned’s grim efficiency in the first episode of season one, and his death as well. It also reminded us that beheadings weren’t always clean—the guillotine was invented for just that reason. It took three blows to behead Mary, Queen of Scots, and it was said that she cried out during the process (as one would). So, an element of historical realism here … but also a significantly symbolic moment for Theon, who is goaded into carrying it out himself by Rodrik. His inability to cleanly decapitate him reflects his inability to lead.

Poor Rodrik. He was one of my favourite secondary characters in the novels, and I felt that Ron Donachie played him beautifully—a simple and understated performance. But alas, he falls victim to the reaper that is GRRM. Valar morghulis and all that.

"Stay still now. This may take a while."

Nikki: Excellent job of making those parallels. And since that was going to be my next section, I’ll just throw it back over to you.

Okay, maybe I’ll write something first… What I really liked about the scene where Theon comes crashing into Bran’s room is how unaffected Bran seems at first. It’s like he doesn’t take Theon seriously. Theon dances about the room, agitated and repeating over and over that HE HAS TAKEN WINTERFELL and is now the Lord of Winterfell, and Bran just stares at Theon like he’s some sort of idiot. He addresses him the way a brother would another, which is fitting because that’s how he’s been raised to think of Theon; as a brother, but… not quite. Bran has always been above Theon, even when they were treating him like a sibling. As Theon tells him repeatedly to yield, Bran just calmly and quietly asks him questions. (Also, notice how unimpressed he is by Theon’s theatrics, and the fact that Theon is declaring himself the Lord of Winterfell. That’s fine; Robb has already declared himself King of the North, so he trumps Theon anyway.) I loved that after all Theon’s aggressiveness, Bran simply asks, “Theon, did you hate us the whole time?” and leaves Greyjoy completely speechless. In this scene, Theon truly lives up to his ancestry; even his moments of joy are tinged by greyness.

Theon enters the square, and can’t find any loyalty there, either. In a continuation of the parallels you pointed out, this scene mirrors the one of Joffrey walking through the square. As people shouted at him that he was a bastard and a freak, in this scene Theon shouts to his people that he is now their lord, and reminds them, “You all know me!” “Yeah, we know you as a steaming sack of shit,” shouts back one of them. Theon doesn’t want to behead Rodrick, but one of his men whispers to him that if Rodrick has shown him up, he needs to pay the Iron Price. Theon must do this in order to prove himself a Greyjoy.

I laughed that you brought up Mary Queen of Scots and her beheading, because in the scene that followed, I was reminded of the time I went to the Tower of London, and the beefeater who was our guide gleefully told us of the time this one man was executed and the executioner did the deed with a dull axe, and chopped and hacked away for what seemed like an eternity, until the head was hanging there by sinews and most of the audience had passed out. When Theon held up the sword, I looked at my husband and said, “That sword won’t cut through.” He responded, “Not on the first stroke.” I grimaced, thought of the story at the Tower of London (one of those stories that always stays with you) and cringed, saying, “This is gonna take a while.” And did it ever. And just to add a final flourish, Theon KICKS the head off. Good GOD.

And… in my notes I spelled the wildling’s name Ygritte, so I’m feeling rather good about myself now. I think I’ve caught on to GRRM’s spelling system! (Well, probably not… I just got lucky.) But here’s my question to you: could you remind me exactly what the wildlings are? I thought wildlings were anyone who lived north of the Wall, and that the guy who married his daughters was one of them. But now I’m thinking that’s not quite right, and that they are literally running wild in the tundra. What is a wildling?

"OK, so, remember what happened in that other scene?
Don't do that."

Christopher: Wildling is a generic term for the people living north of the Wall, yes … and at first that’s really all we know about them, aside from their characterization by the Night’s Watch as uncivilized and brutish. But as with the Dothraki, we’re initially presented with what seems like an undifferentiated caricature of a barbarous people. I know the initial depiction of the Dothraki turned a lot of people off—and a lot of people otherwise deeply invested in the show found it troubling. Ditto for the novel: at first it looks like GRRM is indulging in a simplistic and indeed racist stereotype, but the more we learn about the Dothraki the more we realize that they’re a subtle and complex culture, and we see Daenerys adopt many of their customs and mannerisms (and by the time Viserys is killed, his own dismissal of them as brutes is a reflection of his ignorance and ineptitude as a leader).

It’s sort of the same with the wildlings, though without the more troubling racial components. Jon’s encounter with Ygritte is our first time actually meeting a wildling, and it sets the stage for the slow revelation of their multivalent cultures. At this point however (here’s the short answer to your question), what you need to know is that the wildlings call themselves the “free folk,” and choose to live north of the Wall because living south of the Wall would entail submission to a liege lord. They are not “wild” per se … they just reject any sort of authority that hasn’t been earned.

But (I hear you asking), don’t they have a king? This Mance Rayder fellow? Well, yes … and no. It’s more complicated than that, and he is not “king” because of any sort of hereditary right. And that’s all I’ll say on that for the moment.

But let’s talk about my favourite parts of this episode: every single thing Arya does. I should qualify this by pointing out that none of it is in the novel. Sometimes there are brilliant sequences that follow the novel verbatim, and are brilliant because of it (such as most of Tyrion’s bits); sometimes there are invented sequences that are tepid or just bad (some of the “sexposition” bits, such as last season’s scene where Littlefinger instructs his whores on how to fake an orgasm); and then there are wholly invented sequences that are brilliant in their own right, which function well within the bounds of the characters as created by GRRM but nevertheless augment our understanding of them.

All of the Arya/Tywin scenes are like that. Holy crap they were good (though I shouldn’t be surprised after last week’s taste). Tywin is proving to be a very intriguing character—I was iffy on the casting of Charles Dance at first, but he is doing a brilliant job. He and Maisie Williams have an awesome rapport, and in an interview he said that she was his favourite actor on the show to work with. (And what’s even more brilliant is an interview with Maisie in which the interviewer tells her that—the look of delight on her face is wonderful).

One gets the sense in these scenes of Tywin’s solitude—he is surrounded by his subjects, but has no one he can really trust or talk to, and finds himself oddly compelled to talk with Arya. It is obvious here how fraught his relationship with his own children is. His upbraiding of his barely-literate commander shows that he is a man who values not just martial talents, but intellectual ones, and we get a glimpse of his difficulties in instilling such lessons in Jaime (and making Jaime dyslexic? A very interesting little modern touch).

On the other hand, his despised son, Tyrion, is obviously the one to have inherited Tywin’s intellect. Though he is not mentioned at all, he is an unspoken presence in Tywin’s ruminations.

What did you think of these scenes?

"Kill wildlings? Always. Unless she's a redhead.
I totally go for the gingers, mate."

Nikki: These scenes were fantastic. The moment we hear the announcement that Lord Baelish has arrived, I felt a cold chill go down my spine. And, as you say, the way Maisie Williams handles herself in the scene is why. She’s terrified, but does her duty, and does so deftly, in a way to not bring attention to herself yet keep her face away from Baelish’s always-suspicious eye. I agree with you that she’s a wonder. Those huge, gorgeous, and always reflective eyes; the way she holds herself in the scenes; the way she seems like a 25-year-old in a young person’s body. She’s just amazing. Between her and Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper on Mad Men, we’re seeing a sea change of what is expected in a child star. No more hamming it up for the camera or simply being cute; these two girls can ACT. And, as a result, I believe they will continue to get work throughout their careers and not fall prey to the “former child star syndrome” that has befallen so many. But back to that scene; I was on pins and needles. By the end of the scene I was convinced that Baelish knew that was Arya, but decided to hold onto that information until he could make it useful for him. But now I’m not so sure (he usually makes his move pretty quickly afterwards).

That scene is equaled when Arya snatches the note from Tywin, which is subsequently snatched from her, and she races through the streets to Jaqen H’ghar. Can we find a way to get this guy into every scene? I love him. I need him and Arya to gang up together and take their show on the road. They are extraordinary to watch. She quickly tells him she has a second man he has to kill and HE MUST DO IT NOW!!! He stares at her with his calm gaze and responds to her in that Yoda-like way that he talks, referring to everyone – including himself – with pronouns: “A man cannot be told when to kill another man.” But she insists it HAD TO BE DONE RIGHT NOW, and after what appears to be a subtle eyeroll from Jaqen H’ghar, the scene cuts to Tywin’s chamber, where Tywin opens the door, and the man falls over, dead. I was howling with laughter. Brilliant scene. You’ve only got one wish left, Arya; use it well.

This brings us to the final scenes where Sansa tells Shae that she hates Joffrey more than anyone and Shae tells her not to trust anyone (which would make Sansa smarter than Ned if she listens to her); Osha sneaks the Starks and Hodor out of Winterfell using her sexual wiles; and Dany’s dragons are stolen. That was quite an exciting final five minutes, didn’t you think?

"Your big-ass book, m'lord."

Christopher: Indeed (or, to use the Omar inflection, in-daide). The Osha bits more or less followed the novel, except for where she seduces Theon. In the novel, Osha is described as being decidedly unattractive—and GRRM himself said he was concerned for that very reason when they cast Natalie Tena, but that she quickly won him over. And I must confess, if I am allowed a moment of geeky salaciousness, in my notes when Osha disrobes I’ve written “Remus Lupin is a lucky man.”

"Remus, would you love me if I
was a filthy wildling woman?"
"Um ... sure. But is that really what
you want to talk about now?"
So Bran and Rickon have beaten a retreat with Hodor, Osha, and the direwolves, which is how it happened in the novel. But then we go to Qarth. Dany comes home to find her children dragonnapped? HOLY CRAP. Totally NOT IN THE NOVEL. And perusing my notes, I see that I was royally pissed off. What were they thinking?

Well, after a few days to think about it, I can’t say I blame them for throwing that particular narrative monkey wrench into the works. In A Clash of Kings, Dany’s time in Qarth makes for compelling reading—but I don’t know that it translates all that well into compelling television. There’s a lot of introspection and a few sequences that would probably be hard to render faithfully on screen. Also, there’s not as much Daenerys on the second novel as in the first and third, but cutting Emilia Clarke’s screentime that dramatically would probably result in a cow-pie-flinging mob descending on David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

So we have the theft of my favourite bits of CGI possibly ever. And I’m as at sea as you are with this one, Nikki—I have no idea where they take this from here, so for a change I don’t get to smugly wait for the “holy shit” moments as they unfold for the non-Ice & Fire-readers.

So there we are. I cannot believe we are almost at episode seven of ten. This series clips along surprisingly quickly, considering how much gets crammed into a given episode.

I just want to close by mentioning that my initial viewing of this episode was rather entertainingly marred by the fact that I went to see The Avengers on Friday, which was pure Joss Whedon awesomeness (or “Jossomness” as my friend dubbed it). What surprised me, considering that he’s one of my least favourite characters, was how much I enjoyed the Hulk—both Mark Ruffalo’s beautifully twitchy Bruce Banner, and the CGI’d green man himself. So when I watched GoT on Sunday night … I kept having fits of the giggles as I imagined the Hulk rampaging through the various parts of Westeros. In my head, he did to Theon what he did to Loki in the film. And that made the entire intrusion worthwhile …

"Is that a Longclaw in your scabbard, or are you just
happy to see me?"

Nikki: “Hulk SMASH puny Greyjoy!! Hulk NEW Lord of Winterfell!”

Wow, I’m so surprised that wasn’t in the novel! Well, I guess you’re right; you and I may be more on the same page next week, so to speak. I giggled when I read your note about Lupin; confession time: I couldn’t remember her character’s name, so I googled, “Game of Thrones Tonks” and found her that way. ;)

We shall see you again next week!