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 fa├žade. 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!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 1.09: "Baelor"

And here we are at the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, which ends with the shock all of us GRRM geeks have been waiting for. As always, I blog here with my good friend Nikki Stafford from Nik at Nite, who has not as yet read the novel’s of GRRM’s Ice and Fire series. Nikki suggested we post on this episode two days earlier than usual, as this is was a pretty devastating episode, and we’re both pretty certain that people want to jump in and talk about it.

So: give ‘er.

Chris: So, kind of a boring episode, eh? Nothing really happened, just your usual run-of-the-mill stuff. Certainly nothing to shock the n00bs. ;-)

But seriously, folks … Ned’s TOTALLY UNEXPECTED execution is the moment, in reading the novel, when you suddenly think “Holy shit, this guy plays for keeps.” And that realization sort of comes in stages, as the actual beheading is described vaguely enough that you spend much of the rest of the novel waiting for the revelation that he’s not actually dead. I’ve had several acquaintances finish A Game of Thrones and say, “OK, so this is a Gandalf thing, right? He ‘died,’ but is going to come back in the second book?” I’m pretty happy they didn’t really leave anything to the imagination in the series—now I don’t have to be all mysterious about whether or not Ned actually got it, or worry about having “Yep, he’s dead” be a total spoiler.

Yep, he’s dead. And just a word of warning for those embarking on reading the series: do NOT get too attached to any of your favourite characters. NO ONE IS SAFE.

But of course, the shocking finale of the episode threatens to eclipse everything else that happened, and, all things being equal, this was a pretty eventful episode. And also an episode that warrants another of my “what they changed” lists:

  • Shae—in the novel she is not “foreign.” I don’t know what that change bothered me, but it did a little. I kept waiting for Tyrion to guess, in their drinking game, “that accent is fake!” and have her relent and start speaking like the Westeros girl she is in the novels.
  • And yeah … that drinking game was not within ten city blocks of the novel. A nifty device to reveal stuff about Tyrion, but it totally screwed up the pacing of an otherwise gripping episode.
  • Tyrion getting accidentally conked on the head and missing the battle. That bugged me a little—in the novel, he fights; and his hillmen aren’t in the vanguard, they’re on the left flank, as Tywin assumed they would collapse in battle and entice the northerners into a charge that would leave them enveloped.
  • Also, they missed a chance to use one of my favourite of Bronn’s lines: encouraging Tyrion before the battle, he says, “A little man like you with a large shield? You’ll give the archers fits.”
  • In the novel, Robb did not sacrifice two thousand men, but sent a healthier host south to engage Tywin Lannister and then retreat, as a diversion, while they took on Jaime Lannister’s force.
  • Also, I don’t know if this gripe fits under “what they changed,” but—snow in the Riverlands? Seriously? That strikes me as a HUGE continuity error.
OK, I think that’s enough for that list. What would you like to talk about, Nikki? :-)

Nikki: OK. Breathe, Nikki… BREATHE.


OK, I think that was a rather calm response, don’t you??

I have been watching television for many years, as you all know. I have been WRITING about television and studying it for many years, as many of you know. In that time, there are certain things I know to be true: when a character pops up out of nowhere with a tiny role, but the part is played by a giant of film or television, that is going to become a recurring character (unless it’s on 30 Rock and the cameo was touted in commercials for weeks leading up to it); when a character has been built up with such a rich history surrounding him, and a clear path of right and wrong drawn before him, where you can see how he could join forces with this camp or that one, you know he will remain a focal point of the show; you do NOT kill off your lead… you don’t kill off Jack Shephard on Lost or Buffy on Buffy or Sydney Bristow on Alias because, as mentioned earlier, if much of the show’s plot and mythology has been built around that character, you don’t have much of a bloody show without him/her; when that lead is in terrible peril and you know there may be a way out, there is ALWAYS a way out, especially if people who side with that person are not immediately present in the scene… in which case they shall come swooping in at the last second, lopping off the executioner’s head and saving the day; when you have SEAN BEAN in the lead, you don’t kill him off!!!!!!!

OK, sorry… I’m kind of becoming hysterical again. I think I can say there hasn’t been an ending of an episode that has shocked me the way that did. The end of Lost’s season 5, when Jack dropped the bomb and they didn’t show what the frak happened and just ended the season there… that made every fan scream in frustration. But the events themselves weren’t a shock. I’ve seen characters get killed off, and that was upsetting, but that’s reserved for the end of the series and not near the end of the FIRST BLOODY SEASON!!!

Simply put (in case all of this maniacal ranting wasn’t clear) that ending shocked the hell out of me. My hands were tightly clasped over my mouth, my eyes were gaping open, and I screamed a crazy person’s scream (thank goodness for those hands over the mouth). My husband and I gawped at each other, and I think he may have spoken first, saying, “They killed him!”
“No!” was all I could say once I let out that breath I’d been holding in.
“I can’t believe they killed him!”
“That didn’t just happen. Back it up and let’s watch again.”
“They killed him.”
“How is… what… why would… oh my GOD.”

Honestly I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of this week’s post. So much for analysis. I’m just rambling on and on with my reaction. I’ll turn it back over to Chris while I continue to try to get my head around this, because I still have SO much more to say but I’m bogarting the action with my shock and awe. (And by the way, for the record, I think it was a BRILLIANT move on the part of the writers, not a mistake, because I will never, ever forget that moment of television watching…)

Chris: Hee.

I think I speak for all (or most) GRRM fans when I say just how cathartic that moment of television was. Everyone I know who has read the novels invariably says something along the lines of “I can’t wait to see people’s reactions when they kill Ned.” Because it really is something of a game-changing moment—as I said above, it’s the moment when you realize GRRM ain’t your grandma’s fantasy writer. It is akin to the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd when you discover that the murderer is SPOILER (yeah, not going to give that one away here)—a brilliant moment of generic rule-breaking.

And as long as we’re on the topic, can I gush for a moment over how well that scene was done? It was handled perfectly, from Arya’s arrival to the emergence of Ned, to Joffrey’s sickeningly self-satisfied grin when Ned calls him the true king, to Cersei’s look of horror when she realizes what Joffrey is doing … and finally to that heartbreakingly long moment of muffled silence as Ned realizes that he is about to die. It was all more or less exactly as it is described in the novel, except for two things: Ned spotting Arya crouching at the base of the statue, and telling Yoren that she is there. (For those who didn’t understand the communication, the statue is of Baelor the Blessed, the holiest of the Targaryen kings—Ned shouts “Baelor!” at Yoren, who then spots and rescues Arya). I must say, I loved this little change: it gives Arya and Ned one last moment of connection, and reinforces for Ned just why he’s agreeing to this travesty of his honor. It plays as a beautiful foil to Maester Aemon’s little lecture to Jon Snow on honor versus love; in the end, Ned chooses love, love of his children. Jon’s stipulation that his father would “Do whatever is right, no matter what” then becomes an interesting philosophical question—did Ned do the right thing? Was it right to choose his daughters over his honor?

Whatever the answer, it was for naught, and Joffrey shows his autocratic, capricious ways. He will come to plague his family with his willfulness as the books proceed. I hope everyone has a stomach for his repulsiveness—it finds way more outlets for expression in book two.

Assuming, Nikki, that you’ve caught your breath by now, what did you think of the episode’s other shocking moments? Which, admittedly, seem only mildly surprising next to Ned’s decapitation.

Nikki: I think it will be several days before I’ve caught my breath. I think I need to watch it again, just to see the end part. (On a completely random side note, my daughter watches the excruciatingly awful “Suite Life on Deck” on Family, and the other day it had the first funny line I’ve seen, where one guy tells this group of environmentalists that the captain has capitulated to their demands, to which ditzy London — who always misunderstands big words — exclaims, “Oh my GOD, they cut off his head?!” Heh.) Anyway, what I found in this episode, now thinking back on it, was that many of the scenes were there to help bolster up the very expectation I was suggesting they tore asunder with Ned’s death. Khal Drogo appears close to death, and I do NOT want him to die, and said to my husband, “They CAN’T kill him off, not after everything we’ve gone through with him and Dany”… and they seem to have found a way around that. Tyrion is knocked unconscious in battle, and the next thing you see is him appearing to be floating above the battlefield, tricking the viewer momentarily into thinking he’s dead and having an out-of-body experience… one I didn’t fall for simply because he’s Tyrion, and you simply can’t kill HIM off. We see Catelyn ride into the Walder (sp?) fortress, and we know she’s probably not in any grave danger because, well, she’s Catelyn, and they won’t kill her, right?

Now I’ll never rest easy. I’m thinking Drogo and Tyrion and Sam and Arya will be in a massive battle to the death next week at this rate. Cripes.

So that is perhaps why they added in the Tyrion scene. But as you say, I would have much rather seen him do battle, especially since we’ve seen him bludgeon a guy to death with a shield. :::shudder:::

But back to Ned (see, I just can’t let it go… Lost has taught me nothing), aside from the shock that ending gave me, I’m really saddened by that final, terrible, beautiful few moments of his life, which at the time I didn’t realize were his final ones. He sees Arya crouching on that statue (and THANK YOU for explaining the name of the statue, because my big question of the week was, why was the episode called Baelor? Is there any tie, by the way, to Baelish?). There’s a look of pain and shame on her face, and of course, anger that her father is spouting such blatant lies. I kind of hated Sansa in this scene, who, on the one hand, is trying desperately to save her father’s life, but on the other, is allowing him to compromise his very soul with those final words. Joffrey made his pronouncement, and Arya made her move. As she was weaving her way toward the stage, I began yelling, “Come on, Arya! Show us what those dancing lessons taught you!! Arya for the WIN!” I was so convinced she would be his savior. Silly me. But now, with a clearer head, I know she would have walked to her own death, and her father’s and possibly Sansa’s, too. Stopping her was the only thing that could have been done in this scene.

But my heart broke when Ned looked out to that statue one last time and she was gone. The one person who seemed to share his soul was gone, and he would never look at her again. Heartbreaking.

You remember what happened to Viserys a couple of episodes back? That’s child’s play compared to what I want to happen to Joffrey, that sniveling little toad excrement.

So… once word gets over to Ned’s son and his army of bannermen, I’m wondering how long Jaime Lannister is for this world…

Chris: Speaking of that bit where Tyrion seems to be floating over the ground, can I call foul on the director for totally ripping that whole thing off of Gladiator?

I loved all the Drogo/Daenerys parts of this episode, just as I did in the novel. It’s such a harrowing sequence as we realize that however powerful Dany has become, however much she has come into her own, her power as far as the Dothraki are concerned is entirely dependent on Drogo. Jorah’s urgent entreaty for them to flee at first seems cowardly until he explains what is at stake: the khalasar is held together solely by Drogo’s strength—once that strength ebbs, the whole house of cards threatens to come down. And yet Dany hangs on, desperate, willing even to trust to blood magic. And … well, we’ll see how that works out next Sunday.

We also finally get to see Jorah’s own skill with a sword, and he proves himself not as nimble as his Dothraki foe, but tougher—delivering the killing blow while his enemy’s blade is literally stuck in his hip. It’s an interesting little preview of what a war between the Dothraki and Westeros might look like.

But to return to Tyrion, what did you think of his confession during the drinking game? I reiterate my annoyance with the drinking game sequence, but it was really there to reveal one of the defining moments of Tyrion’s life, and the root of his antipathy to his father: his short-lived marriage, and the horrifyingly cruel way in which Tywin ended it. Again, though I disliked the scene the story was embedded in, I thought Dinklage’s retelling of it was heartbreaking.

(Also, now that Shae has made her appearance I can say without fear of spoilage that I had wondered if perhaps the ubiquitous Roz was going to show up as the whore whom Tyrion takes on in the field. But no—she stays in King’s Landing, which means there’s a more likely role for her in season two).

Nikki: Yes, that Dany/Drogo scene was rather disheartening. She’d come so far, and I’ve said in past weeks that she’s gone from being this character who is the object of the story’s misogyny, whether from her brother or husband, to one of extreme feminine toughness, rising above her outsiderness and becoming one of the Dothraki. The scene of her eating the heart was the peak of her power among them, and is the moment when Viserys noticed it and realized she has power because she is loved and respected, and he doesn’t have what she does. But he was wrong. She’s only powerful, as you say, as Drogo’s wife. Nothing more. She means absolutely nothing without him, Dragon or no. I admired her strength in refusing to let the Dothraki rape and pillage, but by taking that away from them, they are certainly questioning their Khaleesi. I hope we see the Dragon emerge next week. ;)

I also want to say on a sidenote that I really enjoy listening to the way the Dothraki language is delivered. Dany says it with some ease, but with a very different accent than the Dothraki use. Drogo speaks it so quickly it’s as if it was the actor’s native language, and the man who challenged her in the episode over and over again (I can’t remember his name) spoke it less gutterally, but with the same accent as Drogo. The way he said “Khaleesi” was entirely different from the way Dany says it, or the way that slave girl said it who worked for her (and who was English-speaking). What a nice, subtle touch.

While there are moments where Dinklage’s English accent doesn’t quite work for me (he seems to say so many of the words with an affectation and a sneer, but in a way that works for his character), I thought his retelling of that story was, as you say, heartbreaking. One wonders if Tyrion is such a sexual character – it’s how we were first introduced to him, after all – because of the way he was treated when he was 16. Perhaps with that woman, his “wife,” he felt like a whole man for the first time in his life, and he’s been attempting to recreate that by cavorting with other whores. Or, could it be some sort of self-punishment, sleeping with so many whores because he’s resigned himself to the belief that he will never find a woman who is not a whore who will actually love him? I just love this character, and that story added a much deeper layer to him this week.

Incidentally, I was reading this week’s Rolling Stone magazine (a book I’d been editing for the past year was reviewed positively in it!) and there was a brief interview with Dinklage. My favourite part of the article was where they talked to Lena Headey, who plays Cersei, who said she’d been very aware of Dinklage’s other roles, and when he walked in the room she was prepared to meet a man who was small. What she wasn’t prepared for, she said, “Was that he would be THAT hot.” Hahaha!

While it doesn’t compare to the shock of the ending, I must say the other gasp moment in this episode was finding out the old blind man (notice how I don’t use names because I simply can’t keep track of them all) at the Wall was, in fact, a Targaryen! Another fascinating backstory! Did that match the scene in the book?

And while I’m firing questions at you, with only one episode left to go, does it feel to you, a reader of the book and someone who’s aware of what is still left to cover, that they are rushing things at all? While the pace is much quicker than it was earlier, and while I do believe there are a lot of things they may still have left to cover, I’m really enjoying the pace, but I wonder if fans of the books feel differently?

Chris: No, I actually think they’ve done an admirable job in pacing the story. When I first heard it would be ten episodes, I was a little concerned that it would be rushed … but I’ve never felt that it has been. I would in fact go so far as to hold up GoT as an example of how to adapt a novel to the screen—with the exception of one or two missteps (which, frankly, might just be me being cranky), the realization of GRRM’s narrative in televisual format has been exceptionally well done. And really, the proof is in the pudding—the fact that so many people I know who haven’t read the novels (like your own lovely self) are absolutely LOVING the series.

I will say nothing about what is in store for Dany next week, aside from saying—don’t worry. All her growth and strength has not been for naught, and the sense that she relies absolutely on Drogo for her power is … well, again, I’ll wait for next week. Suffice to say: the Daenerys we met in episode one would have fled with Jorah. The Daenerys we have now is an entirely different woman.

I agree with you entirely on how smart the writers have been with the Dothraki language. I can’t recall if this has come up before, but they hired a linguistics professor to invent the language. A lot of GRRM’s uber-fans—the type who teach themselves Klingon or Sindarin—asked him for Dothraki grammar and vocabularies so they could learn the language. To which he had to reply, with chagrin, that he had invented all of about seven words. So the achievement with the language in the series is astounding, and Jason Momoa in particular has been particularly impressive with how fluent he sounds. Not just a piece of beefcake, that fellow. It almost makes me want to go see Conan the Barbarian.

So … one more episode left. I am so going to miss this series when it is done, and will have to rewatch it from the start several times just to fill the hole it’s going to leave (that the Seven for PVRs). I’ve been thinking through several article ideas that will give me an excuse to go back and rewatch it under the guise of “research” … there is, I think, certainly something to be done comparing this series to The Wire.

Any final thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: Only that while waiting for your final missive to come back to me, I was doing an image search for pictures of this episode (they always seem to pop up a few days later, so the pickins were slim) but when I search for “Ned Stark execution” there was a photo of Ned holding the sword in that first episode, and I realized that’s the parallel scene to this one. In that opening episode, the man runs into camp and claims to have seen the white walkers and the wights. Ned doesn’t believe him, and in his black-and-white world, says the man must be executed if he’s suspected as a traitor. Here the sword comes back around, taking Ned’s head because he was too honest and told Cersei what he had discovered, and didn’t act when he should have. Oh Ned…

I, too, will miss this show… I can’t believe we have to wait another year for the next season! I will also miss our discussions; this has been a lot of fun!

I cannot wait for next week’s episode, because I want to know what will happen to Dany… to Sansa… to Ned’s son and his army… to Cersei… to Jaime… to Drogo… and to Jon Snow. So many people revolved around Ned, so I’m interested to see what happens when the centre is gone.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Game of Thrones 1.08: "The Pointy End"

Hello again, and welcome to the eighth instalment of the Game of Thrones co-blogging project between myself—who has read the Ice & Fire novels—and Nikki Stafford, from the blog Nik at Nite, who has not ... wherein we hope to provide a useful dialogue on what is proving to be, episode after episode, an amazingly good television series from HBO.

This week was no exception, once again upping the ante and providing those “OMFG!” moments to shock the n00bs and provide geek-out fodder for the GRRM vets. This week it is Nikki’s turn to lead us off, so I cede the floor to her ...

Nikki: WOW, what an episode!! I think this show just gets better and better. This is the first episode actually written by George RR Martin, and it showed. He managed to cover a ton of ground in under an hour, moving us to the final two episodes. The attack on the Starks at the beginning, that amazing swordfight, Tyrion and Tywin together, King Joffrey (excuse me... I feel sick to my stomach again), Dany trying to soften Drogo, the walking dead attacking Snow... all that AND watching a direwolf take two fingers off a guy. Can a gal ask for more in an hour of television??

I want to start with the swordfight, because my husband and I were whooping and gasping aloud. It was BRILLIANTLY choreographed, and an astounding way to move us from Arya’s “dancing” lessons into the real world of swordfights. Ned certainly didn’t skimp when it came to finding the best teacher for her... he was incredible to watch, taking down most of an army with a wooden sword. And the repetition of his mantra from earlier – “What do we say to Death?” “Not today” – was wonderful and heartbreaking. We didn’t see what happened when Arya ran out of the room... I’d like to think he did a quick somersault and grabbed one of the dead men’s swords to take out the leader. My husband thinks he’s such a fantastic character they wouldn’t kill him off. But I wonder if he was, like King Robert, a catalyst to take Arya from one level to the next. I won’t ask you to spoil it, Chris, since we’ll probably find out soon, but I thought that scene was just absolutely stunning.

But of course, it would be easily overlooked with so much else happening in this episode! The scene where Drogo’s men try to rape and pillage the people as Dany looks on was shocking, and what happened afterwards really moved those characters forward. How did that scene compare to the book?

Chris: I think the scene of rape and pillage is one of those instances where seeing it rendered that well on the screen is more affecting than reading it—mainly because it removes whatever defence mechanisms we have when we read to make it more palatable. It basically followed the book exactly, except that the part where Drogo’s man challenges him and they fight is new. And ... wow. More than one person I have talked to has admitted that the climax of that fight was an uneasy conflation of icky and sexy. And Drogo continues to come into his own as a character—he’s been rocking the house for the past two episodes.

I will admit, I sqeed a little as Syrio took out the Lannister men. That was yet another scene that was perfectly done, and deeply satisfying to see Syrio in action. The ending is of course sad ... and I will say nothing spoilery about Syrio’s fate.

The closer we get to the end of the season, the more each episode becomes a total geek-fest for me as I watch how they’ve brought all GRRM’s goodness to the screen. I was especially excited about this episode, because I knew we would see the wights for the first time. It sort of makes me regret not having made a point of giving these posts an episode-specific title, if for no other reason than this week’s could have been “The Ice Zombies Cometh.”

You once asked me before if I ever wish I could watch this without having read the novels; at this point, not so much, because it is at least as great a pleasure to see how that adapt it. And to imagine how people such as yourself, who haven’t read the books, will react to seeing such moments as Ned’s betrayal by Littlefinger, the true prowess of Syrio, Arya using Needle for real for the first time, Robb coming into his own as a commander, Tyrion’s alliance with the Mountain Clans ...

That last element was something I quite enjoyed. They have Tyrion acting more hesitant in the series than in the book, but the payoff is when they’re looking down at the Lannister camp and Shagga warns Tyrion that if “if the Halfman cheats us, Shagga will cut off his manhood ...” and Tyrion impatiently finishes, “And feed it to the goats, yes.” Shagga is constantly threatening to cut off people’s manhoods and feed them to the goats in the book; in that brief moment of Peter Dinklage’s superb indifference, this repetition is communicated beautifully.

But back to the ice zombies. I always must remind myself that this novel was first published in 1996, before the walking dead hit critical mass on film and television. What was your reaction to their appearance here?

Nikki: Fantastic. I loved the scene prior where Sam points out that the men don’t smell. (I’ve just started following the actor who plays Sam, @johnbradleywest on Twitter, and he’s hilarious.) Perhaps Sam’s strength won’t be in his fighting skills, but in his brains. But back to the scene itself, it was terrifying. You can’t kill the dead who won’t be killed, and it offered a real supernatural element to the show. It’s something that the series opened with, when we saw the massacre out in the woods, and I thought the show would have several supernatural elements. Instead, it hints at them – there used to be dragons, Dany can’t be burned, the white (wight?) walkers are the dead come back to life, the direwolves have an attachment to their owners – but it’s not overt. But now it is. I knew something bad had to be going on if it freaked out a direwolf. It was scarier than The Walking Dead, to be honest, because on that show you expect the zombies. You don’t expect them here.

I’d mentioned last week that I wondered if Tyrion would give as good as he got when he met his father, or if his dad could be the one person who disarmed him. In the scene we got, it was a bit of both. There was the hesitation on the hill (and you are bang-on with your observation about the way Dinklage says the line – not having read the books, I didn’t realize Shagga had repeated that line over and over, and yet just assumed he had by the way Tyrion responded to him) and you can see Tyrion is nervous when he goes to his father, but he walks into the tent without hesitation, and introduces his men. You can tell there’s no love lost between Tywin and Tyrion (I’m surprised that Tywin would have given his dwarf son the name that sounds most like his, while his other son has a completely different name... perhaps because Tyrion came first?) and when Tywin said that rumour had it Tyrion was dead, there’s a sound in his voice like he’s disappointed that isn’t actually the case. You can tell by Tyrion’s face that he picks up on it, too, but he’s also used to being treated like that, and it doesn’t surprise him.

You asked a couple of weeks ago if I’d trust Varys or Littlefinger, and neither one of them seems particularly trustworthy. Now we have Littlefinger having betrayed Stark, but Varys is the one sneaking water down to the dungeon. I wonder if his caring is genuine, though, or if Varys and Littlefinger are smart enough to know Ned’s important to keep alive. I did love the dialogue between them, though, especially at the end: Ned: “Tell me, Varys, who do you truly serve?” Varys: “The Realm, sir. Someone must.”

Chris: The trope in a lot of contemporary fantasy is this “post-magical” world. I think it was set up in part by the sense of a waning culture in The Lord of the Rings, which of course ends with the elves passing into the West and the rise of the Age of Man. With novels like those of GRRM, we get a sense of a world in which magic remains, but only in traces, a shadow of the power it once had.

The relationship between Tyrion and his father is pretty fraught—Tywin resents his dwarf son (remember Tyrion’s comment to Jon Snow in episode one: “In the eyes of their fathers, all dwarfs are bastards”), doubly so because Tyrion’s mother died giving him birth. But he also has to acknowledge him as a Lannister. The cruel irony of it all is that Tyrion is more his father’s son than is Jaime, at least in terms of his shrewd intellect. We see Tywin’s own shrewdness at work when he flatters the representatives of the hill tribes into joining his army, recognizing them as a potential asset. It wouldn’t have occurred to Jaime to ally himself with them as Tyrion does—he would more likely have fought to the death when they came upon him in the forest.

And just to clarify: Tyrion is the third of Tywin’s children, with the twins Jaime and Cersei being born several years before him.

It was at this point in the novel that Varys really sort of became interesting to me—because we finally start to get a sense of the depth of his machinations, but also a sense of what may or may not be their altruism. Of course, you never know—and when he tells Ned he serves the Realm, the big question is: what is the Realm? Does he mean whatever the most peaceful path is? Whoever the anointed king is? Or does he plot to bring back the Targaryen dynasty?

Nikki: Interesting you should say that, because my husband and I were talking about Ned when he was in chains, and I wondered... is it possible that Ned could get away and align himself with the Targaryens? Now THAT would be an interesting combination.

The game of thrones certainly shifts in this episode, where you begin to see how people could switch sides. Catelyn goes to her sister (HONESTLY, watching Robyn pull at his mother’s cape ties while moaning that he’s hungry just made me hope there aren’t any pregnant women watching, because they’ll be put off breastfeeding forever...) to plead for her help to go up against the Lannisters, her sister refuses and says her job is to keep her idiot-boy son safe, rather than align herself with Catelyn. Catelyn rejoins part of her clan, and you can see the pressure building on both sides: Starks vs. Lannisters. The Lannisters also want to destroy the Targaryens, but Ned defended Dany and her unborn child. Hm...

Two questions I have for you this week that I hope can be answered without spoilage: I seem to have missed who the guy was who stood up against the one Stark son and ended up losing two fingers. Is he the head of his army? And secondly, have we gotten an explanation for why there are certain trees with faces on them that appear to be crying blood? Are they carved that way? Or do the followers believe the trees suddenly appeared and what they see is a sign from their higher power? (And if this is an explanation to come later, we can leave it for now.)

Chris: Happily, I can answer both questions without a whiff or hint of spoilage.

Robb’s antagonist is Jon Umber—called the Greatjon—one of Ned Stark’s bannermen. What needs to be understood is how GRRM establishes the seven kingdoms as explicitly feudal: which means that being a lord entails responsibility to the people who live on your lands, and fealty to the more powerful lord to whom you are sworn. Each of the seven kingdoms (plus the Riverlands) has their liege lord—Ned Stark, for example, is the lord of the North. All of the lords beneath him are sworn to his service. All of these most powerful lords, in turn, are sworn to obey the king. But as the new king’s legitimacy is challenged, we see the seven kingdoms beginning to splinter.

So what Robb did when he ordered Maester Luwin to “call the banners” was to order all the lords sworn to House Stark to raise arms and follow him. Now, in the feudal system, the land-bearing lords would all be knights, or at least mounted heavy cavalry, having been raised in castles and trained by men-at-arms—remember how Jon Snow so easily handed everyone else’s asses to them in the practice yard? That was because he’d been trained since he was a child. Each of the lords then presses their commonfolk into service—they make up the footsoldiers of the assembled army.

So basically, the Greatjon is one of Robb Stark’s most senior lords, and what he was basically arguing about was his right to lead the army’s vanguard—a place of honour. That Robb had given that honour to another led him to challenge Robb’s authority, and Robb’s response (before siccing his direwolf on him) was to warn him that if he took his men and left, his life would be forfeit as an oathbreaker.

Sorry, slipped into lecture mode there for a moment. ;-)

To answer the second question in a less long-winded manner: the trees with faces are weirwoods, believed by those who follow the Old Gods to be those gods’ vessels. I’ve never quite been certain whether the faces are naturally-occurring or carved into them, but they appear to cry blood because their sap is red.

Well. That was quite the episode this week, and apparently it was the highest-rated one so far. The show seems to be gaining momentum in terms of its audience, and was nominated for a Critics Choice Award in the category of Best Drama. That no one on the show was nominated in any of the acting categories is at once a scandal and (big sigh) completely unsurprising to those of us who watch SF or fantasy-based TV. I suppose you could make the argument that, in terms of who you’d nominate—where’d you begin? But that Sean Bean didn’t even get a nod is just frustrating and annoying.

Next week: remember the moments of “OMFG!” in this episode and the last? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Game of Thrones, Episode 1.07: "You Win or you Die"

Hi everyone, and welcome to the seventh installment of the Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blogging project, where in we discuss each episode as they air—Nikki from the perspective a GoT n00b, and yours true as someone who has been reading the books since A Game of Thrones was in hardcover.

So without further ado: episode seven! Wherein we begin to understand the stakes this the aforementioned game where thrones are sort of a prize or something …

Chris: So, remember a few posts ago when I asked you whom you would be more inclined to trust, Littlefinger or Varys? It was sort of the end of this episode I was thinking about. Hee.

So: lots of great stuff in this episode, but I want to address what I think is the series’ first real misstep: Littlefinger’s tutoring of the whores. First: Roz is in King’s Landing ALREADY? That seems like a pretty fast trip, considering it took the king and his retinue a month to get to Winterfell. And I suppose it was inevitable that, once they decided they wanted to keep her character around, she would end up working in one of Littlefinger’s brothels. I’m not entirely sure why they’ve decided to make her a relatively prominent character. There is one possibility that I won’t voice, as it would be spoilery … but for the moment she seems to be there for the purpose of upping the skin factor. And it’s not that she isn’t nice to look at, but it seems a bit gratuitous.

But really, all that’s neither here nor there. Littlefinger’s little soliloquy provided an interesting window into his character, but it came across to me as totally contrived. For one thing, does Petyr Baelish strike you as such a micromanager that he would deign to give his prostitutes lessons? Or to make such revelations about himself to them? One of the brilliant things about Littlefinger’s character is he keeps so much buttoned up that you’re always guessing about his motivations and ambitions. I felt at the end as if the writers thought they needed something to make his ultimate betrayal of Ned more comprehensible, which to my mind is a rare moment of them not trusting their audience.

That being said: the plot thickens! We finally meet the mighty Tywin Lannister! The King is gored by a boar! Jon Snow will be a steward! His direwolf finally gets a name (oh, and finds a human hand)! Jorah saves Daenerys from being poisoned! Drogo promises to give her the Iron Throne! And Ned Stark TOTALLY FAILS to save the realm from Cersei and her bastard brood!

So much goodness to talk about. Where do you want to start, Nikki?

Nikki: I’d say you’ve covered everything beautifully! So for next week’s blog post…

Haha… Okay, seriously, I enjoyed this episode, although I found it a little bit slow at parts, until the very end (whereupon I sat up bolt upright, hands over my mouth, and just kept saying, “I KNEW IT!!”) The next day I saw a few posts talking about what an idiot Ned Stark was – “Baelish says ‘don’t trust me’ and gives you every indication he’s going to stab you in the back… and you trust him anyway. Are you really that stupid?” but I think that Littlefinger’s betrayal was brilliant, because it showed just how slippery he was, but also what a great actor Mayor Carcetti Gillen is. First, there was always something a little weaselly about the guy – he seems to goad Sansa with the story of the Mountain and the Hound, telling her what horrible trouble she’ll be in if she ever tells the Hound what she knows; he tells Ned there’s no one he can trust; he has backroom meetings with people behind Ned’s back; we know he was in love with Catelyn, and THAT can’t be good. But on the other hand, there seemed to be something more genuine about him – he pointed out all of the listeners to Ned so he’d be aware that he’s being tracked at all times; when Ned made his court declaration last week, Baelish looked at him like he was impressed, as if to say, “THIS is the guy I need to get behind”; he cares about Catelyn, and perhaps that might extend to Ned; he seemed to be helping Ned get to the bottom of what happened to Jon Arryn. But in the end, it was for his own means… he used Ned, knowing that Ned sees the world as black and white only, right and wrong, whereas Baelish knows it’s actually several shades of grey. He knew he could easily take advantage of Ned’s morals to push him to a point where he aligns himself against the Lannisters, and then Baelish could betray him. What Baelish hopes to get out of it ultimately is unclear, but I can’t wait to see what happens next week.

Can I just pause to say the sight of Joffrey on the throne made me throw up a little? UGH.

I’d like to talk about the Drogo scene. Wow, talk about an actor being kept quiet for six episodes and finally commanding a really long scene in the seventh! I didn’t know he had it in him. And for someone who is as obsessed with words as I am, I was thrilled to see all those subtitles. I’ve been picturing the name of the queen as “Calisi” for so many episodes, and when he finally said, “Khalisi” a light went on, and I realized it was meant to be a derivative of Khal, which must mean King (I hadn’t caught that earlier; I just thought that was his name), and he referred to his son as Khalasar, which must be a further derivative, either for son of a king or just prince. Loved that.

But wow, talk about declaration. After his long speech I looked at my husband and said, “So… how come YOU have never offered to rape entire villages of women and murder their children in my name? Sheesh…” I couldn’t take my eyes off Daenerys’s face throughout this scene… rather than looking terrified or disgusted, she looked serene, as if flattered by this declaration of his. As you said last week, she is definitely no longer a child.

Chris: Heh. Yeah, you kind of now imagine the writers soothing Jason Momoa, who plays Drogo, saying “Don’t worry. We have a totally kickass scene for you coming up.” Two things kept running through my mind as I watched that scene: (1) that the Dothraki have thus far been something of a conflation of Mongol warriors and plains Indians, but here we get a little bit of Maori sprinkled in. Seriously, by the end of it, it looked like he was dancing the Haka. (2) Perhaps this was a bit of a rehearsal for the upcoming Conan the Barbarian reboot, which stars Jason Momoa in the title role? I kept waiting for “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women” to show up in his incantation.

Yeah. Not a good scene for anyone insecure in their masculinity to watch. ;-)

I loved the subtitles in this one … especially the moment when Dany is trying to convince Drogo to invade Westeros, saying “There are many dirts across the sea,” and he corrects her, saying “Lands—many lands across the sea.” Hee. It’s such a brilliant little moment—blink and you miss it, but it’s that kind of attention to detail that makes the writing so good.

To be fair to Littlefinger (which is more than he deserves), I think the suggestion is there that if Ned accepted his advice to swallow his honour and crown Joffrey, wed Sansa to him, and later down the road eliminate Stannis and crown Renly, that Littlefinger would have kept faith. But of course Ned simply isn’t capable of such scheming. The point was made several times throughout this episode that the entire concept of what we could call divine right is bullshit—as Jorah tells Daenerys, Aegon the Conqueror did not claim the throne of Westeros because he had the best claim, but because he had might enough to do it (and dragons). Renly makes the same point to Ned—that Robert’s rebellion was not about right but might. And finally, Littlefinger says it most plainly when he points out that his plan would not be treason if they win.

This is one of the things I love about GoT, both the books and the series—in a Tolkien-esque universe, Ned Stark would be the Aragorn figure (notwithstanding his wonderful portrayal of Boromir), whose rigid and unyielding honor wins out in the end. But in King’s Landing, it merely makes him a stationary object for the likes of Littlefinger and Cersei to navigate easily around. GRRM was famously dubbed the “American Tolkien,” the highest praise one can give a fantasy author; but really, this narrative has far more in common with Shakespeare’s history plays.

And yes—the sight of Joffrey on the throne, especially when he petulantly screams “KILL HIM!” is really rather vomit-inducing. And I thought it was bad in the novel. Ugh.

Though I must say that one moment I loved is just how distraught Joffrey looks when he’s at his father’s deathbed—it’s obvious here that he worships him, which is something we imagine must eat at Cersei to no end. He doesn’t seem to spend much time in mourning, mind you, but it’s a lovely cruel irony to Cersei and Jaime that their son identifies with the lout they both loathe so much.

And speaking of Jaime … what did you think of the opening sequence in the Lannister camp?

Nikki: Oh, that opening. I was absolutely fascinated by it. First, I didn’t get right away that that was Tywin… it took me a few moments before I realized, “Wait, the guy who’s skinning the animal is his father!” but that was probably because I couldn’t take my eyes off him skinning the animal. Partly because I thought it was just a brilliant introduction to this character, the way he so deftly does it (I saw him as a king figure and typically you wouldn’t see a leader doing the dirty work, but it would appear this guy likes to do these things himself and has been doing it his entire life) but also, I think that was a real animal. Usually they would use some sort of model or something, but that would have been a hugely expensive undertaking, and I was imagining how they had trained the actor to skin the animal with such mastery.

So yeah, I had to watch that scene again just to hear what they were saying! I hope I wasn’t the only one who was watching that animal-skinning over everything else. But yes, Tywin was fantastic. It’ll be interesting for me if/when we actually see Tywin and Tyrion together. We’ve seen Tyrion with his brother and sister (can I just say not seeing Tyrion at all this week was disappointing? I think that confirms he’s my favourite) but he’s mentioned on a couple of occasions how let down his father was when he discovered his son was a dwarf. I’d like to see Tyrion go head to head with him verbally… but also I’d be interested to see if his father may be the one person who disarms him. I see their relationship as being closer to the one Sam has with his father than anything else.

Speaking of which, talk about a shocker when Jon doesn’t end up being a Ranger like he thought he would be. Do you think Sam is right, and that he’s been put in a position where he could ultimately take over? Of course, I ask that not knowing if it’s an answer you already know…

And in addition to that question, I’ll ask about the King’s death. Was that as big a surprise in the book as it was for me to see on the show? The King is such a big, overwhelming character, and I was shocked to see him killed off so early in the series. But then again, he’s more of a catalyst of events – he’s that bridge between a past of glory and the present, filled with stasis. He’s a go-nowhere drunk, and despite being such a powerful character up to now, his purpose has been mostly to illuminate Ned’s morals in contrast and make us question what a king should be. He’s important because of what he’s not – he’s not moral, he’s not a good king, he’s not a loving husband, he’s not ambitious, and he’s not the father of any of his children. The only thing he was, was Ned’s friend. But even that wavered at the end when Ned saw him for what he was.

Chris: I was, to be honest, a little ambivalent about Tywin for the simple reason that my mental image of him in the books is totally different. That being said, Charles Dance’s take on the character is totally compelling, and the deer-skinning scene won me over on the rewatch. I actually think it’s a fairly clever little gambit on the writers’ part, because as a culture we’ve become at once completely divorced from such simple realities as the food we eat and at the same time desensitized to screen violence. The familiarity with violence, I want to suggest, is not unlike King Robert’s love of killing things and his concomitant reluctance to really deal with the consequences of violence. Tywin’s deer-skinning thus becomes a shrewd conceit. Unless we hunt or work at a slaughterhouse, there’s little mental connection between the cute lamb at the petting zoo and the rack of lamb crusted with herbs. And as one of the wealthy elite of Westeros, Tywin need not do his own dressing of the deer; that we’re introduced to him elbow-deep in blood suggests, as you say, that this is a character with few illusions and no tolerance for those who won’t face the unpleasant realities of ruling.

Interestingly, this aligns Tywin with Ned against Robert—don’t forget, one of our first encounters with Ned was his execution of the deserter, based on the principle that he who passes the sentence should swing the sword. He later castigates Robert on that point when Robert caves to Cersei on the issue of killing Sansa’s direwolf. Robert likes to kill things, but doesn’t care to clean up the aftermath.

I will be mum on Jon Snow’s future, for the sake of spoilers.

Robert’s death was a big surprise for me when I first read the novel, though now in hindsight it seems pretty inevitable. You’re absolutely right when you say he’s essentially an agent of stasis—him and Cersei together, really, keeping the realm steady in their uneasy marriage. For the game of thrones to start in earnest, that stasis has to shatter.

To return to Vaes Dothrak, what did you think of Jorah in this episode? He’d been revealed to us as an informer and a spy, sending information about Daenerys and Viserys to Varys, and here we see that he has won his heart’s desire—a royal pardon and the freedom to return home. Which of course raises his suspicions about the wineseller, but by intervening and saving Daenerys, he pretty much irrevocably yokes his fate to hers.

Nikki: This was definitely an episode about betrayal, and that revelation about Jorah was something that I didn’t quite understand the first time through… why was he being given a pardon? What the heck is going on? I had to watch it more than once to get that. Where Littlefinger was suspicious because of the way he actually instilled the suspicion in Ned on purpose (almost as a ploy… “I’m not the guy you should trust, you know… and me saying that pretty much means I’m the only one you CAN trust”) whereas Jorah was under my radar the entire time. The way he stood in Viserys’s way; his protectiveness around Dany; the way he’s helped her assimilate herself into the Dothraki; his sympathies for the Dothraki clan and innate understanding of everything they stand for… there was just something so trustworthy about him, and I think it’s clear, as you say, that that stems from a genuine affection for Dany. While he was sending secrets, he actually cared for her, I think.

Jorah is actually the one character I’d like to know more about, and I wonder if reading the books could cast more light on him for me? Just a couple of weeks ago my husband said, “So, okay, was he with the Dothraki or with Daenerys and her brother?” And I said, “He was with the Dothraki… no, wait, he was with the Targaryens… no… the Doth—you know, I can’t remember…” but it just didn’t seem to matter. His purpose for me was to offer a narrative to Daenerys and make her more sympathetic to us and to explain the Dothraki, who are the most foreign to us in the episode (I agree with your Maori take, by the way, and actually the very first time we saw Khal Drogo my initial thought was to wonder if the actor was Maori, because he certainly looks it).

So this turn of events was an interesting one for me, because it means Jorah is so much more than just a Johnny the Explainer, he’s a real character who could be the bridge between the Targaryens (I know I’m spelling that wrong, by the way…) and the rest of them.

Only three more episodes to go! I can’t believe the season is almost over, and it feels like it’s just beginning.