Game of Thrones 3.04/3.05: And Now His Watch Has Ended/Kissed By Fire

Apologies for this week’s lateness and last week’s lack of a post. Things have been hectic due to finals and graduation. As a result, here’s a special double post for the last two episodes. Regular Monday postings will resume tomorrow. 

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.

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Dracarys

We only saw Dany for a short time in “And Now His Watch His Ended,” but what  a time it was. She hands the slave master Kraznys the chain holding Drogon, the largest and most fearsome of her dragons. He in turn hands her the whip which symbolizes control of the thousands and thousands of Unsullied before her. Once the whip is in her hand, the Unsullied immediately follow her various simple orders: march forward, stop. Kraznys finds himself in much the opposite scenario, though he holds Drogon’s chain, he does not hold Drogon. He complains to Dany in High Valyrian, who turns to tell him “A dragon is not a slave,” revealing in one line both facets of Dany’s deception: First, she’s understood Kraznys all along. The Targaryens are of the blood of Old Valyria, and Valyrian is her mother tongue. Second, she agreed to hand Drogon over knowing full well he would never submit to another master. Unlike slaves, bond and ownership can not be transferred with a chain or whip. She then commands the Unsullied to “slay the masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who holds a whip, but harm no child. Strike the chains off every slave you see!” Finally realizing his blunder, Kraznys attempts to regain control of the Unsullied, commanding them to kill her, but they belong to Dany now. Once again, she turns to say that word of great destruction, “Dracarys.” Boom. Roasted. Thus were the slaves of Astapor freed and the city burned, with Dany losing nothing and gaining an army in the process. Perhaps she’s finally on her way to Westeros?

In the books, this was one of those moments you stood up, paced around, puffed out your chest, and pumped your fists, and it translated in the show. In the books especially, it felt like the first time Dany had done anything, let alone anything awesome, in forever. The writers did what they could to inject some life into her season two storyline, but it still often felt like a distraction, time wasted in Qarth that could’ve been spent in Westeros. So seeing Dany say dracarys and the chaos that followed had much the same effect.

Furthermore, the scene symbolized both of the episode’s major themes. The first being rising up against one’s oppressors (at times a variation of the hunter becoming the hunted), and the second being the dangers of underestimating and/or misreading people. In this case at least I don’t think either requires much explanation (which is why I chose to begin with it). In the former case, slaves kill their masters. Done. In the latter, Kraznys thought he was conman when in fact he was the victim. That’s got to, ahem, burn.

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Game of Thrones 3.03: Walk of Punishment

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.

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You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here. 

We’ve been joking for a while now that Jaime and Brienne’s road-trip buddy comedy would bring them closer together. These two polar opposites would begin to think maybe they’re not so different, underneath it all. But how? Their final scene in last week’s episode seemed to offer the simplest possible answer to that question: introduce a common enemy, force them to work together.They were captured by Locke, one of Roose Bolton’s loyal soldiers.

Wait a minute, you say, Jaime and Brienne aren’t banding together to escape their captivity. Far from it. They remain as boorish and brusque in their interactions as ever. Jaime tries to use his father’s influence to win Locke over, telling him to look at things rationally: the North doesn’t have the manpower or the gold to win the war, switch to the winning side and Tywin Lannister will reward you with lands, gold, women, and perhaps some golden women. Locke’s not hearing any of it though, and his response is the closest thing this episode has to a unifying theme: “You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here.” And then? Boom goes the dynamite! I mean, off comes the hand! I spoke last week about the feeling of wholeness that was clear in Jaime’s eyes and body language as soon as he got Brienne’s sword in his hands (almost like I knew something like this was coming). “He moves about and casually swings the sword like it’s a part of his arm. It’s been ages since he held a sword, meaning it’s been ages since he felt whole.” And now he’s lost the appendage that allows him this feeling permanently. Jaime may be nothing without his daddy, but he’s even less without his sword hand.

Alright, you’re saying, but what does any of that have to do with Jaime and Brienne banding together in the long-term? Well, Jaime got his punishment despite his fancy words. Brienne did not, and while her daddy rescuing her would surely sound like a good idea, it is not Selwyn Tarth who saves her but Jaime’s fancy words. He convinces Locke that his cause would be better served if Brienne’s honor remains “unbesmirched,” because Brienne is from Tarth, which they call the “Sapphire Isle.” He assures him that returning Brienne safely will net Locke her weight in sapphires. He does all this before he makes his play, before it fails, he’s still working under the assumption that just saying the name Tywin Lannister will get him what he wants. That means Jaime tried to save Brienne for no other reason than—dare I say it—compassion. Could it be? Character development! Hurrah! Next week, Jaime will be the one in pain, the one unable to defend himself. Will Brienne leap to his aide? Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

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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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Blu Tuesday: Iron Thrones, Fake Movies and More

For the second week in a row, Blu-rays fans have been treated to an impressive selection of new releases, including personal favorites like “Game of Thrones” and “Argo,” and other award-worthy fare to get you in the mood for the upcoming Oscars. We might not see another Blu Tuesday this good for awhile, so enjoy it while you can.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season”

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been my favorite freshman series of last year, but when it comes to HBO, “Game of Thrones” is (appropriately) still king. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as the first season on an episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably even better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that George R.R. Martin created. As anyone who watches the series can attest, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and though several new faces were introduced in the second season, it’s the familiar ones that remain the best reason for tuning in, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the cute but headstrong Arya Stark. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is regrettably saddled with a boring subplot this time around, but Season One background players Alfie Allen and Richard Madden are given much more to do, and the show is ultimately better for it. The scope of the series also seems to grow with every season, and as a fan of what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with Martin’s source material, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Blu-ray Highlight: Much like last season, there’s a wealth of extras on the five-disc set, including a roundtable discussion with several cast members and a look at shooting the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The real highlight, however, is the 12 audio commentaries recorded by various cast and crew. There’s one track for every episode except “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and Episodes 3, 9 and 10 each have two commentaries a piece.

“Argo”

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones seem effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s so much great material here that it’s hard to choose. The feature-length picture-in-picture track boasts interviews with the people involved in the event (like CIA operative Tony Mendes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and the “house guests”), while director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discuss the actual making of the movie on the disc’s audio commentary. Also worth checking out is the excellent retrospective “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” which uses additional interviews with the real-life subjects about their memories of the event, and the making-of featurette “Absolute Authenticity.”

“Anna Karenina”

If there’s one director whose films I’ll watch no matter what the subject matter, it’s Joe Wright. The British-born filmmaker has a knack for making stuffy love stories interesting (see: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”), but unfortunately, even he falls short with his big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Though the popular Russian novel has been adapted so many times that there really wasn’t a need for another interpretation, Wright at least brings something new to the material with his inspired theatrical setup. It’s like watching an acting troupe perform a play in your living room (complete with intricate, movable sets), and it’s an awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking… at least for the first act or so. By the midway point, Wright has pretty much given up on the theater gimmick in favor of a more traditional storytelling method, and it saps what little energy the movie had going for it. The main love story is insufferable and boring, and although there are some good performances from supporting players like Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s not enough to hold your interest. Still, it’s better than reading the book.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a good amount of bonus material on the making of the film – including a look at transforming a single theater space into the various sets and how it was accomplished during production – but listening to director Joe Wright explain the process and the reasoning behind it on the audio commentary is far more interesting.

  

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