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TV Review: True Blood Season 6

Every summer I find myself sitting down to write a post like this. And true to form, every year I always ask myself why I keep watching True Blood. I have no good answer.

I suppose the academic in me wants to understand how something so dumb can be so popular. The iota of intelligence that underwrote the series’ ongoing vampires versus humans meta-conflict dropped off the grid sometime around the end of season two. Since then it has been nothing but downhill. Granted, we do get treated to the occasional scene stealing one-liner, usually courtesy of Kristin Bauer van Straten’s acerbic vampire Pam. But in between those great moments, wherein at least one writer recognizes the absolute crap that the rest of his/her colleagues are flinging against the wall, the audience has been subjected to were-puma gang rapes, Iraqi fire-starting ghosts, and vampires tripping balls on the blood of their messiah.

After season five dressed up pointless faffing about as a vampire religious schism, it was good to see season six trying to recapture some of the early series’ “us versus them” energy. There is an appropriate, if mildly stupid, conspiracy which sees the enactment of martial law, abuses against constitutional rights, and the creation of a vampire internment camp in Louisiana. All of this is very good. But then the series had to bring in fairies, building from there to a Christianity driven vampire Final Solution.

Come on, writers. You have to assume that there are a few people who aren’t watching the show for eye candy. Do you really think you can go from internment to a Final Solution over the course of two weeks of plot time?

If anti-vampire fascism was executed as the singular focus of the season, I think could have got on board the genocide train bandwagon. In such a scenario, there would have been time to properly show the breakdown of due process and the rise of a police state in and around Bon Temps. But why shade the conflict when the series can take a tedious trip to the dark side and back again via Alcide Herveaux. If that’s not enough for you, we can witness the mental breakdown and suicide of a tertiary character, who prior to this season was lucky to have an average of five lines per episode. And if you’re still hungry for more distractions from the main plot, there’s fairy bullshit which, though eventually becoming relevant to the main plot, does little other than fill time for the first five episodes.

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again this year, half of the show’s characters need to die. If the ensemble continues to see an annual net growth – this year we got a new baby vampire, Jason’s vampire girlfriend, Jessica’s vampire boyfriend, Sam’s girlfriend, and Warlow the vampire-fairy – then the shallow veneer of self-seriousness that the show maintains is going to crack under its own weight.

Despite these problems, I have to recognize this season as an improvement on the previous three. There’s a faint awareness, in both the writing and the acting, that the show is running off the rails. In that light, I quite enjoyed watching Ryan Kwanten, Alexander Skarsgård, Rutina Wesley, and even Stephen Moyer chewing up the scenery from week to week. In some ways, this season of True Blood reminds me of the final season of Blakes’ 7; therein Paul Darrow’s performances always seemed to be charged by the knowledge that the series had turned into a hot mess. Rather than let that knowledge limit him, he played Avon as hard as he could. The same can be said for select members of True Blood’s cast.

I imagine most fans and critics would join me in dismissing the season finale’s “six months later” time jump as utterly lazy writing.  This skip ahead is indicative of the poor pacing and excess filler material found within the season. Suppose that everything that happened in season six, prior to the flash forward, were condensed into the first five episodes, the last five could have taken us from internment to attempted genocide without the hand waiving of “Hepatitis V” and Eric flying off into the sunset to set things right. Maybe, just maybe, the audience would have liked to see some natural plot development. Now the writers have put themselves in a place where the first few episodes of season seven are going to get caught up in navel gazing as plot holes are necessarily plugged.

I won’t deny that the wandering vampire army in the finale’s final frame set up an interesting conflict. At the same time, when you roll a metaphorical grenade into a crowded room, only one of two things can happen.

If it goes boom, then we are witness to a wholesale slaughter of Bon Temps at the restaurant formerly known as Merlotte’s. Cool? Absolutely. And while that’s a great hook, we must ask where a show with a limited capacity for deep writing can go from there? Granted, True Blood isn’t beneath a good wholesale slaughter to advance the plot. But from my point of view, it can only play that card once per season. Suppose then that the grenade is a dud, and the vampires don’t massacre the assembled citizens of Bon Temps; ladies and gentlemen you just spent the winter in anticipation of a fake out.

It doesn’t take Carson in a turban to foresee a lead Hep-V vampire flinging invectives and threats at the good people of Bon Temps. The assembled healthy vampires and humans, with Jason and his girlfriend as mouthpieces, will draw a line in the sand, and before you can “drop fang” we’ll be back to the posturing and wanking of season five. Sherriff Andy certainly can’t show up with a tactical team and kill all the itinerant vampires. If that happened we would need a new conflict for the coming season. So when we come right down to it, the “six months later card” has only served to put next season behind the narrative eight ball.

All in all, I wouldn’t call True Blood’s sixth season a traditionally “good” season of television. Measured against the incredibly low standards that True Blood sets for itself, season six does land well above the curve. It’s an improvement over what we’ve been seeing for the last three years, but those were three genuinely awful seasons of television. I suspect, however, this success will be short lived as the portents for season seven do not bode well.

Now if there’s any justice in the universe, I won’t have to write about sexy vampires for another year.


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Aaron Sorkin, You’re Doing it Wrong: How to Fix The Newsroom

After due consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that The Newsroom is a show I love to hate. Since the Fukushima episode I have tuned in every Sunday night at ten, contributing to its old-school ratings as if it were the bygone days of television that the series seems to eulogize. And by eleven I come away from it saying, “What was Aaron Sorkin thinking?”

Each week Sorkin’s name is slathered over the writing and directing credits, so for the purposes of this review I will hold him directly accountable for every hanging lantern, pointless pratfall, and reduction of female characters to base fits of histrionics. It’s a testament to Emily Mortimer’s acting abilities that she could get through those laughable “My life has been good and honest and pure” speeches. Witness this week as the script had her run the interrogative, “What was the rest of the message?” into the ground. In deference to Mr. Sorkin, I do walk away from each episode thinking “I wish we did live in a world where more journalists placed a premium on rational discourse and an informed population.”

But for a moment, let’s stop and think about The Newsroom’s audience. Though I know my peer group and twitter network hardly constitute an accurate sample, but it seems to me that the sort of people who watch The Newsroom are already invested in ideas of rational discourse – regardless of their specific political affiliations and opinions. Yet the approach the series takes to its call for critical thinking borders on proselytizing. Yes, I know Will McAvoy is, for many of my American friends, a point of wish fulfillment. Yet the enlightened mind will only accept the same message for so long, regardless of how much the ideas resonate, before repetition begins to breed contempt. Bearing this in mind I would ask Mr. Sorkin how he plans to grow the series’ audience. Assuming Sorkin, as the writer/director/creator of The Newsroom, is aware that probably half of his target audience, Americans who can afford premium cable or have the chops to download it illegally, won’t care for ideas which are the anathema of popular Republicanism as demonstrated by the RNC, I must inquire after his master plan for getting more people to watch a show which revels in dialogues previously deemed to be un-American under the Bush administration? Apropos of News Night, The Newsroom must find its 2.0 update lest it bore the current audience.

Upon examining the series finale, there are obvious avenues for change which would facilitate a long-term growth potential. For one, Sorkin needs to do better with his female characters.

As if to round out certain shorter episodes, this season has seen an on-again off-again story of unrequited love between Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). Setting aside the fact this love triangle looks to be ripped from The Office’s playbook, it reached new heights of tedium this week. After Jim becomes the topic of a fight between Maggie and her best friend, Maggie leaves a downtown bar and takes to yelling at a Sex in the City bus tour full of “woo girls”. Therein she delivers an impassioned speech proclaiming herself the true single woman in New York, as seen here.

 

Pro tip: If the previous scene has two female characters barfing all over the Bechdel Test, do not as a male writer/director get high and mighty with respect to your show’s portrayal of women. I’ve only watched as much Sex in the City as my partner has made me (I am told that puts me at the top of the curve as straight males go vis-a-vis knowing the major plots and relationships of the aforementioned drivel) but for the last two episodes Maggie is certainly as insipid and tiresome as Carrie Bradshaw after she cheats on Aidan with Mr. Big. The sound you are now hearing is me slow clapping Sorkin’s myopic chutzpah.

I don’t care if this is some high irony in action or if Sorkin has explained the scene away as more “television on television” meta-criticism, but enough is enough. Sorkin didn’t know how to write women as anything other than blow job machines in The Social Network, and he can’t write them now.

What the series really lacks is actual story telling. In fairness, The Newsroom has demonstrated a great capacity for telling compelling original narratives. Unfortunately, the the plot points which explored TMI’s phone hacking, Will’s death threats, and internet trolling felt like The Newsroom’s neglected bastard sons. Pardon me for mixing my HBO metaphors, but anything original, even if inspired by real world events a la Law & Order, was afforded all the courtesy of Jon Snow before leaving Winterfell for The Wall. Aaron Sorkin’s true born children are the stories that venerate a dying medium. If it is yesterday’s news filtered through the nostalgia bloated journalistic integrity of ACN, then it is worthy of the A block. Otherwise, these stories are told in fits and starts and, by rights, would be worthy of their own properly developed episode in any other series. Thus do we return to the core challenge inherent to The Newsroom’s message and audience, the mob will grow weary of a one trick pony. Furthermore, the constant use of fictionalized takes on real events will lead to only one endgame as a means of keeping the audience engaged: the most loathsome of all news features, human interest stories.

Though much of my initial negative reaction to The Newsroom came in the form of a culture shock wherein even non-news journalists in Canada ask hard questions, after one season I’ve squared those ideas against the series’ broader shortcomings. Yet, none of those weaknesses are terminal. The Newsroom can be made better with minimal effort. I would love nothing more than to get through an hour with Will McAvoy and friends without having Aaron Sorkin rub my nose in something, be it American exceptionalism, how his show is better than other shows, or his inability to distinguish between social awkwardness with pedestrian stereotypes in writing Olivia Munn’s character.

Do better, Aaron Sorkin. You did better on Sports Night without relying on schmaltz and nostalgia as crutches. Do better now. Because if you stay the course, the very people who currently support your show are likely to see your picking on the limited intellect and world view of Nancy Grace, and her tragic kith, as bullying rather than useful criticism.


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Television Review: True Blood Season 5

*Spoilers Ahead*

There is no better sign that winter is coming than my annual True Blood post. Of course this also means Episodes, my summer time answer to Community, is probably nearing the end of its season; more on that particular series in another post, though. So what are we to say about the fifth season of a show which began as vampire soft core porn and an excuse to see Anna Paquin naked? Compared to the third and fourth seasons, this one is a step in the right direction. It’s just a shame that we had to suffer through twenty some episodes of crap before getting to a place where vampire Bill could turn himself into Stephen Dorff’s character from Blade.

And for the record, I realize any criticisms I make in this post are by and large going to be as effective as pissing into the wind. True Blood gets all the ratings in the world and will likely be renewed for ten thousand seasons so long as the market research indicates people reacting well to key members of the cast taking off their clothes.

One of the most enduring problems with this series is its creators’ inability to contain the sprawling size of the cast. Season five saw not only the return of Russell Edgington and the Right Reverend Steve Newlin, but the introduction of Sam’s would be mother-in-law, Alcide’s pap and new girlfriend, fairies galore, and a half dozen new vampires in the form of the Authority’s inner circle. Too many characters! Too many plot threads! If Shakespeare taught us anything it’s that the best stories have plots labeled A through C. Generally, this season of True Blood ran A through E, sometimes more.

Plot A – Bill and Eric in the Authority

Plot B – Something with Faeries

Plot C – Jason, Jessica, and Hoyt’s ongoing relationship

Plot D – Sam and Luna as shape shifting vigilantes (which was reasonably interesting, too bad it was the D plot)

Plot E – Terry Bellefleur and the evil Iraqi ghost/fire monster

Plot F – Andy Bellefleur sexy time featuring waitresses and fairies

Plot G – The baby vampire hour feat. Tara and Pam

Although these stories do somewhat intersect with each other, it’s only in the final few episodes of the season where that interaction becomes meaningful. I suppose we should be grateful for getting through a year without any were-puma gang bangs. However, it’s hard to call something compelling when the good stories get equal or less time than the weak ones.

Also true to form, this season of True Blood killed off the wrong characters for utterly pointless reasons. As Roman Zimojic, Guardian of the One True Vampire Authority, Christopher Meloni was one of the best things to happen to the show. Finally there was some vampire business worth paying attention to. Then Roman was unceremoniously killed through some “divine intervention”, which spared Russell Edgington’s life. Said intervention proved to be ultimately pointless when Eric staked Russell in the season finale. So what was the point of killing these characters? What was gained? Is Roman’s death anything but a cheap way of advancing the plot? As for Russell, is it wrong to view his death as a lazy way of removing a character who was written as too powerful and too evil to be managed from word one? Meanwhile characters who could/should die (Tara, Jason, and Terry to name three) continue on about their mostly pointless lives, taking up screen time better devoted to more interesting folk.

Let’s talk Pam for a minute. Kristin Bauer van Straten, as the utterly pragmatic vampire Pam, is often the voice who says what the audience is thinking. Her character coined the phrase, “Magic Vagina” at the end of season four. So what can the writers do to make her character better for season five? How about they make her a mommy? Wait, what? But wait, there’s more. Why not break up her and Eric for a while so in every episode Pam has a chance to say, sometimes whimpering, “Where’s Eric?” Why? Why take one of the most acerbic characters on the show and foist her into a role that says Adventures in Babysitting with mild blood play and occasional fetish wear? Of course if I’m going to ask those sort of questions, then I might as well ask why the series, as a thinly veiled metaphor for gay rights, redirected itself to exploring religious literalism. Such a question would merit a post in and of itself.

So what worked in this season? Sam and Luna as vigilantes, to start. First and foremost, it got Sam out of the bar in a way that didn’t involve doggie fight clubs. Moreover, this story is just connected enough to the vampire civil war to allow Sam and Luna to have some meaningful interactions with almost every other character of note in the show.

Season five also proved to be a giant blood bath. I can’t speak to the exact numbers off the top of my head, but I don’t recall a season where so many vampires got put to the stake and so many humans got drained like meat bags. For a series that romanticises vampires to the point where they almost become neutered, very literally so in Eric’s case last season, it was pretty damn cool to see some real nasty vampires feasting on humans.

While we’re on the subject of blood baths, season five probably offered the best finale that True Blood has ever put to air. As much as I want Jason Stackhouse to die, watching him make like an over the top action movie star was amusing if nothing else. Though the inability of fast-running super-powered vampires to defend themselves against a cop with a couple of pistols did not go unnoticed. The vampire on vampire violence within the finale felt in line with religiously charged politics befitting a race of immortals. The question now becomes, in the wake of the Authority’s melt down and Bill’s transformation into the Blood God, is season 6 going to keep the momentum? True Blood is notorious for resolving cliff hangers within five minutes. If Russell died to make way for Blood God Bill as a serious threat to the world, then the series may be on to something great. Should he get hand waved away in an episode or three, freeing up air time to focus on more fairy bullshit with Sookie and Warlo, then I think the show will have jumped the shark again (not that such things matter; see previous statement on True Blood having all the ratings ever).

There we have it. Season five is better than season three and four but still a ways off from season two. The stage is now set for season six to be either fantastic (fantastic for True Blood at least) or a huge let down (which is to say more of the same crap).


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Television Review: My Declining Opinion of The Newsroom

I have this rule, well more of a guideline, when I write about television. I won’t put pen to paper until I’ve watched at least three episodes of a given series. When I first wrote about The Newsroom I broke this rule for the simple fact that Sorkin’s news drama impressed me. Perhaps the Fukushima episode appealed to my inner Japanophile. Maybe I just missed watching Sam Waterston work (I’m talking to you NBC. Law and Order was a tent pole). Whatever the explanation that lone episode made a strong impression with me. In the two episodes that have followed Fukushima, I’ve beheld The Newsroom’s descent into the sort of flip-flopping manic dreck that would have made John Kerry circa 2004 blush.

Between last week’s Bin Laden episode and this week’s Casey Anthony/NSA spying stories The Newsroom has been playing a troublesome game of post 9/11 volleyball. I should put a caveat on the word troublesome in that it is troublesome for me, probably troublesome for an international audience, but likely perfectly standard fare for Americans. What I saw as saccharine schmaltz when an otherwise acerbic and arrogant Thomas Sadoski became a flag touting rah-rah American upon simply laying eyes on an airline pilot (and PS under TSA regulations airline captains do NOT leave the cabin while passengers are on board, even if the plane is 3 feet from the gate) probably resonates at a different pitch for Americans than it does for me.

This week, however, the ball was in the other side of the court. In what amounts to the “B” story of the episode, Sam Waterston’s character is presented with a domestic surveillance scandal that strikes at the very core of civil liberties and constitutional rights in America. The subsequent investigative journalism is the sort of thing that even as recently as five years ago would have been derided as “helping the terrorists” within a very limited Bush-era political dialogue. On one level it’s great to see story telling that won’t bend the knee to this shallow discourse. But from where I sit, The Newsroom does not get to have its cake and eat it too. It’s schizophrenic at best, disingenuous at worst, to see the series taking this tack when Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy is perpetually on his soap box about inconsistency in political candidates and journalism as a whole.

To put it another way, the writers/Sorkin do not get to complain about pandering in the media this week, when last week they/he was/were guilty of the very same appeals to base emotion.

Moving past those issues, which once again I fully acknowledge may not be seen as faults to an American audience, there are some nuts and bolts details that should stand out as rather disappointing to any intelligent viewer.

Let’s start with Olivia Munn. During the Fukushima episode I looked at Munn’s performance and saw her as an Emmy rival to Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. During the last two weeks Munn has been reduced to, if you’ll pardon my French, tits and ass gags. As part of a pitch to research internet trolling, Dev Patel’s character asks Munn if he can leave some misogynist comments about her on the ACN website. Munn’s reaction is not the expected, “How dare you? I am a professional. Do not reduce me to a sexual object et cetera et cetera.” Rather, Munn shoves Patel into a wall demanding to know if her ass, does indeed, look fat.

Are you kidding me? I know it is supposed to be a throw away gag, but I’m issuing a yellow card for that infraction. What comes next? Munn’s character talking about having a bad hair day? Or maybe a male character could walk into a conversation where she’s talking about menstrual bleeding. I mean, that’s the sort of thing that would really break new ground when it comes to female characters on television.

Then there’s Emily Mortimer’s 4th wall violation. The scene of the crime is the ACN meeting room. Mortimer is forcing the News Night team to deal with the fact that they must cover the banalities of the Casey Anthony trial to recover lost audience share. Therein she makes a pointed comment against Nancy Grace and the lowest common denominator of the news consuming public who fuel the (pointless) 24 hour news cycle. Awesome. Nobody needs to come down a peg like the people who thrive on the tragedy porn (also the episode’s title) that is Fox News and CNN. But to make such a statement while looking directly at the camera? No. No, Aaron Sorkin, you forget yourself, sir. You, or your director, forget that the sort of people who watch The Newsroom are not the type who hold Nancy Grace in any sort of esteem. Mortimer’s brief moment of direct connection with the audience is wholly misplaced and utterly flagrant.

The Newsroom, in the estimation of my twitter friend Michelle Dawson (American), is what intelligent Americans desire of their journalism. Fair point. But said aspiration illustrates another flaw within the series: everything in The Newsroom is old news. It’s great that Sorkin is trying to shine a light on the short comings in America’s media culture. Yet if I want to see piss taking of that magnitude I turn to institutions like Jon Stewart and, to a lesser extent, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Angst driven snark about Anthony Weiner’s wiener tracks as Johnnie-come-lately writing. Were that this senatorial wang-chung was the “B” plot of the episode, I wouldn’t really care about having to sit through it. However issues like Weiner are too recent to be history and too trivial to still be on the cultural radar, so why make them the “A” plot? Perhaps it’s just too meta for me to appreciate.

All these points notwithstanding, I still enjoyed the burgeoning NSA surveillance scandal plot arc. So I am going to keep watching The Newsroom if only to see what happens to Perry White Charlie Skinner. I do so though now quite confident in the thought that The Newsroom is not talking to me, any other Canadian, or anybody who doesn’t have an intimate relationship with contemporary America.


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Television Review: My First Episode of The Newsroom

The Newsroom has the dubious distinction of immediately following True Blood on HBO Canada’s Sunday night line-up. Normally the psychic assault of that stupid vampire show, which I only watch to facilitate ruthless evisceration around people who swear it’s the second coming of Lost, leaves me desiring a large scotch and a good book to read. With this week’s True Blood combing the bowels of banality and self-reference to the point that it has become almost beneath my contempt, I decided to jump headlong into The Newsroom.

About twenty minutes into the sixth episode of the series’ freshman season I asked aloud, “Isn’t this supposed to be a serious drama?”

Since I fully intended to watch the show from the beginning, I’ve avoided any extensive reviews of the series. My only foreknowledge was in the form of  August C. Bourre’s tweets and this one trailer.

 

I expected Sorkin’s old media take on Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I wanted it to be Sports Night featuring Jeff Daniels as an amalgam of Dan Rydell, Casey McCall and Dr. Gregory House. What I saw was something unexpected.

Certainly The Newsroom doesn’t have the screwball comedy of Sports Night. But it does have banter, really good banter. Yet that banter never comes at the expense of actual issues. Case in point: there’s nothing funny about Will McAvoy’s on-air defence of Islam leading to credible death threats against his person. Nor is there anything amusing in discussing the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Within The Newsroom, the comedy is never in the news. Rather it’s in the writing and timing that turns 75% of the cast’s conversations about news production into sniping matches between co-workers. After only one episode, I can’t tell if The Newsroom is a journalism satire that draws on office comedy tropes, or a giant meta-mechanism for criticizing our culture’s relationship with information and ideas.

A case could certainly be made for either argument. Within this week’s episode, Will formulates a plan to restore civil discourse to the internet by stripping the anonymity from the comments section on ACN’s website. Framed as the last angry liberal (even though he’s a registered Republican), Will McAvoy puts the hubris of white privilege into perspective when interviewing a former Rick Santorum aide, who just happens to be both black and gay. Will also manages to hold fellow journalist Sloan Sabbith (played by Olivia Munn) to task for not pressing harder in interviews when she knows her guest is lying. There’s an aura of validity to all of Will’s ideas. Yet his best intentions lead to personal strife for all involved, and outright calamity for Sloan when her attempts to be aggressive lead to her making up the news. Though if we turn back to comedy for a moment, the aftermath of Sloan’s on-air attack against a spokesman for the company managing the Fukushima disaster leads to what is possibly the greatest chewing out that Sam Waterston has ever delivered.

I suppose, then, a better question to ask is if Will McAvoy’s reaction to internet culture, lowest common denominator politics, and the 24-hour news cycle is meant to criticize the aforementioned aspects of modernity, or showcase the futility of trying to change these unfortunately ubiquitous elements of life?

With Daniels commanding half the episode’s story, Olivia Munn’s character occupied much of the remainder. In short, I was damn impressed with her work. As I never watched Attack of the Show and only ever caught two of her Daily Show bits, I can’t say that I have much of a baseline for Olivia Munn’s talents. I have heard a lot about her, however. Indeed, I remember the absolute shit storm of chauvinism that shadowed her when she became a Daily Show correspondent. I also recall some ersatz controversy about her cosplaying as slave Leia. Perhaps the world has moved past those issues, perhaps not; if it hasn’t, the acting chops that Munn displays in The Newsroom must be seen as a giant middle finger to the trolls and critics who spent so much time and energy running her down. Heartbreaking is the only word that describes Munn’s performance after she throws an old friend under the bus in pursuit of McAvoy’s impossible standards of journalistic integrity. If this one episode is representative of her entire performance in the series, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a best supporting Emmy nomination in her future.

So after an hour of watching The Newsroom, here is my take away. Daniels and Munn are fantastic; the show is worth watching if for no other reason than seeing these two talented actors work. Sam Waterston as television’s answer to Perry White is magnificent. The drama is punctuated with comedy that finds humour in news production, rather than the delivery of said news. While the series seems somewhat less charming than Sports Night, it’s no less witty. Most important, to me at least, The Newsroom works with the big ideas of the day, but doesn’t attempt to package answers to questions therein with a thirty-minutes-or-it’s-free delivery – save for a clear hostility toward Rick Santorum and his retrograde ideas.

Now to watch the first five episodes and see if my theories hold up.


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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.