George R.R. Martin 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 6

I’m a wee bit conflicted on this episode. On the one hand, events in King’s Landing are fantastic. I’d be the happiest man in the world if an entire episode was set there. Such an action would also assuage my growing fears that Game of Thrones is going to turn into Heroes, a show which was crippled by its exponential character growth and plot lines that never really connected.

While things north of the Wall felt a bit more interesting this week, the story in Qarth is as tedious as ever. As for Winterfell, well things just don’t make sense there.

*Spoilers Ahead*

North of the Wall

The rangers tell Jon Snow that he can never expect loyalty from his dire wolf as wild things are beyond knowing. Shortly thereafter they take a wilding prisoner at the mouth of some wildling cave/encampment. Jon gets tasked with killing her, that’s right, it’s a woman, but he doesn’t have the stones to go through with it, you know because she’s a woman. After botching the execution she leads Jon on a merry chase, separating him from the other rangers. With the rangers out of sight, Jon and the wildling set up camp for the night. There’s some cuddling for mutual warmth and a knowing grin on the face of the wildling woman.

Winterfell

Let it be known right now that I’m calling shenanigans on this entire story arc. Theon Greyjoy, the new lord of Winterfell, announces before the assembled denizens of Winterfell keep that he took the castle using grappling hooks to climb the walls. So either Bran Stark is an idiot who sent every man he had, including the guards on the walls, to help the other city, or the Stark’s soldiers are so stupid that they didn’t hear iron hooks bouncing off stone walls.

I don’t know who is to blame for this terrible piece of writing but somebody ought to get flogged for it.

So now Theon and his one ship worth of men (laughable) are occupying the whole of Winterfell. To prove that he is serious about things, Theon lops off Ser Rodrik’s head. Nothing punctuates a scene like the death of a minor character.

Skip ahead and the Stark’s resident wildling gets naked for Theon, offering up savage pleasures to her new lord in exchange for freedom. After shagging Theon into a coma, she leaves his bed to free Hodor, Bran, and Rickon Stark.

A cripple, a child, and an idiot escape from a castle…it sounds like the setup to a Marx brothers joke.

The Riverlands

Not much of note happens here. Robb Stark has a chat with that nurse from a few weeks back. In the process he figures out that she is noble born, puppy love eyes soon follow.

Catelyn Stark returns to the camp just in time to cock block Robb. Ma Stark reminds Robb that he’s promised to one of the daughters of that guy from last season who controlled the bridge.

As if being married ever stopped Ned Stark or Robert Baratheon from doing as they pleased.

When a raven arrives with news of Theon Greyjoy’s attack on Winterfell, Robb begrudgingly delegates the counter attack to one of his banner men. The only thing that keeps him from going himself was a reminder that he has the Lannisters on the run.

I’m actually okay with things being a bit slow paced in Robb’s story. I know it’s going to lead up to a huge battle (or some sort of game changer) either at King’s Landing or in Castlerly Rock.

Qarth

It’s time to fire Emilia Clarke. No, I’m serious. Her outrage as Daenerys Targaryen borders on comical. This week she pitched a fit in the home of a Qarthian noble, demanding ships and men to retake Westeros. As she was yelling about her rightful claim to the Iron Throne, it almost looked as if the actress was trying to fight a smile while delivering her lines.

I know that some of the fault lay in the writing – Daenerys’ character is much younger than Emilia Clarke – but her inability to convey a proper range of emotions is only making a bad thing worse.

So what actually happened in Qarth? Daenerys pitched some tantrums, nobody would help her, and then her dragons were stolen.

King’s Landing

Everybody assembles at the beach to see Princess Myrcella Baratheon shipped off to Dorn. Cersei, who refuses to believe that her brother is acting in his niece’s, and the family’s, best interest swears an equal vengeance on Tyrion. Anybody want to place bets on how long it takes Cersei to find out about Shae?

En route to the keep, the Royal party is met with jeers and cat calls from the great unwashed. One person even lobs a pile of shit in Joffrey’s face. Enraged, Joffrey orders his men to kill the poop slinger. With that command, a full blown riot ensues.

This scene was amazing. Sheer unbridled populist outrage takes hold of the city. Lannister guards are torn limb from limb by the mob. Poor Sansa, who Joffrey left to her fate despite Tyrion’s objections, nearly gets gang raped just because she looks to be high born. The only thing that saves her is the Dog’s timely intervention.

Then, the coup de grace, the thing that we’ve all been waiting for: Tyrion slaps Joffrey. The slap came on the heels of the line of the night, also uttered by Tyrion, “We’ve had idiot kings and vicious kings, but you are the first vicious idiot that we have ever seen.”

At this rate, Stannis Baratheon isn’t going to have to attack King’s Landing. He’ll just need to show up and the people of the city will give him the Iron Throne.

Harrenhal

Once again, nothing here was particularly essential to the main plot.

During a strategy meeting we learn that Tywin Lannister’s councillors are idiots – probably why he is losing the war. We’re also treated to a bit of Tywin’s back story. Hearing about how he taught Jamie to read, despite his eldest son’s dyslexia, was enough to make me wonder why his children turned out as they did. In fact, he hardly seems like the same man who orchestrated Tyrion’s tactical heart break.

After that, Arya orders her second kill when one of the Lannister guards catches her with a stolen letter concerning Robb’s troop movements. So who will be the third to get it at the hands of the Ghost? Tywin himself, perhaps?

Later, Little Finger shows up for a planning session with Tywin. He suggests getting House Tyrell on side with the Lannisters, despite the fact that they were recently allied through marriage to Renly Baratheon. All the while, Arya attempts to keep her back turned on Lord Baelish lest he recognize her. I suspect we’re meant to think Arya was successful in remaining anonymous as to heighten the surprise next week if/when Little Finger confronts her.

The Bottom Line

After watching King’s Landing tear itself apart, I continue to lament the fact that the majority of the show’s focus has left that city. I know the source material does little to bring the divergent stories together, but television doesn’t lend itself to that sort of writing. The writers need to start taking liberties with the novels whereby they bring more of the cast together. Otherwise the plots, as well as the character interactions, risk going prematurely stale.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Episode 2: The Night Lands

One does not threaten Tyrion Lannister.

Summary Judgement: “The Night Lands” is a strong episode that spends most of its focus on Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister, with an occasional jaunt to Theon Greyjoy’s old stomping grounds and a trip across the Narrow Sea.

*Spoiler Alert*

Part 1 – Recap

““The Night Lands” begins north of the wall. There’s no real action between the men of the Night’s Watch and the looming wildling/white walker threat. Instead, the audience is treated to an anthropology lesson within Craster’s incestuous/polygamist village. Gilly, one of Craster’s pregnant daughter-wives, approaches Sam and Jon Snow with a request for protection and freedom from her father-husband. The girl hints at some sort of enigmatic fate if her child is born male. Though Sam is sympathetic to her request, Jon refuses to hear anything on the subject. The end of the episode sees Jon investigating a male baby abandoned in the woods only to be found by some sort of white giant monster thing.

Events in King’s Landing focus primarily on Tyrion with a brief appearance by Cersei and Little Finger. Upon returning to his room in the palace, Tyrion finds Shae and Lord Varys having an eerily pleasant conversation. The defacto Hand of the King confronts the spymaster, informing him that unlike Ned Stark he knows how the game is played. For those who don’t recall, Tywin Lannister, the actual Hand of the King and patriarch of the Lannister clan, forbade Tyrion from bringing his whore with him to King’s Landing. The situation is left at an impasse as Varys responds to Tyrion’s threat to have him thrown into the sea with a colourful sailing metaphor.

Exercising his power as Hand of the King, Tyrion then proceeds to fire the previous Lord Commander of the City Guard, much to Cersei’s outrage. In place of the man who betrayed Ned Stark, Tyrion appoints his sell-sword Bronn to the position. During her confrontation with Tyrion over Bronn’s promotion, Cersei reveals that it was not she who ordered the execution of all of King Robert’s bastards, but Joffrey. Cersei and Tyrion also trade a few insults on how the latter’s life was not worth the death of their mother.

Little Finger’s role in this episode is so small as to almost escape notice. Having witnessed the death of a baby at the hands of Joffrey’s thugs, one of his courtesans won’t stop crying (I think it was Ros from up north, but it’s been so long who can remember these passing details). So Lord Baelish tells Ros(?) a story about how his women are “investments” subject to any imaginable depravity of a paying customer. It’s possibly the most creepy straighten up and fly right speech ever.

Maisie Williams: a child actor who can actually act.

On the Kingsroad, two riders from the Kingsguard catch up with the convoy containing Arya Stark and Gendry Baratheon. Arya dives into a ditch, fearful that the men are after her. In doing so she tips her hand to Gendry. Later in the episode Arya reveals to Robert’s bastard that she is in fact Arya Stark. Gendry almost blushes when it occurs to him that he’d pissed in front of a high born lady.

Elsewhere, Theon Greyjoy returns home to the Iron Islands in search of his father’s support for Robb Stark’s war against the Lannisters. After accidentally getting to third base with his sister en route to the castle, Theon gets the verbal equivalent of a bitch slap from his father who sees his son as nothing more than a Stark dandy. Lord Balon then burns Robb’s request for an alliance. Balon then calls upon Yara, Theon’s sister, as the leader of the Iron Island’s military forces; a force that would not be directed against the Lannisters.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys, her dragons, and her followers are still lost in the Red Waste. Hopes are dashed as one of her reconnaissance riders returns headless. Then one of the Dothraki women sounds off about souls and mysticism.

Meanwhile “King” Stannis Baratheon has taken to recruiting pirates into his army via Davos Seaworth. Stannis spends much of his screen time lamenting the fact that his younger brother Renly has filched 100,000 men who would otherwise be under his command. Meanwhile that red haired woman (Her name is Melisandre but I don’t think anybody has actually said it in the show) suggests that Stannis shag her rotten on a giant Settlers of Westeros board give himself over “fully” to the new one true god.

Part 2 – Criticism

Though I’ve never read the Song of Fire and Ice novels, I’ve heard that George R. R. Martin loves adding new characters to the story. This is problematic for a television adaptation. Unlike Heroes, Game of Thrones seems to have a good handle on its sprawling cast. Rather than giving everybody five minutes, the series is being efficient in focusing on the relevant stories. Because, really, do we need to see Caitlin Stark for two minutes while she rides to Renly Baratheon’s fortress? Do we need more of Bran as an underage bureaucrat? I think not.

Let’s talk Lannisters for a moment. There’s little room for doubt that Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey have earned their top billing in the series. Consider that Tyrion Lannister’s exchange with Varys was more important than it seemed. To my recollection, this was the first time that the imp has ever been truly out manoeuvred by another character. Similarly, Queen-Regent Cersei has proven herself adept at being out flanked by the actions of her sadist son: first in his execution of Ned Stark and more recently with his hunt for Baratheon bastards. Yet where outrage and counter plots could well be expected, both characters have leaned more toward vulnerability. Headey and Dinklage seem to have taken that one step farther in conveying, dare I say, a degree frailty through their acting. That said, were I in Westeros, I would not so much as breathe in the wrong direction of Cersei Lannister.

Theon gets -2 on all charisma rolls for being way too smarmy.

Also on the subject of Lannisters, as Cersei and Jamie have made incest a bit of a moot point within the series, I won’t bother waxing poetic on Theon Greyjoy’s advances toward his sister. Well maybe just one thing: nine years might be a long time, but it’s not that long of a time when the object of affection is a sibling. On a positive note, Alfie Allen has always done a marvelous job in playing Theon as an upstart who regularly forgets his place within the world. Watching Patrick Malahide as Balon Greyjoy ruthlessly emasculate his son was a welcome piece of hubristic comeuppance.

My only complaint rests within Daenerys Targaryen’s plot point. It is the exception to the general rule that Game of Thrones is good with efficiency in storytelling. Rather than witnessing a fit of histrionics that did nothing to get the would-be Khalessi out of the Red Waste, I would have preferred to see an extra two minutes spent clarifying the relationship between the Greyjoys and the Starks. Maybe that got explained last season, but it’s been a while and I shouldn’t have to look these things up on a Game of Thrones’ Wikipedia page. Say nothing for the troublesome fact that the series is playing with issues orbiting the Dothraki and race with all the aplomb of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his treatment of the Green Martians vs the Reds.

Bottom line: It’s a mostly good episode with some very strong acting from the principle cast. There’s not a lot of plot movement, but this early on in the season it is still a game of catch-up more than anything else.


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Book Review: The Warriors Anthology #2

A couple of weeks ago I came across a copy of the second Warriors anthology. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois edited this tome, with the latter including a story within the volume. The book promises “long form stories of war and warriors from some of the most compelling storytellers now writing.” Rather than writing individual posts for each story, I thought I’d try my hand at writing an ultra-pithy review for each offering.

Seven Years from Home by Naomi Novik

One word summary judgement: Meh

Novik’s story reads like James Cameron’s Avatar. The story’s protagonist is a diplomat for a Terran based interplanetary alliance. The first person narrative sees this character correcting the history that has arisen around her due to her role in a war between an indigenous culture and an industrialized colonizing force. Naturally, the indigenous population is more advanced than anybody ever suspected. As a student of history, I couldn’t get past the clichés to really enjoy this story. Those who don’t use/hear words like “agency”, “genocide”, “biopolitics”, and “colonialism” on a regular basis are more likely to engage with this narrative.

Dirae by Peter S. Beagle

One word summary judgement: Metaphysical

Beagle’s entry begins with some free verse poetry that almost made me skip the entire story. Once he shifts into prose things get more interesting, but not necessarily more comprehensible. An entity that is corporeal but spirit-like finds herself constantly teleported to the scenes of looming tragedy. In each successive event she prevents a given horror of urban life: assault, murder, neglect, emotional abuse, et cetera. The ending is open to some speculation. However, what’s clear is that this spirit encompasses one person’s desire to do more. It’s moving if nothing else.

Ancient Ways by S.M. Stirling

One word summary judgement: Tedious

Ancient Ways is an original story set within Stirling’s “Emberverse.” The problem here is that there’s not much to enjoy in this story if, like me, you didn’t like Dies the Fire and its follow-up books. Truth be told, I find the concept of “the change” – a supernatural event that reduces modern Earth to a pre-industrial society – to be a lazy way to get around actually destroying the world. Because of that, I couldn’t engage with this story set on the Russian Steppe. To its credit, the descriptions of the ethnic groups which make up that region of the world are remarkably accurate. Likely a great read for current Stirling fans, but nothing that changed my opinion of this particular world.

The Scroll by David Ball

One word summary judgement: Ruthless

Ball’s story, set in 17th century Morocco, is one of psychological torment. The protagonist, Baptiste, is a French army engineer who is captive to a capricious Moroccan king. It is a story of determinism and cruelty as Baptiste’s fate hinges not upon the tyrant himself, but a mysterious and prophetic scroll. The events of the story orbit a single question, “Will you kill for me, Engineer?” At the crux of that question is a moral dilemma between actively killing and allowing others to die through inaction. The evocative language invites readers to measure their own moral fortitude against the horrors of Morocco’s dungeons.

Recidivist by Gardner Dozois

One word summary judgement: Incomplete

There’s an inescapable mythological allegory in play within Dozois’ story of humanity’s futile resistance against artificial intelligence. These AIs are akin to the gods of old, toying with people as objects of curiosity. The story paints an amazing canvas that elevates AIs to a point where they become extra-dimensional beings. If only the narrative were as developed as the world, then this story might have been my favourite of the anthology. So much time is given over to world building that I suspect this is simply an excerpt of a much larger work. I liked it, but the actual story is very underdeveloped.

Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop

One word summary judgement: Smart

*My favourite of the anthology*

The beauty of this story isn’t so much that it is a well crafted alternate history, but that it exists as a plausible lost chapter from the First World War. Buried under the static trench lines of the Western Front, an international resistance group plots to end the suffering that comes with nationalism and war personified. Their tools in this mission: Esperanto and the recognition that the fighting man is not an automaton. In truth, I never would have thought that a failed universal language would work as a narrative device. Waldrop’s story simultaneously embraces pre-1914 idealism while rejecting its arrogance. A  theme of war as the enemy of universality should resonate with all contemporary readers.

Out of the Dark by David Weber

One word summary judgement: Unexpected

Judge me if you will, but I liked this story. It’s not the best of the anthology, and in typical Weber fashion it says in 30,000 words what could be said in 20,000. In this particular alien invasion scenario, the entirety of the Earth becomes a Balkans. Orbital strikes destroy the planet’s major cities, but pacifying the rest of humanity proves harder than the occupying forces expected. Readers will likely find the story’s ending to be completely polarizing as it blends an effective alien invasion scenario with a deus ex machine that is lifted directly out of gothic literature. Despite being a one-off, the story possesses the exacting detail that is the hallmark of David Weber’s writing.

Final Judgement: This anthology offers more hits than misses. At a $10 price point, if you buy it new, I’d say Warriors 2 is a fine investment of time and money.