Baratheon Archive

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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season Two Episode Ten – Valar Morghulis

Alas, another season of Game of Thrones has come to an end. We’ve seen squabbles with the brothers Baratheon. Tyrion and Cersei have waged their ongoing war of words, feints, and betrayal with Shakespearian efficiency. Jamie Lannister was all but forgotten before returning in the eleventh hour as one of the show’s most interesting villains(?). Jon Snow got beaten up a few times. And, of course, Dany Targaryen did a whole lot of pouting.

There’s nothing left to do now but recap the few loose ends, and offer some final thoughts on the season.

The Big Political Developments

Joffrey, the little twerp, named Tywin Lannister the saviour of King’s Landing and official Hand of the King. Indicating the low esteem in which he holds either his grandson or the new office, Twyin declined to get off his horse to receive the honour. Also his horse shat all over the floor of the Red Keep’s throne room. I don’t think I need to draw anybody a picture so that they might pick up the symbolism there. I may though, if somebody asks nicely.

It’s also revealed that Twyin’s last second victory against Stannis’ troops was not solely a Lannister affair. Little Finger was able to bring House Tyrell on side with the Lannisters against the “rebel” Baratheons. The Tyrell’s military aid also brought Margaery Tyrell to the royal court. With a little bit of prodding from Cersei, Joffrey dissolves his engagement with Sansa and agrees to make Margaery his queen.

Speaking of people getting married, Robb decides to marry that nurse girl, breaking his vow to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. The consequences of that course of action remain to be seen. Other unresolved things include the state of the Stark’s war against the Lannisters. In fact, that’s been one of the poorest covered story elements this season. Granted we know that Robb has been kicking ass and taking names, but where’s the update on what’s actually going on in the war? If Tywin’s men are in King’s Landing, who is Robb fighting? Is he marching on Casterly Rock? Is he marching on King’s Landing? Whatever happened to those surrender negotiations that people were going on about around episode seven?

As for Tyrion…well Tyrion got sacked. Despite mobilizing the city against Stannis’ attack, the now scarred former Hand of the King has been relegated to a small room, stripped of all previous retainers and position. As for the Lannister that carved up Tyrion’s face, that gentleman did so under Cersei’s express orders.Though Shae attempts to convince Tyrion to leave Westeros, he admits that playing the game is the only thing he’s good at doing in life. Phoenix + Ashes=Tyrion in season 3.

Little Political Developments

Theon gives a great speech to try and rally his men to a glorious death at the hands of the five hundred Stark banner men surrounding Winterfell. In a comedic turn of events, Theon’s first officer clubs him over the back of the head and presumably sells him out to the Starks in exchange for their freedom. Then, yet again, things get confusing. When Bran and Rickon emerge from their hiding place in the keep, they find the city a smoldering wreck. This invites the question, who burned Winterfell? Was it the 20 Iron Islanders? Was it the Stark’s own banner men? And where did these men go?

Perhaps I’m slow, but this year’s attempt at wrapping things up is really slipshod.

Arya has one last encounter with Jaqen H’ghar as she, Gendry, and that fat kid walk…somewhere. Despite his offer to take Arya to Bravos to learn the ways of an assassin, the youngest female Stark opts to remain in Westeros in search of her family. Before changing his face into that of another man, quite the party trick, Jaqen gives Arya an assassin’s calling card in the form of a coin. If Arya gives this coin to anybody from Bravos and says the words “Valar Morghulis” Jaquen will find her so that she can be trained as a “faceless one”.

The Pointless Political Developments

After magically teleporting into the House of the Undying, which allowed Jorah Mormont to re-enact Stanley’s most memorable scene in Streetcar, Dany found her dragons. This reunion allows the dragons to torch the warlock who was intent on keeping them captive.

Now armed with her house cat sized fire breathers, Dany and Jorah lay a little revenge on Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Dany locks Xaro and his bed wench in the big vault. Oh and here’s an interesting turn of events, Xaro’s big vault was empty. Relevance? None since this story arc has been filler material all season.

With the surviving members of her Khalisar in tow (am I the only one who thought they were all dead), Dany takes to looting Xaro’s opulent home so that they might buy a ship bound for Westeros.

Seriously? It took a whole bloody season to get to that uninteresting point? Talk about your monumental wastes of time. Mark my words, boys and girls, if the entirety of Dany’s role in season three is to sit on a boat and sail the Narrow Sea, I’m writing a letter to HBO and George R.R. Martin.

As for Jon Snow, well he killed the other ranger in a brawl to win the loyalty of the wildlings. Sexy yet conflicted times ahead for him next year? I think so.

The Best Thing EVER

Sam and a couple other Night’s Watch fellows are out scavenging things to burn. During their hunt, Sam is going on about how interesting Gilly is as a person. The discourse on interpreting the female form is interrupted by three horn blows. For those who forget, three horn blows means approaching White Walkers. The other Watchmen run for their lives, leaving the slow, fat, and clumsy Sam to his own devices. As the wind picks up, shambling figures come into frame. Before long there is an entire freaking ZOMBIE ARMY passing Sam by. That’s not even the best part. This army is lead by a frost monster thing riding a zombie horse. Now that is something that will make people care about Jon’s story again.

Final Thoughts

Notwithstanding the Battle of Blackwater Bay, it was a bit of a slow season. That said, if there’s any justice in the world, “Blackwater” should earn Game of Thrones no shortage of Emmy nominations in the technical categories. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey are both likely to see Best Actor/Actress nominations coming their way for continued excellence this year. I expect that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will also collect a nom for best supporting actor. On that note, I sincerely hope that A Storm of Swords is Jamie Lannister’s time to shine. Save for the last three episodes of the season, his character all but disappeared this year.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that anybody whose last name is Stark and is over the age of fourteen is a blithering idiot. Ned trusts people who tell him not to trust them. Robb marries a girl who should just be a wench on the side. Catelyn releases Jamie Lannister on some half baked notion that she will actually get her daughters back. Jon Snow, technically a Stark, can’t follow orders to save his life. The Lannisters might be scum bags, but at least they don’t seem to share a single brain between the lot of them.

Also, fire Emilia Clarke.

So that’s it. I’m not quite sure what will be replacing Game of Thrones Mondays. I was tempted to make it True Blood Mondays, but I fear such an action would cause my brain to melt. Perhaps Tron Uprising Mondays? A note of thanks to everybody who kept coming back each week to read these posts. I know they are long, but I try to make them worthwhile. And a special thanks to Christina Boulard, who has re-tweeted every Game of Thrones Mondays update that I have made over the last two and a half months. Everybody should follow her on twitter.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 9 – Blackwater

This might be the easiest review/recap I have ever done for Game of Thrones. The whole episode, written by George R. R. Martin himself, was set in King’s Landing, and damn if it wasn’t the epic pay off that viewers have been waiting for all season.

Let’s start with a quick run through of the salient events.

Varys meets with Tyrion as the men of King’s Landing enjoy their last night of peace before Stannis’ fleet arrives. As Tyrion gets armoured for battle, Varys offers a map of the city’s extensive underground as well as a confession that he thinks Tyrion to be the city’s only hope for survival. Heavy is the chest that wears the pin of the Hand.

The Battle of Blackwater Bay itself is a thing to behold. I can’t recall an episode of Game of Thrones that ever looked quite so expensive. The sea battles, land skirmishes, and eventual siege had all the elegant brutality of a high priced Hollywood feature.

Round one of the battle goes to the Lannisters. Tyrion blows up a significant portion of Stannis’ fleet with a single ship filled to the gunwales with Wildfire. But it’s a one trick pony that fails to turn Stannis’ attack. It’s also worth mentioning the look of sheer horror on Peter Dinklage’s face as Tyrion comes to understand that he, and he alone, is responsible for killing all those men. While Joffrey gets giddy, Tyrion learns something of war’s human cost.

Therein, the “legitimate” heir to the Iron Throne sends his surviving men ashore to begin breaching the walls. Clearly traumatized by the sight of an immolated Blackwater Bay, the Hound quits the battle, telling the Lannisters and King Joffrey to fuck themselves (I’m not being colourful, he actually says “Fuck the King”). Despite losing one of their champions, the Lannisters put up a good fight, yet Stannis has a clear numerical, if not a tactical, advantage. Fearing for his life, and encouraged to do so by his mother, who sends Lancel to tell Joffrey that playtime is over and he’s to come home, Joffrey quits the battle leaving the burden of leadership on Tyrion. With some difficulty, Tyrion manages to rally the men, leading them into the sewers so that they might flank the Baratheon force at the wall.

Once again, Peter Dinklage gets one liner of the night when he says, “Those are brave men knocking at our door; let’s go kill them.”

Tyrion’s counterpunch routs the vanguard of Stannis’ troops. There is the briefest moment of celebration before the main force of Stannis’ men charge into the battle. Something quite interesting happens here. During the battle Tyrion is fighting in the thick of it. He’s saved from a Baratheon sword by what looks like a man dressed in Lannister livery. But then that very same Lannister solider swings a sword at Tyrion. The only thing that saves Tyrion’s life is the quick intervention from his squire. Still, the Hand of the King catches a sword tip to the face and falls to the ground, probably not dead, most likely in shock, and arguably the bravest half-man in all of Westeros.

Meanwhile, Shae has commanded Sansa out of the tower containing the highborn women. She returns to her room only to find the Hound waiting for her. Newly retired from the Lannister army, he offers to take Sansa home to Winterfell as wants to go somewhere where there’s no fire.

With Stannis Baratheon rampaging atop the battlements, somehow he was he only guy to make it up a siege ladder without getting his head squashed by a rock, and an army battering down the mud gate, things seem their darkest. Enter deus ex machine Tywin Lannister to the rescue.

Here I thought he was riding out against Robb Stark. Does that mean that Robb is going to be able to walk into Casterly Rock in the finale? One doesn’t simply walk into Casterly Rock?

Amazing as the battle was, the real star of the episode has to be Lena Headey’s drunken/honest portrayal of Cersei in a powerless situation.

Unable to connive, seduce, or puppet master her way out of the siege, Cersei takes to drinking. In doing so, she gets very ugly, yet remains supremely vulnerable. Some of her statements echo those of other women who “should have been born men” within fantasy environs. For example, Cersei demonstrates her Machiavellian leadership style when she tells Sansa that that the only way to rule (unless you’re a Stark) is to make your own people fear you more than they fear the enemy. Eventually she takes on a more practical tone, especially when she tells Sansa to cut the bullshit and start learning that the world is full of killers up to and including her beloved father. Toward the end of the episode, she falls apart back on what she told Sansa a few weeks earlier: all a mother can do is protect her children.

Cersei orders Joffrey off the wall, morale of the troops be damned, and manically cradles her youngest son on the Iron Throne. As she prepares to give her non-awful child a dose of Nightshade poison, so that he might be spared the rapine and slaughter of Stannis’ men, we can see the mask that Cersei wears to fulfill her role as queen-regent shattering to the floor around her. Yet in the instant that Tywin opens the doors of the Red Keep and proclaims the battle won, her duty bound visage is restored to its previous glory. Such is the talent of Lena Headey that over the course of an episode she can gradually unravel her character, and then put her back together on command.

I imagine that next week will return to the “all over the world” style of storytelling, further subjecting us to Dany and Jon’s dull plot arcs. All we can do now is hope that the Lion’s share of the episode will be dedicated to Robb and wherever his army ends up. Also Arya, I’d like to get a proper end of season wrap-up/cliff-hanger for Arya.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 8 – The Prince of Winterfell Review/Recap

Here’s a funny story, halfway through the episode, around the time Cersei and Tyrion were having a faceoff to end all faceoffs, my laptop randomly decided to reboot for the purpose of applying updates. At the time, I was banging out notes in notepad, which, as you would expect, did not save upon this unceremonious restart. As such, I’m taking a bit of a different tack with this week’s review/recap.

Here is the shit that went down (in order of importance)

*Spoilers Ahead*

Rob Stark doesn’t know why he’s fighting.

Catelyn didn’t lop off Jamie Lannister’s head after last week’s episode faded to black. Instead she freed the Kingslayer, with the expectation she would get Sansa and Arya back, and sent him on his way with Brienne as a guardian. When word reached Robb, who was out having a walk with Florence Nightengale Talisa Maegyr, he was not impressed. Words like betrayal and treason are tossed about as Robb has his mother imprisoned.

All this time I thought Catelyn Stark was one of the smarter people in this show. But if we recall Cersei’s words from last week, the only thing a Queen, or in this case a Queen Mother, can do is love and protect her children. Meanwhile Robb, uncertain if he should march home to free Winterfell or press on to Casterly Rock, does what any good leader would do, shags the noblewoman masquerading as a sexy nurse.

Tyrion wants Joffrey to fight; Cersei punishes Tyrion, with sexy results.

Stannis Baratheon is two days from King’s Landing, and good King Joffrey wants to lead his men into battle (Is it just me, or is this extended countdown taking on the tone of a Dragon Ball Z plot arc). The twerp thinks that his uncle Stannis will soil himself and run home to the Stormlands at the mere sight of King’s Landing desperately undermanned garrison. Tyrion approves of his nephew’s plan, under the pretext of offering morale support to the men. It’s also a convenient way to let the little sadist die in battle. Cersei, however, seizes the opportunity to punish her brother for yet another power play against her children.

The Queen-Regent informs the Hand of the King that she’s found out about his whore. Tyrion’s attempts to play off the situation as an inconvenience, rather than a threat against the love of his life, appear transparent to Cersei. Yet the tide turns in Tyrion’s favour when Cersei has Ros, and not Shae, brought in as proof of her intent to visit every injury upon her brother’s love that befalls Joffrey in battle.

After promising a mighty vengeance upon his sister, Tyrion returns to his room to find Shae waiting for him. Though Shae is convinced she could cut the face from any who threaten her, Tyrion is not satisfied. With each telling the other that “You are mine” I think we come as close as possible to any two characters expressing genuine, non-twincest, love for each other. Though there might have been some love between Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell. If Lannister guards are to be believed, their relationship was nothing if not long standing.

Theon Greyjoy is an idiot and a fraud.

Yara Greyjoy arrives at Winterfell with a handful of cavalry (How the shit do pirates keep getting horses?) and proceeds to break Theon’s balls for his continued ineptitude: first in losing Bran and Rickon Stark, then in “burning” them to set an example for the Northerners, and finally in forgetting that their power base is in ships not armies ergo attacking inland Winterfell was pointless and stupid. Chuffed up on the fact that he took Winterfell with twenty men (His words. My declaration of Shenanigans on the writing is still in effect.) Theon ignores his father’s recall order. Alone and absent reinforcements, Theon Greyjoy is now the most hated man in the North.

Except, Theon didn’t actually kill Bran and Rickon. In the penultimate and final scenes of the episode, we learn that Theon torched the two orphans that were working on the farm Bran and Rickon passed during their initial flight from Winterfell. As for the Starks, Hodor, and the wildling girl, they’re hiding out in Winterfell. Maester Luwin sees the former captive, now protector of Bran and Rickon, stealing bread and follows her into a hidden chamber within Winterfell. As the truth comes out, Luwin makes clear that Bran must never find out about the death of the children, which the little ord sent to the farm, lest he blame himself for their painful demise. Too bad Bran was awake and heard everything.

Arya and friends walk out of Harrenhal.

After much consternation, Tywin decides that the time has come for him to ride out against Robb. Arya attempts to find the ghost so that she might name the Lannister patriarch as her final death, but to no avail. Later, Arya extorts the ghost into helping her, Gendry Baratheon, and a fat kid who I’m going to call Podgey, into escaping. She does so by naming him, Jaqen H’ghar, as her third death unless he helps the trio escape. Following H’ghar’s instructions, the group walks out of Harrenhal at midnight to see the guards butchered at their posts.

There’s lots of walking North of the Wall.

Only two things worth any note happen here. We learn that Jon’s jaunt with the wildling girl has led to the death of the other rangers save for one. The second is that the surviving ranger wants Jon to try and infiltrate the wildling army because “one brother on the inside is worth a thousand on the wall”

Stannis is on a boat.

Stannis complains about how Robert Baratheon was a jerk despite Stannis’ loyal service during the rebellion. Stannis and Davos Seaworth then about rank, title, and society before the would-be king names Seaworth as his Hand once the battle at King’s Landing is won.

Nothing happens in Qarth.

Seriously, nothing. Dany has a tantrum, Jorah is stoic, and the plot remains at a standstill.

And that’s the episode.

There was one odd recurring motif in the episode, food. Bronn, acting as captain of the city guard, has all the thieves in King’s Landing rounded up and killed. In his experience, thieves do very well in sieges as food becomes the most precious resource imaginable. Stannis Baratheon echoes these sentiments when he talks about eating horses, cats, and dogs to stay alive during a siege. Tyrion talks about the high quality of his Lamprey pie before Cersei makes her move against him. Even Podgey goes on about how things are cooked in the kitchens of Harrenhal during his escape with Arya and Gendry. What’s the connection?

For all the talk about winning or dying when playing the game of thrones, it’s still subject to the basic laws of humanity; therein society is only five meals away from barbarism. Food is also an easy device for reminding the audience that the characters we’ve come to love and hate are the 1% of Westeros. Shae said it best last week when she reminded Sansa that the people of King’s Landing hate the captive Stark and all the Lannisters for the simple fact that their horses eat better than the mob.

We could stretch the metaphor even farther if we focus on food as a consumptive thing. Survival for the principle characters is not simply a matter of eating and drinking as it is for everybody else in Westeros. They must consume others characters in order to survive. Consider Tyrion’s meal of Lamprey pie. Lampreys have long been a meal fit for kings in European culture. But there’s also the fact that the Lamprey, a relatively weak creature, must attach itself on to larger fish for survival vis-a-vis Tyrion with Bronn and those Viking folks from last season. On the opposite side of the spectrum there is someone like Stannis Baratheon, who has consumed his gods, perhaps his soul in taking up with Melisandre, and his own brother in order to forward his claim to the Iron Throne.

Next week, from what I’ve heard, all the shit finally hits the fan. Tywin has his final battle with Robb. Stannis lays siege to King’s Landing. Robb’s splinter force retakes Winterfell. Hopefully we get to see some of it, though. This series has a nasty habit of cutting to the aftermath as a means of keeping the budget under control. As the second to last episode of the season, I think we, the audience, have earned some bloodshed.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season Two Episode 7 – A Man Without Honour

This week on Game of Thrones, life is a prison and the choices that we make are its bars. How poetic.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Let’s go East, South and North for this episode. That way recapping is like eating a really expensive steak served in a cheap hamburger bun.

Qarth

I spent a good chuck of Saturday playing Game of Thrones: the board game. During which time I complained about how bored I am with Daenerys Targaryen’s story as well as Emilia Clarke’s substandard acting abilities. My friends assured me that by the fourth novel Daenerys’ character becomes interesting. At least we can all have something to look forward to in the Summer of 2014.

Long story made short, Daenerys whines about her missing dragons. She then complains to Jorah Mormont about how she can’t trust anybody, the irony of which becomes apparent when the face mask lady from a few episodes back reminds us that Mormont almost let her Daenerys die in exchange for a pardon from Robert Baratheon. Finally, Daenerys begs the city fathers of Qarth to help find her dragons. In a surprise turn of events Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the jaundiced fellow from the House of the Undying admit to stealing the dragons. The two men then proceed to have all of the thirteen killed so that Daxos might become king of Qarth. Once again Daenerys’ decisions have trapped her in an untenable situation.

King’s Landing

Poor Sansa Stark wakes up to find that she’s had her first period. Fearing that she will now be able to bear Joffrey’s children, Sansa and Shae attempt to destroy the evidence before anybody else in the palace notices her bloody sheets. Shae intercepts one of Cersei’s hand maidens but returns to find The Hound in her room.

Surprisingly enough, Cersei is rather understanding toward Sansa. In a moment of forthright honesty, Cersei warns Sansa that a queen should only love her children as loving anybody else, including her husband, would make her weak. Later, during a conversation with Tyrion, Cersei admits that Joffrey is a lost cause. And again, it’s a moment of gut wrenching honesty conveyed through Lena Headey. As a mother, Cersei Lannister wants to protect her son, but she knows that he’s a power mad tyrant. Cersei’s fear, a fear she voices to Tyrion and in doing so all but abandons the pretence that Robert Baratheon is Joffrey’s father, is that her eldest son’s madness is the result of her incest with Jamie. For his part, Tyrion seems almost sympathetic toward his sister, a woman who last episode was vowing revenge against him.

Also, Stannis Baratheon’s fleet is five days from King’s Landing. Shit is about to get real in King’s Landing.

Riverlands

Robb has another run in with the sexy nurse lady. In need of medical supplies, she accompanies Robb to some negotiations where the Lannisters are apparently surrendering to the Starks. When did that happen? Did I miss something?

Meanwhile Alton Lannister, who you’ve probably forgot about by now, returned to Robb bearing Cersei’s refusal to acknowledge the Stark’s peace terms. Alton then gets thrown in a pen with Jamie Lannister. Therein the two trade stories about being squires before Jamie beats Alton’s head to a bloody pulp as a means of facilitating his escape. It’s a futile gesture as he’s very quickly recaptured by the Starks, whose banner men are now howling for Lannister blood. Catelyn Stark manages to impose some order, but the peace is a dubious one at best. During a subsequent conversation with the Kingslayer, Lady Stark draws a sword on Jamie as he pokes Catelyn’s raw nerve concerning Jon Snow and Ned Stark’s extramarital affair.

Harrenhal

Tywin Lannister is treating the death of his man in the previous episode as an attempt on his own life. For want of information on the would-be assassin, he’s taken to torture, hanging, and village burning as a research tool. So much for the Tywin who put a stop to needless waste a few episodes back.

There’s a bit more banter between Tywin and Arya on the finer points of Westeros’ history and Tywin’s legacy to his children. This results in Tywin calling Arya out as a high born girl masquerading as a commoner. Arya parries with a story about how her mother was the handmaiden to a Lady, ergo she knows proper manners and etiquette. Line of the night goes to these two when Tywin asks, “Has anybody ever told you that you’re too smart for your own good?” and Arya answers, “Yes.”

So the big question, does Tywin know she’s actually Arya Stark? Or is he operating under the assumption that she’s the daughter of a minor noble from the North?

Winterfell

NB: I continue to call supreme shenanigans on what the writers are doing with this plot arc. More so after finding out that in the novel Theon Greyjoy took Winterfell through deception, rather than force of arms.

Theon’s big theme this week is that it’s better to be cruel than weak. So he beats the ever loving piss out of one of his men for letting Bran and Rickon escape with Hodor and the wildling woman. Then, Theon literally releases the hounds.

The motley crew, pun intended, take a bunch of horses and go riding after the fugitives. I guess they brought those horses with them on their one boat? Because anybody who knows anything about horses knows that a horse is rather particular about its rider.

As for securing Winterfell, it’s a race between Theon’s sister and Robb’s men. Invoking Ned Stark, Theon proclaims that 500 men can hold Winterfell against 10,000. Pay no attention to the fact that at said 20:1 ratio, 5 men should have been able to hold Winterfell against Theon’s 100 and their grappling hooks.

As for Bran, Rickon, and company, they come upon a farm but Bran insists that they not expose themselves to the people there, lest the hounds track their scent and Theon torture the farmers for information. In the episode’s final scene, there’s a hint that Bran and team have been captured. Returning to Winterfell, Theon, intent to set an example for the people in the city, hoists up two charred bodies before the city gates.

I know we’re supposed to think that’s Bran and Rickon, but I’m not buying it. My suspicion is that Theon did indeed lose Bran and Rickon’s trail and decided to BBQ some locals in keeping with his cruelty before weakness policy.

North of the Wall

Wake me up when something that isn’t predictable happens. The wildling captive spends most of her screen time pointing out the obvious flaws in the Night’s Watch prohibition on sex while simultaneously pointing out just how capital-F “Free” she and the other wildlings are North of the Wall.

The girl’s continuous attempts at seducing Jon, both sexually and ideologically, away from the restrictive life of the Night’s Watch eventually leads her to another run for freedom – big surprise there. Jon follows her into a boxed canyon where a dozen or so wildlings appear from nowhere with spears in hand.

Though predictable, the scenes with the wildling girl add a bit more depth to the wildlings’ back story. Despite living on the other side of the Wall, the wildlings share a common ancestry with the people of the Seven Kingdoms via the “First-Men”. I know a friend of mine who would have a lot of fun looking at this reveal through the lens of displaced indigenous peoples. Since the wildlings don’t live in cities and castles, they are not civilized. So why not build a wall to keep them isolated on the shitty land and away from the rest of Westeros’ proper folk.

I’m curious to know if the books lend themselves to any such discussion – somebody who’s read them can feel free to leave a comment and fill me in.

The Bottom Line

A step in the right direction compared to last week. This week also produced a bit of subtext worth parsing out here and there. With Stannis’ invasion less than a week away from King’s Landing, I think we have to view this as the calm before the storm.

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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 4

Last week I saw a snarky tweet that said listening to people talk about Game of Thrones is the new listening to people talk about Lost. Before Sunday night’s episode, it seemed like nothing more than sour grapes. After watching Episode 4, “Garden of Bones” I guess I can see where they are coming from, at least on one particular point. Anyway, my take away for this week has less to do with smoke demons and more to do with the fact that the smallest people on this show are among its best actors.

*Spoilers ahead*

Like last week, we shall recap via geography.

Riverlands Battlefield

After two weeks of relative absence from the story, the episode opens in the aftermath of another successful battle for Robb Stark. The fighting itself is implied rather than shown (budgets and all that), but it’s quite clear that Robb is kicking ass and taking names. A conversation with a battlefield triage nurse (or whatever they are called in Westeros) yields information of much greater importance. Robb has zero endgame for this war. He doesn’t want to sit on the Iron Throne, nor does he have plans for anybody else to claim it. It opens the door to an interesting question: Did Robb Stark go to war for a good reason? Sure King Joffrey is a monster, and most of the Lannisters are dicks, but did justice demand the War of Five Kings?

Harrenhal

Harrenhal has turned into the Lannister version of Andersonville prison. Arya and Gendry find themselves stuffed in a pig pen where once a day the Lannisters haul somebody off for an interrogation and a modified Orwell style execution. Each night, Arya sleep talks her way through a litany that names the people complicit in her father’s death. After a few days in the camp, Gendry gets picked to face the terminal inquisition. It’s the ultimate moment of irony when Tywin Lannister arrives at Harrenhal and puts a stop to the wasteful executions. The Lannister patriarch also recognizes Arya as a girl. Arya admits that she is disguised as a boy because it’s safer to travel that way. Forthwith Tywin claims she’s smarter than most of his men and puts her to work as his cup bearer.

I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Maisie Williams is a fantastic actress. If she was just playing Arya as a survivor, that would probably be enough to win me over. Yet she continues to pull off the early onset PTSD that the writers are working into her dialogue.

King’s Landing

Things get ugly in King’s Landing. Joffrey spends most of his screen time caressing a crossbow the same way Gomer Pile caressed his rifle.

First he blames Sansa for her brother’s victories. In front of the court he has her stripped and beaten. Only Tyrion’s timely intervention stops the spectacle from going any farther. In doing so, Tyrion reminds Joffrey that the Mad King did what he pleased, and it didn’t end well for him. As Tyrion helps Sansa out of the throne room he asks her if she still wants to marry Joffrey. Bruised and humiliated Sansa answers that Joffrey is her one true love. To which Tyrion replies that Sansa might outlive them all.

Shortly thereafter Bronn suggests to Tyrion that Joffrey might be more manageable if he wasn’t pent up with teenage hormones. Bronn also wins the best one liner of the episode with the line, “There’s no cure for being a cunt.”

Heeding Bronn’s words, Tyrion sends a couple of whores to the king’s chamber. And that’s when things get creepy again – way worse than Theon Greyjoy deedling his sister creepy. Light girl on girl spanking, at the behest of Joffrey, turns to belt whipping, and then morphs into a beat down with a staff. All the while Joffrey, expertly played by Jack Gleeson, watches and smiles. The little bastard oozes sadism at every turn. Again, it’s a combination of brilliant writing and expert casting.

The final story of note within King’s Landing involves Tyrion’s ongoing battle against Cersei. Cersei, absent from the episode, sends her cousin/lover with a warrant ordering Maester Pycell’s release from the Black Cells. Yet she does so late at night and after a roll in the hay. Whip smart as ever, Tyrion deduces that his cousin is Cersei’s new lover and threatens to go to the king with that information unless the Lannister brat starts informing on Cersei. It’s another brilliant power play from Tyrion, and more top form acting from Peter Dinklage.

Essos

I’m going to be honest here. I really don’t care about the plight of Daenerys Targaryen. I find Emilia Clarke a rather boring actress whose range is limited to being stoic or pitching a temper tantrum. Acting alongside Jason Momoa last season brought out a bit more depth to her personality, but now all she has is that tedious yes-man aka Smithers with a sword. After three weeks of watching Daenerys do nothing, I’m just not invested in the “Mother of Dragons” story arc. This week did nothing to change that.

Daenerys and her motley crew happen upon the city of Quarth. However the city fathers, locally known as The Thirteen, won’t let them in until they see one of Daenerys’ dragons. Daenerys pitches a fit, threatening to burn the city down when the dragons are fully grown. Naturally The Thirteen tell her to bugger off. But then one of The Thirteen decides they should come in; so they do. How very exciting.

The Stormlands

Little Finger arrives in the Stormlands and begins doing what he does best: duplicitous grovelling. First he approaches Renly Baratheon, who tells him to get bent. Though Little Finger does hint that with a few friends in the palace, Renly might find the gates of King’s Landing open to him. In her only scene of the episode, Queen Margaery also tells Little Finger to get bent. In fairness, he was trying to pump her for courtly gossip relating to Renly’s suspected homosexual leanings. Finally, Little Finger arrives in the tent of Catelyn Stark, who uses a knife to tell him to get bent. He does however extend Tyrion’s offer to Catelyn: give back Jamie and get Sansa and Arya in exchange. Baelish also returns the, alleged, remains of Ned Stark as a show of good faith. Though I suspect they could be anybody’s remains given how adamant Cersei was about refusing any accommodation to the Starks.

Meanwhile on the war front, Stannis arrives to have a little chat with his brother. The brothers Baratheon trade insults until Stannis issues an ultimatum demanding Renly’s surrender before the next sunrise. Creepy red haired lady also manages to sneak in a few references to the lord of light, just for good measure. With an army of one hundred thousand men behind him, Renly sees little reason to take his brother seriously.

Later that night Stannis orders Davos Seaworth to smuggle Melisandre, the creepy red haired lady, ashore – presumably into Renly’s camp. Apparently, she is some sort of super weapon. It didn’t make much sense until she got naked (wait for it), showing herself to be spontaneously pregnant (wait for it) and then gave birth to the smoke monster from Lost (there it is).

The Bottom Line

I’ve had my fair share of “Holy shit, I can’t believe they did that” moments while watching Game of Thrones. However, I think the smoke monster baby was my first genuine “What the fuck was that?” moment. Bearing that in mind, I think there’s only one question left to ask, do we get a shadow monster killing spree next week?


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Television Review/Recap Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 3

Coming up next on E! "At Home with the Lannisters"

Game of Thrones’ third episode, “What Was Dead Can Never Die” does two things. First, it reminds the audience that women are power players in the Seven Kingdoms. Second, it dares us to ask who is playing whom within Westeros’ various intrigues.

Let’s recap via geography.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The Wall

As foreshadowed last week, Craster ejects the men of the Night’s Watch from his camp. Lord Commander Mormont’s responds to John Snow’s indiscretion as a lesson in the hard nature of life north of the wall. As the men pack up their camp, Sam all but professes his love to Gilly as he gives her his mother’s thimble. I couldn’t help but smile at the naive innocence of the gesture. Yet we shouldn’t forget that this isn’t the sort series where good things happen to nice people.

Winterfell

The episode’s quick stop in Winterfell reaffirmed through denial that which we already know via Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons: magic is returning to the world. No longer a subject for speculation, Bran Stark’s “dreams” are contextualized as a manifestation of some supernatural relationship between him and his dire wolf. Maester Luwin, an accomplished scholar of the arcane and occult, reminds Bran that while there used to be magic in the world, it has long since vanished.

Is it the truth, or does the Maester have an agenda? Perhaps he wants to protect Bran from the power that magic can offer. Imagine for a moment the righteous fury of a crippled wizard whose energy is fueled by frustration and resentment.

The Iron Islands

So, we're cool, right?

Theon Greyjoy wastes no time confronting his sister over their grope fest from the previous episode. Yara responds to his conniption by stating that she wanted to see what sort of man he was. Before Theon has a chance to respond to yet another emasculating comment from his family, their father announces plans to attack the north while the Starks and Lannisters fight in the Riverlands. Yara is given command of 30 ships and the most important targets of the campaign, including Winterfell. Theon is relegated to command of one ship intended to harass fishing villages. In working through this power triad, the episode offers a bit more clarification on the relationship between Theon and Balon Greyjoy. I still think that exposition would have been more useful last week, but at least it happened.

The prodigal Greyjoy then finds himself choosing between his family of blood and his family of circumstance. We’re led to believe that Theon is siding with his father. First he burns a letter he wrote warning Robb Stark about Balon’s plans to attack the north. Then, he bends a knee to his father before a salt water baptism into the faith of the Iron Islands’ patron deity “The Drowned God”. So is this a story about Theon wanting some approval from daddy at any cost? Or is it a set-up for a double cross that will prove Theon’s loyalty to the Starks?

The Stormlands

Catelyn Stark arrives in the court of Renly Baratheon on the heels of a tournament. The final round of this battle sees Brienne of Tarth, a seven foot tall female warrior, triumphant over Loras Tyrell, brother to Margaery Tyrell, who is the new wife of “King” Renly Baratheon. As a reward for her victory, Brienne is named to Renly’s Kingsguard.

Renly then welcomes Catelyn into his court as an emissary of “King” Robb Stark, despite his brother-in-law’s objections. Renly offers Catelyn quarters before going to pray. Prayer, as it happens, is code for gay sex with Loras. That’s right folks, more incest! At least this is only the political sort. Still, my mind was filled with flashbacks to The Tudors as I imagined a season long plot arc that saw Natalie Dormer reprising the role of an ignored queen.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Instead, Margaery admits to Renly that she knows about his orientation. She further suggests calling Loris in to the bedroom when their attempt to consummate the marriage fails. “You are a king,” she repeats to Renly. Rather than act as a victim of gender politics a la Cersei Lannister, Margaery is actively working with Renly to retain her new found station. Kudos to the writers for taking this character in a genuinely unexpected direction.

The Kingsroad

While the Watch recruits sleep, Yoren and Arya talk about how death haunts a person through obsession. Arya’s comments on seeing Cersei, Joffrey, and Sansa presiding over her father’s execution evoke a genuine feeling of PTSD from young Maisie Williams. Then the sound of horns and riders, in the form of last week’s promised Lannister reinforcements, shatters the tranquility of the scene.

In the battle that ensues, Yoren as well as a number of Night’s Watch recruits die trying to repel the Lannister guards. Arya and Gendry both survive the ordeal only to be captured. Gendry himself seems ready to confess his identify rather than watch the remaining captives be put to the sword. But it’s Arya who speaks first. She points to one of the dead, who just happens to be in close proximity to Gendry’s bull head helm, naming him as Gendry. At least Arya’s alive, but now the only person who knows she’s the daughter of Ned Stark is the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Not exactly an actionable position when one is under the watch of Joffrey’s goons.

King’s Landing

Once again, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey manage to make the Lannisters look as well adjusted as the Kardashians. To ensure he survives his tenure as Hand of the King, Tyrion seeks to test the loyalty of the Small Council. Tyrion constructs three scenarios that involve marrying off Myrcella Baratheon, Cersei’s only daughter, to a different noble house. He tells one story to Pycelle, another to Little Finger, and a third to Varys, swearing all three to secrecy. It’s a scene of deliciously cold served revenge when Cersei confronts Tyrion with the story he told to Pycelle: that Myrcella would be sent to Dorn, just as she was sent to Robert Baratheon. In using his own niece against his sister, Tyrion finally gets to punish Cersei for all the injustices she has heaped upon him.

With Pycelle in a black cell, Varys and Tyrion share a drink. It’s a cordial moment, but not one that should be mistaken for trust. Despite the fact that Varys pulled strings to see Shae assigned to Sansa Stark as a handmaiden, rather than working in the kitchens as Tyrion initially planned, the eunuch still holds that particular leverage over Tyrion. Even if Varys has no ambitions of his own, Tyrion’s lover makes for an impressive insurance policy should the Hand decide to swat the Spider.

The Bottom Line

There’s nothing I love more than intrigue. However, I have it on good authority that people also like action. This is the second episode in a row that’s extensively talked about Robb Stark’s war but shown nothing it. If next week’s focus remains on politics, then Game of Thrones is going to start treading into Battlestar Galactica (the good one) territory. I don’t have a problem with that, and I suppose HBO doesn’t either since the series has already been picked up for a third season. Yet the fact remains, if you want to have a show about war, then from time to time you need to depict that war in concrete terms.