After each episode of Game of Thrones, I take a few hours to sit in my dark living room and ruminate on what I’ve just watched. And each week I can’t help but think of all the Dungeons & Dragons players out there, sitting in the parents’ basements, rubbing their hands together and saying, “Good. Gooood.” I think once everything is said and done, once the final episode has aired, this show’s greatest accomplishment will have been to turn all of its fans — all of us — into complete and total dorks. Hear me out.
The way the show’s going about this is pretty smart. As a book series, the audience Game of Thrones was going to reach was always going to be pretty small. It’d be popular in certain circles, win some awards, but that’s about it. As a TV series on HBO, everyone hears about it. Now, there are nerds out there, living among us, who look just like normal, everyday people. I know. It’s disturbing, but true. These people have read the books, so when they hear news that the show is on its way, they can go to their unsuspecting friends and say things like, “Oh yeah. I heard about that. A friend of mine (remember, “friend of mine” is a lie) read it. She said they were pretty cool. We should check them out. Together.” They’ll calm any skeptical attitudes by saying, “Well, yeah. It’s fantasy, but, like, realistic. There are no wizards or dragons or anything. And there are tons of boobs, so it’s like, historical.” Now their friends are interested. They’re fears have been calmed, and it’s time to close the deal.
The show looks amazing. It’s full of hot people. And it’s really good. Also, the very first scene’s got zombies in it. It’s a slam dunk, and by the time the first season wraps up and we see those dragons crawling over Dany’s (naked!) body, we’re hooked, and there’s no going back. Now, in its second season, the show is free to have crazy smoke people running around killing people, warlocks and Houses of the Undying. We’ll forgive all these trespasses. And by the time that final shot comes around, which I’ll refrain from spoiling here, we’re confidant that we’ve made the right decision. What’s more, we don’t even consider these things nerdy anymore. We take those kids we made fun of in high school, with their greasy hair and their eczema, hoist them on our shoulders and worship them as our new gods. What a strange new world we live in.
“Valar Morghulis” ended an epic, if a little unwieldy, season. If I’m being completely objective, I’d have to say that the show started losing its way somewhere around the midpoint of the season. There was just so much to keep track of. That in and of itself is fine. There was a lot to keep track of in the first season, and the show seemed to handle it alright. But I think there’s a critical mass the show can’t go past. When it tries it starts collapsing in on itself. Losing track of Stannis and Melisandre for as long as we did didn’t do things any favors. And there at the end I was still trying to make sense of what was going on with Jon Snow. So, keeping certain characters out of the spotlight for weeks at a time, or trying to stretch a small arc over ten episodes can really hurt things.
Buuut, if the season was going off the rails just a little bit, tonight’s finale — coming on the heels of “Blackwater” — capped things off very nicely. Very nicely INDEED. Last year’s finale was more of a prologue for season two. Tonight’s episode reminded me more of something we might have seen on Lost, showing most of our characters marching off toward the next big thing. So we’ll go around the table and check in on a few of them.
Tyrion: Did anyone else shed a tear at Tyrion and Shae’s reunion? It turns out her appraisal of what kind of man Tyrion is is pretty spot on. He’s got the heart, but he’s an imp so he feels like the only way he can get people to like him is to pay them. Shae’s feelings toward him, especially now that he’s got that giant gash down the middle of his face, throw him a little off his game. Now that Tywin’s back and drinking his milkshake, things are going to get very lonely for Tyrion in King’s Landing. He’s been relieved as the Hand. Varys tells him it’s going to be a while before they talk again. All of his power and influence have pretty much been taken away for him. And with Shae being assigned as one of Sansa’s handmaidens, how much are they going to be able to see each other really? So, thus begins the long, dark night of Tyrion’s soul.
Dany: I’ve already heard people complaining that the show such short shrift to Dany’s time inside the House of the Undying. Such are the constraints of television, I guess. HBO can do only so much. Anyway. Dany, you’ve come a long way, baby. From everything she saw in her vision quest through the House of the Undying, the sight of Khal Drogo and her unborn daughter seem to be the things that could have kept her there, those objects of personal desire and happiness. But the defining characteristic of her journey over the past two seasons is her realization that she has a destiny, and how that has come to singularly dominate her focus. So, despite the touching reunion, she walked away from her family to reclaim her dragons (in an EXPLOSIVE sequence (nailed it)) and finally get the hell out of Qarth.
Joffrey/Sansa: So the Lannisters have won, so they’re taking a little bit of time to bask in the glow of how awesome they are. Joffrey, who’s a complete asshole, threw Sansa to the curb and pledged to marry Margaery Tyrell. So that should change the balance of power in the South some come next season (I’m talking out my ass, but poor Sansa, right?). Speaking of Sansa, was anyone else surprised to see her still in King’s Landing? I thought she had taken off with the Hound.
Robb/Theon/Arya/Jon Snow/everyone else: What kind of separated Tyrion and Dany’s storylines from these others was that where we’re leaving them feels like a definitive end to a chapter. They will be in different circumstances when we find them again in season 3. For Robb and Theon and everyone else, it felt like we were saying goodbye to them on the road, in the middle of their journey. Theon’s being taken back to the Iron Islands. Jon Snow’s being taken to meet Mance Rayder. Robb just married his hot new wife. Who knows where it’ll all end?
Going back to my original point, it seems like the show’s getting ready to cream us all in the face with magic this next season. I say that for a few reasons. 1. We found out that Melisandre’s smoke monster is actually living inside Stannis. 2. Pyat Pree tells Dany that with the birth of her dragons, magic had returned to Westeros once more. And 3. That little bit of business with Jaqen H’ghar and his changing face. So it seems like the most powerful armies aren’t necessarily going to be the deciding factor in who’s left standing once all this is over. So, in other words, the GAME is afoot (don’t worry I’m going to kill myself as soon as I’m done with this).
And now we wait. Waiting almost a year until the next season is never an easy thing. Food loses some of its taste. Women aren’t as beautiful. The sun doesn’t shine as brightly. But then we remember that Breaking Bad is back in July, and we know that we’re watched over by a caring and just God.
Okay. First things first. How the hell much money is HBO spending on this show? I heard that the network was spending about five million on each episode of Deadwood, and that number at least played a part in their decision to cancel it. And we know that if other networks spend a lot of money on an episode or batch of episodes in a particular show — Battlestar Galactica I’m looking at you — that’s going to come out of the show’s budget later in the season, usually in the form of bottle episodes**, saving on special effects, things like that. But man, it doesn’t seem like HBO is doing any of that here. The whole show looks expensive, but “Blackwater” is really balls to the wall.
(**Which I guess, when you get right down to it, is what “Blackwater” really is. One giant effing bottle episode.)
And I’d say it had everything you’d possibly want out of an episode of Game of Thrones. One of the biggest complaints about the show this season is that it’s become a little too unwieldy. There’s just too much to keep track of. Well, this week we got rid of everybody else and just focused on the group in King’s Landing. And because the episode was half-over by the time Stannis’ fleet got to the city, we were able to spend a bit of time getting intimate with everyone before the battle started and kicked our collective asses.
And let’s talk about those intimate moments before we get into the VIOLENCE. There were two things this episode did that I really appreciated. One, it humanized the Hound; turned him into more than just a killing machine. There was one moment, when the wildfire explosion was destroying Stannis’ fleet, where you saw an expression on his face that conveyed a sense of, “okay, we’re crossing a line here.” He’s seen a lot of death before. A few weeks ago we heard him tell Sansa, “Killing’s the sweetest thing there is.” But this was just too much. He had his shell-shocked Saving Private Ryan moment before stumbling back inside the gates, telling Joffrey to go f**k himself, taking Sansa and lighting out for the territories. It’s possible we’ll follow up with some of this in next week’s season finale, but this little bit at the end was a pure bit of setup for what we’ll be seeing in season 3. I like these mismatched pairs — Arya and Tywin are another good example — and these two are about as mismatched as you can get.
The second thing the show did was give us more time with Tyrion and Varys. I’m lobbying hard for a spinoff series starring these two in which they just hang out, eat shawarma, things like that (HBO’s being a real twerp about the whole thing). With as much posturing as these two do, I think you got a real sense that they’ve come to view each other as equals, and can be completely open with each other (well, almost). If we’re judging them purely on how awesome they each are, then Varys is lagging a bit behind Tyrion, but they’re both pretty great in any scene you stick them in. You put them together and you kind of can’t lose.
Okay. There was a third thing this episode did that I really appreciated. That was showing us who Podrick was. Anyone who Tyrion admits into his inner circle is going to be just a little off-kilter, and Podrick definitely comes across that way. But seeing some of their interaction with each other brought some meaning to Podrick saving Tyrion’s life later in the episode. Anyway.
Now for the good stuff. The blood. The killing. First, I thought the way the show chose to play the Battle of Blackwater Bay was very smart. It wasn’t trying to be another Lord of the Rings. HBO may have thrown some extra dough the show’s way, but its resources were still finite. It couldn’t do everything. So instead of vast CGI armies duking it out on vast CGI plains, everything you saw was very close in and personal. Some of this I expected. Scenes like these are similar to the football games on Friday Night Lights, or the Democratic and Republican conventions in the last season of The West Wing. You have these situations in which there are supposed to be tons of people, but you can’t really fill up a stadium or a convention center with the people you’ve got working for you, so you bunch them together and opt instead for a lot of closeups. And “Blackwater” did a lot of that. But the big scenes we did see, with the rest of Stannis’ army piling onto the beach, swarming around the castle walls, looked fantastic, too. Even if, compared side by side with LotR, you could tell Game of Thrones was done on a budget.
Everything before that, the glimpses we caught of the ships sailing through the fog, set up just the right amount of tension so that, by the time we heard those bells ringing — and Stannis’ drums playing — we were on the edge of our seats. Of course, the centerpiece of the whole thing was the wildfire explosion, which was absolutely perfect. One of those things that gives us a sense of how big this world is. Almost like we were watching the D-Day landings or something like that.
If I had to pick one thing I didn’t like about the episode, it would be how sexual the entire thing was. I know George R.R. Martin gets slammed for this sort of thing quite a bit, and I’m not talking about nudity in and of itself, or the occasional sexual remark. But this episode seemed downright lousy with that stuff. And maybe it was the fact that this seems to be an ongoing argument over Martin’s writing, but I seemed to be a lot more cognizant of it than I usually am. I mean, Cersei wasn’t talking about red blooming flowers that much before, amirite?
Anyway, the Lannisters have won the battle, if not the war. So that’s a pretty big development. And it only took us nine hours to get there. I imagine that next week’s finale will spend a little more time wrapping things up rather than setting up the next season. And it’ll probably feel pretty abbreviated, since we’ve spent an entire week away from everyone else.
Huh? You guys can’t wait for “Blackwater”? Yeah, me neither.
I’ve talked a lot this season about the chess game this show is constantly playing against itself. For anyone who had the misfortune of seeing Battlefield Earth, you know that adapting 1,000-page books for the screen is no easy task, and it only gets harder when your television season is ten episodes long. Last year, it seemed like the entire season was setting us up for the last couple of episodes, and with HBO using the Battle of Blackwater Bay to promote the show this year, I think it’s safe to say the same thing is happening here.
This can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. I, like any red-blooded American, saluted the flag when I saw the teaser for next week’s episode. This is a cool show. And when I hear Tyrion Lannister say things like, “There are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them,” my blood pressure goes up and I, too, want to kill people. But, also like Tyrion, I’m enjoying the titular game in Game of Thrones much more than I thought I would. It isn’t a hard thing for any of these characters to pick up a sword and kill someone, or set them on fire, or tear them limb from limb, or sex them to death (that’s a thing that’s happened, right?). But working things behind the scenes, like Tyrion and Varys and Petyr Balish takes skill, and when the show shows us that, it’s just as captivating as all the blood and guts (don’t judge me, hypocrites).
And from the look of things, there are enough politics and maneuvering to keep this show going for a long time yet. Even as King’s Landing prepares for war, we see Tyrion having to deal with Cersei, who’s taken Ros as prisoner, thinking that she was the “whore” Tyrion had been hiding. That was nice bit of business between the two of them, once Cersei brought Ros out. Ros followed Tyrion’s lead and played along like she was his lover, but there was so much that wasn’t being said, but the real action was in the subtext. Tyrion letting her know that she’d be alright, she just needed to play along for a little while longer**.
(**I think it’s worth asking why she was playing along at all. If someone came and started punching me in the mouth and accusing me of being someone’s lover, I imagine I’d tell them that it wasn’t the case. Assuming, of course, that it wasn’t the case. Is Ros expecting something from Tyrion in return for her silence?)
Tyrion comes out as soon as Ros is taken away and tells Cersei that one day he’ll make her pay for everything she’s done. He’s kind of forced to shove it off to the side for right now. Too many irons in the fire. Too many other things to worry about. While walking along the castle walls with Varys, discussing the game and how much fun it is playing it (and shouldn’t we hate the game and not the player?), Varys tells Tyrion that he’s recently received word that Daenerys is in Qarth, and she’s got three dragons with her. They’re babies now, but when those things get older, man, they’re all f***ed. One game at a time, Tyrion tells him. Right now, King’s Landing is busy getting ready for Stannis. And speaking of, this week we were finally introduced to Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s brother and (as he says) the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Wait, what? Stannis has been around the entire season? Ooooh. It only felt like he had been gone for 50,000 years.
Speaking of irons in the fire, this week finally saw the coming together of Robb and Talisa, which, let’s be honest, we were all really looking forward to. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had my Kathy Geiss moment, where I was screaming, “KISS!!” at the television screen. Oona Chaplin’s (yes, that Chaplin) a great actress, and I have to say I’m enjoying her performance here much more than I did in The Hour. But while their love affair warms the cockles of my heart, I can’t help but think that the entire thing is going to end in tears. Robb’s tough, but he’s too nice a guy. I don’t think he’d be one to blunder into getting his head chopped off, but he’s got too much of his dad in him. I just don’t think rulers like him are very long for a world like Westeros. Maybe Robb’s more cunning than I’m giving him credit for. And perhaps, when the time calls for it, he can be more ruthless. It’s just that entire garrison of prisoners he’s got, consuming his men’s resources that makes me say that’s not the case.
This week, we finally got some traction on the Jon Snow storyline. With Ygritte and her posse taking him to the King Snow-worshiper, or King of Bones or whatever the hell he’s called. In an unexpected twist, they take him and trudge off into the Icelandic wastes. Brave storytelling is what you call that. Can’t wait to see where it goes.
Just to close things out, I’ll say that because I’m a complete idiot, I imagine Game of Thrones taking places on a planet that humans crash landed on at some point in the future, and through time and whatever else, lost their technology and most of their history. Astronauts are the First Men and so on. It’s stupid, I know, but whatever. So it got my spidey senses tingling this week when Sam and Gren found that cloak buried in the snow, filled with spears made of “dragonglass,” and we hear Sam say, “The maesters call it obsidian.” I really thought that if they just kept digging, they’d find an Apple store and a Jamba Juice.
Alan Sepinwall posits that it’s Jaime Lannister who lends this episode its name. And sure, there’s no doubt that Jaime is a lying sack of crap, but I think there are a few others vying for that honorific; the titular Man Without Honor.
The most obvious contender would have to be Theon Greyjoy, who’s really turned into that guy now that’s he’s taken control of Winterfell. He’s gotten tougher since leaving the Iron Islands to raid fishing villages, I’ll give him that. But now, he’s just being a dick. Whereas you could see Bran slowly morphing into a wise and kind leader — much like his dad — Theon’s the guy who came from the back of the pack, won the day, and now needs to rub it in everyone’s face. He was given a bum deal, sure. His dad gave him a crew that didn’t respect him, so Theon needed to pick out the biggest, baddest motherf***er on his first day in the prison yard, show that he wasn’t gonna get played like a punk. I understand that. But now that he’s gotten a taste of victory, he’s got the junkie itch. He’s got to do it again and again, because if he talks a big game and then can’t back it up, he’ll lose the support of his men. And that can’t happen. Especially now, before his dad and sister have had a chance to see all the awesome things he’s done.
Another contender would be Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Qarth, who’s going around with Dany — who looks like she’s ready to KILL somebody — telling her that he wasn’t the one who kidnapped her dragons, because hey, he’s rich, and if they don’t come with Dany herself then what’s the point? But whenever Dany confronts the Thirteen about it, that weird John Waters guy gets up, says he stole the dragons, and that he was put up to it by Xaro, who’s just declared himself the King of Qarth! And then he does his weird prestige thing and kills everyone! What the hell, man?! How’s this guy doing that? Why did Xaro deny stealing the dragons and then come out like twenty minutes later and admit it? How long until Dany and Ser Jorah give in to their THROBBING CARNAL DESIRES?? It’ll be a little while yet, apparently, with he and Dany and Henchman #2 hightailing it out of there like it was some Scooby Doo cartoon. My love for Emilia Clarke runs deep, but Dany’s story has been my second least favorite part of this season (my least favorite has been Jon Snow, but more on that in a minute). The mystery surrounding Qarth, and then the dragons being taken has all seemed a little contrived. But I’m willing to stick it out and see where it goes. All this talk about the House of the Undying has my interest piqued, nightmares about Pink Flamingos notwithstanding.
And of course, there is Jaime Lannister. It may not be surprising to hear the man who was having regular sex with his sister described as without honor, but that’s Obama’s America for you. I’m kind of surprised that we’ve seen so little of Jaime this season, although I suppose watching him sit there, tied to that stake wouldn’t make for very riveting television. It’s kind of interesting to compare these three men, Theon, Xaro, and Jaime. Theon we’ve come to know over the course of the series, and we’ve seen exactly what he’s going through this season over the course of several episodes. So it’s a slow burn. Xaro’s motivations for declaring himself king seem to stem from that usual suspect: a desire for power. Of course, all of these men want power, but Xaro’s a tertiary character, and I imagine that once this business in Qarth is concluded we won’t be seeing much of him (although I haven’t read the books so who the hell knows what’s going to happen). Even though we haven’t seen a lot of him this season, we really get a look into what kind of person Jaime is this week. When his cousin Alton’s thrown in the pen with him, we watch Jaime play into this kid’s hero worship. And when he’s got his complete attention, he smashes him in the face, caves his head in (still better than drowning) and escapes. Until Robb’s forces catch him, anyway. The whole thing is kind of a win-win for Jaime. If he escapes, then great! He escapes. But if he’s caught, well that sucks, but what are the Starks going to do to him? I don’t know if you’ve heard anyone say that Jaime’s worth more alive than he is dead, but if you haven’t, he’s worth more alive than he is dead.
And then, groan, we have Jon Snow. Who surprise, lets Ygritte lead him around like a dog, through land she knows infinitely better than he does, and right into the hands of her people. I can’t wait to see where we’re headed next week with this. Wherever it is, I bet it’ll involve lots of aimless wandering, and Jon Snow looking pensive about the choices he’s made.
Another breast-free episode this week. I’m not sure I approve of this bold new course the show is setting. It’s really screwing up my Sunday Night Boob Run, which right now consists of Game of Thrones, Girls, and The Borgias. Right now, HBO makes me feel like a classy pervert. I’d hate to have to go to Cinemax and ruin that.
A few weeks ago, I said that I didn’t hate Theon Greyjoy, but I hated his family. Well, much like President Obama, my thoughts and feelings on the matter are constantly evolving. And after a period of some weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that Theon needs the ever-loving piss beat out of him.
In “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Ser Jorah told Dany that kind and wise rulers were rare things, and we’re starting to see the proof of that with this crop of Amazing Race contestants, all in their mad dash to the Iron Throne. We knew Robert was a drunk and a man whore. We knew from the second we saw that little bastard’s face that Joffrey would grow up to be a crazy person, but we’re now getting a sense as to how everyone else would rule, given the chance.
Theon’s got a point: he can’t fight for Robb and his father. But the side he ends up choosing says a lot about the kind of person he is. He’s interested in power. And he sees falling in line with his dad and his sister (and those dead eyes of hers) as the fastest way to achieving that. If, in the process, he has to betray — or, in the case of Ser Rodrik, kill — the people who raised and cared for him, then so be it. So Theon struts around, getting pissy when people don’t call him lord or prince or whatever, and has anyone sent word to his dad to let him know his son’s taken ALL OF WINTERFELL???
The thing is, Theon isn’t honorable, or even very smart. And when Osha shows up in his room that night, rubbing her private parts all over him (in exchange for her freedom), Theon lets his guard down and hands the wheel over to Mr. Knish. Later, Osha sneaks out and escapes with Bran, Rickon, and HODOR**.
(**But not before slitting one of Theon’s guard’s throats. Yet another man without enough blood in his body to use his brain and penis at the same time. If a woman EVER jumps out of the shadows and tells you that she’s there just to get down and dirty with YOU… SHE’S LYING. I speak from bitter, bitter experience (through a stoma microphone).)
I assume Bran and co. are going to try and meet up with Robb, who has the kind eyes, muscular shoulders and perfumed hair of virtuous leaders throughout history. When we join Robb, we see he has another run-in with Lady Talisa and learns that she also comes from a noble family. That’ll make it that much easier for the two of them to have sex with each other, which they very obviously want to. The only thing really standing in their way are these rules Robb speaks of. Rules the nobility are forced to play by in their dealings with each other. Also Catelyn, who proves herself part of a proud tradition of mothers ruining things between their sons and attractive women. It’s just as well that Catelyn runs Talisa off, because when Robb gets word that Theon’s TAKEN WINTERFELL IN THE NAME OF BALON, LORD OF THE IRON ISLANDS, the monster comes out, and he demands that Theon be captured and brought back to camp alive, so that he may understand his treachery before taking his head. And really, that’s not a side we want to be showing the ladies.
Scientists have tested, done double blind studies and published papers proving that Tyrion Lannister is the best thing about Game of Thrones. Likewise, they’ve used science to prove that Joffrey is a little shit, so it was a kind of perfect storm of awesome to watch Tyrion slap his nephew right across the face. If only to get him to shut up about executing his entire effing kingdom for throwing cow s**t and laughing at him. Tyrion going off about how this is exactly why his kingdom hates him is the kind of thing you’d like to think is going to wake him up, maybe serve as a little course correction. But it’s too easy to it pushing him completely over the edge. If he wasn’t crazy before, this is definitely going to push him over the edge. Either that, or send him crying into the arms of Cersei, who will come up with some way to try and get Tyrion out of the city, or have him killed, because damn this family is weird.
Beyond the Wall, the Night Watch’s search for whatever lies beyond the Wall continues. Danger, Wildlings, ice. We’re not sure what they’re going to find, but damn is it boring. Now, Jon Snow’s run across one of the maids from Downton Abbey, and of course they get separated from the rest of Jon’s group. Now they’re free to roam across the whole of the Svínafellsjökull glacier, doing their Odd Couple bit. When we leave them, we see them huddling together, trying to preserve some warmth as the sun sets, with Ygritte wiggling around, trying to get comfortable, but really rubbing against Jon Snow, you know, in that way. Don’t give in, Jon. We’ve seen where that path leads.
I’m not sure if I should be weirded out by the chemistry between Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark. That’s wrong, right? But I love watching them talk. Rather than getting sucked into that relationship, developing any sort of loyalty to the man despite the compliments he pays her and the regard we can see him begin to hold her in, Arya’s paying attention to what she’s hearing in Tywin’s war council, and even steals a note concerning troop movements against Robb. I never understood why people in her position would be so stupid to take those sorts of sensitive things to read them out in the open, and hold them right out in front of them so that whoever they invariably run into — and they always run into someone — can grab it and ask, “What have we got HERE?” in a gruff voice. That was only made worse by having Arya run into Jaquen and getting him to kill Ser Armory toot sweet. Didn’t really ring true. But I guess it can’t all be magic.
I want to end this by talking about an issue that’s very dear to me, and that’s animal cruelty. I love Dany very much. But I can’t help but agree with that spice trader. She’s talking a big game, but her claim to the Iron Throne isn’t built on much. And she’s betting on an awful lot of support that may not be there once she gets back to Westeros. So I can’t help but cringe a little when I hear her threats about blood and fire and killing everyone who doesn’t give her everything she wants. But then she and Think Tank get back to her place, and we see all the dead bodies, and we see that the dragons are missing. And now I want Dany to KILL. EVERYONE. I have a soft spot for animals, and it sometimes causes me to act irrationally. Although in this case I feel like killing everyone would be a completely appropriate response.
Others may disagree.
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.
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.
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.
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.