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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!

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