Lena Headey Archive

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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 5

Oh yeah, that's what they're doing up there.

Damn it all to hell. I had so hoped to start this review with, “Wow, that was the greatest smoke monster killing frenzy I have ever seen.” Ah well, we can’t always get what we want. The short, fast, and dirty of “The Ghost of Harrenhal” is that the only plots worth caring about are happening in the South of Westeros. The farther North and East the story is set, the more obvious it is that the writers are working overtime to keep the audience’s interest.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The Stormlands

The episode begins with Catelyn Stark negotiating a deal with Renly Baratheon. Renly’s content to let Robb be king of the North, so long as Robb swears fealty to Renly in the same way that Ned Stark swore his loyalty to Robert Baratheon. It’s probably the best deal either party could hope for, so of course it’s all going to go terribly wrong. Melisandre’s smoke baby apparates into Renly’s tent and stabs the man who would be king through the chest. Renly dies. Brienne screams, then cries, then kills a couple of guards who thought she killed Renly. Fearing that they will both be hung for treason, Catelyn convinces Brienne that she must flee in lieu of seeking revenge.

Dawn sees Stannis Baratheon’s fleet closing on Renly’s encampment. Little Finger bursts in on Margaery and Loras Tyrell holding vigil over Renly’s dead body. Margaery orders her brother to saddle their horses so that they, as well as the Tyrell banner men, can flee. We are, however, left with the implication that we haven’t seen the last of Margaery Tyrell. When Little Finger asks if she wants to be a queen, Margaery answers, “No, I want to be the Queen.”

Liam Cunningham (seen above) once thanked me for a compliment I paid him on twitter. True story.

Aboard Stannis’ flagship, Davos Seaworth attempts to confront his king about Melisandre’s smoke baby. Stannis, dour as ever, is hearing nothing of it. Citing the courage to give bad news as a key part of loyalty, Seaworth admits to Stannis that the men fear Melisandre will take King’s Landing from Stannis as easily as he took Renly Baratheon’s men. Reluctantly, Stannis agrees to leave Melisandre behind when they push on King’s Landing. Stannis also assigns Seaworth to command the invasion of the aforementioned city. I coudn’t quite tell if Stannis made the decision in the same way that Tywin Lannister assigned Tyrion to the front lines of his first battle against Robb Stark; the expectation being that he would die. Seaworth has been nothing but loyal, but he also knows that Melisandre is a magic user. If Stannis wins the Iron Throne, Seaworth, who knows that Stannis’ power base rests in sorcery, might prove a liability.

Elsewhere, between the Riverlands and the Strormlands, Catelyn and Brienne try to decide their next step. Brienne wants revenge, but Catelyn advises her against an inevitably suicidal effort. Instead, Brienne offers herself to Catelyn as bodyguard in exchange for a promise that when the time comes, Brienne will get to kill Stannis. It’s actually a rather touching scene to see two of the strongest characters, one literally the other spiritually, exchanging fealty with each other. In that moment the audience can truly understand why the Starks are so beloved by their people.

King’s Landing

Having heard of Renly’s death, Cersei Lannister is positively dripping with hubris. Despite the fact that the Lannisters are now outnumbered on land and sea by Stannis Baratheon’s forces, Cersei is confident in King Joffrey’s plans to deal with a siege of King’s Landing.

Yeah, I said King Joffrey’s plan. And as Bronn points out with his usual aplomb, the plan is bat shit crazy.

After pressing his cousin for information, Tyrion finds out that some combination of the Cersei/Joffrey brain trust has ordered the creation of something called Wild Fire aka Westeros’ version of Greek fire/napalm. And there’s something on the order of 9000 kegs of the stuff inside the walls of King’s Landing. So maybe the Lannisters will repel the invasion, or maybe, as Bronn suggested, they will burn the city around themselves trying to lob exploding Wild Fire projectiles from catapults.

We also learn that the people of King’s Landing are not particularly happy with good King Joffrey’s rule. One particular street preacher lets the audience in on the fact that the people don’t blame Joffrey, they blame Tyrion, the “Demon Monkey” pulling the king’s strings. Ah irony, it’s such a delicious thing. The one person who actually gives a shit about the people of King’s Landing is being written off as the reason for their suffering.

Pyke

Theon Greyjoy is back. In his one scene, he introduces himself to the crew of his ship, the Sea Bitch, like a preening fop. Low and behold, the crew don’t care about him. His first mate reminds him that they are iron islanders and thus accustomed to doing what they like. Translation: perhaps Theon should sack-up and do what he likes as well.

So instead of going to raid fishing villages, Theon decides/is manipulated into attacking a village near Winterfell. Though it’s never said, the implication is that once Bran Stark sends men to aid the village, Theon and his one ship will go besiege Wintefell itself.

I call shenanigans on that.

One sailboat with a crew of 150 men (just guessing based on the size of the ship – also if they don’t have cannon why would they square rig a ship?) can not possibly besiege, let alone capture, a castle. What are they going to do, throw rocks and foul language at Winterfell’s walls?

Winterfell

Bran continues to hold court as Lord of Winterfell. After dealing with pasture problems, word reaches him of the attack on the aforementioned village. Playing into Theon’s “plan” he dispatches 250 men to deal with the incursion. So now Winterfell is vulnerable, I guess. Things make even less sense after Bran talks to the wildling “slave” woman about a dream where the sea floods Winterfell keep. Okay, Bran has a bit of prescience happening if we view the sea as a metaphor for the imminent Greyjoy attack, that’s cool. But then the wildling “slave” confirms what we know from the show’s opening credits, Winterfell is a walled city in the interior of Westeros.

Maybe I’m missing something from not having read the books, but I don’t see what threat one ship full of surly pirates is against a land locked city. Perhaps Theon has some sort of semaphore system that he can use to signal his sister with her 30 ships…so they can all walk inland together?

North of the Wall

Does anybody remember why the men of the Night’s Watch went North of the Wall? I had a serious “oh yeah, that’s why” moment when the Watchmen reminded us that there’s some wilding king who has rallied all the other wildings behind him. Atop some mountain that was settled by the first people who lived in Westeros (narrative infodump warning) the Lord Commander and his rangers decide they need to send a small team of men to kill the wildling king rather than engaging him in pitched battle. So off Jon Snow goes with the rangers to do just that, I think.

Here’s the problem with this plot thread. It seems like the writers are desperate to come up with something for Jon Snow to do. Again, I haven’t read the books, so maybe the powers that be are doing exactly what they should be doing. However, it seems to me that they haven’t locked on to a motivation for Jon Snow that translates from text to television. Last season I knew why the Night’s Watch was important. This season they have spent so much time diddling around with Craster, Sam, Gilly, and dead babies that even though the white walkers are upon them and wildling kings are raising an armies, neither of the two seem very menacing. The entire expedition has the tone of camping trip, rather than an incursion into hostile territory.

So how about this, let’s kill Sam next week. Nothing would raise the stakes better than killing the nicest person on the show.

Qarth

Honestly baby, I want you for your body, not your dragons.

See Daenerys. See Daenerys go to parties. Party, Daenerys, party. Once again, Daenerys spends the episode alternating between confusion and outrage. First, she learns that Robert Baratheon is dead. Then Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the black guy who let her into Qarth, reveals that he is filthy stinking rich and wants Daenerys to marry him. In exchange he will outfit her with men, horses, and ships to mount a campaign against the Seven Kingdoms. Jorah Mormont convinces Daenerys that the men she needs to reclaim the Iron Throne are in Westeros, not Essos. Mormont then adds that she will need only one ship, a ship to carry her home.

So the plan is that Daenerys is going to walk into Westeros, announce to everybody that she has some baby dragons, and then those same people will forget about her father’s insane rule and rally behind her?

I don’t care if it’s a divergence from the novels, but it’s time to either do something very interesting with Daenerys Targaryen or kill her so we can focus on more interesting characters.

Harennhal

The eponymous ghost of Harrenhal turns out to be one of the men that Arya freed from the prison cart. After some talk about the Red God, he offers Arya three lives in exchange for the three that she spared. Arya first asks for the life of the man who was torturing the prisoners. The Ghost delivers it to her at the end of the episode.

The big question is this: will Arya ask for the life of Tywin Lannister. On the one hand he’s the man who saved her, Gendry, and the other prisoners from certain painful death. He’s also the man waging a losing war against her brother and is, indirectly, responsible for the death of her father. Arya statement to him that “any man can be killed” could certainly be construed as an adequate foreshadow of events to come. But Arya’s not stupid, there’s no real point in killing her benefactor without an exit strategy.

The man with no name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that, as they say, is that. Five episodes down, five to go.


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Television Review/Recap Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 3

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

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

Let’s recap via geography.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The Wall

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

Winterfell

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

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

The Iron Islands

So, we're cool, right?

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

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

The Stormlands

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

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

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

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

The Kingsroad

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

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

King’s Landing

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

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

The Bottom Line

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


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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.