Monday, April 21, 2014

You Can Watch Joss Whedon's New Film RIGHT NOW

We interrupt the usual Monday morning water cooler talk about last night's Game of Thrones for an important announcement: Last night Joss Whedon premiered his new film, In Your Eyes, at the Tribeca Film Festival, and then announced that as of this morning, it's available worldwide for digital download for the princely sum of five bucks.

You can see his announcement here, and go here to rent the movie.

I know what I'm doing tonight!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.03: "Breaker of Chains"

Welcome to week 3 of the season 4 reviews by myself and my cohort — Christopher Lockett: Newfie Batman. 

So after the massive dollop of awesome that was the Purple Wedding last week, this week we get the fallout. Before we get started, I actually wanted to point out some behind-the-scenes action. This is the last week where we'll be going live immediately at 10pm, following the episode, because HBO only supplied us with the first three episodes to watch in advance. And interestingly, on our copies of the recordings, there are several scenes that flash "TEMPORARY VFX" over major scenes, because they're still working out post-production on their end. Interestingly, when Chris and I watched the Great Joffrey Assassination of 2014, his face wasn't purple at all. What I posted last week...

... is exactly what we saw. In post-production they turned it into this:

His face is far ghastlier, his eyes more glazed over, there are rivers of blood from both nostrils, not just the one, and, most noticeably, the boy is purple. It was more of a "yellow wedding" on the copy that we saw. (During the actual wedding celebration, there's also a lot of green screen still happening, with green dresses, green hair, etc. that you know will be filled in later with far more lavish things.) So each week, it's as much a treat for Chris and I to rematch and see what they ultimately turn it into as it is for you to watch it for the first time. But now... on to the episode!!

Nikki: And the episode begins with Sansa racing off across the waters, escaping the accusations of the Lannisters for the death of the Little Shit (one week later, STILL GLORIOUS) and her connection to Tyrion, and is placed safely in the hands of…


From one psychopath to another. Now, as we discussed back in our book discussion, Lord Baelish is more sympathetic in the books (we see how Catelyn mocked him and how much he yearned for her love but was physically helpless to fight in any battles to win her hand) but on the show, he’s a scheming bastard who in season 3 arranges for the torture and death of Ros, the prostitute who’d been working for him and who he assumed betrayed him. The last we see of him is having a verbal sparring match with Varys, telling him that he believes chaos is necessary to move ahead. He has already asked Sansa once to join him on his ship, and she refused, and so, we assume, he leaves for the Vale of Arryn…

…when in fact it looks like he just threw down an anchor and tried to come up with a new plan to get Sansa on that ship. And if this means that he is behind Joffrey’s death somehow… woo, that plan was a doozy. In the previous episode, Ser Dontos approaches Sansa with a necklace that he says belonged to his mother and is the only thing of value that he owns. He’s thanking her for saving his life back at the beginning of season 2, when she talked Joffrey out of beheading Dontos and making him the king’s fool instead. But it turns out the necklace was a ruse to get Sansa on-side. Dontos clearly didn’t think he was betraying Sansa or putting her in harm’s way, and was instead saving her from certain death at the hand of the Lannisters (which is probably true). Because of Baelish’s unrequited love for Catelyn, one assumes he’ll keep Sansa safe, not only because she’s the daughter of his great love, but because she looks like Catelyn, and he appears to be partly in love with Sansa, too. But when it comes to Baelish, one should never assume anything. Just like the lovely Ser Dontos never should have assumed he could have done a job for Baelish and gotten out of this alive.

And man, that ship must have been anchored waaaay out in the waters, since it was mid-day when Sansa got into the dinghy, and it appears to be midnight when she gets to the boat.

Were you happy to see Littlefinger again, Chris?

Christopher: I keep thinking to myself, there’s something to be written about the fairly singular pleasure those of us who have read the books have in anticipating key moments as they occur in the series: both in terms of wondering how they will be rendered, whether they’ll be done well or not (and so far, to my mind, there haven’t been any missteps); and in terms of anticipating how you lot who haven’t read the books will respond. When the shadowy man who has helped Sansa onto the ship steps back and we see Littlefinger, I came close to punching the air and saying “Yes!” Not because I didn’t know it would be him, but because the reveal was crafted so beautifully. Knowing that you, Nikki, and thousands of other people who haven’t read the books were having a frisson of shock and surprise was almost as good as experiencing it myself. Or perhaps even better. I’m sure the Germans could come up with a word for the experience.

All of which is by way of saying: yes, I am delighted to see Littlefinger again. Though I did wonder (out loud, in fact) “what that hell’s going on with his voice?” It’s like Littlefinger suddenly remembered he was Irish. And don’t get me wrong—I love hearing Aiden Gillen speak with his natural accent, but it was a bit surprising after hearing him speak in a neutral, clipped mid-Atlantic accent these past three seasons. Also, his voice was hoarser than normal … which I suppose is partly because he was whispering, but it was something of an odd effect. He sounded like Irish Batman.

One of the things I liked about this episode is the way, in the first three scenes, we get a contiguous set of schemes: first Littlefinger, then the Tyrell women, then Tywin staking immediate claim to the mentorship of the new king. Let’s talk about Margaery and Olenna first: this scene is understated but deeply significant, at once touching in the obvious affection Olenna has for her granddaughter but also a wonderful display of the Queen of Thorns’ ruthless pragmatism. A shame, she observes, that Joffrey did not have the courtesy of consummating the marriage before dying. Margaery perhaps can be forgiven for having a moment of despairing cynicism, wondering if she is cursed—but what is interesting is that she seems more concerned (however glibly) that she might herself be somehow deficient, rather than railing in totally justifiable anger at her role as a pawn in the game of thrones. Of course she doesn’t: she has shown herself to be precisely as pragmatic as her grandmother in the matter-of-fact way she dealt with Renly’s sexual preferences, and again in the shrewd way she worked with Joffrey, learning to seduce him not through sex but feigned interest in his enthusiasms. Her momentary despair comes from the fear that Joffrey’s untimely death has upset her family’s ambitions … but Olenna sets her straight, observing that “Your circumstances have improved remarkably.” After all, she points out, the Lannisters need this alliance—they cannot hold the throne without the power of Highgarden, and so will wed Margaery to the new king … who is younger, more malleable, and above all, not a psychopath. “You did wonderful work on Joffrey,” Olnenna compliments her, and adds “The next one should be easier.”

Cut to: the next one! Prince Tommen, standing beside his mother, gazing down at his elder brother’s corpse, complete with those flat stones with creepy eyes painted on them. Poor kid doesn’t look like he knows what to think … I mean, I can only imagine what it would have been like to be Joffrey’s little brother! (We get a somewhat better sense in the novels—for instance, Tommen had a pet fawn, which Joffrey killed and skinned and had made into a vest). On one hand he’s aware of the enormity of the situation, but on the other, he can’t be excessively sorry that the little shit is dead.

Enter Tywin, who proceeds to engage his grandson in a Socratic dialogue about what it takes to be king. What did you think of that scene, Nikki?

Nikki: Irish Batman, hahahahaha!!! I was wondering the same thing about that accent! “Where the hell has Baelish been sailing?!”

You wrote, “Tommen had a pet fawn, which Joffrey killed and skinned and had made into a vest.” Good Christ, he was even worse than I thought. Like many of the fans this week, I’ve been thinking how I would have liked to see Joffrey tormented the same way Theon has been before Joffrey finally kicked the bucket; he was let off too easily. Ugh.

Anyway, Tommen has been such a minor character thus far that I barely remembered he existed, but for the first time we see him step up and be questioned by Tywin, who is calm, pragmatic, and as you say, leads the conversation but requires Tommen to come up with the answers. Throughout this utterly brilliant bit of dialogue, I kept imagining Joffrey answering the same questions:

Tywin: Your brother is dead, do you know what that means?
Joffrey: It means the best man has won, and I AM KING! Bow down before me, Grandfather.
Tywin: What kind of king do you think you’ll be?
Joffrey: The ONLY king, Grandfather, does it matter what kind?! (swagger, looks to the left for confirmation from a guard, smirks, puts his hand on his sword) Now bow down before me.
Tywin: What makes a good king?
Joffrey: I’ll show you what makes a powerful king if you don’t bow down before me RIGHT NOW, Grandfather. How much do you like your head?

Instead, Tommen answers with humility and deep thought. He suggests “holiness” is an important quality. Tywin tells him about a man who was holy, but made a terrible mistake and died. Perhaps “justice.” Definitely important, says Tywin, but the most just king he can recall was killed by an unjust brother. “What about strength?” Tommen asks. For that one, Tywin pulls out Tommen’s own “father,” Robert Baratheon, and tells him how strength didn’t do him much good in the end. What do they all lack? “Wisdom,” Tommen answers wisely, and at home we think, oh my goodness, the Lannisters might actually have a shot under the rule of this kid. For the past three seasons, the Lannisters have been the bad guys, despite the fact both Jaime and Tyrion are two of the most sympathetic characters, and Tywin, despite having evil moments, is a genius. With Cersei and Joffrey in power, the Lannisters were loathsome, the house we were fighting against. And now, with Tommen, that might shift.

As Tywin and Tommen walk out, Tywin puts his hand on Tommen’s arm, a gesture I never saw him make with Joffrey, and one Joffrey never would have welcomed or even allowed. Tommen is wise, and he will listen to his even wiser grandfather.

Jaime enters the room to see Cersei, staring down at Joffrey (and I second your creeped-out feeling on those hand-painted stones for eyes, geeeyaaaah). I must mention that I thought Lena Headey was pretty fantastic in this episode and in the previous. There’s so much love for this little monster because at her heart, she’s a mother who loves her son no matter what. During the Tywin/Tommen scene she just continues to stare at her son’s corpse, with anguish on her face, at one point quietly suggesting this isn’t the time or place for this conversation. And now that Jaime enters the room, he rapes her beside their son’s corpse, an intensely uncomfortable scene. Was that in the books the same way, Chris?

Christopher: No, in the books Cersei was still reluctant, but Jaime didn’t force her. An important difference here between the books and the series is that Jaime doesn’t return in the novel until after Joffrey is killed. In fact, it is in the presence of Joffrey’s corpse that Cersei sees him again for the first time, and that simple difference makes the hasty, uncomfortable sex somewhat more understandable (if still awkward and creepy. Also, in the novel, Cersei is having her period, which makes the scene more than just figuratively messy). I wondered to myself whether this rape scene—because, really, there’s no other way to describe it—was written for the express purpose of denuding our growing sympathy for Jaime. He has gone from being a smug and hateful villain to someone far more sympathetic and thoughtful. Did the writers think he needed to be taken down a notch? Or perhaps Cersei raised a little in our sympathies?

One way or another, I think the scene was a catastrophic misstep, made all the worse by the fact that the bit leading up to it was amazing. I agree with you entirely: Lena Headey was phenomenal here, her grief palpable and no less powerful for the fact that we’re all sitting there shouting at her that her son was a monster (or maybe that was just me). Jaime’s confusion was also poignant, as was his shock when Cersei implores him to kill Tyrion.  

I think part of my problem with this scene is rooted in my problem with Lena Headey as Cersei. As you know, she has long been the one bit of casting that hasn’t worked for me, which is no reflection on Headey’s acting—I think she’s done a superb job. But she plays Cersei as cold and aloof. There is very little sensuality there, very little sense of the pungent sexuality that addles the minds of the men about her. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I had any sense of chemistry between her and Jaime when they’re alone—all of their scenes together, alone, have tended to be him being flirtatious or ardent and her being standoffish. The one time before this we see them having sex—the scene that ends with Bran being thrown from the tower—I did not get the sense that she was into it at all.

By contrast, in this scene, that first moment when they kiss was the first bit of real chemistry I’ve seen between them. For a moment Cersei loses herself—but quickly recalls her grief. Jaime’s anger at being rebuffed, and the expression on his face as he stares at her, is a great little bit of face-acting. You can see the tumult in his mind: his desire for the woman he loves, his jealousy that she is more interested in grieving her son than being with him (which is consonant with the novels: Jaime’s POV chapters make it clear that he’s more or less indifferent to the children he fathered on Cersei—all he wants is her), and his helpless anger at being caught between his love for his sister and his love for his brother. That, I think, is where the “You’re a hateful woman” line comes from, her outsized loathing of Tyrion, but it is also perhaps the realization of a painful truth long suppressed.

But the rape? Frankly, it makes no sense, not unless you’re truly invested in keeping Jaime firmly on the villain side of the equation. I think it would have been a more powerful scene if he had just stalked out after the “hateful” line, with Cersei’s pleas following him.

I have a sneaking suspicion this scene will be fodder for a lot of arguments.

One last word on Tywin’s Socratic lesson with Tommen: I think you’re being somewhat optimistic there, Nikki … yes, Tommen is far more thoughtful and kind than Joffrey, and yes, I think we can look forward to a more equitable kingship under Tommen (always assuming, of course, that the principals here escape GRRM’s capricious death pen); but I saw this scene as Tywin cementing his power. Joffrey was unpredictable; we know his petulance and childishness sat poorly with his grandfather (of the various theories about who the poisoner is circulating on the web, this scene gives weight to those saying it was Tywin, who didn’t like being hand to a sociopathic king). What is the ultimate and more crucial lesson for Tommen? Wisdom is the most important quality for a king. “But what is wisdom?” Tywin asks. “A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t.” Which is to say: listen to your advisers. Which is to say: listen to me. “Your brother was not a wise king,” he tells Tommen. “Your brother was not a good king. Perhaps if he was, he’d still be alive.” This last sentence spoken with a glance over his shoulder at the grieving Cersei as he leads Tommen away. This for me was the crux of the scene: visibly separating Tommen from his mother as he continues to murmur advice in his ear, Tywin silently rebukes his daughter for having been so catastrophically indulgent with Joffrey.

The next scene brings us back to Arya and the Hound, whom we had left at the end of episode one having vanquished a handful of Arya’s foes. Then, we were all delighted by their newfound camaraderie … but in this episode? It strikes me that this episode is, in part, about disillusionment. What did you think of the Hound’s cynical treatment of their host, Nikki?

Nikki: Just as the scene with Jaime and Cersei reverses our sympathies on both of them, so does this scene with the host turn my sympathies against the Hound. And yet, at the same time, cements his place as a guy you don’t mess with. On the one hand, I thought it was a dastardly thing to do, so awful and thoughtless, basically ensuring that they’ll starve even faster than what the Hound assumed was already inevitable. But on the other, I wouldn’t want the Hound to turn into a puppy, and we were on the road to that happening. They need to keep showing his teeth to remind us that he’s dangerous, and I like that about the character a lot. I still love his sarcasm most (when Arya says she wants a map and he growls, “Just point out the next map shop you see and I’ll buy you one” he is utterly brilliant), but I like this sense of danger about him so we never get too comfortable around him. Just as a Hound should be.

Arya is constant in her sense of justice for the weak, and therefore turns on the Hound with furious vengeance, but he instantly puts her in her place, cutting her deep by aligning her with the weak hosts he’d just robbed by telling her the weak end up dead, and adding, “How many Starks do they have to behead before you figure that out?”

Harsh. But important for her to see and understand. By ensuring she never gets too comfortable with things, he also prevents her from ever letting her guard down, which could be the thing that saves her in the end.

Meanwhile, in the North… Sam is worried that Gilly is surrounded by too many men of the Night’s Watch, and therefore relocates her to Molestown, a horrible dump of a town nearby filled with frightening people who loathe anyone or anything that comes from north of the Wall. Yeah… Gilly will be totally safe there. Yikes. As she was trying to settle the baby and turned her back on Sam, my heart broke for him, but I also was terrified. Will she even make it through the night there? Is Sam doing the right thing at all?

And then there’s Tyrion, my favourite. Imprisoned, blamed for the death of his little shit nephew, he meets with Podrick, who tells him Sansa is gone and there’s no one left to vouch for him. Even at his lowest, he still manages to crack a joke, saying that Cersei is the only one he believes is innocent, “which makes this unique as King’s Landing murders go.” Ha!! But even more importantly, he begs Podrick to testify against him if that’s what they’ve asked him to do, because while he wants to be exonerated, and we know he didn’t do it, it would kill him for Pod to be somehow sacrificed in the name of Cersei wanting Tyrion condemned above all others. There’s never a sense of defeat about Tyrion, even as he looks worried about it, as if he knows somehow he’ll get out of this pickle despite his sister wanting his head on a spike. He knows Cersei’s weaknesses, and maybe he’s already putting together a plan of how he can use them. Or, perhaps, he has a better relationship with Tommen than we know at this point, and if, as you say (clearly having a better sense of Tommen/Tywin and their future from the books than we do from the show at this point), Tywin is the one who’s really in charge at King’s Landing, would he really let Cersei kill Tyrion?

Speaking of knowing what’s coming up while reading the books, last season you mentioned that Stannis using the leeches was going to become very important, and in this episode he takes credit for Joffrey’s death and relates it back to that scene. What did you think of all the Stannis/Davos material this week? (And also, did you catch the Monty Python reference when Shireen tells him you can’t pronounce “knight” like “kuh-niggit”? Ha!!)

Christopher: I laughed almost as hard as when the Hound said, in the first episode, “Man’s gotta have a code.” I kind of love that the writers aren’t above tipping their hats to their audience. I also love the fact that, once upon a time, knight was pronounced “kuh-niggit” (or more like “kuh-nict,” actually), and that the Python boys all knew that (Terry Jones is actually a medieval scholar).

The Stannis/Davos scenes were much as their previous scenes have been this season—they feel a little like placeholders, reminding us that they’re there without doing much to advance that story. There was an acknowledgement of that in Stannis’ concern: that if he doesn’t press his suit, he’ll be forgotten. Certainly for the moment he’s doing little besides brooding on his rock while his wife descends further into religious fanaticism. That being said, there seemed to be the suggestion that Davos is about to change the game. The scene with Shireen was interesting, as it unfolded similarly in the novel—except that his epiphany was dramatically different, so I’m not sure what’s happening now, aside from that he seems to be about to take out a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos … or possibly not. Recall from when Tyrion was Master of Coin last season, and he lamented the sorry state of the throne’s finances to his father? The Iron Throne was in a lot of debt to, among others, the Iron Bank. Perhaps Davos sees an opportunity …

But if I can return for a moment to the Hound and Arya scenes … the Hound is such a great character, in both the series and the novels—and Rory McCann has done a spectacular job in portraying his odd blend of pathos, cruelty, and personal ethics, all sedimented over top of profound, roiling anger. GRRM does a disturbingly good job of depicting out-and-out sociopaths like Joffrey, Viserys, or the Hound’s brother Gregor, but it’s the characters like Sandor Clegane that set these novels apart and add a degree of complexity you don’t find in fantasy that imitates the Tolkien model. He is a distinctly Darwinian character: adaptable but merciless in the face of weakness. He is not wantonly cruel—he leaves the farmer and his daughter alive and unmolested—but unsentimental. He made a cold calculation: sooner or later other bandits would be along to kill the man and his daughter for their silver. If they’re about to lose it anyway, it might as well go in his purse.

Arya’s fury at this seeming betrayal is something of a relief, too. There has been a sense since the two of them paired up that they’re both changing each other, with the Hound becoming more sympathetic and Arya becoming colder and more ruthless. Watching her kill Polliver in the first episode was deeply satisfying, but also disturbing: we’ve watched Arya go from playing at violence with Syrio to becoming a practiced and unflinching killer. It’s good to see that her basic understanding of right and wrong hasn’t changed, though one wonders how much longer it will endure.

Tyrion’s scene was heartbreaking, and it offers a cynical commentary on life in King’s Landing. He knows all too well that he dooms himself in ordering Pod to accept the bribe—but also that his loyal squire would be dead if he did not. In ordering him to save his own life, Tyrion shows more capacity for human compassion than any display of grief on his sister’s part could. He has been an adept player of the game of thrones, but at a certain point he cannot do what his father, sister, Littlefinger, et al do, which is see other people merely as pieces on the board. At a certain point, he is unwilling to sacrifice others for his own sake. Whereas his father capitalizes on events to cement his power, offering Oberyn revenge on the Mountain in exchange for his cooperation and thus solidifying Dorne’s loyalty. “Give it to my father,” says Tyrion, “He never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy.”

Meanwhile, in the North, Tormund’s wildling band, augmented by the terrifying Thenns, descend on a village, killing all but a child they send to Castle Black . Speaking of characters we’ve grown to love behaving viciously, we see Ygritte killing helpless people as efficiently as Alabaster Seal does. What did you think of this spot of pillaging, Nikki?

Nikki: The Thenns are terrifying in a way the wildlings never were. The wildlings were feared, but the Thenns are merciless, and when they kill, they eat the corpses. Now that the wildlings are working with them, they become an unstoppable army, made all the more real when we move to Castle Black and realize that they have 100… against 100,000 of Mance Rayder’s people. AND… they still have rangers up at Craster’s whom they know will tell Rayder that. If Rayder finds out just how unmanned that Wall really is, the south doesn’t stand a chance.

And then there’s Daenerys over at Meereen. Back in episode 1, neither of us was too sure of this new casting of Busted Josh Groban for Daario, but he sort of won me over in this scene, where he goes up against Meereen’s champion in a literal pissing contest. Daenerys once again goes for numbers over seeming power when she targets the slaves, telling them that they could be free to follow her if they just throw off their collars. And then she hurls all the collars at the city — the ones they’d been taking off the mile-marker corpses that they’ve been burying for the past 163 miles. It’s a glorious scene, especially when you see the looks on the faces of the slaves, followed by the realization on the faces of the slave-owners. Ruh-roh. I’ve pledged my allegiance to House Targaryen since season 1, and my loyalty remains unchanged.

We haven’t yet discussed Tywin jockeying for the support of the Dornish by offering Oberyn a seat on the judge’s council at Tyrion’s trial, where he reminds the viewer that he’s trying to unite the Seven Kingdoms against my girl Dany. I’ll leave the final word on this to you, Chris.

Christopher: If Tywin could have witnessed the final scene of this episode and seen Daenerys in action, he’d be a whole lot more anxious about things, I think. Daenerys will be a formidable enemy not because she gains the people’s respect (though she does) or inspires fear, but because she has earned their love. However masterful a strategist Tywin is, he will never be loved—though he’ll do his best to make certain Tommen is.

We haven’t developed a solid sense of Dorne as a place yet—in the novels we learn it is sort of the outlier of the Seven Kingdoms, and has always had a fairly elevated sense of itself (which is why Oberyn’s brother calls himself a “prince” rather than just the Lord of Dorne). Meeting Oberyn and Ellaria certainly evokes the sense of its exoticism. This episode kind of bludgeoned us with the stark contrast by having Tywin walk in on what was essentially a mini-orgy—and reminded us that Tywin is a cool customer, keeping his face utterly impassive while Oberyn flaunts his hedonism. I of course know what will come of this putative alliance, so I’ll just say that for all of Tywin’s shrewd plotting, one wonders if he underestimates the passions of other.

And that is all for this week! Tune in next week, for the further adventures of Chris and Nikki watching television and yakking about it!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.02: The Lion and the Rose

And the internet should be exploding right... about... NOW. Exploding with GLEE, that is!!!! Welcome to week 2 of our season 4 Game of Thrones posts. As always I'm with my dashing colleague Christopher Lockett, as we work our way through this deliciously happy episode. EEEEEEEEEEEE!!! I'll let Chris go first while I try to collect myself...

Christopher: This episode is an excellent reminder that, however much we might complain about GRRM killing off our favourite characters, every so often he kills the people we hate with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. The wee prick is dead! But because I knew that was coming, and because I have enjoyed your vitriolic loathing of the little shit lo these three years, Nikki, I will let you do the first jig upon his grave in this post.

Instead, I will begin by talking about the beginning of this episode: last season we left Theon in the throes of torture, mind-games, and castration. This season we see that young Ramsay Bolton—sorry, Ramsay Snow—was not merely tormenting Theon for his own amusement. Oh, make no mistake: he was totally amused by the whole process, the sick bastard … but it was all also done with an eye to breaking and subjugating Theon to the Bastard of Bolton’s will.

Poor Theon. I know you have very little sympathy for him, Nikki, but I wonder if the events of this episode have softened that perspective at all. We first see him hobbling along as fast as he can behind Ramsay and his (apparently) equally sociopathic lady friend (I think I heard him call her Miranda?) as they chase a terrified girl through the woods. I must confess that, watching this scene, I could not help but think the same thing as when similar moments occur in A Dance With Dragons—namely, a flashback to that moment in the Simpsons when Ranier Wolfcastle announces at the local community center that he will be teaching people how to hunt “ze deadliest prey … maahhn.” Apparently, Ramsay took the remedial course, in which he learned to hunt helpless terrified chambermaids (I’d like to see him try to hunt Brienne).

However much my mind may jump to such inappropriate allusions, this opening scene serves as a reminder later that Ramsay is only partially a calculating psychopath, and that at heart he takes perverse joy in inflicting terror and pain. For me, the most affecting—and horrifying—moment of this scene is when Ramsay sics his hounds on the wounded girl, which we don’t see but hear … instead we see Theon’s tortured face as she screams. Again, Nikki, you have to admit: however much you might not care about Theon’s torments, Alfie Allen shows his acting chops in this episode. He has little enough to say, but shows everything on his face. In those few seconds of hearing the girl’s screams mingled with the hounds’ growls, we see Theon’s own terror, horror, fear, hatred, and self-loathing … in short, we see Reek.

Sweeney Theon

And we see Reek again when Ramsay commands him to shave him in front of his father. “Theon was our enemy,” he tells Roose Bolton. “Reek? Reek will never betray us.” Roose has not appeared in the series as he is in the novels: in the novels he is described as slightly built, rheumy-eyed, pale, and generally physically unprepossessing … and yet carrying with him cold threat and danger, a man who looks through you. In A Game of Thrones (the novel), when Catelyn suggests at one point that Robb needs someone with cold cunning to lead his southern forces, Robb presciently replies “Roose Bolton. That man scares me.” In the series, Roose (played by actor Michael McElhatton) is somewhat more physically imposing than I imagined the character, but he does a good job of conveying Roose’s cold, calculating nature. We meet his new wife briefly: Lady Walda, a daughter of the Frey clan, part of his reward for helping Walder Frey betray the Starks. I’m probably spoiling a point that will be revealed in a later episode, but the deal with Frey was that Roose’s dowry would be his betrothed’s weight in gold. And so without hesitation he chose the most corpulent of the Frey girls. Roose is not, in other words, a man swayed by anything so fickle as sensual appetites (a reason he was probably disgusted with Robb Stark’s willingness to betray a marriage contract for love); and so we see his disappointment at the pleasure his bastard takes in torturing and killing. “We’ve been flaying our enemies for a thousand years!” Ramsay protests when his father takes umbrage at his treatment of Theon. “The flayed man is on our banners!” “MY banners,” Roose corrects him abruptly. “You’re not a Bolton. You’re a Snow.”

But however much Roose might regret the trust he put in his bastard, Ramsay’s exhibition of Theon’s compliance impresses him in spite of himself, and he suggests that, if Ramsay can retake Moat Caillin, perhaps—perhaps!—that designation of Snow can be reconsidered.

I’ll ask you what you thought of the Ramsay/Theon scenes, Nikki, but first—please, do your Dance of Joy on the corpse of the Wee Prick.

Nikki: Eeeeeeeeeee!!!

Ding dong, the little shit’s dead!
Which little shit?
The INBRED shit!
Ding dong, the lit-tle shit is DEAD!!

Ah. I said last season that Joffrey deserved to die, and yet I didn’t want him to because I enjoyed hating him so much that my enjoyment in despising him outweighed wanting to see him die a horrible death. Now, I shall revel in the moment (even though I know I’ll probably miss him soon). Never has a mess of vomit and blood and snot been so… beautiful. I had no idea this was going to happen; as far as I’m concerned, GRRM kills off the characters we love, and the only time a bad guy dies is when it’s someone we haven’t much invested in (like Polliver in the previous episode). To take out the most despicable of the Lannisters? The king? The single worst person on television right now? Glorious.

And by the way, Joffrey had to die for so, so many reasons, but chucking money at Sigur Rós and telling them to stop playing and get out? DIE, YOU LITTLE SHIT, DIE! (Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my deep devotion for the Icelandic band, who play the minstrels at the party and then sing “Rains of Castamere” over the end credits; they are easily my favourite band and the best live band I’ve ever seen. How DARE he?!)

Sigur. Freakin. Ros.

But just in case it wasn’t clear that his death is definitely a good thing, they’ve really upped his dickishness these last episodes, especially in his despicable treatment of Tyrion. First bringing out a bunch of dwarf jesters to reenact the war between the kings of Westeros, once again beheading Ned Stark before his daughter Sansa, then treating Tyrion like garbage in front of the hundreds of guests, Joffrey’s sniveling face is the one every viewer most wants to smack, and has been since the first season.

Tyrion, I’ll let you have the honour:

However, beyond our personal grievances, and him being a horrible person in general, Joffrey is, quite simply, a terrible king. He’s weak, too scared to run into battle (as Tyrion brilliantly reminds him when he stands up at the wedding and tells Joffrey to reenact for all the guests how he had handled the Battle of Blackwater). He never, ever listens to any sort of counsel, whether it’s from Tyrion or Tywin or Cersei or Baelish. He knows very little about Westeros in general; remember in the previous episode where Daarios handed Daenerys the flowers and told her that in order to rule, she needs to understand the flora and fauna of the country, the people and what they need and want, and every bit of the landscape? Joffrey wouldn’t know what the difference between a flora and fauna was, much less have any sense of his people. The reason the marriage to Margaery was going to be positive was because she could stand before the people and say all the food was being given to the poor (an offer that Cersei quickly and privately repeals), which is the sort of thing Joffrey would never think of doing, but she tells everyone he did to make him look like a good and benevolent king. A king isn’t any sort of king if he doesn’t have one iota of support from his subjects.

The question now is, who could have done it? Was it Tyrion? He was holding the goblet, but there was really no time that I saw (having watched the wedding scene three times now) where he could have slipped something into that goblet. Could it have been Sansa, who holds the goblet at one point? (Again, she doesn’t seem to slip anything into it.) The final glass of wine was poured from the decanter sitting before Cersei, and she clearly didn’t do it, but that wine had to have been brought in from the kitchens. Sansa is quickly whisked away by the fool we’d seen in the previous episode, the man whose life she’d saved back in the second season, as if he’d known all along this was going to happen. Could he have poisoned Joffrey? Suddenly showing up the day before the wedding to say “heya” to Sansa and then grabbing her by the hand and telling her to run away seems a little suspicious. Could it have been the pie? Joffrey was drinking the wine the whole time, but it’s only after he takes a bit of the pie that he begins choking. Margaery is the one feeding it to him, and she never takes a bite (it’s passed around to others but you never see them bite into it, either). If someone had laced the pie, they would have been chancing killing everyone sitting up on the dais. It makes more sense to have put something in Joffrey’s goblet, but again, he’s using that goblet through the entire scene and it’s only at the end he begins choking.

In any case, there are so many people who would want him dead, the possibilities of who actually killed Joffrey are endless. Jaime for mocking him in the previous episode? (Jaime is his father, and seems to know that, so I doubt he’d kill his own son.)
The court jester?
Tyrion, just because he knows more than anyone what a sniveling little shit he is? (And for mercilessly slicing to bits the book that Tyrion had bought as a wedding gift, which had probably been handprinted and cost a fortune?)
Tywin? Seems like a long shot but since Joffrey’s such a horrible king, perhaps he was cleaning house with him the same way he was trying to do with Jaime? (If he’s willing to kill Shae, the woman Tyrion loves, why not kill the result of his twin children having an incestuous relationship?)
Lady Olenna? She seems pretty darn unfazed by the whole thing, and the goblet that he grabs right near the end is sitting on her table.

My money’s on Jónsi from Sigur Rós. As if I needed a reason to love that man more.

I’m sure the mystery will continue throughout the season, perhaps longer, perhaps just until the next episode, who knows, but at this point it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the king is dead, which will no doubt plunge all of Westeros into war once again. Although, we as viewers know that for all the talk of peace in the land and the war finally being over, there’s nothing but scheming and planning for more wars happening all around. That war will never be over.

I do want to add, however, one last time, that I think Jack Gleeson played Joffrey brilliantly. He was SO despicable, not just in his words, but in the way Gleeson held his lips in a constant sneer, in the way he always nonchalantly leaned against the sword on his hip, or crossed his arms in laid-back defiance, or flicked his hands about as if dismissing the one in front of him. I couldn’t imagine any actor playing him as perfectly as Gleeson did, and I really will miss the way he portrayed his character. But first, let's all watch him die again:

Something wrong, Joffrey?
You've, um... got a little something on your face there.

What's that, Joffrey? (giggle)
You're looking a little... zombie-like, there. Oh, and by the way:

Back to Theon, you’re right, I’ve never been a fan, and perhaps it’s just that I’m not a fan of Alfie Allen. I don’t know why, he just bugs me. But it’s never clouded my judgment about the character and what is happening to him; I think his life has been difficult, being taken from his father as a spoil of war and being a second-rate child to Ned Stark his whole life, constantly reminded he is not a Stark, but a POW, essentially. And then when he finally returns to his own father, Balon shows him even less love and respect than did Ned. He’s spent his life trying to prove he’s someone, and now he’s been tortured both physically and psychologically, and reduced to this sniveling, shaking thing we see before us. The scene of him shaving Ramsay Snow is masterfully executed, from Ramsay’s flippant way of telling him that Robb Stark was dead, to Roose’s very subtle look that he might actually be impressed by what his bastard son has done to the creature, to Theon looking one second like he’s about to lose his mind and try to take all of them out with a razor, then keeping it together and getting back to the task of shaving his slave driver, and calmly and politely telling them the truth about Bran and Rickon, probably the most important bit of information anyone in the Seven Kingdoms could have right now.

Now that you’ve allowed me to rejoice and kick up my heels with glee (I thank you for that, sir), how did the death of Joffrey on-screen compare to what you read in the books?

Meanwhile, I shall continue to do the dance of joy.

Christopher: No longer do the dance of joy, Numfar! For though we rejoice at our least favourite Lannister’s timely and appropriately agonizing death, it looks as though our favourite Lannister will be taking the fall for it—whether he did it or not. And obviously I know who was actually responsible for the assassination, and just as obviously won’t betray that fact … and even more obviously will watch in glee as you try and figure it out.

But one way or another, Tyrion has been accused, and suddenly all those images from the trailers of him in a small, dark room make more sense. Cersei is obviously unhinged by her son’s death, which creates a perfect storm between her mother’s grief, her general irrationality, and her hatred of Tyrion. Will Tywin (reluctantly) defend his son? Will Jaime intercede? Or is this the end of Tyrion? Stay tuned!

This was a very Lannister-heavy episode, which makes sense … the final scenes can’t help but echo the toast raised by Tyrion at the beginning, “To the proud Lannister children: the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness!” Joffrey’s madness—or at least his complete and utter willfulness and petulance—is certainly at the forefront of this episode. There is a brief moment when he seems to have attained some semblance of grace and generosity, first when he is magnanimous with Margaery’s fatuous father Mace Tyrell, and then again when he manages to be gracious about Tyrion’s gift of a book. Of course, that lasts only until he receives Tywin’s gift, which is exactly the kind of toy his sociopathic little mind delights in and cannot resist from cleaving Tyrion’s gift in two (it’s probably just as well there wasn’t a hapless servant in reach). As you say, Nikki, the book looks expensive, and it is—in the novel, Tyrion is beside himself, murmuring that that had been one of only four copies of the book in the world. We know, of course, how much Tyrion loves books: that he gave such a rare and valuable tome to Joffrey probably wasn’t the wisest course. He must have known such a gift would goad him (in the novel, after he hacks it apart, he sneers at Tyrion that “You owe me another gift, Uncle”); it would have been smarter to have given him some sort of innocuous weapon, but I tend to see the gift of that book as a moment of genuine hope and kindness on Tyrion’s part, the infinitesimal hope that Joffrey might actually learn something from it, and a kind gesture from someone who knows the true value of books and learning. Whatever moment of sanity Joffrey appears to have had vanishes as he acts out like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, so outraged by a gift that displeases him that he breaks it.

I think it is this essentially childish nature that makes Joffrey’s madness at once so infuriating and so terrifying. Imagine giving a willful toddler power of life and death, and adding into that mix innate sadism, and that’s what we have with Joffrey. His petulance at his own wedding reception is emblematic of this, when he gets impatient with Sigur Ros; also in his planned “entertainment,” which is comedy of the lowest possible brow. Any more lowbrow and it would be underground. What is most interesting about this scene is less the show itself than the reactions of its audience: how everyone responds is a good insight into their character. Margaery at first looks amused and happy, smiling and clapping—probably relieved to see her new husband in good humour for the first time that day—but quickly becomes perturbed as she realizes the cruel intent behind it. Joffrey’s little brother Prince Tommen, who is sitting beside Tyrion, laughs until he also suddenly realizes that it is meant to mock his uncle (his quick, chagrined sideways look at Tyrion exhibits more humanity in a nanosecond than Joffrey has shown in three seasons). Loras Tyrell looks disgusted, and exits as soon as the dwarf Renly is humiliated; his father, Mace Tyrell, looks dismayed; Sansa is in shock; Tywin is at first mildly amused, but slowly grows more obviously impatient with the proceedings; Varys can’t quite keep an appalled expression from his face.

The only person who seems as amused by the show (besides a handful of sycophants in the audience) is Cersei, who watches the whole event with a smug, indulgent smile. “Mother of madness,” indeed—it’s as if she’s the only person watching who hasn’t realized what a monster, and a childish one at that, her precious Joffrey is. She’s even delighted and amused when Joffrey is so convulsed with laughter that he spits wine.

And then … well, the entire confrontation between Joffrey and Tyrion plays out almost exactly as it does in the novel, and if possible, it is even tenser. I’ve got to hand it to GRRM: you know something bad is going down from the moment Tyrion verbally smacks Joffrey down, but you assume it’s going to happen to Tyrion … that he’ll be driven past whatever reserves of patience and calm he has to say or do something that will be unforgivable. It’s one thing to smack Joffrey when he’s still just a prince, with only the Hound and the horses in the stable as witnesses. It would be something else entirely to cuss out the king, or worse, strike him in front of hundreds of witnesses at his own wedding. And I honestly thought, the first time I read it, that that would be Tyrion’s downfall.

Instead, it’s Joffrey’s. But also Tyrion’s, as the distraught Cersei—showing herself as unreasoning at her son’s death as she was blind to her son’s life—points the finger at him.

But as delightful as it is to dance on the little shit’s grave, I suppose we should address the other two key parts of this episode: the ongoing saga of Lady Melissandre’s purgation of nonblievers in Stannis’ household, and Bran’s evolving talents as a skinchanger and seer. What did you make of the Stannis bits, Nikki? That scene does not, to the best of my memory, appear in the novels.

Nikki: You mean something ELSE happened in this episode? I’ll have to consult my notes… why yes, you’re right. I wanted to note first the sheer beauty of the production of the wedding scene: from the fire eaters and jugglers to the music and the banners; from the gorgeous dresses and hairstyles to the setting (I believe they actually filmed this scene in Croatia), once again the production values and set design of this show just send it soaring above everything else on television. And you commented on the direction of this scene, which is so true: Joffrey’s antics with the little people dancing about in their silly costumes is one thing, but far more important are the reactions to those around him, and I think the look on Varys’s face is the most telling of all. He’s the spider, the one who flits from side to side, knowing exactly what to do or say that will keep him alive, but still performing his little Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes.

Other reactions to the pantomime:

Varys is the one who has arranged for Shae’s comfortable life across the sea; it just took Tyrion to be cruel enough to get her on the boat (another terrible moment in this episode that is overshadowed by the ending). Tyrion certainly looks devastated when Joffrey chops the book to bits, but much of his moroseness can be chalked up to the fact that he’s just overheard Cersei consulting with Tywin, and he knows what he has to do. He finally found someone who was able to look past his physical stature to love the man, and he has to give her up. “You’re a whore! Sansa is fit to bear my children, and you are not.” Watch the body language in this scene; he stutters and stammers his way through his speech, and is unable to look Shae in the eye as he does so. What he’s doing is saving her life, but he’s destroying her soul — and part of his own — in doing so.

But now… to Dragonstone! “Lord of Light protect us, for the night is dark and full of terrors!” As we know, his wife is more of an acolyte and devoted follower of the Lord of Light than is Stannis, and when we first arrive at Dragonstone in season 4, it’s to see Selyse’s own brother being burned at the stake as a heretic. While most sisters would be horrified, begging Melisandre to reconsider, Selyse is so filled with the spirit of the Lord of Light that her face is glowing, and she looks like she’s on the verge of ecstacy. “Did you see? Their souls. It was their souls. Our Lord took them, did you see?” Stannis turns in disgust and walks away. I don’t think he saw what Selyse saw. Davos catches up to him to remind him what a travesty this is, that Stannis’s own father had worshipped the Seven Gods, and he was turning his back on his own tradition. Stannis just bluntly states that he’d told his brother-in-law to tear down his idols, and he’d refused. There’s very little conviction in Stannis’s voice; he believes in the Lord of Light — he definitely saw something come out of Melisandre back in the second season — but the Lord did him no favours at Blackwater, and there is doubt on his face. If he keeps killing the soldiers who don’t believe in Melisandre’s religion, he won’t have any left.

“Did you see, Ser Davos? They’re with our Lord now, their sins all burnt away. Did you see?” says Selyse, still beside herself with joy. “I’m sure they’re more than grateful, my queen,” Davos responds with fake sincerity, to the chagrin of Melisandre.

It’s interesting how the rituals to worship the Lord of Light always seem to happen in the dark.

Later, Melisandre goes to see Stannis’s daughter, and she’s gentle and kind, and tells Shireen that she doesn’t believe in a heaven and a hell, just a heaven. The only hell, she says, is the one we live in now. It’s rather difficult to disagree with her on that one.

I’m fascinated by the religion on the show (and as I’ve said before, it’s explained much better in the books) simply because in our world, so much of the turmoil, war, and hardship seems to stem from clashes of religious beliefs, far more than territory or personal grievances. Each group seems to worship someone different in Westeros, and while it rarely comes up as a topic of warfare, when it comes to Stannis, the religion and his devotion to Melisandre (which is stronger than his devotion to the Lord of Light) has been helping him make decisions. There’s an uneasy look on his face, however, that he’s not so sure about the results of those decisions so far…

One quieter aspect of religion on the show is the weirwood, the white trees with red leaves and sap that the Starks have always turned to in times of sorrow. What did you make of the Bran scene in this episode, Chris?

Christopher: Frankly, the Bran scene was a bit of a relief. For so long he’s been carried and dragged northward, with Jojen and Meera telling him how important he is, but with only a few exceptions—mostly when he sees through his direwolf’s eyes—we haven’t really had much evidence that this is in fact the case … instead, we’ve been treated to a rather tedious and uneventful journey north. It is a welcome change to have such a vivid scene in which we see through Summer’s eyes as he brings down a kill, and be about as irritated as Bran to be yanked out of it. Jojen reiterates a point (I think) he’s made before: that it is dangerous to spend too much time in your animal’s mind, for the longer you’re in there the more tenuous your grasp on your own humanity. His little speech does a good job in reminding us of the temptation for Bran: to be able not only to walk, not only to run, but to hunt, and be the master of the forest … “It must be glorious,” Jojen acknowledges, and for crippled Bran, who suffers the daily humiliation of having to be carried everywhere, it must be like a drug. But one that is, as Meera warns, just as addictive and even more dangerous.

It is not, apparently, just Summer who offers Bran oracular sight, however—the weirwood he touches gives him a series of visions more vivid than any he has yet experienced: he has visions of the past (his father polishing Ice in the Godswood, the tombs beneath Winterfell, himself falling from the tower); he sees his three-eyed crow; he sees the massive shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing; and he has the same vision Daenerys did in the House of the Undying, of a roofless and snow-filled throne room in King’s Landing. And repeated several times is the image of a great weirwood, with the whispered words “Look for me beneath the tree.”

It’s the first time since the assassin attempted to kill the sleeping Bran that any part of his storyline has given me chills. Any final thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: I, too, got chills, and it was a thrill to see Ned Stark again, even if it was just a flash of his face from some piece of stock footage. I still miss him…

I’m definitely excited about next week’s episode, and the fall-out of Joffrey’s murder. Tyrion is clearly in for a world of hurt, Tommen suddenly has a new and huge responsibility, and I hope Sansa’s able to get away before the Lannisters capture her. Until then!!