Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Game of Thrones S2: "What Is Dead May Never Die"

Welcome to week three of my season 2 recap discussions of Game of Thrones, with Christopher “Lord Commander” Lockett. Last week Chris and I were talking about how the sex quotient seemed to have been really upped in week 2, and I don’t know how many people saw it, but SNL did a parody sketch this week of behind the scenes at HBO, talking about how the two key consultants on the show are George RR Martin, and a 13-year-old boy named Adam who keeps telling them to use more boobs. ;) So I guess we’re not the only ones noticing it.

Nikki: This week there were a LOT of stories covered, and as such it felt a little slow. But what happens in this episode is mostly exposition for what is to come. But that doesn’t mean the episode was boring – not by a long shot. I always like to open with Tyrion, so let’s get him out of the way this week by discussing his brilliant deception. To figure out which member of Council has the ear of the queen, he brings Pycelle, Varys, and Littlefinger to his office and tells each of them that he’s going to marry Princess Myrcella off to one of three different people. When Cersei later goes off on him, yelling and screaming that she can’t believe he would want to send Myrcella off to Dorn, Tyrion knows it was Pycelle who blabbed. In doing so, he gains the ire of Baelish, and the cautious respect of Varys. That said, I thought the suggestions that he would marry her to Theon Greyjoy or Robyn Arryn (that inbred-seeming child who was still suckling at his mother’s breast in middle school last season) were a little over-the-top, but then again, those kinds of marriages are probably par for the course in this world. Interestingly, Cersei’s fury causes her to shove Tyrion and knock him right over, once again reminding us that he has no physical power. But he’s driving her mad, and that is his power.

Speaking of Cersei, we also are privy to the most uncomfortable dinner scene imaginable, where she eats with Sansa and the two younger children, who both excitedly yap on about the impending nuptials between Sansa and Joffrey while Sansa looks like she’s choking down every bite of her food. Curiously, Cersei shows absolutely no sympathy for Sansa, and instead tests her, asking her how she’d feel if Joffrey killed her brother Robb, to which Sansa simply says she’s looking forward to the war being over so she can finally be wed to her beloved Joffrey. Cersei looks impressed, but there’s no sympathy, despite the fact she later reminds Tyrion that she’d been shipped off to Robert Baratheon against her will.

What did you think of this week’s episode, Chris?

Christopher: Well, I should probably begin by mentioning two errors I made in last week’s installment, one significant and the other just irritating. The significant error was in my assertion that Arya did not reveal her identity to Gendry until much later. As it happens, she did so more or less where the series has her do it. I have no excuse for this mistake, other than that I honestly didn’t remember it (my reread of A Clash of Kings is proceeding more slowly than I would like, as this is one of my busy times of year).

The other error was in referring to the traditional Iron Islands seat of power as the Driftwood Throne, where it’s actually the Seastone Chair. This one at least was just a matter of getting things confused, as the crown worn by the kings of the Iron Islands was the Driftwood Crown (at least, I’m pretty sure).

So anyway, fuckups aside … This week was pretty amazing, I thought, as we get a handful of new characters—most notably Brienne the Beauty and Margaery, Renly’s queen. The latter is bit of interesting casting—those who watched The Tudors will of course have recognized Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn. She’s somewhat older than the novels describe her, and a whole lot more perspicacious when it comes to sex. Of course … much of the Renly/Margaery marriage is left to speculation, as is the Renly/Loras relationship, and once again the series does a deft job of making the subtext text. From the looks of things, Renly’s homosexuality is something of an open secret, but as his new queen points out, all it takes to silence those murmurs is an heir growing in her belly. Kings, after all, make their own rules …

I would actually go so far as to say the theme of this week’s episode was pragmatism. It’s established for us in the first sequence as Craster returns Jon to the Lord Commander and demands that the Watch vacate his keep. Jon’s horrified tale to Mormont gives way to the even more horrified realization that his commander knows what Craster does with his men-children … and knows enough to ominously predict that Jon will see more of what he saw in the woods when the infant was taken. But when it comes to survival in the “real” north, morals are a luxury—one takes allies where one finds them, Mormont implies, and one doesn’t shrink from monsters like Craster.

But to return to Tyrion and the question of power … the little confrontation between Cersei and Littlefinger in the first episode was a nice setup for Varys’ riddle, don’t you think? Littlefinger and Cersei each come at the question of power from opposing places: knowledge as power versus power as power, and we saw in their face-off the deficiencies of both. Varys shows himself (again) to be the most nuanced thinker of the lot … and if you’ll forgive me for going all academic, he’s the Foucauldian of the lot. Power isn’t a thing one wields, it lies in discourse. I’ve always thought that the answer to his riddle (which is essentially verbatim from the novel) is that power lies in the hands of the man who convinces the others that he has it. That might take place by way of a conviction in the right of divine rule, for the king; the persuasion of money, for the wealthy man; the threat of divine retribution for the priest; or, it might be that the sellsword convinces the other with the edge of his blade. Or, more likely, some combination thereof.

Nikki: The scene with Varys was amazing, and incidentally, they pulled that as the voiceover for the first big trailer for S2, so it already felt familiar. The speech is a brilliant one, made more powerful in the delivery of it: “Power is a curious thing, my lord… Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And… a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” I do love Tyrion’s response: “I have decided I don’t like riddles.” I also forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the scene of Pycelle’s comeuppance, where Tyrion brings in his goon and catches him post-coitus.

Tyrion: Cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats.
Goon: There are no goats, half man!
Tyrion: Well make do!

As he leaves, Tyrion puts down a coin for the whore “for her trouble,” then pauses, looking at Pycelle in the hallway, and turns and hands her another one. My husband took the second coin to be the one to keep her silent. I took it as him realizing that servicing Pycelle was probably more trouble than just one coin’s worth.

It’s interesting you say that this week’s episode is about pragmatism; I completely agree. In my notes about Margaery I’ve not only written, “Anne Boleyn?” but, “The queen seems more pragmatic than romantic.” I don’t know how she’s portrayed in the books, but here she doesn’t seem bothered by her husband’s predilections, and instead just sees a way they can deal with it. Do the books go into any detail about how Renly and Margaery came to be married? Is there a link with the fact the king has been bedding her brother? (Or is that something we’ll discover more about later?)

Meanwhile in the Iron Lands, Theon has to choose a side: the Starks, who raised him as one of their own, or the Greyjoys, who gave him away. I really enjoyed the scene between Theon and his sister and father, where his father curses him for having some loyalty to the Starks, and Theon reminds his father that Daddy gave him away like a dog. It’s hard to argue with that: how could he expect Theon to act any differently? But if Theon is going to prove he’s a Greyjoy, that what is dead may never die, he will have to change sides.

It’s not an easy decision, however. The camera doesn’t hold on his letter long enough to tell, but if you pause the scene where Theon burns the letter you can see it’s to Robb Stark, warning him that his father is planning to attack the north with an army, and advising him to bolster up his forces to be ready for him. Theon’s instinct tells him to side with the Starks, but his pride tells him to side with his blood. I thought the setting of the scene where he’s rebaptized as a Greyjoy was stunning, with the ocean and the rocks. Beautiful.

Now, back over to Renly’s castle, I noticed you referred to the latest member of the King’s Guard as Brienne the Beauty. Is that what she’s called in the books? Is it meant as a joke? Here she’s called Brienne of Tarth. I don’t know if she’s meant to be a likeable character in the books, but I love her already. She’s a little harsh, but such a unique and dynamic character. And I’d like to find out more about the actress playing her, and if she’s really as tall as she appears on the show. Does she really tower over everyone else, or are they filming her the way they filmed Gandalf with the hobbits? Incidentally, after complaining last week about people letting kids read these books, I was on a second watch of this episode and my 4-year-old son walked in. I stopped the show, he went into the other room and played, then wandered back in, I stopped the episode, and then said, “Actually, come see two knights fighting,” knowing that there wasn’t any blood, and he’s in a knights-and-castles phase right now. He watched the fight with a smile on his face, but when Brienne stepped up and lifted her mask, he said, “It’s a GIRL? I don’t like this show,” and walked out. I have much to teach that boy. ;)

Christopher: In the novel of A Game of Thrones, we get an inkling that Renly is plotting against Cersei while Robert is still alive. At one point he shows Ned a picture of Margaery and asks if she bears any resemblance to his dead sister, and Robert’s great lost love, Lyanna. The idea, obviously, is for Robert to put Cersei aside and marry this other girl; and when Renly raises his rebellion in A Clash of Kings, he marries Margaery to cement the allegiance of House Tyrell, another of the great powers of Westeros.

In the novels, Margaery’s a bit of a mystery … she doesn’t get her own POV chapters, and is generally described as a demure, courteous girl who is fiercely devoted to her brother Loras. As I said, the series has made overt much which is just implied in the novels, and Natalie Dormer’s aggressively pragmatic Margaery is a pretty daring departure from the books. But I think it’s a wise move, all things considered: I quite like this more explicit version, especially considering the limitations of television—there simply isn’t the same capacity to develop complexity and nuance. The Renly story is mostly left to the imagination in A Clash of Kings. Here, the stakes are pretty clearly laid out, and Margaery’s matter-of-fact acknowledgement of that functions as a sharp lesson for Renly—that personal predilections and affections are at best ancillary to the game itself.

As an aside, right here is the main reason GRRM’s novels have proved so amenable to HBO … at such moments, I expect Margaery to shrug and say to Renly, “All in the game, baby. All in the game.”

Cersei provides an interesting contrast to Margaery—though the aforementioned showdown with Littlefinger, to say nothing of the smug expression on her face when she says “Power is power,” shows that she obviously imagines herself an accomplished player, she’s constantly showing herself to be at best an amateur, at worst inept. The ease with which Tyrion exposes her is bad enough for her; worse is her tantrum at the prospect of having her beloved daughter married off. But as Tyrion reminds her, princesses are an eminently tradable commodity in the game of dynasty building.

It’s a good reminder that Cersei was herself wounded by being so traded. Not that we like her any more for it, but it makes her rage at the prospect of Myrcella being married off to a probably loveless marriage more understandable.

The parts with Theon were exceptionally well done; it’s nice to see that character coming into his own. As arrogant and self-important a git as he’s been, they do a lovely job of engendering sympathy here … we realize that his time with the Starks was an ambivalent captivity in which he came to love his captors, while still harbouring resentment. And all that time he was a hostage of Winterfell, however well treated he was, he’s obviously spent his time dreaming of home and his ultimate, triumphant return. His explosion at his father and his rage at having been given away was particularly poignant, and made the juxtaposed scenes of burning his letter to Robb and being re-baptized doubly so.

As for Brienne: she is in fact Brienne of Tarth. “The Beauty” is the cruel name the men of Renly’s army have given her. I’m delighted to finally see her on the scene: she’s one of the more interesting and thought-provoking characters in the books. I won’t say much more about her, just in case the show gives us all that background.

Any final thoughts?

Nikki: I wanted to mention my love for Catelyn in this episode, how she just strides into the middle of this bit of “fun,” where the king and his queen sit on their thrones to see the knights jousting, and she stands there, defiant and confident, and says what she needs to. She ignores Brienne telling her to kneel, and when Loras tells her that if Robb Stark wanted their help he should have come and gotten it himself, she replies haughtily, “My son is fighting a war, not playing at one.” She is amazing.

Bran’s dreams have been sitting in the background of the show since early in the first season, but because they’re becoming more frequent, I’m thinking we’re going to see more about them soon.

And finally, Catelyn the Brave was nothing compared to Yoren. Last week we saw him threaten a man’s family jewels while the man held a giant sword at Yoren’s head while sitting aloft a horse, and this week he dies gloriously — with a bloody crossbow arrow sticking out of him he manages to kill FOUR men, and it takes another three to actually hold him in one place so he could be killed. (Did I mention he’s got a freakin’ arrow sticking out of his chest?!) This scene followed a long scene where he speaks to Arya about the man he wanted to kill, who had killed his brother. He tells her that every night he would say the man’s name like a prayer before he’d go to sleep, repeating it until the very name became as loathsome as the man himself, and when he did find him, he killed him and went straight to the wall. His monologue reminded me of Sawyer on Lost, who actually took on the name of the man he wanted to kill as his own moniker so he would be reminded daily of the one person he intended to kill. Watch for an allusion to this speech in the next episode.

Until next week! The last episode I’ve seen in advance, where I can promise you, if you thought you hated Joffrey before, that was nothing compared to what you’ll think of him now.


The Question Mark said...

"It's a GIRL?! I don't like this show." Hahahaha! Priceless!

I'm about 3/4 of the way through the Clash of Kings book, and Nikki, if your comment about hating Joffrey refers to what I think it refers to, then I agree 100%.

Oh, and Tyrion's plan to find out who would snitch to the queen: GENIUS. Only, I can imagine how awkward that could have become if all three of them had gone running to Cersei. :S

Batcabbage said...

Great post once again, guys. And I have to say, this episode has been my favourite so far of season 2. Tyrion using the canary trap was brilliant, and the guy that plays Varys is utterly perfect.

Oh, and @Nik, Brienne is referred to as 'Brienne the Beauty' in this episode - it's when Renly and Loras are 'praying', and Renly accuses Loras of being jealous.

A.G.Wooding said...

The actress playing Brienne is Gwendaline Christie (which almost feels like a name for a character on the show) and is well over 6 foot according to sources. I didn't really notice it until she stood next to Catelyn, she really is an amazing choice for the role of Brienne.

As a fan of Yoren in the books, I thought they handled his death beautifully but it was still Maisie Williams that made me cry a little. Shes got good comic timing but in scenes like this you realise she just might be the best actress on the show.

What did you guys think of the scene between Sansa and Shae? Sansa is probably in the most stressful situation out of all the characters at the moment. She cant take her anger out on Joffrey or Cersei, the people who really deserve it, so she takes it out on her handmaid. I loved how the audience was aware that both women had something to be scared or annoyed about but they didnt realise it about each other. I hope theres more scenes between these two.

A shame there was still no Robb or Jaime in this episode though, I hope this means theyll definitelly be appearing next week.

Batcabbage said...

@A.G.: A shame there was still no Robb or Jaime in this episode...

Holy crap. It wasn't until you mentioned it, A.G., that I noticed their absence. That's how much I got caught up in this episode. Man, I love this show.

About Shae and Sansa, personally, I'm not convinced of Shae just yet. Maybe it's because I've read the books and picture her (not just her looks, but her personality too) differently, but I really haven't taken to Shae (not the character, but the way she's being played in this series. I don't know why, I just don't like the way they've gone). That being said, I think that this pairing with Sansa as her handmaid that might convince me of her. The scene was great, and your comment about Sansa really hit the nail on the head - she's in a shit situation, and really has no one at all. I mean, imagine having that inbred homunculous as your intended husband, him having your father beheaded, his conniving mother-aunt as your jailer, and the only person who's shown you any compassion is an enormous killer with half his face burned off who guards your fiance-throwback's life! Certainly not the best of times for Sansa.

Michele said...

Gwendaline Christie is 6' 3" according to IMDB

Anonymous said...

Great recap you two.

I don't think I'd ever be able to enjoy the show fully without these to keep all the characters & their connections and backstories straight. I look forward to it every week.

Cercei has become my favorite character. She's like a bad poker player who always over-estimates their hand. That and I love the permanent scowl on her face.

"The game is the game". Nikki - I'm not going to stop bugging you for a "The Wire" rewatch until you give in!

-Tim Alan

Jessica said...

Loving the recaps Chris and Nikki!

As someone who has read the books, I find it hard to comment here without accidental spoilage--- so although it is vague.... watch out below!

I wasn't at all suprised by Margeary's behavior. I think in the later books it's pretty clear that the Tyrells are almost better players at the game of thrones than the Lannisters

Austin Gorton said...

Tyrion remained tons of fun this episode.

While I think they're doing a good job of engendering sympathy for Theon, I still think he's a moron for siding with his family, who gave him away, don't like him, don't respect him, etc. If Ned were still around, it might be different, but Robb clearly considers him an equal and a friend, if not a brother, and that's a better deal than he's getting from his blood family.

I just really hope it turns out Robb expected Theon to betray him, and when the Greyjoys ships arrive in the North, they find an army waiting for them.

@The Question Mark: Only, I can imagine how awkward that could have become if all three of them had gone running to Cersei.

I was thinking the same thing! :)

Blam said...

Game of Thrones: What Dies May Never Die

Tyrion: "I've decided I don't like riddles."

Even though Peter Dinklage's attempted accent is becoming ever more distracting to me, I appreciate his delivery of a line.

Littlefinger: "Leave me out of your next deception."
Tyrion: "That's a shame. You were to be the centerpiece of my next deception."

Christopher: The other error was in referring to the traditional Iron Islands seat of power as the Driftwood Throne, where it’s actually the Seastone Chair.

Understandable. As I remember it, Driftwood Throne was the premier Seastone Chair cover band — way better than Krill Seat.

I never saw The Tudors, but it's all the more interesting that Natalie Dormer played Anne Boleyn there; Margaery seems to have quite a good head on her shoulders.

Christopher: I would actually go so far as to say the theme of this week’s episode was pragmatism.

Nice observation. I'd agree.

There was way more violence this week than sex, although if you want to be some clever combination of cynical and scholarly you could characterize it just changing ways men assert their dominance by sticking things into other people.

Nikki: My husband took the second coin to be the one to keep her silent. I took it as him realizing that servicing Pycelle was probably more trouble than just one coin’s worth.

So did I. It was really more of a humorous grace note for the audience than anything, referencing to me not even so much "I'm sorry you had to see this" as "You had to shtup that doddering old fool; gods bless you."

Nikki: Brienne the Beauty. Is that what she’s called in the books?

Renly's boyfriend (Loras) did refer to her that way in bed, as Batcabbage pointed out.

Nikki: I stopped the show, he went into the other room and played, then wandered back in, I stopped the episode, and then said, “Actually, come see two knights fighting,”

You're an awesome mom, Nik. [<— not sarcasm]

Christopher: At one point [Renly] shows Ned a picture of Margaery and asks if she bears any resemblance to his dead sister, and Robert’s great lost love, Lyanna.

I thought she looked like Sansa when we first saw her — disconcertingly, given Margaery's cleavage and Sansa's age.

Then again, I think that everybody looks like somebody else. I see Catelyn and have to remind myself "She's not Joan Allen"; see Littlefinger and have to remind myself "He can't possibly be a younger Gary Oldman"; see Yoren and have to remind myself "He really can't be a younger Robert Loggia"; see Varys the Spider and have to remind myself "He's not Matt Lucas"; see Balon Greyjoy and have to remind myself "Argus Filch didn't take over Hogwarts and let it go totally to hell"...

Christopher: we realize that his time with the Starks was an ambivalent captivity in which he came to love his captors

Stark-Home Syndrome?

Blam said...

A.G. Wooding: shame there was still no Robb or Jaime in this episode though

Plus no Daenerys! Which I'm now singing in my head to the tune of one of my favorite New Bohemians tunes, "No Dinero"...

You have a way with words, Batcabbage. Inbred Homunculus is definitely my new band name. It won't take much to turn one of my pictogags from last week into our first album cover. (That's the last time I'll plug the post here, Nikki, I promise.)

Teebore: While I think they're doing a good job of engendering sympathy for Theon, I still think he's a moron for siding with his family

I'm not sure he's entirely a moron so much as resigned to his circumstances. Not having read the books, I was expecting that letter to go out and the raven to be intercepted by, ultimately, a very unhappy Balon, so if you're at all invested in Theon surviving his best bet may have been burning that letter and negotiating the literal and metaphorical tough waters ahead. His fealty to family, per the theme that Christopher pointed out in this episode, is quite possibly just more circumstantial pragmatism. As much as Theon's weighing how the Starks treated him after his father gave him up to them, wanting to be acknowledged as worthy — if not entitled — by his father, he may simply be giving in to the inevitability of his surroundings; now that he's back home, aligning himself with Robb Stark is just plain risky. If you can't pledge troth to the fam you liege, troth the fam you're with, or something like that.

Theon: "A ship? She gets thirty and I get one?"
Yara: "The Sea Bitch. We thought she'd be perfect for you."

The Question Mark: Only, I can imagine how awkward that could have become if all three of them had gone running to Cersei.

Teebore: I was thinking the same thing! :)

I was thinking that maybe that was the plan, for Tyrion to simultaneously test the court's discretion and test the waters with Cersei in terms of which plan might sound the least revolting to her. Tyrion could deny that he was any of the men's source, protesting that he'd discussed vague possibilities of a marriage of state with them involving Myrcella but that they each obviously had his own story and own agenda to pursue.