Thursday, May 24, 2012

Game of Thrones: The Prince of Winterfell

And…. welcome to yet another week of Game of Thrones, that show that seems to be zipping by so fast we barely have time to catch our breath and the season is over. :(  I’m joined, as always, by Christopher Lockett, a professor from Memorial University in Newfoundland (and a dear friend) who has read the books and is commenting on the episodes as adaptations, while I talk about them without knowing the context of the books. (He posts this same post over on his site, with different pictures, and you should go check his out for different comments under the post.) 

Nikki: Well, let’s get the big cliffhanger out of the way: the Stark boys are not dead. I didn’t think they were, as I said last week, but considering what happened to the MAIN CHARACTER last season, I’m not hanging my hat on, “but he seems important!” as a reason to keep anyone around. At the beginning of the episode when Theon was talking to Yara about their deaths, I started to get uncomfortable and actually said to my husband, “Do you think I was wrong? Were those really the boys hanging there?” Turns out it wasn’t, but the reality was just as horrid… Theon went to the farm where the boys had passed through, believed the farmer was hiding information from them, and burned the farmer’s boys… and paid him off to keep him quiet. Horrid.

Yara told Theon in this episode, “You were a terrible baby, do you know that?” and related to him a story of how he would scream and scream and one day she looked at him and wanted to kill him, and he looked at her and smiled. She never forgot that, and it seems to be the reason she has a tiny amount of sympathy for him now and wants him to get out of there while he still can. But it also suggests that Theon responds to people despising him. Even as an infant, it was someone staring at him with loathing that made him respond to her. Now it’s like he thrives on the hatred of others. I, for one, can’t stand him. At least Joffrey wears his evil on his sleeve. Theon is just despicable to try to impress people. Is that worse?

What did you think of the episode this week, Chris?

Christopher: Yep, the Stark boys live on … and as you say, it was hard to buy that they were actually dead, absent actually seeing Theon kill them, but then that’s the uncertainty GRRM inspires. You just never know! And also as you say, the relief we feel at knowing they’re alive is tempered by the knowledge that Theon did in fact kill a pair of other, utterly blameless, boys in the name of showing his “strength” to his men and Winterfell. Whatever else happens to the little git, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him.

For the record, the reveal that Bran et al are alive takes place somewhat later in the novel … after ahem something else happens.

I enjoyed this episode, though I did find it a little more monologue-y than normal … which is odd, considering that this show has not lacked for lengthy speeches. And on the balance, I don’t know that there were more monologues than normal, but this time it felt more expository … such as with Bronn’s speech about life during a siege, and why it’s necessary to kill thieves in advance. As much as I thought the actor playing Bronn did a fantastic job of it (as he has of everything so far), it had the feel of a “and now, your moment of medieval socio-historical culture!” to it.

That being said, it did set us up for next week’s episode, where we finally see battle joined on a large scale as Stannis Baratheon assaults King’s Landing. The brief promo is here:

Squee? Squee. Incidentally, the episode—titled “Blackwater,” after the river that passes by King’s Landing and not the shady American mercenaries (though really, who knows?)—was written by the man GRRM himself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself … plenty of time to geek out about that next week.

Returning to this past Sunday’s episode, I suppose we should also deal with the inevitable—Robb and Talisa giving into their desires, in spite of his royal obligations. Which comes, I am certain, as a great galloping shock to no one, considering they’ve essentially been telegraphing that moment since we first saw the nurse with moxie. And as he explained to her earlier in the episode, he’s engaged to a daughter of the obstreperous Walder Frey, as part of the alliance between their houses.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Robb from bedding Talisa and also marrying the Frey girl. But then … he did inherit his father’s overdeveloped sense of honour …

One way or another, he was upset and disturbed, probably because his mother SET JAIME LANNISTER FREE. Considering that I read the novel and knew that was coming, I probably didn’t need to put that all in caps. But I can well remember my shock on that being revealed back when I read the novel for the first time, and it was right up there with the decapitation of Ned Stark for “WTF?” moments. As in the show, she asks Brienne for her sword just after Jaime has been taunting her … and the assumption is that she’s going to hurt him, but of course she makes him swear on the sword to release Sansa and Arya.

What did you think of that, Nikki?

Nikki: I see your caps and raise you a boldface WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE THINKING?! I actually have it written and underlined in my notes: Ask Chris why Catelyn did that! For the life of me, it made no sense. But here’s the only thing I can come up with (which is absolutely along the lines of what you said) that what Jaime said to her just hit home in a way nothing else has til this point. She finally realized how awful everything is, and that he’s the only one who can change that.

What I loved about the scene between Catelyn and Robb (which was just fantastic) is that once again, we have the parallel between him and Joffrey. Both are self-proclaimed kings with followers and detractors, and both have mothers in the wings. Cersei has no power at all, and when she acted like a mother and slapped her son across his face, he quietly and bluntly threatened her life should she ever do that again. Catelyn doesn’t treat Robb like a child (mostly because he isn’t one) and in turn he treats her with respect, but in this moment she acted without consulting him, and forgot her place, so to speak. While he doesn’t threaten her life, he treats her as a prisoner and walks out on her, which you know is a painful thing for him to do, but her actions, done for personal reasons, has cost him a lot of ground. It was such a shock, and I was with him 100% — yet at the same time felt sympathy for her…  It’s a conundrum we never have with the Lannisters.

Speaking of the little shit, Joffrey tells Tyrion that he’s going to give Stannis what he has coming to him. “They say Stannis never smiles — I’ll give him a red smile, ear to ear.” To which Tyrion hilariously responds in mock awe, “Imagine Stannis’s terror!” In this episode, we’re set up to believe Tyrion is fallible, when he can’t decipher books and Bronn has to explain things to him, as you mention above (and I agree it was a little long-winded and mechanical). Later, Cersei sees him and tells him that she’d found out about his little whore. Tyrion looks dumbfounded, and you can see the colour drain from his face completely, imagining what they’ve done to Shae and what his sister (and her vicious offspring) are capable of, especially now that he’s sent Myrcella away. But when another whore, not Shae, walks in, you see Tyrion’s face change just as quickly, as he’s relieved but has to hide it. His emotions almost get the better of him (for a second I thought there was no way Cersei would fall for his bumbling, “Oh… wow, this is, um… wow, so AWFUL, and…” but she does, because she’s so confident she’s right. His desperation when he goes to see Shae shows us that she has become his one Achilles heel. He truly loves her, and can’t let anything happen to her. If it does, we may see an entirely new Tyrion.

Christopher: Yes, the Case of the Mistaken Whore (as I now think of it) was a nice little moment—especially considering how hatefully smug Cersei is about the whole thing. I’m still not entirely sold on Lena Headey’s Cersei—she lets herself be more vulnerable than the Cersei of the novels, while at the same time playing her, to my mind, as overly icy when GRRM’s Cersei, for all her arrogance, fairly oozes sex and sensuality—but where she totally nails the character is when she’s being hateful, and when she thinks she has the upper hand. Interestingly, all of my favourite Cersei moments in the show are the ones not present in the books (most notably, her frankly honest exchange with Robert last season, and her “power is power” exchange with Littlefinger); conversely, all my favourite Tyrion moments are pretty much taken verbatim from the text. I’m not yet sure what that implies about the actors and their characters.

I loved the little exchange between Joffrey and Tyrion on the walls. I hope that next episode we’ll have a moment of genuine fear for the young king—something to make him quail and whimper, like he did when Arya threatened him with his own sword last season. He doesn’t have much of a memory, does he? Heh. Little shit. Once again, props to Jack Gleeson for playing such a hateful character so well—after watching his promise to give Stannis a red smile, I was sorely tempted to fire up YouTube and watch my favourite mash-up from season one:

The best part is where Joffrey gets slapped.

Of course, some of the inchoate rage Joffrey inevitably inspires was tempered by Tyrion’s great quip. Some.

I think you’re spot on with Catelyn’s motivations in letting Jaime go … she is, at this point, so sick at heart from the war, from the death of Ned, fear for her children in King’s Landing and back at Winterfell (and she hasn’t ever heard the “news” about Bran and Rickon yet—which she has in the novel when she sets Jaime free), that she does the one thing in her power to try and rescue what remains of her family … even though it means essentially committing treason. Depending on where they take the story, there is a rapprochement between her and Robb; but for now she is a prisoner in her son’s army, reviled by all of his lords and commanders. And though they have been telegraphing Robb’s indiscretion with Talisa, the suggestion here is that he succumbs because he feels alone and beset, betrayed even by his own mother.

If you buy that sort of thing.

But we’re ignoring what I found one of the most compelling stories this week, which is Jon and Qhorin’s capture by the wildlings, and Ygritte’s payback—saving him from the Lord  o’ Bones blade (for the moment). AND Qhorin’s evolving scheme to have Jon pretend to turn his cloak and join the wildlings … going so far to shout angrily at him and send him tumbling down a hill. Ygritte’s little smile of triumph as he looks up at her suggests that she, at least, can see where things are going … even if she doesn’t entirely understand why.

What did you think, Nik?

Nikki: It was a really nice touch when Ygritte begged for Jon’s life, and I, too, liked the smirk on her face when he rolled down the hill. She heard what Qhorin had said to him – that Jon was fond of the ginger – and she’s definitely developed a bit of an attachment to him as well. I’m really looking forward to where this story goes.

And I just have to mention one moment in the episode that made me laugh out loud, and it had nothing to do with the dialogue of the show itself. When Talisa and Robb finally succumb to their passion, I loved how they were fumbling with the ties on their outfits and seemed to take forever to disrobe. I started giggling and said, “Well, THIS is more complicated than it should be,” and Talisa began struggling with the strings on Robb’s top. Then my husband said, “It’s like a neverending shoelace, your grace!” and we both laughed and laughed… probably not the audience reaction they were looking for. But we make our own fun.

We of course have to mention Jaqen H’ghar this week… and in previous episodes he’s pronounced his name “Jacken-higher” but Arya called him “Jacken Ha-garr,” like she was pronouncing the name the way it appears on the page.  Any sense of who is saying it correctly? I prefer his way.

Every week I mean to transcribe some of his dialogue, because I LOVE the way he talks, referring to himself as “the man” instead of “I” or “me.” To get his attention, Arya names him as the third man to kill, and the look on his face is priceless. He’s a man of honour, so he must do as she says, and rather than scoffing and saying, “OK, let’s be serious,” he looks at her, stricken, and asks her very politely to unname him. At first she refuses, and he becomes panicked, demanding that she unname him. Arya’s testing him here, making sure he’s really going to stick to his vow, and clearly he will, because he’s now imagining his own life rather than taking hers out of anger, and he will do as she says. So, she tells him to get her out of Harrenhal, and that gives us the beautifully spooky scene of her leaving with her two cohorts (why did they bring the annoying guy? Ugh, it’s like heading on a road trip with Cartman) as they pass all the murdered guards. He told her he’d kill three people, and now he’s killed five. I’m sad we’re leaving him behind, but hopeful that we’ll see him again.

I forgot to mention how much I loved Tyrion’s comeback at Cersei earlier in the episode when he tells her, “A day will come when all your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know my debt is paid.” Oh YES.

Couple of questions for you as you wrap us up this week:
-How does news travel north of the Wall? The wildlings knew of Ned Stark’s death. How would they know about that? Do they have rangers that go south? Do they use ravens, too? Do they have smartphones?
-You mentioned a few episodes ago that Talisa is entirely fabricated for the show, and wasn’t in the books. So is everything happening with Robb new to you, or is it a different take on something else he did in the books?
-Am I the only person who just stares at Emilia Clarke’s hair the entire time Daenerys is on screen?

And lastly, what did you make of Tyrion’s discussion with Varys at the end of the episode?

Christopher: To address your questions in order …

  1. In the novels, it’s made clear that the Wall is not impermeable—wildlings frequently scale it or otherwise skirt it, though obviously not in large numbers, to raid and plunder the lands south. It is also made clear that there is more congress between the rangers and the wildlings than the Night’s Watch would ever acknowledge, so they have their sources, and news like the lord of Winterfell being executed is something that would spread north of the Wall like some sort of unruly flame.

  1. Talisa is entirely fabricated, but she is not unfamiliar … Robb does in fact have a romance with someone he shouldn’t, but she’s not a foreign woman who was once an aristo turned healer … Once more is revealed on the show, I will tell you whom his love in the books is, but for now I’ll stay mum for fear of spoilers. Rest assured, however, that Talisa is only a surprise in terms of who she is and how she shows up.

  1. Um, yes. Emilia Clarke’s hair. Definitely what I tend to stare at. [Says Nikki: snicker]

As for your last question … I loved it. With Littlefinger roving around Westeros, Varys turns to Tyrion for someone with wits, and finds a better partner … in part, because Tyrion doesn’t joust as much, and Varys makes it clear he actually likes Tyrion. I recently reread the fifth Ice and Fire novel, A Dance With Dragons, and have been interested in the number of times text from that book has appeared in season two episodes. I hope I’m not giving anything away when I say that Tyrion’s little speech about being made master of Casterly Rock’s drains was from that novel … or that Varys’ interest in Tyrion will resonate in future narratives, heh.

The last thing I should mention is the conversation between Stannis and Davos … which was at once both poignant and irritating. Poignant because we are given further insight into Stannis’ mind and the resentment that underwrites his iron discipline, and because we hear more of Davos’ backstory. (Once again: Liam Cunningham rocks the stage in this bit, and Stephen Dillane is no slouch). Irritating, however, because it was one of those moments of unwieldy exposition … necessary, perhaps, but a little heavy-handed. But then, as Davos is rapidly becoming one of my favourite televisual realizations of a GRRM character, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Also, because we know that next week things get blowed up real good. Onward!


Anonymous said...

Great recap you two - as always.

A couple points/questions -

Was the whore who Cersei had Roz? That may cause Littlefinger to align with Tyrion. Isn't she a star earner or something?

This did seem very much like a "setup" episode for the final two hours - much like Lost's second to last one always was.

Talisa - now the hottest woman on the show - take a bow.

For some reason Jaime being dragged back to King's Landing reminded me of when the Talies had to bring a half-dead Sawyer across the island in Season 2.

I'm beginning to lose interest in Danyes' arc. It seems almost made up on the spot. I hope we at least see the baby Dragons in action though. Maybe come to her defense against the "multiple-man" wizard?

-Tim Alan

Joan Crawford said...

Yes, I thought the whore was Ros and that was why she was going along with it... she mentioned in season 1 how she and Tyrion were... quite fond of each other, shall we say? She also knows he'll repay her and reminded him of that with the whole "Don't forget me" line - if she was some random hooker, I think she'd find it hard to stay motivated... whole bunch of things I could say here but I won't because I am a decent person and the sun is still up.

I found this episode to be a little draggy and comparatively uneventful. It was good but I am at the panicky, we-only-have-a-couple-of-episodes-left stage.

I am re-watching season 1 right now as I was all sorts of confused and lost (and therefore not as interested then as I am now) with all the characters and houses, etc... I honestly thought Jon, Robb and Theon were the same person for the first 3 episodes. Made no sense whatsoever:

"Man that guy is everywhere! One minute he's a dick and really ugly and then he's nicer and not ugly and then he gets all shy and cute. Now he has split into three bodies... this show makes no sense!"

Love this show more each week! Your recaps are hilarious, you guys, thanks for taking the time to do them :D

Joan Crawford said...

I just thought of something: Roz (with Z, Joan) works for Littlefinger now, right? I wonder if it was he who put her up as "Tyrion's Whore"... does he know about Shae, or who Shae is exactly? Did it take him by surprise and he just quickly got Roz to fill-in? Or maybe the Eunuch told Littlefinger about Shae and they in turn they set it up to have power over the Lannisters?

screenshotter said...

These recaps are great and original. I agree with Joan - I had the same thing with Jon/Robb/Theon, seriously!

The storytelling is quite dense for a TV show with lots of info flowing in - but that's a good challenge.

I didn't enjoy this episode really, seemed to just drag and not much stuff going on - talk about silence before the storm!

Daenerys is getting boring and I hoped they'd reveal something really astounding but so far she's been stuck in Quarth for 4 episodes now? It's been just too much politics and the "only" thing that happened was just dragons being stolen (...and most of the party slaughtered). They're being cheap there.

On another note - who is Davos really? From what I gather he's the hand of the Stanley but his character, although well written and played is sort of unexplained. I'm really curious how he's gonna fit in the grand scheme.

Can't wait for Joffrey to get his ass kicked (slapped?).

Jazzygirl said...

Can't believe we've only got two episodes left!?! UGH! Why can't it be longer? LOL I read book one after season one and was thinking there was no way they could fit the whole book into 12 or so episodes but they pretty much did it. I'm wondering if it's holding true for this book/season?
I also hope Dani's storyline gets moving. She keeps losing her "people"...there can't be many left now. I can only hope this is heading somewhere with a bang...especially since that crazy magic guy killed all the politicians.
Looking forward to more great recaps!

Blam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blam said...

Christopher: Can I also just say that the warlock’s uncanny resemblance to a white, heroin-addicted Abed from Community saps some of the character’s eeriness?

Hmm... Teebore likened him to the Dean from Community. Me, I thought more a cross between Count Orlock in Nosferatu and a Star Trek: TNG alien.

Christopher: I’m disappointed with Daenerys this season … she was such a force to be reckoned with last year, but now she just comes across as something of a petulant child

I don't quite see Dany as petulant. I see her as entitled, both actually (given the whole dragons/fire thing) and in her head, and as frustrated that, y'know, one day everyone will see she's right if they'll just help her get everything in line — which is also frustrating for the viewer, granted, but she still has a mix of vulnerability and command that make her intriguing to at least some of the right people in-story as well as some of us watching.

Christopher: That, I should point out, is entirely out of step with the novels ... It makes me wonder where they plan to go with it.

Measuring adaptations along the axes of "fealty" and "quality" can be a tricky thing; substantial portions of both is ideal, but sometimes you have to sacrifice one for the other. I'm not trying to tell you something you don't know, by the way, just musing on a problem that crops up frequently for us comic-book readers. This is one reason why the Avengers movie is so satisfying, despite it necessarily updating and altering and smooshing so much of a decades-spanning saga into one film.

I gather from friends who've read the Song of Ice and Fire books that Game of Thrones still feels more like a successful adaptation than a version, if you will, an alternate take the way, say, Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy movies were so enjoyable but so mythologically different from the source material.

Kheru said...

why do you stare @ Clark's wig the whole time Dani is on screen? Don't tell it blonde blindness? I wonder why they didn't use a better technique with the hairline or get someone who could? Rue Paul's hair looks better than that.