Credits - The first change to the game board in several weeks gives us a fast look at the daunting obstacle of the Twins. I wasn't expecting to see them include the seat of Lord Frey on the map, but it was a welcome surprise!
King's Landing, Black Cells - Part two of the book conversation between Varys and Ned. I totally dug the anti-Sopranos tactic they used at the beginning of the episode. Just as I thought my TV was screwed up, I began to hear breathing and pale torch light came into focus. The dialogue between Varys and Ned was amongst the best written of the series. Similarly, Sean Bean and Conleth Hill play their parts to perfection. Varys uses cold logic to persuade duty-bound Ned to admit to false treason in order to save himself and live out his life on the Wall. Ned, finding humor in the madness that has shaped his world, resolves not to play along with the games of court and is at ease trading life and limb to keep his honor intact. It is only when Varys mentions Sansa's well being that Ned begins to waver in his convictions. Varys lets the threat simmer as he walks off and Ned is enveloped by the darkness once more left alone to brood upon his precarious position.
Later on Jon is asked whether Eddard would forsake his honor for his family. He answered immediately that his father would do what is right. "What is right" make for a very interesting question here. To Ned, it is bringing in Stannis who for good or bad is the true heir to the kingdom. Varys on the other hand is also trying to do what is right by convincing Ned to proclaim Joffrey as the King thereby avoiding the looming war between the various parties vying for power. This scene is a great microcosm of one of the series' biggest themes. "What is right" is dependent upon the views of the individual, especially the individual with the upper hand.
The Riverlands, The Twins - I don't think it was intentional, but I laughed aloud as Theon brought down the raven leaving the Twins. We've come to expect that the birds go back and forth reliably. While it was surprising to see the bird shot down, it shows that information in Westeros is not often as readily available as might be suspected.
As Robb and his advisors discuss the most prudent approach to deal with the duplicitous Lord Frey, Catelyn devises a scheme to speak to the Lord of the Crossing that allows her to fulfill her motherly urges to protect Robb, while also being of sound enough logic to prevent anyone from arguing with her.
The Twins, Throne Room - David Bradley certainly brings the right amount of curmudgeon to the role of Walder Frey. His family and even the interior of the Twins come of similarly dingy and "frayed" . There were a few new lines such as "Your mother would still be a milkmaid if I hadn't squirted you into her belly" and "You son's got no fur to keep his balls warm" which gave Lord Frey a dry sense of humor, but I always read him a bit less gruff and a tad more weasely in his comedy. Almost like a lost-long brother to Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show.
Castle Black, Mormont's Quarters - Jon finally gets Longclaw. I loved the design they used for the pommel. Again, Mormont talks of the dishonor that his son Jorah has brought onto his house and seeing honor within Jon, he won't take no for an answer in giving the lad the blade.
Castle Black, Grounds and Dining Hall - Because of his actions against the wights, Jon has grown in status amongst the men of the Night's Watch. As he walks toward the dining hall, he's receives kudos and pats on the back from all he passes. In the hall, his close friends goad him into revealing the sword and a minor celebration ensues. Jon's good mood quickly dissipates however, as Samwell reveals that Maester Aemon has received a raven noting that Robb has gone off to war. Jon's love for his brother instantly begins to pull him away from his duty to serve on the Wall.
Outside the Twins, Robb's Camp - Negotiations over, Catelyn returns back to Robb to tell him of the bargain struck between Starks and Freys. In return for passage and Frey's swords, Cat has agreed to allow one of Frey's grandson's to squire for Robb as well as arranged for marriages to Freys for both Arya and Robb. Alfie steals the scene here with his sniggers and smirks as he watches a crestfallen Robb forced to make a tough choice for the greater good of his men and his family. Even Cat seems to struggle to keep a straight face as Robb digests it all. She can't even finish her answer when Robb queries about the looks of the candidates to be his bride. Ultimately, the hard choice is made and the newly-fortified Stark army sets off to implement Robb's strategy against the lions.
Castle Black, Rookery - Maester Aemon summons Jon to have their revealing conversation about honor versus family. We learn that the Night's Watch renounce former allegiance and forgo future love and families in order to prevent love from getting in the way of duty. When confronted, Jon bleats that Aemon can't know what he is going through, the goodly Maester begs to differ explaining that he is in truth Aemon Targaryen who has been tested himself as he stayed on the Wall while his family was overthrown and slaughtered.
It seems that the Targaryen bloodlines have been simplified a bit. Apparently Jaehaerys the Deuce was eliminated from the family tree to make the line easier to follow.
I love the way that Aemon doesn't press upon Jon to follow his oath. He ends the conversation leaving Snow to consider and act on what his heart tells him to do.
Essos, Dothraki Horde - When we pick up with Dany and the Dothrakis, Khal Drogo is much worse for the wear than last we left him. While I knew the wound he received last episode was responsible for his weakened state, I found his deterioration much too abrupt. If not for the recap of previous events before the title sequence showing Drogo taking (or giving himself) the wound, I don't know if new viewers would have been able to surmised why the great and mighty Khal, so virile the last time we saw him, has turned into a delirious shell of his former self. Dany begins to receive resistance from Qotho and some of the other Dothraki when she orders them to strike camp. At this point they begrudgingly obey, but things are beginning to unravel.
Lannister Camp, Tywin's Headquarters - Tyrion comes late to breakfast to learn that he and his clansmen have been given the "honor" of riding in the van. No mention was made of Ser Gregor commanding it which disappointed me, but the way things turn out the omission is understandable.
Lannister Camp, Tyrion's Tent - Steaming from his father's orders, Tyrion storms into his tent to encounter Shae for the first time. The first few second of Sybil Kekilli's portrayal of Shae didn't resonate with me. I didn't particularly care for the fact that they made her foreign (though I loved that line). Shae's sly humor and ability to stay in control while talking to the wily Tyrion quickly reversed my opinion of selecting Miss Kekilli for the role.
Dothraki Camp, Drogo's Tent - Dany summon Jorah to examine a vastly weakened Drogo. Jorah convinces her that Drogo will be dead soon, but he is unable to get Dany to leave, even after explaining the peril she and her unborn son will be in if Drogo dies. In desperation, Dany orders Mirri Maz Dur to use her blood magic to attempt to save the Khal. Qotho's unwillingness to obey Dany is now bordering on outright rebellion. Jorah leaves the tent to don his armor and the Maegi begins her dark work.
The death of Drogo's horse was very tense. For all the trouble they apparently had with the wolves in this series, they certainly got some very trainable horses. Too bad they keep killing them! Dany leaves the tent to let the Maegi work, but not before she is warned not to enter again until the ceremony is complete.
Dothraki Camp, Outside - Shortly after Dany exits the tent, we begin to hear other-worldly screams emanating from the tent. I was worried about how they were going to depict this scene since it begins in bright daylight. The scene takes place at night in the book and gives us the striking visuals of inhuman bodies writhing and dancing in silhouette from inside the tent. D&D came through big however opting for sound as opposed to sight to bring this crucial scene to life. The combination of the shrieks combined with MMD's ululating Dothraki Idol audition made my skin crawl. Interposing the sound effects amidst the happenings outside of the tent was a very cool way to deal with the scene. While it worked here, I do have to wonder if the production has some fear of casting at night. This is the second big night scene I can think of that was changed to daylight (Jaime and Ned's fight outside the brothel was the other). While both scenes ended up working out, I think they may have been more powerful shot at night (and in the rain for the brothel fight).
Jorah's fight with Qotho rocked. Buster Reeves killed the choreography showing the more encumbers, efficient style of an armored Westerosi knight versus the quick, powerful grave of a dothraki screamer.
The final shot of Dany being carried into the gaping maw of the tent scared the bejesus out of me!
Lannister Camp, Tyrion's Tent - While not strickly-speaking a sexposition scene, there is certainly enough back story weaved into the pillow talk of Tyrion's pre-battle sleepover with Shae and Bronn. Playing a Westerosi version of "I never" we learn several trivial facts about Bronn including that he has been beyond the Wall and that his first kill was a woman. I can't imagine what possible reason anyone would have for sending him north past the Wall, but it would be great to find out about someday. Shae is less accommodating in revealing things about her past. She pwns Tyrion, forcing him to consume enough alcohol to reveal his history with Tysha.
The scene may have eaten a lot of time out of the episode, but it was so important in developing Tyrion's character. Peter Dinklage has been spectacular so far, but I personally haven't felt that he should get an Emmy nod over some of the other actors in the series. If he does end up with a nomination, I'd like to think that this scene will push him over the top for the win.
Lannister Camp - Morning comes to find that the Starks have snuck up on the outskirts of the Lannister lines. Tyrion rushes to assemble his forces and gives a rousing speech (Go Painted Dogs!), only to be knocked unconscious by one of his own men's hammers in the press to get to the fight. He misses they entire battle, waking up on a sled drawn by Bronn in the aftermath of the Lannisters route of the Stark force. Tyrion is joylessly reunited with his father who informs him that the Starks didn't fight with more than a token of their full strength.
Whispering Woods - As Tyrion is left to wonder where the rest of the Starks are, we see them returning to an apprehensive Catelyn waiting for them on a wooded rise. I've scoured the footage from this scene and can't find Greywind anywhere. We miss the entire battle and now apparently Greywind who was such an instrumental part of the attack was nowhere to be found. How hard would it have been to have him running along with the horses?
Robb is quick to remind his men that this is only one battle fought with a war still to win. Though the dialogue was a little cliché, Richard Madden is very much growing into his position as leader.
I'd like to take a minute to discuss the two battles (or lack thereof). While I understand the concern for the huge costs associated with battle scenes, I'd like to point out that this series eventually begins to show more and more fighting. At some point, we are going to have to get a fight or two. Using clever tactics like Tyrion getting knocked out will stretch only so far.
I'd also like to point out that including certain factors that appear in the books but aren't necessarily important to the battles themselves would go a long way to appease book fans. Showing Gregor in the Lannister camp for instance, would have given us a nod while at the same time reminding new watchers that the Mountain serves Tywin. We might not be able to see him leading the van or reaving the Riverlands, but showing him returning from one of his missions of mayhem would have been awesome. Similarly, letting us watch Catelyn wait through the night with the battle going on around her (screams, metal on metal, howling) could have given us a less abrupt method of handling the fight without actually having to have filmed it. There is a great scene in Battlestar Galactica that lets us experience a major dogfight between the cylons and the humans that takes place entirely on the bride of the Galactica. You never see a single ship, but you hear the action taking place over the comms of the pilots. The end result was a very creative and effective scene depicting a large battle without having to bleed the coffers for effects and extras. A device like this would have been fantastic to let us see a bit more of the Whispering Woods fight.
King's Landing, Flea Bottom - We get a few seconds of Arya surviving on the streets of King's Landing before bells start to ring and she is off with the crowd to see what is happening with her father. There's nothing wrong with this scene, but as an Arya fan, I did feel a little short changed with the minimalistic approach they chose for this portion of her story. I thought it would have been a great place to expand instead of shrink. Instead of the boring "Piss off" baker, this would have been a fun place to introduce Hotpie into the story. Maybe Arya could have stolen one of her pies and while he is chasing her he accidentally does something to end up in trouble. Maybe He could run into Lord Gyles who bent over in a fit of coughing gets knocked into a pig sty. It would have made for a humorous moment as well as show us a reason for Hotpie's inclusion to the Night's Watch recruits.
King's Landing …… ………… ………., Baelor's Steps- Part of the reason for my late delivery of this addition to the blog was my reluctance to write about this scene. It's also why I have less links than normal. As I blogged off the episode scene by scene I just didn't feel like links were appropriate.
Aside from the less than grand steps outside of Baelor's Sept, it couldn't find a thing wrong with it. Even the slight change of Ned spying Arya at Baelor's feet served to strengthen the scene. The acting, the writing, the cinematography were all amazing. The last shot of Ned's neck right before Ice came down was so foreboding that my stomach clenched. Even though I knew this was about to happen, I was praying beyond hope that something would intervene. As Arya looks up at the pigeons in the sky (interesting imagery considering the scene begins with her snapping off a pigeons head, but now the bird fly free while it's her dad who's shorter by a head), and the show goes to the credits, I found myself literally shaking at the foot of my bed. I can't put into words how remarkable I think it is that D&D could draw this much raw emotion out of me especially when I have been expecting it all along. Amazing job with "Baelor HBO"!