Monday, April 28, 2014

Game of Thrones: 4.04 Oathkeeper

Hello everyone, and welcome to week 4 of our Game of Thrones chat! For the first time this season, we're not posting immediately at 10pm following the episode because, well, we're watching the episode at the same time you are. And our time turners have been acting up lately, so we're unable to go back and write the episode in time for the ending. We're going to try our hardest to post every Monday night instead, so you just have to wait 24 hours for our posts... we hope not much longer than that.

This week covered a lot of story lines, and set the Twitterverse on fire for its deviations from the novels. By the looks of it, the White Walkers live in Middle Earth and their leader is Voldemort, and they turn babies into tiny Megaminds. Oh, and they do the ritual inside the tiny Stonehenge set used in This Is Spinal Tap. Or... not. Anyway, let's begin!

Nikki: Let’s start at the very beginning (cue Julie Andrews… on second thought, let’s not cue Julie Andrews…) with my girl Daenerys. As we discussed last week, she has raised a massive army based on loyalty and love and gratitude for freeing slaves. But there’s a new dark side that’s been cast with this week’s outing.

We begin with Grey Worm taking lessons from Missandei on reading or learning English (it wasn’t exactly clear to me what she was teaching) and they begin discussing who they were before Dany freed them. Grey Worm said he was always Unsullied, never anything before that, and Missandei doesn’t accept that, and tells him he needs to remember back to when he was a human being, before that was taken away from him. She remembers her village being burned, reminding me of the child from last week’s episode who watches his village being burned and massacred by the Thenns and wildlings; was she like him? Will he grow up to be a slave?

Grey Worm won’t remember this, because his brain has been washed clean of anything he ever was before the Unsullied, and despite what Missandei says, he doesn’t ever see himself returning to the Summer Isles. “Kill the Masters…” he mutters to himself. And, in an uncomfortable return to his roots, he dresses up as a slave along with other former Unsullieds and they sneak into the tunnels where the slaves of Meereen are discussing whether or not to rise up against their masters, falling heavily on the side of “not.” This scene is made even more intriguing because of the “disguises” that Grey Worm and his fellow soldiers are wearing — they aren’t posing as slaves, but showing the other slaves that they were once just like them, and now, with the weapons they have brought to them, they too can free themselves of the masters. The powerful become so because they convince the weak they are, well, weak, and the vulnerable people never actually look at their numbers and realize hey, there are more of us than there are of them! (Think of high school classroom politics: there are usually about 10 “popular” kids in each grade, and 50 “unpopular” kids… but no one ever actually runs those numbers to realize how preposterous it all is.)

But here’s where it gets interesting. The slaves do rise up and quash the masters while declaring fealty and love to their new Mhysa, Daenerys calls for an eye for an eye, wanting the masters crucified at the same mile markers as they’d crucified their slaves. Ser Barristan Selmy tries to advise her against it, telling her that she should answer injustice with mercy. She defiantly tells him she will answer injustice with justice, and the men are hammered into the posts, with their left hands nailed to the horizontal slab of wood, while their left hands are nailed to their ribcages, just as they’d done to their slaves. Now, instead of 163 slaves, you have countless masters pointing the way to Meereen with their grisly bodies, and Daenerys shows them absolutely no mercy as she stands at the top of the tower of Meereen, just as she showed no mercy to Doreah, her handmaiden, and Xaxos, whom she locked in the vault for eternity back in Qarth. As the sigil of the House of Targaryen waves behind her, we hear the screams of the fallen masters below, echoing up to the Khaleesi like a national anthem.

Translation of what he's saying: "Owwwwwwwwwww!"

Now, while I’m focusing here on the opening of the episode, I saw Twitter explode at 10pm over some major deviations from the book. Am I right in assuming (from what I could gather over there) that the end of the episode, with the white walkers, is actually from future books and not from the third book, Chris?

Christopher:  There were rather a large number of deviations from the novels in this episode. The one thing the Mereen sequence hewed to was the way in which Daenerys’ people entered the city through the sewers. They did that in the novel, too … except there it was Jorah and Barristan leading an actual attack. And they were in the vanguard for reasons I cannot share here for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, we’re rapidly arriving at a point where the series is making irrevocable changes: the nature of the subjugation of Mereen, the presence of Locke (not a GRRM character) at the Wall, the scenes at Craster’s, Bran’s capture, Margaery’s secret midnight rendezvous with Tommen, and of course the final scene with … a White Walker? It was a Walker who took Craster’s boy to the mini-Stonehenge, but it looked like an entirely different race/species of ice demon who touched the infant and transformed him.

The thing is: unlike other televisual adaptations of novels (Dexter, for example), Game of Thrones has worked in pretty close concert with the writer, from having him on board to write an episode every season, to demanding his notes as a condition of the contract (in case he dies before finishing the series), to generally using him as an invaluable resource. All of which tells me that nothing happens without GRRM signing off on it (officially or otherwise). Which raises an interesting question: is that scene in the mini-Stonehenge at the end of this episode a spoiler? Does it reveal something that we’re going to learn about in The Winds of Winter? Are Weiss and Benioff giving us a glimpse of what we can expect from future novels? Or are they merely inventing something that GRRM leaves implicit?

But to get to the substance of the episode … we must be approaching the mid-point of the season, because tonight’s episode was one of those in which a huge amount of stuff happened, but there was no particular note that resonated—nothing that will have the proverbial water coolers abuzz with discussion (excepting those water coolers populated by people who have read the novels, apparently). Which is not to say this wasn’t a good episode, just that it was one of those bridges we tend to see mid-season that moves the story along without offering any truly OMG moments. I suppose the one thing approaching that in this episode is the sort-of reveal of who actually killed Joffrey. But we’ll come to that later.

After the Mereen sequence, we’re back in King’s Landing … and oh, my, but Jaime has been getting much better fighting with his left hand. Until Bronn again teaches him an abrupt lesson and smacks him across the face with Jaime’s right hand. This was a nicely-crafted scene for a variety of reasons—some of which I cannot mention, because spoilers. But if I can drop hints, their discussion about how Tyrion evaded Lysa’s grasp by demanding the right of trial by combat is something to keep in mind. Bronn reminds Jaime that Bronn only ended up standing for Tyrion because Lysa (or as I suppose we now have to call her, the future Mrs. Littlefinger) asserted that the combat must happen immediately … negating the possibility of waiting for Tyrion’s first choice of champion, his brother. Bronn tells Jaime that Tyrion knew he would have ridden day and night to defend his brother. But now?

Now Jaime is caught between love of his brother and love of his sister. And Tyrion is more than a little embittered by that fact, responding badly to Jaime’s attempts at banter, just as Cersei is more than a little paranoid about the fact that Jaime visited Tyrion. And at no point in that meeting between Jaime and his sister is there a hint, a sense, a reverberation of the fact that he raped her the last time we saw them together. What did you make of that, Nikki?

Nikki: I think, like everyone else watching last night, the moment Jaime entered the room I waited for there to be some comment about the rape. After all, the internet went crazy with the discussion over it last week. Yes, they have a history together, and yes, knowing these two I would presume their sexual relationship is a rather sado-masochistic one, and within the parameters of what they are used to, perhaps, maybe part of their foreplay is for her to say no and him to say yes. But… he did it beside their son’s corpse. The very setting of the rape defines it as rape, whether she was hesitantly welcoming or not. She is at the lowest moment of her life emotionally, her father just reminded her that she will never have power and as long as he can manipulate Tommen the power will be his, she knows that Margaery will have her talons in Tommen in no time (and we all know what Cersei thinks of Margaery), and she believes her younger brother is her son’s murderer. And also, with the exception of standing by her son's corpse, I don't think we've seen her at all this season without a drink in her hand. 

But maybe the writers want us to see it as just another day in Westeros. After all, we’re not screaming about the injustices being done to the Craster daughters right now at Craster’s Keep. And we didn’t even mention what was happening to the innkeeper’s daughter when the Hound and Arya showed up to kill Polliver and his crew. Or how about Sansa just being betrothed to whomever suits Tywin’s fancy? Or Margaery being used as a pawn for the Tyrell family, being married off to unsuitable men just to further their power? Or, you know, Viserys telling his little sister to strip and clean herself in boiling hot water right after he tweaks her nipple and slaps her ass? We swoon over the relationship between Khal Drogo and Daenerys, and overlook the fact that he rapes her on their wedding night (she’s 13 in the books, and on the show is sobbing openly as he has sex with her) and she must take charge of their sexual relationship in order for him to respect her.

There have been many words written about the complicated portrayal of women in GRRM’s novels and on the show. It’s the most positive portrayal of women on TV right now. It’s an incredibly negative and nasty portrayal of women on TV right now. It shows women rising up and being powerful. It shows women as helpless and powerless in the face of a masculine universe.

I think it’s all those things, which is why I could turn this into a giant paper on feminist responses to Game of Thrones and why they are correct and why they are terribly wrong. But I won’t. Because our posts are already too long as it is. :)

Suffice to say, I wasn’t exactly surprised when Jaime walked in and there was no mention of it, because I think Cersei has resigned herself to being a pawn in the masculine Lannister family: aside from whatshername who was stuck on a boat and sent to Dorne, I can’t name another female Lannister. (Come to think of it, I guess technically I can’t even name THAT Lannister. Starts with an M. I’ll think of it.) Cersei is alone in this family, and has always been alone in this family. Her mother died giving birth to Tyrion, and the only comfort and acceptance she’s gotten has been in the incestuous arms of her twin brother. Tyrion loathes her, her father dismisses her, she was married off to a boor of a man… being raped beside her son’s corpse probably feels like a Tuesday to Cersei, not a monumental event that will shatter her psychologically. She lives in a different world than we do. Does that make it right? No. Does it make my love of Jaime and his character more complicated now? Absolutely. Am I happy that Brienne went off and left Jaime behind so we can love Brienne while having to work out our difficult feelings about Jaime separately? YES.

(Myrcella. Her name was Myrcella. Whew.)

I adore Brienne, and have from the beginning. As I said to my husband last night, I’m still in awe over the perfect casting of this woman. “Find me a woman who’s 6-foot-3, very plain-looking, almost unattractive and man-like, and yet very feminine, beautiful in the right light, who can play tough and vulnerable at the same time.” I can only imagine how much the casting director must loathe GRRM at times… and yet, they found the perfect woman. Brienne is tough, but very vulnerable and lost at times; plan and masculine-looking (Pod calling her “Sir” is hilarious) and yet gorgeous — none of us shall forget what she looked like in that hot tub — very tall, and yet one who can be made to look small just by the look on her face. We almost never see her smile, which I’m sure is one of the actress’s tricks; if she did smile, she would probably be beautiful, so she keeps her face very shocked and angry-looking all the time, and it works. As she rode off on her horse with Podrick at her side (what a GREAT duo, I never would have thought of it but can’t wait to see what they do with it), my husband said, “I really hope they have a great storyline for her, because she’s one of the best characters on the show.” Yes she is. Let’s put her in the “GRRM writes amazing female characters” category.

In the scene that you mentioned with Tyrion and Jaime, Tyrion is very quick to defend his wife’s honour, telling Jaime that she couldn’t have killed the king. “Sansa’s not a killer . . . not yet, anyway,” he says. I immediately wondered if that was foreshadowing. We cut to Sansa being over on the ship with Baelish and saying the same thing about her husband, that there’s simply no way he could have done it. I love that the writers on the show have included scenes of Sansa and Littlefinger in every season, as if building up to them ending up on this ship together in the fourth season. What did you think of their conversation, Chris?

Christopher: I loved it. There have been some wonderfully crafted character arcs on this show; one of the best things about the revolution in television these past ten years or so has been its ability to employ its long-form storytelling in the service of developing layered, complex characters who evolve as they suffer life’s indelicacies. And the best shows take their time, so that the Ellis Carver we see in the final episode of The Wire or the Jesse Pinkman at the end of Breaking Bad are utterly different people than they were at the start. We see this most strikingly in Game of Thrones, I’d argue, with Arya; but Sansa’s evolution has been far more subtle and in some ways far more profound. She did not have much to do last season as she languished in King’s Landing, but we see from her conversation with Littlefinger that she has been paying attention.

And you’re absolutely right, Nikki, to observe that we’ve been privy to a handful of strategically placed scenes between Sansa and Littlefinger that, taken individually, don’t amount to much—but by the time Sansa clambers over that ship’s rail, the two of them have established a connection. Or rather, Littlefinger has established a connection with Sansa, who was certainly unaware that anything was happening. Their conversation thus is as much of a reveal as when we first saw Littlefinger again—as Sansa slowly starts to piece things together, we see she’s pretty damn far from the obnoxious child she was in season one.

If this season is teaching us anything about politics in Westeros, it’s that it doesn’t pay to be a capricious or unpredictable king. We see Tywin’s satisfaction at the malleable and decent Tommen, Tyrion wonders if his father is responsible for Joffrey’s death for the sake of stability, and here Littlefinger confesses to orchestrating Joffrey’s death because “he was not a reliable ally.” And … cut to the other half of the conspiracy, in which we see Olenna and Margaery spinning their own plot … though not until Olenna shares a scandalous little secret, namely that she seduced her late husband away from her sister and basically ensnared him by being so spectacular in bed that he was helpless before her (and speaking as someone who first discovered The Avengers and the knee-trembling spectacle of Diana Rigg in a catsuit when I was about Tommen’s age, her claim to have been “very good” rings absolutely true).  Keep in mind, of course, that she hasn’t yet spoken of her late husband with anything other than contempt until this moment: her nostalgia for literally fucking him into submission betrays no pleasure at the memory, just pleasure in remembering how good she was. There is no affection here, just satisfaction at having played the game well … and reminds us that Olenna, like Tywin and Littlefinger, has absolutely no sentimentality for anyone but her inner circle, seeing people as objects to be used as means to an end.

Reflecting back on your earlier comments, Nikki, I’d add that in addition to depicting a neomedieval world in which cruelty and pain are inescapable facts of life, Game of Thrones does something that Rome also did wonderfully—namely, to counterpoise masculine and feminine power. The scheming of Atia and the feud she engages in with Servillia have a lot in common with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering done by Olenna, as well as the nascent conflict with Cersei.

With Joffrey out of the way, they now need to consolidate power by taking control of Tommen—which Olenna knows will be difficult, as Cersei will guard him like Cerberus. Did you catch Margaery stroking her necklace? A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind man, and that read rather loudly as an assertion that Margaery and Olenna are pretty much willing to do whatever the hells they need to get what they want.

Which for the moment, fortunately for Cersei, involves sneaking into Tommen’s bedchamber. Margaery mercifully does not employ her grandmother’s tactic and go all statutory-rapey on Tommen, but proceeds with a little more subtlety. What did you make of that scene, Nikki?

Nikki: Nudge nudge… say no more. First of all, I do have to say I didn’t see Tommen coming. The kid’s been in a handful of scenes and has barely uttered more than a grunt, and I never even noticed him standing there. I was going to say last week that the casting directors were once more brilliant in casting this kid way back in season one before he actually had to do anything spectacular… until I checked this week and discovered that no, he’s actually being played by a new actor this season. That makes a little more sense. But, at the risk of being totally cougary myself, I do have to say they’ve cast a really good-looking guy to play him. I don’t know yet if he has any charisma in the books, but so far the actor is playing him as cautious and smart, yet wide-eyed and quiet. And when Margaery comes into the room to see him and Mr. Pounce joins them on the bed, let’s just say when she leans forward to talk to Tommen, I don’t think Mr. Pounce was the only thing jumping up in that scene. She’s as brilliant as her grandmother when it comes to subtlety and tactics, and just like Grandma Peel (yes, when Olenna made the comment about being really fantastic back in the day, my mind immediately went to Emma Peel in a catsuit, too!), Margaery knows how to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. I love that she’s able to control Tommen far more than she ever could Joffrey, which not only makes me intrigued for the little “secrets” they’re going to keep from Cersei, but also hopeful that for once, maybe one of her kingly husbands might actually survive the marriage.

Speaking of getting things up, let’s move northward, shall we?  (In case you’re wondering, I’m in a self-imposed contest to come up with the worst segue ever. I’m thinking that one might be a major contender.)

Over at Craster’s Keep, Karl Tanner is holding court, using dialogue from the Al Swearengen School of Emoting. I recently stayed with a couple of friends in the UK and they showed me several episodes of The Thick of It, starring Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed governmental director of communications, but in these scenes in this week’s Game of Thrones, Owen from Torchwood makes Capaldi’s character look like a Sunday school teacher. As he drinks wine from Mormont’s skull, he lords over everyone else, encouraging them to fuck the girls to death (subtle, dude) and take what’s theirs. In the background you can see Craster’s daughters in various stages of undress, beatings, and being brutally raped. It’s a horrific scene, made worse when the old woman comes in carrying yet another male heir of Craster. The mother in me cringed at the newborn baby playing the role of the newborn baby, and I remember thinking note to all expecting mothers: do NOT agree to let your newborn baby appear in an episode of Game of Thrones. It never turns out well for the wee bairn.

But THEN… Bran moves into the mind of Summer and sees Ghost (a reunion of direwolves!!) and then the whole lot of them gets caught. And THEN… they beat on Hodor and stab him. I had no idea how much I loved the big lunk until that happened, and then I was furious and frightened that this might be the end of the character. I literally sat up straight on the couch and yelled, “DON’T YOU DARE HURT HODOR!!” When Tanner smacks Bran and jokes that where he came from in Gin Alley, if he’d struck a highborn he would have lost his right hand, I couldn’t help but think please please please let this be foreshadowing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Game of Thrones so far, the pricks seem to get theirs in the end. I’m gleeful about what could possibly be awaiting Tanner.

I was shocked when you said that Locke wasn’t in the books, Chris; you did actually say that back when he was lopping off Jaime’s hand, but of course I’d entirely forgotten that you did until you just mentioned it again. So if it’s not in the book, I wonder if we should fear Locke at all, since one would assume Bran’s story wouldn’t be messed with in a big way (i.e. you wouldn’t kill off Bran on the show if he survives in the book)… or would it? With all the divergences from the book that you mention above, it made me think that maybe the Game of Thrones guys are either doing what you said — they know the ending to the books and are now turning things more quickly to that end, knowing they can’t keep the show going for another eight years — or they’re following The Walking Dead’s lead on moving so far away from the books that the readers can no longer predict what’s coming next … to the extent that when something major DID happen this past season that was exactly from the books, it caught everyone — including the readers — off-guard.

My guess is the first, because what has really set GoT apart from so many other adaptations is its fealty to the books, and I would hate for that to be destroyed. But now I also see why the readers would be up in arms: you all choose to read the books because you want to read it from GRRM first, and don’t want the show to spoil it for you, whereas those of us who started on the show watch it first and read later. But if they’re going to jump ahead and include information from future books that haven’t yet been released, they’re taking the choice out of the hands of the reader/viewer and surprising them with spoilers.

Any final words about Locke and those white walkers at the end, Chris?

Christopher: Locke’s current role is puzzling. I understood why they created him initially; in the novels, Jaime’s hand is cut off by a psychotic group of mercenaries called the Bloody Mummers, who had originally worked for the Lannisters, but then switched sides to Roose Bolton. So the series was consistent insofar as Jaime loses his hand to Bolton’s men. But the whole infiltration of the Watch and the capture of Bran are huge deviations from the novels. Assuming they mean for Bran to escape and carry on north, then this is just a little diversion from his main storyline—probably created because Bran’s storyline is otherwise JUST SO DAMN BORING. But Locke seems to be developing into a fairly significant character. I have a few thoughts about how this might play out so that the main storyline is preserved, but I think I’ll keep them to myself for the moment.

Though it is worth pointing out that, to go on this mission, Locke must take the oath. And while he presumably plans to desert and return to Roose Bolton, the penalty for desertion is death. Full stop, no appeal. However much the Night Watch is mocked in the southern regions of Westeros, that law is about as absolute as they come. Would Roose shelter him? If I was Locke, I’d be leery of trusting Roose Bolton with my life…

As for the White Walkers … I suppose it’s possible that we’re getting a glimpse into the books’ mythology, something that won’t necessarily be made explicit in them. Why do the White Walkers demand this horrifying sacrifice? What happens to the babies? Well, now we know—they’re made into more White Walkers (not such a great galloping shock, that).

But I’m not overly concerned with the series deviating in any fundamental way from the books, and not just because the outcry from the fans would be enormous. It makes a certain amount of sense for series like Dexter or The Walking Dead to go off in their own directions: the Dexter novels are discrete, stand-alone stories, and (from what I can glean) the Walking Dead graphic novels could potentially go on forever, as there is no cohesive, overarching story. But A Song of Ice and Fire is building to a specific conclusion (dragons, meet White Walkers; White Walkers, these are Daenerys’ dragons), and the showrunners have in their possession GRRM’s notes and plot outline. I have to assume that the changes they make, however baffling, won’t paint them into a corner. It’s sort of like when J.K. Rowling read the screenplay for The Order of the Phoenix, and asked “What happened to Kreacher?” The writers said they left him out. “Noooo …” said Rowling. “He’s actually kind of important.” So we have a brief little glimpse of the sour house-elf.

Well, that wraps things up for another week! Once again, Nikki, a pleasure. We’ll see everyone here next Monday. In the meantime, as my favourite CBC personality used to say, be cool, stay warm, and be good to the people you love. And strongly encourage your cousin to switch her wedding venue from Westeros to Narnia. Even if she loses the deposit.


Anonymous said...

Great recap again you two. Speaking as someone who has read the books I welcome the changes the show has made as I think they REALLY need to streamline the novels. I actually didn't like the way after the next "Big Happening" I assume we'll see at the end of this season that the story became even MORE spread out in different directions when GRRM should be at least beginning to draw different story lines together. I also found Bran's book story line (along with Arya's)actually very tedious and hope he gets either killed or hooked up with Jon Snow in the show.

I also love the Bromance Jamie and Bronn are developing on the show since that didn't happen in the books either as far as I remember. I actually think book Bronn was a far less prominent character and exited shortly after Blackwater. They make a great team.

I find it hard to take the White Walkers seriously as a threat since as you mentioned above you would think, say, three fire-breathing dragons would be able to dispatch them easily!

-Tim Alan

Sarah said...

Great post guys! And Nikki: THANK YOU for your words about last week's rape scene. I've been puzzled all week about why all of a sudden everyone was up in arms about it, as if the 8,435,920 other rapes we've seen so far weren't worthing shaking our heads at?!?
PS: this week's Gay of Thrones is pretty hilarious, also focusing on Cersei's cocktails and Sansawho? haha