Thursday, May 19, 2011

Game of Thrones Ep 5: The Wolf and the Lion

Because Chris got his up a little quicker than I did, I'm going to totally steal his opening because it made me LOL.

Hi everyone, and welcome to installment five of the Game of Thrones co-blogging project, wherein I write as the GRRM veteran, and Nikki Stafford writes as one who has not read the books. I think it's safe to say that this most recent episode was a barn-burner, and we're sorry this week's post is a day later than usual. Nikki had to rush her direwolf to the vet -- poor thing ate a Lannister, and choked on the smugness.


Anyhoo, without further ado ...

Chris: Before I start, I thought I should offer a “what they changed” list for today, as there was a lot of deviation from the novel in this episode … almost always in intriguing and interesting ways.

What They Changed / Added

• Ned’s conversation with Barristan Selmy. Well, it’s broadly the same as it unfolds in the novel—starting with their discussion over Ser Hugh’s body, and ending with Barristan stating the King’s plan to take part in the joust (though in the novel it’s not the joust, it’s the melee). What’s interesting here is the establishment of Barristan’s bona fides as a knight—the bit where Ned says he’s happy they had not met in battle is added.
• Bran’s geography lesson. This was a neat little way to educate the audience about the geography of Westeros and its noble houses. Interesting that Bran cannot recall the Lannister family motto (which is, incidentally, “Hear Me Roar!”). Is this part of his mental block about how he fell?
• Theon and Rosie. The red-haired prostitute of Winterfell is having an interesting half-life on the show, considering she does not appear in the novel. I can’t decide whether this is HBO upping the skin factor (there was a lot of it in this episode), or using her as a means to give voice to the exploited and subjugated classes of Westeros. Though I suppose it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
• Varys and Littlefinger. This conversation is entirely invented, though it is more or less implicit in the novel—Varys and Petyr are the two most devious characters in the books. I liked this exchange—it was sort of like the spy’s version of the pissing contest, seeing who knows more about the other. There has been the suggestion that they work together—such as when Varys informs Littlefinger of Catelyn’s arrive in King’s Landing, and shows up at the brothel—but this scene makes very clear that not only don’t they trust each other, they may well be enemies.
• No Brynden Tully! One of my favourite secondary characters in the novels has been left out—Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, Catelyn’s gruff uncle, who is in the service of her sister. Perhaps he will show up later, but I was looking forward to seeing him in this episode.
• Loras and Renly! There is the faintest suggestion in the novels that Robert’s brother and the Knight of Flowers are lovers, faint enough that it only occurred to me on later rereadings of the books. But there is nothing explicit. Well, so much for subtlety here—not only are they obviously lovers, but Loras is goading Renly to jockey for the crown. And all I’ll say on that point for the benefit of the other GRRM geeks reading this … veeeeerrrrrry interesting.
• The conversation between Robert and Cersei. I loved this, even though it goes farther toward making Cersei a more sympathetic character. His description of the state of the realm is lovely.
• The confrontation between Ned and Jaime. Almost spot-on, except that in the novel Ned is injured when his horse falls on top of him, and there is no swordfight between him and Jaime. In the novel, we never get a glimpse of Ned actually fighting—we assume he knows what he is doing with a sword, but no actual evidence, whereas Jaime’s prowess is constantly mentioned. So, interesting that they show us here that Ned can hold his own against the Kingslayer … until he is stabbed in the leg.

OK, so there we are. Nikki: what did you think of episode five? Two of our main storylines were simply ignored, as we don’t see the Wall or Daenerys.

Nikki: Thanks for that list, Chris! You covered off many of my questions right there; as I watched the Bran geography lesson, I immediately wondered if that was a way to sum up a lot of history in one quick scene. Great stuff.

And yes, I noticed the complete lack of Daenerys and the Dothraki. I missed her for sure. I enjoyed this episode a lot, but it was by far the goriest. From the joust in the beginning and what the Mountain does to his horse (gah!!) to the ambush on Catelyn’s group and Tyrion smashing the attacker’s head repeatedly with a shield (gyaaahh!!), to the fight at the end between Jaime and Ned’s group, complete with a dagger in the eye socket (nnnggggaayahhh) it was one cringeworthy episode. Definitely the one where you realize this ain’t for the squeamish. Luckily, despite my noisemaking throughout (which pretty much echoed what I wrote there), I thought it was pretty amazing.

But I really must begin by asking you about Catelyn’s sister… whose name escapes me (of course). That woman gave me the heebs from the moment her 10-year-old (or older?) son stopped breastfeeding momentarily to look up. Good god. I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding, but… :::shudder::: And that kid does not appear to be playing with a full deck. Have you seen the episode of 30 Rock where Paul Reubens plays the inbred prince? Yep. He reminded me of THAT guy.

Her castle was glorious in its frightworthiness, though. Did it live up to the description in the book? And is she as loopy in the book as she is on the show?

Chris: Actually, believe it or not, they’ve downplayed Lysa’s batshit insanity a little bit. Not much, mind you—but still. I think the boy is supposed to be six years old in the novel. If you want a comparison, here’s a representative passage from the novel, from Catelyn’s POV:

“‘Quiet!’ Lysa snapped at her. ‘You’re scaring the boy.’ Little Robert took a quick peek over his shoulder at Catelyn and began to tremble. His doll fell to the rushes, and he pressed himself against his mother. ‘Don’t be afraid, my sweet baby,’ Lysa whispered. ‘Mother’s here, nothing will hurt you.’ She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy breast, tipped with red. The boy grabbed for it eagerly, his face buried against her chest, and began to suck. Lysa stroked his hair. Catelyn was at a loss for words.”

The little Lord Robert actually gets ever creepier as the novels go on, as does his mother.

The Eyrie—Lysa’s castle—I was so-so on. I thought the interior was brilliantly done, as was Tyrion’s cell. But our first view of it from a distance was the first time the series has disappointed me with its mise-en-scene—it looked pretty fake.

A friend of mine who has been watching the episodes on torrent recently told me that in the comments on episode four there were complaints about how slow-moving the series has been—that it wasn’t like a fantasy novel at all. I think this episode puts those complaints to rest. All of the swordplay and violence we’ve been waiting for sort of just comes all at once here, no? And if the series keeps faith with the books, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Next week’s episode is titled “A Golden Crown”—and all I’ll say to the n00bs is: (1) We’ll be seeing Daenerys and the Dothraki again, and (2) Gah!

I think my favourite part of the episode was the war of words between Littlefinger and Varys. Knowing what I do of their characters, I have a much better sense of who is plotting what, and where their respective loyalties lie. What did you make of that exchange, Nikki? If you had to trust one of them, whom would it be?

Nikki: That passage from the book made me shudder. Eep.

I’m surprised to hear the criticism. The people who would complain that these episodes are slow-moving are probably the same ones who said they just didn’t “get” The Wire. It’s too bad. (And having seen next week’s episode, I second your “Gah!” and can tell everyone it’s probably my favourite episode of the six.)

I, too, was intrigued by the scene between those two, because I don’t trust either one of them. They’re both underhanded and seem to be playing Ned in one way or the other, and both actors have this way of looking at him in a sidelong glance that makes you think they’re up to something. So when they go head to head… it was almost as if they were both lying, both bluffing in this game of chess they’re playing, tiptoeing around the issue and daring the other one to go further than he has already gone. So you’ve stumped me with that question. If I had to choose one of them, I might choose Baelish, because there are moments of humanity in him, especially when he talks to Catelyn. I haven’t seen anything similar in Varys yet. But I simply don’t understand why they’re offering to help Ned, and what could be gained by doing so.

Are we to assume that Jon Arryn was trying to round up the king’s bastards to prove they were all dark-haired, as opposed to the platinum-blond non heirs that are roaming the castle right now as his children? Presumably the queen’s children are ones she’s had by Jaime, and not Robert. But what’s to be gained by this? I’m intrigued by what Ned will put together here… and why Baelish is leading him down that path.

Speaking of the king and queen, how about that scene between the two of them? There are times where the king is absolutely loathsome, and I wonder if he’s very different from the man that Ned once knew? Becoming a king has not only made him too fat, but he’s excessive in everything and seems quite ineffectual as a king. He’s heartless to Cersei in this scene as she reminisces with him over their sham of a marriage. He tells her that nothing has filled the hole that Ned’s sister left behind, and she admits that she actually felt something for him once and asks if there’d ever been a single moment in their marriage where he felt the same. “No,” he declares after a thoughtful pause, followed by, “Does that make you feel better or worse?” She replies, “I don’t feel anything.” The conversation was shocking and devastating to watch.

Was the conversation the same in the book? It also made me wonder about the relationship with Jaime: she may trust him and be having an affair with him, but I wonder if that weighs on her? Could someone be truly happy being in a sexual relationship with her brother? Isn’t there a part of her that is in anguish that this is the only love she can find? Is he using her in some way? He doesn’t seem to love her so much as possess her.

Chris: The conversation between the king and queen was quite well done, I thought—and it’s not actually in the book. Every chapter is from a particular character’s point of view, and we don’t have that from either Robert or Cersei—so while the conversation might have happened, we could never know (ditto for the Varys/Littlefinger exchange). However hurtful Robert and Cersei have been to one another, there was a sense of understanding between them in this scene, however grudging or underlined with malice. We don’t get that in the book—the only feelings between them are Robert’s contempt for Cersei and her loathing of Robert.

The sexual relationship between Jaime and Cersei is played somewhat more ambivalently in the series, at least on Cersei’s part. In the novels, it is more of a long-standing thing—basically since even before they knew what they were doing, they were together sexually. Though they are not of one mind: Jaime is utterly devoted to Cersei, and is oddly faithful to her … but there is the sense that she is more opportunistic, and more concerned with her own power and ambition. That’s one of the reasons I loved Jaime’s chilling promise to kill everyone but him and her—that captured his ruthless, single- minded devotion perfectly. He would be perfectly happy having the world know about them, and damn the consequences. Cersei, conversely, it rather more circumspect.

I said something to this effect in my first post on GoT, but I have to imagine it’s the Littlefingers and Varyses, much more than the jousting, swordplay, and other staples of fantasy, that drew HBO to GRRM’s books. This goes to those who find the series boring, you are probably absolutely right to observe, are the same as those who just couldn’t get into The Wire. HBO certainly does not stint on giving us violence, or graphic sex and nudity, but the commonalty between its best shows is this degree of complexity and the frequent preoccupation with power. The scheming and plotting in King’s Landing echoes that which we see between the prisoner factions in Oz, the mob politics of The Sopranos, and the nascent democracy of Deadwood. As we see with such a spectacularly bad series as Spartacus, the blood and sex is easy to do. But without good, intelligent writing, it collapses on itself.

Nikki: So well put. I agree that writing is king on HBO. I think going hand-in-hand with that is the acting. The ensemble cast is so well put together on this show – they work well together, there’s chemistry where there needs to be, and the acting is absolutely superb. I have to point out Dinklage again: the look on his face when he sees Catelyn’s sister (and her tiny weirdo) is priceless. And when she accuses him of killing the hand of the king, he says, “Oh! Did I kill him, too? I’ve been a VERY busy man.” I just love Tyrion.

Even the secondary characters are superb. That scene of the king’s council flatly telling Ned how they need to put the Targaryens down is superb, with Littlefinger using the analogy of slicing a woman’s throat without a second thought, Robert simply raging against their family, Varys quietly agreeing with everyone, and Ned standing there in utter shock at the madness of it all. I loved that scene.

It’s interesting that HBO could take a book that, by your description, sounds like it’s entirely in first person from various points of view, and turns it into an objective, third-person narrative. Amazing. Yes, the writer is definitely king.

Chris:Just to clarify: the character POVs in GRRM’s books are third-person limited, not first person; but that doesn’t take away from your observation that the writers’ accomplishment is tremendous.

Speaking of the writers, it’s probably high time we gave them a shout-out: D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, who are responsible for having brought this to the small screen to start with, have done the lion’s share of the work on this series in terms of the writing. Looking at their resumes on, one wouldn’t have predicted it: Benioff has graced us with such brilliant screenplays as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Troy (though also Brothers and The 25th Hour, which I can’t comment on, not having seen them), and Weiss’ only credit for anything is Game of Thrones. But even if everything they do from this point on is shite, they will have my eternal respect for this series. They have managed at once to be faithful to the source material, to deftly incorporate GRRM’s own dialogue at key points, and augment the narrative with scenes of their own invention that work seamlessly.

We should also note that episode eight, “The Pointy End,” is written by GRRM himself—so it will be interesting to see how the novelist’s episode compares to those of his adaptors.

And with episode five, we are also at the halfway point in season one: five down, five to go, and I have to say it has thus far exceeded my expectations. For the final word, Nikki, what are your thoughts as we sit at the Ides of Game of Thrones?

Nikki: Only that I’m enjoying co-blogging with you immensely. This is fun!

Thanks for the shout-out for Benioff and Weiss… I wonder if Benioff’s background as a novelist has helped him envision how a novel could be brought to the screen? I think they’ve done a helluva job. I was shocked when I first saw this season would only be 10 episodes (I was hoping for the usual HBO 13) but so far they’re doing a brilliant job in truncating such a vast book into 10 hours.

I can’t wait for reader reactions to this Sunday’s episode… it was the last of the episodes that HBO sent to me in advance, and it’s a shocker. Enjoy!


The Question Mark said...

I LOVE this show! Every time I finish an episode I get so excited about it, and once I come here and read what you guys have posted, I suddenly remember, "Oh yeah, that scene was good, too!" and "Oh, snap, I totally forgot about how cool it was when Ned did this!"

Even though this ep was missing the lovely Daenyris (sp), who I must say has stolen my heart, it was still a fantastic hour. We got to see some bloodshed this time, and it was so painful-looking that it actually made me cringe (this coming from a guy who sat through six "Saw" movies without feeling the slightest bit grossed out).

I really loved the scene with Ned listening to the council's rash orders before walking out on them, but my two favourite scenes of this episode go to the Littlefinger-Viserys banter and the Robert-Cersei conversation. They were both spectacularly written and acted out. I love how a show about fantastic realms and dragons and White Walkers and ancient dynasties can just take a scene that simply involves two people talking and still make it gripping as hell.

Looking forward to next week!

P.S.- Gotta love these episode titles, huh?! "Cripples, Bastards, & Broken Things"..."Winter is Coming"..."The Pointy End". Superb.

Jeremy said...

This was another episode that I really enjoyed. Several of the critics that I follow had praised the Robert/Cersei scene beforehand, so I had high expectations for it. It started off slowly, but Mark Addy was great with his delivery of "No".

Just as an FYI, Lysa's son is named Robert in the books and Robin in the show, presumably to avoid confusion with King Robert.

Lostie said...

Im this show filmed in America??? They have Laws in the states concerning Child Abuse...which include having a 10 yr old or older boy putting his mouth on a woman's very surprised that HBO got away from doing that....

yes Nikki, i reacted just like u when i saw that scene....

EsDee said...

These hours just fly by...the credits start to roll and I look at the clock and say "really?!?!?"

I am assuming the child on the breast was some sort of filming trickery - perhaps the closeup was a fake breast and not really attached to a person at least that is what I am hoping. But that scene probably HAD to be in there - to give the audience an immediate idea of how crazy this woman is and her creepy relationship with her son.