Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.5: "Kissed By Fire"

Welcome to another week of Game of Thrones, where I recap and discuss the episode with my Brother Without Banners, Christopher Lockett, who is co-posting this on his blog here. But first, if you haven’t yet checked out the weekly recaps of Game of Thrones reimagined to have played out on Facebook, you must. They are HILARIOUS. Go here for last week’s episode and you can scroll back through the previous episodes this season.

And now, onto the discussion!

Nikki: This episode certainly didn’t have quite the shock and awe of last week’s episode, but it jumped all over the place and covered a hell of a lot of ground in an hour. One theme that linked many of the stories together was betrayal and trust. Robb Stark deals with a traitor, ignoring the suggestions from his advisors around him and letting emotion get in the way of a shrewd political move (which seems to be Robb’s modus operandi, to be honest). In Jaime’s brilliant story about why “Kingslayer” is a bit of an exaggeration, he talks about how the Mad King went mad because he believed he saw traitors everywhere, and could trust no one. Stannis tells his daughter that Davos is a traitor that she shouldn’t trust. Daenerys has clearly gained the trust of the Unsullied simply by freeing them. Loras beds a man who is betraying his secrets to Baelish. And as Cersei is still giggling over the consequences of having betrayed Sansa’s secret to Tywin, she finds out her daddy isn’t exactly someone she should have trusted with the information when she ends up on the butt end of his reprisals as well.

Let’s back up to the Jaime scene. I’ve said this to my husband a couple of times so far, but I think Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does an extraordinary job with Jaime Lannister, especially considering English is not the Danish actor’s first language. He pulls off the British accent impeccably (off the show, he speaks with something close to an American accent), and has somehow completely turned out sympathies to him, rather than against him as they’ve been for two full seasons. And for anyone still on the fence by this episode, his shocking confession to Brienne ought to have pushed you over.

I loved this scene, both for the confession, and for the fact that he bares all while… baring all, while his listener, Brienne, is also naked — vulnerable at first, before taking charge of the situation. (I need to mention once again how I also think Gwendoline Christie is fantastic in this role, and the chemistry between the two of them is marvelous.) The body language alone is worth noticing. She’s immersed in the water up to her neck, scrubbing so hard Jaime tells her she’ll scrape off her skin, and then he walks in, throws off his clothes, and she, horrified, looks away and tells him to go to the other hot tub. He doesn’t, and instead immerses himself in her tub while she cowers in the corner, curled up in a fetal ball while refusing to look at him. 

Then he continues taunting her the way he’s been taunting her the entire time, seeing her as a male rather than female, mocking the way she’s “protected” him thus far. She, infuriated, suddenly stands up, with her entire body from the thighs up exposed. He stops, stares, and for one moment you realize he’s seeing her as a woman for the very first time. 

The look of defiance on her face proves that wasn’t what she was going for, she was simply in a warrior position, but he’s humbled, recalling that for a woman, she’s done a hell of a job protecting him. Hell, for a man she’d have done a hell of a job protecting him. She sits back down in the water, but this time her face is one of interest and concern, and she no longer folds herself up in shame. She faces him in the water the same way he faces her, as an equal.

In his story, he sets the record straight on what really happened. Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, was obsessed with Wildfire. Of course he was, being a “dragon.” He began hiding it with his treasures throughout the city, underneath every part of it, and when Robert Baratheon stormed King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister — who was supposed to be on the side of the king — switched sides, knowing that Aerys’s side was the losing one. Jaime betrayed his father by going to the king and begging him to surrender, telling him that he could stop the slaughter by doing so (it was his second attempt, and he says even Varys told Aerys to surrender, but Pycelle told him the Lannisters would never betray him… Pycelle being proven once again to be the worst advisor ever). Aerys instead told Jaime to bring him his father’s head, and that he’d burn everyone in the city. And so Jaime killed his pyromancer and then stabbed Aerys in the back as he ran away, and then slit his throat for good measure. Betrayal upon betrayal, showing the burden that Jaime has carried with him all these years, being given a name that he believes isn’t his. As he collapses in Brienne’s arms (another moment where both of them are exposed, though there’s nothing sexual about the scene at all except through our collective gaze), she shouts for help: “Help! The Kingslayer!” and before he passes out, he mutters, “Jaime… my name is Jaime.” It’s a mesmerizing scene.

It's only now looking at the still that I see the Virgin Mary/Christ pose.

How did it compare to the one in the book, Chris?

Christopher: Well, starting with Jaime and Brienne—their conversation in the baths squared up almost perfectly with the novel, and again, much of Jaime’s monologue is word-for-word. I agree with you emphatically: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was chilling in his delivery, in his sad, detached, almost monotone recounting of the series of events that changed his life forever and made him the man he is today. It made me wonder, as it did the first time I read it, how much of Jaime’s persona evolves from that act of regicide; is his amorality and arrogance hard-wired in him, or is a carefully wrought defense mechanism born of the Mad King’s blood? Did Jaime Lannister hear all that was said of him, all those voices hypocritically condemning his act while being silently relieved (voices like that of Ned Stark) and choose to own the title of Kingslayer and all it entailed? If so, his stubborn assertion that “My name is Jaime” as he faints in Brienne’s arms signals a shift in his character.

I also agree with you that this episode is very much about trust and betrayal. Trust is a precious commodity in Westeros, given that betrayal seems as ubiquitous as cruelty. Jaime and Brienne offer a useful little exchange. “Let’s call a truce,” he suggests, weary of their jousting. “You need trust to have a truce,” she retorts. Jaime’s answer, “I trust you,” is really one of the more extraordinary statements made in this episode, not just because it indicates how his conception of Brienne has changed, but for the simple fact that no one else seems inclined to utter such a dangerous sentiment. Indeed, given the multilayered plots on display in this episode, the simple act of trusting appears as the height of naiveté. Especially on the part of someone like Jaime: trust entails a certain submissiveness, the need to subsume oneself to another’s caprices, not something we expect of Jaime Lannister; it is obvious that Brienne does not herself trust Jaime, which makes his avowal doubly significant.

But where Jaime and Brienne are more or less peers, characters like Gendry have grown weary of having their trust betrayed by the people they serve. Responding to Arya’s distress that he plans to join the Brotherhood, he says “I’ve served men my entire life. I served Tobho Mott in King’s Landing and he sold me to the Night’s Watch. I served Lord Tywin at Harrenhal wondering every day if I’d get tortured or killed. I’m done serving.” As he points out, Beric may be the Brotherhood’s leader, but he’s a leader by the sufferance of the people he leads—after a lifetime in servitude, Gendry is understandably attracted to the Brotherhood’s egalitarian structure and mission. As Beric said last week, the Brotherhood fights on behalf of the common people who have been betrayed by their leaders.

And it is not as if their leaders seem to show any genuine interest in their plight: even our beloved Lady Olenna displays her cynical and self-interested streak when discussing finances with Tyrion. Treading water as best he can in his new position as Master of Coin, Tyrion searches for ways to see the realm through to financial stability, and in the short term that means mitigating the obscene costs of the Royal Wedding. Perhaps he hoped that Olenna’s hard-edged pragmatism and impatience with fripperies would win him an ally in trying to reduce the scale of the wedding, but she is having none of it. The wedding must be excessive, she states firmly—what otherwise is the point of it being “royal”? When he tries again to steer her toward the matter of expense, she points out that the wedding is about much, much more than just crowning a new king—it’s about giving the people a spectacle. However much the intervention of the Tyrells has salved the hunger in King’s Landing, “The people are hungry for more than just food. They crave distractions.” Bread and circuses: the symbolic value of the wedding far outstrips its monetary cost, for giving the people leisure to contemplate their leaders on an empty stomach is “likely to end with us being torn to pieces. A royal wedding is much cheaper, wouldn’t you agree?” And because she is a pragmatist, once she has tortured Tyrion enough, she agrees to cover half the wedding’s costs.

One of the things that consistently impresses me about this show is the way the writers frequently work in balanced themes and set-pieces. The overarching series of novels might be called “Ice and Fire,” but this episode was very much about fire and water. “Kissed by Fire,” the episode’s title, is a reference to Ygritte’s flaming red hair—children kissed by fire are considered lucky among the wildlings—but can also refer to the consummation of the attraction and affection that has developed between her and Jon Snow. Jon is, indeed, “kissed by fire” as Ygritte basically forces him to prove the truth of his betrayal by betraying his final oath, that of celibacy. Like the bathing scene between Jaime and Brienne, the post-coital bath taken by Jon and Ygritte signifies a cementing of trust—and is, it is worth noting, the first genuinely joyful and tender depiction of lovemaking since Robb and Talisa fell in love last season. It was, indeed, something of a relief after four episodes in which sex has been either violent and violative, or purely mercenary. Not that it isn’t emotionally ambivalent: we know Jon Snow is only pretending to turn his cloak, meaning that Ygritte’s trust is misplaced (and just like when I read this scene in the novel, I found myself wondering if her wistful desire to stay in the cave forever wasn’t her intuiting that on some level); but Jon’s desire for her and his growing love is genuine.

Fire is also depicted as an agent of justice (Beric Dondarrion’s vengeful flaming sword) and as restorative (Thoros bringing Beric back from the dead). But it is also destructive and wild, as in Jaime’s story about the Mad King’s plan to burn the city to the ground. In the same way, water—cleansing and restorative in the bathing scenes—has an ambivalent nature. Robb executes Rickard Karstark in the pouring rain; but even more striking is the creepy song sung by Stannis’ sweet but sadly disfigured daughter Shireen, a kind of trippy-horror version of “Under the Sea.” And when we finally meet Stannis’ erstwhile queen Selyse, we find her in a chamber where she has preserved her stillborn sons in some translucent liquid, like a mad scientist’s early experiments.

What did you think of the scenes on Dragonstone, Nikki?

Nikki: :::shudder::: The scenes on Dragonstone, much like the ones in the North with Mance Rayder, feel like something the readers are getting a lot more out of than the non-readers. (Perhaps one of the goals of season 3 is to make all of us read the books once and for all.) It certainly felt like we were missing out on some major backstory. It took a moment for me to realize the woman in the room was Stannis’s wife. And I couldn’t figure out why she and her daughter were locked up in a dungeon-type room. Can they get out? Are they trapped there?

What I could cull from the conversations is that she’s a follower of Melisandre and clearly an acolyte who puts her faith above her own well-being. She shows no judgement or jealousy about the fact her husband was unfaithful to her, because it was with the Red Lady. And yeah… her dead baby boys suspended in a green jelly-like liquid just adds further credence to the idea that anyone who follows the Lord of Light is batshit insane.  

That said, Beric appears to be one of those followers. We hear him say the prayer that Melisandre often chants (and that Selyse also says when we see her), “The night is dark and full of terrors.” He uses fire when he’s fighting, not only symbolic of the fire god but also, more pragmatically, it’s the one thing that makes the Hound pee himself in fear. I don’t know if he’s always been a follower or is a recent convert to the religion, but he definitely embraces it wholeheartedly. He tells the Hound, “The Lord of Light isn’t done with you yet” when the Hound walks away from the battle.

I’m thinking the religion of the show is more fleshed-out and important in the books, but from the show I get a sense that the Lord of Light is a monotheistic religion that stands in contrast to the more pantheistic religions on Westeros. I also get a sense that there aren’t a lot of followers of the Lord of Light in Westeros, but instead in the outlying areas. Would that be correct? Is much made of any major characters in Westeros worshipping any gods? Other than the occasional “by the gods” uttered by certain characters (most notably Catelyn) I don’t seem to sense any particular religious fervor among any other characters.

Stannis’s daughter is adorable, despite the one side of her face that’s been eaten away by disease. Despite her father telling her to stay away from Davos, she immediately goes back over to him, offers to teach him how to read and continues to talk to him the way she was before. Here’s hoping Davos can influence Stannis’s daughter in a way he was unable to influence his own son. I’m very intrigued by the friendship between the two, and am looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Is there anything more that could be filled in about Dragonstone from the books that would be non-spoilery?

Christopher: I think what we miss on the show is the bigger picture of Stannis: we get that he’s a hard man, unyielding, wedded first and foremost to his own rigid sense of justice, but the show doesn’t offer some of the nuance and insight into his character the books do. What we probably miss most of all is his simmering sense of resentment: he has always felt he has been denied his due, felt constantly slighted by his brother Robert, and above all else loathes the broader tendency among people to be lax in their morals and selective in the application of law and justice. He is Lord of Dragonstone because that was Robert’s “reward” for him for his service in the rebellion, while he gave Storm’s End (the Baratheon castle) to Renly. He is ill liked among the people, something about which he is painfully aware; and his marriage is cold and loveless. Casting Tara Fitzgerald might have been a misstep in this respect, as she is anything but homely and plain (as Selyse is described in the novels), but then again they did a good job of making her haggard and austere.

One thing we never quite get (at least not so far) is how Melissandre insinuated herself into Stannis’ councils. We know she saw him in her scrying and believes him to be Westeros’ saviour; but why someone as hardheaded as Stannis would throw over the religion of his birth in the name of her red god is never explained. One assumes she offered him what no one else ever did: passion, devotion, and recognition of his supposed greatness.

Selyse’s conversion, on the other hand, is easy to understand. Long neglected by her cold and taciturn husband (in the novels there is passing reference to the fact that Stannis does his “husbandly duties” once a year, and grudgingly at that), Melissandre must have offered something akin to a revelation. We get a hint of her near-fanaticism here; in the novels, she is the most vocal prosthelytizer for Melissandre and her god. Those among Stannis’ men who have converted enthusiastically to the worship of R’Hllor are called the “queen’s men,” whereas those who remain skeptical (like Davos, and like Stannis himself) are the king’s.

We don’t get, it is true, a very strong sense of the religions of Westeros and elsewhere in Martin’s world on the show—which isn’t entirely surprising, as there are limited opportunities for that kind of exposition. Basically, the “old gods” of the north represent a pantheistic form of worship, symbolized by the weirwoods; the “seven” of the rest of Westeros seem at first a polytheistic pantheon, but there is a lot of rhetoric here and there in the novels about how they are just seven faces of the one god. In this respect, they are not unlike Jungian archetypes, each representing different facets of human identity and behaviour (Father, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Smith, Warrior, Stranger).

Melissandre’s religion appears monotheistic, but is closer to an ancient religion like Zoroastrianism—a Manichaean faith built on the mythos of two deities locked in perennial battle. The “red god” R’Hllor is opposed to the Enemy (He Who Shall Not Be Named, if you like), the embodiment of cold, darkness, and death.

There is more I can say, but I don’t want to skirt too close to spoiler territory.

To return to the question of trust and betrayal—which, again, tends to get bound up in the question of service—the interchanges between Ser Jorah and Barristan were interesting, and nicely done. I like the way the two knights’ relationship is evolving, and the way in which each is coming to embody a certain kind of devotion and loyalty. Jorah, we know, is in love with Daenerys; his devotion to her cause is inextricable from his desire for her (what was lovely about the final scene of last week’s episode, as I mentioned, was that we saw admiration on his face when he suddenly realized just what kind of queen she is). But he also does believe in her … as he says in response to Barristan’s question, he believes in her with all his heart.

But we also know Jorah is a venal man, and that his downfall in Westeros was not so much in falling helplessly in love with a vain woman, but his unthinking willingness to do anything for her … culminating in selling slaves and earning himself exile. Barristan, by contrast, is one of the most famously virtuous knights of the seven kingdoms, and is driven by his sense of honour and duty. That sense of honour sends him to find Daenerys; he has no especial emotional investment, and as we see in his conversation with Jorah, that makes him somewhat more clear-eyed. He tries, tactfully, to suggest that someone with as speckled a past as Jorah might not be the best person to be seen with Daenerys when she returns to Westeros, at least not in the elevated position he now holds. Unsurprisingly, Jorah is having none of it.

The most interesting part of their discussion is when they talk about King Robert’s attempts to assassinate Daenerys—which, as we know, Jorah was initially complicit in, at least insofar as he was feeding Robert intelligence. Jorah has a worried moment, wondering if Barristan knows this … but the other knight blithely says that he didn’t bother attending Small Council meetings, meaning he wouldn’t know that. I need to go back to season one to see if Barristan was in fact present when Ned Stark protested Robert’s desire to kill her: I seem to think he was. And if he was, this part of the conversation was a subtle warning to Jorah.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: I remember Barristan from season 1, when he was the head of the Kingsguard (do I remember that correctly?) and he was with Robert Baratheon when the king died, apologizing for not having been there for him. There was a scene early in the season where Barristan, Baratheon, and Jaime Lannister are sitting around talking about great battles they’d been in, and Barristan says that the Mad King had killed Ned’s father, and it’s a good thing he hadn’t faced him on the battlefield. And then Joffrey disgraces him by removing him from the Kingsguard and claiming incompetency.

He was fiercely loyal to Robert Baratheon, and to Ned Stark. And now, after saying he would have killed Daenerys’s father on the battlefield, he pledges his undying loyalty to the Targaryens. Should we be wary of him, or has he seen the way the Lannisters play the game, and since Ned is now gone he believes Daenerys is the true leader?

Speaking of the Lannisters, let’s look at that final scene again. Tywin, Cersei, and Tyrion are all around the table, and Tyrion is boasting of his early accomplishments as Master of Coin, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the royal wedding (I’d like to also mention as an aside that my favourite line of the episode is Olenna saying, “What good is the word ‘extravagant’ if it can’t be used to describe a royal wedding?!” Ha!). Cersei has just revealed to her father the plot to marry Sansa off to Loras, meaning the Tyrells would have the hold on Winterfell once the other Starks (inevitably, in their eyes) fall and make Sansa the sole heir. Tyrion makes a snide remark about Sansa missing certain parts that would make Loris happy, but his chuckles don’t last long before Tywin says he’s putting a kibosh on the plan and Tyrion will marry Sansa. (This suddenly changes the nature of the scene a couple of weeks ago between Tyrion and Shae, where he mentioned that Sansa was a lovely girl and Shae immediately became jealous and thought he meant more than just a passing comment on her beauty.) This news is devastating to Tyrion: First, he’s in love with Shae and not Sansa. Secondly, he actually feels compassion for Sansa, and doesn’t want to enslave her to a life with a mutilated dwarf. And thirdly, for his own sake, he doesn’t want to see the look of horror on her face when she learns her fate.

I'm sorry... I have to what with who?

But Tywin’s punishments are not all reserved for Tyrion, as he wipes the smirk of Cersei’s face by saying she will marry Loras, securing their hold over the Tyrells. Cersei is also missing those particular parts that Tyrion had mentioned, and there’s not just a look of shock on Cersei’s face, but a look of utter devastation. He’s already done this to her once, forcing her to marry the fat, drunk, disgusting Robert Baratheon and stand by while he took many lovers, humiliating her along the way while she kept her own lover a secret. Now he’s going to do it to her again, but this time everyone knows that Loras is gay and that she’s being chained to more shame and humiliation, and yet another man who doesn’t love her. It’s one of those rare moments of sympathy for Cersei.

Hahahahaha! Gotcha Tyrion, you... I'm sorry, what?

But it’s not the only sympathetic moment in the show. There’s a brief scene with Jaime early on, overshadowed by later scenes of Jaime in the hot tub or getting his stump lanced (and once again, shudder) where he first arrives at Bolton’s place and Bolton slowly describes the battle at King’s Landing, making Jaime think his sister was violated, mutilated, and destroyed. Only, of course, for Bolton to say, “And everyone is okay and lived happily ever after, amen, haha!” at the end of it. Jaime collapses to the ground in relief. After season 1, it’s hard to recall that there was actually a romance between Cersei and Jaime: apart, Jaime becomes more sympathetic with every episode, while Cersei continues to be vile with brief sympathetic moments, but where we see her asking after her beloved all the time, he doesn’t seem to ask about her. Now we see that she’s still in his head, and he still loves her very much. When a sympathetic character is in love with another, we can’t help but begin to see that second character through the eyes of the first. His love for her and his switch to becoming a hero of this show might just alter her in our eyes.

Any last thoughts, Chris?

Christopher: I was dreading—dreading—that scene where Tywin informs Tyrion he’s to marry Sansa. It was excruciating enough in the novel, and it was just as painful to watch. Poor Sansa … and poor Tyrion. She is really one of the few—perhaps the only—principal character who has absolutely no agency. She’s a lot more sympathetic than she was in season one, but she above all others has no power over her fate. I somehow don’t think I’m offering spoilers when I say she is less than enthused over her betrothal—besides finding Tyrion physically repulsive, she also cannot see him as anything other than a Lannister, and therefore complicit in her father’s murder. Which is unfortunate, as Tyrion displays genuine concern for her … a greedier and more selfish man would have rejoiced in the “gift” Tywin gave him, seeing only a comely wife and a great fortune and title, but Tyrion (besides being in love with Shae) displays the sort of empathy that seems otherwise absent in his family (though Jaime seems to be developing some).

We haven’t said much about Robb Stark’s quandary, and his decision to execute Rickard Karstark for murdering the Lannister boys … which is possibly just as well. I imagine it’s obvious to those who haven’t read the books that this storyline is slowly building to something, so I’ll let it alone for now.

Which, I think, brings us to the conclusion of yet another week. Once again, Nikki, a pleasure—it’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the season!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ten Things I Loved This Week

It's been a week of the most insane weather possible. One day it's so warm you're walking outside in a T-shirt, enjoying the breeze, the next day it's below zero and you're in a winter coat. This has got to end soon, right? Ah well, if that's the most annoying thing that happened this week, then it was a pretty darn good week. Here are some of my favourite things (cue Julie Andrews!)

1. I mentioned last week that going to yoga was fun, but it turns out, playing hookey from yoga can be even more fun. I wasn't feeling great but showed up at my best friend's house to pick her up before yoga, and she was eager to just skip it, for my sake, of course. ;) So we ended up on the couch for the next two hours gabbing instead about TV, books, and what we'll do at Slayage next year. Lovely.

2. On Tuesday I took my Brownie troop on a hike through the woods behind my house for an hour and a half, and when we got to the halfway point — a parking lot on the opposite end of the woods, where we turned around to come back — we stopped for ten minutes to clean up the garbage in the parking lot. While it dawned on me that people can still be disgusting pigs despite growing up with "No Littering" being part of our subconscious, seeing these little girls running around picking up things with such vigour and making the parking lot spotless was wonderful.

3. Earlier that day, I walked through the woods with my little man as we mapped out the route, and I just loved listening to his non-stop chatter and watching him find new things in the woods with such excitement (so much so that I ended up making a scavenger hunt list for the girls to find). He joined the Brownies later that evening because he just wanted to do the walk again, and this time he was way up front telling them he knew the way better than anyone and they need to follow him. And they did.

4. I was going to accompany my family to Toronto for the weekend where my husband was going to see a Johnny Marr show with a friend (he played "The Queen Is Dead"!) and my kids were having playdates with old friends, and at the last minute I realized that I could get a lot more done if I just stayed at home. And suddenly I had a full day of quiet solitude to do ANYTHING. Any mother of two young children knows the glorious, glorious thing this is. I only wish I'd known in advance so I could have planned it, because, as usual when I have a moment of peace, I stand there for almost an hour with such dizzying possibilities before me I can't choose just one! But it was a day of catching up on Doctor Who (loved last night's ep, by the way), reading two different books, getting some work done, cleaning,   eating dinner in front of the television, and watching a new series that I'd been meaning to get started on for ages (and I love it already).

5. I went and sat out on the back porch for a while the other day and just breathed in the peace. Not a sound. We're far enough away from the closest main road that you can't hear it from the backyard (if someone honked you could but no one ever seems to), and we're on a cul-de-sac so no one drives onto it unless they live here, and during the day kids are at school and people are away at work, so it's silent. And I just listened to the birds sing and the squirrels chatter at each other while chipmunks darted through the leaves. It was like stepping into a Beatrix Potter book.

6. Watching Downton Abbey with my husband. We like it, and we don't like it, and so we're able to watch it with just the right amount of adoration and sarcasm that made it a ton of fun. When the show opens we always yell, "Dog ass!" because of the close-up of just that when the credits begin, and when O'Brien's name shows up, "Siobhan," we yell, "Sib-boe-han!" because when I had my daughter my husband wanted to name her Siobhan, but we both joked that my mom would refer to her as Sib-boe-han her entire life. ;) We also tend to add extra dialogue to some of the scenes where there just wasn't enough double entendre for our liking. We finally finished season 3 and while we were very disappointed with the contrived end to the season, I am definitely eager for season 4 (they might have lost my husband as a viewer with that ending, however, even though I know there were things going on behind the scenes that forced them to do that). Although I must admit, we were both very disappointed that Thomas didn't even once refer to Anna's husband as "Master Bates," especially considering where Bates spent the first half of the season. Opportunity lost.

7. It was Career Day at school this week, and my son went as a police officer and my daughter as a pop singer. They both looked pretty awesome, even though I'm not sure either one actually is aiming for those professions as their careers (in my son's case, he just thought he could get the coolest outfit out of it). I didn't have a hat and uniform for my son, so I put him in a plaid shirt and tie and told him he'd already made detective. He didn't get it. My daughter always says she wants to be a writer so I suggested going in an old t-shirt and sweatpants. She didn't find that as funny as I did.

8. Thanks to Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?, the authors of an upcoming book on Doctor Who that covers the entire series from 1963 onwards, I now have a strong desire to read the novels and watch all the spinoffs. I haven't even read the Buffy novels, nor do I care, so this is quite an achievement. So, to start, I got the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures out of the library and my son and I watched most of the season this week, and he loved it. On the days where he was home from school (he's in all-day, every-other-day kindergarten) he would say, "Can we watch some Sarah Jane, Mommy?" And I'm happy to say he finds it almost as scary as Doctor Who. At one point he literally turned, leapt over the back of the couch and then slowly moved his head around one side so only one eye could see the screen. It was like watching a cartoon.

9. Just this morning, seeing friends posting about seeing advance screenings of Much Ado About Nothing and knowing that SOON I won't be one of the only people I know who's seen it. I can't wait to finally be able to talk about it!! (One friend got her pic with Alexis and Amy Acker, eeeee!!)

10. I know we're all complaining about the weather, and by this time in the year we should be starting to see May flowers, but just this week I started noticing the buds on my trees hinting that they're about to come out, and it made me so happy. When you're denied nice weather for so long, you appreciate it so much more when it finally comes.

Tell me about something lovely that you did/saw/heard this week.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why You Should Be Watching Hannibal

Like many people, when it was announced that NBC was adding a new show to the midseason schedule, Hannibal, about the earlier days of Hannibal Lecter, I sighed and thought, really? Haven't we had enough of this guy? I've read the books, I've seen all of the movies, and frankly, the early books are the best, and the early movies are the best. Like blood in a wine goblet, the Hannibal franchise coagulates with age.

And then I heard Mads Mikkelsen was going to play Hannibal Lecter. And then my fingers couldn't move quickly enough to set that PVR.

Before I had children, my best friend and I always took the week of the Toronto International Film Festival off. We bought our tickets in advance and mapped out the entire week, watching 30 films in nine days. And if there were any movies in there that starred Mads Mikkelsen (hell, even if he played an extra), it was a first choice. Yes, they were all Danish films, and if you haven't seen any Danish films, you really must. The Dogme movement is fascinating, and Mads featured in a lot of the films (just go watch Celebration for a truly magnificent example of a Dogme 95 film). Then he was cast as the villain in Casino Royale and I thought for sure he'd become a household name. He didn't, even though he was fantastic.

This is Mads:

I'm sorry, why are you still reading this and not seeking out every episode of Hannibal right now?! Oh, you need more convincing. OK, fine. But seriously, folks, you could sharpen a knife on this guy's cheekbones. And he is one of the most subtly remarkable and magnetic actors I've ever watched on screen.

On to Hannibal. The TV show, while firmly placed in the here and now, portrays Lecter in the early days (before the first book), when he wasn't incarcerated and terrifying Claire with those screaming lamb stories, when he wasn't for certain yet a cannibal. The main story is actually about Will Graham, a consultant with the FBI who is seriously unhinged, mostly because he has the ability to get right into the minds of serial killers. The show demonstrates this in a shockingly awe-inspiring way by planting him in a busy crime scene, and showing how he wipes away everything around him, one person or piece at a time, even resurrecting the corpse in front of him (in his mind, of course) to move backwards and see the picture as the killer would have. What would the killer have done? What next? What would he have said? And by doing this, he can then tell the detectives what they need to know, helping them track down the serial killer. Of course, he's not left unscathed... having been inside their head, he can't easily remove himself, and now walks around with the horror of having felt what they felt, desiring what they desire.

Will is played by Hugh Dancy in a truly incredible performance of a man who is on the edge and holding on by less than a thread. How this guy is still functioning is a mystery, and in every scene, with a quavering voice, facial ticks, and looking like he's going to turn and run out of the room screaming at amy moment, Dancy actually puts the audience in Will's mind. Watching the scenes, you begin to feel claustrophobic and anxious for him.

The cast is rounded out by the always amazing Laurence Fishburne, and Caroline Dhavernas. That latter name is tied to the show's creator, the other reason why I absolutely HAD to watch this series: Bryan Fuller. He of the impeccable and sublime Pushing Daisies and the wonderfully quirky Wonderfalls, two of my favourite (cancelled) shows, Fuller is definitely one of the best writers on television today, with a unique sensibility and an uncanny ability to write sparkling dialogue that is never boring. Dhavernas starred in Wonderfalls and it's great to see her here again. For Kids in the Hall fans like me, Scott Thompson plays one of the forensics guys, and he's amazing.

The only gripe I have with Hannibal is Freddie, who is male in the books but is recreated here as a redheaded know-it-all female tabloid journalist, willing to put lives at risk to get a good story for her blog. She gets in the way of police investigations and does illegal things, but of course for some reason no one touches her because you need that connection of everyone reading her blog. Then again, Freddie was a stereotype in the novels, too, so I can see why the character still isn't quite working. But maybe they can flesh her out over time.

Of course, every episode has a scene of Lecter sitting down to dinner, usually right after they've found body parts and know the person was eaten. Is he eating pieces of a human being, or is that actually a pork chop on his plate? It's never clear, but Mikkelsen performs each scene with flourishes of a gourmand, clearly loving the fact that every time he puts that fork in his mouth the audience wants to gag. The chemistry between he and Dancy in the scenes where Will talks through his cases with his doctor are great, mostly because Mikkelsen and Dancy are good friends off-screen as well.

I watched The Following when it first started, and while the performance by Bacon was good, and it had some intrigue, I found the whole idea so preposterous I just couldn't stick with it. Many people I know watch and love it, and I still have every episode on my PVR so I might continue, but one episode of Hannibal just sent it soaring above The Following. The dialogue was cheesy and forced on The Following; on Hannibal it's lively and clever. On The Following Bacon suffers from that oh-so-tired cliché of being an alcoholic (yawn). On Hannibal the demons dogging Dancy are far worse than anything happening around him, and this guy investigates serial killers, for god's sake. The secondary characters on The Following were not believable by any stretch of the imagination, and most of them felt like caricatures. On Hannibal the cast is small, and each person has an important place.

(I will admit, for anyone who loves The Following, that I have only watched the first two episodes. It's quite possible it got much better after that, so please take my comments with a grain of salt.)

Give Hannibal a shot. You really won't be disappointed. And unlike many other police-type shows, what I really love about Hannibal is that the case was opened in the first episode, and they're continuing to follow the same case throughout the season (because would we really believe it if there were cannibal serial killers everywhere?). This is not a police procedural, but a study of the human mind — the evil it's capable of committing, and how fragile it can be under harsh conditions. This has become a must-watch show in my house.

And while I was writing up this post, a friend of mine posted that David Tennant is rumoured to be joining the cast. So... I really didn't need to write most of this other than to say, "David Tennant will probably be on upcoming episodes of Hannibal...." and you would have just run off to check your On Demand shows right then and there.

As you should.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.4: And Now His Watch Is Ended

And now I shall sum up this week's episode of Game of Thrones in merely three letters:


You thought I was going to say OMG, didn't you? 

Without any further ado, let's get moving. 

Christopher: So … kind of an uneventful episode, huh?

I am trying, trying so very hard to write down my impressions in a calm and objective manner … and it’s taken me three tries to not open my bit here with all caps and multiple exclamation points. I think I might be in a calmer headspace now, but for the sake of not losing my shit, I am NOT going to begin with the end (as is my inclination). I will leave off impressions of Daenerys’ awesomeness for you, Nikki, as I’m curious to see how someone who hasn’t read the books reacts to her elegant little solution to her problem.

Instead, I will begin in the middle: if it weren’t for the immolation of Astapor in the final ten minutes, the most striking part of this episode for me was the conversation between Cersei and Tywin. And, really, that’s saying a lot, as this episode was full to bursting with a whole series of remarkable two-handed short plays—Jaime and Brienne, Margaery and Sansa … and Varys and Tyrion, Varys and Olenna, Varys and Ros (it was sort of the Varys show, really, except again for the napalming of slavemasters at the end).

But Cersei and Tywin take the win in the understated dialogue category. We have here articulated, finally, Cersei’s smoldering resentment at not being taken seriously by her father. I couldn’t help but think of it almost as a retread of Tyrion’s bitter exchange with their father in episode one. We see that Tyrion isn’t alone in feeling marginalized by Lannister senior—Cersei too believes that her particular talents and insights aren’t being acknowledged, and like Tyrion she is treated to a pretty brutal put-down. When she voices her (well-founded) fears that Margaery is manipulating Joffrey, Tywin’s retort almost certainly had all those who hate that little shit (i.e. everyone) nodding emphatically in agreement: “I wish you could manipulate him. I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman. I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are. You’ve allowed that boy to run roughshod over you and everyone else in this city.”

Truer words never spoken, and I want to take a moment, yet again, to praise Charles Dance’s performance. That gravitas thing I keep coming back to? He owns it. I’ve been wanting to share this very brief clip of him in the adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, in which he plays the enigmatic and very dangerous city Patrician, Lord Vetinari:

He’s one of those actors who can convey more with an eyebrow than most people can with semaphore flags and a megaphone. But what’s even better in this scene? Cersei’s little smile as she listens. “Perhaps you should trying stopping him doing whatever he likes,” she suggests, and in that moment I had an unaccustomed pang of sympathy for her. Anyone who has been following these co-blogs from the start knows that the casting of Lena Headey has been one of the few about which I’ve been ambivalent—but every so often she nails it.

One last thought on the scene: her accusation that he is doing “nothing” to get Jaime back and his response were pitch-perfect; but it’s the letters that he is calmly writing as they speak that are the most important prop in the scene. I’m not offering a spoiler here … just saying that, later in this season (or possibly early in the next, I don’t know the schedule they’re on) those letters will take on a massive significance.

And with that all said, I now cede the stage for Nikki’s reaction to the fire-bombing of Astapor. Cue squeeing in three, two …


Where do I start? That Daenerys DID understand everything that horrible tyrant has said to her this whole time? That she figured out how to have her army and get her dragon back, too? That she freed the men, and they still remained with her? That she ended up heeding the advice of BOTH advisors by not only getting an army that is well trained, but earned their respect, which is what she’d been told last week was the most important thing?

That her dragon fucking immolated Kraznys???!!! 

Seriously, guys. Targaryens win the Game of Thrones. Game, set, match. We can all go home now. My loyalties remain with Daenerys and I hope she takes down every last one of them. What a frickin’ brilliant scene and end to a lead-up of four episodes.

Daenerys having this epic triumph at the end of the episode comes back to the gender issues you and I were talking about last week, and is an ongoing trope on the show. Back to what you were just talking about, Chris, Cersei demands to know why exactly she can’t be considered the heir. After all, she and Jaime were twins, and therefore born at the same time, but he’s given the title of heir simply because he’s got a Y chromosome. With Craster, there’s a weird gender reversal where he kills the male babies rather than the female ones, but only so he can feed the creatures in the forest and continue to fornicate with his daughters. Not exactly a women’s lib move there. Lady Olenna talks to Cersei and they discuss how ridiculous it is that men only are the ones who have the power. Theon marvels at the fact his father gives so much to his sister and nothing to him (he’s put out by the fact that she is a girl and he is a man, and therefore naturally deserving). And, in an interesting addendum to the scene between Jaime and Brienne last week when they were on the horse and she was asking him what he would do if he were a woman, in this episode, now missing a hand, Jaime is in the depths of depression and wants to die. Brienne tells him he’s suffered a “misfortune,” and he is horrified, telling her he’s lost his sword hand, and “I was that hand.” She looks at him and says with some disgust, “You sound like a bloody woman.” Again, she doesn’t self-identify as a “bloody woman,” and is put out to see him acting like one. Almost immediately, he begins eating, showing a will to live.

In this episode, it’s the ones without penises who show the intellect and nerve: Olenna, Daenerys, Cersei, Arya, Margaery, Ros, Brienne… and Varys. Further to what you said above, I wrote in my notes this week, “Who writes for Varys? His lines are superb.” Conleth Hill delivers the lines with aplomb, so soft-spoken yet forceful, so simple yet poetic. In the first two seasons I didn’t trust this man at all, but there’s something about him this season where I feel he’s on the right side; I just can’t put my finger on it. “Look little lambs, a spider in the garden,” says Olenna when she sees him coming, and it’s that sort of thinking that keeps me from truly trusting him.

But in the only scene with Tyrion this week, Varys finally reveals exactly how he lost his member, in a truly awful memory of a sorcerer who bought him and used him as part of some magic to bring about a voice from the flames. “A voice called, and the sorcerer answered.” He describes being cut, “root and stem,” and the entire time, he’s curiously prying open a large wooden crate (which, at one point, we see Tyrion lean over to look at and there are clearly holes in the one end). I’m sure most people in the audience who, like me, hadn’t read the books, could still anticipate what we were going to find in there. But the moral of his story was clear: patience wins. Some look for immediate revenge, but that kind of revenge is swift and not well thought-out. It’s the slow, patient revenge, where you keep your eye on the prize but live a life outside of it, slowly growing your influence so that revenge will be spectacular, that is the most rewarding. At the beginning of the season, I commented that our first glimpse of Tyrion is him looking into a mirror at his scar. Here, in a very similar moment, Varys looks into his mirror as he recounts his long wait. Staring at himself in that mirror, his look announces to the audience that he knows exactly who he is, and has looked at himself and inside himself to know what he needs to do. It’s a wonderful scene, and my favourite bit of dialogue in the episode. “I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time,” he tells Tyrion as he finally cracks open the crate. “If you have the stomach for it.”

That said, Daenerys didn’t wait at all, and her revenge was SWEET.

Christopher: To answer your question about who writes for Varys: a lot of the time it’s George R. R. Martin. Varys’ best lines in this episode were in telling the story of how he got cut—and that tale is practically verbatim from the novel. But his other exchanges were inventions … as was the home delivery of the sorcerer (is there anything Amazon doesn’t ship?). I laughed when you said that it was fairly obvious what was going to be revealed when he opened the box, because I did not see that coming at all—which perhaps is an interesting little blind spot that comes with having read the novels. If it didn’t happen in the books, I’m not really looking at it.

Did anyone else who has read the books feel the same?

I agree with you that Conleth Hill’s portrayal of Varys has been amazing—not least because in the novels he’s described as being corpulent and primped and powdered and exaggeratedly effeminate—a sort of sinister Cameron from Modern Family, if you like. And while that is at times shown to be all affected, Varys playing to people’s expectations of him, it does get a little wearying after a while. I far prefer this Varys, with his quiet dignity.

That being said, he does make much of the virtue of being unobtrusive, and indeed conforming to what people expect as a means of hiding in plain sight. That was one of the themes running through this episode, as was evident in the conversation between Lady Olenna and Cersei—the Queen of Thorns quite obviously has no use for men and their pretensions to power and strength, and is doubly disgusted that such chuckle-headed louts are the ones ruling the world. Cersei, tellingly, cannot quite bring herself to agree and offers the lame and unconvincing argument that things are the way they are because, well, gods. The difference between Olenna and Cersei is that Cersei wants power but cannot imagine how she can grasp or wield it outside of a patriarchal structure—first, she assumes she can rule through her son; when that doesn’t work, she asks her father oh, please, can I have just a little bit of the power? She completely misses what Olenna grasps so sublimely—that these self-important men cannot see her as anything other than a woman—in her youth an ornament, in her winter years a curmudgeonly old bat. But knowing that she is thus effectively invisible, she is able to plot all the more subtly.

And speaking of hiding in plain sight: that was also what Daenerys effectively did. Those closest to her know her worth, having seen her emerge from the fire with dragons on her shoulders. Barristan Selmy is the exception on this front, but he venerates her lineage. In Astapor, as in Qarth, she is seen as little better than a beggar, a pretty thing who wants to play at being a queen.

More fools them. But she even surprises her own people: I think my favourite part of the Astapor scene (aside from that moment when she orders her dragon to barbecue the douchebag) is the expression on Jorah’s face as he realizes what Dany has done, and what she’s about to do. It’s a wonderfully subtle moment, and Iain Glenn gets it right—just the right amount of dawning realization mingled with awe and respect. I love the fact that the slavemaster is oblivious at first when she speaks in Valyrian, so enthralled is he with his new prize, while everyone else essentially does a double take. And when he does realize it, her imperious response to his question, that she is of the House Targaryen and that Valyrian is her native tongue, shows just how far Daenerys has come since we first met her.

And then, appropriately, a whole lot of blood and fire. Am I the only person who watched the pillars of flame leap up behind Daenerys and thought of Apocalypse Now?

Nikki: For those reading this, when Chris sent me his first pass he titled the email “I love the smell of dragonfire in the morning…” and I thought the Apocalypse Now allusion was entirely appropriate, and correct.

Let’s move over to another character, one I tend to ignore for the most part but whose story was actually shocking this week. Last week, Chris, you were talking about the various forms of torture on this show and how graphic they can be, and this week they stepped it up to a different sort of torture. We’ve seen Theon on the wooden X, with a screw being slowly turned into his foot. The physical torture there was unbearable, and I commented that I wondered if the emotional torture of putting a bag over his head and then whispering that he’ll come back for him later was almost worse, because he’s in a room, unable to see, not knowing what danger lurks around every corner.

But this week it’s stepped up to a horrific level. Last week he was free, on his way to find his sister before being ambushed, before the boy who freed him (who I believe hasn’t been named; I have yet to hear a name for him onscreen) shows up and saves his life. This week they continue on to Yara’s hold, and they come in through the back of the place. Theon finally confesses to the crime of finding two orphan boys and killing and burning the bodies to make it look like Rickon and Bran so that he could take King’s Landing and make his father proud. He begins by spouting his usual venom against Ned Stark, but by the end of his monologue he admits that Ned was always his father, and now that Ned is dead (Ned’s dead, baby… Ned’s dead… sorry, couldn’t resist that one), he’ll never be able to impress his father. It’s a moment of clear-sightedness that Theon has been lacking so far, and I wonder if this means his character will become a little more interesting?

But all of that takes a backseat to what the youth has waiting for him… for he’s led him through the back gate of the very castle where he’d been kept captive, and as he strikes a match and holds up a torch, shouting to the others that he’d caught Theon escaping, Theon realizes with horror and utter sorrow that he’s right back where he started, in the torture room with the giant wooden X. His saviour has become his betrayer, and the hope that had built in him for the past day washes out of him like a flood. It’s a truly devastating moment. How can he possibly recover from that? Will he ever trust anyone again? It makes me wonder who these men are, exactly. Are they his father’s men? Will his confession to the boy be his downfall? (I’m thinking that’s likely.) Could they belong to someone else?

Christopher: I think my only choice as regards Theon is to take the fifth—they’ve made significant changes to his storyline, but not so significant that I can’t see how they’ll possibly link up again with what’s happening in the novels. I’ve got a very good idea of whom the men are who’ve captured him and whom his erstwhile saviour is. But then, I could also be entirely wrong if the writers have decided to reinvent Theon’s unfortunate side-trip into misery.

I will however say this much: if they are doing what I suspect, it’s a pretty ingenious way to keep Theon relevant to the plot, as well as build toward something resembling sympathy for the simpering little shit.

Sorry if that’s frustrating, but I’m erring on the side of caution. Fellow GRRM fans, y’all know what I mean.

On reflection, this episode was pretty evenly divided between shocks and dialogue (note to self: copyright “Shocks and Dialogue” as a possible band name). Again not counting Daenerys’ gambit in Astapor, the biggest shock was north of the Wall, when a handful of Night Watchmen turn not just on Craster, but on their own commander—killing Jeor Mormont as well as their reluctant host. I of course knew this was coming, but it was a harrowing moment in the novel. I’m curious to know what viewers thought … it’s not that we didn’t get hints that the rangers were feeling mutinous, but it is still a horrifying transgression.

(It hasn’t really been articulated as such on the show, but the law of hospitality is as close as we come to something sacrosanct in the novels—even the most treacherous and desperate person will not turn on his guests or his host, both for fear of being labelled an oathbreaker and for fear of divine retribution. So however much of a monster Craster is, once the Night Watchmen have eaten his food, they are bound by the law of hospitality to obey his rules and not harm his person. Hence the extremely egregious nature of their crime).

In the novel, that mutinous muttering is more pronounced, as we learn in the prologue that a group of the watchmen have hatched a plot to kill Mormont, steal food and horses, and flee … only to have their plan interrupted by the ice-zombie attack. Their treason is only postponed, however, and becomes absorbed into the general chaos of violence that erupts under Craster’s roof. Again, no one is safe: Jeor Mormont might not have been everyone’s favourite character, but he was a solid and gruffly likable figure (much more so than when he played an IRA-connected priest on season three of Sons of Anarchy). But there he goes, killed rather suddenly—by his own men, no less.

All of which sends Sam frantically out to the birthing shack to collect Gilly and her baby boy and take her off into the frozen forest—which, as we all know, holds fiends even more dangerous than the ones sacking Craster’s keep.

What did you think of that mutiny in the north, Nikki? Did it come as a shock?

Nikki: As you say, it was definitely an episode that balanced the quite moments of explanatory dialogue that opened new avenues for the episodes to come, with the shocking ends of the storylines that have been in the works for a while. (I think this is easily my favourite episode yet.) And the mutiny was definitely a shock. For me, it wasn’t surprising that they killed Craster — he’s made out to be a scumbag of the lowest possible kind, and the only true fate for this guy was to wind up dead — but when they turned on Mormont, I was very surprised. (I’m also currently in season 3 of Sons of Anarchy… with all its Oirish accents.) My husband said it came as no surprise to him; after all, these are mostly thieves and people who were sent to the Wall because they had no other use in society. Not exactly a group of tea-sipping gentlemen.

So now they’re all running wild in the woods North of the Wall, and that’s a bad thing. The one guy who particularly hates Sam (or “Piggy,” as he prefers to call him) shouts a threat out to him as Sam retreats with Gilly, but as you say, the men of the Night’s Watch might be the least of Sam’s problems.

As usual, there’s just so much to cover here that we have to breeze over the last parts. Arya is entrenched in the Brotherhood without Banners as they put the Hound on trial and find him guilty, mainly because of Arya calling up something that happened way back at the beginning of season 1, where Joffrey ordered that the Hound kill the butcher’s boy, Arya’s friend. The Hound is an interesting character, because while here he stands tall, sneering at Arya and everyone else and saying he was quite simply following orders, in season 2 we saw him defying those orders to try to save Sansa. Was he just doing it for himself — was part of him in love with her — or did he feel some loyalty to Ned Stark? I thought he rather crossed over to the side of “good guy” last season, so I’m torn about whose side I’m on here.

Margaery continues to be amazing, and in this episode she claps and squeals as Joffrey shows her the remains of the Targaryens, gleefully dancing upon their remains as he recounts each of their deaths. Cersei looks on from afar, wondering about the boy, when Margaery comes up with the idea of taking him out on the balcony to feel the love of his people. Cersei lunges forward, thinking, “Oh my GOD they hate him and will kill him” but Margaery has everything under control, laying the foundation for this moment by visiting all those orphanages and telling everyone how much their king loves them. And she’s right; they walk out onto the balcony and are basically King’s Landing’s Will and Kate, waving to all below them. Not only has she convinced Joffrey that he’s a popular ruler, but by standing at his side she makes sure everyone sees her and only her as his queen.

And finally, while Bran’s not in the episode for long, we see another throwback to the beginning of season 1 (the first episode, actually), where Bran begins climbing a tree in his dreamscape, only to have Catelyn find him up there and bellow at him to stop climbing… berating him to such an extent that he actually falls just like he did after seeing Jaime and Cersei together. It’s a reminder to all of us that Bran knows what the twins have been up to, and who Joffrey’s real father is. Ned Stark might be dead, but Bran Stark has the knowledge in his head, even if he doesn’t quite understand it yet.

And ALL of this sets the scene for new storylines and directions next week. I cannot wait. Thank you, as always, Chris, for your invaluable input!! We shall see you all next week. And now let's just look once again on that incredible final shot.