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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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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Game of Thrones 210: Valar Morghulis

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

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

Last week’s episode, “Blackwater,” left the finale with a lot to live up to. Setting aside how plain awesome it was, when you spend the entire penultimate episode on a battle in one location, it leaves a lot of story lines to wrap up, especially considering “Game of Thrones” has the largest cast of any show on television.

As a result, the running time of “Valar Morghulis” was extended by ten minutes. That’s still not a whole lot of time to cram so many conclusions and cliffhangers into. The show did an admirable job in its attempt, and in its defense, the last few chapters of “A Clash of Kings” were equally hectic and oversaturated.

Tyrion’s Fall from Grace

Tyrion knew when he came to King’s Landing that it was all temporary, he was only acting Hand of the King. If we didn’t like him so much, we’d sit back, chuckle, and say “oh how the mighty have fallen” (that’s pretty much what Grand Maester Pycelle did). Of course, we love Tyrion, and we know King’s Landing would be rubble without him. But as Varys points out, he will not get the credit he deserves.

The Imp’s fall from grace has already begun. He’s left disfigured after being attacked by Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard, and was moved from the Tower of the Hand to recover in a small, dank chamber in the Red Keep. Tyrion recognizes that Cersei must have ordered the assault, but with no way to prove it and his reign as Hand of the King over, there may not be much he can do about it.

However, Tyrion is still Tyrion, he refuses to run away with Shae because he intends to get his revenge somehow. “In the game of thrones you win or you die,” and Tyrion ain’t dead yet.

The Lion and the Rose, Sansa’s Future

Meanwhile, Tywin has been named Hand and Savior of the City. Of course, he didn’t do it alone. Without House Tyrell and the strength of Highgarden behind them, the Lannisters would have been crushed. As a reward, Margaery is betrothed to Joffrey.

The Lion and the Rose are allies now, but their alliance is tenuous at best. The Tyrells are not as stubbornly honorable as Ned Stark, they know exactly what they’re getting into. We already know Margaery realizes how the game is played, recall that when Renly died, she didn’t want to be “a queen,” she wanted to be “the queen.” If you think she’s something, just wait until you meet Grandma Olenna, also known as the Queen of Thorns (who I really hope is played by Maggie Smith).

Although they’re now on the same side, look for the Tyrells and Lannisters to be fierce competitors and conspirators in the capital. Think of the way Cersei and Tyrion clashed this season minus any concerns about kinslaying and the whole “no matter what I kind of sort of love you” thing.

With Margaery in the picture, Sansa is now free of any obligation to Joffrey, or so she thinks. We saw many times that “Game of Thrones” had perfected the art of the fade from smile to grimace, but Sansa’s walk out of the throne room might be the first time we’ve seen the reverse. Then, she’s back to tears in her eyes and “I’m not good enough for him” when Littlefinger calls to her.

For her part, Sansa’s finally figuring out how to play the game, although, as Lord Baelish points out, she’s not quite as good as she thinks, nor is she off the hook with the king. Luckily for her, Littlefinger offers to help get her home, supposedly because of how much she reminds him of Catelyn. Of course, he’s turned on a Stark before, so we’ll have to wait and see if Sansa’s lucky or “lucky.”

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Game of Thrones 207: A Man Without Honor

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

This week’s episode was different than most, it had a whole lot of character development and almost no macro-level action. As such, I’m going to be experimenting with something different as well. As usual, the post will largely be divided based on geography, but I’m also going to split some of it based on character and thematic groups. Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean.

Winterfell

Theon Greyjoy is sure in a pickle. Nobody likes him, he goes from trying to rally the Ironborn to please Robb Stark to attacking the North to please his father. He just can’t win. Anyway, the actors in “Game of Thrones” have perfected the art of fading from smirk to grimace. If you watch the episode again, look for the way Theon’s expression changes as he turns from the people of Winterfell to the horribly burnt bodies of Bran and Rickon Stark. I mean, those bodies are Bran and Rickon, aren’t they?

Well, they might be. Theon did say there was nothing he wouldn’t do to stop himself from looking like a fool and that it’s better to be cruel than weak. Then again, when they mounted Ned’s head on a spike in King’s Landing it was perfectly recognizable, so why go to all the trouble of burning the bodies? Let alone the bodies of two boys Theon once thought of as brothers and whom he clearly still cares for, despite trying oh so hard to act like he doesn’t. And if Theon really did find and kill the boys where are Osha and Hodor (who’d be pretty hard to miss)? That said, this is “Game of Thrones,” we all know anyone can be killed. Maester Luwin was certainly convinced, are you?

Qarth

As I suspected, the dragon-napping was a way for Pyat Pree to get Daenerys into the House of the Undying. Most of you still don’t know what that means, but take my word for it, going there is just about the only interesting thing she does in the second book. As I’ve said her story line is boring, so they’re adding stuff like the dragon-napping and Xaro’s little coup d’état to spice things up a bit. There’s not much else to say other than let’s wait and see where it takes us. Oh, and that Pyat Pree is one creepy motherfucker.

The Lannisters as good guys?

As I’ve often discussed, one of the best things about Game of Thrones is that there are no good guys or bad guys, no heroes or villains, no black or white, only human beings and thus shades of grey. This week’s episode gave us some of the best evidence of this yet, as we got a glimpse into the minds of a number of prominent members of House Lannister. While they’ve done some awful things, the Lannisters are still human, and they’ve undergone many of the same struggles as the characters we love.

Last week, we saw a different side of Tywin when he told Arya about teaching Jaime to read. His humanization continued this week, partly because of the way he told Arya she reminds him Cersei after she said “most girls are idiots.” Like Cersei, Arya has no interest in things that are “meant” for girls, although I’m sure she didn’t take too kindly to being compared to someone one her to-kill list. More importantly however, Tywin actually took steps to protect Arya, who he now believes to be highborn, telling her to say “m’lord” rather than “my lord” if she wants to pass herself off as a commoner. Whether or not Tywin knows who she is specifically remains to be seen.

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Game of Thrones 206: The Old Gods and the New

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Winterfell

I for one am not a big fan of drawn out cliffhangers, as such the showrunners handled “the sea coming to Winterfell” very well. As was the case with Renly‘s death they gave us the aftermath right at the beginning of the episode, and what an aftermath it was. To quote Ser Rodrik, “Gods help you Theon [punkass] Greyjoy, now you are truly lost.”

There are no heroes or villains in Game of Thrones, no black and white, only shades of grey. You’ve got to give Alfie Allen credit for the way he’s playing Theon, you can see how unsure he is with every double take, quiver in his voice and tear in his eye. It really sets him apart from someone like Lord Tywin, who is so confident in everything he does.

The whole scene, especially Ser Rodrik’s death, was perfectly executed, pun intended. It really showed just how fiercely loyal the people of the North are to the Starks. The man who calls Theon a “steaming sack of shit” insists he serves the Starks, and right before Ser Rodrik is killed he tells Bran, “Hush now child, I’m off to see your father,” which is enough for him. After he says it he puts his head down and grits his teeth, completely ready to die. It takes Theon more than a couple swings to take Rodrik’s head, another impressive symbolic contrast between he and Ned Stark.

Beyond the Wall

Jon has lost his brothers of the Nights Watch and now has only the wildling woman Ygritte, who he could not bring himself to kill, to keep him company. There was a great parallel between Ygritte’s rubbing up against Jon and Osha seducing Theon. Each used their feminine wiles to get what they needed, Ygritte needed to stay alive (and perhaps convince Jon the free folk aren’t so bad) and Osha needed to escape Winterfell and protect the Stark children. In short, wildling chicks do what they gotta do.

Harrenhal

The interactions between Arya and Lord Tywin were not in the books, but after seeing the two characters’ (and actors’) chemistry, maybe they should have been. When Tywin jokingly tells Arya she should devise their next battle plan, she gets this little smirk on her face that fades into a look of pure terror the moment it’s announced Littlefinger has arrived. Just another brilliant moment for Maisie Williams, who continues to impress. I’m certain Littlefinger recognized Arya. Always a step ahead of everyone else, he’ll save that little tidbit until it’s most valuable. You know: buy low, sell high.

They’ve actually managed to humanize the cold, calculating Tywin, who’s seemingly the only Lannister save Tyrion who knows what the hell he’s doing. His discussion of teaching Jaime to read was fantastic. It goes to show that Tywin is just another man who loves his family; he’s doing what he can to protect them in the only way he knows how.

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