Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.4: And Now His Watch Is Ended

And now I shall sum up this week's episode of Game of Thrones in merely three letters:


You thought I was going to say OMG, didn't you? 

Without any further ado, let's get moving. 

Christopher: So … kind of an uneventful episode, huh?

I am trying, trying so very hard to write down my impressions in a calm and objective manner … and it’s taken me three tries to not open my bit here with all caps and multiple exclamation points. I think I might be in a calmer headspace now, but for the sake of not losing my shit, I am NOT going to begin with the end (as is my inclination). I will leave off impressions of Daenerys’ awesomeness for you, Nikki, as I’m curious to see how someone who hasn’t read the books reacts to her elegant little solution to her problem.

Instead, I will begin in the middle: if it weren’t for the immolation of Astapor in the final ten minutes, the most striking part of this episode for me was the conversation between Cersei and Tywin. And, really, that’s saying a lot, as this episode was full to bursting with a whole series of remarkable two-handed short plays—Jaime and Brienne, Margaery and Sansa … and Varys and Tyrion, Varys and Olenna, Varys and Ros (it was sort of the Varys show, really, except again for the napalming of slavemasters at the end).

But Cersei and Tywin take the win in the understated dialogue category. We have here articulated, finally, Cersei’s smoldering resentment at not being taken seriously by her father. I couldn’t help but think of it almost as a retread of Tyrion’s bitter exchange with their father in episode one. We see that Tyrion isn’t alone in feeling marginalized by Lannister senior—Cersei too believes that her particular talents and insights aren’t being acknowledged, and like Tyrion she is treated to a pretty brutal put-down. When she voices her (well-founded) fears that Margaery is manipulating Joffrey, Tywin’s retort almost certainly had all those who hate that little shit (i.e. everyone) nodding emphatically in agreement: “I wish you could manipulate him. I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman. I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are. You’ve allowed that boy to run roughshod over you and everyone else in this city.”

Truer words never spoken, and I want to take a moment, yet again, to praise Charles Dance’s performance. That gravitas thing I keep coming back to? He owns it. I’ve been wanting to share this very brief clip of him in the adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, in which he plays the enigmatic and very dangerous city Patrician, Lord Vetinari:

He’s one of those actors who can convey more with an eyebrow than most people can with semaphore flags and a megaphone. But what’s even better in this scene? Cersei’s little smile as she listens. “Perhaps you should trying stopping him doing whatever he likes,” she suggests, and in that moment I had an unaccustomed pang of sympathy for her. Anyone who has been following these co-blogs from the start knows that the casting of Lena Headey has been one of the few about which I’ve been ambivalent—but every so often she nails it.

One last thought on the scene: her accusation that he is doing “nothing” to get Jaime back and his response were pitch-perfect; but it’s the letters that he is calmly writing as they speak that are the most important prop in the scene. I’m not offering a spoiler here … just saying that, later in this season (or possibly early in the next, I don’t know the schedule they’re on) those letters will take on a massive significance.

And with that all said, I now cede the stage for Nikki’s reaction to the fire-bombing of Astapor. Cue squeeing in three, two …


Where do I start? That Daenerys DID understand everything that horrible tyrant has said to her this whole time? That she figured out how to have her army and get her dragon back, too? That she freed the men, and they still remained with her? That she ended up heeding the advice of BOTH advisors by not only getting an army that is well trained, but earned their respect, which is what she’d been told last week was the most important thing?

That her dragon fucking immolated Kraznys???!!! 

Seriously, guys. Targaryens win the Game of Thrones. Game, set, match. We can all go home now. My loyalties remain with Daenerys and I hope she takes down every last one of them. What a frickin’ brilliant scene and end to a lead-up of four episodes.

Daenerys having this epic triumph at the end of the episode comes back to the gender issues you and I were talking about last week, and is an ongoing trope on the show. Back to what you were just talking about, Chris, Cersei demands to know why exactly she can’t be considered the heir. After all, she and Jaime were twins, and therefore born at the same time, but he’s given the title of heir simply because he’s got a Y chromosome. With Craster, there’s a weird gender reversal where he kills the male babies rather than the female ones, but only so he can feed the creatures in the forest and continue to fornicate with his daughters. Not exactly a women’s lib move there. Lady Olenna talks to Cersei and they discuss how ridiculous it is that men only are the ones who have the power. Theon marvels at the fact his father gives so much to his sister and nothing to him (he’s put out by the fact that she is a girl and he is a man, and therefore naturally deserving). And, in an interesting addendum to the scene between Jaime and Brienne last week when they were on the horse and she was asking him what he would do if he were a woman, in this episode, now missing a hand, Jaime is in the depths of depression and wants to die. Brienne tells him he’s suffered a “misfortune,” and he is horrified, telling her he’s lost his sword hand, and “I was that hand.” She looks at him and says with some disgust, “You sound like a bloody woman.” Again, she doesn’t self-identify as a “bloody woman,” and is put out to see him acting like one. Almost immediately, he begins eating, showing a will to live.

In this episode, it’s the ones without penises who show the intellect and nerve: Olenna, Daenerys, Cersei, Arya, Margaery, Ros, Brienne… and Varys. Further to what you said above, I wrote in my notes this week, “Who writes for Varys? His lines are superb.” Conleth Hill delivers the lines with aplomb, so soft-spoken yet forceful, so simple yet poetic. In the first two seasons I didn’t trust this man at all, but there’s something about him this season where I feel he’s on the right side; I just can’t put my finger on it. “Look little lambs, a spider in the garden,” says Olenna when she sees him coming, and it’s that sort of thinking that keeps me from truly trusting him.

But in the only scene with Tyrion this week, Varys finally reveals exactly how he lost his member, in a truly awful memory of a sorcerer who bought him and used him as part of some magic to bring about a voice from the flames. “A voice called, and the sorcerer answered.” He describes being cut, “root and stem,” and the entire time, he’s curiously prying open a large wooden crate (which, at one point, we see Tyrion lean over to look at and there are clearly holes in the one end). I’m sure most people in the audience who, like me, hadn’t read the books, could still anticipate what we were going to find in there. But the moral of his story was clear: patience wins. Some look for immediate revenge, but that kind of revenge is swift and not well thought-out. It’s the slow, patient revenge, where you keep your eye on the prize but live a life outside of it, slowly growing your influence so that revenge will be spectacular, that is the most rewarding. At the beginning of the season, I commented that our first glimpse of Tyrion is him looking into a mirror at his scar. Here, in a very similar moment, Varys looks into his mirror as he recounts his long wait. Staring at himself in that mirror, his look announces to the audience that he knows exactly who he is, and has looked at himself and inside himself to know what he needs to do. It’s a wonderful scene, and my favourite bit of dialogue in the episode. “I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time,” he tells Tyrion as he finally cracks open the crate. “If you have the stomach for it.”

That said, Daenerys didn’t wait at all, and her revenge was SWEET.

Christopher: To answer your question about who writes for Varys: a lot of the time it’s George R. R. Martin. Varys’ best lines in this episode were in telling the story of how he got cut—and that tale is practically verbatim from the novel. But his other exchanges were inventions … as was the home delivery of the sorcerer (is there anything Amazon doesn’t ship?). I laughed when you said that it was fairly obvious what was going to be revealed when he opened the box, because I did not see that coming at all—which perhaps is an interesting little blind spot that comes with having read the novels. If it didn’t happen in the books, I’m not really looking at it.

Did anyone else who has read the books feel the same?

I agree with you that Conleth Hill’s portrayal of Varys has been amazing—not least because in the novels he’s described as being corpulent and primped and powdered and exaggeratedly effeminate—a sort of sinister Cameron from Modern Family, if you like. And while that is at times shown to be all affected, Varys playing to people’s expectations of him, it does get a little wearying after a while. I far prefer this Varys, with his quiet dignity.

That being said, he does make much of the virtue of being unobtrusive, and indeed conforming to what people expect as a means of hiding in plain sight. That was one of the themes running through this episode, as was evident in the conversation between Lady Olenna and Cersei—the Queen of Thorns quite obviously has no use for men and their pretensions to power and strength, and is doubly disgusted that such chuckle-headed louts are the ones ruling the world. Cersei, tellingly, cannot quite bring herself to agree and offers the lame and unconvincing argument that things are the way they are because, well, gods. The difference between Olenna and Cersei is that Cersei wants power but cannot imagine how she can grasp or wield it outside of a patriarchal structure—first, she assumes she can rule through her son; when that doesn’t work, she asks her father oh, please, can I have just a little bit of the power? She completely misses what Olenna grasps so sublimely—that these self-important men cannot see her as anything other than a woman—in her youth an ornament, in her winter years a curmudgeonly old bat. But knowing that she is thus effectively invisible, she is able to plot all the more subtly.

And speaking of hiding in plain sight: that was also what Daenerys effectively did. Those closest to her know her worth, having seen her emerge from the fire with dragons on her shoulders. Barristan Selmy is the exception on this front, but he venerates her lineage. In Astapor, as in Qarth, she is seen as little better than a beggar, a pretty thing who wants to play at being a queen.

More fools them. But she even surprises her own people: I think my favourite part of the Astapor scene (aside from that moment when she orders her dragon to barbecue the douchebag) is the expression on Jorah’s face as he realizes what Dany has done, and what she’s about to do. It’s a wonderfully subtle moment, and Iain Glenn gets it right—just the right amount of dawning realization mingled with awe and respect. I love the fact that the slavemaster is oblivious at first when she speaks in Valyrian, so enthralled is he with his new prize, while everyone else essentially does a double take. And when he does realize it, her imperious response to his question, that she is of the House Targaryen and that Valyrian is her native tongue, shows just how far Daenerys has come since we first met her.

And then, appropriately, a whole lot of blood and fire. Am I the only person who watched the pillars of flame leap up behind Daenerys and thought of Apocalypse Now?

Nikki: For those reading this, when Chris sent me his first pass he titled the email “I love the smell of dragonfire in the morning…” and I thought the Apocalypse Now allusion was entirely appropriate, and correct.

Let’s move over to another character, one I tend to ignore for the most part but whose story was actually shocking this week. Last week, Chris, you were talking about the various forms of torture on this show and how graphic they can be, and this week they stepped it up to a different sort of torture. We’ve seen Theon on the wooden X, with a screw being slowly turned into his foot. The physical torture there was unbearable, and I commented that I wondered if the emotional torture of putting a bag over his head and then whispering that he’ll come back for him later was almost worse, because he’s in a room, unable to see, not knowing what danger lurks around every corner.

But this week it’s stepped up to a horrific level. Last week he was free, on his way to find his sister before being ambushed, before the boy who freed him (who I believe hasn’t been named; I have yet to hear a name for him onscreen) shows up and saves his life. This week they continue on to Yara’s hold, and they come in through the back of the place. Theon finally confesses to the crime of finding two orphan boys and killing and burning the bodies to make it look like Rickon and Bran so that he could take King’s Landing and make his father proud. He begins by spouting his usual venom against Ned Stark, but by the end of his monologue he admits that Ned was always his father, and now that Ned is dead (Ned’s dead, baby… Ned’s dead… sorry, couldn’t resist that one), he’ll never be able to impress his father. It’s a moment of clear-sightedness that Theon has been lacking so far, and I wonder if this means his character will become a little more interesting?

But all of that takes a backseat to what the youth has waiting for him… for he’s led him through the back gate of the very castle where he’d been kept captive, and as he strikes a match and holds up a torch, shouting to the others that he’d caught Theon escaping, Theon realizes with horror and utter sorrow that he’s right back where he started, in the torture room with the giant wooden X. His saviour has become his betrayer, and the hope that had built in him for the past day washes out of him like a flood. It’s a truly devastating moment. How can he possibly recover from that? Will he ever trust anyone again? It makes me wonder who these men are, exactly. Are they his father’s men? Will his confession to the boy be his downfall? (I’m thinking that’s likely.) Could they belong to someone else?

Christopher: I think my only choice as regards Theon is to take the fifth—they’ve made significant changes to his storyline, but not so significant that I can’t see how they’ll possibly link up again with what’s happening in the novels. I’ve got a very good idea of whom the men are who’ve captured him and whom his erstwhile saviour is. But then, I could also be entirely wrong if the writers have decided to reinvent Theon’s unfortunate side-trip into misery.

I will however say this much: if they are doing what I suspect, it’s a pretty ingenious way to keep Theon relevant to the plot, as well as build toward something resembling sympathy for the simpering little shit.

Sorry if that’s frustrating, but I’m erring on the side of caution. Fellow GRRM fans, y’all know what I mean.

On reflection, this episode was pretty evenly divided between shocks and dialogue (note to self: copyright “Shocks and Dialogue” as a possible band name). Again not counting Daenerys’ gambit in Astapor, the biggest shock was north of the Wall, when a handful of Night Watchmen turn not just on Craster, but on their own commander—killing Jeor Mormont as well as their reluctant host. I of course knew this was coming, but it was a harrowing moment in the novel. I’m curious to know what viewers thought … it’s not that we didn’t get hints that the rangers were feeling mutinous, but it is still a horrifying transgression.

(It hasn’t really been articulated as such on the show, but the law of hospitality is as close as we come to something sacrosanct in the novels—even the most treacherous and desperate person will not turn on his guests or his host, both for fear of being labelled an oathbreaker and for fear of divine retribution. So however much of a monster Craster is, once the Night Watchmen have eaten his food, they are bound by the law of hospitality to obey his rules and not harm his person. Hence the extremely egregious nature of their crime).

In the novel, that mutinous muttering is more pronounced, as we learn in the prologue that a group of the watchmen have hatched a plot to kill Mormont, steal food and horses, and flee … only to have their plan interrupted by the ice-zombie attack. Their treason is only postponed, however, and becomes absorbed into the general chaos of violence that erupts under Craster’s roof. Again, no one is safe: Jeor Mormont might not have been everyone’s favourite character, but he was a solid and gruffly likable figure (much more so than when he played an IRA-connected priest on season three of Sons of Anarchy). But there he goes, killed rather suddenly—by his own men, no less.

All of which sends Sam frantically out to the birthing shack to collect Gilly and her baby boy and take her off into the frozen forest—which, as we all know, holds fiends even more dangerous than the ones sacking Craster’s keep.

What did you think of that mutiny in the north, Nikki? Did it come as a shock?

Nikki: As you say, it was definitely an episode that balanced the quite moments of explanatory dialogue that opened new avenues for the episodes to come, with the shocking ends of the storylines that have been in the works for a while. (I think this is easily my favourite episode yet.) And the mutiny was definitely a shock. For me, it wasn’t surprising that they killed Craster — he’s made out to be a scumbag of the lowest possible kind, and the only true fate for this guy was to wind up dead — but when they turned on Mormont, I was very surprised. (I’m also currently in season 3 of Sons of Anarchy… with all its Oirish accents.) My husband said it came as no surprise to him; after all, these are mostly thieves and people who were sent to the Wall because they had no other use in society. Not exactly a group of tea-sipping gentlemen.

So now they’re all running wild in the woods North of the Wall, and that’s a bad thing. The one guy who particularly hates Sam (or “Piggy,” as he prefers to call him) shouts a threat out to him as Sam retreats with Gilly, but as you say, the men of the Night’s Watch might be the least of Sam’s problems.

As usual, there’s just so much to cover here that we have to breeze over the last parts. Arya is entrenched in the Brotherhood without Banners as they put the Hound on trial and find him guilty, mainly because of Arya calling up something that happened way back at the beginning of season 1, where Joffrey ordered that the Hound kill the butcher’s boy, Arya’s friend. The Hound is an interesting character, because while here he stands tall, sneering at Arya and everyone else and saying he was quite simply following orders, in season 2 we saw him defying those orders to try to save Sansa. Was he just doing it for himself — was part of him in love with her — or did he feel some loyalty to Ned Stark? I thought he rather crossed over to the side of “good guy” last season, so I’m torn about whose side I’m on here.

Margaery continues to be amazing, and in this episode she claps and squeals as Joffrey shows her the remains of the Targaryens, gleefully dancing upon their remains as he recounts each of their deaths. Cersei looks on from afar, wondering about the boy, when Margaery comes up with the idea of taking him out on the balcony to feel the love of his people. Cersei lunges forward, thinking, “Oh my GOD they hate him and will kill him” but Margaery has everything under control, laying the foundation for this moment by visiting all those orphanages and telling everyone how much their king loves them. And she’s right; they walk out onto the balcony and are basically King’s Landing’s Will and Kate, waving to all below them. Not only has she convinced Joffrey that he’s a popular ruler, but by standing at his side she makes sure everyone sees her and only her as his queen.

And finally, while Bran’s not in the episode for long, we see another throwback to the beginning of season 1 (the first episode, actually), where Bran begins climbing a tree in his dreamscape, only to have Catelyn find him up there and bellow at him to stop climbing… berating him to such an extent that he actually falls just like he did after seeing Jaime and Cersei together. It’s a reminder to all of us that Bran knows what the twins have been up to, and who Joffrey’s real father is. Ned Stark might be dead, but Bran Stark has the knowledge in his head, even if he doesn’t quite understand it yet.

And ALL of this sets the scene for new storylines and directions next week. I cannot wait. Thank you, as always, Chris, for your invaluable input!! We shall see you all next week. And now let's just look once again on that incredible final shot.


Sarah said...

Re: Theon - YES! I totally think that his journey will culminate, ahem, exactly as it did in the book, Chris. Also, I echo what a huge deal it was for the NIght's Watch to have mutinied like they did. I mean, yes they were mostly murderers and rapists, but the NIght's Watch is still a position of honor, in a sense. They very much(most, anyway) take pride in their duty upon the wall and beyond. It's important to remember that! And Nikki, I'll do it for you: OMG, HOW ABOUT THAT DANAERYS?!? LOVE HER!

Jeremy said...

Here's an interesting article about David J. Peterson, who created the Dothraki, High Valyrian (what Daenerys speaks), and Low Valyrian (what Kraznys speaks) languages for the show.


The guy who calls Sam "Piggy" is Rast, who was introduced when Tyrion went to visit the Wall early in the first season.

Anonymous said...

I loved the scene with Cersei talking to Olena and her realizing exactly how little she thinks of men and how they are really just a means to an end. Who has Olena probably influenced most of all - Margary. Cersei sees clearly how Margary plans to rule Westeros herself manipulating Joffery the whole way.

And then Cersei immediatley runs and tells her father.

I wonder what the Tyrells really plan to use Sansa for - it can't really be just to thwart Mayor Carcetti - I mean Littlefinger can it?

Great recap

-Tim Alan

JS said...

Mother of Dragons! this episode was complex and amazing and requires multiple watching. as others have said, every scene, every bit of action and dialogue felt important, and has layers. I had a feeling Danerys understood what the slavemaster was saying - that would be the only reason (from a story telling stand point) to have him be so atrocious. And, "dragons are not slaves", so how she possibly give them away. They are her children!

I worry about how she will transport and feed her army, but I am sure this is addressed as part of her ongoing struggle to the throne. I am having a tough time imagining how she can be beat. The throne is hers.

Lasly, my favorite part - the mic drop, I mean whip drop. LOVE this.

Blam said...

From North of the Wall to Astapor, I see why the books are called A Song of Ice and Fire.

@Christopher: I’m curious to see how someone who hasn’t read the books reacts to her elegant little solution to her problem.

You addressed that to Nikki, but speaking as such a person as well I can say that it was pretty much what I'd expected would happen and not at all the less awesome for that.

@Christopher: it’s the letters that he is calmly writing as they speak that are the most important prop in the scene

I wondered if they'd actually come into play in the narrative, but I must admit that I also enjoyed thinking of Tywin simply writing over and over "Seven hells... My children are hopeless and my grandson is even worse."

@Nikki: it’s the ones without penises

For some reason, I heard that in Gollum's voice and it was hilarious.

Varys may not have a penis anymore, by the way, thanks to Mr. Special-Delivery Sorcerer Guy — but he does finally have that dick in a box.

@Nikki: That said, Daenerys didn’t wait at all, and her revenge was SWEET.

I'd say that she waited; it was just a matter of degrees. She could have let on that she understood Kraznys immediately, or had a dragon toast him earlier and try to usurp his rule. Instead she purchased the Unsullied fairly; the fact that her dragon was still loyal to her command after it was traded to Kraznys is just his bad luck. 

Question of the Week: If the Brotherhood without Banners is loyal to the Starks, what does that bode for the chances of Hulk turning up in the next Iron Man movie?