Thursday, May 17, 2012

Game of Thrones: A Man Without Honor

You know, considering the British presence on Game of Thrones and the fact I typically use Canadian spelling on this blog, I REALLY want to call this episode "A Man Without Honour." But I will resist. ;)

Welcome to week 7 of our Game of Thrones rundown. I'm joined, as ever, by the bookish Christopher "Damn it feels good to be a Lannister" Lockett, who will give us the literary perspective, while I look at the episodes purely as a viewer. I will let Chris take the reins first this week!

Christopher: I think it’s safe to say that this episode’s recurrent theme was all about oaths and loyalty, with Ygritte and Jaime Lannister playing devil’s advocates and pricking holes in the hypocrisy of their interlocutors. Ned was the de facto protagonist of season one, which put the question of honour and integrity versus pragmatism and opportunism center stage right up until the point when his head went rolling down the steps of Baelor’s Sept. At which point—as we observed in our comments at the time—all bets were off in terms of our expectations for Game of Thrones. That was when we knew it was an HBO show through and through—that the typical narrative of embattled honour winning out against snide relativism was not to be. Indeed, many of the early reviews of season two observed that in hindsight, season one was really just an elaborate set-up—that the real action started with this season.

As both watcher and reader, I must agree. Season one and A Game of Thrones went to great lengths to chip away at our generic expectations—to dash all the Tolkien-based conceptions of what fantasy is and does.

Watching “A Man Without Honor” managed to bring all this home once again. In an interview, when asked what his favourite episode of the series so far is, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said it was this one. And no freakin’ wonder! Jaime Lannister has been more or less absent all season so far, so it was wonderful to have him back in all his arrogant glory. And Nikolaj has a lot of reason to be proud of this performance—his portrayal of Jaime is pitch-perfect. If Joffrey functions as the unalloyed villain of GoT, cruel and sadistic and sociopathic and easy (and fun) to loathe, Jaime is the spoiler—he is, in many ways, as cruel and ruthless as his son, but is extremely intelligent and capable as well. He is painfully adept at pointing out others’ hypocrisies, especially where he is concerned—his speech to Catelyn about oaths and their profusion, and the inevitable conflicts that arise, is faithful to GRRM’s text and beautifully articulated here.

I was also reflecting in admiration about how GRRM has set up this story (meaning, this entire series) … Jaime Lannister’s prehistory as the Kingslayer, the man who killed the Mad King and thus broke his oath as a member of the Kingsguard—but in the process (1) giving justice to a monarch as (ironically) sadistic and cruel as Joffrey, and (2) keeping faith with his father—provides such an ambivalent and shifting foundation for everything that follows. He is reviled as a man without honour, but as he points out to Catelyn, it’s unclear to whom he owes his ultimate allegiance. We recall some of his moments in season one—for example, when he was reviled by Ned—in the same conversation!—for standing by and watching King Aerys burn Rickard and Brandon Stark to death, and for breaking his oath to that same king. Which is the right course?

Ygritte gives Jon Snow a taste of similar medicine as he marches her across the tundra. (Quick question: did anyone else find it ENTIRELY unbelievable that she couldn’t get out of his rather clumsily tied ropes at night? I mean, seriously—this show is otherwise so good, why would they make such a stupid gaffe?). What is freedom? What is “proper” behavior? Her mocking of his virginity, which she quickly discerns, and his prudery, is merely reflective of the broader question—which is, what gives one person the right to rule another? What makes one person a king or queen, and another a vassal? As she suggests to Jon Snow, it’s always a matter of choice—to which he responds, yes, I chose to join the Night’s Watch, for which she chides him for being a fool and a slave.

Nikki: I loved the scenes with Ygritte; she’s a fabulous character, one who knows who she is in the world and has such an arrogant self-confidence you can’t help but admire her for it. The way she chides Jon Snow, even as he’s holding the ropes and seems to be in charge, is wonderful. First she asks him if he pulled a knife on her in the night (snicker), then asks if they have to keep sheep at the Wall (HAHA), and just seems astounded that any man would pledge to remain a virgin while keeping a rather brutal post at the Night’s Watch. It’s a great question… what is the point?

I agree entirely with you about this episode being about oaths and loyalty, which is evident in the scenes you mention. And from that theme, the episode — and the season — asks the question, why? All season we’ve seen lesser characters asking the main characters to explain their motivations, their loyalties, their reasons for doing what they do. Why is Robb Stark fighting this war? What does he hope to achieve by it? Why is Theon fighting the Starks? Is it just to prove himself to a group of people that he can never prove himself to? Why are the men from the Wall fighting the wildings, when they come from the same ancestry, and should be working together?

Once again we get some more extraordinary scenes between Arya and Tywin, where he tells her that she reminds him of his daughter and she does her best to hide the fact she just threw up in her mouth a little at the comparison between her and Cersei. Tywin does speak to her as if she’s one of his own; in fact, he probably gives her more of his time that he ever gave one of his own, and he’s impressed by her knowledge and the way she knows the stories of the dragons. In this scene, not only do they go toe to toe like they did last episode, but Tywin knows he’s being matched, and calls her on it. She tells him she learned everything from her father, and he says, “I can’t say I’ve met any literate stonemasons.” She snidely responds, “Have you met many stonemasons, my lord?” While he’s amused by her, he does know when to let her know it’s time to back off, and calls her on it here, telling her to eat her food elsewhere. But lest she become haughty that she’d just shown him up, he points out that he can see through her ruse, and if she really were as low-born as she says, she’d say “m’lord” instead of “my lord.” Arya, Miss I-Have-An-Answer-For-Everything, simply turns on her heel and tells him that her mother taught her to speak propah! Then corrects herself (on purpose) by saying, “properly.” Of course, he sees through that, too, and doesn’t buy her story for an instant. Oh, I can’t wait for the day he discovers she’s Ned’s daughter.

The truly bizarro moment of this episode happened in Qarth, where the Warlock worked with Zaro to rise up and kill the rest of the Thirteen, but then the Warlock threatens Dany and scares the bejesus out of everyone. How did that play out in the books? I know the dragon-napping didn’t happen, but did this scene?

Christopher: Nope. Totally invented. They don’t explain much of anything about the inside politics of Qarth in the novel, so there’s a lot of room for the series to do their own thing. I’m not sure what I think about this tack they’ve taken, though the warlock’s invitation/command to Dany to come to the House of the Undying means that we’re soon going to link up again with the original storyline. Without giving anything away, that visit is a pretty crucial moment in the novel, but not from a narrative perspective—so I’d started to assume they were going to skip it.

Apparently not. Which makes me very interested to see how they translate it to the screen.

(Can I also just say that the warlock’s uncanny resemblance to a white, heroin-addicted Abed from Community saps some of the character’s eeriness? I keep expecting him to end his creepy proclamations with “Cool, cool … coolly cool.”)

I have to say, I’m disappointed with Daenerys this season … she was such a force to be reckoned with last year, but now she just comes across as something of a petulant child—stamping her feet and threatening people a lot, but no one is inclined to take her seriously. She certainly seems out of her depth: until the shocking scene when Xaro and the warlock take out everyone on the council, all of the spice lords and merchants are utterly unimpressed with her. All of her conversations with the fat man have merely served to highlight just how powerless she is; but worse than that, she lacks any sort of gravitas this season. One can just imagine how well Tyrion might fare in a similar situation, given just his wits; I would have hoped that Dany would and could do more than just throw temper tantrums. But alas, that seems to be all she has in her quiver.

Which is a shame, considering that the women on GoT are otherwise pretty awesome. In contrast to Daenerys’ petulance we have Catelyn being AWESOME yet again when she faces down Robb’s truculent lords over the fate of Jaime Lannister, and then facing down the man himself in his cage. Michelle Fairley is so freakin’ good in these scenes—especially facing down the Karstarks as they want to behead Jaime. It was reminiscent of her dealings with Renly … no wonder Brienne has sworn her sword to Catelyn’s service.

And of course, as you mentioned, we have the most recent installment of the Arya/Tywin show, which continues to rock. This time it is used to give us some history, and we get the story of how Harrenhal was built and the hubris of Harren the Black in the face of dragons. “Aegon Targaryen changed the rules,” Tywin reflects, but Arya isn’t about to let him get away with that. “And his sisters,” she reminds him. Heh.

Tywin’s odd comparison of Arya to Cersei (and yes, ick) would seem to the suggest that the old man is given to some sentimentalism after all. Basically, he’s remembering his daughter’s impudence and fire; but of course we see a very different Cersei than Tywin remembers, though in this episode the conversations between her and Sansa and then her and Tyrion are a little odd. Odd, but in keeping with Lena Headey’s portrayal—Cersei is cold and ruthless, but much more given to melancholic reflection than in the novels. Her little disquisition to Sansa about who to love was really quite sad and poignant … especially when she admits to Tyrion that Joffrey is essentially a psychopath and wonders out loud what they can do with him.

That, I should point out, is entirely out of step with the novels … in the books, Joffrey is Cersei’s massive blind spot—she simply cannot see that he is anything but her precious boy. That they have her acknowledging her son’s, um, batshit insanity in the series is interesting. It makes me wonder where they plan to go with it.

And there was a moment where Tyrion looked almost like he was about to put his hand on her arm to comfort her. Were you also waiting for him to do that, and receive a stinging slap for his presumption?

Nikki: That was a wonderful moment, played beautifully by Dinklage. He moves toward her, pauses, moves again, pauses, and you can see the conflict in his face. He’s disgusted by what his sister has done, and while he knew in his heart she and Jaime had had an incestuous relationship, she actually admits it outright to him in this scene. He wants to comfort her, and yet he doesn’t. She’s his sister, but also his enemy. She’s vulnerable in this moment and wanting of comfort, but as you say, she could slap his hand away so quickly he’d be reeling. We’ve seen her push him over, we’ve seen her cut him to the quick by reminding him that he was the biggest joke she’d ever seen.

And then, of course, the confusion in his face almost translated to, “Wait a minute… in this family brothers comfort their sisters in different ways, and… yeah. I’m going to go over here now.”

I was also intrigued by the scenes with Sansa. She gets her period for the first time (she comes off as so much older than that; we keep forgetting she’s just a child) and desperately wants to keep the news from anyone, knowing that the moment she’s fertile, she’ll be expected to have Joffrey’s baby. And god only knows what sex with Joffrey would be like. (SHUDDER.) Earlier in the episode she thanked the Hound for saving her life, and he gruffly reminds her that he’ll be the only person saving her from her husband one day. Interesting that in the moment of her needing to hide the menstrual evidence, who should suddenly be standing there but the Hound.

The scene cuts to her and Cersei, where Sansa says she thought it would be less messy, and Cersei snorts, “Wait til you have a baby.” Sansa’s mother is gone, off fighting a war with her older brother, and so Cersei steps in as the distant mother figure in this scene. But her words are far from comforting. She tells Sansa that Robert went off hunting whenever she gave birth, but Jaime was at her side. She likens her marriage of convenience to Robert to what Sansa will face with Joffrey: “You may never love the king, but you will love his children… Love no one but your children; on that front, a mother has no choice.”

I couldn’t help but laugh that this episode aired on Mother’s Day.

And as you mentioned earlier, this is only the second time we see Jaime this season, and he’s great. For the first time I truly felt sympathy for his character, and again as you mention, realized just how richly wrought he is. We see Cersei admit to the incest, and now Jaime admits to it as well, telling Catelyn about the relationship. He escapes momentarily, only to be brought back, and he pushes and pushes Catelyn, but she refuses to budge… until he pisses her off one too many times, and she draws a sword. The scene ends there, but I know Catelyn’s too smart to kill him off; she needs him to get her girls back. I’m thinking the next time we see Jaime he’ll be missing a body part.

But that wasn’t the only cliffhanger of the episode. The major one was still to come, as Theon head off looking for the Starks, humiliated that somehow a paraplegic, an idiot giant, a wild whore, and a small child (this sounds like the opening line of a sick joke) eluded his capture. The Maester pleads with him to let them all just go, but Theon has his reputation to protect. His men look upon him with more respect now than they did just a few episodes ago, and when he finds Hodor’s telltale walnut shells, he sends the old man back to Winterfell… presumably so he can get the boys and do terrible things to them.

The episode ends with him in the square of Winterfell, reminding them all that he had reassured them that if they crossed him, they’d pay. And then he raises the two tiny charred bodies that are presumably Bran and Rickon. Despite watching Ned’s head get lopped off and realizing no one is safe on this show, I don’t believe those two bodies belong to the boys (of course, I could be terribly wrong). We didn’t see them die, we know Theon is crafty, and I feel like Bran has a longer story than this. But then again, I thought Ned had a longer one, too. So we’ll see what happens next week!

Any final words, Chris? I do have one final question for you: what’s with the weird facial mask on that woman in Qarth? Is it a traditional mask, or is there something wrong with her face? And are we supposed to know what she means when she asks Ser Jorah if he’ll betray Dany again, or was that as mystifying to everyone else as it was to me?

Christopher: A paraplegic, an idiot giant, a wild whore, and a small child walk into a bar. Possibly because the priest, the imam and the rabbi had the day off.

Yup, can’t do anything with that. Ordering drinks for their direwolves? “Anything but walnuts”?


It’ll come.

In the novels, Daenerys receives cryptic advice from time to time from a woman in a lacquered wooden mask whom she meets in Qarth, and who then shows up for her periodically in what I assume are visions. I have to assume the sorceress in the weird mask is the same character, so presumably the mask is traditional or a sign of office or some such thing. The scene in which Jorah talks to her is another invention, but was quite interesting and not just a little eerie and tense.

Jorah betrayed Dany at the start—he was a spy for King Robert, reporting on her. When the wineseller tried to poison her, that happened just after Jorah was given a letter telling him he could come home, remember? But he chose Dany, realizing that the wine was poisoned and intervening before she could drink. So Jorah has always already committed a sort of original sin with Daenerys, joining her initially out of self-interest, but eventually becoming won over to her cause … and falling in love with her, as we see.

The sequences with Sansa were heartbreaking, as they were in the novel. They haven’t done quite as much in the show with her relationship with the Hound, but we get a sense of their odd connection—he is among those who tells Sansa hard truths, especially in terms of fracturing her love of old songs and stories in which knights are handsome and virtuous. The Hound rescuing her from her would-be rapists was not romantic but brutal, as brutal as the men he killed; and when she tries to thank him for his gallantry, he’s having none of it. He reminds us that knights are warriors and fighters, and that their principal role is killing. His little speech about killing as the sweetest thing there is, and suggesting that her father took pleasure in it (even if he pretended otherwise) is not exactly on par with Jaime and Ygritte’s reality checks, but falls into much the same category.

The scene with the blood in the bed reflects in part the problem with aging the characters—in the novel, Sansa is twelve. In the series, she’s obviously still young, but it is hard to believe she is only just now starting to menstruate. Which I suppose in the grand scheme of things is really neither here nor there, but it does add a wrinkle to the show’s otherwise smooth continuity.

That being said, it remains an extremely poignant moment, for it reminds us that if girls are vulnerable in this world, becoming women is also an ambivalent passage—for as Sansa’s panic makes clear, she is all too aware of the fact that she will now be seen as a more valuable playing piece in the game of thrones. That, and her revulsion at fathering Joffrey’s children sends her into a frenzy that is, if anything, entirely understated.

So … three episodes to go, Nikki, with an awful lot that still has to happen! Excited?

Nikki: Nah, I’ll probably just let the last three pile up on the PVR and watch them some time in August or something, and… YES YES YES I’m so crazy excited! And sad there are only three episodes. Who do you have to bribe in this town to get the season upped to 13??

Just one last thing about the ages; girls can menstruate for the first time at age 16 or 17; it’s extremely rare, but it does happen. So I suppose it’s possible, if a bit of a long-shot. However, for me the even more distracting age discrepancy was with Jon. As you know, I started reading the first book before realizing it would give me your insight to the characters, and I wanted to continue doing the back-and-forth with you being the only one who knew the books, so I stopped. But I got far enough to discover that Jon Snow is all of 14 at the beginning of the book, and thinking of him being younger with Ygritte — 15 or 16, as opposed to the TV version, who is played by a 25-year-old — the scene made more sense. Jon should be really green, a young boy just coming into puberty, which would make his sacrifice greater, and make Ygritte’s taunting more effective and hurtful. Of course, being taunted as a 25-year-old virgin is worse than a 15-year-old one, but a younger boy would lack the maturity to handle what she says.

These are all minor nitpicks, since I still enjoyed these scenes immensely. (Oh, and earlier you mentioned the ropes that Ygritte had around her; I think she chose to stay put, knowing he wouldn’t kill or hurt her, and instead she could lure him into her trap.)

And thank you for the reminder of Ser Jorah! I’d completely forgotten that he had indeed betrayed her already. It’s moments like that that are important to remember — like in season 1, when Baelish tells Sansa the history of the Hound and then whispers to her that if the Hound finds out she knows, he’ll rip her from limb to limb, establishing her fear of him from the start.

On to next week!!


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

(you'd think I'd learn to spell check before posting, but noooooooooo)

Great work by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in this episode, and (as usual) great analysis by you two. The conversation between Jaime and his ill-used cousin calls to mind one of the great dichotomies of this series (and the books); we see people trying to play roles they are mightily unsuited for (Joffrey, anyone? Theon Greyjoy?) and people who are unable to be anything other than their true nature dictates (Jaime, Arya). I've just finished the third book in the series, Storm of Swords, and I remain impressed by the ways in which Martin has prevented some of these characters or situations from being stereotyped at ALL.

Lord knows, one wants to hate Jaime as much as his *cough* nephew Joffrey, but as the series progresses (and particularly the books I find) you learn to see him much more three-dimensionally. No-one gets off easily in the books (there's a joke in here somewhere about the more overtly sexual nature of the series, but let's just say Happy Endings aren't Martin's stock-in-trade...) but even in the ways the series diverges from the novels, I think they stay true to this concept.

Alas, I shall miss the next TWO episodes while traveling (in England and Wales, if not Northern Ireland where the show is filmed) and will have to catch up on my return. Can't WAIT to see how they play out events from the last quarter of the second book of the series. They've moved a few pieces into place here and now the epic confrontation looms ...

Patricia said...

It seems that Daeny can't escape magic/sorcery...last season she asked the witch to save Kahl Drogo. Now her babies are held captive by the warlocks.

screenshotter said...

I'm not convinced that those kid corpses in the end are Bran and the other one. Theon's face was surprised which could mean opposite of course but as Nikki said, I also feel that Bran will have some sort of impact on story. But who knows.

Glad you reminded me of Ser Jorah and his original mission, totally forgot that!

Yeah, I'll probably watch the rest of the season in August (NOT!)

Joan Crawford said...

Theon - you louse! I hate Theon more than Joffrey at the moment. Joffrey at least has the excuse of being an inbred-psychopath-child with almost limitless power (what more could we except from him?) but Theon is just weak. There is no decisiveness in his actions: he's a puppet. A traitorous puppet. Feel so bad for Sansa - having to have relations with Joffrey. I mean really, most of us have not-so-great "first time" stories... Sansa will top them all. Scene with Cersei and Tyrion my favorite of this episode... makes it harder to hate her blindly (which is kinda my thang). And, because I consider this a "Safe Space", I totally have it bad for Sandor (you might refer to him as The Hound but that sounds weird during my fantasy time).

ASOIAF_FAN said...
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