Saturday, April 28, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.04: Garden of Bones

Hi everyone--sorry for the lateness of this post, but I was on vacation in Arizona, and did not have access to HBO, alas. Fortunately, the ten solid days of sunshine, mind-blowing landscapes, amazing food, and general relaxation mostly made up for that.

But I’m back, and my absence at least let Nik and I mix things up a bit--she's posted her response without me (read her comments here), so instead of a back and forth, I'm responding in toto to the most recent episode. I’ve read her post and all the comments so far, so hopefully this will spur discussion further. So without further ado …

At this point I’m wondering when we’re going to see a tepid episode … they keep ratcheting everything up, it becomes hard to imagine how the next episode will top whatever we’ve just seen—and I say that knowing more or less what comes next—but each episode so far has improved on what preceded it. This one was no exception.

I quite liked the opening—the Lannister rank and file jawing around the fire, telling jokes, and, most importantly, engaging in the time-honored tradition of “who would win a fight with …?” It was a rare glimpse of the common soldier, and the conversation very deliberately echoed something falling between celebrity gossip and sports bar argument, with a bit of geeky hypotheticals thrown in. It made the class divisions palpable in a cleverly contemporary way—knights and lords and ladies are the elite athletes and the celebrities of this world. Had the conversation not been so rudely interrupted by a direwolf and an army, we might have expected to hear competing sexual fantasies about Cersei.

One thing worth pointing out is the handiness of British accents in delineating class: you saw this in Rome as well, with patricians like Caesar and Attia speaking in clipped, precise, educated aristocratic accents, while Titus Pullo came across as essentially a genial soccer hooligan. And in neither case does it tend to be jarring, as it would be if American accents were employed. Lower class accents in that case would be invariably regional, which isn`t to say that British accents aren`t … but thanks to popular film, we`re accustomed to a generic yob accent that falls somewhere between Cockney, Yorkshire, and Liverpool.

But that`s neither here nor there. The scene that followed gives us a glimpse of a fellow we`re going to see more of, though probably not in this season—Roose Bolton is the man urging Robb to torture his prisoners, though I cannot recall if he was named. The commanders walking the battlefield was a powerful sequence, and true to GRRM`s general tendency to not glorify combat. He makes it exciting, at times triumphant, but he never glosses its butcher`s bill. We were spared a more graphic depiction of battlefield surgery, but I suspect I wasn`t alone in cringing as we saw the “nurse” sawing away at the leg. Sometimes leaving things off camera is more effective.

The nurse—whose name, I believe, is Talisa—is not a figure in the novels. As has been observed in the comments, it looks as though she’s going to be conflated with a character who appears later in the novels … and that’s all I’m going to say about that, as I’ve seen what happens to people who offer spoilers.

Speaking of brutal torture and death … ye gods. Nikki had it right when she said Jee … SUS. Much of what we see of Joffrey is in the book, at least in terms of his humiliation of Sansa, his threat of execution, and his by-proxy beating of her (as is Tyrion’s rescue—admirably word-for-word, and yet again Dinklage does a masterful job of bringing GRRM’s dialogue to life. Beautiful.) But the scene with the whores? It was mentioned in the comments that Tyrion had considered sending women to Joffrey in the hopes that a sexual release might temper his behaviour, but he never actually does it. Which according to the series was eminently wise, as yet again the show makes explicit what the books imply. Reading the novels, you know that any time someone gives Joffrey complete control over someone’s fate, he’s going to enact some imaginative cruelty. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the scene (between slitted eyes) that if ever you wanted more proof that Joffrey isn’t Robert’s son, here it is. Robert Baratheon was a brute, a buffoon, and a fool, but he was never unnecessarily cruel.

Jen said in her post that “this is an episode about torture,” and I emphatically agree … but it also raises the question of what lies behind the impulse to torture. Robb Stark refuses to even countenance the idea, and that’s one of the ways we know he’s a good guy, and indeed is his father’s son. But it’s the arrival of Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal that drives the point home. His men are reavers—in the novel, they’re the beasts that, Tywin curtly lectures Tyrion at one point, are necessary for the spread of terror. We get much more familiar with the individual Lannister pet monsters in the books, from Polliver (the one with Arya’s sword), the Tickler (the torturer), and the Mountain himself, but these brief sequences admirably communicate everything we need to know about them. For Joffrey, torture is sadistic pleasure; for these men, it is a means of terrorizing people and (very occasionally) gleaning information. Which is not to say they don’t seem to get pleasure from inflicting pain, but with the arrival of their liege lord, the fun comes to an end.

The scene with Tywin does a lovely job of showing us, in a few economical moments, what makes Tywin such a formidable foe. He is not unnecessarily cruel or sadistic, makes good use of his available resources, and sees very clearly what others are blind to. He’s an interesting figure in the novels for these very reasons, presented as stern and unforgiving, utterly ruthless when necessary, but not actually evil like his grandson. He does not however shrink from employing evil men to do his dirty work.

I had forgotten about Yoren’s story in the previous episode, which wasn’t in the books. I’m dense at times, and I never connected it with Arya’s revenge list until I heard her whispering the names. In the novels, she does it of her own accord, but it’s a nice little moment for Yoren—whose awesomeness on the show greater than in the novels—just before he goes to a pretty gallant death. And as predicted in the comments … yes, that list does get pretty damn long.

I don’t really have much to say about the Renly/Catelyn/Littlefinger and Daenerys scenes that Nikki hasn’t already covered, other than to say Margaery Tyrell is proving to be a much more interesting character on the show than in the books (which is good, because it would have been a waste of Natalie Dormer’s talents otherwise). I’ll also just tip a wink and a nudge to the others who have read the novels—because this means that future Margaery will have even more opportunities to be awesome as the story continues.

Some questions from Jen’s post:

  • “The Brotherhood”—we hear the Tickler questioning people about this mysterious group. I do not believe we’ve heard of them so far in the series, so I’ll say nothing about them now aside from this: there was a very brief scene in the first season, when Robert was out hunting Boar and Ned was sitting on the Iron Throne in his stead. On hearing that Lannister soldiers led by The Mountain were pillaging and killing, Ned charged a knight named Beric Dondarrion with bringing the King’s Justice to the marauders. Remember that name.
  • "What are Robb’s plans?"—that scene, and the questions posed to him by Talisa, were lovely, because it gets right to the heart of the motivation and justification for war, and the desire for power. Robb Stark does not want to sit on the Iron Throne, but cannot suffer his father’s murderer to do so. So what is he fighting for? If he follows his father’s will, he’ll put Stannis on the throne; if he’s pragmatic, he’ll join forces with Renly, but both have made clear they’ll not allow a divided Westeros. And yet the loyalty animating his men is for the “King in the North,” so bending the knee to whomever succeeds Joffrey is not an option. A bit of a sticky wicket for the poor boy (and yes, I know I didn’t answer your question there, heh).
  • “Will Catelyn ever see her girls again?”—no comment. Heh.
  • “Could Daenerys be the one who will take out the Lannisters?”—again, not saying anything. But it’s as good a spot as any to make a few observations about Harrenhal, which is presented as essentially a bunch of ruins. Harrenhal in the novels is the biggest castle in Westeros, built by Harren the Black and assaulted the same year it was finished by the Targaryen invasion. It’s not as much of a ruin in the novels—it’s still a viable castle and fortress—but it does show the scars of the Targaryens’ dragons. In the series, they make the destruction much worse.

I’ll end by just mentioning the closing scene of Melisandre’s monstrous birth. And quoting Nikki again. Jee … SUS. That was one of those moments that could have been done so badly, but they really pulled it off. And one of the benefits of this belated post is that now I only have twenty-four hours to wait for the next episode.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.03: What is Dead Can Never Die

Welcome to week three of the season 2 discussions of Game of Thrones, with myself and Nikki “We have to go back to the (Iron) Island” Stafford.

Nikki: This week there were a LOT of stories covered, and as such it felt a little slow. But what happens in this episode is mostly exposition for what is to come. But that doesn’t mean the episode was boring – not by a long shot. I always like to open with Tyrion, so let’s get him out of the way this week by discussing his brilliant deception. To figure out which member of Council has the ear of the queen, he brings Pycelle, Varys, and Littlefinger to his office and tells each of them that he’s going to marry Princess Myrcella off to one of three different people. When Cersei later goes off on him, yelling and screaming that she can’t believe he would want to send Myrcella off to Dorn, Tyrion knows it was Pycelle who blabbed. In doing so, he gains the ire of Baelish, and the cautious respect of Varys. That said, I thought the suggestions that he would marry her to Theon Greyjoy or Robyn Arryn (that inbred-seeming child who was still suckling at his mother’s breast in middle school last season) were a little over-the-top, but then again, those kinds of marriages are probably par for the course in this world. Interestingly, Cersei’s fury causes her to shove Tyrion and knock him right over, once again reminding us that he has no physical power. But he’s driving her mad, and that is his power.

Speaking of Cersei, we also are privy to the most uncomfortable dinner scene imaginable, where she eats with Sansa and the two younger children, who both excitedly yap on about the impending nuptials between Sansa and Joffrey while Sansa looks like she’s choking down every bite of her food. Curiously, Cersei shows absolutely no sympathy for Sansa, and instead tests her, asking her how she’d feel if Joffrey killed her brother Robb, to which Sansa simply says she’s looking forward to the war being over so she can finally be wed to her beloved Joffrey. Cersei looks impressed, but there’s no sympathy, despite the fact she later reminds Tyrion that she’d been shipped off to Robert Baratheon against her will.

What did you think of this week’s episode, Chris?

Christopher: Well, I should probably begin by mentioning two errors I made in last week’s installment, one significant and the other just irritating. The significant error was in my assertion that Arya did not reveal her identity to Gendry until much later. As it happens, she did so more or less where the series has her do it. I have no excuse for this mistake, other than that I honestly didn’t remember it (my reread of A Clash of Kings is proceeding more slowly than I would like, as this is one of my busy times of year).

The other error was in referring to the traditional Iron Islands seat of power as the Driftwood Throne, where it’s actually the Seastone Chair. This one at least was just a matter of getting things confused, as the crown worn by the kings of the Iron Islands was the Driftwood Crown (at least, I’m pretty sure).

So anyway, fuckups aside … This week was pretty amazing, I thought, as we get a handful of new characters—most notably Brienne the Beauty and Margaery, Renly’s queen. The latter is bit of interesting casting—those who watched The Tudors will of course have recognized Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn. She’s somewhat older than the novels describe her, and a whole lot more perspicacious when it comes to sex. Of course … much of the Renly/Margaery marriage is left to speculation, as is the Renly/Loras relationship, and once again the series does a deft job of making the subtext text. From the looks of things, Renly’s homosexuality is something of an open secret, but as his new queen points out, all it takes to silence those murmurs is an heir growing in her belly. Kings, after all, make their own rules …

I would actually go so far as to say the theme of this week’s episode was pragmatism. It’s established for us in the first sequence as Craster returns Jon to the Lord Commander and demands that the Watch vacate his keep. Jon’s horrified tale to Mormont gives way to the even more horrified realization that his commander knows what Craster does with his men-children … and knows enough to ominously predict that Jon will see more of what he saw in the woods when the infant was taken. But when it comes to survival in the “real” north, morals are a luxury—one takes allies where one finds them, Mormont implies, and one doesn’t shrink from monsters like Craster.

But to return to Tyrion and the question of power … the little confrontation between Cersei and Littlefinger in the first episode was a nice setup for Varys’ riddle, don’t you think? Littlefinger and Cersei each come at the question of power from opposing places: knowledge as power versus power as power, and we saw in their face-off the deficiencies of both. Varys shows himself (again) to be the most nuanced thinker of the lot … and if you’ll forgive me for going all academic, he’s the Foucauldian of the lot. Power isn’t a thing one wields, it lies in discourse. I’ve always thought that the answer to his riddle (which is essentially verbatim from the novel) is that power lies in the hands of the man who convinces the others that he has it. That might take place by way of a conviction in the right of divine rule, for the king; the persuasion of money, for the wealthy man; the threat of divine retribution for the priest; or, it might be that the sellsword convinces the other with the edge of his blade. Or, more likely, some combination thereof.

Nikki: The scene with Varys was amazing, and incidentally, they pulled that as the voiceover for the first big trailer for S2, so it already felt familiar. The speech is a brilliant one, made more powerful in the delivery of it: “Power is a curious thing, my lord… Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And… a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” I do love Tyrion’s response: “I have decided I don’t like riddles.” I also forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the scene of Pycelle’s comeuppance, where Tyrion brings in his goon and catches him post-coitus.

Tyrion: Cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats.
Goon: There are no goats, half man!
Tyrion: Well make do!

As he leaves, Tyrion puts down a coin for the whore “for her trouble,” then pauses, looking at Pycelle in the hallway, and turns and hands her another one. My husband took the second coin to be the one to keep her silent. I took it as him realizing that servicing Pycelle was probably more trouble than just one coin’s worth.

It’s interesting you say that this week’s episode is about pragmatism; I completely agree. In my notes about Margaery I’ve not only written, “Anne Boleyn?” but, “The queen seems more pragmatic than romantic.” I don’t know how she’s portrayed in the books, but here she doesn’t seem bothered by her husband’s predilections, and instead just sees a way they can deal with it. Do the books go into any detail about how Renly and Margaery came to be married? Is there a link with the fact the king has been bedding her brother? (Or is that something we’ll discover more about later?)

Meanwhile in the Iron Lands, Theon has to choose a side: the Starks, who raised him as one of their own, or the Greyjoys, who gave him away. I really enjoyed the scene between Theon and his sister and father, where his father curses him for having some loyalty to the Starks, and Theon reminds his father that Daddy gave him away like a dog. It’s hard to argue with that: how could he expect Theon to act any differently? But if Theon is going to prove he’s a Greyjoy, that what is dead may never die, he will have to change sides.

It’s not an easy decision, however. The camera doesn’t hold on his letter long enough to tell, but if you pause the scene where Theon burns the letter you can see it’s to Robb Stark, warning him that his father is planning to attack the north with an army, and advising him to bolster up his forces to be ready for him. Theon’s instinct tells him to side with the Starks, but his pride tells him to side with his blood. I thought the setting of the scene where he’s rebaptized as a Greyjoy was stunning, with the ocean and the rocks. Beautiful.

Now, back over to Renly’s castle, I noticed you referred to the latest member of the King’s Guard as Brienne the Beauty. Is that what she’s called in the books? Is it meant as a joke? Here she’s called Brienne of Tarth. I don’t know if she’s meant to be a likeable character in the books, but I love her already. She’s a little harsh, but such a unique and dynamic character. And I’d like to find out more about the actress playing her, and if she’s really as tall as she appears on the show. Does she really tower over everyone else, or are they filming her the way they filmed Gandalf with the hobbits? Incidentally, after complaining last week about people letting kids read these books, I was on a second watch of this episode and my 4-year-old son walked in. I stopped the show, he went into the other room and played, then wandered back in, I stopped the episode, and then said, “Actually, come see two knights fighting,” knowing that there wasn’t any blood, and he’s in a knights-and-castles phase right now. He watched the fight with a smile on his face, but when Brienne stepped up and lifted her mask, he said, “It’s a GIRL? I don’t like this show,” and walked out. I have much to teach that boy. ;)

Christopher: In the novel of A Game of Thrones, we get an inkling that Renly is plotting against Cersei while Robert is still alive. At one point he shows Ned a picture of Margaery and asks if she bears any resemblance to his dead sister, and Robert’s great lost love, Lyanna. The idea, obviously, is for Robert to put Cersei aside and marry this other girl; and when Renly raises his rebellion in A Clash of Kings, he marries Margaery to cement the allegiance of House Tyrell, another of the great powers of Westeros.

In the novels, Margaery’s a bit of a mystery … she doesn’t get her own POV chapters, and is generally described as a demure, courteous girl who is fiercely devoted to her brother Loras. As I said, the series has made overt much which is just implied in the novels, and Natalie Dormer’s aggressively pragmatic Margaery is a pretty daring departure from the books. But I think it’s a wise move, all things considered: I quite like this more explicit version, especially considering the limitations of television—there simply isn’t the same capacity to develop complexity and nuance. The Renly story is mostly left to the imagination in A Clash of Kings. Here, the stakes are pretty clearly laid out, and Margaery’s matter-of-fact acknowledgement of that functions as a sharp lesson for Renly—that personal predilections and affections are at best ancillary to the game itself.

As an aside, right here is the main reason GRRM’s novels have proved so amenable to HBO … at such moments, I expect Margaery to shrug and say to Renly, “All in the game, baby. All in the game.”

Cersei provides an interesting contrast to Margaery—though the aforementioned showdown with Littlefinger, to say nothing of the smug expression on her face when she says “Power is power,” shows that she obviously imagines herself an accomplished player, she’s constantly showing herself to be at best an amateur, at worst inept. The ease with which Tyrion exposes her is bad enough for her; worse is her tantrum at the prospect of having her beloved daughter married off. But as Tyrion reminds her, princesses are an eminently tradable commodity in the game of dynasty building.

It’s a good reminder that Cersei was herself wounded by being so traded. Not that we like her any more for it, but it makes her rage at the prospect of Myrcella being married off to a probably loveless marriage more understandable.

The parts with Theon were exceptionally well done; it’s nice to see that character coming into his own. As arrogant and self-important a git as he’s been, they do a lovely job of engendering sympathy here … we realize that his time with the Starks was an ambivalent captivity in which he came to love his captors, while still harbouring resentment. And all that time he was a hostage of Winterfell, however well treated he was, he’s obviously spent his time dreaming of home and his ultimate, triumphant return. His explosion at his father and his rage at having been given away was particularly poignant, and made the juxtaposed scenes of burning his letter to Robb and being re-baptized doubly so.

As for Brienne: she is in fact Brienne of Tarth. “The Beauty” is the cruel name the men of Renly’s army have given her. I’m delighted to finally see her on the scene: she’s one of the more interesting and thought-provoking characters in the books. I won’t say much more about her, just in case the show gives us all that background.

Any final thoughts?

Nikki: I wanted to mention my love for Catelyn in this episode, how she just strides into the middle of this bit of “fun,” where the king and his queen sit on their thrones to see the knights jousting, and she stands there, defiant and confident, and says what she needs to. She ignores Brienne telling her to kneel, and when Loras tells her that if Robb Stark wanted their help he should have come and gotten it himself, she replies haughtily, “My son is fighting a war, not playing at one.” She is amazing.

Bran’s dreams have been sitting in the background of the show since early in the first season, but because they’re becoming more frequent, I’m thinking we’re going to see more about them soon.

And finally, Catelyn the Brave was nothing compared to Yoren. Last week we saw him threaten a man’s family jewels while the man held a giant sword at Yoren’s head while sitting aloft a horse, and this week he dies gloriously — with a bloody crossbow arrow sticking out of him he manages to kill FOUR men, and it takes another three to actually hold him in one place so he could be killed. (Did I mention he’s got a freakin’ arrow sticking out of his chest?!) This scene followed a long scene where he speaks to Arya about the man he wanted to kill, who had killed his brother. He tells her that every night he would say the man’s name like a prayer before he’d go to sleep, repeating it until the very name became as loathsome as the man himself, and when he did find him, he killed him and went straight to the wall. His monologue reminded me of Sawyer on Lost, who actually took on the name of the man he wanted to kill as his own moniker so he would be reminded daily of the one person he intended to kill. Watch for an allusion to this speech in the next episode.

Until next week! The last episode I’ve seen in advance, where I can promise you, if you thought you hated Joffrey before, that was nothing compared to what you’ll think of him now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.02: The Night Lands

Welcome to week 2 of our Game of Thrones recaps, where we look at the episodes and analyze their development purely as a television show (Nikki) and as an adaptation (me). Nikki started us off last week, so I've got first kick at the can this time:

Christopher: Oh, where to begin this week? Some beautiful moments in this episode, from Yoren unflinchingly staring down the gold cloak to Arya’s conflicted realization that it wasn’t her they were after, to Tyrion’s barbed joust with Varys, to Tyrion’s lovely little dinner with Janos Slynt, to Patrick Malahide’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Balon Greyjoy, to the lovely conversation between Davos Seaworth and Salador Saan.

There was so much in the episode that beautifully and faithfully realized parts of the novel; there was also a fair bit that departed substantially from it. Not just in terms of invented scenes that offered exposition or character development (such as Littlefinger’s cruel disquisition on what happens to bad investments), but actual changes that could potentially affect future storylines. Perhaps the best place to start is to outline these changes.

The death of Rakkharo: Wow, that one caught me by surprise. He’s with Daenerys pretty solidly through the books. It’s unsurprising that the writers wanted to re-emphasize for us the dangers facing the queen of dragons, but kind of a bold move to kill off one of her main lieutenants.

Gendry figuring out Arya’s a girl; Arya revealing her identity: This was a bit of a misstep, I think. In the books, Gendry doesn’t discover her identity until A Storm of Swords, and it doesn’t really make sense for her to tell him. Arya’s no fool, after all—one of her main attributes is a very clear-eyed survival instinct, and telling someone (anyone) who she really is is very dangerous. It’s all well and good to show that Gendry’s astute enough to figure out her gender, but I don’t believe Arya would be so foolish as to give up her identity so easily.

Melisandre seducing Stannis: Now, to be fair, it’s never precisely ruled out in the novels that Stannis and his red priestess are knocking boots … but one of the things about Stannis is that you can completely believe that he’s the kind of man who would keep this alluring, stunningly beautiful woman close to him and not ever consider sleeping with her. That ambiguity is one of the lovely nuances GRRM adds to this painfully upright and stilted character, and it just felt a little egregious (and kind of painfully symbolic) to have them fuck on top of his military planning. (See my comment below about the rather large amount of sex in this episode). That being said, my comment in my notes about this scene was “Yup, Stannis is totally a sex-with-clothes-on kind of guy.”

Jon Snow following Craster out into the woods: Well, they certainly know how to end an episode on a cliffhanger, and this is one left readers of the books shocked as well (well, this reader of the book, anyway). When I said last week that the question of what Craster does with his sons would be something we returned to, I had no idea it would happen this soon. The fate of Craster’s men-children is implied in A Clash of Kings, and made explicit in A Storm of Swords; I was genuinely shocked that we saw it in this episode. Now, what Jon saw was vague enough that I won’t make it plain, but I imagine people have a pretty good idea … and again, this might be just an instance of the series making the subtext text (to quote Rupert Giles), but for one thing: Craster conking Jon on the head!

All right, with that out of the way … Was it just me, or did they ratchet up the sex in this episode beyond anything we’ve seen before? When even Stannis Baratheon is getting laid, you know there’s sex in the air. The scene in Littlefinger’s brothel sort of put it over the edge, especially with the little moment where he thoughtfully wipes the semen from the corner of the prostitute’s mouth before passing her on to a disgruntled patron. I’m no prude by any stretch of the imagination, but from an aesthetic and narrative point of view, I do worry that GoT invites the fairly common criticism that it’s simply a sensationalistic and lurid sword-and-sorcery-and-boobs show, and that it obscures its genuinely brilliant storytelling when it overindulges in the sexy. What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: There’s definitely an element of that, but then again, I think the B in HBO has often meant Boobs, so it’s inevitable there’s going to be an element of that. A friend of mine was telling me that her 10-year-old is on the third book already, and while on the one hand I’m deeply impressed that the kid is reading that well at that age, on the other I think of scenes like those and worry they’re not really suited for an audience quite that young.

Very interesting about the Craster revelation! They will make it explicit in the next episode, and I had no idea that was something readers waited a long time for. I wonder how many things they’ll begin to speed up and switch around?

While you’ve covered off many of the major elements of this episode, let me go back to the very opening. Last week’s episode ended with our first season 2 shot of Arya, hair cropped short and dressed as a boy, in a group of men being escorted to the Night’s Watch with Gendry, the reputed bastard son of Robert Baratheon. This week’s episode opens with her, and she is just as wonderful as she was in S1. Referred to as someone who has “more courage than sense,” she’s just as insolent and defensive as she ever was, with her trusty “Needle” sheathed at her side. I liked the rapport between her and Gendry; not only do they both seem to mock the same idiots, but when he discovers she’s actually of the House Stark, he at first seems to defer to her, apologizing for pissing in front of a lady, before it’s all revealed to be just more taunting, with him mockingly bowing to her and telling her she’s not exactly ladylike. He’s a great character.

Yoren, the man escorting the group to the Night’s Watch, is also a great character, threatening the King’s Watch with a sharpened dagger that he says could “shave a spider’s arse” if he wanted to. Yoren, audiences might recall, is the last person Ned Stark called out to before he lost his head, shouting, “Baelor!” at him to indicate Arya sitting atop the Baelor statue. Yoren, who was a close friend of Ned’s, made his way quickly through the crowd and snatched Arya and covered her eyes, sparing her the soul-scarring image of her father being beheaded.

Something I keep thinking while watching this season is that for us, Ned Stark’s death happened ages ago, but for these characters it was quite recent; probably just a number of days. Arya is still reeling with shock, as is Sansa, and what we’re seeing is more immediate grief than it may seem to those of us who have been waiting almost a year to catch up with them again.

Christopher: H Boobs O, heh. Too true much of the time (not that I’m complaining). I’ve been teaching a grad course on HBO this term (you can have a look at our course conference here), and one of the frequent observations my students have returned to is how frequently the full frontal tendencies of HBO can be either discomfiting or decidedly unsexy (or both) as often as they can be titillating (the violence-tinged sex on Oz, for example, or the overly-modified strippers often in the background of The Sopranos). But GoT does seem to like to err on the side of titillation … even as it does on occasion combine elements, as we saw in Theon’s shipboard sex scene, which was an excellent bit of exposition on that character’s particular sense of self.

Speaking of … Theon was kind of a nonentity in season one (unlike his presence in the novel), so it was lovely to see him finally get a bit of traction—especially considering it meant he totally got humiliated, the self-important little git. What did you think of this new foray out to a previously-unseen part of Westeros? (That’s one of the things I love about the credits—readers of the books get a really nice little heads-up when the series is about to take us somewhere we’re familiar with in print, while non-readers get a nice little frisson of expectation). As already mentioned, Patrick Malahide’s performance as Balon Greyjoy is about as perfect a portrayal as we’ve yet seen. Theon’s sister Yara (Asha in the novels—why the name change, I wonder?) isn’t anything like how I pictured her, but I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve seen more of her. I thought she did a workmanlike job, but she doesn’t yet have the gravitas of the character in the novel … unlike Malahide’s Balon, who has more, if possible.

The theme so far this season seems to be an extended consideration of what makes a king. Theon shares Stannis’ belief in the absolute right of patrilineal succession, and is horrified when his father favors his daughter over him. By right of being eldest and only son, he thinks the crown is his (even though it doesn’t yet exist), whereas Balon privileges deeds. Yara has spent her time fighting and sailing while Theon learned how to ride and wear nice clothes and jewelry purchased with gold, ergo has more right to Balon’s seat. This debate is interestingly paralleled in the theological discussion between Davos and Sallador and Davos’ son. Both the smuggler and the pirate have a much more pragmatic approach to whom they owe their devotion, while the son’s devotion to the God of Light reflects a belief in transcendent principles like divine right.

Whereas Cersei’s devotion is entirely to power, and is petulant and prickly whenever Tyrion suggests that there might be strategic value in being nice to common people. And we already see the effects of that attitude—and will see it get worse as the season goes on.

But of course, the most crucial question of this episode: again, Tyrion announces his presence by whistling somewhat ominously offstage. Does this mean he’s GoT’s Omar? Or is it an ironic allusion to the seven dwarfs?

Nikki: Seven dwarfs, I never thought of that! Last week I suggested it was an allusion to Omar, and when he whistled his eerie whistle again, I was thrilled. Oh, Tyrion. Once again he is the bane of Cersei’s existence. From telling her she’s perfected the art of ripping up papers to confronting her (passive aggressively) about Jaime, once again he knows how to cut her down. But Cersei has had enough, as is evident near the end, when she finally fights back:

Cersei: It’s all fallen on me.
Tyrion: As has Jaime, repeatedly, according to Stannis Baratheon.
Cersei: You’re funny. You’ve always been funny. But none of your jokes will never match the first one, will they? [OUCH.]… Mother gone, for the sake of you. There’s no bigger joke in the world than that.

Tyrion, for once, is silenced. Last week he looked at her and asked what it was like to be the disappointing one, finally throwing the burden of having been exactly that on her shoulders. But here she throws it right back at him, and he has nothing to say in response. Tyrion uses words as his weapons, and also as his armour. But as we see here, they can hurt him right back, if the proper ones are chosen.

Tyrion also goes toe-to-toe with Varys, who is one of the best players of the game. Ned Stark asked him last season which side he was on, and he simply replied that he was on the side of the realm. That guy is cool as a cucumber, and acts like he has nothing to lose, but he’s so cunning he can even make Tyrion nervous. (By the way, I just wanted to note that the “fish pie” exchange was positively Shakespearean. It was like something between Aguecheek and Toby Belch in Twelfth Night.)

And the best Tyrion scene is the one with Janos, commander of the City Watch. Tyrion opens by addressing him as Lord, and Janos is arrogant enough to think he’s on par with a Lannister. (Or, more likely, that he’s above him.) Tyrion is trying to get to the bottom of who ordered the slaughter of babies, and mentions that Janos had killed the last Hand of the King, Janos responds, flustered, “He tried to buy my loyalty!”

Tyrion: The fool. He had no idea you were already bought.
Janos: Are you drunk? I will not have my honour questioned by an imp!
Tyrion: I’m not questioning your honour, Lord Janos. I’m denying its existence.

Ha!! And then Tyrion shows him who really has the power. (For now.)

As for Theon Greyjoy, I’m very surprised they changed the name! Do you think the writers worried that Asha was too close to Arya, and silly TV viewers wouldn’t be able to keep them straight? It’s very strange they would randomly change a name. But yes, that took me by surprise, that she was actually his sister — I loved the look on Theon’s face as he realized it himself, and threw up in his mouth a little (the obvious or implied incest on this show is extraordinary… I should just start assuming every love interest is a brother or sister…) Last season I remember some TV critics suggesting that George RR Martin was a chauvinist, since the women all seemed to be subservient to the men or pushed into corners, but I find it quite the opposite. Catelyn is an equal to her son Robb, and Ned turned to her for advice. Daenerys is the Dragon, not her stupid brother, and the Khaleesi, despite slowly starving to death right now, will rally back to take care of her people, I just know it. Arya is one of the best characters on the show, and despite Gendry seeing through her exterior, she has tricked most of the men around her into believing she’s a boy because of her outward toughness and self-confidence.

Balon Greyjoy is an excellent character. Am I right in recalling that he went to war with Ned Stark, and Ned took Theon from him as some sort of hostage to keep Balon in line and raised him as a ward? And here’s my question: If Balon was the king of the Iron Islands, was the Iron Throne his? Is that another thing Ned took from him? (That giant squid sculpture above the fireplace was amazing, by the way.)

But back to what I was saying, his argument that Yara deserves high status, gender be damned, was an interesting one, and despite him being the enemy of the Starks, I found him intriguing in his loyalty to her. Though on the other hand, despite the fact I’m not a huge fan of the philandering Theon, I felt bad for him when he didn’t quite get the homecoming he was looking for from Daddy.

Just as Balon is arguing that women should be treated as men’s equals, Crastor and his daughter-wives (speaking of throwing up in one’s mouth a little) represent the opposite. As the boys from the Wall discuss previous sexual exploits, one with a milkmaid named Violet — “I wish I grew up on a farm,” says Sam wistfully — they give in to the typical locker room talk, but Sam still believes that women should be shown respect. Jon warns him about trying to help out one of the daughter-wives, saying she belongs to Crastor, and Sam counters, “She’s a person, not a goat.”

I’ll let you have the final word this week, Chris, but here are some of my questions. Some of the answers may be spoilery, so just avoid those:

In the group of people going to the Wall, there are three men locked in a cage. The one man seems to be someone who will become more important (it sounded like they called him Jackenheier, but I’m 100% sure that I did not spell that right). You don’t have to say whether or not he becomes important, but did you think he was well cast, whoever he is?

I loved the look of the scene between the priestess and Stannis – especially the symbolism of the armies falling off the map as they consummate their relationship. I know you talked about her last week, but could you just jog my memory: how did they meet? How did she become someone who follows Stannis’s group? Are we supposed to know these things yet or does that material come later? I still find that part a little bit hard to follow.

The scene with Davos and the pirate was great, especially him demanding Cersei in return for helping them out. Davos seems like a very smart man, whereas Stannis almost seems unhinged, more someone who could be manipulated than someone who is a born leader. Davos, however, seems intensely loyal to him. It seems Stannis helped him and his son at one time in the past. Is Davos aware that Stannis is falling apart?

And I agree with you; the opening part showing where all of the new places are is very helpful (though I fear that by season 5 the opening sequence will be 10 minutes long! Haha…)

Back to you, Chris, for the final word!

Christopher: The Balon Greyjoy backstory is that eight years before we begin, he rejected the authority of the Iron Throne and crowned himself. Ned Stark was Robert Baratheon’s right hand man when they attacked Pyke, and yes, Theon was taken as a hostage after that. And the Iron Islands and the Iron Throne are just serendipitously named … though we didn’t see it in this episode, the traditional seat of power in the Iron Islands is the Driftwood Throne.

As it happens, I had it from a student just an hour ago that the reason they changed Asha to Yara was indeed because they were worried about people confusing the names with another character—but Osha, the wildling woman (aka Nymphadora Tonks), not Arya.

The man in the cage you’re asking about is Jaqen H'ghar, and I won’t say anything about him other than, yes, he does seem pretty well cast. I’ll have to wait and see to be sure—in the book, he comes to play a fairly crucial role—but for the moment he seems good.

To offer the novels’ backstory about Melisandre, she came to join Stannis because she believes him to be a man of destiny, the one who will fight against the forces of cold and darkness … hence her devotion to him, as well as her manipulation of him.

I don’t want to say too much about Davos, as I don’t know yet how much the show will choose to reveal about his back story; but so far, he’s true to the books—and yes, he worries about Stannis, but is so absolutely loyal to him that he will basically follow him anywhere.

So that’s that for this week … I swear, this season just keeps getting better. Perhaps as the one of us who’s read the books, it shouldn’t surprise me that season one now kind of feels like the set-up for season two, that all we watched last year was essentially prologue. Because now the fun really begins …

Nikki: Thanks, Chris! Looking forward to next week’s episode, just to find out what the hell that thing was in the woods that took the baby (is that a white walker??) And also, looking forward to Daenerys’s story becoming more interesting, though I did like the way she calmed the grief-stricken woman in this episode, showing she rules with a kind heart, even if that heart is filled with vengeance.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The best grad class ever

So I've spent this semester teaching (among other things) a course on HBO, titled "HBO's America: Television, History, Culture." And yes, before you ask, I do in fact have the best job in the world.

We focused on four series: Oz, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire ... though as I lamented at various points throughout the course, it would be easy enough to do an entire semester on any of those shows. And though I had my anxieties going in, the course was one of the most rewarding and stimulating I`ve taught. For me, anyway ... I don't want to speak for mystudents, of course, but they seemed to enjoy it as well. And they were, I don't mind saying, a joy to teach. It was a great semester all around for that.

Whenever I teach a grad class, I always make a point of having a course conference at the end of the term, to give the students the experience of presenting academic conference papers in an unthreatening environment, but also for the purpose of having everyone share their work with each other and with anyone else who wants to come out for the day.

Also, we always go for beers afterward.

So if there's anyone in St. John's reading this blog interesting in seeing what my students have come up with, I invite you to come by room 3018 of the Arts and Admin Building on campus tomorrow between  10am-4pm.

(And yes: Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy are not HBO series, but I offered my students the opportunity to branch out in their papers).

WARNING: Paper titles may be offensive to some readers. Though probably not if those readers like HBO.

10:00-10:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks

10:10-11:40 Session One: The Western Revisited

Shane Beehan
As The Dust Settles: Deadwood, 9/11 and the Rise of the Anti-Western.

Leia Feltham
Cooking Success on the Frontier: The Landscapes of Breaking Bad.

Robert Williams
“Ad Fuckin' Hoc” Economies: Currency, Commodity, and Capital in Deadwood's Fictional and Cultural Frontier Marketplaces.”

11:40-12:40 Session Two: Parallel Realisms

Heather Martin
“You Can Be Dead, But You’re Never Really Dead”: The Alternative Afterlife of Six Feet Under.

Amber Parker
“That Fucker Ain’t Never Spent No Time in Oz”: Augustus Hill’s Narrative Style and Audience Complicity.

12:40-1:45 LUNCH

1:45-2:50 Round Table Discussion

Dr. Christopher Lockett on Game of Thrones
Dr. Andrew Loman on Tremé

3:00-4:00 Session Four: Imaginative Inscriptions

Rebeccah Hearn
“It’s like just the fuckin’ regularness of life is just too fuckin’ hard for me or something”: Portrayals of Depression and Mental Illness in The Sopranos.”

Matthew Lidstone
Ink Stained Wretches: Body Art and the Violent Creation of Meaning in Oz and Sons of Anarchy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.01: The North Remembers

Hello again everyone, and welcome to the Game of Thrones season two co-blog between myself and my good friend Nikki Stafford from Nik at Nite. It’s been a long, slow ten months since we signed off after the end of season one (briefly alleviated for me in July when book five, A Dance With Dragons came out). But we’re back, and how! In the time since, GoT has received countless accolades, and is firmly ensconced among the shows that have given HBO its reputation for smart, quality TV.

For those new to how we’re doing this, Nikki is a George R.R. Martin newbie, coming to the series without having read the novels, whereas I originally read A Game of Thrones in hardcover back in the dark mists of 1996. So we do a back-and-forth between the unbooked Nikki and the total Ice & Fire geek (that’s me).

So without further ado … Nikki?

Nikki: Game of Thrones is back with a brilliant return that hasn’t lost one iota of its action, character-building, sharp dialogue, and set design. What a glorious show this is.

So I’ll start with my favourite thing about this return, and what a lot of people were anticipating… Tyrion. He makes his grand entrance right near the beginning, walking in on Joffrey’s sadistic name-day ceremony, dropping a few verbal bombs just to piss off his insane nephew, and then marching into the Small Council, where he pisses off his sister even more by announcing he’s the new Hand of the King. When he first walks in he makes a big show of insincerely greeting all of his nieces and nephews, and then pauses and genuinely offers his condolences to Sansa, infuriating Joffrey. Sansa looks at him, pledges her undying love to Joffrey, and flatly calls her father a traitor. You can’t trick a trickster, and there’s a slight shift in Tyrion’s face that signals he gets it: Sansa is a very smart girl, and she’s playing the game just like everyone else is. She’s saying what she needs to say to stay alive, and is burying her emotions so deep the only concern is she’ll forget what they once were.

But Sansa’s not the only one who feels helpless, and must use her wits to stay alive. Tyrion is much the same as she is, and when he drops the bomb that he’s the new hand of the king, his sister goes mental. First, did you notice he signals his arrival with a creepy whistle now? You can hear him before you can see him. As soon as I heard this, I thought, “He’s Omar!!” that other fan favourite from an HBO series.

The biting words between the two of them are one of the highlights of this episode:

Cersei: What do you know about warfare?
Tyrion: Nothing. But I know people, and our enemies hate each other almost as much as they hate us.

Tyrion: You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones.

Tyrion: We had three Starks to trade — you chopped one’s head off and lost another. Father would be furious. Must be hard, being the disappointing one.

The smug look on Tyrion’s face at this last one, and Cersei’s sudden shocked silence, speaks volumes. What a turnaround this moment is. Cersei should have all the power now, with her son sitting as king, but she’s nearly as smart as Tyrion, and is ruled by her emotions for Jaime. I absolutely adored this scene.

Chris, one thing I kept wondering while watching this early episode was this: Tyrion was clearly a fan favourite in season 1, and Peter Dinklage was the one who garnered all the attention come awards season for his performance (which is brilliant, even though I must admit my nitpick again that I think his accent could be better; it’s nothing like the others and doesn’t sound right). This season he’s suddenly the major character. Is that because of the books? Was he a fan favourite in book 1 and so George Martin brought him front and centre in book 2? Or is this a television-led thing? Or, was Martin always intending to bring him forward from the beginning?

What were your general thoughts about this first episode?

Christopher: Without giving anything away, I think it’s fair to say that Tyrion takes over Ned Stark’s role as putative protagonist in book two, but then that’s also a hard case to make as Westeros gets Balkanized and our story fragments into even more disparate narrative threads. Tyrion does play a more central role than he does in book one; which was why, in addition to squeezing over Dinklage’s wonderful interpretation of Tyrion (accent notwithstanding, and yes, I agree with you on that front), diehard GRRM fans also breathed a sigh of relief—it would have been a painful thing for such a pivotal character to have been poorly cast. Fortunately, that is not an issue.

As for GRRM increasing Tyrion’s role after book one: unlikely. To hear the man himself speak of it, the Ice and Fire series took a few books to get going. I suspect that he either had planned Tyrion’s prominence from the start or realized that this snarky dwarf was the best thing in Westeros early on.

So … my thoughts on this episode. I can honestly say I have no complaints, and am deeply impressed both by what they’ve been utterly faithful with, and what they’ve added. I’ll first add a disclaimer that I haven’t had a chance to reread A Clash of Kings prior to April first, as this is my busiest time of year, but I’ll be getting on that this week. So if I lose a detail here or there, I apologize.

I’ll start with my first genuine squee moment, which happened during the credits. Dragonstone! The island fortress guarding the approaches to King’s Landing plays a much more significant role in the novels than it has in the series so far, and not just because we haven’t seen it until now: it was where the first Targaryen king planned his conquest of Westeros, and it was where Daenerys was born while her mother and brother fled the armies of Robert Baratheon. And it was the seat King Robert granted his brother Stannis, which always rankled with the dour martinet, as it meant the youngest brother Renly (who wasn’t old enough to fight in the war) got the ancestral Baratheon seat of Storm’s End.

In book one, both Stannis and Dragonstone are spectral presences, spoken of but never seen. So one of the great pleasures of A Clash of Kings was finally meeting Stannis there. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the way that fell out in our opening episode: what we see of Dragonstone is appropriately grim and dark, and Stannis himself is likely appropriately dour and humourless. Casting Stephen Dillane in the role shows that series continues with its deft casting choices. I loved the scene in which he drafts the letter revealing Jaime and Cersei’s incest and making his claim to the throne. On occasion, the series has been a bit clunky in its exposition. In this case, it was beautifully done, and utterly faithful to the text. His refusal to countenance even a lie of courtesy in calling Renly “beloved”; his insistence that Jaime be labeled “Kingslayer,” because that is what he is; but also insisting on the honorific “Sir” because, “whatever else he is, he is still a knight”; this short sequence tells us everything we need to know about Stannis’ character, and Dillane’s severe, harsh delivery is pitch-perfect.

Other new faces! We meet Melissandre, Stannis’ red priestess who has seduced him (not literally) into renouncing the seven gods of Westeros, and his devoted and trusted right-hand-man Davos Seaworth. I won’t say anything more about these two for fear of spoilers … suffice it to say, they are also pretty much exactly as I imagined them.

So far, the new season seems to be preoccupied with the question of how to rule—with what makes a king, or queen, or simply a leader. We shift thousands of miles between scenes, with the ominous comet as our segue and reminder that, however distant, all of these stories are intertwined … and fated to meet. Nikki, what did you think about the way the episode dealt with all of the different threads left over from season one?

Nikki: Funny you should ask that, because the first time I watched this episode that’s exactly the point I brought up with my husband: that “The North Remembers” is the perfect blend of wrapping up the previous season while opening up the new threads that will be carried through this season. Bran, left behind in Winterfell, is now a lord, having to listen to the complaints of villagers. But he’s having different visions (remember he had those strange dreams in season one) that, this time around, appear to be aligning him with his direwolf. Is he somehow sharing the soul of his direwolf in a way? Robb, “King of the North,” is maturing as a leader, working alongside his mother to try to broker peace, but on his terms. Daenerys is in The Red Waste, and her baby dragons are with her. I know a lot of us were dying to see those dragons, and they really looked amazing. I thought there was a bit of incongruity with the special effects, as in Emilia Clarke wasn’t looking right at the dragon, but more in front of her, as if her eyes weren’t aligning with the dragon properly (which obviously wasn’t on her shoulder). However, when she reached up and let it move to her hand and put it in the cage, the effects were amazing, and she moved her arm as if there really was a dragon on it. I LOVE them so far, and hope we see more of them. Jon Snow is with the people from the Wall at that vile man’s house (his daughters become his wives to make more daughters… Jee-SUS), Joffrey is showing how absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Sansa is reeling from what is probably post-traumatic stress disorder and covering up her hatred to save her own skin. And Arya, that character we fell in love with in season 1, only shows up in the closing seconds of the episode, looking every bit a boy on her way to the Wall.

But for season 2, there are the new people at Dragonstone, as you pointed out, and the Fire Priestess and Stannis, and his brother Renly. We only heard about the other Baratheons last season, so it’s good to actually see them now. I was thrilled with your rundown of them, because I did find these scenes a little confusing, not being familiar with the characters. I will certainly be turning to you week after week to explain things to me! Does the Fire Priestess worship dragons at all? Why is she at Dragonstone? Is there a connection between her and the Targaryens? Is it too soon for me to be asking all these questions? ;) The priestess is creepy as hell, but gorgeous with those chiseled features, and her words ring through the episode. “The night is dark and full of terrors… but the fire burns them all away.”

Christopher: We met Renly last season, remember? He sat on the Small Council with Ned, tried to convince him to usurp the Lannisters while he had the chance, and is closeted gay (remember the bath scene with Loras Tyrell). Renly’s sexuality is only ever hinted at in the novels, so it will be interesting to see how they play it on the show when we meet his betrothed, presumably in the next episode when Catelyn journeys to meet with him.

I’m not sure how much to say about Melisandre, the fire priestess, as I don’t know how much the show will choose to reveal, and whether or not they’ll hew to GRRM’s specifics. But this much is safe: she worships the god R’hllor, the god of heat and light and life. Her belief system is Manichaean, positing R’hllor on one hand, and the god whose name must not be spoken on the other, Voldemort. No, wait … I kid. R’hllor’s foe is the god of anti-life, of darkness and cold.

Sort of like what might, I dunno, be lurking in the “real” north? Heh.

Speaking of the real north … that scene in Craster’s Keep was (pardon the pun) chilling, no? I wondered how they were going to treat that particularly revolting character. I must say I always imagined him bigger; he’s described in the novels as a huge man grown egregiously fat, but still powerful. (Actually, whenever I read his parts, I always find myself thinking of Judge Holden from Blood Meridian). But they captured his particular mix of petulance and pride, and the smugly proprietal way he treats his “wives”.

And remember the pregnant question (sorry, couldn’t help myself) “What does he do with his sons?” That one will be something we return to.

And to return to what I guess we now have to consider the fake north—what did you think of Robb Stark’s confrontation with Jaime Lannister? That was not in the novel, but was, I thought, very well done and did a good job of laying out just how dangerous a prize the Kingslayer is. And: holy direwolf! They do get big, don’t they?

Nikki: Oops, sorry, in my haste I meant to say seeing Renly being incorporated more directly into the Baratheon battle was new. Yes, I absolutely remember him in the first season (my first comment to my husband was, “Isn’t that the gay king?”) and yes, we will see his significant other(s) in next week’s episode.

I thought Robb Stark’s confrontation with Jaime Lannister was brilliant, and it brought up something I wanted to talk about in this last segment: that this episode was all about power. Who has it, who is willing to use it, and what power actually is. The best ways they demonstrate that is by showing the two very different mother/son relationships on the show.

Tyrion, as I mentioned earlier, has the power of words. He knows just what to say or do to make people listen, or piss them right off. Since he doesn’t have any physical or political power, he makes do with what he has, and is able to take people like Cersei and make her wither in his presence.

Robb Stark faces off with Jaime, who mocks him for being a boy. Even tied up, filthy, sitting on the ground, Jaime believes by being a Lannister, he will always be more powerful than Robb. Robb, however, sees it differently, spitting back, “You’ve been defeated by a boy, held captive by a boy, perhaps you’ll be killed by a boy.” Jaime is unfazed. “Three victories don’t make you a conqueror,” he says.

“It’s better than three defeats,” says Robb smugly. And then he lets his direwolf step into the cage to sniff Jaime. Who promptly pees his pants (offscreen).

Robb is stronger than he seemed in season 1. When he discusses his position with his mother, Catelyn, you can tell the two of them see their role in the war as a partnership, working together. He sends her off to Renly, and has everything in hand, and she agrees to go, telling him he’s doing a great job. She looks upon him with the same pride she looked upon her son.

Cersei, on the other hand, doesn’t have that relationship with her son. After being shown up by Tyrion, she decides to bring someone else down to make herself feel better. She confronts Baelish and asks him what power is. He replies, “Knowledge is power.” Which is what Tyrion would argue. Then she uses her guards as little toy soldiers, instructing them to slit his throat, then stop, then walk three paces away, turn around, close their eyes… and do the hokey pokey. They do it all, and she looks at Baelish with a sneer, saying, “Power is power.”

Is it? Those guards only do what she wants because Joffrey has told them to respect and obey his mother. But the moment he says otherwise, she will be nothing but a speck of dust to them. And if the Lannisters are overthrown, Joffrey has no power, either.

After this moment of triumph, Cersei speaks with her despicable rat-son Joffrey, who throws the possible incestuous relationship with “Uncle Jaime” in her face, and she slaps him across his. He stares at her and says, “What you just did is punishable by death. You will never do it again. Never.” And suddenly Cersei realizes she has very little power indeed. She can make her guards put their left foot in and take their left foot out before shaking it all about, but he can tell his guards to go all King Herod on the place, killing every bastard child who has dark hair. For now, that is power. But how long will that last?