Wow. An entire episode of Game of Thrones, and not a bare breast to be found. We truly live in an age of wonders.
Well, another one gone. It turns out Renly Baratheon — and his claim to the Iron Throne — weren’t long for this world. Granted, his death wasn’t the huge WTF moment that Ned’s was last year, but still, it was a pretty big surprise. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. But once it was over I found that I didn’t particularly care, either. Part of that was because I didn’t have the emotional connection to Renly that I did to Ned. And part of it was because his death was so effing weird. It wasn’t Stannis or one of his bannermen that did Renly in. No, it was that weird smoke monster (!!!) that came out of Melisandre last week. Catelyn and Brienne, the only witnesses to this sorcery, just kind of watch, not really sure what’s going on, before the thing melts into the floor and escapes and they’re forced to beat a hasty retreat themselves. Because who’s going to believe that a smoke monster could appear out of nowhere and kill the king? Of course, Catelyn almost has to drag Brienne off kicking and screaming, giving her what would be the first of three, “You can’t avenge him if he’s dead!”‘s.
Before, I was ready to write Stannis off. Renly said that no one wanted him as their king. I didn’t want him as my king. Renly had what? 150,000 people fighting for him, something like that. No fuss, no muss. He’d make short work of Stannis and then we could all turn our attention toward that bastard Joffrey. But now, with Renly men all pledging themselves to Stannis, who the hell knows how things will work out?
Although, I’d say that in a hypothetical match-up between Stannis and Robb Stark, there’s no obvious winner. Robb is obviously causing the Lannisters a lot of heartache, from what we overhear in Tywin’s war council. Now that Arya’s serving as Tywin’s cupbearer, I imagine she’ll be privy to all sorts of sensitive information. The question is, what’s she going to do with it? I doubt there will be much she’s able to sneak out and to her brother. But she’ll more than her share of opportunities to feed Tywin false information, and we saw a bit of that tonight. It turns out Arya’s making all kinds of important friends. The latest of which, Jaqen H’ghar, whose life she saved when Arya’s group was attacked by the Lannisters’ men, pledges to give her three lives, to make up for the three she stole from the Red God.**
(**I thought this was interesting, to see others outside of Stannis’ forces who also believe in Melisandre’s god. Are we going to see more of this going forward? Maybe a full-fledged religious uprising, or maybe some sort of Jonestown, Reverend Moon craziness further on down the road?)
Last week we saw the preparations for war being made by Renly and Stannis, and now we see what Joffrey’s been up to, what Cersei was so happy to keep hidden from Tyrion. It turns out that they’ve had the city’s pyromancers working on producing a substance called wildfire, which I suppose is something like napalm, that they’ll be able to launch from catapults at any approaching army. As Tyrion’s being shown just how much wildfire they’ve stockpiled, Bronn ticks off the reasons why working with it is such a bad idea, and Tyrion tells the pyromancer that he’s no longer making wildfire for the queen, he’s making it for Tyrion. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. It’s not like the pyromancers can deny the queen, or Joffrey, the stuff whenever they come calling for it. And what’s Tyrion going to do with it? He doesn’t command any armies. Time will tell, I guess.
Dany’s storyline took a big leap forward this week. And behind all the craziness with Melisandre’s smoke monster, this was the part of the episode — not to mention the larger story — I liked the least. Dany wants to take the Iron Throne for herself. But aside from three baby dragons, she hasn’t got much to do it with. She needs ships to get to Westeros. She needs men to fight for her. She needs supplies and weapons and a million other things, and right now she’s got none of that. So what’s she to do? I bet it’s going to be pretty difficult getting a hold of all that stuff, right? Wrong! It turns out there’s a rich guy in Qarth who will fund the whole thing, as long as Dany marries him. What luck! My problem with this was that it just didn’t feel very organic. And it was even more jarring coming from a show that, nine times out of ten, feels very natural and organic. This just felt like the story couldn’t work without it, so the writers had to throw it in there.
But as far as Dany’s concerned, this wasn’t my biggest problem. As it turns out, my biggest problem wasn’t with the show at all, but with my reaction to it. While this guy from the Thirteen — Think Tank from Rocknrolla, so we’ll just call him Think Tank — is walking around, chatting Dany up, he asks her how long her manservant has been in love with her. Well, if you had asked any of us if Ser Jorah was in love with Dany, we probably would have said, yes, he is. Even though I knew that, tonight was the first time I really consciously thought about it, and realized that I was actually rooting for the two of them to get together. And then I realized I was getting worried that Dany would actually accept Think Tank’s offer! They can’t do that! Jorah deserves better. Isn’t he a good guy, staying by Dany’s side in the middle of all this crap because he really believes she’d be a good ruler, just like he told her? That not only would she be respected and feared, but also loved? It obvious he loves her, and now she sees it, too. And she changes the subject. Just like a woman. I don’t know what to think. I need to spend some time this week, trying to work through all these feelings. This is a disturbing turn of events. More for myself than the show. I hear the term “shipper” and something inside me dies. Anyway, I hope Dany and Ser Jorah get married and have, like, a million babies!
Oh yeah, Jon Snow, and more stuff beyond the Wall.
Funny, isn’t it, that when the show focuses so strongly on the women for a week all the sex goes away? Of course, in its place we get Dany messing with a guy who has honest feelings for her, so I’m really not sure it’s any better.
Anyone who’s flipped through those Dramatis Personae sections at the back of every Song of Ice and Fire book knows how effing massive the world George R.R. Martin’s created is. And while the television show will never be able to introduce that many characters to its audience, I don’t think it’s going to stop them from trying. Season two’s seems to have grown considerably over season one, and from what I’ve heard, that’s not a course the show’s going to reverse over these next couple of years.
So what the hell’s my point? Well, part of the fallout means that we’re not going to see our favorite characters every week (that goes for everyone except Peter Dinklage). There’s just too much ground to cover for that. And that’s something we should take into account in our critique of this or that episode. Describing episodes as too plot heavy, or criticizing them for spending too much time moving the chess pieces around the board may be a bit unfair. It doesn’t have a choice. It’s something that’s woven into the DNA of the show.
Sooo, anyway, the show spent most of this week moving the chess pieces around the board. And it looks like we may see some actual fighting soon. This contrasts to all the fighting we didn’t see this week, when the show employed some nifty editing in showing Robb Stark’s campaign against the Lannisters in the Westerlands. And by nifty editing I mean a fade to black and the sounds of soldiers grunting and killing each other. That’s okay. The show’s got to save money where it can, and if it showed us every battle fought I doubt HBO would be able to keep it on the air for the 20 seasons it’s going to take to tell the rest of the story.
Whenever we rejoined Robb, we were introduced to Talia, a field nurse played by Oona Chaplin (that’s right, that Chaplin). Talia gives Robb all sorts of crap for killing and maiming scores of innocent people who have the misfortune to get swept up in the Starks’ and the Lannisters’ political BS, and she’s so damn good looking that Robb can only kind of stand there with one of those smiles we’re more used to seeing in Benneton ads. I imagine we’ll see her again, but I’ve been wrong before.
Back in King’s Landing, Peter Dinklage continues to earn his paycheck as the best thing about this show by every conceivable measure. First, by turning Lancel Lannister into his informant — what is it with this family and having sex with each other? — and then layer, coming into the throne room and smacking Joffrey down in the middle of one of his bitch fits, taking Robb’s victory against his forces out on Sansa, because it was probably all her fault. Tyrion and Bronn (who I’m starting to like quite a bit) decide that maybe if Joffrey got a little nookie, it might go a ways toward calming down his more sociopathic tendencies. So they send Ros and one of her friends to his room. And Joffrey, distracted away from the insects he’s been frying under his magnifying glass, responds by forcing Ros to beat her friend. I hate him so much.
Another sign that the show’s setting up the back half of the season for some good ole’, in your face ass kickin’ is Renly’s meeting with Stannis in the Stormlands. Stannis comes across as the guy who doesn’t really want to be in the position he’s in, but now that he’s here he’s going to do the best job he can. Renly’s the guy who just enjoys smacking everyone around with his private parts. And right now he’s got the bigger army, and more noble families have pledged fealty to him, so there’s that. But Stannis has got that freaky redhead and whatever the hell that thing is inside her, so who knows how all of this is going to shake out.
Finally finally finally it looks like Dany’s going to get a chance to take a bath and run a comb through her hair, which we all knew was going to have to happen sooner or later, but still. I have to say, the argument laid out by that “humble merchant” seemed pretty on the nose, despite my misgivings about seeing Dany and her retinue dead outside the city walls and my deep love for Emilia Clarke. Their survival is completely dependent on Qarth’s goodwill. She’s talking a big game about burning cities to the ground and all that, but ain’t no one burning nothing if she and the dragons starve to death. So it was really a matter of narrative meccessity that Nonso Anozie speak up, vouch for Dany’s group, and let them inside the city.
I’ve talked a lot about — and will talk a lot about — how frakking big this show is. It’s something that never ceases to amaze me. And “Garden of Bones” managed to take that to even greater heights by introducing us to Harrenhal, which, under the command of the Mountain, has turned into some medieval version of The Road, where every day prisoners are plucked from their holding pen, tortured for information, then killed whether that information’s given or not. While the violence in this show can be brutally graphic, what we’re shown at Harrenhal is terrifying in a way that that other stuff isn’t. And it’s easy to look at Arya and Gendry and say, “Sorry, but you’re probably going to die here.” Luckily, Tywin Lannister rides into town — as angular and severe as ever (seriously, you could cut a roast on this guy’s face) — and “saves” the day, outing Arya as a girl and taking her as his cupbearer. Now, killing all those people whose names we heard to repeating to herself over and over again throughout the night — and what a nice bit a business that was — seems that much closer.
Instead of chess, Chutes and Ladders may be a more apt description of the show, as we’re watching the fortunes of all these characters — beyond the armies — rise and fall. In any case, all of that maneuvering looks like it’s about to pay off, whether in gratuitous violence or sex we’re not sure yet, but sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Great episode, or greatest episode?
Look, I’m going to be honest. In my private, dark moments, I worry about Mad Men. I’ve been tainted by shows like Lost. I like to know that a show’s going somewhere. Shows like Lost you know are headed toward a definitive ending. An ending for a show like Mad Men is a little harder to define. Because the show could end in any one of a million ways, it’s a little easier to see it losing direction and floundering in its later seasons. But, for all those who’ve ever suffered a similar crisis of faith, know that there are episodes like “Signal 30.” Episodes that show up, stroke your hair like the mom from the Children’s Tylenol commercial, and let you know that Matthew Weiner is wise and good, and that all is right with the show. Also the world.
What do we love about Mad Men? We love the fact that Don is really Superman with a drinking problem. We love that Lane is British. We love watching Roger wax nostalgic. And we love hating on Pete. “Signal 30″ had all of that.
We’ll talk about Don and Pete first, since the show ended with the two of them in the elevator. Pete, his eyes puffy and his face swollen from his smackdown with Lane, and Don, wishing there was a window he could climb out of. It was an interesting role reversal these two had tonight. Almost since the show began, we’ve looked at Peggy as a sort of proto-Don, who, as a professional ad-(wo)man is slowly being made in his image. But tonight, we saw Pete as the new Don, with the real Don (also the old Don) watching him make the same mistakes he made all those years ago. When Don, Roger, and Pete take a Jaguar exec out for a bit of wining and dining and end up at a classy whorehouse, Pete gets his horndog on with an anonymous stranger while Don sits outside, nursing his drink. On the cab ride home, Pete acts incensed, coming right out and asking his boss where his balls have disappeared to, and accusing Don of judging him. Don tells Pete that he speaks from a lot of experience, and that if Pete plays fast and loose with his family like that then he really runs the risk of losing them. Don goes on to say that was a lesson he would have learned a lot sooner if he had married Megan before Betty.
Pete’s always been a small man trying to live in a big man’s world. And whenever you pull back, just to take a look around and seriously ask what it is that Pete doesn’t have, you see that it’s just that: he doesn’t feel like man. He’s got the wife and kid, the job, the house, which are all things you should feel good about. But all it takes is one dinner party, one leaky faucet, and one Don taking his short off and fixing everything with his bare man hands (not to mention being turned down by the 13-year old at drivers ed) to let all the air out of Pete’s balloon and make him feel like a loser. And when a guy like Pete feels like a loser, he has to make some grand gesture to recover his manhood.
That opportunity presented itself in the form of Lane Pryce, fresh off his own rejection, after discovering that the Jaguar deal had gone kaput after the exec’s wife found CHEWING GUM ON HIS PUBIS (something I imagine has ruined more than a few good days). Lane, who knew the exec and was trying to play the account man and close the deal for the agency, just wasn’t getting the job done. And now when he sees that Pete, Don, and Roger have turned everything all sixes and sevens (BRITISH!) he’s ready to come down on everyone with great vengeance and furious anger. Pete, little asshole that he is, chooses that moment to ask Lane what exactly it is he does at the agency anyway, and now Lane’s unbuttoning his short, ready to throw down. Our reaction is much like Don’s, Roger’s, and Bert’s: we know this shouldn’t be happening, that we should probably put a stop to it, but we just. Can’t. Turn. Away. So we close the curtain and let the two have at it.
Was there a single person watching the show who wasn’t rooting for Lane to hand Pete’s ass to him? I don’t think so. And luckily, we weren’t disappointed. With Pete laid out proper, Lane marches out of the room, bollocks hanging down to his knees. And he really deserved it. Life is treating him better than it was last season, but still, that guy doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to be happy about. And I know that knocking Pete out would make me happy, so it was nice to see Lane be able to mark that one up on the scoreboard.
With all the Pete/Lane/Don craziness, there was one nice moment in the show that kind of got glossed over. And that was Roger giving Lane pointers for his lunch with the Jaguar exec. I don’t think the show would ever get rid of John Slattery, but it isn’t hard to see him on his way out of the professional world. Roger is a guy who’s even having to say bye to his bad good days, where he’s not doing a ton of account work, but he’s still around, helping where he can with the agency’s bigger clients. He still does some of that. But it seems like he’s looked at more and more like a joke, and that Pete’s slowly taking all the real work he does away from him. And that’s not just how the show looks at him, but the audience as well. We don’t see him doing anything substantive, so it was nice to hear his talk with Lane. Giving him real advice on how to handle a meeting like this, and show that this was a business Roger really knew a lot about, and that his talents are kind of being wasted, just sitting in his office reading the newspaper. I also liked hearing him commiserate some with Ken, a “fellow unappreciated author.”
So, shame on me. I was wrong to think that Mad Men was a ship that could ever lose its way. We know that after this year, the show will most likely see another two seasons, and I take great comfort knowing that the show still has new things to show us about these characters, and new places to take them. Seriously great comfort, you guys.
Varys said something interesting this week as he and Tyrion kicked back with a bottle of wine, discussed the things they learned that day, and realized that each of them had found a better friend in the other than they had previously thought. He said, “Power resides where men believe it resides.” Well, that’s certainly true. But as we’re learning, there’s a great deal of power that resides with those who stand just out of the public eye, and oftentimes the power they wield is stronger than that of those they supposedly answer to.
I guess your initial response to a proclamation like that would be, “DER!” But I think you’d say that because you’re using a government like ours as a basis for your opinion. In our government, whoever’s in power depends more or less on a coalition of support to get legislation passed. In a land like Westeros, you don’t need that. What the king wants, the king gets. And I think that in a situation like that, the rulers are much less swayed by close advisers or others looking for personal gain. Then again, I majored in English so what the hell do I know.
My main reason for saying this is because I doubt there are a lot of people who look at Tyrion or Varys or Littlefinger or Maester Pycelle and see men who wield power, yet they all do. When Tyrion is trying to figure out which of these others would betray him to Cersei, he tells them each different stories about who he plans to marry Myrcella off to. When Cersei confronts him, screaming about sending Myrcella off to Dorne, he knows that Pycelle’s the one who gave him up. He’s still got to watch out for Cersei — who’s one crazy lady — but he’s gone a ways toward protecting his flank against the man who at least partly responsible for the deaths of his two immediate predecessors.
Of course, if you’re not as smooth behind the scenes as Tyrion Lannister, there are several other ways to seize power in Westeros. One of them is to go to war, much like the Greyjoys are planning. You know, I don’t hate Theon Greyjoy, but I sure do hate his family. Part of the reason for this is that, Theon has a point. Balon’s pissing and moaning about what a weak pup his son is, and how living with the Starks for years has made him soft, but who was the one who sent him off in the first place? It wasn’t Theon’s choice. The second reason is Asha Greyjoy’s dead eyes. Seriously, what the hell?
Anyway, Theon’s apparently decided to play the hand dealt him and go along with their batshit crazy plot, which is to raid cities up and down the coast and somehow end up in King’s Landing and on top of the throne. Whatever. I haven’t read the books, so I’m still holding out hope that life on that fishing boat turns Theon into a hardened and battle-tested killer, and that he pays his family back all sorts of sweet revenge. As with all things, time will tell.
If you don’t want to take risk declaring war and then losing, there are other options available to you. You could go the Renly Baratheon route. That is, take off, get some other people to like you and create their own kingdom just for you. Well, as it turns out, that’s working out well for Renly. He’s got quite a few guys backing him up, and Margaery Tyrell (as well as her brother Loras) to share his bed with. And as far as that goes, Renly really lucked out. It turns out Margarery doesn’t care if he’s still stuck in the closet. She understands that while Renly’s crowned king of the Seven Kingdoms, what he’s got right now doesn’t amount to much more than a government in exile. And now that Catelyn Stark’s come, looking sour but asking for help, Renly’s got a chance to be much more. And Margarery could be part of that.
So it’s anything goes in the race for the Iron Throne. And maybe the Stark’s and Baratheon’s brute strength will carry the day. Or maybe it’ll be the Greyjoy’s daring (it’d have to be their daring, because their plan is so f**king stupid). But, I think I’ll keep my money on Tyrion, just because watching him work is so much fun. While it may have been sad, watching Maester Pycelle dragged off like that, poor old man that he is, we can’t deny that Tyrion really is a smooth operator. Hate the game, not the player, I guess.
Man. After seeing what Don did to Bobbie Barrett back in season 2, I’ve always had the feeling that this guy is a little crazy. Maybe not Dexter crazy, but definitely Tony Soprano crazy. He’s the kind of guy who does a reasonably good job of keeping his temper in check, but when he or his interests are very obviously threatened, he lashes out, grabbing a hold of your private parts and whispering menacing things in your ear. And after Bobbie, we saw that Don wasn’t above hitting a woman. And tonight, we saw that Don wasn’t above strangling a woman to death and kicking her lifeless body underneath his bed, snuggling up under his sheets and going back to sleep.
Now, if we’re those viewers who are so in love with Don Draper that we refuse to believe that any of the horrible things he does actually reflect on his character, then we can write this little episode off in a couple of different ways. One is that it was all a dream, and we do all sorts of cray things in our dreams, right? I mean, if I had a nickel for every person I’ve strangled in a dream, I’d be able to open a savings account or something. I’m not a violent person. All I’m saying is that it happens. If we’re looking at things a little deeper, and taking the fact that Matthew Weiner graduated from the David Chase School of Television Writing into account, then we’ll know that one of the things he learned there was how to use a dream sequence to illustrate some inner struggle a character is going through. We can view this as significant, or tell ourselves that even in his dream Don was delirious.
By now you should know that it’s significant.
Remember, all of this was happening against the backdrop of the Richard Speck murders in July of 1966. Speck was (obviously) a murderer who raped, tortured and killed eight student nurses who worked at the South Chicago Community Hospital. So I think it’s safe to say that’d it be FOOLISH for us to assume that the violence perpetrated against these women didn’t figure prominently in this episode for a reason. But what’s the connection? It can’t just be that Don’s a sadist and feels violently toward women. Remember that Bobbie was kind of blackmailing him when he had his Tony Soprano moment with her in “The Benefactor.” And he was kind of being blackmailed with this woman in tonight’s episode. And what was in jeopardy in this episode was his relationship with Megan. It’s looking for and more like Don is making a serious run at putting his cheating ways behind him for good. He really does seem to be more “in love” with Megan than he was with Betty. When they were still married and had one of those moments when it seemed like they were finally going to start treating each other right, their relationship snapped back to indifferent fairly quickly. But despite the fact that they’ve been married for months, Don is still complimenting Megan on the way she looks, and it seems like they’re still having a reasonable amount of trouble keeping their hands off each other while outside the apartment. They look like they’re in love. So, we can assume — at least for now because who knows that Weiner will throw at us as the season goes on — that Don’s gut reaction to what was happening in his dream was to protect his relationship with Megan at all costs. And Don really took that “at all costs” bit to heart, amirite?
But a final interpretation of this whole thing changes when you look at this as something that really happened (which we know it didn’t, but there’s no reason to believe Don knew that in the moment), and something that happened in Don’s head. If it’s something that really happened, then what Don was reacting to was just what I said: a threat to his marriage. But if we look at this as something that happened in Don’s head, then what he was reacting to is open to interpretation. This woman who Don used to work with and slept with on I’m assuming a couple of occasions caught him in a vulnerable position. He was sick and alone. Don told her that he wasn’t the guy she used to run around with and asked her to leave several times. And each time she came back at him, even coming back to his apartment after he had kicked her out. She gets him while he’s lying in bed, and finally Don succumbs and they do their thing. Whenever it’s all over, she tells Don that they’ll do this again, and brushes him off when he tells her it isn’t going to happen. And it’s only then that he snaps and strangles her. Here, if we take this women to be a representation of Don’s weaknesses, we could look at it as Don striking out at a part of himself. A weakness that he doesn’t like and wants to get rid of. I said that Don isn’t a sadist, but we know he’s a masochist (remember this little chestnut?).
Don’s got problems any way you look at it. He had a bad childhood. He stole someone’s identity while in Korea. And you couldn’t describe his marriage to Betty as healthy. But, he’s trying to be better. And if you look at the fact that this dream Don had was brought on by a fever, then you could even look at it as symbolic. Representative of Don getting better, and becoming a better person. It’s something to think about.
Perhaps less interesting, but more of a reason to pump our fists in the air, “Mystery Date” marked the return of the dreaded Greg Harris, Joan’s douchebag husband who I think most people were hoping would get killed in Vietnam. Greg’s only been home for a couple of hours when he tells Joan that, in ten days, he’s going to have to ship back out to Vietnam for another year. And when Joan thinks that these are his orders and that he never had a say in it, she finds a way to deal with it. But at dinner that night she discovers that Greg volunteered to go back, and that, obviously, is a bridge too far. She tells him that she’s tired of trying to make him feel like he’s a good man when she knows he isn’t.**And if there’s some need he’s got that the military’s fulfilling that she’s not, well, he can just get the hell out. And he does. Of course, not before he throws out a token, “If I walk out that door IT’S OVER!” But Joan’s not having any of that, so he goes.
(**Remember when Greg raped her before they got married? Well, Joan’s held onto that AND SO HAVE WE.)
Honestly, I was surprised to see the show get rid of Greg so quickly, and so cleanly (although I guess they could always bring him back). It’s too bad Joan’s relationship isn’t looking as good as Don’s right now, all things considered. But, it might help clear the way for Joan and Roger to get back together. You know you want it.
Do you guys remember when Amazon forever lowered the standards of the literary world when they started allowing any asshat with Microsoft Word and an internet connection to start selling their books in the Kindle store? Now, EVERYONE’S an author!
It may be a bad metaphor, but things don’t look too different in Westeros ever since the North rose up against King Joffrey. Now, EVERYONE’s a king! We have Joffrey in King’s Landing. Robb in Winterfell. Stannis is coming from Dragonstone. We’ve got Dany, still wandering around in the Red Waste. And now Theon and Balon Greyjoy are trying to get in on the action. And through the course of “The Night Lands,” we’re able to check in with all these guys, plus a few more. There are times where watching this show feels like running a marathon. There’s just so much to see.
And because of that, we’re sometimes able to only spend a few minutes with any given character. And because of that, it’s kind of hard to sum up the struggles of these characters in any given episode with a cohesive theme. And that’s okay. Game of Thrones isn’t an episodic show. Instead, we often look back at the hour once the credits have started rolling, and feel much like we do after spending an hour or so reading the book: We’ve still got such a long way to go.
But the things we saw this week were important. We saw that the soldiers Joffrey sent out to kill all of Robert’s bastards (the FIGHTIN’ bastards!) finally caught up with Arya’s caravan, on its way to the Wall. Luckily for her she’s not the one they’re looking for. That honor fell to Gendry. I was a little surprised that after hearing that whoever gave Gendry up would be rewarded, the caravan still kept its mouth shut. I’m not really sure what to attribute that to. Maybe a collective dislike of Joffrey, or the more broad “man.” Remember that all of these guys (plus Arya) are future members of the Night’s Watch, so maybe there’s already a sense of camraderie or brotherhood setting in there. Anyway, Arya surprised no one by coming out to Gendry, her silence speaking volumes when he told her to whip out her manhood and take a piss in front of him. I liked the back and forth between the two, with Gendry acting embarassed that he had handled himself the way he did in front of a Lady. Although at first I took it as a sign that he didn’t exactly believe Arya when she said she came from House Stark.
Speaking of women who aren’t exactly what they seem, wasn’t it great, watching Theon reunite with his sister? Looking at everyone on the show who’s trying to lay their claim to the throne, Theon and his dad are the only ones I look at and think, “What the hell are you doing?” The Greyjoys kind of strike me as the Newt Gingrich of Westeros. I’m sure they’ve got their supporters, and there’d be some people cheering is Balon somehow captured the Iron Throne (or at least forced a floor fight at the Tampa convention), but by and large, no one wants him as their king.
And Theon isn’t really someone I see inspiring a lot of confidence in anyone. When we see him in tonight’s episode, he’s screwing some woman in the hold of this ship, talking about hard places breeding hard men (you’ve got to love the sexposition on this show) and how they’re probably going to hold a parade or something once he gets back to the Iron Islands, because they’re simple folk and don’t have much to get excited about. Once he disembarks and finds that no one really gives a crap that the prodigal son’s returned, he throws in his lot with the first woman to show any interest in him at all, a woman he promptly makes a pass at and not long after learns is his sister. It seems that Theon’s more in love with the perks that come with power, rather than what wielding that power (responsibly, anyway) actually means. You kind of see him as the kid in high school who joined band because he thought it guaranteed him friends. Which, I grudgingly admit is kind of understandable. After all, he’s spent most of his life living in the shadow of the Starks. Now, he sees his chance to steal some of the spotlight, and dammit, he’s going to take it. Or maybe not. Once he gets back, Balon, who looks like he’s been sitting in front of that fire for the past twenty years, stewing over his failed rebellion, tells him that there’s no way in hell the Greyjoy’s are going to be handed power. They’re going to go out, grab it by the soft stuff and beat it into submission because it worked out so well for them the last time. Only time will tell how it works out this time around.
As you might have expected, Tyrion is still the most entertaining part of the show. In last week’s premiere, when Cersei asked him what he knew about ruling, he said that he didn’t know anything, but he knew people, which as it turns out, may be even more important. Politics plays a huge part in this show, and I think has been rightly named a “game” by it. But now that Tyrion finds himself in a position of power inside King’s Landing, he’s discovering that there are those who play that game just as well as he can. One of those is Varys, who Tyrion finds in his quarters, chatting up his lady friend, but promising never to tell Tywin how he brought a whore to Joffrey’s court. Tyrion beginning to consolidate his power by replacing Janos with Bronn as the head of the City Watch is probably a smart move, since it doesn’t seem like he has many friends elsewhere, even among his own family.
We don’t get to spend much time with Dany this week (always a shame), and only a little more with Jon Snow and all the shenanigans going on north of the Wall. We’re given only a small tease that Craster may have struck some bargain with the White Walkers, and is handing over his male children to them in return for who the hell knows what. I complain that we’re not spending enough time with these characters, but I should probably be thankful the show’s not airing on AMC. Then we’d probably be spending all our time beyond the Wall, following the zombie apocalypse and the breakdown of civilization.
For those of you still hurting over Luck’s cancellation, you can take some comfort in this. Later this year HBO will be premiering Aaron Sorkin’s new series, The Newsroom, which my wife tells me looks like a slicker, sexier version of Sports Night. I’ve never watched Sports Night because watching Peter Krause in anything makes me grind my teeth. However, watching Jeff Daniels brings back childhood memories of watching Dumb & Dumber for the first time. And if The Newsroom is half as funny as that, then we’re all in for a treat.
Come on. You knew Betty was going to finish Sally’s sundae.**
(**And can we take just a moment to appreciate Betty’s fat suit? Betty joins and elite group of actors who have donned a fat suit to better illustrate the rut their character has sunk into. Can you think of many more than Lee Adama from Battlestar Galactica and Mad Men’s own Peggy Olsen?)
Toward the end of the tonight’s episode, Roger asks Don, “When are things going to go back to normal?” I think Don’s probably asking himself the same thing. You get the sense that overall, his marriage to Megan is happier than his marriage to Betty was. And I don’t think that’s a superficial happiness. I think it’s genuine. There have been a few moments between the two of them where you see Don swallow his anger more quickly than he might have with Betty. He was right in saying however many seasons ago that living with Betty was like living with a little girl. And using that same comparison, living with Megan is like living with a 26 year old (they said she was 26, right?). She’s smart, mature, and becoming increasingly independent. Betty was high-maintenance. Megan isn’t.
Still, there’s a level of comfort in Don’s relationship with Betty that, even after the nastiness of their divorce, never really went away. Like ass-grooves worn in a couch after years of use, they’ll probably be there forever. And Betty calling Don up after her doctor found a lump in her throat that was possibly cancerous was a nice moment between the two of them.** Don telling Betty that everything was going to be alright actually made her feel like maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed, that she’d actually be alright. I don’t know if that familiarity made Don feel better, but it definitely reminded him that this is a woman who he, on some level, still has feelings for.
(**Although Betty’s line about Don saying what he always says does kind of reinforce that little girl thing.)
Anyway. How does all this relate back to what Roger said about things getting back to normal? Well, even though Don has a good thing going with Megan, something healthier than his relationship with Betty was, I think there’s something in the back of Don’s head that wants to go back to that, even though there’s something else right beside that that knows how destructive their relationship had become.
That feeling’s only made stronger by the fact that there’s something about Don that can’t help but look at Megan like she’s his daughter. And it’s not an overt thing. It’s just something that’s there. Something that makes him more aware of the divide between him and young people. While he’s backstage, talking to the groupie who’ll just do anything to impress the Rolling Stones, you see how concerned he becomes whenever he finds out just how far she’d go to impress them. Whenever she tells Don that people like him just don’t want people like her having any fun, he tells her that actually it’s because people like him are concerned for people like her. So I think Don’s generally overcome by this feeling of nostalgia, and probably looking back on his life with Betty through rose-colored glasses. There’s a chance she’s really sick, so he can kind of only remember the good times the two of them had together.
What’s going on with Roger is much more self-pitying than Don’s thing. This thing between him and Pete has been brewing up for a while now and it’s finally worn him down. You saw before — last week’s premiere was a good example — that Roger was happy to play the game with Pete, showing up to client meetings uninvited, things like that. Pete sees what he’s doing, recognizes the fact that he’s trying to keep himself relevant to the company, and when Mohawk Air officially comes back to SCDP, very publicly makes a move to protect his flank. Don follows Roger when he stomps out of the room and tells him that, yes, it was disrespectful, and that’s about all he says. Almost like what he wasn’t saying was, “What the hell are you going to do about it?” People like Pete are the future, and will be there long after Roger’s in the cold, cold ground. And I think that attitude kind of informs his conversation with the groupie at the concert. When he told her that people like him were concerned for people like her, that’s all it was. It wasn’t angry. It was like he was telling her just so she’d know, because Don knows that in the end, people like her are going to do whatever they want. Kind of like Pete. And I think that may be the reason you don’t see Don getting mad and Megan the way he’d get mad at Betty.
But — and this is a big but — it’s early days, and there’s all sorts of time for Don to go back to his cheating ways, and be as big a dick to Megan and everyone else as he’s ever been. So, look out for that.
A few other things:
- All things considered, Henry’s a better husband than Don. But I still enjoy the thumb Betty sticks in his eye when she calls Don after finding out she might be sick.
- Why didn’t Henry’s mom every take diet pills? Betty says things other people only think!
- How long until Peggy and Michael Ginsburg are pushing all their work off the table and getting busy?
- Did anyone else catch the George Romney reference? He’s the clown Henry doesn’t want Nelson Rockefeller standing next to. Apparently, the show name-checking his grandfather was something Tagg Romney didn’t take very kindly to. Still trying to figure out how AMC is part of the liberal media.
- Again, you knew Betty was gonna get ALL UP IN Sally’s sundae.
Even Breaking Bad — that high-water mark of quality television to which all contemporary dramas are eventually compared — took time growing into its big boy shoes. But finding itself is a problem Game of Thrones never had. It was good right from the start. If there was one thing fans could complain about, it was that the show took a while setting itself up. A story as sprawling as this one has its share of moving pieces, and explaining the characters’ various and sundry alliances took most of the first season.
Well, the first season is gone! Long gone! And now we’re free to enjoy the bloody free-for-all — not to mention all the boobs — our American heritage demands. Well, almost. The show boasts even more characters this year than last, so a good amount of time this week is spent checking in with everyone and catching us up on what’s happened since last we saw them. Joffrey is in King’s Landing, sitting on the Iron Throne and being just as big a prat as we imagined he’d be. He’s just sort of enjoying things right now, sitting back, everyone around him scared shitless that he’s going to snap and have them killed for some perceived slight. Life is good for Joffrey, until Peter Dinklage shows up, ready and willing to take his place as acting Hand of the King and drink his nephew’s milkshake.
Peter Dinklage is without a doubt the show’s breakout star. And I think that if HBO could find some way to market the damn thing as The Peter Dinklage Show, they’d probably do it. And I think most people would be okay with that. He’s the breakout star for a reason, after all. Within five minutes of his appearance at Joffrey’s Name Day, he’s already marginalized the little bastard, and if he hasn’t established himself as the power behind the throne, then definitely the power completely detached from the throne’s authority. There’s a nice moment he shares with Sansa, paying lip service to Joffrey’s decree that Ned Stark and the rest of the Stark brood are traitors while silently commiserating with the young girl’s loss. Then, moments later, taking his leave, telling Joffrey, “So much work to do.” His entrance into the Little Council is even better, with him laying out to Cersei every boneheaded move Joffrey’s made since taking over and why it’s going to cost them in the Lannister’s war with the Starks. It’s a reminder that the politics of the show are every bit as satisfying as the fighting.
After King’s Landing, we’re taken across the Narrow Sea, to the Red Waste, where Danerys Stormborn — who at the end of last season we saw standing in the middle of a smoldering funeral pyre, with three baby dragons strategically placed around her naked body (if you listened carefully, you could hear the sound of a million fanboys gasping**). Right now, Dany’s doing the whole Moses thing, leading her people through forty years in the wilderness. They’re short on food and supplies, and really don’t know where the hell they’re going, which is all the more disappointing after we saw those dragons and heard Dany’s promises of enemies dying screaming and fire and blood and all the rest of it.
(**Also interesting is the fact that, in the days following the season finale, Wal-Mart and Target reported record sales on tube socks.)
We’re taken to Winterfell, where Bran has taken over in the absence of his father and brothers. I imagine that he’ll turn out to be a more adept ruler than Joffrey is. Beyond the Wall, we follow Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch as they try and figure out what exactly what the hell is going on beyond the Wall. Robb, the King of the North, as his followers have taken to calling him, continues his war against the Lannisters.
A new addition to the show is Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), Robert’s elder brother and the throne’s technical inheritor. Stannis is joined by Melisandre (Carice van Houton), a priestess of the “Lord of Light” and one of Stannis’ advisors. And just like there’s some sorcery evident with Dany and her dragons, we see some crazy voodoo working on her. When one of Stannis’ priests, after trying to convince him that following this heretic was a mistake, tries poisoning her with a glass of wine, we see blood pour out of his nose before he collapses, dead. So. Good luck with all of that.
Joffrey, Bran, Rob, Stannis, Dany, Jon. All of them are now leaders or are learning valuable lessons about leadership. Tyrion tells Cersei that one of hardest things about fighting this war is going to be the fact that all of the Lannister’s enemies hate each other almost as much as they hate them. And Joffrey really isn’t doing anything for that image. Killing people for offending his delicate sensibilities is enough. But at the end of the episode, when we see all of Robert’s bastard children being killed off, we know that King’s Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms are really in a bad way. Joffrey isn’t a leader, he’s a despot who rules like he read about it in, well, A Game of Thrones.
Dany and Robb have both met with a measured degree of success, and as things get tougher for them will have to hold together the alliances they’ve built. Jaime Lannister was right when he told Robb that three victories didn’t make him a conqueror. And with no end to the Red Waste in sight, Dany is going to have trouble holding together what from the outside looks only like a ragtag group of survivors with no real strength behind them. Jon and Bran are learning how to follow and how to deal with people they don’t particularly want to deal with. Jon with the Wildings and Bran with the residents of Winterfell.
Season 2 looks like it’s come in, ready to tell season 1 to sit on it, Potsie. It definitely has a way of making you want to pump your fist in the air, and makes fantasy fans out of us all. Bring on the blood, the backstabbing, the politics. And if we have to sit through a few gratuitous boob scenes along the way, well, whatever.