Thursday, May 10, 2012

Game of Thrones: "The Old Gods and the New"

Welcome to week 6 of our season 2 coverage of Game of Thrones. I’m joined this week by Christopher “Cow-Pie Flinging” Lockett, as we look at the antics and heartbreak of “The Old Gods and the New.”

Nikki: Arya almost being spotted by Baelish; Jon getting hit on by a wildling; Theon executing a man with a death by vicious hacking; and Daenerys losing her dragons… where do we begin?

If I had Facebook Timeline, this would be
my key picture. ;) 

Oh, you know where I’ll begin: The Great Cowpie Flinging Incident! Hahaha… never have I been so happy to see shit hit someone’s face. BRILL-YANT. Just as he’s watched his sister Myrcella ride off into the sunset on a boat (while he shows no emotion, natch), Joffrey walks back through the streets with the Lannister clan in tow, and at first he hears what he wants to. Silence, followed by, “Hail, King Joffrey.” Of course, the viewers at home (and Tyrion) immediately glom on to the sarcasm dripping with every syllable, and soon you can hear shouts of, “He’s a bastard! Freak!” Joffrey makes the completely reasonable and calm decision to KILL THEM ALL!! EXECUTE THEM!!... while his far more intelligent uncle realizes the true urgency: Where the hell is Sansa? At first, you may think he’s genuinely worried for her safety (and that may be a tiny part of his motivation) but in truth, he’s really worried about his only bargaining chip. Cersei let Arya slip through her fingers, and if he will ever get his beloved Jaime back, he needs Sansa.

The shouty repartee that follows once Tyrion and Joffrey are safe is brilliant.

Tyrion: We’ve had vicious kings, and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot boy king…
Joffrey: They attacked ME!!
Tyrion: They threw a cowpie at you so you decide to kill them all!
Joffrey: You are talking to a king!
Tyrion: [SMACK!!] And now I’ve struck a king! Did my hand fall from my wrist? … [to the others] Where is the Stark girl?
Joffrey: Let them HAVE HER!
Tyrion: If she dies you’ll never get your Uncle Jaime back… and you owe him quite a bit, you know.

For all the Joffrey haters out there, I encourage you to relive all the glorious moments of him getting smacked in the head by going here

I thought for sure something terrible was going to happen to Sansa, but luckily the Hound gets her in time. I’ve liked the Hound since season 1, ever since Baelish said he couldn’t be trusted (from that point on I assumed he probably could be trusted), and watching the look of barely suppressed rage on his face every time Joffrey calls him “Dog” makes me hope that Joffrey has his coming to him soon (but by that same token, as we saw a man get his arm pulled off, I began to worry that Joffrey may be killed; he’s too much fun to hate to lose him so soon…)

What did you think of the episode, Chris?

Christopher: I loved this week’s episode, both because it satisfied my expectations as a reader, and completely took me by surprise. I’ll come to what surprised me in a moment—let’s start with satisfied expectations.

Joffrey continues to be the best villain on television, and the riot scenes gave us yet another glimpse into his sociopathic worldview. He has no human feelings on seeing his sister sent off to what will most likely be a loveless marriage; and even more than that, scorns those who do express emotions as weak. But where his personal dignity and need for absolute submission is challenged, we see him fly off the handle. Jack Gleason was brilliant here: his is the most thankless role on the show, and he does a lovely job. His rage completely consumes him, but his voice cracking as he screams is both hilarious and pathetic, reminding us that he is a petulant child. But a petulant child with the power of life and death, and who must be obeyed. But even kings have limits to their power, and that fact completely escapes him. He is still the same mewling brat he was when Arya took his sword and made him sob in terror (as Sansa reminded him subtly), but here he doesn’t even have the common sense to be terrified.

One of the things I’ve come to look for when I sit down after watching one of these episodes is the moments of rhyme—often we’ll see a similar scene or situation played out in parallel between different narrative threads. This week the two most striking instances were Bran and Joffrey dealing with rebellions; and the beheading scenes, with Theon and Rodrik and Jon and Ygritte. There was also the inappropriate flirtations—Jon and Ygritte again, and Robb and Talisa. Overall we return to the recurring themes of governance and duty, and what makes a good leader. Joffrey reminds us that he is just a child; Bran is a child too, but he behaves in a calm and measured way, looking to the good of his people and only  losing his calm when Rodrik is on the block (which is not something that happened in the novel). Theon’s behavior at Winterfell echoes Joffrey’s childish petulance—as if he honestly doesn’t get why these people might resent him. The botched beheading is gruesome and cringe-inducing, but was such a powerful moment. It recalled Ned’s grim efficiency in the first episode of season one, and his death as well. It also reminded us that beheadings weren’t always clean—the guillotine was invented for just that reason. It took three blows to behead Mary, Queen of Scots, and it was said that she cried out during the process (as one would). So, an element of historical realism here … but also a significantly symbolic moment for Theon, who is goaded into carrying it out himself by Rodrik. His inability to cleanly decapitate him reflects his inability to lead.

Poor Rodrik. He was one of my favourite secondary characters in the novels, and I felt that Ron Donachie played him beautifully—a simple and understated performance. But alas, he falls victim to the reaper that is GRRM. Valar morghulis and all that.

Nikki: Excellent job of making those parallels. And since that was going to be my next section, I’ll just throw it back over to you.

Okay, maybe I’ll write something first… What I really liked about the scene where Theon comes crashing into Bran’s room is how unaffected Bran seems at first. It’s like he doesn’t take Theon seriously. Theon dances about the room, agitated and repeating over and over that HE HAS TAKEN WINTERFELL and is now the Lord of Winterfell, and Bran just stares at Theon like he’s some sort of idiot. He addresses him the way a brother would another, which is fitting because that’s how he’s been raised to think of Theon; as a brother, but… not quite. Bran has always been above Theon, even when they were treating him like a sibling. As Theon tells him repeatedly to yield, Bran just calmly and quietly asks him questions. (Also, notice how unimpressed he is by Theon’s theatrics, and the fact that Theon is declaring himself the Lord of Winterfell. That’s fine; Robb has already declared himself King of the North, so he trumps Theon anyway.) I loved that after all Theon’s aggressiveness, Bran simply asks, “Theon, did you hate us the whole time?” and leaves Greyjoy completely speechless. In this scene, Theon truly lives up to his ancestry; even his moments of joy are tinged by greyness.

Theon enters the square, and can’t find any loyalty there, either. In a continuation of the parallels you pointed out, this scene mirrors the one of Joffrey walking through the square. As people shouted at him that he was a bastard and a freak, in this scene Theon shouts to his people that he is now their lord, and reminds them, “You all know me!” “Yeah, we know you as a steaming sack of shit,” shouts back one of them. Theon doesn’t want to behead Rodrick, but one of his men whispers to him that if Rodrick has shown him up, he needs to pay the Iron Price. Theon must do this in order to prove himself a Greyjoy.

I laughed that you brought up Mary Queen of Scots and her beheading, because in the scene that followed, I was reminded of the time I went to the Tower of London, and the beefeater who was our guide gleefully told us of the time this one man was executed and the executioner did the deed with a dull axe, and chopped and hacked away for what seemed like an eternity, until the head was hanging there by sinews and most of the audience had passed out. When Theon held up the sword, I looked at my husband and said, “That sword won’t cut through.” He responded, “Not on the first stroke.” I grimaced, thought of the story at the Tower of London (one of those stories that always stays with you) and cringed, saying, “This is gonna take a while.” And did it ever. And just to add a final flourish, Theon KICKS the head off. Good GOD.

And… in my notes I spelled the wildling’s name Ygritte, so I’m feeling rather good about myself now. I think I’ve caught on to GRRM’s spelling system! (Well, probably not… I just got lucky.) But here’s my question to you: could you remind me exactly what the wildlings are? I thought wildlings were anyone who lived north of the Wall, and that the guy who married his daughters was one of them. But now I’m thinking that’s not quite right, and that they are literally running wild in the tundra. What is a wildling?

Christopher:  Wildling is a generic term for the people living north of the Wall, yes … and at first that’s really all we know about them, aside from their characterization by the Night’s Watch as uncivilized and brutish. But as with the Dothraki, we’re initially presented with what seems like an undifferentiated caricature of a barbarous people. I know the initial depiction of the Dothraki turned a lot of people off—and a lot of people otherwise deeply invested in the show found it troubling. Ditto for the novel: at first it looks like GRRM is indulging in a simplistic and indeed racist stereotype, but the more we learn about the Dothraki the more we realize that they’re a subtle and complex culture, and we see Daenerys adopt many of their customs and mannerisms (and by the time Viserys is killed, his own dismissal of them as brutes is a reflection of his ignorance and ineptitude as a leader).

It’s sort of the same with the wildlings, though without the more troubling racial components. Jon’s encounter with Ygritte is our first time actually meeting a wildling, and it sets the stage for the slow revelation of their multivalent cultures. At this point however (here’s the short answer to your question), what you need to know is that the wildlings call themselves the “free folk,” and choose to live north of the Wall because living south of the Wall would entail submission to a liege lord. They are not “wild” per se … they just reject any sort of authority that hasn’t been earned.

But (I hear you asking), don’t they have a king? This Mance Rayder fellow? Well, yes … and no. It’s more complicated than that, and he is not “king” because of any sort of hereditary right. And that’s all I’ll say on that for the moment.

But let’s talk about my favourite parts of this episode: every single thing Arya does. I should qualify this by pointing out that none of it is in the novel. Sometimes there are brilliant sequences that follow the novel verbatim, and are brilliant because of it (such as most of Tyrion’s bits); sometimes there are invented sequences that are tepid or just bad (some of the “sexposition” bits, such as last season’s scene where Littlefinger instructs his whores on how to fake an orgasm); and then there are wholly invented sequences that are brilliant in their own right, which function well within the bounds of the characters as created by GRRM but nevertheless augment our understanding of them.

All of the Arya/Tywin scenes are like that. Holy crap they were good (though I shouldn’t be surprised after last week’s taste). Tywin is proving to be a very intriguing character—I was iffy on the casting of Charles Dance at first, but he is doing a brilliant job. He and Maisie Williams have an awesome rapport, and in an interview he said that she was his favourite actor on the show to work with. (And what’s even more brilliant is an interview with Maisie in which the interviewer tells her that—the look of delight on her face is wonderful).  

One gets the sense in these scenes of Tywin’s solitude—he is surrounded by his subjects, but has no one he can really trust or talk to, and finds himself oddly compelled to talk with Arya. It is obvious here how fraught his relationship with his own children is. His upbraiding of his barely-literate commander shows that he is a man who values not just martial talents, but intellectual ones, and we get a glimpse of his difficulties in instilling such lessons in Jaime (and making Jaime dyslexic? A very interesting little modern touch).

On the other hand, his despised son, Tyrion, is obviously the one to have inherited Tywin’s intellect. Though he is not mentioned at all, he is an unspoken presence in Tywin’s ruminations.

What did you think of these scenes?

Nikki: These scenes were fantastic. The moment we hear the announcement that Lord Baelish has arrived, I felt a cold chill go down my spine. And, as you say, the way Maisie Williams handles herself in the scene is why. She’s terrified, but does her duty, and does so deftly, in a way to not bring attention to herself yet keep her face away from Baelish’s always-suspicious eye. I agree with you that she’s a wonder. Those huge, gorgeous, and always reflective eyes; the way she holds herself in the scenes; the way she seems like a 25-year-old in a young person’s body. She’s just amazing. Between her and Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper on Mad Men, we’re seeing a sea change of what is expected in a child star. No more hamming it up for the camera or simply being cute; these two girls can ACT. And, as a result, I believe they will continue to get work throughout their careers and not fall prey to the “former child star syndrome” that has befallen so many. But back to that scene; I was on pins and needles. By the end of the scene I was convinced that Baelish knew that was Arya, but decided to hold onto that information until he could make it useful for him. But now I’m not so sure (he usually makes his move pretty quickly afterwards).

That scene is equaled when Arya snatches the note from Tywin, which is subsequently snatched from her, and she races through the streets to Jaqen H’ghar. Can we find a way to get this guy into every scene? I love him. I need him and Arya to gang up together and take their show on the road. They are extraordinary to watch. She quickly tells him she has a second man he has to kill and HE MUST DO IT NOW!!! He stares at her with his calm gaze and responds to her in that Yoda-like way that he talks, referring to everyone – including himself – with pronouns: “A man cannot be told when to kill another man.” But she insists it HAD TO BE DONE RIGHT NOW, and after what appears to be a subtle eyeroll from Jaqen H’ghar, the scene cuts to Tywin’s chamber, where Tywin opens the door, and the man falls over, dead. I was howling with laughter. Brilliant scene. You’ve only got one wish left, Arya; use it well.

"One wish you have left."

This brings us to the final scenes where Sansa tells Shae that she hates Joffrey more than anyone and Shae tells her not to trust anyone (which would make Sansa smarter than Ned if she listens to her); Osha sneaks the Starks and Hodor out of Winterfell using her sexual wiles; and Dany’s dragons are stolen. That was quite an exciting final five minutes, didn’t you think?

Christopher: Indeed (or, to use the Omar inflection, in-daide). The Osha bits more or less followed the novel, except for where she seduces Theon. In the novel, Osha is described as being decidedly unattractive—and GRRM himself said he was concerned for that very reason when they cast Natalie Tena, but that she quickly won him over. And I must confess, if I am allowed a moment of geeky salaciousness, in my notes when Osha disrobes I’ve written “Remus Lupin is a lucky man.”

So Bran and Rickon have beaten a retreat with Hodor, Osha, and the direwolves, which is how it happened in the novel. But then we go to Qarth. Dany comes home to find her children dragonnapped? HOLY CRAP. Totally NOT IN THE NOVEL. And perusing my notes, I see that I was royally pissed off. What were they thinking?

The Disneyfied Mother of Dragons
Well, after a few days to think about it, I can’t say I blame them for throwing that particular narrative monkey wrench into the works.  In A Clash of Kings, Dany’s time in Qarth makes for compelling reading—but I don’t know that it translates all that well into compelling television. There’s a lot of introspection and a few sequences that would probably be hard to render faithfully on screen. Also, there’s not as much Daenerys on the second novel as in the first and third, but cutting Emilia Clarke’s screentime that dramatically would probably result in a cow-pie-flinging mob descending on David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

So we have the theft of my favourite bits of CGI possibly ever. And I’m as at sea as you are with this one, Nikki—I have no idea where they take this from here, so for a change I don’t get to smugly wait for the “holy shit” moments as they unfold for the non-Ice & Fire-readers.

So there we are. I cannot believe we are almost at episode seven of ten. This series clips along surprisingly quickly, considering how much gets crammed into a given episode.

I just want to close by mentioning that my initial viewing of this episode was rather entertainingly marred by the fact that I went to see The Avengers on Friday, which was pure Joss Whedon awesomeness (or “Jossomness” as my friend dubbed it). What surprised me, considering that he’s one of my least favourite characters, was how much I enjoyed the Hulk—both Mark Ruffalo’s beautifully twitchy Bruce Banner, and the CGI’d green man himself. So when I watched GoT on Sunday night … I kept having fits of the giggles as I imagined the Hulk rampaging through the various parts of Westeros. In my head, he did to Theon what he did to Loki in the film. And that made the entire intrusion worthwhile …

Nikki: “Hulk SMASH puny Greyjoy!! Hulk NEW Lord of Winterfell!”

Wow, I’m so surprised that wasn’t in the novel! Well, I guess you’re right; you and I may be more on the same page next week, so to speak. I giggled when I read your note about Lupin; confession time: I couldn’t remember her character’s name, so I googled, “Game of Thrones Tonks” and found her that way. ;)

We shall see you again next week!


Zach Z said...

Super fun and exciting episode. And wow very little of it happened the same way in the books. The stuff with Arya is pure gold and I really like how they handled her second choice as it had me worried how they would handle who she decides to kill.

The Robb stuff I am indifferent too, but as his stuff happened off the page the writers get a lot of leeway too.

I am intrigued by the stolen dragons and understand they might need to spice things up along Dany's journey through this book.

Oh and Jon Snow has me little worried as he is one of my favorite characters and I was clamoring for his stuff while reading the second book that I am not sure about having him chase after Ygritte and lose his brothers. Plus just the dynamic between him and the halfhand is different and I don't think for the better.

Oh and where is Ghost, I really wanted him to come plodding up to keep Jon warm through the night, but I guess that ruins flirty sleepy time...

I cannot wait for next week, to figure out how they pull this off.

Joan Crawford said...

never have I been so happy to see shit hit someone’s face

Ha! Oh, this was great :D

I knew The Hound was good-at-heart.

I think Tyrion is small in stature because his gigantic man-parts are being pulled down by gravity.

What I noticed in this episode is that most, if not all, of the major female characters were referred to as "little" or a variation thereof. We know these women aren't "little" (nor does the show portray women in that way); was it just to illustrate how the women are able to operate despite this treatment (or how they must take more circuitous paths because they are dismissed sometimes?)? Even the Mother of Dragons (great, it's always the other girl, eh? I only got the title "Mother of Babies" - though my first one did look suspiciously like a lizard in the first ultrasound...) was called "little" by someone who stands a lot to lose (unless he knew her dragons were gone by that point?) should she make good on her threat.

I am not here to make some pseudo-feminist argument about GoT (it would bore me to tears) so please, take it as I gave it.

Joan Crawford said...

Just wanted to make clear that that last sentence wasn't directed at you or Chris, Nikki(because that would have been weird, even for me), rather, it was aimed at anyone who would get all "Misogyny! Misandry! Rah, rah, rah!" and it seems kind of jerkish now that I reread it... sorry about that:) I just wanted to avoid confrontation before it started (by being slightly abrasive, ironically).

Blam said...

I made some apologies on behalf Theon after his return home, postulating that he was either just playing along with his family until he could get back to the Starks' side (literally and figuratively) or, more likely, simply accepting discretion as the better part of what passes for valor — not sending that note after deciding that the raven would be intercepted, say, and he was no good to anybody dead or jailed at Pyke.

You can forget all that. Schmuck!

Arya's second kill was kind-of a waste thanks to her own sloppiness.

Christopher: Jon’s encounter with Ygritte is our first time actually meeting a wildling

Except... I think Osha referred to herself as a wildling to Theon in this very episode, which surprised me. (It just felt wrong to see Tonks nekkid, by the way.)

Christopher: I kept having fits of the giggles as I imagined the Hulk rampaging through the various parts of Westeros.

Gamma of Thrones?

Joan: it was aimed at anyone who would get all "Misogyny! Misandry! Rah, rah, rah!" and it seems kind of jerkish

Misanthropy in general, on the other hand, Joan's all for that.

I must say that the series really throws me on its view of women. Of course, I look forward to the day when we don't pay particular attention to how 50% of the population (or, for that matter, any significant minority) is treated because, hey, fiction is fiction, characters are characters, we all know that all people are deserving of dignity, and neither artists nor their audience have anything to prove. But since we're not there yet as a society, since television on the whole treats women as "other" rather than as entry points into the fiction sympathetic to the viewer, and since the world of Westeros itself is highly patriarchal — well, the question, it is begged.

We have a variety of women on the show, no doubt, and a variety of strong ones at that. Just within the Stark family there's a decided difference among Catelyn and Sansa and Arya as to how they deal with circumstances. There are plenty of women who benignly or otherwise manipulate the men who hold most of the physical and political power, from Cersei to Melisandre to Osha, through reasoned discourse or, very often, sexual intercourse. We even have warrior women among the protagonists, with the most excellent Arya; the antagonists, with Theon's sister; and the in-betweens, with Brienne, loyal now to Catelyn but acting apparently out of revenge and fealty rather than some greater morality. Yet there's also the whole H-Boobs-O thing, and probably entire dissertations to be written just on Melisandre giving birth to a mystical smoke replica of her lover, Stannis, who phallically stabbed his brother, Renly, in the back (if you want to think about it over-academically, which I generally prefer not to; sometimes a dagger is just a dagger). I just wish that we weren't being asked to admire the women on a purely physical level so often (or, depending on gender and sexual orientation, just roll our eyes at the display) right after or right before being shown how multidimensional they are.

screenshotter said...

Seriously I keep writing Ingrid everywhere! Yngritte, OK (haven't read anything so that's probably the reason).

Agree with Blam on the Arya's wasted kill, she has one left right? Wonder who's that gonna be.