Game of Thrones 3.09: The Rains of Castamere

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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Starks and their Honor

Don’t worry folks, I’ll get to the scene you want to talk about in a moment. I’m starting with Arya and the Hound a) to avoid spoilers prior to the jump and b) because within their scenes is a small nugget which represents the episode’s overarching theme: the family Stark and their unending honor. The dog and the wolf girl come upon a man trying to fix a broken wagon. He’s got to get to the Twins to deliver a load of salt pork, you see. The Hound intends to rob him, knocking his lights out before drawing a knife. Arya pleads with him not to kill the man. It’s wrong of course, and it will be plenty easy to rob him without slitting his throat. The Hound tells Arya that she’s very kind, and that it’s going to get her killed one day.

This, in a nutshell, is who the Starks are. They’re a kind and loving family who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. They run into situations like this one, in a which a person who should be allowed to live is staring death in the eye, and they save him, even when simply killing them and being done with it would be far safer in the long run. In the case of the man and his wagon, nothing comes of it. But in that of the wedding I’ll discuss in a moment, well, you know.

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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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Game of Thrones: Season 2 in Review

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show 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.

Things were different this season. There really was no “Ned,” a central character for the viewer to grab on to, and as such, there really wasn’t a central story arc for us to stash all our hopes and dreams in (only to have them crushed, or, you know, sliced off).

Sure, the beginning of last season was confusing. We all know that every time we recommend ”Game of Thrones” to a friend, it’s with the caveat that they’re going to have to fight through the cacophony of misunderstanding that is the first few episodes. All these issues we’re amplified in Season Two, when not only do we have a bucket load of characters (the largest cast on television), but all in different places. Seriously, name a location other than King’s Landing where more than two major characters reside. It can’t be done. And as if that wasn’t enough, the show decided (well, needed) to throw even more characters and locations at us.

It certainly makes for a manageable format for blog posts, but in different hands, the second season of “Game of Thrones” could have been a catastrophic failure. So let’s get a round of applause for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and of course, the cast, namely Peter Dinklage and Alfie Allen, who are headed for Emmy nominations or my name’s Aloysius, and it’s not. I mean that sincerely; whether you’re in a cubicle or your living room wearing your polka dot boxers, I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, stick your head out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t go another year without ‘Game of Thrones‘!”

Think of how ballsy it is, when upwards of ten locations could be present in any given show, to have an entire episode devoted to just one (“Blackwater”), leaving the finale to somehow wrap up every other story line. Amazingly, “Game of Thrones” was able to do it, everything else it had to, and so much more. Now, back to that manageable blog post format, where I’ll discuss the three best (or my three favorite) character and thematic developments of the season.

Arya the Ruthless, Tywin the Old Softy

Out of necessity, Season Two diverged from the books a great deal more than the first season did. Some changes couldn’t be helped, and a slight few were questionable, but most breathed new life into the source material. Perhaps the best and brightest example of this is Arya serving as a cupbearer for Lord Tywin rather than Roose Bolton, one of her brother Robb’s bannermen.

I could get into the complicated scenario by which Arya comes to serve in a Bolton-occupied Harrenhal, but what you need to know is this: while the specifics were changed, the general theme and atmosphere of the arc remained the same, and condensing the scene meant interactions between the fantastic-despite-her-age Maisie Williams and old pro Charles Dance. But more important was the interaction between the two characters, which showed us two things: Arya’s continued growth into a cold killer fending for herself, and a softer side of the impossibly thick-skinned Tywin Lannister.

The line was altered for the show, but in “A Game of Thrones,” Ned tells Arya, “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” Winter is coming, but Arya has been forced to watch as her pack has been taken from her one by one. She is the lone wolf, and if she hopes to survive she must grow up fast.

As of yet, that hasn’t been a problem. In episode five, “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Tywin caught her in a lie. Arya claimed she was Maidenpool, but knowing she’s a Northerner, he asks where she’s really from, and Arya’s got the stones to follow it up with another lie. Then she looks him right in the eye and tells him she doesn’t believe Robb can’t be killed, as some in the North believe, because “anyone can be killed.” The subtext here is “even you.” She doesn’t even blink.

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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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