Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.02: Dark Wings, Dark Words

Hello everyone, and welcome back for the co-blog of season three, episode two of Game of Thrones, in which my most excellent co-host Nikki Stafford and I geek out egregiously about the awesomeness that is HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series.

This episode, as we both comment on below, was incredibly packed--so much happened in it, without it being action-packed precisely. Just a lot of business, and the return of some of our favourite characters left out of episode one. So without further ado, here we go. Seeing as how this week it's my turn to lead us off ...

"Wait. Wasn't this a scene in Fellowship of the Ring?"

Christopher: I want to begin with something I didn’t get to last week, which were the changes in the opening credits. You asked whether the credits would end up being extremely long as the action expanded to new and more locations—and yes, it does seem like the space-station view from the armillary sphere has been speeded up somewhat, no? But I love their attention to detail: I noticed last week that Winterfell is charred and smoking, and continues to be this week, and will likely continue to be so in weeks to come.

And this week we’re back with the storylines neglected in episode one, at the expense alas of Daenerys. But they managed to get through an awful lot, don’t you think? I found this episode really tightly plotted—it didn’t really linger anywhere. I suppose I should dive in with Bran and Arya and Jaime and Brienne (my new favourite two-handed comedy duo), but really I just want to jump to what I think was one of the most amazing sequences this show has offered.

The look of vague disapproval educators everywhere would give their right arm to possess.

I’m speaking of course of the introduction of the Queen of Thorns herself, Lady Olenna Tyrell, Margaery’s grandmother and exasperated matriarch of the Tyrell clan. Holy fleurking schnitt, did they so totally nail this character, both with the writing (where once again they more or less quoted the novel verbatim) but more importantly with the casting. Diana Rigg! The only person I could imagine being more awesome in the role is Maggie Smith—which, considering the other two Downton Abbey crossover castings (Ser Jorah and Ygritte, for those not keeping score) wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility—but Dame Maggie would lack what Ms. Rigg brings to the table, namely her history as Emma Peel, that greatest of television’s badass women. Watching her suffer no fools makes one imagine what Lady Olenna must have been like as a young woman, and for those of us raised on classic British TV, we don’t have to imagine that hard.
"Come at me, Lannisters."

But seriously—one of the things GRRM does very well is to depict strong women without straining the framework of fantasy’s neo-medieval settings. The luncheon with Margaery, Sansa, and the Queen of Thorns is a tight little drama in which we see how women of intellect and ambition live within the structures of power built by and for men. Lady Olenna knows that, as an old woman and a widow, she has leave to say whatever she pleases—and does to sharp and startling effect. But beneath her theatrical thorniness is both a shrewd political mind and, more importantly, a genuine concern for her family. Will Joffrey be a kind husband to Margaery? Sansa is of course too terrified at first to answer, but under Olenna’s unrelenting (and yet not unkind) questioning, she ultimately gives up the truth. “He’s a monster.”

It has never occurred to me before, but the character of the Queen of Thorns is entirely reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s witches (extended aside: if you have never read any of Terry Pratchett’s novels, you must drop everything and go do so RIGHT NOW. Love fantasy? Love intelligent, crackling prose? Love humour that evokes Monty Python and Douglas Adams? Then you must read the Discworld novels. There are approaching forty of them now, so you won’t lack for choice, but if you want to see what I mean about the whole witches-as-Olenna question, grab Wyrd Sisters and go from there. You can thank me later). There is a brilliant commonsensical quality to her, one that cuts through the masculine pufferies of sigils and chest-beating. “Loras is young and very good at knocking men off horses with sticks. It doesn’t make him wise.”

What did you think of Emma Peel Lady Olenna’s introduction, Nikki?
"For the record, John Steed also fell off a cliff. But he was sipping his tea all the way down. They just don't make men like that anymore."

Nikki: Oh, those cheekbones. When I realized Lady Olenna was going to have the silk scarf wrapped around her face, at first I was saddened that we wouldn’t see as much of Rigg’s gorgeous, gorgeous face, but there they are: cheekbones as sharp as her wit, sticking out on either side and making her face look stern, but heart-shaped, as if encapsulating the two sides of her character. Like you, I elicited a fannish squee when I saw Emma Peel and realized she was even more sharp-tongued in her later years than when she was slinking around kicking ass in spandex cat-suits, and a question I have written in my notes (well, more a demand than a question) for you is, Please tell me she is this awesome in the books. Glad to see she is. The scene eating lemon cakes, from her chastising the boy about not bringing her cheese to her pushing Sansa to tell her the truth, is absolutely filled with tension. While watching it, I urged her through my television, “Don’t tell them, Sansa… don’t tell them.” And I must admit, by the end of that scene I still wasn’t sure if Lady Olenna was good or not. I LOVE HER, don’t get me wrong, but would she use that information against Sansa? Or is she genuinely looking out for her daughter? Margaery is conniving and would giving someone a beautiful pearl-handled letter opener that she had handcrafted and shipped from overseas immediately before stabbing the person in the back with it, and it’s gotten to the point that if the person is in King’s Landing, and they are talking to Sansa kindly in any way, they must be evil. And yet there was something about these two women that was like, “Let us know what we’re up against” but they actually do genuinely care about Sansa. Let’s hope that letter opener is for Joffrey only.

Speaking of the little shit, this week we see him decide to dump the flowery paisley prints for something more manly (snort) while his Mommy watches him get fitted for it. The scene where Margaery strokes his gun and compliments him on it (double snort) is amazing, because we see how truly magnificent Margaery really is. Sansa did what she believed was the right thing to do: she dropped her head, referred to him as “Your Grace,” kowtowed to his mommy, told him the truth about her father, continued to maintain the fiction that her father was a traitor, and essentially turned into a simpering sycophant. Even for someone as ego-driven as Joffrey, that would become tiring. To him, she was nothing but a mule that he could kick every once in a while, but certainly no partner of any kind.

Margaery, on the other hand, is truthful without kowtowing (telling Joffrey about her husband’s proclivities) and she shows a reverence without stooping to kiss his feet. Notice as he’s being quite vicious about her departed husband that she first stands before him, as an inferior should, but quickly seats herself right beside him, like an equal, and doesn’t just talk to him, but leans her hand in to stroke his. And she doesn’t actually touch his hand, but instead strokes the instrument of death that he’s holding, as if she finds it as exciting as he does. Joffrey is entirely unnerved, and at once confused about her place and who she is, and excited by this woman. In a scene that is a perversion of a sexual come-on, Joffrey stands up, shows her his “gun,” and says, “Do you want to hold it?” She, of course, gleefully accepts the offer, and leaps up to wrap her fingers around his powerful gun. “I imagine it must be so exciting to squeeze your finger here and kill something over there,” she purrs (in what could be taken as a subtle comment on gun control). And then to take it even further, she turns the questioning on him, and asks if he’d like to see her kill something. “Yes,” he says, clearly in a Margaery-induced trance. This will be one of the most exciting pairings of the season, I think.

The Burleigh & Stronginthearm Gilded Crossbow: Supplementing all your masculine insecurities since the Fall of Valyria.

But on to the Starks, we finally see our beloved Arya, a foot taller, and clearly a woman (no tricking people into thinking this one’s a boy any longer!) I’m assuming you were as happy to see her as I was?

Christopher: I think the writers know if they went more than a single episode into the season without Arya appearing on screen, there would be bloodthirsty legions of fans descending on their offices with torches and pitchforks. Which is by way of saying—yes, I was so happy to see her again. It’s hard to choose a favourite character out of the books, but if you forced me to it, I’d have to say it comes down to Tyrion and Arya. The casting of Peter Dinklage was well done but obvious; that they got someone as good as Maisie Williams for Arya is nothing short of miraculous. She is in fine form as she returns, still not taking shit from anyone, even challenging Thoros of Myr … not exactly the wisest of things to do, but we expect nothing less from her.
"Follow my lead." "Does your lead involve dropping your sword and running away?" "No." "Okay, there might be a problem, then."

I should add at this point that they are apparently accelerating the storyline here somewhat. In A Storm of Swords, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie spend somewhat more time wandering the wilderness trying to find their way to Riverrun; the Hound making his reappearance in episode two is also a lot sooner than I would have expected.

And we finally meet the Brotherhood Without Banners, too—the elusive bandits that Tywin’s men were desperate to smoke out in season two, leading to all that unpleasantness with rats and buckets. There’s rather a Robin Hood and his Merry Men quality to them (as there is in the book), though a lot grimmer and grimier. I quite like Anguy the archer—his trick with the arrow was rather a cool moment. (And as an aside: the exchange about Hot Pie, “Half the country’s starving, and look at this one!” “Maybe he’s the reason they’re starving,” is a joke I liked to make about Hurley starting about halfway through season one of Lost).

The other bit I rather loved in the Arya sequences was Gendry’s eminently practical questioning of Arya’s three choices—not least because I think probably everyone who has read the books had one or two similar hair-pulling moments when Arya did not say “Joffrey” or “Tywin.” It’s as if you went back in time to 1933 Berlin and told your friends “The beer and sauerkraut were awesome.” “WHAT? You mean you DIDN’T kill Hitler?”

Speaking of Hitler, or his little blond facsimile in King’s Landing—I love the way they’re developing his sociopathy this season, tempering it with a teenage boy’s arrogances and weaknesses. He is, as you observe, obviously awed by Margaery—but only because Margaery is far more formidable than Sansa, and very quickly figures out what his buttons are, where they are, and how to push them. Joffrey had nothing but contempt for Sansa’s simpering submissiveness, but also delighted in tormenting her because of it. He also has a teenage boy’s arrogance, especially where maternal advice is concerned. Say what you will about Cersei, but she has Margaery’s number (and possibly the best line of the episode when she suggests he gives his scrap of flowery fabric to her as a gift, saying “That should be more than enough fabric for her”). But Joffrey dismisses her, in part because he dismisses all women. Margaery in his mind cannot be anything but what men in her life wish her to be; and much to Cersei’s chagrin, she realizes that he sees her in precisely the same way. It made me think back to season one when Joffrey sends his soldiers around the city to kill all of Robert’s bastards; in the book, it was Cersei who gave that order, but it makes sense with the way they’re doing Joffrey on the show for it to have been him. “I cannot abide the wailing of women,” he said in the second episode of season one, a line taken directly from the book, and we see how the writers have built that into something resembling a world-view by season three.

But it is a dangerously myopic world-view, something Cersei grasps … as does Margaery. The crossbow scene (as I’m now thinking of it) was beautifully done in this respect. It begins with Joffrey looking for weaknesses in his betrothed to exploit and torment—his pointed questions about Renly, which at first seem to echo his mother’s concerns but soon show themselves for what they are, the first prods a cat gives prospective prey. Margaery however, unlike Sansa, is no mouse, and she plays Joffrey like a virtuoso (sorry for the mixed metaphor). She very quickly figures out that he is aroused not by sex but by violence and torment. A less perceptive seductress would have put her hand on his crotch. She goes for the crossbow … and speaks to him in terms that visibly excite him.

"Oooo .... Your grace, is that a roll of quarters in your pocket, or are you--" "Yes, it's a roll of quarters. Why?"

Have I mentioned how much I love what they’re doing with Margaery? Of all their departures from the novels, the way they’re redrawing her character is lovely. In the novels she’s little more than a lovely nonentity, even when she’s given something to do. But here, she’s a fully realized, very smart and shrewd woman.

But enough about her for the moment. Let’s move on to what has become my favourite two-handed comedy act, the Jaime and Brienne traveling road show. We got a hint of this last season, and now we get the full effect of their mismatched personalities. And Jaime finally makes his move: snatches away one of her swords, and proceeds to get his ass handed to him until Roose Bolton’s men show up. What did you think of them, Nikki?
"Fuck gilded crossbows. I go for the straight up gangsta phallic symbol."

Nikki: And once again you come to the rescue. I didn’t get right away that they were Bolton’s men. All I saw was Noah Taylor and thought, “Hang on, that’s the guy from Shine… no, it’s the manager from Almost Famous… oh! It’s the guy who played Hitler in that John Cusack film… Wait, what? Is he taking Jaime away?”

My husband says the single most annoying thing about watching any television show with me is that I see someone and get all excited about where I’ve seen them before. (Actually, no, that’s the second most… the single most is when I can’t quite place them and immediately have to IMDb them.) But anyway…

Yes on everything you said about Joffrey and Arya, and you answered my question about whether the Hound showed up at the beginning of the book or later. I saw a few people pretty upset about how different Arya’s story is starting off, even though it totally worked for me as someone not reading the books. I, too, loved Gendry’s comment about why Arya didn’t ask for the right three people when Jaqen gave her the chance. I’m pretty sure that when he first gave her the offer, I began shouting out on the blog all the people she should name, while you (clearly knowing what was going to happen) just nodded and said, “Yes… yes…” Oh wise one.

But back to the comedy duo of the show. I know I say this every time, but I LOVE BRIENNE, and I adore the actress playing her. And Jaime is just fantastic. He’s supposed to be loathsome, and we know what he’s been up to with his sister and that the degenerate on the throne is actually his horrible little spawn, and he was so hateful throughout the first season, but he is just so hilarious here, even when he’s being terrible to Brienne. Mostly because while you can see she’s actually sort of hurt by it, she tries not to show it. He’s a very intelligent man, surprisingly well equipped to play mindgames on the battlefield. He taunts her about her size while they’re walking, which just makes her angrier, but when they both have swords he begins speaking her thoughts aloud. “If you kill me you’ve failed Lady Stark, but if you don’t kill me, I’ll kill you.”

Boy on Bridge! (My Newfoundland readers get the joke).

And then, as you say, she beats him handily. That final flip of the sword and hip-checking him to the side is sublime, as is the look of “And THAT, Kingslayer, is how it’s fucking DONE!” on her face in that moment. A moment that’s quickly forgotten when the other guys show up. Oops. As with The Walking Dead last week, there is a moment of ethics in this episode where Brienne looks across the woods at a peasant and with Jaime whisper-screaming in her ear to kill him, she refuses, saying he’s an innocent. And she’s wrong. Maybe Jaime needed Carl to walk him back to King’s Landing.

And here I must insert my favourite Jaime portion of the episode, when he’s chiding Brienne about being in love with Renly: “You weren’t his type, by the way . . . you’re far too much man for him. It’s a shame the throne wasn’t made of cocks; they’d have never gotten him off it!”

And now over to Bran (there are just SO many storylines here it’s hard to handle all of them, yeesh! Our blog posts will be longer than GRRM’s books soon…). We’ve seen his dreams of the three-eyed raven right from the very beginning of season 1. Usually the first time we see him in a season is in his dreams (easily figured out because he’s walking). But in this episode there are the dreams, the gargantuan direwolves (my excitement over those creatures has never waned… I WANT ONE STILL), and the two new characters, Jojen and Meera Reed. And, as with any new character, I now open the floor to you so you can tell us more about them. All I’ll do is talk about how I saw the kid playing Jojen and immediately recognized him as that kid in Love Actually, Nanny McPhee, and in a David Tennant Doctor Who episode (which… come to think of it… he was in with the guy who played Viserys!) Over to you…

"Not to downplay your skills or anything, but if my dad were here he'd totally take care of things single-handed. I mean, you've seen Taken, right?"

Christopher: Perhaps we should start a “Carl, stay in the castle!” meme.

I too had a moment of “Hey, that’s the Love, Actually kid!” when watching this episode. Good to see he’s still getting work.

They’ve altered the Jojen and Meera story a bit. In the novels, they show up at Winterfell while Bran is still running things, and assist Osha in spiriting Bran and Rickon away after Theon captures the castle. They are the children of Howland Reed, a “cranogman”—i.e. one of the people who live in the marshy lowlands of “The Neck,” the isthmus connecting the north and south parts of Westeros, the effective southern boundary of Stark territory. In the books the cranogmen are described as slighter and shorter than average people, adept at stealth and navigating the shifting landscapes of the Neck’s swamps. Those wishing to deride them call them “frogeaters,” for part of their diet comprises the frogs and other slippery things of the marshes. They are looked down on and mistrusted by some—especially the Frey clan—but Ned Stark always considered them tough, loyal, and honourable people. He was especially devoted to Howland Reed, as Howland saved his life during Robert’s rebellion.

I don’t know how much of that will make it into the show. Jojen, as became quickly obvious in this episode, is gifted with magical or mystical insight and vision, and sought Bran out because his dreams identified him as a child of destiny. He will offer guidance and help as Bran grows into his own powers and abilities.

I was quite taken with the actors they’ve cast, and enjoyed the exchange between Osha and Meera. Osha’s skepticism about the division of duties between the brother and sister, with Meera acting as the muscle, was a lovely little bit of inadvertent self-reflection. The relationship between Jojen and Meera almost perfectly mirrors the relationship that has developed between Bran and Osha, but some elemental sense of gender roles blinds her at first to the similarities. To a wildling like Osha, a man who cannot help himself is hardly a man. But as Meera mildly replies, “Some people will always need help.” And with a nod to Bran in his litter, adds, “That doesn’t mean they’re not worth protecting.”

Wow, this episode was packed. Looking over my notes, I’m realizing we haven’t yet said anything about Robb and Catelyn or Theon’s plight. But before I get to that, I just want to mention my other favourite “Hey, that’s …!” moment. North of the Wall we meet yet another member of Mance’s retinue, a skinchanger named Orell in creepy mid-commune with his eagle. For me, Orell will always be Gareth from the British Office … all we need is Martin Freeman to show up and ask him leading questions with double entendres (“So if you were to attack the Night’s Watch, would you take them from behind?”) Perhaps we could put Bilbo in a parka and borrow him from Peter Jackson for an episode.
"I am SO gonna sic my eagle on Tim."

But to consider the ongoing saga of the King in the North … we start to see the cracks in Robb’s command, and the repercussions of his impetuous wedding, with his bannerman Rikard Karstark telling him bluntly that that has lost him the war. Meanwhile, his new bride Talisa tries to ingratiate herself with Catelyn, who is in the middle of making one of those prayer wheel / dreamcatcher thingies we saw her make for Bran in season one. Her story about praying for Jon Snow and her unfulfilled promise to make him a proper Stark is entirely new—nowhere to be found in the novels. I loved it. The writers are very good and incorporating GRRM’s dialogue into the series, but they’re no slouches when it comes to what they invent. The story offers an insight into Catelyn that we otherwise don’t get. Speaking personally, her sustained antipathy to Jon Snow in the novels was always for me a sticking-point in her character. That she blames herself for the crises and tragedies transpiring since then is, perhaps, a little self-aggrandizing, but understandable … especially considering so much of the world’s tumult seems to be happening specifically to her family.

And finally … Theon. Speaking of accelerated storylines. I don’t know how much to say here, as I’m worried about spoilers—but spoilers for those reading the novels, for a change. But then, if you’re not up to A Dance With Dragons and are watching the series, then the series has just given up a big damn spoiler. Theon disappears after the end of A Clash of Kings, and does not appear for two whole novels. The suggestion is that he was killed when the Bastard of Bolton stormed Winterfell, and there’s nothing (so far as I can remember) to suggest otherwise. So for two novels he is absent, until we see him again in Dance—more or less as we see him in this episode.

There’s a lot that can be said about the Theon sequence, less in terms of plot and story than in the way GoT depicts torture. We had some experience of this in season two with the Tickler and his rat-and-bucket enthusiasms. The sadism and capriciousness of torture is emphasized even more here as Theon starts babbling, offering to tell them anything, anything they want to know. There’s an interesting paper to be written comparing the depictions of torture in GoT with, say, a show like 24 (or, more problematically, a film like Zero Dark Thirty), but I’ll leave that to others. What were your thoughts, Nikki?

"So, um ... when I told my agent I'd love to play a Christ figure, this really wasn't what I had in mind."

Nikki: As I said in season 2, I kind of hate Theon. Knowing there are two whole novels without him makes me want to read the books even more. And it’s not a hate like the one I have for Joffrey, where watching his foot being crushed would bring me GREAT JOY. It’s more me being bored by him and just wanting to be done with it. But again, this could be the actor not working for me. I find he’s overwrought and annoying. The torture is brutal in this scene, and what they play up in Game of Thrones that other shows don’t is the emotional or psychological torture. Putting the bag over Theon’s head and leaving him alone in a room is almost as bad as crushing his foot. Scaring someone into thinking the worst is going to happen is as bad as if it happened. It’s beautifully done.

I should mention that Theon being tortured was the only thing I couldn’t quite remember from season 2. Both my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Who is doing this to him? Wasn’t he at Winterfell?” I forgot his botched St. Crispin’s Day speech to his men — “You will go out there and YOU WILL DIE, but damn if you won’t be a hero!” — and that one of his men clocked him with a stick and dragged him away. So this scene follows from that one.

Your comment about Gareth and Tim just made me laugh out loud, by the way. I think we need to write The Office Wildlings now. “And if, during the attack, one of the men was coming at you really hard, would you give him a lethal blow?”

I agree with you on the Catelyn sequence, and how interesting that scene’s not in the books! I watched it and thought, “Wow, I would bet this is one of those scenes where they’ve taken it word for word from the book because of the insight we get into the character.” I had no idea that was unique to the show. But it’s a beautiful moment. Catelyn is often a character shunted to the side, but we get bursts of poignancy and insight into her character, and this is probably the best of them so far. I watched that scene and tried to imagine myself in her shoes: how could you not love an infant that’s completely innocent and vulnerable? And yet… how could you not look into that infant’s eyes and see his mother, the mother that was with your husband? It’s a fascinating conundrum. Although, in the preceding scene where Robb is telling her about Winterfell and that Bran and Rickon are missing, I couldn’t help but think, how are you holding your own mother prisoner, you twat?! Maybe she put her loyalties with the wrong kid. Argh.

The one we haven’t mentioned yet (the one I usually begin with) is Tyrion, who we see only briefly in this episode with Shae. Shae tells Sansa in a previous scene that if Baelish ever tries anything, to let her know, and that Shae will make him stop. It’s moments like this that Shae is such a powerful character. But then we see her as a jealous idiot when she’s in Tyrion’s chamber. “What? You had sex with Roz? Well, I knew you banged prostitutes on an hourly basis before you met me but HOW DARE YOU have sex with Roz?? What? Your almost-niece is someone you just admitted is attractive? Dost thou want to bang her TOO?” Come on, Shae, give it up, I thought. But on second thought, I like the humanness about her jealousy.

I agree that what makes Game of Thrones so fascinating is its depiction of women. The caustic Lady Olenna; the resilient Daenerys; the independent Roz; the warrior Brienne; the connivingly sweet Margaery; the tough-as-nails Arya. And even when the women are being mistreated, there’s still something honourable about them: Sansa has made many mistakes, but she’s the only Stark that’s embedded directly in the spider’s web right now; Catelyn is being held prisoner, but she continues to be a mother and a stern voice of reason; Cersei can be a nasty bitch, but there’s something kind of delightful about her. I love the women on this show.

And up in the snowy wasteland, poor Sam. Or should I say, “Piggy.” (Did anyone else get a distinct Lord of the Flies vibe from that exchange??)

As always, thanks for joining me on this, Chris! I feel like I understand the episode so much better now that you’ve given us the literary rundown. Not to mention when you name the new people, I can see how they’re actually spelled, rather than the phonetic weirdness in my head when I first hear their names uttered.

See you all next week!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was great. Most enjoyable and detailed set of reviews for GoT I have come across yet!