Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.05: Kissed by Fire

Hello once again, and welcome to the great Chris and Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog project (version 3.0). Well, we’re at the halfway mark for season three (time flies when you’re immolating slavemasters with dragonfire), and after last week’s barn-burner (castle-burner?) we have an episode with a slightly statelier pace, more invested in building story than great dramatic flourishes … which isn’t to say there wasn’t a LOT going on in this episode.

So without wasting any time … Nikki, your thoughts?

"Wait ... I thought you were taking correspondence courses in typing."

Nikki: This episode certainly didn’t have quite the shock and awe of last week’s episode, but it jumped all over the place and covered a hell of a lot of ground in an hour. One theme that linked many of the stories together was betrayal and trust. Robb Stark deals with a traitor, ignoring the suggestions from his advisors around him and letting emotion get in the way of a shrewd political move (which seems to be Robb’s modus operandi, to be honest). In Jaime’s brilliant story about why “Kingslayer” is a bit of an exaggeration, he talks about how the Mad King went mad because he believed he saw traitors everywhere, and could trust no one. Stannis tells his daughter that Davos is a traitor that she shouldn’t trust. Danaerys has clearly gained the trust of the Unsullied simply by freeing them. Loras beds a man who is betraying his secrets to Baelish. And as Cersei is still giggling over the consequences of having betrayed Sansa’s secret to Tywin, she finds out her daddy isn’t exactly someone she should have trusted with the information when she ends up on the butt end of his reprisals as well.

Let’s back up to the Jaime scene. I’ve said this to my husband a couple of times so far, but I think Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does an extraordinary job with Jaime Lannister, especially considering English is not the Danish actor’s first language. He pulls off the British accent impeccably (off the show, he speaks with something close to an American accent), and has somehow completely turned out sympathies to him, rather than against him as they’ve been for two full seasons. And for anyone still on the fence by this episode, his shocking confession to Brienne ought to have pushed you over.

I loved this scene, both for the confession, and for the fact that he bares all while… baring all, while his listener, Brienne, is also naked — vulnerable at first, before taking charge of the situation. (I need to mention once again how I also think Gwendoline Christie is fantastic in this role, and the chemistry between the two of them is marvelous.) The body language alone is worth noticing. She’s immersed in the water up to her neck, scrubbing so hard Jaime tells her she’ll scrape off her skin, and then he walks in, throws off his clothes, and she, horrified, looks away and tells him to go to the other hot tub. He doesn’t, and instead immerses himself in her tub while she cowers in the corner, curled up in a fetal ball while refusing to look at him. Then he continues taunting her the way he’s been taunting her the entire time, seeing her as a male rather than female, mocking the way she’s “protected” him thus far. She, infuriated, suddenly stands up, with her entire body from the thighs up exposed. He stops, stares, and for one moment you realize he’s seeing her as a woman for the very first time. The look of defiance on her face proves that wasn’t what she was going for, she was simply in a warrior position, but he’s humbled, recalling that for a woman, she’s done a hell of a job protecting him. Hell, for a man she’d have done a hell of a job protecting him. She sits back down in the water, but this time her face is one of interest and concern, and she no longer folds herself up in shame. She faces him in the water the same way he faces her, as an equal.

In his story, he sets the record straight on what really happened. Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, was obsessed with Wildfire. Of course he was, being a “dragon.” He began hiding it with his treasures throughout the city, underneath every part of it, and when Robert Baratheon stormed King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister — who was supposed to be on the side of the king — switched sides, knowing that Aerys’s side was the losing one. Jaime betrayed his father by going to the king and begging him to surrender, telling him that he could stop the slaughter by doing so (it was his second attempt, and he says even Varys told Aerys to surrender, but Pycelle told him the Lannisters would never betray him… Pycelle being proven once again to be the worst advisor ever). Aerys instead told Jaime to bring him his father’s head, and that he’d burn everyone in the city. And so Jaime killed his pyromancer and then stabbed Aerys in the back as he ran away, and then slit his throat for good measure. Betrayal upon betrayal, showing the burden that Jaime has carried with him all these years, being given a name that he believes isn’t his. As he collapses in Brienne’s arms (another moment where both of them are exposed, though there’s nothing sexual about the scene at all except through our collective gaze), she shouts for help: “Help! The Kingslayer!” and before he passes out, he mutters, “Jaime… my name is Jaime.” It’s a mesmerizing scene.

How did it compare to the one in the book, Chris?

Christopher: Well, starting with Jaime and Brienne—their conversation in the baths squared up almost perfectly with the novel, and again, much of Jaime’s monologue is word-for-word. I agree with you emphatically: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was chilling in his delivery, in his sad, detached, almost monotone recounting of the series of events that changed his life forever and made him the man he is today. It made me wonder, as it did the first time I read it, how much of Jaime’s persona evolves from that act of regicide; is his amorality and arrogance hard-wired in him, or is a carefully wrought defense mechanism born of the Mad King’s blood? Did Jaime Lannister hear all that was said of him, all those voices hypocritically condemning his act while being silently relieved (voices like that of Ned Stark) and choose to own the title of Kingslayer and all it entailed? If so, his stubborn assertion that “My name is Jaime” as he faints in Brienne’s arms signals a shift in his character.

I also agree with you that this episode is very much about trust and betrayal. Trust is a precious commodity in Westeros, given that betrayal seems as ubiquitous as cruelty. Jaime and Brienne offer a useful little exchange. “Let’s call a truce,” he suggests, weary of their jousting. “You need trust to have a truce,” she retorts. Jaime’s answer, “I trust you,” is really one of the more extraordinary statements made in this episode, not just because it indicates how his conception of Brienne has changed, but for the simple fact that no one else seems inclined to utter such a dangerous sentiment. Indeed, given the multilayered plots on display in this episode, the simple act of trusting appears as the height of naiveté. Especially on the part of someone like Jaime: trust entails a certain submissiveness, the need to subsume oneself to another’s caprices, not something we expect of Jaime Lannister; it is obvious that Brienne does not herself trust Jaime, which makes his avowal doubly significant.

But where Jaime and Brienne are more or less peers, characters like Gendry have grown weary of having their trust betrayed by the people they serve. Responding to Arya’s distress that he plans to join the Brotherhood, he says “I’ve served men my entire life. I served Tobho Mott in King’s Landing and he sold me to the Night’s Watch. I served Lord Tywin at Harrenhal wondering every day if I’d get tortured or killed. I’m done serving.” As he points out, Beric may be the Brotherhood’s leader, but he’s a leader by the sufferance of the people he leads—after a lifetime in servitude, Gendry is understandably attracted to the Brotherhood’s egalitarian structure and mission. As Beric said last week, the Brotherhood fights on behalf of the common people who have been betrayed by their leaders.

And it is not as if their leaders seem to show any genuine interest in their plight: even our beloved Lady Olenna displays her cynical and self-interested streak when discussing finances with Tyrion. Treading water as best he can in his new position as Master of Coin, Tyrion searches for ways to see the realm through to financial stability, and in the short term that means mitigating the obscene costs of the Royal Wedding. Perhaps he hoped that Olenna’s hard-edged pragmatism and impatience with fripperies would win him an ally in trying to reduce the scale of the wedding, but she is having none of it. The wedding must be excessive, she states firmly—what otherwise is the point of it being “royal”? When he tries again to steer her toward the matter of expense, she points out that the wedding is about much, much more than just crowning a new king—it’s about giving the people a spectacle. However much the intervention of the Tyrells has salved the hunger in King’s Landing, “The people are hungry for more than just food. They crave distractions.” Bread and circuses: the symbolic value of the wedding far outstrips its monetary cost, for giving the people leisure to contemplate their leaders on an empty stomach is “likely to end with us being torn to pieces. A royal wedding is much cheaper, wouldn’t you agree?” And because she is a pragmatist, once she has tortured Tyrion enough, she agrees to cover half the wedding’s costs.

"They never let us do this sort of thing at Downton."

One of the things that consistently impresses me about this show is the way the writers frequently work in balanced themes and set-pieces. The overarching series of novels might be called “Ice and Fire,” but this episode was very much about fire and water. “Kissed by Fire,” the episode’s title, is a reference to Ygritte’s flaming red hair—children kissed by fire are considered lucky among the wildlings—but can also refer to the consummation of the attraction and affection that has developed between her and Jon Snow. Jon is, indeed, “kissed by fire” as Ygritte basically forces him to prove the truth of his betrayal by betraying his final oath, that of celibacy. Like the bathing scene between Jaime and Brienne, the post-coital bath taken by Jon and Ygritte signifies a cementing of trust—and is, it is worth noting, the first genuinely joyful and tender depiction of lovemaking since Robb and Talisa fell in love last season. It was, indeed, something of a relief after four episodes in which sex has been either violent and violative, or purely mercenary. Not that it isn’t emotionally ambivalent: we know Jon Snow is only pretending to turn his cloak, meaning that Ygritte’s trust is misplaced (and just like when I read this scene in the novel, I found myself wondering if her wistful desire to stay in the cave forever wasn’t her intuiting that on some level); but Jon’s desire for her and his growing love is genuine.

Fire is also depicted as an agent of justice (Beric Dondarrion’s vengeful flaming sword) and as restorative (Thoros bringing Beric back from the dead). But it is also destructive and wild, as in Jaime’s story about the Mad King’s plan to burn the city to the ground. In the same way, water—cleansing and restorative in the bathing scenes—has an ambivalent nature. Robb executes Rickard Karstark in the pouring rain; but even more striking is the creepy song sung by Stannis’ sweet but sadly disfigured daughter Shireen, a kind of trippy-horror version of “Under the Sea.” And when we finally meet Stannis’ erstwhile queen Selyse, we find her in a chamber where she has preserved her stillborn sons in some translucent liquid, like a mad scientist’s early experiments.

What did you think of the scenes on Dragonstone, Nikki?

Nikki: :::shudder::: The scenes on Dragonstone, much like the ones in the North with Mance Rayder, feel like something the readers are getting a lot more out of than the non-readers. (Perhaps one of the goals of season 3 is to make all of us read the books once and for all.) It certainly felt like we were missing out on some major backstory. It took a moment for me to realize the woman in the room was Stannis’s wife. And I couldn’t figure out why she and her daughter were locked up in a dungeon-type room. Can they get out? Are they trapped there?

What I could cull from the conversations is that she’s a follower of Melisandre and clearly an acolyte who puts her faith above her own well-being. She shows no judgement or jealousy about the fact her husband was unfaithful to her, because it was with the Red Lady. And yeah… her dead baby boys suspended in a green jelly-like liquid just adds further credence to the idea that anyone who follows the Lord of Light is batshit insane.  

That said, Beric appears to be one of those followers. We hear him say the prayer that Melisandre often chants (and that Selyse also says when we see her), “The night is dark and full of terrors.” He uses fire when he’s fighting, not only symbolic of the fire god but also, more pragmatically, it’s the one thing that makes the Hound pee himself in fear. I don’t know if he’s always been a follower or is a recent convert to the religion, but he definitely embraces it wholeheartedly. He tells the Hound, “The Lord of Light isn’t done with you yet” when the Hound walks away from the battle.

The original light sabre, before they worked out the bugs.

I’m thinking the religion of the show is more fleshed-out and important in the books, but from the show I get a sense that the Lord of Light is a monotheistic religion that stands in contrast to the more pantheistic religions on Westeros. I also get a sense that there aren’t a lot of followers of the Lord of Light in Westeros, but instead in the outlying areas. Would that be correct? Is much made of any major characters in Westeros worshipping any gods? Other than the occasional “by the gods” uttered by certain characters (most notably Catelyn) I don’t seem to sense any particular religious fervor among any other characters.

Stannis’s daughter is adorable, despite the one side of her face that’s been eaten away by disease. Despite her father telling her to stay away from Davos, she immediately goes back over to him, offers to teach him how to read and continues to talk to him the way she was before. Here’s hoping Davos can influence Stannis’s daughter in a way he was unable to influence his own son. I’m very intrigued by the friendship between the two, and am looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Is there anything more that could be filled in about Dragonstone from the books that would be non-spoilery? 
"They called me mad at the university! Mad!"

Christopher: I think what we miss on the show is the bigger picture of Stannis: we get that he’s a hard man, unyielding, wedded first and foremost to his own rigid sense of justice, but the show doesn’t offer some of the nuance and insight into his character the books do. What we probably miss most of all is his simmering sense of resentment: he has always felt he has been denied his due, felt constantly slighted by his brother Robert, and above all else loathes the broader tendency among people to be lax in their morals and selective in the application of law and justice. He is Lord of Dragonstone because that was Robert’s “reward” for him for his service in the rebellion, while he gave Storm’s End (the Baratheon castle) to Renly. He is ill liked among the people, something about which he is painfully aware; and his marriage is cold and loveless. Casting Tara Fitzgerald might have been a misstep in this respect, as she is anything but homely and plain (as Selyse is described in the novels), but then again they did a good job of making her haggard and austere.

One thing we never quite get (at least not so far) is how Melissandre insinuated herself into Stannis’ councils. We know she saw him in her scrying and believes him to be Westeros’ saviour; but why someone as hardheaded as Stannis would throw over the religion of his birth in the name of her red god is never explained. One assumes she offered him what no one else ever did: passion, devotion, and recognition of his supposed greatness.

Selyse’s conversion, on the other hand, is easy to understand. Long neglected by her cold and taciturn husband (in the novels there is passing reference to the fact that Stannis does his “husbandly duties” once a year, and grudgingly at that), Melissandre must have offered something akin to a revelation. We get a hint of her near-fanaticism here; in the novels, she is the most vocal prosthelytizer for Melissandre and her god. Those among Stannis’ men who have converted enthusiastically to the worship of R’Hllor are called the “queen’s men,” whereas those who remain skeptical (like Davos, and like Stannis himself) are the king’s.

We don’t get, it is true, a very strong sense of the religions of Westeros and elsewhere in Martin’s world on the show—which isn’t entirely surprising, as there are limited opportunities for that kind of exposition. Basically, the “old gods” of the north represent a pantheistic form of worship, symbolized by the weirwoods; the “seven” of the rest of Westeros seem at first a polytheistic pantheon, but there is a lot of rhetoric here and there in the novels about how they are just seven faces of the one god. In this respect, they are not unlike Jungian archetypes, each representing different facets of human identity and behaviour (Father, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Smith, Warrior, Stranger).

Melissandre’s religion appears monotheistic, but is closer to an ancient religion like Zoroastrianism—a Manichaean faith built on the mythos of two deities locked in perennial battle. The “red god” R’Hllor is opposed to the Enemy (He Who Shall Not Be Named, if you like), the embodiment of cold, darkness, and death.

There is more I can say, but I don’t want to skirt too close to spoiler territory.

To return to the question of trust and betrayal—which, again, tends to get bound up in the question of service—the interchanges between Ser Jorah and Barristan were interesting, and nicely done. I like the way the two knights’ relationship is evolving, and the way in which each is coming to embody a certain kind of devotion and loyalty. Jorah, we know, is in love with Daenerys; his devotion to her cause is inextricable from his desire for her (what was lovely about the final scene of last week’s episode, as I mentioned, was that we saw admiration on his face when he suddenly realized just what kind of queen she is). But he also does believe in her … as he says in response to Barristan’s question, he believes in her with all his heart. 

But we also know Jorah is a venal man, and that his downfall in Westeros was not so much in falling helplessly in love with a vain woman, but his unthinking willingness to do anything for her … culminating in selling slaves and earning himself exile. Barristan, by contrast, is one of the most famously virtuous knights of the seven kingdoms, and is driven by his sense of honour and duty. That sense of honour sends him to find Daenerys; he has no especial emotional investment, and as we see in his conversation with Jorah, that makes him somewhat more clear-eyed. He tries, tactfully, to suggest that someone with as speckled a past as Jorah might not be the best person to be seen with Daenerys when she returns to Westeros, at least not in the elevated position he now holds. Unsurprisingly, Jorah is having none of it.

The most interesting part of their discussion is when they talk about King Robert’s attempts to assassinate Daenerys—which, as we know, Jorah was initially complicit in, at least insofar as he was feeding Robert intelligence. Jorah has a worried moment, wondering if Barristan knows this … but the other knight blithely says that he didn’t bother attending Small Council meetings, meaning he wouldn’t know that. I need to go back to season one to see if Barristan was in fact present when Ned Stark protested Robert’s desire to kill her: I seem to think he was. And if he was, this part of the conversation was a subtle warning to Jorah.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: I remember Barristan from season 1, when he was the head of the Kingsguard (do I remember that correctly?) and he was with Robert Baratheon when the king died, apologizing for not having been there for him. There was a scene early in the season where Barristan, Baratheon, and Jaime Lannister are sitting around talking about great battles they’d been in, and Barristan says that the Mad King had killed Ned’s father, and it’s a good thing he hadn’t faced him on the battlefield. And then Joffrey disgraces him by removing him from the Kingsguard and claiming incompetency.

He was fiercely loyal to Robert Baratheon, and to Ned Stark. And now, after saying he would have killed Daenerys’s father on the battlefield, he pledges his undying loyalty to the Targaryens. Should we be wary of him, or has he seen the way the Lannisters play the game, and since Ned is now gone he believes Daenerys is the true leader?

Speaking of the Lannisters, let’s look at that final scene again. Tywin, Cersei, and Tyrion are all around the table, and Tyrion is boasting of his early accomplishments as Master of Coin, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the royal wedding (I’d like to also mention as an aside that my favourite line of the episode is Olenna saying, “What good is the word ‘extravagant’ if it can’t be used to describe a royal wedding?!” Ha!). Cersei has just revealed to her father the plot to marry Sansa off to Loras, meaning the Tyrells would have the hold on Winterfell once the other Starks (inevitably, in their eyes) fall and make Sansa the sole heir. Tyrion makes a snide remark about Sansa missing certain parts that would make Loris happy, but his chuckles don’t last long before Tywin says he’s putting a kibosh on the plan and Tyrion will marry Sansa. (This suddenly changes the nature of the scene a couple of weeks ago between Tyrion and Shae, where he mentioned that Sansa was a lovely girl and Shae immediately became jealous and thought he meant more than just a passing comment on her beauty.) This news is devastating to Tyrion: First, he’s in love with Shae and not Sansa. Secondly, he actually feels compassion for Sansa, and doesn’t want to enslave her to a life with a mutilated dwarf. And thirdly, for his own sake, he doesn’t want to see the look of horror on her face when she learns her fate.

But Tywin’s punishments are not all reserved for Tyrion, as he wipes the smirk of Cersei’s face by saying she will marry Loras, securing their hold over the Tyrells. Cersei is also missing those particular parts that Tyrion had mentioned, and there’s not just a look of shock on Cersei’s face, but a look of utter devastation. He’s already done this to her once, forcing her to marry the fat, drunk, disgusting Robert Baratheon and stand by while he took many lovers, humiliating her along the way while she kept her own lover a secret. Now he’s going to do it to her again, but this time everyone knows that Loras is gay and that she’s being chained to more shame and humiliation, and yet another man who doesn’t love her. It’s one of those rare moments of sympathy for Cersei.

But it’s not the only sympathetic moment in the show. There’s a brief scene with Jaime early on, overshadowed by later scenes of Jaime in the hot tub or getting his stump lanced (and once again, shudder) where he first arrives at Bolton’s place and Bolton slowly describes the battle at King’s Landing, making Jaime think his sister was violated, mutilated, and destroyed. Only, of course, for Bolton to say, “And everyone is okay and lived happily ever after, amen, haha!” at the end of it. Jaime collapses to the ground in relief. After season 1, it’s hard to recall that there was actually a romance between Cersei and Jaime: apart, Jaime becomes more sympathetic with every episode, while Cersei continues to be vile with brief sympathetic moments, but where we see her asking after her beloved all the time, he doesn’t seem to ask about her. Now we see that she’s still in his head, and he still loves her very much. When a sympathetic character is in love with another, we can’t help but begin to see that second character through the eyes of the first. His love for her and his switch to becoming a hero of this show might just alter her in our eyes.

Any last thoughts, Chris?

"Didn't see that one coming, didya?"

Christopher: I was dreading—dreading—that scene where Tywin informs Tyrion he’s to marry Sansa. It was excruciating enough in the novel, and it was just as painful to watch. Poor Sansa … and poor Tyrion. She is really one of the few—perhaps the only—principal character who has absolutely no agency. She’s a lot more sympathetic than she was in season one, but she above all others has no power over her fate. I somehow don’t think I’m offering spoilers when I say she is less than enthused over her betrothal—besides finding Tyrion physically repulsive, she also cannot see him as anything other than a Lannister, and therefore complicit in her father’s murder. Which is unfortunate, as Tyrion displays genuine concern for her … a greedier and more selfish man would have rejoiced in the “gift” Tywin gave him, seeing only a comely wife and a great fortune and title, but Tyrion (besides being in love with Shae) displays the sort of empathy that seems otherwise absent in his family (though Jaime seems to be developing some).

We haven’t said much about Robb Stark’s quandary, and his decision to execute Rickard Karstark for murdering the Lannister boys … which is possibly just as well. I imagine it’s obvious to those who haven’t read the books that this storyline is slowly building to something, so I’ll let it alone for now.

Which, I think, brings us to the conclusion of yet another week. Once again, Nikki, a pleasure—it’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the season!

"Robb, this just feels wrong without a crossbow."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.04: And Now His Watch Is Ended

Hello hello, and welcome again to the Nikki-Chris co-blog of Game of Thrones--now with extra dragon fire!

One of the things I love about watching this series as someone who has read the books is that there are so many heart-stopping, shocking, or (as with this week's episode) simply awesome moments in the books, it's almost as much fun watching other people experience them for the first time as it is to see them brought to glorious televisual realization. Daenerys's master-stroke at the end of this episode is just one such moment.

So without further ado ...
"Say 'bitch' again. I dare you."
Christopher: So … kind of an uneventful episode, huh?

I am trying, trying so very hard to write down my impressions in a calm and objective manner … and it’s taken me three tries to not open my bit here with all caps and multiple exclamation points. I think I might be in a calmer headspace now, but for the sake of not losing my shit, I am NOT going to begin with the end (as is my inclination). I will leave off impressions of Daenerys’ awesomeness for you, Nikki, as I’m curious to see how someone who hasn’t read the books reacts to her elegant little solution to her problem.

Instead, I will begin in the middle: if it weren’t for the immolation of Astapor in the final ten minutes, the most striking part of this episode for me was the conversation between Cersei and Tywin. And, really, that’s saying a lot, as this episode was full to bursting with a whole series of remarkable two-handed short plays—Jaime and Brienne, Margaery and Sansa … and Varys and Tyrion, Varys and Olenna, Varys and Ros (it was sort of the Varys show, really, except again for the napalming of slavemasters at the end).

But Cersei and Tywin take the win in the understated dialogue category. We have here articulated, finally, Cersei’s smoldering resentment at not being taken seriously by her father. I couldn’t help but think of it almost as a retread of Tyrion’s bitter exchange with their father in episode one. We see that Tyrion isn’t alone in feeling marginalized by Lannister senior—Cersei too believes that her particular talents and insights aren’t being acknowledged, and like Tyrion she is treated to a pretty brutal put-down. When she voices her (well-founded) fears that Margaery is manipulating Joffrey, Tywin’s retort almost certainly had all those who hate that little shit (i.e. everyone) nodding emphatically in agreement: “I wish you could manipulate him. I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman. I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are. You’ve allowed that boy to run roughshod over you and everyone else in this city.”

Truer words never spoken, and I want to take a moment, yet again, to praise Charles Dance’s performance. That gravitas thing I keep coming back to? He owns it. I’ve been wanting to share this very brief clip of him in the adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, in which he plays the enigmatic and very dangerous city Patrician, Lord Vetinari:

He’s one of those actors who can convey more with an eyebrow than most people can with semaphore flags and a megaphone. But what’s even better in this scene? Cersei’s little smile as she listens. “Perhaps you should trying stopping him doing whatever he likes,” she suggests, and in that moment I had an unaccustomed pang of sympathy for her. Anyone who has been following these co-blogs from the start knows that the casting of Lena Headey has been one of the few about which I’ve been ambivalent—but every so often she nails it.

One last thought on the scene: her accusation that he is doing “nothing” to get Jaime back and his response were pitch-perfect; but it’s the letters that he is calmly writing as they speak that are the most important prop in the scene. I’m not offering a spoiler here … just saying that, later in this season (or possibly early in the next, I don’t know the schedule they’re on) those letters will take on a massive significance.

And with that all said, I now cede the stage for Nikki’s reaction to the fire-bombing of Astapor. Cue squeeing in three, two …

"Smells like ... victory."


Where do I start? That Daenerys DID understand everything that horrible tyrant has said to her this whole time? That she figured out how to have her army and get her dragon back, too? That she freed the men, and they still remained with her? That she ended up heeding the advice of BOTH advisors by not only getting an army that is well trained, but earned their respect, which is what she’d been told last week was the most important thing?

That her dragon fucking immolated Kraznys???!!!

Seriously, guys. Targaryens win the Game of Thrones. Game, set, match. We can all go home now. My loyalties remain with Daenerys and I hope she takes down every last one of them. What a frickin’ brilliant scene and end to a lead-up of four episodes.

Daenerys having this epic triumph at the end of the episode comes back to the gender issues you and I were talking about last week, and is an ongoing trope on the show. Back to what you were just talking about, Chris, Cersei demands to know why exactly she can’t be considered the heir. After all, she and Jaime were twins, and therefore born at the same time, but he’s given the title of heir simply because he’s got a Y chromosome. With Craster, there’s a weird gender reversal where he kills the male babies rather than the female ones, but only so he can feed the creatures in the forest and continue to fornicate with his daughters. Not exactly a women’s lib move there. Lady Olenna talks to Cersei and they discuss how ridiculous it is that men only are the ones who have the power. Theon marvels at the fact his father gives so much to his sister and nothing to him (he’s put out by the fact that she is a girl and he is a man, and therefore naturally deserving). And, in an interesting addendum to the scene between Jaime and Brienne last week when they were on the horse and she was asking him what he would do if he were a woman, in this episode, now missing a hand, Jaime is in the depths of depression and wants to die. Brienne tells him he’s suffered a “misfortune,” and he is horrified, telling her he’s lost his sword hand, and “I was that hand.” She looks at him and says with some disgust, “You sound like a bloody woman.” Again, she doesn’t self-identify as a “bloody woman,” and is put out to see him acting like one. Almost immediately, he begins eating, showing a will to live.

In this episode, it’s the ones without penises who show the intellect and nerve: Olenna, Daenerys, Cersei, Arya, Margaery, Ros, Brienne… and Varys. Further to what you said above, I wrote in my notes this week, “Who writes for Varys? His lines are superb.” Conleth Hill delivers the lines with aplomb, so soft-spoken yet forceful, so simple yet poetic. In the first two seasons I didn’t trust this man at all, but there’s something about him this season where I feel he’s on the right side; I just can’t put my finger on it. “Look little lambs, a spider in the garden,” says Olenna when she sees him coming, and it’s that sort of thinking that keeps me from truly trusting him.

But in the only scene with Tyrion this week, Varys finally reveals exactly how he lost his member, in a truly awful memory of a sorcerer who bought him and used him as part of some magic to bring about a voice from the flames. “A voice called, and the sorcerer answered.” He describes being cut, “root and stem,” and the entire time, he’s curiously prying open a large wooden crate (which, at one point, we see Tyrion lean over to look at and there are clearly holes in the one end). I’m sure most people in the audience who, like me, hadn’t read the books, could still anticipate what we were going to find in there. But the moral of his story was clear: patience wins. Some look for immediate revenge, but that kind of revenge is swift and not well thought-out. It’s the slow, patient revenge, where you keep your eye on the prize but live a life outside of it, slowly growing your influence so that revenge will be spectacular, that is the most rewarding. At the beginning of the season, I commented that our first glimpse of Tyrion is him looking into a mirror at his scar. Here, in a very similar moment, Varys looks into his mirror as he recounts his long wait. Staring at himself in that mirror, his look announces to the audience that he knows exactly who he is, and has looked at himself and inside himself to know what he needs to do. It’s a wonderful scene, and my favourite bit of dialogue in the episode. “I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time,” he tells Tyrion as he finally cracks open the crate. “If you have the stomach for it.”

That said, Daenerys didn’t wait at all, and her revenge was SWEET.

"You know, Varys ... just because you can order something online doesn't mean you have to."

Christopher: To answer your question about who writes for Varys: a lot of the time it’s George R. R. Martin. Varys’ best lines in this episode were in telling the story of how he got cut—and that tale is practically verbatim from the novel. But his other exchanges were inventions … as was the home delivery of the sorcerer (is there anything Amazon doesn’t ship?). I laughed when you said that it was fairly obvious what was going to be revealed when he opened the box, because I did not see that coming at all—which perhaps is an interesting little blind spot that comes with having read the novels. If it didn’t happen in the books, I’m not really looking at it.

Did anyone else who has read the books feel the same?

I agree with you that Conleth Hill’s portrayal of Varys has been amazing—not least because in the novels he’s described as being corpulent and primped and powdered and exaggeratedly effeminate—a sort of sinister Cameron from Modern Family, if you like. And while that is at times shown to be all affected, Varys playing to people’s expectations of him, it does get a little wearying after a while. I far prefer this Varys, with his quiet dignity.

That being said, he does make much of the virtue of being unobtrusive, and indeed conforming to what people expect as a means of hiding in plain sight. That was one of the themes running through this episode, as was evident in the conversation between Lady Olenna and Cersei—the Queen of Thorns quite obviously has no use for men and their pretensions to power and strength, and is doubly disgusted that such chuckle-headed louts are the ones ruling the world. Cersei, tellingly, cannot quite bring herself to agree and offers the lame and unconvincing argument that things are the way they are because, well, gods. The difference between Olenna and Cersei is that Cersei wants power but cannot imagine how she can grasp or wield it outside of a patriarchal structure—first, she assumes she can rule through her son; when that doesn’t work, she asks her father oh, please, can I have just a little bit of the power? She completely misses what Olenna grasps so sublimely—that these self-important men cannot see her as anything other than a woman—in her youth an ornament, in her winter years a curmudgeonly old bat. But knowing that she is thus effectively invisible, she is able to plot all the more subtly.

And speaking of hiding in plain sight: that was also what Daenerys effectively did. Those closest to her know her worth, having seen her emerge from the fire with dragons on her shoulders. Barristan Selmy is the exception on this front, but he venerates her lineage. In Astapor, as in Qarth, she is seen as little better than a beggar, a pretty thing who wants to play at being a queen.

More fools them. But she even surprises her own people: I think my favourite part of the Astapor scene (aside from that moment when she orders her dragon to barbecue the douchebag) is the expression on Jorah’s face as he realizes what Dany has done, and what she’s about to do. It’s a wonderfully subtle moment, and Iain Glenn gets it right—just the right amount of dawning realization mingled with awe and respect. I love the fact that the slavemaster is oblivious at first when she speaks in Valyrian, so enthralled is he with his new prize, while everyone else essentially does a double take. And when he does realize it, her imperious response to his question, that she is of the House Targaryen and that Valyrian is her native tongue, shows just how far Daenerys has come since we first met her.

And then, appropriately, a whole lot of blood and fire. Am I the only person who watched the pillars of flame leap up behind Daenerys and thought of Apocalypse Now?

"Fighting the Hound with no depth perception ... this is a GOOD idea."

Nikki: For those reading this, when Chris sent me his first pass he titled the email “I love the smell of dragonfire in the morning…” and I thought the Apocalypse Now allusion was entirely appropriate, and correct.

Let’s move over to another character, one I tend to ignore for the most part but whose story was actually shocking this week. Last week, Chris, you were talking about the various forms of torture on this show and how graphic they can be, and this week they stepped it up to a different sort of torture. We’ve seen Theon on the wooden X, with a screw being slowly turned into his foot. The physical torture there was unbearable, and I commented that I wondered if the emotional torture of putting a bag over his head and then whispering that he’ll come back for him later was almost worse, because he’s in a room, unable to see, not knowing what danger lurks around every corner.

But this week it’s stepped up to a horrific level. Last week he was free, on his way to find his sister before being ambushed, before the boy who freed him (who I believe hasn’t been named; I have yet to hear a name for him onscreen) shows up and saves his life. This week they continue on to Yara’s hold, and they come in through the back of the place. Theon finally confesses to the crime of finding two orphan boys and killing and burning the bodies to make it look like Rickon and Bran so that he could take King’s Landing and make his father proud. He begins by spouting his usual venom against Ned Stark, but by the end of his monologue he admits that Ned was always his father, and now that Ned is dead (Ned’s dead, baby… Ned’s dead… sorry, couldn’t resist that one), he’ll never be able to impress his father. It’s a moment of clear-sightedness that Theon has been lacking so far, and I wonder if this means his character will become a little more interesting?

But all of that takes a backseat to what the youth has waiting for him… for he’s led him through the back gate of the very castle where he’d been kept captive, and as he strikes a match and holds up a torch, shouting to the others that he’d caught Theon escaping, Theon realizes with horror and utter sorrow that he’s right back where he started, in the torture room with the giant wooden X. His saviour has become his betrayer, and the hope that had built in him for the past day washes out of him like a flood. It’s a truly devastating moment. How can he possibly recover from that? Will he ever trust anyone again? It makes me wonder who these men are, exactly. Are they his father’s men? Will his confession to the boy be his downfall? (I’m thinking that’s likely.) Could they belong to someone else?

"I'd take this more seriously if it wasn't signed, 'sincerely, Heywood Jablomy'."

Christopher: I think my only choice as regards Theon is to take the fifth—they’ve made significant changes to his storyline, but not so significant that I can’t see how they’ll possibly link up again with what’s happening in the novels. I’ve got a very good idea of whom the men are who’ve captured him and whom his erstwhile saviour is. But then, I could also be entirely wrong if the writers have decided to reinvent Theon’s unfortunate side-trip into misery.

I will however say this much: if they are doing what I suspect, it’s a pretty ingenious way to keep Theon relevant to the plot, as well as build toward something resembling sympathy for the simpering little shit.

Sorry if that’s frustrating, but I’m erring on the side of caution. Fellow GRRM fans, y’all know what I mean.

On reflection, this episode was pretty evenly divided between shocks and dialogue (note to self: copyright “Shocks and Dialogue” as a possible band name). Again not counting Daenerys’ gambit in Astapor, the biggest shock was north of the Wall, when a handful of Night Watchmen turn not just on Craster, but on their own commander—killing Jeor Mormont as well as their reluctant host. I of course knew this was coming, but it was a harrowing moment in the novel. I’m curious to know what viewers thought … it’s not that we didn’t get hints that the rangers were feeling mutinous, but it is still a horrifying transgression.

(It hasn’t really been articulated as such on the show, but the law of hospitality is as close as we come to something sacrosanct in the novels—even the most treacherous and desperate person will not turn on his guests or his host, both for fear of being labelled an oathbreaker and for fear of divine retribution. So however much of a monster Craster is, once the Night Watchmen have eaten his food, they are bound by the law of hospitality to obey his rules and not harm his person. Hence the extremely egregious nature of their crime).

In the novel, that mutinous muttering is more pronounced, as we learn in the prologue that a group of the watchmen have hatched a plot to kill Mormont, steal food and horses, and flee … only to have their plan interrupted by the ice-zombie attack. Their treason is only postponed, however, and becomes absorbed into the general chaos of violence that erupts under Craster’s roof. Again, no one is safe: Jeor Mormont might not have been everyone’s favourite character, but he was a solid and gruffly likable figure (much more so than when he played an IRA-connected priest on season three of Sons of Anarchy). But there he goes, killed rather suddenly—by his own men, no less.

All of which sends Sam frantically out to the birthing shack to collect Gilly and her baby boy and take her off into the frozen forest—which, as we all know, holds fiends even more dangerous than the ones sacking Craster’s keep.

What did you think of that mutiny in the north, Nikki? Did it come as a shock?

Nikki: As you say, it was definitely an episode that balanced the quite moments of explanatory dialogue that opened new avenues for the episodes to come, with the shocking ends of the storylines that have been in the works for a while. (I think this is easily my favourite episode yet.) And the mutiny was definitely a shock. For me, it wasn’t surprising that they killed Craster — he’s made out to be a scumbag of the lowest possible kind, and the only true fate for this guy was to wind up dead — but when they turned on Mormont, I was very surprised. (I’m also currently in season 3 of Sons of Anarchy… with all its Oirish accents.) My husband said it came as no surprise to him; after all, these are mostly thieves and people who were sent to the Wall because they had no other use in society. Not exactly a group of tea-sipping gentlemen.

So now they’re all running wild in the woods North of the Wall, and that’s a bad thing. The one guy who particularly hates Sam (or “Piggy,” as he prefers to call him) shouts a threat out to him as Sam retreats with Gilly, but as you say, the men of the Night’s Watch might be the least of Sam’s problems.

As usual, there’s just so much to cover here that we have to breeze over the last parts. Arya is entrenched in the Brotherhood without Banners as they put the Hound on trial and find him guilty, mainly because of Arya calling up something that happened way back at the beginning of season 1, where Joffrey ordered that the Hound kill the butcher’s boy, Arya’s friend. The Hound is an interesting character, because while here he stands tall, sneering at Arya and everyone else and saying he was quite simply following orders, in season 2 we saw him defying those orders to try to save Sansa. Was he just doing it for himself — was part of him in love with her — or did he feel some loyalty to Ned Stark? I thought he rather crossed over to the side of “good guy” last season, so I’m torn about whose side I’m on here.

I strongly suspect Margaery Tyrell is no Belieber.

Margaery continues to be amazing, and in this episode she claps and squeals as Joffrey shows her the remains of the Targaryens, gleefully dancing upon their remains as he recounts each of their deaths. Cersei looks on from afar, wondering about the boy, when Margaery comes up with the idea of taking him out on the balcony to feel the love of his people. Cersei lunges forward, thinking, “Oh my GOD they hate him and will kill him” but Margaery has everything under control, laying the foundation for this moment by visiting all those orphanages and telling everyone how much their king loves them. And she’s right; they walk out onto the balcony and are basically King’s Landing’s Will and Kate, waving to all below them. Not only has she convinced Joffrey that he’s a popular ruler, but by standing at his side she makes sure everyone sees her and only her as his queen.

And finally, while Bran’s not in the episode for long, we see another throwback to the beginning of season 1 (the first episode, actually), where Bran begins climbing a tree in his dreamscape, only to have Catelyn find him up there and bellow at him to stop climbing… berating him to such an extent that he actually falls just like he did after seeing Jaime and Cersei together. It’s a reminder to all of us that Bran knows what the twins have been up to, and who Joffrey’s real father is. Ned Stark might be dead, but Bran Stark has the knowledge in his head, even if he doesn’t quite understand it yet.

And ALL of this sets the scene for new storylines and directions next week. I cannot wait. We shall see you all next week!

Targaryens know they're cool.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.03: The Walk of Punishment

Welcome to the great co-blog of Game of Thrones, episode three: “Walk of Punishment.” And no, the title has nothing to do with all of the exam grading I’ve been doing for the last few days.


Well, without further ado, here is my lovely and talented co-blogger Nikki Stafford of the prolific and equally lovely Nik at Nite blog. What did you think of episode three, Nik?

"Don't screw up, don't screw up, don't screw up ..."

Nikki: Daenerys offers to sell a dragon (GAH!), Arya eats bread shaped like a direwolf… or something… Catelyn’s father’s funeral is turned into a laughingstock, Theon gets away (dammit!), Pod proves himself a sex god, Tyrion hilariously drags a chair, Craster continues to be a dick, Talisa scares some Lannister kids, Stannis’s sexual advances are shot down, Jon Snow finds horse parts in a spiral pattern in the snow, the end credits feature the freakin’ Hold Steady (!!!)… and Locke turns Jaime into a leftie while talking about his “fah-thah.”

Folks, it’s the happy fun-time Game of Thrones hour!

I loved this episode. A lot of it felt like it was pushing chess pieces in line for bigger things to come in the next couple of episodes, but it didn’t feel like an exposition episode for me. Tyrion brought the humour, Daenerys the power, and it ended with a massive shocking cliffhanger. So… let’s start with that last bit.

Chris and I both commented on the awesomeness of the Jaime and Brienne comedy hour last week, but this week that comedy turned into something else. While chained to each other on a horse, Brienne expresses her disappointment that the Kingslayer wasn’t the sword baron that she thought he was. He makes excuses — tired, dirty, hungry, has been tied up for the better part of a year, his hands were tied together at the time — but they just come off as pathetic to Brienne. A Kingslayer should be able to overcome any of those things, not be beaten by a woman. It’s interesting that her chiding didn’t actually come off as sarcasm or a victory dance on his face, but genuine disappointment that the man didn’t live up to his legend.

Perhaps Jaime was suitably impressed by Brienne’s show of swordspersonship, or perhaps he just feels like she’s his only ally now, but he’s actually kind of nice to her… in a way. On the horse he tells her that the men will try to rape her, and she needs to let them. She, of course, takes offense, and asks him what he would do. (Reason #814 why I love Brienne; she doesn’t ask what he would do if it happened to his sister or daughter, she asks what he would do, comparing herself to the man and not the woman.) He says if he were a woman he would make them kill him.

And so, when the men inevitably take Brienne once they’re at the encampment with every intention to gang-rape her, you can see her instincts kick in, and she begins fighting tooth and nail. While her scene takes place entirely off camera — we only hear her screams — one can only imagine the fight she’s putting up. She doesn’t want the men to “besmirch” her, as Jaime puts it, and perhaps, she’s trying to get them to kill her, which would be more welcome than whatever else they have in mind. When they bring her back to the camp after Jaime’s discussion with Locke, notice even her armour is still intact; they didn’t get very far with her.

And as for Jaime, he’s always been a very, very clever boy. It’s what makes his character so intriguing. Yes, he has an incestuous relationship with his sister and has often been characterized as a scumbag, but when you take the Lannister stuff out of the equation, he’s a hell of a knight. He’s killed a king; he’s a formidable swordsman; he’s handsome and witty and strong; he’s very intelligent; he plans things through. But he’s not quite as intelligent as Tyrion. He comes up with an obvious plan, one that could easily be seen through by anyone who’s been to the Sapphire Isle and isn’t three years old. We see earlier in the episode that Talisa loves to scare the Lannister boys with tales of Robb eating children during a full moon. Jaime’s tale isn’t much higher on the intelligence scale, especially with a man as well travelled as Locke. Jaime thinks he can cleverly charm his way out of every situation, but the moment Locke unchains him (something he didn’t have to do), offers him partridge, and refers to him in a manner indicating that Locke is his inferior, the audience knows something terrible is afoot. He’s angry that Jaime would try to convince him the Sapphire Isle is actually coated in sapphires (right… and if I want some emeralds I just need to go to Ireland and chip them out of the sidewalks?) and he makes him pay for his insolence by… cutting off his hand. It’s a horrific scene, one that is immediately reminiscent of the end of Empire Strikes Back, right down to Locke talking about Tywin Lannister immediately before doing it. “You’re nothing without your father” has supplanted Darth Vader’s legendary “No, I’m your father” line, and the episode fades to black as Jaime screams in horror and holds up the bloody stump of an arm that’s left. I didn’t see that one coming.

So, Chris, how close was that scene to the book? There’s a moment where Locke is pressing the sword into Jaime’s eye and then he doesn’t go through with it, and for a second I wondered if perhaps, in the book, they actually removed his eyeball, but the writers decided to switch it to a hand to help out the makeup department. Did they make a switch or is this behanding true to the book? 

"Can you see where we're headed?" "All too well."

Christopher: It’s fairly close to the scene in the book, except that Jaime and Brienne are captured here by a different set of people. In the novel, they’re taken by a rather horrifying band of mercenaries called the Bloody Mummers, who had originally worked for Tywin but whose loyalty had been bought by Roose Bolton … so when they capture Jaime and Brienne, they’re technically on the Starks’ side. Obviously the Mummers have been left out of the show for the sake of keeping things simple (or as simple as this sprawling series can be), which is probably a wise decision—but I doubt I’m alone among GRRM fans in lamenting their absence. They are one of Martin’s darker and more horrifying inventions … and that’s a pretty high bar.

Also, in the novel they don’t wait—they cut off Jaime’s hand almost as soon as the capture him, so the protracted verbal fencing between Locke and Jaime is entirely invented. Except, that is, for Jaime’s intervention in Brienne’s imminent rape—that was pretty close to the book.

But in all, the violent amputation of Jaime’s sword hand was very well done, and startling in how quickly it happens. Of course, all those who have read the books knew it was coming; as soon as Locke unchained Jaime, I felt my stomach clench a little. It’s a credit to the show that, even though I knew what was about to happen, it was still a shock to actually watch it. And while Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was pretty awesome all through this episode, he did an especially good job of reacting to his sudden de-handing. A look of shock and bewilderment, followed quickly by a scream of horror and pain as he suddenly realizes what has happened … fade to black!

George R. R. Martin really likes beating up on his characters, doesn’t he? I like to joke with my students that if they ever discover their life is a Shakespearean tragedy and they’re the title character, they’re pretty much fucked. What might be worse? Being a significant character in a GRRM novel.

I’m offering no spoilers whatsoever when I say that Jaime’s mutilation heralds a significant shift in his character and how we perceive him. A Storm of Swords is notable among other reasons for giving him his own POV chapters, and we’re given an insight into his previously inscrutable character that works against everything we’ve thus far assumed. The loss of his sword hand isn’t a literal emasculation, but it’s close—Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, is a man who has been defined by his swordsmanship all his life. I have to imagine that, given the choice between losing his hand or losing his dick, he’d be hard pressed to choose. All of which makes the discussion between him and Brienne about her domination in the bridge fight somewhat more poignant—she questions his “manhood” in what we now see to be an anticipatory way.

Nikki, I think you’re exactly right when you point out Brienne’s response to Jaime’s suggestion, re: her inevitable rape. She identifies Jaime’s myopia, and by extension the broadly male tendency to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of rape and sexual assault. In suggesting she lie back and think of Renly, he betrays his ignorance, seeing the entirely-expected rape as different from consensual sex in degree rather than kind. You’re right in that he would probably make the same recommendation to Cersei; he’d just follow it up with the promise of bloody vengeance on her violators. But Brienne cuts through the bullshit: what would he do? He’d make them kill him. Because when it’s his own body, he can’t pretend it’s anything but abject humiliation and a brutal, violent exercise of power over his person.

When Jaime follows up his response to Brienn’s question with “I’m not [a woman], thank the Gods,” it serves to amplify his ignorance. If he were a woman, he’d make them kill him; but he assumes that because he’s not a woman, he is somehow immune to sexual assault, which again implies that rape is connected to unbridled lust. But as it happens, we do see a man nearly raped—when Theon is overtaken in his flight, his captor snarls “I’m gonna fuck you into the dirt” as he fumbles with his belt and his henchmen start to drag Theon’s pants down. Like Brienne, Theon receives a reprieve, but for a few terrifying moments he experiences the horror that Jaime Lannister imagines is merely hypothetical.

One of the most difficult elements of A Song of Ice and Fire, and something a lot of people complain about, is just how baldly and brutally GRRM depicts these sorts of situations. Fantasy? Yes, the novel is certainly fantasy fiction, but grounded in historical realities. Much fantasy, from the Arthurian legends to Tolkien and beyond, glosses the fact that rapine wasn’t just a matter of soldiers being brutal, but was in fact a weapon of war. To “cry havoc” was the order letting soldiers off the leash, giving them free rein in a sacked city to rape, steal, and kill—usually done in retaliation for a castle or town’s refusal to surrender. In Henry V, Shakespeare puts it quite graphically as the king threatens the besieged town of Harfleur:

    Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
    Take pity of your town and of your people,
    Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
    Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
    O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
    Of heady murder, spoil and villainy.
    If not, why, in a moment look to see
    The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
    Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
    Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
    And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
    Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
    Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
    Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
    At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
    What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
    Or, guilty in defense, be thus destroy'd? (3.3: 27-43)

 Or check out Kenny B's version:

Sorry for the lengthy quotation, but nowhere else do I know of a more eloquently horrifying vision of soldiers run rampant. Crying havoc was a common enough military practice that the governor or mayor of a town could be prosecuted after the fact for not surrendering and sparing his people such brutality—“guilty in defense” was the actual legal term for such a prosecution.

This feels like an inadequate treatment of this sequence, but if I don’t move on this blog post will go on forever ….

What did you think of our new additions in Riverrun, Nikki? First we have Catelyn’s uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, and her hapless brother Edmure … played by another Rome alum, Tobias Menzies, who played Brutus.

Edmure screws up.

Nikki: Oh yes, I recognized Brutus and his crooked front teeth right away. If they can get Vorenus and Pullo, my happiness would be complete.

Catelyn’s father is dead, and because of Edmure’s incompetence, what should have been a solemn funeral turns into a farce. Luckily Catelyn’s uncle Brynden pushes Edmure out of the way, checks the wind, and shoots a perfect arrow into the air to set the funeral pyre alight just before it disappears in the distance. (Question: What would they have done if it had gone around the corner?)

I loved the scene of Catelyn and her uncle. Catelyn has made some pretty grave errors and cost people a lot in her mismanagement of things, but in this moment she’s both a grieving daughter and mother, and you can’t help but feel sympathy for her. She just watched her father float away, and now she stares out the window telling her uncle — who never once calls her on the things she’s done wrong — that she’s thinking of how many times Bran and Rickon looked out the window waiting for her to come home, and now they’re gone. Interestingly her uncle says exactly what has happened without knowing it — maybe they’ve escaped and are travelling away right now, just keeping under the radar. I do hope Catelyn sees them once more, or at least finds out that they’re alive and well.

Meanwhile, Robb is pretty pissed that his stupid uncle ruined a battle by going too far and destroying their chances to get a lead in the larger picture. By sacrificing 208 men in an otherwise low-grade fight, he’s hurt their small army enormously. Methinks the battle smarts in the House of Tully seems to have skipped a generation.

But speaking of armies, Daenerys has now gotten herself a hell of a formidable one. In a very long and wonderfully written scene, she marches resolutely along the Walk of Punishment as men hang dying on crucifixes alongside her. When she stops to offer one of them water, he refuses, showing that even in death, his loyalty to his superiors remains. He was told to die, and he will die, dammit. Taking that water would simply prolong the agony.

Daenerys now has two advisors who disagree on what makes up an army. Ser Jorah argues that the Unsullied are the best army because loyalty has been beaten into them. Ser Barristan argues that the best army is one whose loyalty you have earned, not one that you’ve beaten into submission. The best fighters will be the ones with passion and emotion and sincere loyalty for their leader. Daenerys takes both forms of advice and goes to the horrible, filthy Kraznys to tell him she wants every last one of the Unsullied: the 8,000-strong army, plus the ones still in training. I thought about her decision to take the entire army when I was watching this and realized that despite Jorah and Barristan both looking dismayed, she’s actually taking both of their words of advice to heart. Kraznys thinks nothing of killing the Unsullied’s family, cutting off their nipples, and doing god-knows-what-else torture-wise to them. We all know Daenerys wouldn’t do any of those things to the men: perhaps by the very act of buying them, she could earn their loyalty by taking them away from this scumbag? That way, she has the trained loyalty plus earned loyalty all wrapped up in one.

"I can't say I'm impressed with the way they've done this esplanade."

Back to the scene, as Kraznys continues to take potshots at her in another language, he demands to know how in Aerys’s name she plans to pay for such an army. “I have dragons,” she says flatly.

And everyone at home gasps in horror and has the same face as Ser Jorah in that moment.

Give up a dragon?? Isn’t that worth several armies? I don’t care if she still has two. Kraznys realizes the value, says he wants all three, and she’s immovable at one, though she promises the biggest one. And she’ll take his slave girl while she’s at it. I just know Daenerys has something up her, well, okay she doesn’t have sleeves, but up her corset, and I can’t wait to see what it is. Just please, please, please, in the name of GRRM, let her understand everything this cock has been saying to her in every scene.

And if I were a writer, just for the record, here’s how it would play out.

Kraznys’s Diary
That little Targaryen bitch left yesterday, taking all of my soldiers, but I have a bloody dragon! Haha… with this dragon I will rule the kingdoms, and force it to do my will, and
[dragon eats Kraznys, flies back to Daenerys]

Ah. That felt better.

[Reservoir Dogs theme]

Christopher: I’m saying nothing. Suffice it to say that I am practically bouncing in my chair in impatience for episode four.

If they were to get Vorenus and Pullo on this show, I think my head would quite literally explode from the critical mass of fanboyism. It’s not like there’s any lack of characters we haven’t yet met that they would be perfect for. Think they could tempt Kevin McKidd away from Grey’s Anatomy? They don’t even let him use his actual accent on that show. Idiots.

Poor Tobias Menzies—you’d think that after that hapless, luckless version of Brutus they had him playing on Rome, HBO might have given him a more competent character to play. But failing that … well, he’s spot-on as Edmure, even if it’s starting to feel like typecasting. That opening sequence was perfectly done, and totally true to the novel. The Blackfish is an amazing character in the books, but Clive Russell has managed to ratchet up his awesomeness by a factor of awesome (sorry—channeling Barney Stinson there. True story). I especially love the fact that he didn’t bother to wait and see if the fire-arrow would ignite the boat, just turned and contemptuously tossed the bow back to Brutus.

(Also, as an aside to the Television Gods: either Lucius Vorenus or Titus Pullo would make excellent additions to this series, but we’d also like to implore you to consider making the following additions as well: Stringer Bell, Al Swearengen, or Lord John Marbury. Also, he might not be British, but you know Nathan Fillion would pay his own airfare just for a walk-on. Also, see if you can’t work on that Martin Freeman cameo while we’re at it, OK?)

Something I’ve read a number of times in other comments on this episode is a sense of satisfaction that we finally see Robb Stark’s command chops. So far (aside from the battle in which Jaime is captured) we’ve only heard about his talents as a war leader. Here at last is the King in the North. Remember that aside I had last week about gravitas and the depiction thereof? Robb Stark’s got it. The scene in which he dresses Edmure down is right out of the novel.

But to turn to Dany: James Poniewozik has an amazing blog post this week about this episode and the way it deals with the question of money. As already mentioned, GRRM departs from the custom of much fantasy insofar as he is frequently preoccupied with the often unpleasant historical realities of warfare and monarchical power. One of those realities is money and finance. Or, as Poniewozik puts it: “I’ve been re-reading Tolkien with my kids lately, and while there are troves of gold and plunder, there’s not much talk about the economy of the Shire, or how Denethor pays for the defense of Minas Tirith in a declining Gondor.” One of the inconvenient truths (to coin an expression) with which this episode presents us is the cost of doing business in Westeros, something entirely consistent with the novels. Running a kingdom, raising an army—these are extremely expensive ventures. Daenerys wants to invade Westeros—but with what? Ser Jorah’s pragmatism doesn’t sit well with the honourable Barristan Selmy, but he doesn’t have much in the way of rebuttal to Jorah’s arguments (also, it is worth noting that Jorah’s case resonates thematically with the rest of this episode—the Unsullied will not behave as normal soldiers, i.e. they will not rape and despoil. The ethical dimension here gets pretty knotty; Daenerys is reluctant to own a slave army, but expresses equal revulsion, as we saw in season one, by the prospect of rapine).

Though I can only speak for myself on this point, I suspect many readers of the novels will agree that it was a profound moment of shock and dismay when Daenerys essentially turns her dragons—her children, really—into currency.

Back over in King’s Landing, Tyrion has been handed the “honour” of becoming Master of Coin, taking over as Littlefinger prepares to depart and woo crazy Lysa Arryn, she of the creepy breastfeeding. It’s really rather tempting to look at what Tyrion discovers in the royal ledgers—namely, that Littlefinger’s magic with gold simply amounts to borrowing hugely—in light of contemporary concerns over deficits and austerity, but I’d prefer to talk instead about the way Tywin’s bestowing of this office is … well, I want to say it’s a backhanded compliment, but really it’s an out-and-out insult. It’s made explicit in the novels that Tywin Lannister, and all nobles like him, disdain what we’d call “new money,” and disdain the actual task of tallying expenses. Tyrion’s initial reaction is ambivalent. "I'm quite good at spending money," he says, "but a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn't taught me much about managing it." And everyone who has ever had to deal with entitled rich kids chorused “YES!”

What do you think of Tyrion’s new post, Nikki? And did you laugh as hard as I did when he took forever to drag the chair to the end of the table?

"And that is how we do things downtown."
Nikki: OMG are we doing fantasy casting now?? David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston, please. Actually, Tom Baker would make a formidable ageing king or great-uncle of some sort. But in the non–Time Lord side of things, I second (and third, and fourth) Stringer Bell. I’d also love to see Jared Harris, Anthony Stewart Head, David Morrissey (with both eyes intact), and Eddie Izzard. Seriously, Eddie would be FABULOUS.

But speaking of British wit (from an American, no less), yes, the scene with Tyrion dragging that chair had me in stitches. What a fantastic scene: by simply taking their places at the table, you see the ambitions and cleverness of each one. Baelish — metaphorically speaking — pushes the others into the dirt and leaps over the table to be the first one next to Tywin, looking a little too excitable. Varys bows his head and is content to be second to Baelish. Pycelle, as usual, is just happy to still be sitting at the table, so he takes the third chair. But that’s not good enough for Cersei. She picks up a chair and with dignity and grace, carries it around the table, behind Tywin, to be placed at his right hand, which is symbolic in itself (Baelish is at the unfortunate left).

And Tyrion, the smartest of all of them all (and the most brazen and one who cares least about grace), waits for them to all act like clowns before nonchalantly wandering over, grabbing the chair, slowly and loudly dragging it to the head of the table — the only one with the nerve to make himself an equal of Tywin — and then hops up on the seat, reaching down and pulling it forward with one last little “errr” sound. It was hilarious. Peter Dinklage is just amazing in the scene, not changing his face once, and smugly staring down the table at his nasty father before complimenting him on his choice of table.

In his new job as Master of Coin, Tyrion gets the only title with actual work attached to it, and he’s none too happy (as you said a couple of weeks ago, Chris, Tywin knows that his son is smart, even if he doesn’t have to like him for it). As you rightfully point out, the management of money is a disgusting task that nobles and royalty would rather not think about, but in the modern age (if we think of Game of Thrones as being the modern age… for them, at least), it’s a necessity. Think of the premise of Downton Abbey: during King Henry VIII’s reign he burned all the abbeys, and then bestowed what was left on noble families who built them back up into royal mansions. But by the 20th century, this old money had dwindled, and inflation was forcing these families to pour every cent they had into the upkeep of these mansions, forcing them to look for new ways to make money just to support their houses. So while you tune in to see a family that’s waited on hand and foot, with a bunch of spoiled little daughters who don’t even know how to boil water by the time they’re in their twenties, you quickly realize it’s actually about how the lord of the manor lives every day trying to squeeze one more penny out of the place, wondering how the hell he’s going to pay the bills (while the lady of the manor spends every waking moment actually managing the place). It’s enough to make you think why don’t you just sell the damn place and get a four-bedroom apartment, for goodness’ sake!

So now Tyrion’s been put on this task, and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any fallout over his discovery of what Lord Baelish has done. But for now, let’s look instead at his gift to Pod, and what happened afterwards. A truly wonderful scene for undercutting the audience’s expectations: we expect the boy to come back, all flushed and now “a man,” but instead he plops the money back onto the desk, shrugs his shoulders and humbly suggests that maybe the girls liked whatever it was he did to them. Tyrion just stops, looks over Bronn, purses his lips and then leaps off the chair, insisting that Pod give them every single detail. Tyrion was definitely at the heart of the funniest moments of this episode.

Not so funny, however, is what was happening in the North with Jon Snow and Sam’s different groups. Just when I thought Craster was the worst rat bastard on the show, he’s even worse.  

Christopher: So we’re clear, the apparently OCD tendency of the White Walkers to strew body parts in symmetrical patterns (which, admittedly, we haven’t seen since the first episode of season one) is an invention of the show—and like most of their inventions, it’s pretty well done. The crane shot of the horses’ heads had me thinking (and I can’t possibly be the only one) “Holy shit—The Godfather on crystal meth.” (And speaking of dream casting—if the TV gods want to include Walter White, that would also be most excellent. The Walter White Walker? C’mon people, the episode writes itself! “Jon Snow! We have to cook!”).

I’m falling ever more deeply in love with Ciarán Hinds as Mance Rayder. In the novel, his directive to Jon Snow to accompany the team heading south of the wall has the same sort of bravado—knowing he can’t totally trust the turncoat, but also recognizing his value, all of which comes together in what is for all intents a purposes a rather daring gesture. It would be safer to keep Jon Snow close, but Mance isn’t a cautious man. We haven’t yet heard his backstory, how he came to desert the Night’s Watch and become the King Beyond the Wall, and I won’t tell that story in case it comes up later in the series … suffice to say that the few moments where Mance gives his orders and makes it plain he doesn’t yet trust Jon? Lovely. His declaration that he’s going to “light the biggest fire the north has ever seen!” was a brilliant flourish.

However nervous Jon Snow is feeling, undercover with the wildlings, he’s in a much better head space than Sam … or the rest of the Night’s Watch survivors, for that matter. They find their doleful way back to Craster’s Keep, and once again we have a rather brutal discussion of utility and value, prompted when one of the black brothers resentfully observes that Craster feeds his pigs better than his guests. To which Craster retorts that his pigs are far more valuable than his guests.

Once again I sigh: poor Sam. He’s already earned the cruel nickname Ser Piggy from some of his “brothers,” and finds himself compared to Craster’s livestock. (I must confess, I laughed at Craster’s suggestion that the brothers carve off bits of Sam to feed themselves as they need it, but only because it reminded me of my father’s oft-told joke about the super-heroic three-legged pig. On being asked why the pig had a peg leg, the farmer matter-of-factly responds, “Hell, a pig that good, you don’t eat him all at once.”)

As Craster torments Sam, they hear the cries of Gilly’s labour. Craster has no patience for her noise (which aligns him with Joffrey’s hatred of the “wailing of women”), but Sam slips away and pokes his head into the birthing hovel. Considering Sam’s previously declared inexperience with all things feminine, one assumes this was rather a shocking experience for him. But of course there is a thematic line here as well: Craster treats his “wives” as he does his livestock, considering them more or less in the same category as his property. That Sam’s view of the birth comes immediately after Craster’s (really rather defensive) declarations that he is a godly man is ominous. Craster’s “gods,” it is made clear, are not quite the same as the “old gods” that northerners worship—and we learned last season what he does with male children. Having read the books, I know the sex of Gilly’s child; but I suspect it doesn’t come as a great galloping shock that he’s a boy … and this prompts Sam to precipitate action.

Any last thoughts, Nikki?

"I love what you've done with this space." "Thanks. It's a bitch getting a good feng shui person in King's Landing."

Nikki: That’s so funny, because in my notes I wrote, “Baby’s clearly a boy,” so in my mind, it had been made clear. You’re right; it’s not hard to guess that’s what it’ll be, because if it had been a girl that would sort of be the end of this plotline. But we all remember Gilly telling Sam how badly she wanted a girl because she couldn’t bear to lose her son. Craster is horrible.

Let’s see, the ones we haven’t yet talked about at any length are Theon, Arya, and Stannis. Arya’s story was just a tidbit this week, as she asked the Hound if he remembered the last time he’d been at this place, and then Hot Pie leaves the trio to stay behind as a cook (it made sense, since the “piggy” jokes will be used on Sam and Hot Pie serves a similar purpose in this grouping). Theon — my least favourite character — is freed by the boy and told to head in a certain direction to meet his sister. But so far, he hasn’t made it to the sister and is instead ambushed by the men who’d imprisoned him, and as you pointed out, Chris, they yank his pants down and threaten to rape him (an interesting bookend to the Brienne scene… notice how one man gets more of Theon’s clothes off in one motion than six men do with Brienne after wrestling with her for a good minute). But the same boy who helped him escape saves his arse (literally!) shoots all of the men with arrows (who the hell IS this guy??) and helps him up. Theon promised the boy that he’d make him a lord of the Iron Islands, and the boy said he’s not from there. I think he needs to make him more than a lord now.

And finally, good ol’ Stannis Baratheon. As Melisandre goes off in a boat to god-knows-where, he makes a pass at her, telling her he wants a son and that he wants her. She looks at him with pity, pretty much pats him on the head, and says, “Your fires run low, my king.” #burn #flaccidjoke #stinsonrocks (That’s me channelling MY inner Barney Stinson. True story.) She promises that he’ll sit on the Iron Throne, but first there may be sacrifices.

So. One’s got a fire goddess. One has three two dragons and 8,000 men who will follow her every whim. One’s got a quickly dwindling army and lost loyalties now that he’s married the wrong woman. And one’s got a really awesome crossbow.

My money’s on Daenerys at this point, even short a dragon. ;)

Thanks for reading everyone, and we’ll see you next week!