Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Game of Thrones Ep 7: You Win or You Die

Welcome to week 7 of our Game of Thrones analysis! This week’s episode was a doozy, and for me, the first one I watched live where I didn’t have it on a preview DVD. That also means that this was the most highly anticipated week of the watch for me. I’m joined as always by Christopher Lockett, who has read the book series and is providing a more literary take on the episodes (and also explaining certain things that may have blown by us too quickly in the episode, but are elaborated upon in the books). So I’ll let Chris start us off!

Chris: So, remember a few posts ago when I asked you whom you would be more inclined to trust, Littlefinger or Varys? It was sort of the end of this episode I was thinking about. Hee.

So: lots of great stuff in this episode, but I want to address what I think is the series’ first real misstep: Littlefinger’s tutoring of the whores. First: Roz is in King’s Landing ALREADY? That seems like a pretty fast trip, considering it took the king and his retinue a month to get to Winterfell. And I suppose it was inevitable that, once they decided they wanted to keep her character around, she would end up working in one of Littlefinger’s brothels. I’m not entirely sure why they’ve decided to make her a relatively prominent character. There is one possibility that I won’t voice, as it would be spoilery … but for the moment she seems to be there for the purpose of upping the skin factor. And it’s not that she isn’t nice to look at, but it seems a bit gratuitous.

But really, all that’s neither here nor there. Littlefinger’s little soliloquy provided an interesting window into his character, but it came across to me as totally contrived. For one thing, does Petyr Baelish strike you as such a micromanager that he would deign to give his prostitutes lessons? Or to make such revelations about himself to them? One of the brilliant things about Littlefinger’s character is he keeps so much buttoned up that you’re always guessing about his motivations and ambitions. I felt at the end as if the writers thought they needed something to make his ultimate betrayal of Ned more comprehensible, which to my mind is a rare moment of them not trusting their audience.

That being said: the plot thickens! We finally meet the mighty Tywin Lannister! The King is gored by a boar! Jon Snow will be a steward! His direwolf finally gets a name (oh, and finds a human hand)! Jorah saves Daenerys from being poisoned! Drogo promises to give her the Iron Throne! And Ned Stark TOTALLY FAILS to save the realm from Cersei and her bastard brood!

So much goodness to talk about. Where do you want to start, Nikki?

Nikki: I’d say you’ve covered everything beautifully! So for next week’s blog post…

Haha… Okay, seriously, I enjoyed this episode, although I found it a little bit slow at parts, until the very end (whereupon I sat up bolt upright, hands over my mouth, and just kept saying, “I KNEW IT!!”) The next day I saw a few posts talking about what an idiot Ned Stark was – “Baelish says ‘don’t trust me’ and gives you every indication he’s going to stab you in the back… and you trust him anyway. Are you really that stupid?” but I think that Littlefinger’s betrayal was brilliant, because it showed just how slippery he was, but also what a great actor Mayor Carcetti Gillen is. First, there was always something a little weaselly about the guy – he seems to goad Sansa with the story of the Mountain and the Hound, telling her what horrible trouble she’ll be in if she ever tells the Hound what she knows; he tells Ned there’s no one he can trust; he has backroom meetings with people behind Ned’s back; we know he was in love with Catelyn, and THAT can’t be good. But on the other hand, there seemed to be something more genuine about him – he pointed out all of the listeners to Ned so he’d be aware that he’s being tracked at all times; when Ned made his court declaration last week, Baelish looked at him like he was impressed, as if to say, “THIS is the guy I need to get behind”; he cares about Catelyn, and perhaps that might extend to Ned; he seemed to be helping Ned get to the bottom of what happened to Jon Arryn. But in the end, it was for his own means… he used Ned, knowing that Ned sees the world as black and white only, right and wrong, whereas Baelish knows it’s actually several shades of grey. He knew he could easily take advantage of Ned’s morals to push him to a point where he aligns himself against the Lannisters, and then Baelish could betray him. What Baelish hopes to get out of it ultimately is unclear, but I can’t wait to see what happens next week.

Can I just pause to say the sight of Joffrey on the throne made me throw up a little? UGH.

I’d like to talk about the Drogo scene. Wow, talk about an actor being kept quiet for six episodes and finally commanding a really long scene in the seventh! I didn’t know he had it in him. And for someone who is as obsessed with words as I am, I was thrilled to see all those subtitles. I’ve been picturing the name of the queen as “Calisi” for so many episodes, and when he finally said, “Khalisi” a light went on, and I realized it was meant to be a derivative of Khal, which must mean King (I hadn’t caught that earlier; I just thought that was his name), and he referred to his son as Khalasar, which must be a further derivative, either for son of a king or just prince. Loved that.

But wow, talk about declaration. After his long speech I looked at my husband and said, “So… how come YOU have never offered to rape entire villages of women and murder their children in my name? Sheesh…” I couldn’t take my eyes off Daenerys’s face throughout this scene… rather than looking terrified or disgusted, she looked serene, as if flattered by this declaration of his. As you said last week, she is definitely no longer a child.

Chris: Heh. Yeah, you kind of now imagine the writers soothing Jason Momoa, who plays Drogo, saying “Don’t worry. We have a totally kickass scene for you coming up.” Two things kept running through my mind as I watched that scene: (1) that the Dothraki have thus far been something of a conflation of Mongol warriors and plains Indians, but here we get a little bit of Maori sprinkled in. Seriously, by the end of it, it looked like he was dancing the Haka. (2) Perhaps this was a bit of a rehearsal for the upcoming Conan the Barbarian reboot, which stars Jason Momoa in the title role? I kept waiting for “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women” to show up in his incantation.

Yeah. Not a good scene for anyone insecure in their masculinity to watch. ;-)

I loved the subtitles in this one … especially the moment when Dany is trying to convince Drogo to invade Westeros, saying “There are many dirts across the sea,” and he corrects her, saying “Lands—many lands across the sea.” Hee. It’s such a brilliant little moment—blink and you miss it, but it’s that kind of attention to detail that makes the writing so good.

To be fair to Littlefinger (which is more than he deserves), I think the suggestion is there that if Ned accepted his advice to swallow his honour and crown Joffrey, wed Sansa to him, and later down the road eliminate Stannis and crown Renly, that Littlefinger would have kept faith. But of course Ned simply isn’t capable of such scheming. The point was made several times throughout this episode that the entire concept of what we could call divine right is bullshit—as Jorah tells Daenerys, Aegon the Conqueror did not claim the throne of Westeros because he had the best claim, but because he had might enough to do it (and dragons). Renly makes the same point to Ned—that Robert’s rebellion was not about right but might. And finally, Littlefinger says it most plainly when he points out that his plan would not be treason if they win.

This is one of the things I love about GoT, both the books and the series—in a Tolkien-esque universe, Ned Stark would be the Aragorn figure (notwithstanding his wonderful portrayal of Boromir), whose rigid and unyielding honor wins out in the end. But in King’s Landing, it merely makes him a stationary object for the likes of Littlefinger and Cersei to navigate easily around. GRRM was famously dubbed the “American Tolkien,” the highest praise one can give a fantasy author; but really, this narrative has far more in common with Shakespeare’s history plays.

And yes—the sight of Joffrey on the throne, especially when he petulantly screams “KILL HIM!” is really rather vomit-inducing. And I thought it was bad in the novel. Ugh.

Though I must say that one moment I loved is just how distraught Joffrey looks when he’s at his father’s deathbed—it’s obvious here that he worships him, which is something we imagine must eat at Cersei to no end. He doesn’t seem to spend much time in mourning, mind you, but it’s a lovely cruel irony to Cersei and Jaime that their son identifies with the lout they both loathe so much.

And speaking of Jaime … what did you think of the opening sequence in the Lannister camp?

Nikki: Oh, that opening. I was absolutely fascinated by it. First, I didn’t get right away that that was Tywin… it took me a few moments before I realized, “Wait, the guy who’s skinning the animal is his father!” but that was probably because I couldn’t take my eyes off him skinning the animal. Partly because I thought it was just a brilliant introduction to this character, the way he so deftly does it (I saw him as a king figure and typically you wouldn’t see a leader doing the dirty work, but it would appear this guy likes to do these things himself and has been doing it his entire life) but also, I think that was a real animal. Usually they would use some sort of model or something, but that would have been a hugely expensive undertaking, and I was imagining how they had trained the actor to skin the animal with such mastery.

So yeah, I had to watch that scene again just to hear what they were saying! I hope I wasn’t the only one who was watching that animal-skinning over everything else. But yes, Tywin was fantastic. It’ll be interesting for me if/when we actually see Tywin and Tyrion together. We’ve seen Tyrion with his brother and sister (can I just say not seeing Tyrion at all this week was disappointing? I think that confirms he’s my favourite) but he’s mentioned on a couple of occasions how let down his father was when he discovered his son was a dwarf. I’d like to see Tyrion go head to head with him verbally… but also I’d be interested to see if his father may be the one person who disarms him. I see their relationship as being closer to the one Sam has with his father than anything else.

Speaking of which, talk about a shocker when Jon doesn’t end up being a Ranger like he thought he would be. Do you think Sam is right, and that he’s been put in a position where he could ultimately take over? Of course, I ask that not knowing if it’s an answer you already know…

And in addition to that question, I’ll ask about the King’s death. Was that as big a surprise in the book as it was for me to see on the show? The King is such a big, overwhelming character, and I was shocked to see him killed off so early in the series. But then again, he’s more of a catalyst of events – he’s that bridge between a past of glory and the present, filled with stasis. He’s a go-nowhere drunk, and despite being such a powerful character up to now, his purpose has been mostly to illuminate Ned’s morals in contrast and make us question what a king should be. He’s important because of what he’s not – he’s not moral, he’s not a good king, he’s not a loving husband, he’s not ambitious, and he’s not the father of any of his children. The only thing he was, was Ned’s friend. But even that wavered at the end when Ned saw him for what he was.

Chris: I was, to be honest, a little ambivalent about Tywin for the simple reason that my mental image of him in the books is totally different. That being said, Charles Dance’s take on the character is totally compelling, and the deer-skinning scene won me over on the rewatch. I actually think it’s a fairly clever little gambit on the writers’ part, because as a culture we’ve become at once completely divorced from such simple realities as the food we eat and at the same time desensitized to screen violence. The familiarity with violence, I want to suggest, is not unlike King Robert’s love of killing things and his concomitant reluctance to really deal with the consequences of violence. Tywin’s deer-skinning thus becomes a shrewd conceit. Unless we hunt or work at a slaughterhouse, there’s little mental connection between the cute lamb at the petting zoo and the rack of lamb crusted with herbs. And as one of the wealthy elite of Westeros, Tywin need not do his own dressing of the deer; that we’re introduced to him elbow-deep in blood suggests, as you say, that this is a character with few illusions and no tolerance for those who won’t face the unpleasant realities of ruling.

Interestingly, this aligns Tywin with Ned against Robert—don’t forget, one of our first encounters with Ned was his execution of the deserter, based on the principle that he who passes the sentence should swing the sword. He later castigates Robert on that point when Robert caves to Cersei on the issue of killing Sansa’s direwolf. Robert likes to kill things, but doesn’t care to clean up the aftermath.

I will be mum on Jon Snow’s future, for the sake of spoilers.

Robert’s death was a big surprise for me when I first read the novel, though now in hindsight it seems pretty inevitable. You’re absolutely right when you say he’s essentially an agent of stasis—him and Cersei together, really, keeping the realm steady in their uneasy marriage. For the game of thrones to start in earnest, that stasis has to shatter.

To return to Vaes Dothrak, what did you think of Jorah in this episode? He’d been revealed to us as an informer and a spy, sending information about Daenerys and Viserys to Varys, and here we see that he has won his heart’s desire—a royal pardon and the freedom to return home. Which of course raises his suspicions about the wineseller, but by intervening and saving Daenerys, he pretty much irrevocably yokes his fate to hers.

Nikki: This was definitely an episode about betrayal, and that revelation about Jorah was something that I didn’t quite understand the first time through… why was he being given a pardon? What the heck is going on? I had to watch it more than once to get that. Where Littlefinger was suspicious because of the way he actually instilled the suspicion in Ned on purpose (almost as a ploy… “I’m not the guy you should trust, you know… and me saying that pretty much means I’m the only one you CAN trust”) whereas Jorah was under my radar the entire time. The way he stood in Viserys’s way; his protectiveness around Dany; the way he’s helped her assimilate herself into the Dothraki; his sympathies for the Dothraki clan and innate understanding of everything they stand for… there was just something so trustworthy about him, and I think it’s clear, as you say, that that stems from a genuine affection for Dany. While he was sending secrets, he actually cared for her, I think.

Jorah is actually the one character I’d like to know more about, and I wonder if reading the books could cast more light on him for me? Just a couple of weeks ago my husband said, “So, okay, was he with the Dothraki or with Daenerys and her brother?” And I said, “He was with the Dothraki… no, wait, he was with the Targaryens… no… the Doth—you know, I can’t remember…” but it just didn’t seem to matter. His purpose for me was to offer a narrative to Daenerys and make her more sympathetic to us and to explain the Dothraki, who are the most foreign to us in the episode (I agree with your Maori take, by the way, and actually the very first time we saw Khal Drogo my initial thought was to wonder if the actor was Maori, because he certainly looks it).

So this turn of events was an interesting one for me, because it means Jorah is so much more than just a Johnny the Explainer, he’s a real character who could be the bridge between the Targaryens (I know I’m spelling that wrong, by the way…) and the rest of them.

Only three more episodes to go! I can’t believe the season is almost over, and it feels like it’s just beginning.


The Question Mark said...

I felt equally confused when Jorrah got his pardon letter. For a second, I thought it was HE who was meant to be Dany's assassin, and he was receiving the pardon as payment for doing the job. But after seeing it the second time around, I understand now that he was merely a spy for the Spider.

Jason Momoa knocked it out of the park with his speech! I had freaking goosebumps! I have a whole new reason to look forward to "Conan the Barbarian" now!

Now, my biggest question at the end of this ep (and I know the answers will be spoilery, Chris, so I totally understand that you can't answer them yet) is what options are left for poor Ned Stark?
My first prediction is that he's going to escape Cersei's custody, then team up with Jorrah, Dany and Drogo when they arrive, and help them take the Lannisters off the throne.
But on the other hand, something tells me that Drogo will have NO interest in siding with anyone from the West, and that he and Dany are going to become just as villainous as the Lannisters, which is a scary notion.

The plot moistens...

JJ said...

Actually, Nikki, that is the correct spelling of "Targaryen."

You know, every time I get to this part of the story in the novel, I just give my head a shake; oh Ned, you stupid, blind fool. You should have told Robert everything while he was lucid enough to help. Failing that, you should have taken up Renly's offer and put the Baratheon brother who was there in power, not held out for Stannis. Failing that, you should have gone along with Littlefinger's plan, holding onto power while keeping your options open instead of tying every hope you have to the guy who isn't even there! FAILING THAT -- ahem, failing that, you should have taken Cersei's offer and just gone home. BUT NO! You have to stand by your honour, no matter what. I'm sure the girls will understand. Oh, and don't worry, [minor spoilers] your next residence will have a great view, [minor spoilers] so you've got that to look forward to.

Batcabbage said...

I regret to inform you all that I've been avoiding these posts because sadly, Batkitty and I have fallen behind on watching Game of Thrones. (The Witcher 2 and LA Noire came out. It's a whole thing.) BUT! This Saturday, we're doing a GoT marathon, watching all the seven episodes one after the other, after which I'll read the posts I've missed like, immediately. Oh, and also, MY BOX SET OF THE FIRST FOUR BOOKS GOT DELIVERED TODAY!!! So excited! The box has Sean Bean on one end, and Dany (can't remember her real name) on the other. Cannot wait to devour them all (it will go too fast, I can tell). SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!

Jeremy said...

To be pedantic, Drogo is a khal ("king"), Dany is his khaleesi ("queen"), and they lead Drogo's khalasar (tribe).

You're correct, Mamoa did flavor his performance (and his audition) with the haka.

Anonymous said...

So was Robert's death truly an accident or did the Lannisters set him up for it by feeding him drugged wine? I hope this gets explained! or did I miss it?

Gisela said...

Robert's death was no accident, Cersei made his squire (a Lannister) to give him wine that was three times stronger than normal wine and the old fool enjoyed that so much that he asked for more and more instead of noticing he became far too drunk to continue hunting.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I haven't returned to your blog ever since LOST ended...For me, there wasn't much on TV that I could really let myself get into.

Then just over the weekend I discovered (and marathoned) GoT and the first place I checked online for reviews was your site!

The recent entries on the series where you and Chris go back and forth are wonderful! I feel that it's a bit more fluid...

Anyways, I digress. Can't wait to see how this story unfolds!!

Mormont said...

Great analysis so far guys. I also want to point out what a great character Samwell is, and the actor who plays him. He's a deceptively insightful big guy and has an agenda of his own.
The scene with Jon and Sam giving their oaths in front of the Godswood gave me chills, not only because of the monastic existence of sacrifice they were condemning themselves to, but all that waits for the men who take the black. Winter truly is coming.

Nikki Stafford said...

Mormont: I couldn't agree more. I adore Samwell, and I think the actor portraying him is superb. When I do get around to reading the books, I know I'll only be picturing him as that character.

Lostie said...

Ive been thinking...what tastes like wine but is stronger? might have been Sherry that did poor Robert in...imagine that, lol.... :-)

but im hoping it was scotch so he went out like a man... :-) I loved him in the old sitcom "Still Standing" with his american accent.