Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game of Thrones Ep 2: Kings Road

“There’s a war coming, Ned. I don’t know when, and I don’t know who we’ll be fighting, but it’s coming.”

When I first watched the opening episodes of Game of Thrones a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was email Christopher Lockett (who once again joins me this week below for his take on the HBO series as an adaptation of the book series) and said, “I want a direwolf.” That comment was because of this episode.

Episode 2, “The Kings Road” is where the seemingly perfect marriage between Catelyn and Ned shows its deep cracks. As Catelyn sits by Bran’s sickbed, she’s in mourning not only for the son who is gravely ill, but for a marriage that is in danger as well. Ned is leaving her, much the same way he did when he went away and came back with Jon. This is also the episode where Catelyn begins to piece things together and believes the Lannisters had something to do with Bran’s fall out of the window. Considering her mama bear personality (and her wicked fighting skills), I’m thinking this is about to get really interesting.

Listening to Queen Cersei and her brother saying it would be merciful for Bran to die rather than live a cripple is disgusting. I loved the look on Jaime’s face when Tyrion said, “I hope the boy does wake; I’d be quite interested in what he has to say.” I’m thinking at this point this could go one of several ways: Bran dies (that wouldn’t be much fun… and by the end of the ep we know that’s not the case); Bran awakes and tells them everything (also not much fun); Bran wakes and tells only a couple of key people who then know the secret and could use it against the Queen; Bran wakes and has some sort of amnesia.

Cersei gains a wee bit of sympathy from us for telling us about the child that she lost. There’s a sadness to her that seems to permeate her constantly… even when she was “involved” with her brother at the end of the previous episode, there was a melancholy to even that act. But with the whole “butcher’s boy” incident, she loses that sympathy again. She’s cold-hearted, probably knows her wuss of a son is telling a lie, but she figures killing a direwolf (and the butcher’s boy) will bring the Starks down a peg. But clearly the act of killing the animal has the opposite effect. It would seem that not only are the direwolves connected to their immediate owner, but to each other, and all of the owners. The death of Lady sparks the reawakening of Bran, and now the REAL fun begins.

• Tyrion slapping Joffrey over and over again. I started to love him this week. The Hound says, “The prince will remember that,” and Tyrion replies, “I hope SO. If he forgets, be a good dog and remind him.”
• Arya receiving her sword from Jon. “It’s so skinny.” “So are you.”
• The direwolf taking on the intruder in a most grisly fashion, before setting itself up as Bran’s lookout.
• Watching Daenerys take over and find a connection with Khal.
• Joffrey becoming a simpering little wanker at the tip of Arya’s sword. Ugh, I hate him.

Did You Notice:
• The sets of the courtyard are incredible, from the blacksmith area to the stables.
• Arya’s direwolf is called Nymeria, after a warrior queen.
• Arya seems closer to Jon, Ned’s bastard son, than her full brothers and sisters. Jon seems to understand her better than the others. In fact, when we see the next scene when Jon goes to say goodbye to Bran (amidst the seething loathing from Catelyn), Jon seems to care deeply for both his young half-siblings.
• I wonder what the story is about Ned and Jon’s mother. There’s obviously a story there. Ned’s face changes completely when the king asks about her. The king acts like he won’t talk about her because he feels badly about what happened, but it seems more like he won’t talk about her because he still cares about her.
• The spread Ned and the king have in the field is awesome and hilarious. Imagine… there must have been an entire coach just devoted to carrying the food.
• Whoa, Catelyn’s got some fight in her!
• The wall… is… TERRIFYING.
• I was a little confused about the journey Ned and the king were on. I thought they were heading south (Ned appeared to be saying goodbye to Catelyn in a rather final way) and I couldn’t figure out how they were both suddenly back at Winterfell. But now I’m thinking they were just taking Jon to the point where he’d head off to the Wall.

• Those direwolves grow FAST. I’m assuming more time has passed than it seems. I’m curious to know, from the readers, if the book jumps, too, or do we see the immediate reactions from Ned and Catelyn when they find Bran’s body?
• How old is Daenerys supposed to be?

And now for the bookish response, it’s Chris Lockett! (Complete with answers to my questions, since this week I sent my post to him first.) He is posting this simultaneously on his blog here, where you can go for another discussion.

In the comments for my last post, Nikki asked me if, as I watch Game of Thrones, I ever wish I hadn’t read the books—so that I might experience the series without knowing what was coming. When I replied, I said I was more intrigued to see how people who haven’t read the books would respond to the twists and turns of GRRM’s story. But while I was watching “The Kingsroad,” I found myself trying to imagine how I would enjoy the series if I was ignorant of the story.

It is a difficult task, doubly so because I am currently re-reading A Game of Thrones for the purpose of these posts, so everything is quite fresh in my mind when I sit down to watch new episodes. I have to imagine it denudes the viewing experience somewhat, as there is no suspense for me, and I get impatient to see my favourite parts, some of which are several episodes away. And it sometimes felt, with episode two, as if it unfolded as a series of set-pieces rather than an organically evolving story.

That being said, I don’t wish to give the impression that I didn’t love episode two, or thought it wasn’t good—I thought it was excellent. Yet again, we are given a fantastic sense of this other world, from the lush riverlands to the Dothraki Sea, to the stark (ha!) life on the Wall. And the characters are deepening beautifully. I’m particularly happy that we’re leaving Daenerys-as-victim behind already. In a genre notable for its lack of strong women, GRRM gives us an embarrassment of riches, and Dany arguably rises to the top of that group. Based on previews for next week, it looks as though she faces down Viserys, a character who rivals Joffrey as, to use Nikki’s phrase, the simperingest little wanker.

OK—so, my itemized thoughts:

What they left out
• Bran’s dream. For the un-booked, Bran’s waking is preceded by a complex dream in which he flies high above Westeros, seeing everything going on in the world unfolding beneath him—very reminiscent of Frodo’s god-view from Amon Hen—while a three-eyed crow enjoins him to fly. I kind of figured they would leave this out, but still hoped they’d use it, if for no other reason than to clarify the geography of Westeros.

What they added
• Cersei’s sad story of her dead child. As everyone will by now have surmised, her platinum blond brood of children are not Robert’s but Jaime’s. In her story, she describes the child as having had black hair, indicating that it was Robert’s trueborn. In the novel, she speaks of having been gotten pregnant by Robert, but that she terminated that pregnancy in disgust. Here it seems to suggest that, once upon a time, she was genuinely in love with the king. Not sure if I like this.
• Jaime’s taunting of Jon Snow. Just to remind us how hateful Jaime can be, and providing a great contrast for Tyrion’s honest pragmatism later in the episode. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau doesn’t overdo it—just a slight edge, enough to cut, but also subtle enough that at first you can believe he’s being earnest.
• Catelyn’s weird-ass dreamcatcher. What the hell is that thing she was making at Bran’s bedside?
• Catelyn searching the broken tower and finding Cersei’s blonde hair.
• Doreah tutoring Daenerys in the erotic arts. This is only hinted at in the novel, and comes somewhat later. In the novel, Dany’s reversal of power in the bedchamber results in pregnancy—it will be interesting to see if they go that route next episode, or wait. I must say, I was impressed with how they handled this scene, as there must have been a temptation to go more over-the-top with it (as they would certainly have done on Starz). But there was no point at which Dany was anything but the curious ingénue, and Doreah the worldly mentor. No indulgent faux-lesbian romp here.

What they got exactly right
• Jon Snow giving Arya Needle.
• Ned and Robert. Though in the novel this conversation happens on horseback, the tone and feel of it is totally faithful. We really get a strong sense of this long friendship, and the deep love these two men have for each other—but also of their fundamental difference in character.
• Bran’s would-be assassin. That scene was the highlight of the episode for me, and came just at the moment I was thinking “the pace of this episode is notably slower.” For the un-booked, it unfolded pretty much exactly as it did in the novel, right down to Catelyn grabbing the blade of the knife.
• Arya and Joffrey by the river. OMFG.
• Tyrion and Jon. I had forgotten the unlikely friendship these two forge in the novel. The conversation they have around the fire is pitch-perfect. “My brother has his sword. I have my mind. And a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” A sentiment to please readers, and pretty much verbatim from the novel. I love that the writers are actually using GRRM’s dialogue when they can.
• Speaking of GRRM’s dialogue, Daenerys’ conversation with her handmaidens about dragons is pretty much exactly lifted from the novel.
• Ned and Arya facing down Robert and Cersei. Such a great scene, and such a fabulous insight into Robert’s character—we see here why he’s such a bad king. Loves a fight, hates a confrontation. And FINALLY we see Cersei show us some of her malicious steel. ‘Bout bloody time.

Slightly disappointing
• The Hound. Really? That’s the best you could do with his face? He’s not nearly as terrifying as he is in the novels.
• Ser Illyn Payne. Ditto.

What I’m loving
• Sean Bean. The Darcy Effect is taking hold: as I reread A Game of Thrones, I’m hearing his voice in my head as I read Ned’s dialogue.
• Peter Dinklage. He continues to nail this role.
• Direwolves. I freely admit, I teared up at the end when Ned killed Lady. And when Arya threw rocks at Nymeria to get her to run away. What breed are those dogs? I want one.
• Mark Addy. As I have previously mentioned, he was the actor I was most concerned about, and he is proving all those fears wrong. His take on Robert is nuanced and subtle, no small accomplishment with a character who is literally and figuratively larger than life.
• Iain Glen. Ser Jorah Mormont is described differently in the novel—bigger, bluffer, less attractive—but Glen brings to the role a sad grit. I am biased in this actor’s favour, I should admit, given that he played Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Answers for Nikki
• Time passing: when Catelyn musters everyone in the Godswood, she alludes to Bran having been asleep a month. And in the novel, the preternatural speed with which the direwolves mature is frequently remarked upon.
• They’re not back at Winterfell, but are miles to the south. They take up residence in a local noble’s castle when Arya runs off. For those who have looked up the map online, they’re in the vicinity of the forks of the Trident.
• In the novel, Daenerys is thirteen when she marries Drogo. They’ve aged all the young characters somewhat for the series. I don’t think they ever specify Dany’s age, but I would estimate it to be somewhere around sixteen.


The Question Mark said...

I really liked the first episode, and when I saw the second my respect for the show quadrupled. We're only 2 episodes in, and both times the writers have found amazing spots to cut to black and leave us hanging (both involving Bran, too, oddly enough, a character who's barely spoken five lines).

Episode 2 was stellar. my personal highlights:

-Tyrion saying "Ah! Time for breakfast!" after slapping his nephew silly, & his subsequent casual breakfast order.
-Arya getting her sword & standing up to Joffrey the Malformed Malfoy Reject.
-the direwolves tearing s**t up!
-the disciplinary argument at the end of the episode
-Dany being schooled by her servant girl on the subtleties of "finishing a man". (And, as a man, I must admit that I watched this scene MULTIPLE times) :P

I was also confused when I saw Ned and the King back in Winterfell. I thought they were going back to King's Landing, but I guess the emergency cut their trip short.

I have two questions, though:
#1: What are the names of all the Stark children? I've been trying to keep track. I know the daughters are Sansa & Arya, and the young boy is Bran. But I always miss the names of the Bastard & the other son who kind of LOOKS like the Bastard.

#2: Who is the actress playing Dany's servant girl/sexual tutor? She's gorgeous with a capital GORG, and I've never seen her in anything before.

Nikki Stafford said...

Question Mark: I think Chris was saying the daughters are actually traveling with Ned so he wasn't back at Winterfell, despite the way it appeared.

Luckily HBO sent me a sheet with all the names on it, which I the only way I've been keeping them straight! The bastard is Jon Snow, but I'm out right now and can't remember the other one's name.

Chris in NF said...

The children, in descending order of age:


... and of course, the bastard Jon Snow, who is more or less of an age with Jon.

In episode one, we also saw, hanging out with Robb and Jon, Theon Greyjoy -- another noble's son, who is being fostered with the Starks.

poggy said...

@Chris, I believe that the place where Robert & co. stop at is the inn at the crossroads? I remember that same set from a preview that showed another pivotal scene happening there.

Anyway! As a long time fan of the books, I am enjoying what I'm seeing so far, with some reservation (especially re: some subtle, but imo meaningful, changes to Ned and Cat's characterization, and Cersei's, as Chris noted) - but my impression is by and large positive.

I think Cat's dreamcatcher thingie was some kind of representation of the Seven Gods (an ex-voto of sorts?) but it ended up looking quite creepy... not the sort of thing I'd like to see when I wake up from a coma. Obviously Bran is less impressionable than I am.

Chris in NF said...

Sorry -- I mean that Jon Snow is of an age with Robb.

Oh, and Dany's servant girl (Doreah) is played by Roxanne McKee. Prior to GoT, her claim to fame was a role on the BritSoap Hollyoaks.

The Question Mark said...

Thanks, Nik & Chris!
I'm eagerly awaiting episode 3!

The Question Mark said...

Oh, and any LOST fans who have been following Twitter lately:
Apparently, George R. R. Martin said some pretty unkind things about LOST in an interview, and for a while he and Damon Lindelof have been locked in a funny (if not a little bit harsh) Twitter feud because of it.

Luckily, I think some form of reconciliation has been made. And it looks as if Lindelof is still ana vid fan of Game of Thrones.

JJ said...

Another great week for Song fans!

I'm happy that Nikki already seems interested in the backstory events of 15-20 years past, which is my favourite part of the story. A Song of Ice and Fire has many instances/suggestions of looking back on a past Golden Age from the perspective of a debased present (the dragons' extinction, the decline of magic, the degradation of the once-honoured Night's Watch) but the events leading up to and including Robert's Rebellion are my favourite. Most of the adult characters remember that time well and all of them lost something precious to them.

What makes this storyline even more compelling is that there is a mystery at its heart -- what exactly was going on all those years ago? We learn the truth in dribs and drabs, and even four novels in, there are many unanswered questions.

Batcabbage said...

I was going to comment long and loquaciously (I'm up to 'L' in the thesaurus), but The Question Mark has listed every single point I was going to raise! Kudos, sir Mark! So what I'm gonna do instead is quote him and say how much I agree. :)

Tyrion saying "Ah! Time for breakfast!" after slapping his nephew silly, & his subsequent casual breakfast order

Thank you! I had no idea what Peter's character's name was! Matter of fact, I'm really bad on all the character's names, actually. It's embarrassing.

Arya getting her sword & standing up to Joffrey the Malformed Malfoy Reject.

AAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Yes, that's EXACTLY what he looks like! And Nik, nice use of the word 'wanker'. I've never heard of someone outside of the UK, Australia or NZ using it before. Go wankers! Er...

Dany being schooled by her servant girl on the subtleties of "finishing a man". (And, as a man, I must admit that I watched this scene MULTIPLE times) :P

Oh my gravy. Batkitty saw me paying quite close attention to that scene. 'Pervy,' she called me. I didn't care. Also, yay yummy servant girl!

Another great post, Nik and Chris. Thank you both!

Hazel said...

Roxanne McKee was also in the BBC Three lesbian drama, Lip Service.

humanebean said...

What is UP my home brothas and home sistahs? Glad to hear so many familiar voices at the Nite Club. First, I must admit that I have not read any of the highly praised books upon which the series is based, but I am loving me my first visual exposure to the world of Game of Thrones.

While I feel that some of the performances are tinged with a bit of melodrama that sits more easily in a fantasy/epic/period series than in other settings, the cast is very strong and has many standout characters. I have to say that I am particularly impressed with Sean Bean (think anyone ever calls him MISTER Bean? No? Just Me? *sigh*). As an actor who often seems to be cast to "type", the range of his performance here gives great depth to his character. In the first installment, I felt that he conveyed great internal conflict with a modicum of dialogue - and thereby established a more complex lead. Here, despite his growing unease, his banter with the King makes me yearn for the backstory that I hope will come and likely unfolds in the books.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion seizes this role with great gusto and swaggers meaningfully through the portrayal. Through him, we see other (as yet more two-dimensional) characters more fully - his siblings, Jon Snow, even (as noted elsewhere) The Hound. I have to say that this portrayal most impels me to seek out the books just so that I can engage with this character more completely.

As ever, Nik, your commentary was spot-on and quite fun to read. I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about Jon's mother and her relationship with Ned. Is she still alive? Ned was quite cryptic when asked. I agree that the sets are phenomenal. Although - the traveling camp of Dany and Drogo had a smidgeon of History Channel recreation about it. The Wall, however is fabulous.

Thanks to Chris for his insightful commentary vis-a-vis the books themselves. I feel that I have just enough information to pique my curiosity about the novels without feeling that I know more than I would care to before reading them. I should expect no less from a Newfoundlander. (Newfoundlandian? Newfie? Ignorance on display, here. My paternal grandparents would be ashamed of me. Teach them to depart this mortal vale before I was of age.)

What's this about erotic tension in a scene between Danys and Doreah? Hmmm. I must have missed that. I promise to go back immediately and review for further discussion .... ; ]

The Question Mark said...

Kudos to you too, Sir Batcabbage!

Magistra said...

The type of dog used for the direwolves is called Northern Inuit.

Joan Crawford said...

...a simpering little wanker

Haha! Oh, thank you, Nikki, for surprising me and delighting me with this comment!

Joan Crawford said...

P.S. Thanks to my exceptional skills at "interneting" (as the youths call it), I was able to find out that the breed of dog is apparently called the Northern Inuit.

Joan Crawford said...

It has been brought to my attention (through further interneting) that Magistra told you about the dogs last night... so, good work, Magistra, and it considered it confirmed!