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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eoisode 106 Recap: "What Happened Next?"

Sweetrobin inadvertently sums up this episode very nicely with his query to Tyrion. Episode six deals with the consequences of several character's choices from previous episodes. Catelyn's choice to take Tyrion continues to pit the two against each other in the Vale and send shockwaves across the realm. Jaime's rash misjudgment in attacking Eddard and his men has the capital in an uproar and lords across Westeros are calling their levies. Viserys' decision to marry off his sister has begun to backfire on him whilst Dany continues to come into her own. Even Robert's incapability at making the difficult choices thrust on him in his role at monarch is beginning create ramifications for both king and kingdom.
This is the second episode in a row to forgo the Wall, but we do get reacquainted with the Dothraki contingent. We also get duels,  moon doors, more Arya and Syrio, Baratheon brotherly love and Khal Drogo's first attempt at millinery!
Credits - Nothing new as far as I could tell.
King's Landing, Eddard's Bedchamber - Last episode resolved with Eddard falling to the ground unconscious after a Lannister guardsmen speared him from behind. This episode begins with Ned opening his eyes to the scowling visage of Cersei and the troubled glare of Robert.
The king is forced into the role of unwilling arbitrator as queen and hand square off against each other. The quarrel ends with Robert bestowing an "honorable" bitch slap on the queen's royal cheek.  Robert once again demonstrates his complete inability to make any meaningful decisions as a ruler. Instead of taking sides, he bullies his wife into silence and plays on Ned's honor, ordering him into obedience while resolving absolutely nothing. Then, everything still up in the air, he ducks out of the tough situation and goes hunting! In doing so he inadvertently sets off a chain of events that ultimately brings both he and Ned to ruin.
Vaes Dothrak, Dany's Tent - This scene starts out as it does in the novel, with Dany bathing a dragon egg in a brazier of hot coals. Unlike its counterpart from the book however, the outcome of the scene is drastically different. D&D seem to be taking Dany's belief that she is "the blood of the dragon" a bit more literally than George intends in his story. GRRM has been very specific in the past stating that while Targaryens feel a kinship with dragons, heat and fire, they are in no way fire resistant. One needs only to look to Aerion  Brightflame who died by drinking wildfire to perceive this.
As Dany watches the eggs in the coals, she is overcome by a urge to pick them up. As she does so, Irri sees what she is doing and grabs the egg out of her khaleesi's  hands. Dany, who handled the egg much longer than Irri is unaffected by its heat, yet the handmaiden suffers burns on her palms.
This is the second allusion to Dany's imperviousness to heat (the first was in the bath way back in Pentos). It makes for interesting foreshadowing, but the change is another example of the blunt handling of Dany and her eggs. It's much harder to convey her connection to them in film as opposed to prose, but I can't help but feel that the adaptation handles this portion of the plot a bit too heavy-handedly.
Bran's Dream, Winterfell Yard -  We revisit Bran's dream from episode three. This time the dream goes a bit further with the three-eyed crow soaring off into the dark crypts of the Kings of Winter. It seems that this dream is something of an amalgam between Bran's green dreams and Jon's recurring dream of running through an empty Winterfell. How cool would it be to show a connection between the two with Bran going further into the crypts but when the scene switches back to reality it is Jon that opens his eyes! It would be consistent with some of the visions the Stark children have later in the books.
Winterfell, Bran's Room - Bran is startled awake by an excited Hodor who brings the young lordling his new saddle. It wouldn't have hurt to let Kristian belt out an excited "Hodor" or two as he presents the saddle, but both actors express believable glee at the prospects of Bran getting back on a horse.
Wolfswood - As Bran delightfully canters Dancer around the forest, Robb and Theon have a discussion that provides us with several insights into Greyjoy's character. First off, in typical Ironborn fashion, he urges Robb to avenge his father against the Lannisters. Robb seems more thoughtful, hesitant and perhaps even a little scared of the consequences that aggression may bring. Theon reminds Robb that it is his duty to represent his house now that Eddard is incapacitated. Robb sullenly rebuts Theon that the duty is that of a Stark and not a Greyjoy. This is perhaps the first time I have ever felt any compassion for Theon or any other Greyjoy for that matter. Again, Theon is trying to represent for his foster family, but it seems that everyone whether it be Maester Luwin, Ros, Tyrion or now even his good friend Robb is keen to remind him that he is an outsider. D&D are setting Theon up nicely for the events of episode two. He is still an intolerable braggart that is much too full of himself, but he is slowly starting to become a more sympathetic figure than he has been portrayed in the novels.
Bran, lost in his joy at being able to ride again, has wandered too far away from Robb and Theon. He is accosted by Osha and her band of wildlings. Natalia Tena is perhaps a bit shorter than the Osha I remember, but otherwise looks the part. I felt bad for Stiv and his Spectorian hairdo. I guess it makes sense if you consider the materials on hand for making a toupee north of the Wall.
The wildings begin to cut Bran down from the saddle. Stiv accidentally knifes Bran's leg. The boy's lack of reaction to being cut instantly reminded me of the black foot scene from Mr. Deeds! While Robb and Theon make fast work of the wildlings, the scene unfortunately stands as another example of the inability to make the direwolves work into the script. The scene works fine enough without them, but how much more would it have paid off with Grey Wind and Summer ripping into the attackers?
The Eyrie, Sky Cells - While Tyrion narrowly avoids getting up on the wrong side of the bed in the finished cut, I was able to find an alternate version of this scene with Tyrion and Mord that didn't end so well.
I failed to noticed this last week, but I'm happy that Mord's facial injury was included in his television appearance. It’s a small thing, but every minor detail the television crew is able to include in their version of Westeros helps to make the show feel more like the original land from the story. People in GRRM's world are full of old wounds and deformities. Adding Mord's scar subconsciously reminds viewers of the harshness of the world in which the show's characters live.
The graffiti on the wall was another nice token. "Time to fly" was appropriate, but "The blue is calling" would have been cool too.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - I adored this scene between Arya and Syrio for so many reasons. D&D have thoughtfully decided to show us how Eddard's troubles are affecting his youngest daughter. We don't really see Arya take time to worry or be sad for her father until much later on in the events of the story. Syrio teaches her that learning to train in times of trouble is part of mastering both one's waterdancing skills as well as one's emotions.
Arya's progression with her swordplay is growing. She seems much quicker and Maisie is able to portray her parries with enough aptitude to almost make them seem effortless. She is still nowhere near Syrio's match, but she is definitely getting better.
The dialogue also manages to squeeze in plenty of Syrioisms.  Syrio's line about Death being the only god sent a creepy shiver down my spine that brought me back to the statue of Death in the Kindly Man's house in Braavos from A Feast for Crows. Coincidence or veiled foreshadowing?
Vaes Dothrak, Temple of the Dosh Khaleen - Dripping with blood, Dany performs the sacred Dothraki ritual of eating a horse's heart. It makes you wonder if Mola Ram might have started out a Dothraki.  Kali Ma indeed! Dany barely manages to keep it all down, but as she swallows the last bit away, the coming of the stallion who mounts the world is prophesized.
While Daenarys is the focal point of this scene, its Viserys that interests me more. I think this is the first time he truly suspects that his quest for regaining the throne will never come to pass. He sees his sister basking in the glory of her adopted people and realizes on some level that he is incapable of inspiring followers in this manner.
This point is driven home in the next scene as Viserys attempts to make off with the dragon eggs and is thwarted by Ser Jorah. It’s the first time we are given a sense of the pressure that Viserys is constantly under being the last dragon. He has been the final hope of a dynasty since he has been five years old and now he sees his sister taking all of the glory after doing what he perceives as none of the work. Even his only sworn blade (Jorah) has deserted him for Dany. After dropping the first suggestions that Jorah's intentions towards the khaleesi might not be entirely plutonic, Viserys surrenders the eggs and stalks off.
The Eyrie, Sky Cells - Tyrion continues to trick and tempt Mord into giving Lady Arryn a message that he is ready to confess. The spikes to keep birds off the cell walls are nice additions that I failed to notice in previous scenes. It's hilarious to see Tyrion have to tone down his usual persuasive vocabulary in order to present his argument at a level that the dim-witted turnkey can understand. After several failed attempts, he finally manages to convince Mord to present him to Lysa for "confession".
The Eyrie. High Hall - Tyrion is presented before Lysa, and in her vanity, she unwisely assembles her court to watch the confrontation. The script writers have managed to out GRRM George himself with the Imp's crass confession. As good a Dinklage is here, the scene is stolen by Lino Facioli when he utters the line that also serves as the title for this recap.  I'm usually drinking a glass of red wine while I watch a new GoT episode. "What happened next?" was so brilliant and so unexpected that I did a burgundy-colored spit take barely missing my wife's new white linen bed sheets. Through lewd humor and bold arguments, the Dwarf is able to maneuver Lysa into a trail by battle pitting Ser Vardis against Bronn.
We finally see the Moon Door opened and I have to say that I approve of the choice to make it a trap door. The benefits of this alteration will become more apparent later on during the duel.
Kingswood - The first thing I noticed as I watched this scene play out was how well Lancel suddenly got at doing his job. Robert made it through the entire scene without criticizing his squire once.
The trek through the woods was a mixed bag. We were able to see Robert's aforementioned view of his brothers come to the forefront as he goads and chides Renly about his character. Thankfully Renly doesn't back down and ends up letting Robert have it. He then storms off in disgust. After the questionable shaving scene last episode, it is good to see that while he may not be the battle-hardened soldier  that Robert is, he still has enough of a backbone to stand up and defend himself.
I was disappointed at the scope of the hunt. In the book, Robert leads a grand procession into the woods for days of hunting. Budgeting issues probably dictated the reduction of hunt participants, but they missed an opportunity by not including Joff. A few words of rejection by his dear old dad, followed by the young prince "bravely” shooting a mother robin in her nest at point blank range with his crossbow would have gone miles to establish Joffery's sadistic nature.
I felt for poor Ser Barristan as he quietly watched Robert gulp down more and more wine without intervening.
King's Landing, Throne Room - It seems the Lannisters have been busy. Groups of brigands have been scourging the Riverlands. Evidence, and an unusually obvious Little Finger suggest that the Lannisters and particularly Gregor Clegane are behind the attacks. Equally transparent, and agitated Grand Maester Pycelle does his best to defend the lions. Eddard isn't buying it and appoints Ser Beric Dondarrion to bring the Mountain to justice. He also goes one step further here than in the book and orders Tywin to court in order to answer for his bannermen.
The writing and delivery of this scene was off. I think Gillen was attempting to be smug towards Bean's Eddard, but the sarcasm came off a bit too subtle for my tastes. Also, Pycelle is making it a little too obvious where is true loyalties lay don’t you think?
The Eyrie, High Hall - A lightly armored Bronn squares off against a much more encumbered (Dungeons and Dragons-learned vocabulary word) Ser Vardis. Bronn dances around to the jeers of the assembled, but he soon tired out Ser Vardis and takes the initiative (another word learned through role-playing). Great choreography showing Ser Vardis tiring and Bronn getting the upper hand. This scene was near the top of the list for me as far as recreated moments from the books that I was looking forward to and it didn't disappoint.  Ser Vardis' death was an amalgam of the death of Cicero from HBO's other masterpiece Rome combined with the demise of Emperor Palpatine. It might have been even truer to the book fight though if Bronn simply sidestepped a Vardis thrust and kicked the knight out the door while still alive.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Damn you Sansa! I always wanted to know where Septa Mordane was from!
Joff interrupts the conversation between Septa and charge and presents Sansa with a locket. This is perhaps the gesture that Cersei suggested Joff make a few episodes earlier. It works spectacularly as Sansa swoons head-over-heels for the little lying shit! It might have been nice to see the septa do something to cross Joff here. Nothing major, perhaps just a suggestion to wait to enter until the Hand was home for the sake of appropriateness. A small confrontation like this might have served to enhance a certain scene-to-come that takes place up on the top of the Red Keep.
King's Road, Vicinity of Winterfell - Riding back to the castle, Theon spies Ros leaving town on the fantasy-genre cliché of a turnip cart. It's wonderful that Esme Bianco has been given a larger role in the series. Hopefully, D&D will add another new minor character or two in later seasons. I just have to question what purpose this scene served other than to help fill the nudity quota for the episode. If they want Ros down in King's Landing, she could have mentioned she was leaving in her last scene with Theon.  Of all the original scenes so far, this serves the least purpose. I would have much preferred using the time to expand the wildling attack scene or perhaps Robert's hunt.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Eddard informs the girls of his intentions to send them back home much to their chagrin. Arya is worried about her lessons and Sansa is distressed at the thought of loosing Joffery. Maisie's utterance of "Seven Hells" was priceless! Sansa's bleating inadvertently gives Ned the missing puzzle piece to the mystery he has been trying to solve regarding Jon Arryn's death. Using the book for reference, Ned discovers the meaning of "the seed is strong" as he learns the entire Baratheon line with the exception if Joffery has black hair. Using this information, I guess it's safe to assume from evidence in the previous scene that Ros has no Baratheon blood in her either!
Vaes Dothrak, Temple of the Dosh Khaleen - Viserys shows up drunk and armed to Dany's feast.  Pulling his sword out, which is a huge no-no in Vaes Dothrak,Viserys attempts to strong-arm Drogo into paying him the crown he has been promised in exchange for Dany's marriage to the Khal.  In one of the most horribly creative death scenes I can ever remember reading or watching, Drogo is true to his word and "crowns" the young Targaryen with molten gold.  I think that Drogo might have gleaned the idea for the headgear from watching SNL the night before.
Harry Lloyd's portrayal of Viserys took me a scene or two to get used to. The wonderful thing about his performance though was how he grew into and eventually surpassed the character that George created. I am still shocked to admit this some four  days after watching the scene, but I actually felt sick for Viserys when he visibly relaxes and states "That was all I wanted" knowing what was about to happen. Harry did a fantastic job!
Emilia was also splendid as a transformed Dany who knows that she is about to watch her brother die. Her last line was delivered perfectly.
Well, that's all I have for this week. I'm going to take a short breather and try to get on to episode seven before my relatives begin to arrive. LHN OUT!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Programming Note

Hey all! Just a quick note to explain how I plan to handle reviewing the last two episodes. I am working on the Ep 6 review as I type this. Hopefully it should be up by tomorrow night. I am going to wait until after Ep 7 airs on the regular HBO channel to give you my breakdown of that one.
The bad news is that some of you will have seen the episode a week prior to my review, but the good news is that I will hopefully get to post an episode seven review immediately after it runs.
I have both sides of my family coming in for the week starting this wedenesday so I won't make any promises other than I will do my best to be as timely as possible!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Midterm Musings

I've just placed a new poll up in the margin. Now that we are half way through season one, I was curious as to what you all thought the best new original scene turned out to be. I've selected what I considered to be the finest examples from each episode and placed them up to vote on. If you have any other favorites,please post them below!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Episode 105 Recap: Trading Blows

There has been a little play-fighting, plenty of training, more than a few threats and even some minor skirmishes. This week, the steel comes out in earnest with "The Wolf and the Lion". We are treated to a dizzying display of lances, shields, battleaxes, tiny little daggers, great big two-handed swords, ugly bastard swords, long swords, spears, shaving razors, and even Theon's dirk (and no, that's not a typo)!
There is also a lot of verbal dueling. Varys and Little Finger go a few rounds. Tyrion takes on the Tully sisters in a handicap match. Theon, Bran and even Maester Luwin go at it in a three-way slap fight! Theon comes back for round two as he and Ros give each other a few good jabs. Cersei and Robert square off in a slug-fest for the ages. Finally, it all ends up with a battle royal between Houses Stark and Lannister that starts with Eddard and Jaime trading barbs and quickly ends with them trading blows.
Arakhs and dire wolves are just about the only weapons you didn't see getting used this week. There is so much transpiring at the capital and in the Vale, that D&D wisely chose to forgo scenes in Castle Black and Vaes Dothrak to concentrate on the events in King's Landing. I'd like to say that I missed Dany and Jon, but this episode flew by so fast that I didn't have a spare moment to notice that they weren't being used until the end credits.
Credits - For the first time in a few weeks there is a big shift in map locations in the title sequence. The Eyrie came up so quickly I almost missed it but it was great to see.
Something I failed to notice before in the engraved metal rings around the sun/compass was the story it tells. I just saw the heraldry, but now I notice the history lesson. The Doom of ancient Valyria, Aegon's crossing of the Narrow Sea, Robert's Rebellion and installation as monarch are all included in the back story. I'm sure I'm late to the party in noticing this, but what a nice  touch!
King's Landing, Tourney Grounds - The Red Keep looms in the background as Eddard makes his way to examine Ser Hugh's remains. Robert Stromberg's hand is readily apparent this episode more so than in any other since the pilot. I'm not certain where effects end and reality begins, but both merge into an absolutely gorgeous portrait of King's Landing's outlying grounds.
As Ned approaches the lists, we see the medieval grounds crew getting ready for the day's events. Oddly I was reminded of my upcoming trip to Citizen's Bank Park this July. Of course, Philly's extracurricular field entertainment is decidedly more Westerosi in nature than Seattle's.
Ned meets Ser Barristan inside a tent where the silent sisters are preparing Ser Hugh for the trip back to the Vale. Eddard asked Barristan who held the straws the knights pulled for their tourney order. A good question. Selmy only stares back at him and gives no answer. Would this likely have been a tourney duty for the queen? I'm speculating, but it seems plausible.
The pair exit the tent and proceed to have a discussion about past battles that introduces Ser Barristan by name and reputation. We also get a little-known (in Martin's novel) fact from Selmy that Eddard is also reputedly very skilled with a blade. This nugget will come in handy later.
Tourney Grounds, King's Tent - Upon hearing of Robert's intentions to joust (not enter the melee as he proposes in the book), Ned seeks him out. As Ned watches a distressed Lancel struggle to outfit His Overgrown Grace with equal parts pity and mirth, Robert relentlessly brow beats his squire with abject disgust. "Your mother was a dumb whore with a fat ass" slams into poor Lancel almost as powerfully as if Robert had hit him with his war hammer. I don't think I ever felt this bad for a Lannister on a read-through!
Mark Addy continues to delight as Robert. Resembling a drunken Santa on a bender he pontificates about his former prowess displaying both self-pity and self-deprecation while nearly leaving the tent half dressed. Great stuff!
Tourney Grounds, Lists - Watching the Mountain gallop up to the podium, I am sadly reminded of the shows finite budget. Clegane looks appropriately foreboding in his Darth Gregor armor and Ser Loras' elaborate suit  is the first full costume that comes close to matching Martin's fantastically descriptive plate (minus the cloak of flowers). I am well aware that financial considerations necessitated the exclusion and reduction of many elements at the Hand's celebration.  I just wish there were some way to have included more of the pageantry and heraldic imagery from George's written page. Excluding the viewer from the melee and archery contest is an obvious choice. The tourney itself  just feels a bit too abrupt. It almost seems as though Hugh, Gregor and Loras were the only competitors.
Loras canters by and delivers his rose to the instantly enamored Sansa. The script writers have taken a subtle liberty here that while delicate and smart, would have played out so much better over the long run had they showed a little restraint with the Renly/Loras scene later on.
In the novel, Sansa is besotted by Loras' attention. Knowing what we know of Loras' sexual preference, I've always assumed that the Knight of Flowers picked Sansa completely at random to deliver the red rose. He certainly doesn't seem to remember her when they meet again later in the story. The stroke of genius here is placing Renly directly behind Sansa in the stands. We never know why Loras gives Sansa the rose in the book, but on the screen we get a definite motive for his actions.
The joust goes as it should. Loras tumbles Gregor from the saddle. Gregor goes Godfather on his horse. The Hound saves Loras from his brother and wins the day. The choreography for the Clegane brother's swordfight was superb. The last move where Sandor kneels to Robert and avoids a head sweep in one motion was ultra-cool. As Gregor stalks off, we finally get a visual comparison of Conan Steven's size. It's harder to see when he's mounted and Rory is so big in his own right that Stevens just looks tall next to the Hound. But he makes the two Kingsguard he passes look like children.
The Eastern Road - Catelyn's party is making its way to the Eyrie with a captive Tyrion. The scene starts with some nice dialogue between Fairley and Dinklage. Catelyn reveals to the Imp that she purposely misrepresented which way they were heading at the Inn.  Tyrion for his part tricks Cat into revealing that the Vale is their true destination.
Out of nowhere the party is set upon by the mountain clansmen. While I was expecting the fight, the way it began with a sling shot to Marillion's harp was both funny and shockingly sudden. Bronn lets loose in a tornado of fury that cuts through his attackers with expert precision. Buster Reeves (the fight arranger) and Jerome Flynn (Bronn) combine to create a brutal dance that perfectly matches George's description of Bonn's fighting abilities. It reminds me of another actor with Flynn's surname. Jerome might not be as flashy, but he is easily more efficient! Never missing a thing, Tyrion slyly notes Bronn's abilities in the middle of the fight. You could almost see him file the information away for later use.
The attackers are fended off and Tyrion delivers his wonderfully dry "I'm willing if she is" line. Unfortunately, the scene is edited to the point that there are a few more great Tyrionisms that are missed. "Logs that Bleed", "Craven rhymes nicely with Raven" and "I never bet against my family" are all worthy examples. Another regrettable decision was the extracution of Lharys, Mohor and Kurlekut. I never truly expected them to make the cut, but they are missed nonetheless. A moment of silence please for House Howard!
Winterfell, Yard - In the first of only two scenes at Winterfell this episode, we get another exposition through teaching dialogue. This time it’s a joint geography and genealogy lesson between Maester Luwin and Bran.  I'm not certain what metal is used in a Maester's link for geography, but perhaps Maester Luwin should brush up on his knowledge a bit before he is so quick to correct Bran. It’s a small thing, but the good Maester points to Lannisport as the seat of the Lannisters. Technically House Lannister uses Casterly Rock as its headquarters.
The lesson turns personal as Bran uses the words for House Tully to express his confusion and bitterness for his mother's decision to leave. I'm guessing that scratching the table with his mother's fish pin is symbolic of Bran's resentment for his mother's absence while at the same time trying to hold onto her in any way he can. Then again, he might just be bored.
Luwin is eventually able to appease Bran by suggesting that once he is back in the saddle he might be able to return to archery practice. The talk of riding, and also Theon's prowess with the bow he shoots throughout the scene will both be factors in following episodes.
Winterfell, Theon's Room- No, this isn't the scene I was referring to in the last sentence. In what is becoming a Game of Thrones trademark, Theon and Ros disperse more back story while having sex. With the full frontal male and female nudity, this scene is probably the raciest of the series to date. Somehow though, I suspect that another less-graphic sex scene later in the show will be a much hotter topic around the Monday morning water cooler.
Through Ros' taunts, we get a glimpse of Theon's inner conflict for the first time. Caught between his duty to his family and his respect for the man that has taken him in, it looks as though Theon has buried his head in the sand to his true situation. He doesn't like being reminded that he is Ned's ward in name, but hostage in nature. I wonder how he'll react next season when he has his homecoming. Exploring Theon deeper is a smart choice by D&D. In GRRM's books Theon is largely out for only himself.  Giving him conflict between his family and his current home will make him seem more human and also make some if his later choices more believable.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - As Arya chases cats outside, Varys and Eddard have a heart to heart. The Spider hints that something foul is afoot concerning Robert and that he believes Ned to be one of the few men in the capital that he can trust. After dropping several hints about Jon Arryn's death including the use of the tears of Lys, mentioning Ser Hugh's possible involvement and subtly leading Ned towards the Lannisters by mentioning that Ser Hugh's mysterious benefactor likely had money, the scene ends with Varys' line about Arryn being killed because he "started asking questions."
King's Landing, Lower Halls and Dungeons - Arya's cat chase leads her into the dungeons where she encounters three monsters. The first is what I assume to be Balerion's skull. This is an impressive prop but I fear it may not have been used to its fullest potential. In the gloom it's hard to make out what she is looking at if you don't already know the story. My wife wasn't certain what was going on here. Having a room full of skulls as opposed to just the one might have helped with recognition, but that would have probably been too robust a decision for the budget to handle.
I think it might have been easier to reconcile if one of the other two monsters (Varys and Illyrio) had made mention of it as they walked by. Hiding in Balerion's maw, Arya eavesdrops on their conversation inadvertently listening in on what amounts to the largest plot of the story. It’s the only time (in the novels) that we get a direct look at two of the masterminds of the Game directly pulling the strings. Yes, Little Finger is also a major player, but his schemes always seem to be used for personal advancement. Varys and Illyrio appear to have larger machinations in mind.
Kings' Landing, Throne Room -  Prophetic opening jib shot of Petyr intently staring at the Iron Throne. How much more can be said without words?
Varys enters the room and we are treated to an altogether different sort of joust than the one we enjoyed at the episode's opening. Varys leads out strongly with various snippets of rumors regarding the sexual improprieties going on in Petyr's establishment. The spy master reels off a litany of the secret sexual preferences of various nobles that patronize Little Finger's establishments  for both his ability to accommodate and his discretion. It might not seem like much to a new viewer, but learning of Lord Redwyne's proclivity for young boys is a bombshell to more seasoned fans. Poor Horror and Slobber (his twin sons)!
The two trade punches back and forth for a while with an even flurry of threats. It looks like they may come to a draw until Little Finger visibly staggers Varys' when he reveals that he knows about the spy master's secret meeting with Illyrio. I was a bit shocked as well. From reading the books I've always placed Varys ahead of Petyr when it comes to information. Little Finger is possibly a better schemer, but I was surprised to see him come out on top of this verbal pugilism.
Renly interrupts the fun with news of Robert's imminent arrival and the scene ends with Varys landing a desperate parting shot about news from the East. Hopefully we'll get many more rounds between the two master schemers in episodes and seasons to come!
King's Landing, Outside the Walls - Arya finds her way outside of the dungeons via a secret tunnel that leads to the shore under the castle's cliffs. There's nothing really important here other than another great look at the Red Keep, but we're shown Arya's method of exiting the castle after events in later episodes ("The Pointy End").
King's Landing, Gate - Finding her way back to the castle, Arya must convince the gold cloaks to let her back inside. They try to dismiss her, but with typical Arya fierceness, she stands her ground until they readmit her.
I have to raise a question with this scene. It isn't a criticism per se. It more of a genuine desire to understand the writing process of adapting a novel to the screen. There is a point in the conversation where a guard asks if he needs to give Arya a smack on her ear to help her with her hearing. Arya later throws it back in the guard's face when she asks him if he would like a similar smack the help him understand that she is the Hand's daughter. The lines are virtually identical to the book except that George uses the word clout instead of smack. I'm curious as to why the change was made. This isn't the first point where I have noticed tiny adjustments to the lines. Certainly some great lines will need to be cut altogether and some will need to be altered to better suit the differences occurring in the translation. Changing the word clout to smack though serves no apparent purpose. Is this an example of a screen writer adding his own voice to the material? Did someone think the word clout was harder to understand? Was it just a lazy translation? I know I am totally dissecting this point, but whatever the reason for the switch, I would love some input on the translation process that screenwriters go through.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Arya joins Eddard in his office. She blurts out everything she remembers from her trip to the dungeons. Eddard struggles to keep up with her. It is interesting to note that he seems less ready to dismiss her story than he does in the novel. There, he chalks it up to the overactive imagination of a young girl misinterpreting two mummers preparing a performance.
The discussion is interrupted as Jory leads a road-weary Yoren into the chamber. Yoren gives Ned the news of Tyrion's abduction while at the same time providing ASoIaF fan boys with a fresh sexual innuendo term when he tells the Hand that Catelyn has "Taken the Imp".
The Eastern Road, Outside the Bloody Gate - Catelyn and party receive her sister's honor guard at the foot of the Eyrie. Ser Vardis looks the part of the Knight of the Gate in his detailed armor. Bronn fires off his "I'll impregnate the bitch" quip with a devilish smirk.
I have a few problems with this scene. Unlike with a lot of Blackfish fans, the extracution of Ser Brynden Tully into Ser Vardis Egen isn't one of them. It's been speculated by some that the Blackfish will be cut from the series altogether. I'm confident that  he's too important to later events to be axed completely. By reading into GRRM's comments regarding the change, I'm pretty sure that he'll be showing up next season.
My largest issue is with the omission of Catelyn's night time mule ride up the slopes of the Giant's Lance to get to the Eyrie. I guess that filming this might have been considered too costly, but the exclusion of George's descriptive  narrative following Cat as she fearfully climbs higher and higher into the night sky is one of the biggest chunks of story that has been lost in translation so far. We also lose Mya Stone who could have been another opportunity to drive home the strength of Robert's seed.
Along with the failure to include Cat's climb, I have to take issue with the actual look of the Eyrie. I do like the extreme fantasy style they have decided to go with. With character development often (and rightly) taking precedence over magical gimmicks, It's important to find ways to remind viewers that we are in a different place.  But George's description of the seat of House Arryn is almost more fantastic than the matte we get. I would have loved to see the Giant's Lance and especially Alyssa's tears included with the Eyrie. With the attention to detail seen in similar shots of Winterfell and King's Landing, I feel like there was a deliberate choice to change the Eyrie's look and I really don't know if it was necessary.
King's Landing, Small Council Chamber - Robert is enraged at the news of Dany's pregnancy. He and the council try to convince Ned that assassinating the last Targaryens is their only option. Ned refuses to take part in the deed and resigns as Hand. He quickly exits the chamber assaulted by Robert's growling threats.
There are two things I noticed while watching this scene that have been included in all the previous Small Council scenes but I haven't noticed before. The forts is the stained glass window. There is a similar one in the throne room.  From what I can see, it is a blue winter rose (ice) surrounded by a seven pointed sun burst (fire). This is a wonderful nod to the title of the series.
The second thing I noticed was the absence of Ser Barristan to this and all of the other council meetings. As Lord Commander of the Kingsguard , Ser Barristan has a council chair in the book. I suppose D&D deemed it necessary to eliminate his presence to avoid too much clutter in scenes that already have so many players they can come across as a bit ungainly. Normally this would seem like a good choice, but Selmy could have been used here as the only other voice that agrees with Ned in the matter of the assassination.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Eddard makes plans to head back to Winterfell. He is interrupted by Little Finger who promises to show him the last person Jon Arryn spoke to before he fell ill.
Eyrie, High Hall - Catelyn and Tyrion are ushered into the Arryn's throne room for an audience with Lysa and Robin. Kate Dickie was an interesting choice for Lysa. In the books, she is described as a softer, rounder version of her sister. Here, she still very much resembles Michelle Fairley's Catelyn, but she is thinner and more brittle. Both Tully sisters had their lives chosen for them, but the one who accepted her position has grown healthy and strong while the one who rejects her lot in life has slowly begun to wither away. It’s a better contrast than the one that George presents. Lysa meets Catelyn's arrival with an air of fear and nervousness instead of the warmer greeting that Cat had expected. What's more, she's obviously panicked that Lady Stark has brought a Lannister to her doorstep.
If Lysa is paranoid, her son is an absolute loon! Lino Facioli's depiction of Sweetrobin adds a dimension of crazy to the young lord that I never picked up from the reading the story, but I must say that it's creepily pleasurable. I was amazed to see that they included the breast feeding in the scene. While I'm pretty certain they used a prosthetic boob, Robin's shifting demeanor while he takes turns suckling chuckling and raging at Tyrion all while sporting a milk moustache ala mommy was the most disturbing moment of the series so far.
The weirwood throne they are sitting on perfectly reflects the warped relationship between mother and son. There is no denying the throne's beauty, but its flowing, twisting shape more than suggests something unhinged about the pair sitting on it.
The Eyrie, Sky Cells - Tyrion is escorted to the famous Arryn "dungeons" by Mord the gaoler. Stromberg provides a great perspective of Tyrion's plight as the camera slowly zooms outward. Still, I would have loved to see the scene resolve to an even wider shot to give a better sense of scale.
King's Landing, Renly's Chambers - This scene is the low point of the episode for me. Yes, I knew Renly and Loras were lovers and no, I'm not bothered by it in the least. Exploring the Renly/Loras liaison more fully was actually something I was looking forward to seeing since the relationship is very off-screen in the novels.
I'm disappointed for a couple of reasons. The first is the timing of this reveal. While I was hoping and expecting to get a closer look at the pair on television, I would have loved to see D&D drop a few more hints before letting us in on the secret. Little Finger's comment about them at the tournament was as subtle as a battleaxe. This is one relationship that new viewers should not have been able to piece together so easily. If Petyr's jape was an axe, then this scene was a projectile from a catapult!
I get that one of Throne's patented dialogue-driven sex scenes with a gay couple would only be fair considering all of the hetero action we have been given. Those scenes have all felt pretty natural and even germane to the story. Not only does this one scream of shock value, it is also absolutely too early in the story to show it. Develop the friendship for the viewer first. Let us see that they mean something to each other before you jump to the medieval manscaping session.  D&D had an opportunity to slowly develop a mature relationship between two male characters in the unique environment of a epic fantasy setting and what they ended up giving us was an epic fail.
In addition to the timing, I'm not happy about the turn they have taken with Renly's character. I suppose that one could argue that he puts on a brave front in the book scenes and in truth he is a squeamish dandy incapable of living up to his brother's brand of machismo, but I much prefer Renly as the bawdy, braggadocios Baratheon brother who just happens to  prefer lords to ladies. Renly's vanity will help carry him through some of the decisions he makes later on, but you would think that a fellow who attempts to pull off the power play he eventually goes for would have a little more backbone. Squirming at the sight of blood is something better left to Samwell Tarly.
King's Landing, Robert's Chamber - We move from the episode's worst scene to what could be the finest scene of the series. Robert and Cersei begin a discussion about matters of state and finish with a soul-exposing confrontation about matters of the heart. Mark Addy and Lena Heady give Emmy-worthy performances here. In Cersei, I almost saw an older Sansa who's youthful, idealistic views of the world and her marriage have been splintered apart like broken dragonglass.  You sense that at one point she loved Robert and believed that she would live happily-ever-after, but reality has beaten her dreams into ghosts.
Speaking of ghosts, it's obvious that Robert has been living under the shade of one since before their wedding night. Isn't it interesting that the only time we ever see Robert  deign to practice the art of kinging is when it concerns the descendants of the man he believes took his love away.
For all of its masterful writing and amazing acting, it’s the way the king and queen approach each other that gives this scene its true brilliance. The discussion is handled almost as if they are two old enemies meeting out in no man's land during a truce. There is no love visible between the two whatsoever, but you do see a begrudging  respect as well as a deep familiarity between the two as they open themselves to the core. D&D have succeeded here in a way that George never has. Namely, they made me cry for a Lannister. I have always loathed the entire family (Tyrion excluded) and adding the Jaime and Cersei PoVs into the books might have shed more light on their motivations , but it has never brought me any sympathy towards them.  I'm going to blame it on the wine I was drinking at the time, but tears were flowing down my cheeks as Cersei proclaimed "It doesn't make me feel anything" and walked off screen.
I do feel the need to digress for just a moment. While I definitely felt for Cersei, I need to mention that I didn't fail to notice the subtle toast about seventeen years being a long time to keep the realm together. Could she be hinting at anything? Hmm? It was also apparent that she once again brought up the baby that she "lost". It looks as though D&D are going to exclude the fact that she actually killed the baby to make her character more sympathetic, but how crazy would it make her if in fact they kept that little surprise in the script for later?
King's Landing, Brothel - This scene serves two purposes. The first is that it shows us how busy Robert has been keeping the whorehouses of the realm in the black. Second, it sets up the episode's finale. I was delighted that Little Finger's comparison of prostitutes to naval vessels made it into the show. Jory staring at the girl was a funny addition and it also helps to present him in a more human and sympathetic light for what is about to come.
King's Landing, Outside the Brothel -  Leaving the brothel, Ned and Jory are beset upon by Lannisters. Let me begin with the one negative. They've switched the fight from a rainy night to a bright clear sunny day. It might be more reflective of Jaime's character to show him attack in broad daylight, but I missed the melancholy image of Ned cradling Jory in the somber summer rains.
Other than that, the additional changes actually strengthened this scene from the one shown in the book. On the page, Jaime leaves his men to deal with Ned and his retainers. His men are slaughtered and Ned's leg is crushed by his horse. Jaime's character is much slimier in the book at this point, so having him exit and letting his men do the dirty work for him fits.
 In the adaptation D&D have been doing there best to show a few strands of honor in the Kingslayer.  After the Lannister guards make quick work of Wyl and Hewett, and Jaime handles Jory in the blink, or stab, of an eye, we get a mano y mano confrontation between protagonist and antagonist that suits the changes to Lannister's character much better. Eddard too is changed for the positive. The book version portrays him as more of a general, a strategist if you will than a champion fighter. On television, it quickly becomes apparent that he is equally matched to Jaime and the Lion of Lannister is soon worrying that he may have bitten off more than he can chew selecting Ned Stark for an opponent.  Combatants and viewers alike are robbed of the outcome as an overzealous Lannister guard stabs Ned through the leg with a spear. Jaime is furious with his man for intervening. This shows us that he has his own sort of morals and isn't  the black hearted villain he is accused of being by some. The episode concludes with a wounded Ned collapsing to the ground and the Lannisters making a hasty retreat to what we assume will be Casterly Rock and eventually the Whispering Woods!
Things have really begun to heat up. If the show follows the course of events in the books then we have much more to look forward to in the weeks to come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Episode 104 Recap - Grim Grinning Ghost!

Another week, another strong episode with "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things". There weren't any Emmy-worthy stand-out scenes like last week and the ending didn't have the same impact of previous weeks. What the episode did have though, was consistency. Consistency and Ghost! The writing was much more consistent throughout. Pacing was just about perfect. Dialogue was dependably strong from start to finish. Even the one of the shows shortcomings, the dreaded exposition, was handled more cleverly  Another much more consistent factor, was the DWPE (dire wolf-per-episode) ratio! The lack of wolves in the Stark/Snow scenes has been a big flaw with the show to this point. I'm very happy to see Summer, Greywind and even Ghost make appearances!
The plot this episode begins to show Eddard mucking around King's Landing, inquiring about Jon Arryn's death. When the book reaches this point and begins to shift into a mystery, we get a glimpse of George's ability to writing genres within genres. My thanks to the blended Bayonne bookracks he brooded over as a babe! There is plenty of brotherly bonding at the Wall, and fantastical landscapes and lifestyles in Vaes Dothrak, but Eddard's plot arc gives A Game of Thrones a nifty little who-dun-it that grabs the reader in a way the rest of the books can't recapture as the tale grows in its epic grandeur.
Credits - Please tell me if you noticed anything different, but to my eye, they repeat from last week.
Winterfell…or is it? - We see Bran healthy and hale shooting arrows in the Winterfell yard. I caught on to what was happening pretty fast, but my wife fell for the trick and remarked with surprise that he was ok. My pondering about the three-eyed crow (and how it would be used) from last episode's post was answered. The crow dream  wasn't cut at all, just reworked to fit within the budget. While I obviously would have loved to see Bran's entire dream, I am very happy to see the crow was included in some way. Having the crow alight onto the stone wolf leading into the crypts was some nice foreshadowing! The initial pan into the courtyard was also well done.
Winterfell, Bran's Room - Bran wakes up revealing to the unsuspecting that it was all a dream. Theon walks in to help Bran attend Robb in the great hall. Wonderful touch having Summer growl as Theon enters. In the novel, Robb remarks that he thinks the wolves sometimes know things. Summer certainly seems to as he stares Theon down.
We get the first true look at Theon's character here. His back story is delved into a little later, but for now, we get an indication that he's a bit pompous and unsympathetic.
The star of the scene though is Hodor! We saw him at the arrival of the king back in episode one, but he gets his first (and only) line in this episode. Kristian Nairn looks older than the Hodor I envision while reading, but he definitely has the Hodorisms down!
Winterfell, Great Hall - Tyrion an Yoren visit on their way back down from the Wall. While we don't get the chilling appearance of all three dire wolves surrounding and threatening Tyrion, at least we get to see Greywind for the first time since Robb took him from the wilds. This is the kind of placement that I've been hoping for. I know that having the wolves attack Tyrion would be very complicated. Its enough to just see Greywind chilling out at Robb's feet.
Winterfell, Yard - Tyrion prepares to leave Winterfell under the watchful eyes of Theon and the Stark guards. At first, I thought the Stark guards were scowling at the Lannisters to show that they weren't afraid of them, but then I realized that they were jealous of the Lannister's flip-up Dwane Wayne visors!
There is a bit of exposition in this scene, but its well executed and needed to fill in Theon's back story a bit. Who he is and why he is at Winterfell has been very vague to this point. I can easily see how a new viewer would just assume he was a household guard, if not a family member. It might still not be readily apparent who the Greyjoys are, but at least Theon's position as ward and hostage is made clear here.
This scene also starts a weird little theme that runs throughout this episode. There seems to be an overabundance of talk about whores, especially Ros. She certainly seems to be popular with the main characters!
Castle Black, Yard - The start of this scene is the first time I have had any trouble at all following the location switches. The way that it was edited made it look as though Tyrion's party rode out of Winterfell straight into Castle Black. I knew what I was watching, but I wonder if it confused new watchers. It’s a pretty jib shot as the camera moves up past the gate to expose the yard beyond though.
Jon and the boys are practicing their swordsmanship in the yard. We can assume that some time has passed since Grenn and Pyp threatened to kill Jon last episode, but the casual, playful manner in which the boys respond to one another might be a little abrupt.
In walks John Bradley-West as Samwell Tarly, another superb piece of casting. I got nervous as Sam squared off against Rast. The miserable look he gives Rast right before they begin, had me wondering if they might have given him a bit of an edge. All was reconciled a heartbeat later though as Ser Piggy falls to the floor in a pathetic display of trademark Samwell cowardice. Kit does another great job of emitting the proper emotions for Jon, struggling Ser Alliser's order but ultimately stopping the farce of a fight.
It seems like D&D are trying to bring a bit of GRRM's characters to Grenn and Pyp in this scene. Grenn is plodding and Pyp seems to be more cutting, but I still want to see some of the one-sided chats where Pyp always ends up getting the upper hand on his slow-thinking buddy.
Vaes Dothrak, Horse Gate - It took me a second to gather where we were as the long shot of the mountain came up on the screen. I pictured the Mother as both larger and not as lush. Still, it turns out that they picked another beautiful locale to stand in as the city of the Dothraki.
Lloyd and Clarke do a great job of snipping back and forth as they ride under the Horse Gate. Viserys is still the self-important prick and Dany is still tolerating him to a degree, but his anger is restrained, and her patience is beginning to fray.
We see a more repentant Jorah than the book exhibits. George's Jorah blames Eddard Stark for his down turn in prosperity. D&D show a Jorah who seems to be regretful about selling slaves. We also learn of his ex-wife much earlier than we do in the novels.
Vaes Dothrak, Viserys' Tent - In a scene I like to call "exposition while exfoliating", we get a history lesson of the Targaryens and their dragons in the unlikely setting of a bathtub! You have to go back to 1945's Disney short Pablo the Cold Blooded Penguin to find a more creative use for a tub. This is an exposition-laden scene that comes in at just under five minutes long and has every expectation of being a monstrosity. Yet somehow Harry Lloyd and Roxanne McKee present it in a sexy, funny package that manages to keep the attention from wandering. Their looks certainly don't hurt, but the chemistry they craft together is the biggest contributor to the scene's success. The sexual tension builds to an apex only to have Viserys completely pull the rug out from under us with "What did I buy you for? To make me sad?"  and "You pretty little idiot". Its remarkable that the two young actors can deliver a scene that should be long and clunky in such a streamlined and polished manner.
King's Landing, Throne Room - More Targaryen history is discussed between Sansa and Septa Mordane.  This scene works well for a few reasons. First, the history lesson we get as viewers feels natural because Sansa is in fact getting a history lesson from her teacher. Even though the writers have succeeded at disseminating the back story more creatively than in past episodes, I will concede that we are certainly getting a king's portion of it. But the exposition is handled most expertly here in particular, because the Westerosi history lesson suddenly turns into an all too personal discussion about the deaths of Sansa's uncle and grandfather. We don't get to see this side of Sansa in the book and I love the added dimension if gives her.
Spoilers in the following paragraph.
The other incredibly thoughtful nuance to this scene was the inclusion of Sansa's anger at Eddard for killing Lady. It might be implied in the book, but I never really connected Lady's death with some of the actions Sansa takes later in the story. This scene both sets up and sheds light on the motivation for her actions when things begin to heat up later in the tale. I don't think she goes to the Queen out of spite, but her decision to do so seems a little more believable knowing that she feels like she can't trust her father completely.
Telling Septa Mordane to "Shut up" is the only poor line in an otherwise well-crafted scene. I can't see our young queen-to-be using language like this to her septa. Nor can I see Septa Mordane letting it go without comment.
King's Landing, Small Council Chamber - Its business as usual in the small council room as Janos Slynt pleads his case for more help protecting the city while the tourney crowds are present. The various actors playing the council members seem to be falling into their roles and reacting to one another better than they did last episode.
Dominic Carter as Slynt may be a rare miscast for the show. We aren't really focused on his character in this scene, but I don't sense any of the pompous traits he exudes in the novel. It's not very relevant yet, but it does become a little more important later in the series.
After the session breaks up, Ned begs a word with Pycelle and the mystery is afoot!
King's Landing, Pycelle's Chamber - Just a guess, but by the looks of it perhaps it was George who wrote that ginormous tomb of Lineages and History of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms book. Ned throws out the question about poison being a woman's weapon. His implications towards Cersei are pretty clear. But ever the queen's creature, Pycelle effortlessly deflects suspicion in Varys' direction. There was so much smoke and paraphernalia cluttered amidst Pycelle's room that I almost mistook his meaning when he said, "The seed is strong".
King's Landing, Red Keep Corridor - More Arya/Ned greatness from Williams and Bean in this very verbatim translation. One small omission what when Arya says, "No. That's not me." she leaves out the part where she says that Eddard is talking about Sansa. It’s a subtle but significant change giving Arya an air of self-confidence rather than one of juvenile frustration.
Castle Black, Atop the Wall - As Jon stares out into the Haunted Forest you can see him attempting to will Benjen out of the trees on his way back to Castle Black. Sam tells his story and Jon seems to decide right there that he will do what he can to help Sam survive at the Wall.
King's Landing, Courtyard - Gillen shifts fully into Petyr for the first time. As Little Finger and Ned walk around the garden, he uses both inflection and mannerisms to conjure up Petyr's smug, smarmy confidence. He smirks when Ned asks why Ser Hugh was knighted, smiles when openly admitting that the bookish septa is his informant and his eyes twinkle mischievously as he delivers the classic line, "Mistrusting me was the wisest thing you've done since you climbed off your horse."
King's Landing, Tourney Grounds -  The set in context of the show looks much grander than it did in the "making of" exposés we were treated to before the premier. The antlered stags on the king's podium look much more impressive than they appeared in earlier shots. Jory is ironically skewered by the up-jumped Ser Hugh when he requests a few moments with him.
King's Landing, Street of Steel - Eddard and Jory make their way to Tobho Mott's shop. We can divine from the conversation that pageantry isn't appreciated in the North. It's nice to see some more color coming into the background heraldry, but the two knights rode past too quickly to tell which house the belonged to.
King's Landing Tobho Mott's Shop - Eddard speaks to Mott and is introduced to Gendry. At first, Joseph Dempsie doesn't seem to resemble Robert all that well, but there is something in the area around his eyes that is oddly similar to Mark Addy. I must have felt a lot like Eddard did trying to see the similarity, but I did see it and the more I focused on that area the more striking it was.  Another physical feature that I seemed to notice was that Gendry's hammer arm looked bigger than the other one. If it isn't my imagination taking over, it was a nice touch, but Dempsie should take care or he may end up looking like this guy. Gendry's description of his mother and her yellow hair was probably subtle enough to a new viewer, but it stuck out like a sore thumb to me. It was hard to see the bull helmet but there is a great 3D image of it if you run the episode with special features turned on at HBOGO. The plot thickens as Ned heads outside and tells Jory that he has found King Robert's bastard son.
King's Landing, Outside of Roberts Bedchamber - Its Jaime(Sives) vs. Jaime here as Jory and the Kingslayer reminisce about the Battle of Pyke. Jory seems slightly perturbed that Jaime doesn't recognize him. Lannister is typically nonchalant, treating the northern as almost a fanboy. There are some good lines between the two. Jaime mentioning how the Greyjoys stopped liking bloodshed so much near the end of the rebellion. Jory calling Theon a good Lad to which Jaime replies "I doubt it". Jory's unintended foreshadowing about remembering Thoros of Myr and his burning sword until the day that he dies. Then the door opens, whores cascade out and Robert, offstage utters the line of the episode. I had to rewind a few times before I heard it, but "I'll bet you smell like blackberry jam!" is an instant classic!
When Jory attempts to leave Ned's message, Jaime's amicability has reached it limits and he sends a snubbed  Jory on his way. Jory is cool and all, but the Hand's captain of the guard really need to grow a pair!
Castle Black, Dining Room - Jon further establishes his roots as a leader among the Brothers when he tells them all how it's going to be with Sam. Grenn and Pyp seem to capitulate easy enough, but Rast isn't ready to follow Jon's orders just yet. Looks like he might need some convincing.
Castle Black, Barracks -  With Ghost's whereabouts in question,  I was almost expecting a reenactment of the Full Metal Jacket soap scene. The scene actually starts out almost identically. Even the music is similar.
Luckily it appears that Ghost is finally ready for his close up! What a scary-ass shot! I knew what was coming and loved every minute of it. I am curious to see whether new viewers understood where he came from though.
Castle Black, Practice Yard - Jon stages his coup and Ser Alliser is non-the-happier for it. Why he was so upset is anyone's guess though. The other boys look like they are going easy on Sam but if you check out all the guys sparring in the background you see that the entire Night's Watch spars like Tiger Woods on an Ambien-induced sex romp. A little effort please fellas!
Vaes Dothrak, Dany's Tent - This powerful scene between Lloyd and Clarke is one of the episode's best! Viserys is in full looney mode. Dany tries calming him to no avail. As he's about to hit her, she hulks out and slashes him with the copper belt. The look that Viserys gives her is phenomenal. He has just lost power over the only thing that he ever truly lorded over and he is finally exposed as the wretched incompetent he truly is. By the way, Viserys should stay the hell away from metal belts!
I wonder how all of the people who disliked it last episode when Rakharo, not Dany made Viserys walk back to the Khalasar feel now? I rather enjoyed this alteration in Dany's development. Last episdoe Dany was growing, but now you see her fully coming into her own as a khaleesi and more than that, her own woman.
Castle Black, Dining Hall - Ros's fame again precedes her. It appears that Jon came close to losing his virginity to her. The playful banter about girls between Jon and Sam takes a step toward the serious side as Jon reveals his motivation for restraining himself. His efforts not to bring another bastard into the world shows him in a very noble light. We also can extrapolate through his story that he has a thing for red heads.
Sam kills the tension for a heartbeat with "So you didn't know where to put it" right before an irritated Ser Alliser interrupts them and all levity jolts to a halt. Owen Teale gives a chilling speech about..well about the chilly cold out beyond the Wall. I don't want to say it's his version of tough love because he is far too demeaning and spiteful the way he warns the boys that they are so much fodder for the wildlings and the cold. He does bid the boys to take heed though and in some weird way it almost seems like he cares. It's probably more about his preservation and that of the Night's Watch than any compassion for his young charges, but the speech is an eye opener for Jon and especially Sam.
Vaes Dothrak, Dany's Tent - Dany is regretting striking Viserys. After so many years of his abuse it is easy to understand her trepidation. Jorah reassures her and helps her to realize what she has silently expected for some time. Her brother will never be the dragon. If she is going to get home it won't be Viserys who leads her there.
King's Landing, Tourney Grounds - This is a scene that may live in infamy for many fans of the books. It starts in the stands of the tournament with Sansa receiving a scowl from Joff. I think this was a missed opportunity. In the last episode Cersei bids Joff to be nice to Sansa. In the book he is actually pretty cordial to her, though he ends up ordering the Hound to escort her home. It might have shown some insight into Joff here if he would have at least appeared to warm back up to Sansa. If Sansa believes she is reconciled with her prince, it could be easier to forgive her for what she does that ultimately comes back to bite her and the rest of the Starks.
Little Finger makes his introductions. I missed Petyr's creepy opener about how Sansa looks just like Cat. I wonder if they are making a conscious decision to tune down the Petyr's improper feelings towards Cat's daughter. Arya then asks him with blunt humor why people call him Little Finger with precious delivery that recalls "Where's the Imp?" from episode one.
Robert and Cersei evoke a sort of medieval Ralph and Alice Cramden on the podium.  Boorish Roberts is deliciously crude much to Cersei's chagrin. The look of mortification on her face as she gets up and leaves without so much as a word is brilliant!
After Robert's decidedly unroyal decree, the combatants enter the field the Mountain is introduced. Ser Gregor's armor looks the part, but I didn't think he hulked over Ser Hugh quite as much as he should have. Maybe next episode will do a more credible job of portraying his size.
Ser Hugh's football helmet is ridiculously inappropriate for a joust. I have a hard time believing that any knight, newly anointed or not, would enter the lists with such an inadequate helm. Gregor, true to form notes the weakness and takes full advantage of it making Ser Hugh the Glass Joe of the Westeros Jousting Circuit.
The scene runs pretty true to the book until this point. Then for some inexplicable reason D&D decide to give Little Finger the honor of telling Sansa of the Hound's origin. I can only guess that there wasn't enough time to include the scene between San/San in the script. It's either that, or they didn't feel right adding the San/San "relationship" to the adaptation due to the differences in age between the two. If they do cut out the tension between them it is probably the biggest change or omission we have seen so far.
King's Landing, Hand's Room - Switch to Ned's room where Cersei enters while Ned is pondering his evidence against her. Cersei is fishing for information here as she disingenuously attempts to bury the hatchet with the Hand. If Ned were a bit more politically savvy, he may have tried to give the appearance of  letting bygones be bygones. In typical Stark bluntness he completely ignores the queen's niceties and gets to the point asking why she is there. Cersei's true colors come out as veiled threats are leveled on both sides.
Inn at the Crossroads - The episode ends with the fateful meeting of Catelyn and Tyrion at Inn at the Crossroads. Marillion attempts to sell Catelyn a song at the prepare to dine. From his appearance and the way he held his harp sideways like a tray, I mistook Emun Elliot for a server at first. It was hard to match him to the Marillion from the book.
Tyrion enters the Inn and the confrontation begins. The scene plays nicely, but it does illustrate another of my minor complaints with the series. The costume design as a whole is amazing. It is easy to see the differences in dress from the various regions throughout George's world. I am a bit disappointed though in the lack of heraldry within the clothing of the characters. High born members of the various houses oftentimes wear the sigil of their house in their every day dress in George's novels. I've missed it at several points throughout the series so far, but none more than here. Cat speaks of the black bat of the Harrenhal on the coat of Whent family member, but try as I might I can't find it except on his shield. This admittedly is a very minor point, but GRRM's imagery is such a huge part of bringing the story to life that I would hope we get family sigils integrated into the clothing more as the series develops.
I was surprised the episode ended with Tyrion surrounded. It was a strong enough ending, I certainly was left wanting to see what happens next. It just didn't feel like fifty-five minutes had passed when we reached the Inn. I see that as a good sign. Episode three, for as good as parts of it were, felt about right time-wise.  I was definitely expecting to see more at the end of four. The pacing this week was dynamic and sleek. Hopefully this trend continues!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reread Blues

Sort of spoilers below so beware.

Rereading GoT for probably the seventh time. I just got to the part where in my opinion, everything starts to accelerate downwards. I'm talking of Eddard and Jaime's confrontation on the rainy night time streets of King's Landing.

I was enjoying my reread to this point. When I turned the page and saw what chapter was coming up, I had to put the book down for a while before I was able to cointinue.

Its a testament the series and GRRM's amazing writing that after reading the book so many times I can still feel my gut turning at what I know is coming up.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Episode 3 Recap : Training Day

If episode two was about journeys, then episode three is about the various characters settling in to their new lives. Jon starts training to become a member of the Night's Watch. Dany (who is still technically on a journey) is testing herself as a fledgling khaleesi. Ned starts learning to deal with the pressures of managing the capital, the various personalities of the Small Council and his personal relationship with his daughters  as they arrive to court. Arya starts dancing. Even poor Bran is forced to deal with his new situation whether he wishes to or not.
Credits - Not much new this week, although I did notice that they reworked some of the sigil icons to match the actors with their character's houses.  Also, at the very end of the sequence I noticed the boar in with the other animals on the etched metal ring. Crakehall love? Interesting.
King's Landing, Gate - It seems as though they've done away with the location captions that they used in earlier episodes. This was just fine with me considering how strikingly different the locations are. When a new scene begins, you can immediately tell you have changed locales. I suppose a new viewer might not know where they are exactly, but it's pretty obvious you've switched areas.
The Winterfell party finally arrives at the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as King's Landing. Can anyone tell me if the fellow that receives Ned is a named role? I was thinking Janos Slynt at first, or possibly Maester Colemon, but he seems too polite for Slynt and wasn't wearing Maester chains or clothes.
King's Landing, Throne Room - Oh how I wish there was a way to listen in to the thoughts running around in Ned's head as he enters the throne room to see Jaime sitting on the steps under the throne! As it is, the initial set up of this scene is a great homage to the book where Ned vividly recalls riding into the same room with Jaime seated on the throne over the Mad King's bloody corpse. The scene turns into a  battle of barbs between the two leads that gives us some insight into Jaime's character that we don't learn until A Storm of Swords.
I find this a very smart move by D&D. The way that George attempts turn Jaime into a sort of anti-hero in the books is one of the decisions that I have always had a tough time warming up to. I just haven't been able to make myself empathize with the Kingslayer after hating him so much in the earlier parts of the story. Showing that our Lion of Lannister has more facets to him early on, might give people more time to grow in their opinions of him after some of the despicable things he does in the beginning of the series.
King's Landing, Small Council Chamber - This is a good introduction scene for Varys, Renly, Little Finger and Pycelle. Going back to episode 2, I still wish they would have introduced Renly then. It's quite a lot to take in four new characters in one scene. Sean Bean is very strong here as the road-weary Ned who doesn't seem quite prepared to be thrust into the inner workings of the Small Council so quickly. I may be reading into the scene too much, but when Ned has his outburst, you can see the council members all tense up uncomfortably. Then upon his apology, Little Finger gets this subtle look of relief on his face. When Ned backs down, Petyr almost seems to relax, knowing that Stark's chivalry and sense of fairness will make him easy to manipulate. It is also noteworthy that Varys reminds him that the rest of the Small Council serves at the Hand's please. Could this be a subtle reminder to Ned to be more decisive?
 I think Conleth Hill is fantastic as Varys, but a little part of me was hoping he would break out into the Curly Shuffle.
King's Landing, Queen's Quarters - Lannister revisionist history? In yet another intriguing new scene, we get a glimpse of Cersei's hold on Joffery. While her line about painted whores was pretty flat, Lena does a good job summoning up the queen's paranoia here, thought the painted whore line comes off very flat. Jack Gleeson is the consummate budding tyrant, especially the "I'm not asking" line. What a dysfunctional love the two have for each other!
King's Landing, Hand's Tower - This scene is a secret look into the new lives of the Starks at the capital. We see the difficulties they are all having adjusting to their new home. Arya is obviously still tortured over Mycah's death. I really like the way they are developing the need she feels for vengeance. It's still manifesting as relatively normal tween behavior, but you can definitely see the seeds for what she will become germinating even now.
Sansa seems typically concerned with herself and her image as a young lady betrothed to a prince. Does anyone else think that doll looks like Varys?
Poor Ned is completely lost in this scene. He's trying to bring everyone together, but he's failing miserably. "War was easier than daughters" is the line of the series so far!
King's Landing, Arya's Room -  Beautiful scene between father and daughter. Sean is at his best here. Stern, yet loving. Cautious yet firm. He plays a very believable father. Maisie for her part, effortlessly holds her own. It was obvious from her early pictures that she looked the part. Now though, we begin to see her truly become Arya. She is amazing!
For as great as the acting between the two was,  I was sorry to note that a few memorable lines from the novel were cut. Ned's  imagery about the lone wolf dying, but the pack surviving was especially missed. Looking at the line in context from the book, it seems like D&D may have felt it too similar to lines from  Old Nan's tale a little later in the episode. The second line I missed was "For True". I know, I know. It’s a very minor thing. That line has just always seemed so incredibly Arya to me, I was disappointed to see that it got cut.
Winterfell, Bran's Room - Early contender for best scene of the episode! The scene starts with a raven flying onto Bran's window. I take this as another great homage to the books.  No, we haven't seen the three-eyed crow dream (most likely due to budget issues), but the raven is definitely a nod to it. Speaking of the three-eyed crow, I remember an article about it in Winter is Coming. I wonder where we will see it if they didn't want to use it while Bran was in his coma. Will see it at all? Maybe the dream sequence got too expensive and was just cut? I'd love to hear from someone if they have any more information on this.
It's a pity for the show that Margret John is no longer with us to reprise her excellent portrayal of Old Nan in later seasons. By, the way, if you watch the credits at the end of this episode, you will see that it was dedicated to her. Classy touch HBO!
John's performance as Old Nan in this scene was magical. It starts out with her quip about knowing a story of a boy who hated stories. She then begins to weave her tale about white walkers even as she weaves the thread around her knitting needles. The story and the score build slowly as the camera gradually closes in on John's face. The scene is edited remarkably well. Even though I knew what was coming, I still jumped when Robb opened the door!
Isaac and Richard finish the scene off nicely. Richard portrays Robb as the caring big brother while Isaac is still obviously wallowing in grief for his loss. There was a little bit of everything here. Even a deft reference to the Hedge Knight and Ser Duncan the Tall!
King's Landing, Gate - Enter Cat and Ser Rodrick. Nothing significant in this scene except for the method of arrival differing from how they arrive in the novel. Obviously, creating a set for the docks at this point would be way too expensive. Still, they will probably need them next season for the Clash. It's easily forgivable, but I would have loved to see the area.
King's Landing, Brothel - I found this scene pretty weak. The actors did a nice job of it and watching Cat and Little Finger's reaccuaintance in a room full of whores was amusing, but the dialogue for most of the scene was cheesy. I know that Varys has his little birds, but it’s a stretch even for him to know that Cat was coming and an even bigger one that he knew about the dagger. In the book it's pretty easy to backtrack and piece together how he got his information. Here though, short of a little bird hiding out in the Winterfell godswood, I can't imagine how he would know about it. I guess it can be overlooked. I mean it is Varys, the most inexplicable figure in the seven kingdoms that we are talking about. On the surface it's easy to waive it away, but it adds to the sometimes puzzling unexplained plot maneuvers that have peppered the series at various points. How did Will get over the Wall? Who is raising those dire wolves?  It's nothing to ruin the series, but a few more thoughtful lines of dialogue here and there would help to strengthen it. The scene does end well though with a good segue from Little Finger naming the Imp to a shot of Tyrion braving the cold at Castle Black.
Castle Black, Yard - The fight scene feels just a little bit choreographed, but  Owen Teal is appropriately biting as Ser Alliser throughout. Kit hits all of Jon's notes right on the head here too. His feelings of loathing for his new home and betrayal by those who cared for him are plastered all over his face in both this scene and his next one in the armory. James Cosmo radiates Mormont as he watches the sparring from the steps. It’s a minor point, but I feel the same sense of easiness between Mormont and Tyrion here than I did in the book.
King's Landing, Throne Room - Julian Glover huffs and puffs his way across the throne room to deliver news of Bran to Ned. Little Finger arrives and deviously hints that he may have news of Cat. Gillen becomes Petyr here more than anywhere else in the episode.
King's Landing, Streets Outside the Brothel - Sean Bean is a lucky dude! I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to throttle Petyr while reading the books. I was rooting for him to finish the job! Aiden delivers the "Quick tempers. Slow minds" line with a cool strength that hints at his true character for the first time.
Castle Black, Armory - First off, this set is a wonderful example of the efforts the design crew undertook to make each area feel real. Equipment is thrown all over the place in this chilly, dirty hovel of an armory. King's Landing and Winterfell both look magnificent, but the attention to detail on less important sets like this one really makes you feel like you are living every scene.
The scene itself is a good one. Tyrion's "Interesting face" line is both funny and threatening in a way that only the Imp can deliver. Dinklage and Harrington parallel the chemistry between Tyrion and Jon quite well.
I do have a concern with the scene and surprisingly it's not the choice to extracute  Donel  Noye into Tyrion. I hope we get to see him in future seasons, but for now it's acceptable to lose him. My concern is in the way that they are using Jon's brothers, especially Pyp and Grenn. I understand that Jon hasn't established any ties to them yet. In fact, he pretty much loathes them. I also get that he has just embarrassed them while injuring both pride and person. My problems comes in that I don't see a hint of George's characters in them yet. Grenn and Pyp are both coming off as clones to Rast. Grenn should be played as an angry oaf here and Pyp deserves to be pissed at Jon, but his lines are much more thuggish than clever. It's only a glimpse of what we'll be seeing from them, but I hope they try to build on their characters later.
King's Landing, Brothel - Meanwhile, back in the brothel, Little Finger agrees to help the Starks. Ned is at a loss to do anything but accept.
King's Landing, Queen's Quarters - Cersei, learning of Bran's awakening, is in full paranoia mode. Jaime is in confident denial. Its creepy, but the scene gives us a good sense of how inseparable the pair is.
King's Landing, Gate - What a tender goodbye between Ned and Cat. The chemistry between Bean and Fairly is so strong that it reeks! Once again I am reminded of how smart D&D were to recast this role. The bit where Ned says that Little Finger still loves Cat and she replies "Does he?" was sweet. The final look they give each other says more than the rest of the conversation combined.
King's Landing, King's Quarters - Another strong contender for scene of the episode. This scene is every bit as macho as the last one was tender. It opens making you believe that Robert and Ser Barristan are speaking about wenching. Even the line about "A spear to the heart" could fit this premise. But when Ned mentions that his first time was a Tarly boy at the battle of Summerhall, either he's getting himself confused with Renly or he's not talking about getting it on like Donkey Kong. The scene quickly goes from implied bawdiness to acute masculine self-aggrandizement. In a written masterpiece that conjures up images of my favorite monologue scene ever, a drunken Robert bounds around in a soliloquy involving grisly battlefield conquests, self-pity, the humiliating debasement of his squire, and the venomous  dressing down of the Kingslayer. Mark Addy gives nothing less than the performance of the series so far in this scene. His "Lancel Lannister. What a St00pid name!" delivery made me laugh so hard that I had to pause the show for a minute for fear I would miss part of this wonderful display of acting.
Dothraki Sea - It looks as though the khalasar has finally made it into the Dothraki Sea. Dany is flexing her muscles as the budding khaleesi, an exercise that Viserys doesn't appreciate in the least. Harry Lloyd finally wins me over in this scene. Here is the delusional Viserys I wanted to see in Pentos. It's odd but not too distracting that Rakharo is the one to make the beggar king walk instead of Dany. I'm speculating that D&D want her to go through a more gradual change.
Castle Black - You can almost hear the design team boasting as Jon traverses the perimeter of Castle Black on his way up to the Wall. For all of its bleakness, there is beauty in this scene. They take a lot of time getting Jon up the Wall but I think in doing so, we get a close-up look at just how immense the thing truly is. My first thought upon finding Benjen waiting for Jon up top was sympathy for the guy at the bottom running the winch!
When Benjen rejects Jon, the point is driven home that prior status is forgotten in the Night's Watch and a man gets what he earns. Benjen's speech whether here or in the book has always made me wonder something. If what he says is true, then why in the seven hells was Waymar Royce placed in charge of the ill-fated group in the prologue? He is obviously less experienced than both Gared and Will. This is more of a GRRM question than a D&D question, but it is something I've pondered before. The best thing I can come up with is that Benjen, wanting his nephew to act in accord with Night's Watch principles is speaking idealistically to Jon while Waymar may have been the recipient of some favoritism as a respect to his family. That last overhead shot off of the Wall was gorgeous!
Castle Black, Dining Hall - Who would have thought that Yoren had such a sense of humor? In the novels, he is presented as much more grim. Indeed, I actually pictured him looking very much like Hogun the Grim of the Warrior's Three fame (he's the one on the right). I never would have had him pegged as capable of comic relief.
Fortunately, his banter with Tyrion in this scene make an adroit counter to Benjen's typical Stark sternness.  It all unfolds as another of the episode's strongest scenes. I missed the crab-eating scene where Tyrion so completely skewers Ser Alliser, but I'll call this new scene an even trade. Peter looks even more comfortable in Tyrion's shoes now. "Do you think I'm plump?" was delivered perfectly.
Underlying the playfulness of this scene is one of the reasons this series is so successful in the fantasy genre. Tyrion represents the common man in his views on what is beyond the Wall. There are Wildlings for certain, but white walkers, giants and other monsters are just fairy tales not to be taken seriously. Benjen on the other hand isn't so sure. He is one of the few to have been beyond the Wall and he seems much more open to any possibility. This scene is a microcosm of George's writing (even though he didn't actually write it, it still exemplifies his theme). There are no constants in his world. There are differing views as to whether or not magic exists or ever existed. This diversity in belief helps to make the story feel lived in.
The last bit after Benjen leaves is a set up for next episode when Yoren and Tyrion pay a visit to Winterfell.
Essos, Dany's Tent - Dany is further embrancing her adopted heritage by learning to speak Dothraki. She also learns that she is expecting.
Essos, Tent - The scene starts out with a discussion on the differences in the martial cultures between the Westerosi and the Dothraki. We see two things here that I don't believe we see in the books. First, it seems that Jorah and Rakharo have established a mutual respect if not an outright friendship. Second, we can feel Jorah's pain at disgracing his father. It was a nice note adding this to Jorah's character. The scene starts to lose me with the overly-long discussion about what Dany wants to eat, then goes off the deep end with Jorah riding at once to Quohor after he hears that Dany is preggers. Doesn't it look at least a little bit suspicious that an exiled knight would light out for the nearest trading post the second after he learns that the khaleesi is with child?
Castle Black, Yard - Things are going better for Jon as he loses the chip on his shoulder and begins helping instead of bullying his brothers. Tyrion looks on with approval.
Castle Black, Dining Hall - Finally we meet Maester Aemon. Anyone unfamiliar with the series won't know that Aemon is blind at this point, but it doesn't really matter in this discussion. From the last look on his face, it seems as though Aemon and Mormont's pleas may have had an effect on the Imp after all.
Essos, Tent - We pan across Dany and Drogo's uneaten artichoke dinner… Oh wait! My bad! Those are the dragon eggs. I'm glad the managed to fit them in again because I might have forgotten about them if they hadn't! Anyway, we get to see Dany snuggled up to Drogo telling him that their child will be a boy. Jason Mamoa lounges as only a Cimmerian can!
Castle Black, The Wall - More frozen beauty atop the Wall. This time the overhead shot is marred with Tyrion literally pissing off the end of the world. Read my previous post "The Show that Cried Wolf" to get my views on the lack of Ghost in this scene. As our outcasts, one a bastard, one a dwarf bid farewell to each other, we get the sense that a lasting friendship has been formed. Tyrion and Jon have yet to see each other again in the novels, but I suspect that the bond between the two will still hold strong and may prove crucial to the story when their reunion does occur.
King's Landing, Balcony - Margret John's form dazzled me with her tale of white walkers and ice spiders. Mark Addy's monologue staggered me like an uppercut slipping in under my guard. Peter Dinklage and Francis Magee even managed to double me over with a series of thunderous gut shots. But its M&M (Maisie Williams and my new personal hero Miltos Yerolemou) that laid me out for the count with a slobber knocking hay-maker that I never would have expected.
Arya and Syrio are my two favorite characters in the series (Tyrion is a close third). I couldn't be happier with Maisie's performance thus far. Add Miltos into the mix and I am completley blown away. I couldn't have casted a better Syrio if I were able to have pulled one out of my imagination. From this point onward, Syrio will always have curly hair and a beard to me! The sparring between the two matches the dialogue and it is superb in every way.  This is a three-and-a-half minute scene that feels like it takes thirty second. I could have watched it for the whole hour. Its flawless.
The scene and episode end with Ned entering the training session. He watches on bemused at first, but in typical Stark manner, his amusement turns to chilling concern as he watches Syrio "kill" Arya over and over. The implications of the viper's nest that he has allowed himself and his daughters to be manipulated into, comes crashing down on his head as Arya is "stabbed" through the chest and the episode cuts to black.