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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Episode 109 Recap : Hard Questions. Sharp Answers.(or How to Give Larry a Shit Fit)

In the hard-hitting "Baelor" almost every major character is forced to look into their core and make an agonizing decision that will live with them for the rest of their lives and/or the series as the case may be. Daenarys chooses to stand by Drogo in the face of certain destruction should he Khal ride off into the sunset lands. Robb chooses the path of the Lord, mortgaging his own personal future for passage across the Twins and Lord Frey's allegiance. Catelyn continues to deal with the aftermath of kidnapping Tyrion as well as restraining her motherly instincts to allow her son to merge into the leader of the North that he was born to be. The choice of Tyrion leading the vanguard is made for him, but the Imp decides to face the coming battle in his own unique way, namely by getting very drunk and having a sleepover. Jon learns of Robb's decision to call the banners and wrestles between opting to serve his duty or his family. In an extremely intriguing parallel, Eddard is torn between the honor of staying true to his title and best friend's memory or the safety of his daughter. It seems as though I hear myself saying this every week, but this was by far the fastest hour of the series thus far.
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"!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Episode 108 Recap: Hail to the King, Baby!

This is was the one I was waiting for! Series creator George RR Martin dusted off his Commodore 64 to give us his first attempt at script writing for television in decades! Though he's been away from TV for a while, he certainly didn't seem to have a problem shaking off the rust to give us a superb episode 8, fittingly titled "The Pointy End".
Credits - Same
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Before I get into the details of the first scene(s), I just want to note the terrific change of pace that George implemented to start things off. There's no slow build up of tension here. Instead, the action comes right out of the gate and the bodies hit the floor from the onset of this installment (quite literally in fact). I spent the hours preceding the show trolling around on Winter is Coming with a bunch of other uber-fans trying to predict what might be in store for us. I certainly never thought we'd get the much-anticipated Syrio scene so early on. My popcorn bag was still too hot to open as the Lannisters began dispensing their beat-down on the Stark contingent.
Not only does the mayhem start right away, but in a most untypical mode, Martin hits us with a flurry of cuts back and forth across the Tower of the Hand to build suspense. He must have felt like the giant on House Umber's crest. For the first time writing anything concerning Westeros, he could break the adamant PoV chains and be free to go where he would. He certainly didn't take his liberty for granted. The first few scene jumped back and forth like Kurt Wagner on crack! This episode is not only longer than the others, but it seems as though there are quite a few more scenes jam-packed into its fifty-eight minutes.
George skillfully cuts back and forth between Arya's training lesson in the tranquil practice hall to  the gates, the courtyard and finally the hallways of the tower where Sansa and Septa Mordane are making their way to the wagons. The Lannister's storm through the grounds of the tower like a rampant tidal wave leaving only destruction and chaos in their wake.
Tramping into the practice room, Ser Meryn and his cronies demand that Arya come with them. Syrio calmly objects and proceeds to dispatch the full complement of Lannisters in about fifteen seconds. Trant steps up and breaks Syrio's wooden sword and we are finally about to get the answer to one of the most highly disputed controversies of the series! …only we don't! Instead of resolving whether or not Ser Meryn kills the dancing master after Arya flees, George ends the scene in exactly the same fashion he does in the book. The intellectual in me realizes that it was a brilliant "Soprano-esque " decision doing this. The irrational emotional fan boy will let Kyle Brofovski express my sentiment towards George for making this (non)move. Miltos Yerolemou hinted months ago that there was a little something extra to the end of this scene. It wasn't the resolution I had hoped for, but reciting the lines about telling the god of death "Not today" certainly leaves the door open a crack.
Tower of the Hand, Hallway - What is it with this production and their lack of ability to utilize their canines? Thankfully, the direwolves get a lot of play time later on, but I'm not talking about them. I'm referring to what they are (or aren't) doing with the Hound. Removing the San/San angle is a regrettable choice for many ASoIaF fans, but  I suppose Sansa's age verses Sandor's might have made it a bit tough for a lot of people to watch. Whether or not they choose to develop this at a later point is irrelevant to the way they've turned a complex character into a thuggish, one-dimensional boogeyman. I'm at the point where I'm beginning to wonder if Rory didn't have the acting chops to make Clegane believable so they just decided to water his role down. I don't necessarily think this is the case, but at the very least, Sandor has been a rare example of extremely poor character development.
Tower of the Hand, Stables -  This scene was a little stunted, but ultimately effective at exhibiting Arya's loss of innocence. I wish they would have held the camera on her face just a little longer to let the gravity of what she has done sink in a bit. Everything happens so fast the scene loses a lot of the power its counterpart in the book exhibits.
Red Keep, Black Cells - In the dark below Maegor's Holdfast we get a dismally excellent recreation of Eddard's talk with Varys. The scene unfolds very closely to its written parallel, but it ends without Varys instructing Ned to give the queen what she wants. "The choice my dear hand, is entirely up to you." was not there either. Maybe Varys will be back to conclude their conversation next week?
Castle Black, Courtyard - Jon's party comes back from saying their words with the "corpses" of Othor and Jafer on a sled that instantly reminded me of the sleds they carted the sick and deceased around atop of on Deadwood. They held the shot of Othor's face pretty long. I guess they wanted to make sure you knew who he was later. As the Watch discusses what to do with the bodies, the Old Bear is informed that a raven has arrived. He heads up to see what dark words the dark wings have brought him.
Castle Black, Mormont's Quarters-  Mormont gives Jon the news of Robert's death and Eddard's capture. Harrington and Cosmo do a fine job of portraying how difficult it can be for a man of the Watch when familial tragedies come into conflict with honor-bound duties.

King's Landing, Robert's Office - Sophie Turner does a fair job portraying a hopelessly outnumbered Sansa beset upon by the queen and the Small Council. Accused of being a traitor she promises not to hatch any plots and agrees to write letters pleading to Rob and her mother to come to King's Landing and swear fealty to Joffrey. I thought George's choice of words as Sansa promises be a "good queen" and not "hatch anything" was a sneaky foreshadowing to Dany's fate.
I cringed a little when Cersei asked what Robb's name was. I wanted to hear Sansa answer "You know. He's the one named after the corpse you are married to!"  Maybe she's feigning ignorance, but I'm pretty certain that a plotting schemer like Cersei would know the names of anyone she viewed as a potential threat.
The council is very effective playing good cop/bad cop and getting Sansa to write the letters to her family. This is a rare look at Varys, Pycelle and Little Finger all working in concert for a common end.
Something that did occur to me here is that in the book it is Sansa who goes to the queen with her father's plans to send she and Arya back home. Always the opportunist, Cersei uses the information to take them hostage before their ship can sail. Here, the girls fall into the queen's hands by happenstance. They just haven't left before the Lannisters kill the Stark guards and find the girls. I think this is part of an attempt by D&D to make Sansa a more likable character. Many of her detractors point to her snitching as a big reason why they dislike her. While it puts her in a more amiable light, we end up losing a great example of Cersei's ruthless efficiency. Of course if my previous guess that D&D are trying to soften the queen is right, this move serves to shape both characters into the new mold D&D are attempting to create.
Winterfell, Great Hall - Richard Madden owns it as "Rob the Lord". Luwin sees right through Sansa's letter and Robb orders him to call the banners. The exchange between Richard and Alfie shows a rare glimpse of the brotherly affection the two boys share for one another.
In an act that would have sent Tippi Hedren into a year of counseling, Maester Luwin releases every damn raven in the rookery (and perhaps in all the North) to summon Robb's levies. Sheesh that was a lot of ravens!
The Eyrie - Catelyn has it out with Lysa when she learns that her sister has delayed mentioning the news of Ned's capture. Lysa refuses gibe Robb the support of her men. She is so intent on protecting her son that she can't see her best option is to strike. Sweetrobin is great as always as he demands a feeding and begins to unlaces his mom's top. Maybe HBO can get Tom Choliccio to whip him up a happy meal or something to get him off the teat?
The Eastern Road - Tyrion and Bronn are on their dangerous journey back through the Mountains of the Moon. Bronn warily tells Tyrion to shut up. Tyrion stops whistling just long enough to remind Bronn that he'll out-pay anyone who tries to bribe him away from Tyrion's service. The Imp is aware of the futility of trying to sneak past the clansmen, so he is attempting to draw them out with his racket.
The Eastern Road, Campsite - Bronn hears Shagga and his comrades approaching and wakes Tyrion who invites them into camp. It's great to see that Tyrion's unique option for death made it into the scene. I did miss the stuff about paying the Hill Tribes with their own coin though. It’s a tough sell, but in the end with some fancy maneuvering and a little bloodshed, the Dwarf succeeds in finding some new allies.
Castle Black, Kitchens - Jon is confronted and mocked by Ser Alliser as news of Ned's imprisonment has swept the castle. Kit builds the tension well before he lunges at Thorne with a butcher knife. Mormont witnesses the altercation and confines Jon to his quarters. I only wish that they would have let Jon knock Ser Alliser down before they broke up the fight. I would have loved to see Thorne bleed a bit.
Castle Black, Jon's Quarters- Ghost senses the wights and goes crazy (crazy as in barking and whining like a dog again). Trusting the wolf, Jon opens the door and follows Ghost out. I'm not quite sure why, but they did away with the dead guards at Jon's door. I think it would have given the scene an instant sense of danger. It wasn't quite as suspenseful as I had hoped.
Castle Black, Mormont's Quarters - The fight with the wight was well done. I approve of the way Ghost was removed from the action. While I'd have rather watched wolf battle wight, at least they managed to have him present in the scene. Jon burns his hand differently as well but it worked. The wight's eyes didn't seem blue at first, but they were after Jon stabbed it. I would prefer it if they made wight eyes more distinguishable from regular blue eyes. I wouldn't even mind seeing a glow to them in the future.
Essos, Lhazareen Village - There is a thoughtful distinction at the beginning of the Lhazareen village scene that was one of my favorite additions to the series so far. As the pillaging is going on around her, Dany asks why the horde is attacking. In the book it is assumed that this is what the Dothraki do, but here GRRM makes the differentiation that the village has been plundered to finance the horde's campaign to Westeros. As it is explained to her, you can see Dany tense, then relax as she is resolved to do what must be done in order to achieve her goals. Even she is only willing to go so far however and she commands Jorah and her khas to stop any raping they see taking the women as her own personal servants. The scene was toned down a little from the book which I thought a bit strange. Still, the village set looked great.
Lhazareen Village, Temple - Dany stands up to Mago and Drogo when questioned about her actions with the slaves. Drogo is impressed with her determination and rules in her favor prompting Mago to challenge him.
Jason Mamoa proceeds to defeat his rival in the most badass moment of the series to date. Foregoing any weapon, Drogo makes quick work of Mago by ripping his tongue out through his throat. In yet another change to the plot, Drogo does not receive his wound from killing a rival Khal, but basically inflicts the wound upon himself as he consciously presses Mago's arakh into his own chest. This is a change I whole-heartedly support. What a great fight!
After the duel, Dany frets over Drogo's wound. Apparently, the Lhazareen must live somewhere in Jersey,because Dany calls upon Snooki's mom to treat the Khal.
Winterfell, Great Hall - Robb is feasting his lords bannermen as they get ready to strike out to fight for Eddard. Surrounded by larger, more seasoned men, Robb is tested by the Greatjon. Umber threatens to leave with his men if he cannot have the vanguard position in Robb's army. Robb calls him an oath breaker and in his rage, the Greatjon unsheathes a blade against his lord.
For the second time this episode, I was grateful to see the direwolves used in a meaningful manner. Greywind lunges at the Greatjon and snips off a pair of fingers. Someone over at WiC suggested that maybe instead of Greywind, they would have Robb bite off Umber's digits. I'm glad this wasn't the case! With the Greatjon's challenge met, Robb cements his place as the liege lord in the North. Both Richard Madden and Clive Mantel do a masterful job of bringing this scene to life.
Winterfell, Bran's Room - Robb comes to say goodbye to his younger brother explaining that Bran is now the "Stark in Winterfell".  Once Robb departs, we get our first look at Rickon since the pilot. Art Parkinson doesn't have a whole lot of lines here, but he expresses the youngest Stark's dread at his family's separation in convincing style.
Winterfell, Godswood - Praying at the Heart Tree, Bran gets advice through a wildling's perspective from Osha. She explains that the Old Gods can speak through he northern wind and see through the heart trees, but that they have no power in the South.
Natalia Tena again presents us with an utterly intriguing Osha. I very much hope that D&D utilize this actress's talent more in season 2. Give Ros a little break and spend more time on Osha. I'm not really even that big of an Osha fan, but Tena's performance thus far  makes me want to see them flesh her out.
Castle Black, Outside the Wall - As the Watch burns the bodies of the wights, Sam divulges something about the White Walkers that not even book readers know. Apparently the Others create wights by touching their victims. In the novels George hasn't yet actually revealed that fact to us (to the best of my recollection). Sam's comment about the Wall followed by the extreme worm's-eye view of it was a great pairing of dialogue to imagery.
Moat Cailin? - Catelyn and Ser Rodrick approach the Stark host at a keep that I can only assume is a stand-in for Moat Cailin. Nice touch with the summer snow!
Robb's Tent - Mother and son are finally reunited in the heart of a war camp. Robb is hearing counsel from his lords. The Greatjon takes the forefront once again. I didn't notice it in the feast scene, but I loved the use of linked chains in Umber's wardrobe. How Luke Cage!
As always Michelle Fairly is the consummate worrying mom. Her first look at Robb conveys everything a viewer needs to know about her feelings for her son. She is equally resolute in counseling Robb that a show of force is the only alternative they have left. She fears for her son, but realizes that she must let him become the lord that he was raised to be. I really hope she gets some recognition for her outstanding performance this season.
Lannister Camp - Tyrion and company come out of the mountains and find the Lannister camp. Bronn issues the episode's funniest line when he replies "You wouldn't know him" when asked who his father was during introductions to Tywin. Chella's hairdo made me think of Sigmund the Sea Monster.
Dinklage and Dance are simply phenomenal as they play estranged father and son. Tywin is cool in the face of Tyrion's quips. The business where he places the pitcher of drink just out of Tyrion's reach so that the dwarf must visibly struggle to reach it was extremely telling to anyone not versed in the Lannister's familial dealings. We learn that the Starks are mobilizing and next week's fight is set up when Shagga tells Tywin that the clans will fight only if Tyrion fights with them. Dinklage's expression said a lot, but I would have loved to hear him utter "Oh joy!" under his breath.
Robb's Tent - Using strategic cunning learned from his father, Robb misleads the captured Lannister scout to believe that the entire Stark force will be rushing headlong to meet his army to the south. The Freys are also introduced and it is made clear that the Starks will need to cross the Frey-controlled bridge at the Twins if they want to get to the Riverlands..
The confrontation at the end of this scene between Robb and the Greatjon was another great change to the script. Robb has come into his own amongst his men as a leader.
King's Landing, Black Cells - Yep. Ned's still enjoying the Spa at the Red Keep's "Quiet Room".
King's Landing, Throne Room - Its very surprising how much George was able to include in this scene. We see Janos Slynt raised to lord and given the seat of Harrenhal, the dismissal of Ser Barristan and Sansa promising to get Ned to confess.
Ian McElhinney portrays the snubbed Ser Barristan amazingly. First confused at the unexpected decree removing him and finally outraged at his treatment. I loved every second for this performance.
The council again joins forces to bully Sansa.  Pycelle is especially nasty. Speaking of nasty, Joffrey is the perfect shit commanding Sansa to force her father's confession.
In exactly the opposite way the story began, it ends on a somber note with Sansa promising that "He will". I was expecting something more dramatic to go out on, but putting it into context, the episode resolved much as the same chapter in the book did. I could sense GRRM's hand all over it.
"The Pointy End" was phenomenal. It's too bad that George can't write more of the episodes but I guess we'll have to settle for what we do get if we ever want the series to be concluded. I still haven't got the answer to my long-sought Syrio dilemma, but what I did get was the best episode in the series thus far. With only two left, I can't wait to see how they top themselves! Well, I have to go. One of Maester's Luwin's  ravens ended up at my door summoning be to Winterfell. Looks like I need to beat a plowshare into a sword and go trawling for some Lannisters. Till next week, when we meet again on Baelor's steps!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Episode 107 Recap: Oh Deer!

The power plays in King's Landing finally come to a head in "You Win or You Die". We quickly learn that Robert has been "done in by a pig" and all the main players go into high gear making their bids for advancement before the king is even dead. Tywin finally makes his entrance as the Lannister host mobilizes. Across the Narrow Sea, Dany is lobbying for a resistant Drogo to invade Westeros after her brother's death. Following a two-episode hiatus for Jon and the Night's Watch, we are again back at Castle Black as things begin to heat up in the cold beyond the Wall.
Credits - Same stuff.          
The Reach?, Lannister Camp - Its all crimson tents and golden lions as the Lannister host assembles and prepares for a possible war. We know from last episode that at least some of Tywin's men are harrying the Riverlands, but so far it appears as though the lions themselves are staying out of things directly. As striking as the camp appears, showing a purple shield with a Flement unicorn or a yellow Crakehall boar banner could have established a better picture of just who is along with Tywin at this point.
Lannister Camp, Tywin's Tent -  Enter Charles Dance as Twin Lannister. He may not be bald and he may not have the robust sideburns of his literary counterpart, but Dance has Tywin's manner down to a tee. I believed him as Tywin from before he said a word. Obvious foreshadowing aside, what a marvelous way to introduce this character by having him coolly dress a deer while reprimanding and dictating to his son in an equally dispassionate manner.
NCW looks devilishly dashing in his black and gold Lannister armor and he plays counterpoint to Dance very well. There is both contrast and tension between the two as the aims of the older lion do not seem to quite coincide with that of his cub. Chagrin flashed across Tywin's face as Jaime tells him that killing Ned Stark would not have been clean. Jaime has his own honor code. It's obvious that Tywin has long ago forgone any such restrictions in order to keep himself and his house waxing in power. To Tywin, family is everything (which is a trait he shares with Hoster Tully ironically enough), not personal gain or glory.  He is sickened at the way his son is wasting his natural talents as a guard for the King. In Tywin's mind, it is high-time for Jaime to step up and take his birthright. Jaime is rash and short-sighted in his actions. Tywin is most definitely a long-term thinker and a very dangerous player in the Game.
While the grand swordplay and choreography of fights have been excellent so far, I think that the way Dance handled his skinning knife during the conversation was my favorite use of a blade in the series so far. The effortless way he butchered the deer and even more so the casual style in which he handled the knife while facing Jaime makes me think that Dance either has a lot of hunting experience or is just a consummate master at body language. Amazing work!
King's Landing, Courtyard - I love the camera angle the used for Cersei as she stands over Ned and notes "You're in pain" in a manner that is completely devoid of any compassion whatsoever. Heady's delivery of the line was inspired. When confronted with the truth about her secret that Robert's children are all in fact Jaime's, Cersei doesn't shy away from it and proudly owns up to her sins. D&D add more evidence of a subtle shift in the Queen's character here. In the book, it wasn't Robert that Cersei hoped to be with, but Rhaegar.  Again, I believe this change was implemented to make her more sympathetic in later seasons.  Knowing that Robert never returned her love and in a sense dashed her childhood dreams to pieces might make viewers a little more able to feel for her as her life slowly starts to unravel. In the novels I delighted in watching her lose her grip on reality. I'm very interested to see if D&D can change my loathing for the Queen on television.
Further evidence of Cersei's softening would be in the omission of her come-on to Eddard. In the book she makes advances towards him in an attempt to sway him. Eddard of course shuts her down, wanting nothing to do with her. I don't know if the cut was because of time, or if D&D intentionally left it out, but either way, Cersei uses sex as one of her most reliable weapons. Making her softer is a good idea, but they should be careful about going too far. I would hate to see her watered down to the point where she won't cross this line.
Even in the face of adversity, Cersei manages to handle Eddard with pride and a certain sense of grace. When she admonishes him that "You win or you die" it is made blatantly apparent how ineptly Eddard is vying for control in a game he neither wants to play nor is fully aware of playing. She may have a vastly over-inflated opinion of herself, but at least Cersei knows the rules of the Game. By contrast, Eddard is still sitting there with the newly-opened box on his lap trying to puzzle out the rule book.
King's Landing, Brothel - This scene completely exposes not only the children of King's Landing, Ros and her friend, but more importantly Petyr and his motivations for power. Another change from the books, Petyr's lust for power is being made much more obvious much earlier on. In this episode's sexposition moment, Little Finger lays out the origins of why he's become the man he is today while Ros and friend have some gender-confusing sex play in a medieval version of The Crying Game. Too bad Dustin Hoffman wasn't available to play Ros's buddy.
I know there are a lot of nay-sayers regarding the "gratuitous" sex in this scene, but I would like to point out that Petyr does in fact own several brothels which is at least somewhat relevant to the plot. In my mind, there is a limited number of opportunities to really see what makes Petyr tick. He's certainly not likely to blurt out his little soliloquy in from of Varys or Pycelle. We also don't have the option of going into his or other characters minds as we could in the book. We are left with the Mockingbird singing his tune to a pair of inconsequential prostitutes. Perhaps when viewed this way, the sex isn't as gratuitous as it might first appear? Little Finger could just be talking to them and they needn't be shagging each other, but to paraphrase Ralphie from another great HBO show, "They are hooo-waaahs".
Winterfell, Great Hall - In the episode's only Winterfell scene, a chained Osha shambles into the great hall to replenish the rushes. She is quickly set upon by an obnoxiously pompous Theon Greyjoy. I cringed as Alfie whined that "My father is Balon Greyjoy, lord of the Iron Islands". That delivery was easily the worst part of the scene and probably the episode. The best part of this scene isn't Natalia Tena's lockdown portrayal of the captured wilding. It's not her blunt manner as she runs circles around Theon's logic demonstrating the differences in  value of social status north of the Wall. It's not in the way Luwin reproaches Theon reminding him yet again that he is just a glorified version of the lowly prisoner that he was about to accost. The coolest moment in this scene for me was when I noticed the Nimbus 2000 leaning on the table next to Natalia! Ha! I'm assuming it was intentional, but regardless, it was a great Easter egg moment!
Castle Black, Atop the Wall - Let it Snow! After a two week break, Jon and Sam are back on sentry duty atop the Wall. They spy a riderless horse making its way back to the Wall. I noticed that Sam didn't seem quite so scared to be looking out over the Wall as he did previously.
Castle Black, Yard - Jon rushes off the elevator to find that the horse was his uncle's. I know that Jeor's nickname is the Old Bear, but James Cosmo looks positively ursine as he frets over a panicked Jon.
King's Landing, Throne Room - The hunting party is back and a blood-soaked Renly delivers the fateful news about Robert and the boar to Eddard. I must have missed the press release that Fat Tom had been cast by the lovechild of Fabio and Steven Seagal. I can't believe it's not Buda!
King's Landing, Robert's Bedchamber - Not to throw out another Harry Potter reference, but Robert lying there reminded me eerily of Dobby's death scene. You be the judge! It was a good touch showing Robert saying goodbye to Joffrey. Even on his deathbed he still has no idea how to be a father, but at least he is trying. Eddard walks in and sees Cersei. Awkward! Poor Ser Barristan looks like he needs a drink. Anything but Lancel's wine!
Robert clears the room and begins to give Ned his last will and testament turning the kingdom over to Ned for safe keeping.  I was very glad to see them include Ned switching Joff's name with "rightful heir". It may have been a little forced showing him write it all down, but it’s a fine, yet important point that needed to be there.
Even though I knew how the scene would end, I was shouting "Damn it Ned! Tell him!" at the screen. Ned you poor, honorable fool!
A minor cavil for me was Ned's response to Robert's request that he  help Joffrey. Ned answered that he will  do all he can to honor Robert's memory. In the book he more pointedly replies that he'll look out for all of Robert's children which means his bastards. It's another case where the book dialogue was changed for the worse without any apparent purpose.
King's Landing, Hall Outside of Robert's Room - Ned walks out of the bedroom and consoles a numb Ser Barristan. Varys injects veiled suspicion towards Lancel and the Lannisters for possibly drugging Robert's wine. When Eddard directs the Spider to stop the hit order on Dany, we get a nice segue over the Narrow Sea after Varys retorts "I'm afraid those birds have flown".
Vaes Dothrak, Dany's Tent - Using well-articulated Dothraki, Dany makes her case to Drogo for attacking the Usurper and winning back the Iron Throne. Drogo isn't interested. He gently rebukes her and ends the conversation with no hint of a desire to grant Dany's request.
Mamoa and Clarke do a great job of speaking a made-up foreign-sounding language here in what is perhaps the longest conversation in Dothraki to date. I much enjoyed Dany's incorrect usage of the word "dirt" for "land". It shows that she is still learning to be a Dothraki while at the same time demonstrating the complexity of the designed-for-the-show-language.
This scene takes place almost exactly at the midpoint of the episode. I was starting to suspect that the Dany story would be put on hold this week. Instead, the writers were just letting things simmer longer. It seems as though they slowed the pacing quite a bit for episode 7. Most of the scenes until now have been lengthier than the choppier tempo used in previous installments. I think that for this episode it was a good idea to slow things down, but I expect to see the scene switches speed up again next week.
Vaes Dothrak, Western Market -  Hey! The parrot made the cut!
Even though we lose the obligatory shot of the dragon eggs this episode, we still get plenty of obtuse dragon talk as Dany and entourage explore the Western Market. I have no idea why they felt the need to suggest that Jorah doesn't believe in dragons. I know they are trying to show that the people of Westeros do or do not believe in the existence of magic to varying degrees. Usually I think that this adds color to the world. When talking of the white walkers for instance, we get many diverse opinions on whether or not they are or were real. No one living (until recently) has witnessed any evidence that the Others ever truly existed. Dragons however, are proven to have lived. The average Westerosi, especially a noble, should know this to be fact not conjecture.
Jorah heads off to look for mail. Varys' little Oompa Loompa hands him his pardon and departs. I'm not sure if the average viewer will understand just what it is that Jorah is about to give up. All he has to do is disappear for a few hours and his status is returned. It's there to see, but perhaps it’s a bit too subtle for someone not familiar with the books to piece together.
Western Market, Wine Merchant's Stall - This scene is almost a verbatim recreation of the assassination attempt from the book and its executed extremely well. I loved the Redwyne Grapes on the cask!  Great stunt work with the whip as well.
Castle Black, Yard - Another very similar scene from the book with a few noticeable exceptions. The first was Pyp's assignment to the stewards. He's a ranger in the novel. In wondering why they felt it necessary to make the change. I can only surmise that as a steward, Pyp will have more of an excuse to be around Jon and Sam. It won't matter later when they go ranging because if you notice Pyp was sent to the kitchens so when they go out en masse later on, he will probably be a field cook.
 One of the recruits gets sent to One-Eyed Joe. We never see him, but if they feel a need to cast the part how about this guy? I wonder if the kid the cast as Dareon will come back in a few years or if they will just recast the part.
I assume they wanted to give Maester Aemon more face time here (he is in this scene in the book as well), but its seemed as though he has command of the stewards and not Bowen Marsh. If so it's another small, but inconsequential change.
One more small tidbit that we can glean from Pyp's story is that Lord Smallwood is apparently the second lord (along with Paxter Redwyne)we didn't know about who fancies boys. I doubt that the sexual preferences of either of these two lords will be important later in the novels, but D&D should take care using creative license in this manner. It definitely makes it interesting for ASoIaF nerds like myself, but you never know how something like this could come back to bite them later. Or maybe GRRM could become inspired by something of this nature and infuse similar character traits to his cast members in the book. Probably not, but here's to hoping!
King's Landing, Corridor - Renly urges Eddard to seize Joffrey before Cersei can act. He makes a pretty good case until he proposes to take the throne for himself. Again Eddard's sense of honor impedes him from taking a more prudent course. He just can't bring himself to do the easy thing over the right thing.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Eddard orders Fat Tom to Dragonstone to summon Stannis back to King's Landing. Little Finger enters and much like Renly, urges Eddard to act. Of course, I believe that Petyr knows exactly what Eddard will do and only suggests using Joff as a puppet to seem more sincere about securing the gold cloaks for the Hand.
Beyond the Wall, Haunted Forest - Enter wolf-gate.  I don't have so much of a problem with Ghost barking as I do with him making any noise at all. At any rate though, I'm willing to chalk this up as a minor gaff. Maybe they can edit the woof out on the DVD? What's more important is that we actually get to see Ghost!
The weirwood Sam and Jon say their words beneath looks really spooky. As they roll off their pledge I'm reminded as I was in the book of the oath taken by another group of protectors. We all know what a huge comic book fan George is. I've always suspected that this was a nod to Hal Jordan and his extra-terrestrial  pals.
Vaes Dothrak - These scene demonstrates the final example of Robert's incapability as king. The only matter of state that Robert ever seems passionate about attending to is anything concerning the death of the Targaryens. We've seen his lack of ability to act when the forces around him pull him one way or the others. Now we see that its Robert, not Dany or Viserys that brings his own worst nightmare to fruition. If he would have listened to Ned and left things alone, Drogo would likely have stayed on Essos. Now he's got a mad-on for Westeros that no one short of a Maegi can cure.
This is likely the scene that won Mamoa the job of Drogo. What power! As I watched Drogo rant, I kept thinking about Jason in a small audition room somewhere doing his haka. They were probably too afraid not to give him the role immediately!
King's Landing, Outside the Throne Room - Ned has just learned of the king's passing. As bells begin to toll throughout the city (nice touch), he meets with Little Finger and Varys on his way to confront the Lannisters. Petyr is a bit too calm and confident about securing the city watch. Varys does a nice job of setting us up for season two by delivering the news of Renly's flight.
King's Landing, Throne Room - All of Robert and Ned's missteps come to a head as Little Finger and the gold cloaks backstab (literally and figuratively) the Stark contingent. Gillen is great as he slides the knife under Ned's throat and chides him about his previous warning.
Of all the shocks and twists so far this season, this scene has generated the most buzz amongst my personal friends. My wife clapped at the end of the scene (not because Ned was captured, but because the episode was so good). My best friend, who has been slowly warming to the series after a tepid initial reaction told me that he was going to have to start reading the books. He's not a reader at all (unless you count comic books) so I count this as very encouraging evidence that fever for the show is growing.
The ratings for the show have just come out and surprisingly they have stayed the same. With Memorial Day and the HBOGo promotion releasing this episode a week early, most everyone expected the viewing numbers to take a dip. I'm cautiously optimistic that after the great ending this week, next week's show (written for the small screen by GRRM himself) will be the most-watched yet! If you aren't familiar with the events of the book, I strongly advise tuning in!