Game of Thrones 3.02: Dark Wings, Dark Words

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

After the season premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” got us caught up with all our favorite characters, this week’s episode was devoted to table-setting. Or, well, it would’ve been if this was any other show. Instead, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” began placing all those narrative dominoes for the characters lucky enough to appear in both episodes while embarking on the same “hey, remember these guys?” quest for Arya, Bran, and the rest of the folks we’d yet to see.

As we all know by now, Game of Thrones has a sprawling world and the biggest cast on TV, but despite it being nigh impossible, the writers are generally able to link all those storylines with a shared episodic theme. In the case of “Valar Dohaeris,” which is high valyrian for “all men must serve,” that theme was the idea of servitude. We got no such link this week, but that doesn’t mean the writers couldn’t find a way to bounce gracefully between all those separate characters and locations. It wasn’t so fancy as a shared theme, however. Instead, the characters in one scene would mention somebody’s name, and then we’d be whisked away thousands of miles to see what they’re up to. One scene for instance was centered around Robb and Catelyn, but when they brought up Theon Greyjoy, suddenly we’re in some dungeon watching the dude get tortured. The same concept was utilized throughout the episode, and while it’s less seamless than a fancy thematic connection, it got the job done.

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Bran Makes a Friend (or Two)

Things begin inside Bran’s head. The Three-Eyed Raven (or Crow for my fellow book readers, yeah, I don’t know why they changed that either) has shown up in his dreams again. He attempts to shoot it with an arrow, complete with the same encouragement he got from Jon, Robb, and his father while practicing marksmanship way back in the pilot. Bran misses, and a new character shows up to tell him he can’t killed the Crow—er, Raven—because “the Raven is you.” We later discover the new guy is Jojen Reed, son of Howland, one of his brother’s bannermen and his father’s oldest friends (Howland even saved Ned’s life during the Rebellion). Jojen, it seems, knows a thing or two about Bran’s premonitory and wolf-inhabiting dreams. He experiences the former himself and knows enough about the latter that he can help Bran take control of his skinchanging abilities. Sounds like a pretty good friend to have if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Jojen’s sister, Meera, and Osha have an unexpected bonding of the warrior women moment. Osha mocks Jojen for needing his sister to protect and do the fighting for him, to which Meera responds, “Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” As with so many lines on this show, this one has a double meaning: Meera’s talking about her brother, but she’s also referring to Bran, who they’ve come so far to help. Osha, of course, has already been helping Bran despite the fact that he’ll “always need help” because she’s recognized how special he is.

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Justified 4.13: Ghosts

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of Justified. It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the series up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

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The final scene of last week’s episode left the viewers with absolutely none of that eponymous “Peace of Mind,” but that was probably the point. You’ll recall Augustine’s henchman Picker was at work installing a rocking chair for Winona that she didn’t order. I spent the week wondering what the game was. Is a bomb or some other devious device planted in the chair? And the title of this week’s episode, “Ghosts,” didn’t offer any consolation. I mean, “Ghosts” doesn’t exactly scream “don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

I’m still not quite sure how those four goons got into Winona’s house, or what the chair had to do with it, but the play fails pretty spectacularly. In fact, the finale turned out sunny for Raylan without him having to put much effort in (you know, relative to his other doings). Raylan quickly dispatches three of the thugs after one gets too close while punching him in the stomach, and he’s able to kill the last when he lifts his gun from Winona’s belly to Raylan. Classic introduced-just-to-die Justified villain move. As Raylan says later in the episode, “they always pull,” and you don’t pull on Raylan Goddamn Givens!

Once the authorities arrive at the scene, Raylan talks with Art and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Vasquez about the motivations for the attack. Raylan quickly discovers what we already knew, Nick Augustine was behind the whole thing, and the scheme’s purpose was a final, flailing attempt to get at Drew Thompson. What else? But that’s not the most interesting part of the conversation. Raylan brings up Augustine, calling him “this Nicky fella,” and Vazquez quickly responds with the man’s full name. Raylan then jokes, “oh good, you’re familiar,” to which Vasquez responds, “more than I’d like to be.” We’ve known for quite a while that the Tonins have a mole in either the Marshals’ or U.S. Attorney’s office. It’s how Augustine found out Shelby wouldn’t talk until he knew Ellen May was safe almost as fast as the Marshals who heard him say the words. Now I may be reading too much into this, folks, but I don’t think so: David Vasquez is the mole, hence his being more familiar than he’d like to be. Plus, Vasquez relays almost as much information about the Tonins to the Marshals as vice-versa. Sure, a good prosecutor might know plenty about the latest “Shakespearean” power struggle in the Tonin family. But I think he’s also got inside information. That wasn’t just a throwaway line.

After Raylan puts it together that Augustine is responsible for the attack on his wife, he immediately elects to go after him, despite the fact that he’s suspended (for real this time). In his defense, Raylan doesn’t know for sure what we do, that his delaying the suspension to close the Drew Thompson case is what put him (and his family) on Augustine’s radar to begin with. But that doesn’t make his decision to  ignore Art’s orders and seek revenge any smarter. His family is attacked, so he does the exact same thing that got his family attacked in the first place? As soon as he told Winona, “I’m gonna find the guy responsible for this, and I’m gonna take care of him,” I thought, aww here it goes.

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Game of Thrones 3.01: Valar Dohaeris

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

Each of Game of Thrones‘ first two seasons followed a structural pattern, one which will be repeated in the newest season. Episode nine, of course, brings us the season’s “woah moment.” Whether it’s Ned Stark losing a head or the Battle of Blackwater Bay (not to mention the doozy they’ve got in store this year), episode nine leaves the story forever altered. The finales that follow are dedicated to picking up the pieces. Episode ten shows each character’s reaction to the “woah moment,” cramming in conclusions and cliffhangers—the beginnings of the plotlines to come. Each season’s premiere, then, is about picking up where we left off and setting the table for where we hope to go, building on the foundations laid in the previous season’s finale (yes, even season one was building on “a previous season,” the events that came before it just happen to be a hypothetical one we didn’t get to see firsthand). The call and response of the show’s finales and premieres echo the necessary warm-up phase in each subsequent installment of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

It shouldn’t come as a tremendous surprise then that the titles of last season’s finale, “Valar Morghulis,” and yesterday’s premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” are also a call and response. In many places on the continent of Essos, Valar Morghulis is a customary saying, traditionally answered by Valar Dohaeris. The former translates to all men must die in High Valyrian, the latter to all men must serve. With so many widespread and disparate storylines, it’s often difficult to find a single recurring theme in an episode of Game of Thrones. The closest you’ll come in the premiere can be found in the translation of its title: the all encompassing nature of service in the world of the show. Or, as Bob Dylan put it, everybody’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

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Beyond the Wall

Everyone remembers the exciting ending of the second season: Three horn blasts and Sam coming face-to-face with a White Walker on a dead horse leading a hoard of Walkers and Wights. It’s no surprise then that “Valar Dohaeris” picks up right where we left off in the series’ first cold open. Now as we all know, full-on battle scenes are expensive. Most of last season’s budget went towards “Blackwater.” Most. Towards one episode. It detracts from the episode’s potential for action, but as I’ve mentioned premieres are meant for table setting, and the producers have plenty of things to spend money on more important than this one battle. So as we’ve seen numerous times throughout the series, we get what amounts to a fade to black, the ringing of swords, and fade back in just in time for the plot to move forward. Immediately after rescuing Sam, Lord Commander Mormont asks if he sent the ravens, and berates him when he finds out he didn’t, saying, “That was your job, your only job.” Recall the theme of servitude, Sam is a man of the Watch, and in this at least he has failed in his duties. With only a fraction of the men of the Watch who left for the ranging still breathing, Mormont announces that they need to return to the Wall: “It’s a long march. We know what’s out there, but we have to make it, have to warn them, or before winter’s done, everyone you’ve ever known will be dead.” Such is the duty of the men of the Watch, they serve the kingdoms, they are “the shield that guards the realms of men.”

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Justified 4.12: Peace of Mind

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of Justified. It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the series up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

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Well folks, I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. And boy was I wrong about the Crowder/Givens Alliance I thought was hinted at in “Get Drew” before getting into motion in “Decoy.” We bloggers aren’t always perfect, if you can believe it. As it turned out, Boyd and Augustine’s mutual doublecrossing was a lot simpler than all that. Each side planned to work with the other for as long as they had something to gain from it and not a moment longer. Because there was no way of knowing when that moment would come, they each had contingency plans in place. Plans that moved forward even while the partnership was still (ostensibly) in place, including Colt shooting Mort, the aptly named Tonin sniper. But as we saw this week, inter-gang alliances can reassemble just as easily as they fall apart. Because in the crime business it’s less about what you’ve done for me lately than what you can do for me now.

With Drew Thompson in custody, the game should be over, but he refuses to cooperate with the investigation of the Tonins until he knows Ellen May is safe, a fact that’s relayed to the Tonins via a mole in the Marshals’ office (or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s). So begins another game of hide and seek, only the tables have turned: this time, it’s the bad guys who have the inside scoop and the Marshals who have to do the seeking. Suddenly, Nick Augustine needs the Crowders again, so he goes to see cousin Johnny. It makes sense, Johnny is easily the most vulnerable of the bunch. Both Boyd and the Tonins have put a target on his back, the former due to his now public betrayal and the latter because betrayal or not, his last name’s still Crowder. So a new alliance is forged when Johnny calls Limehouse on Augustine’s behalf, and ends the moment he fails to broker an agreement. But Augustine doesn’t have time to waste, so he immediately calls Boyd and offers him the deal of the century: the money to get Ellen May and his cousin Johnny. He does all this with Johnny standing right in front of him, using the man’s own cell phone. As Omar Little would say, “It’s all in the game though, right?

So Ava heads to Noble’s Holler to buy back Ellen May. She and Limehouse have one of those conversations that’s meant to get right to the heart of a person, to show who they really are. In so many words, Limehouse asks her if buying back Ellen May will really give her that eponymous peace of mind she’s been seeking all season. He tells her he’s “been wonderin’ lately what it is makes us forget who we are,” referring to the fact that he’s been forced to sell off parts of the Holler his clan has owned since Emancipation. But he’s also talking about Ava, and how he doesn’t even know who she is anymore. “I can’t do this,” he says, “and you shouldn’t either.” It’s no coincidence it’s the proposed buying and selling of a human that gets him thinking about all this.

There’s just one issue though, and it’s that Limehouse has already get Ellen May go. He’d already pondered the last question he asked Ava, “All these things you’ve done, with no mind to the consequences to other people, are you gonna have peace of mind when this is all over?” And his answer was no. Limehouse offered Ava the opportunity the make the same decision, to strive to be a better person, but she never even considered it. None of that matters though, Ellen May is gone, so the choice was purely hypothetical. Maybe part of the reason Limehouse let her go was out of fear that he’d have a harder time sticking to his convictions with the temptation of $300,000 cash being stuck in his face. But the more important factor was the similarly themed conversation he’d had with Ellen May earlier, one of those “hatchet conversations” that “cuts through the bullshit.”

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Justified 4.11: Decoy

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of Justified. It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the series up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. jst_411_Decoy_0173_595_slogo

Last week, I predicted the Crowders and the Marshals would forge a temporary alliance to fight, or rather survive, the onslaught of their common foe: the Tonin crime family, as personified by Nick Augustine (Mike O’Malley). The logic was simple: Despite having Drew Thompon in custody, the Marshals’ game was far from over. As Raylan put it, “We’re standing in a field, we haven’t done shit.” They needed to find a way to get both themselves and their prize catch out of Harlan alive. That left Boyd and company in a similar position. The Crowders had two options: “We make a case to Theo, or we run.”

As I watched the opening scene of “Decoy” for the first time, the apparent inaccuracy of my prediction had me disappointed. Although he remained plenty bold in sticking to his demand for $500,000, it appeared Boyd was simply going to aid the Tonins in finding Drew, and as a matter of course, Raylan. I can’t say for certain, because the writers took great care in ensuring the details behind the Crowders doublecrossing the Tonins were not made explicit (yet). But folks, I’m almost positive my original prognosis was correct.

Looking back, Boyd’s inclusion of Raylan as one his plan’s necessary casualties should’ve been my first hint. But hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. Boyd will never kill Raylan, directly or otherwise, nor will Raylan kill him. And that’s not just because the writers would be nowhere without their two main characters. These are men who have known each other for a long time, and they play by different rules than most archenemies. They’re Harlan County’s version of Batman and the Joker. Their’s is the game that never ends. No matter who or what enters the fold, be it northern carpetbaggers or Black Pike Coal. Deep down inside, being a “robber” would be a lot less fun for Boyd if Raylan wasn’t the “cop” (and, once again, vice-versa).

We’ve talked a lot this season about the ways Harlan seeps into its residents’ very souls. Last week, Boyd spoke at length about why Raylan should have become a criminal along with he and Arlo. Because to Boyd, being from Harlan and being an outlaw are one and the same. One of the major elements of Raylan’s character, however, has been trying to escape Harlan, both geographically and emotionally (I’m referring specifically to the little Arlo in the demon costume that’s always sitting on his shoulder). But the roots are so deep they always tear him back. Still, the desire to get away is what makes him scoff at Boyd’s comment, as well as get a little sheepish when he had to explain that he knew about some roads that weren’t on the map. In terms of action and plot events, the secret alliance came about because both sides needed to overcome a foe greater than themselves. But the real reason the Marshals, or Raylan rather, would make a deal with Boyd Crowder is because they are both Harlan County, Kentucky to the motherfucking bone. We see it as Boyd leads Tonin’s men into Raylan’s trap (the eponymous decoy, or one of many, at least). In what has become the classic Raylan move, he lets them walk so he can (legally) shoot them some other day, Boyd included. As Boyd walks away, Raylan reminds him of promise he’d just made, that they’ll “do this again sometime.” Boyd’s response? “You can count on it, Raylan.” The game goes on.

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