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 209: Blackwater

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.

Alright, I know I say it every week, but that had to be the best episode of “Game of Thrones” yet. And why not? It was written by George R.R. Martin, the author of the books (just as “Baelor,” the ninth episode of the first season was, remember what happened then?), and directed by Neil Marshall, who’s written and/or directed a number of critically acclaimed films. Plus, it finally answered a few questions that have been dogging many viewers all season. Questions like “why don’t they ever show us any action scenes” or “where is this supposedly huge budget going if not to CGI dragons and direwolves?” Well, as I hinted at in my post about “Garden of Bones,” they were saving the (best) action for (next to) last. As for the budget, well, it went here, and here, and here. But mostly, it went here.

There was really only one location in this week’s episode. So I’m going to be using a format I experimented with two weeks ago, splitting the post up based on character and thematic groups rather than geography.

Stannis vs. Joffrey

One of the things that stuck out to me most was the contrast between Stannis and Joffrey, the two kings. One’s a Baratheon and the other’s a “Baratheon,” and depending on who in Westero you ask, one is a king and the other’s a “king.” But what really set them apart is the way they handled themselves in battle.

Where was Stannis during all that bloodshed? Why, on the front fucking lines of course. He was the first one off the ships and the first up the ladder. He lead the charge, cut heads in half, and had to be quite literally dragged away when it appeared that all was lost. Oh, did I mention that during all this the dude neglected to wear a fucking helmet? Yet despite having the best claim and being an all around badass, almost isn’t good enough, and another sits the Iron Throne. What’s his name again?

Fucking Joffrey. I know, I’m pissed too, believe me. Even though I knew the outcome of the battle I was still on the edge of my seat, hoping in vain for the justice that was denied me in the books. Let’s put aside all the terrible things Joffrey has done for a moment and consider only what he did during the battle. While thousands died in his name, brave King Joffrey ran away. Bravely ran away, away! When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave King Joffrey turned about and gallantly he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet he beat a very brave retreat, bravest of the brave, King Joffrey! Thanks, Monty Python. Seriously though, it was a whole lot easier to “drag” Joffrey away from battle than Stannis. “Does my mother have urgent business for me? No? Well I’d better go anyway, just in case.”

Whose Death is it Anyway?

We saw an awful lot of characters die last night, or so it appeared. Keep in mind that a “Game of Thrones” character probably isn’t dead unless you saw him or her die, as in you literally watched them draw their final breath. Plus, this is George R.R. Martin we’re talking about. It wasn’t just his writing skills that got him placed on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world last year. His 16 straight mindfucker of the year awards no doubt played a part. That’s a joke. Don’t come crying to me if you found some strange pornogarphy after googling it, and please don’t e-mail me about your new fetish. Anyway, I’m not going to tell you who’s dead and who isn’t, that would ruin the fun. Instead, let’s look over how a few of the characters who might be dead spent their final hours.

First, let’s talk about Tyrion, whose early image as a jokester squandering his potential with drink and whores has all but disappeared. Last night was his moment to truly shine. As he tells Shae early on, while most others can leave or switch sides, Tyrion wasn’t given a choice. He’s a Lannister, seemingly the only one who gives a shit about the people of Westeros.

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Game of Thrones 208: The Prince of Winterfell

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.

Winterfell

Before last night, Theon’s sister Yara was manipulative and mocking of her baby brother. She went so far as to allow him to get some inappropriate groping in to find out who he really is (and humiliate him). Well, inappropriate unless you’re a Targaryen, Cersei, or Jaime. As I so often discuss, every character in “Game of Thrones” is a human being, and we finally saw Yara’s human side last night.

As much as she is in competition with Theon for both power and their father’s affections, her anecdote about Theon, the “terrible baby” who finally stopped crying and even smiled when she came over to his crib showed that she truly cares for him despite being sent away for half his life. Furthermore, her insistence, and hope, that Theon doesn’t “die so far from the sea” was about as affectionate as the Greyjoys get.

On a happier note, Bran and Rickon are still alive. Along with Osha and Hodor, the boys have doubled back and are now hiding in Winterfell’s crypts, hopefully the last place anyone will think to look for them. That final scene was so perfectly executed, with Osha and Maester Luwin discussing how they could not tell Bran that Theon burned  the orphan boys and passed them off as the Starks, because he’d blame himself.

Eddard Stark’s influence is still incredibly evident in all the children he raised. Indeed Bran heard everything his caretakers said, and his teary expression indicates he does blame himself. Bran feels he has failed in his duty as Lord of Winterfell, and it has shaken him to the core despite his age. Ned’s tutelage is even apparent in Theon, who despite his many failings takes no joy in the things he’s done. Theon is not a sadist and the fact that he even has inner conflict is the direct consequence of the caring nature of the man who raised him. However, we see the most of Ned in Robb, as I’ll discuss right about… now.

The King in the North, the Kingslayer’s roadtrip

We saw Ned’s impact on Robb a great deal tonight, both literally, as in Robb’s initial conversation with Talisa, as well as in the young king’s actions (although not entirely in the way one might expect).

When Robb discovers that Catelyn freed Jaime in an effort to rescue Sansa and Arya, he feels understandably betrayed. Cat once chastised Renly, saying “my son is fighting a war, not playing at one,” yet now she seems to be playing as well. And not just at war but hostage Go Fish. “Got any Aryas? No? How about a Sansa?” As a result, Robb is slowly realizing that no one else, not even his mother, abides by the same code of honor which he does. This upsets him, but at the same time he recognizes some need to change. Robb knows what happened to Ned when he played the game of thrones too honorably (and stubbornly).

I believe something Tywin said to his war counselors was foreshadowing Robb’s, er, “slip up,” with Talisa. Tywin said, “He’s a boy and he’s never lost a battle. He’ll risk anything at any time, because he doesn’t know enough to be afraid.” Indeed, Robb may have risked a great deal by forsaking his pact with the Freys. It’s very telling, and displays the Ned in him, that he waited as long as he did. It’s clear he fears for his siblings just as much as Cat does, and he succumbed, in a moment of weakness, only when Talisa told her story. She knows the feeling of having a brother in mortal peril, which gave him something to latch on to. While his actions weren’t very honorable, Ned (allegedly) had his own moment of weakness while away fighting a war.

Meanwhile, Brienne is escorting Jaime back to King’s Landing. And thus, a buddy-buddy road trip comedy was born. The two appear to be exact opposites, one’s a man, one’s a woman, one seems to be a machine that runs on honor, while the other was quite recently called “a man without honor,” the quote for which last week’s episode was named. Will opposites attract or will the two be at each other’s throats the whole way to the capital (if they even make it there)? If nothing else, Jaime and Brienne’s interactions are sure to provide plenty of humor. We saw the beginnings of it last night. “Have you known many men, my lady? No, I suppose not. Women? Horses?”

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Game of Thrones 205: The Ghost of Harrenhal

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.

Morning Announcements: It’s come to my attention that non-readers (and probably some readers too) have a hard time keeping all the names aligned with their faces. In order to help remedy that problem, the first mention of a character in a post will include a link to a picture of them. 

I almost can’t believe that a show exists where the opening sequence bears discussing week in and week out. But one does in Game of Thrones. No new cities this episode, but as the camera panned from the Wall across the Shivering Sea to Qarth, we actually got an up-close glimpse of the mysterious red comet. Now, all the best shows have incredible attention to detail, but I challenge you to find one that reaches “Throne’s” level in its opening sequence. Moving on.

Renly vs. Stannis, Littlefinger and the Tyrells

Well they certainly didn’t waste any time here, which is a good thing. After leaving us with a cliffhanger last week, not making Renly’s death the opening scene would’ve rustled my jimmies. Now all of us Stark supporters will be left wondering what might have been if Renly and his hundred thousand swords had been able to join forces with Robb against the Lannisters. Stannis is “pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends.” He will never align with the Starks as long as Robb insists on calling himself the King in the North.

You’ve got to credit the showrunners for the way they handled this. From the preseason trailers they made it seem as though Renly would have a tremendous part to play, which I’m sure made his sudden death that much more surprising. Plus, the CGI was fantastic, the shadow assassin actually looked like Stannis, as it should considering it’s his “son.”

Only Littlefinger knows what Littlefinger’s true motivations are. He knows that war is unpredictable, so he’s trying to be everybody’s friend. Problem is, nobody trusts him. His conversation with Loras and Margaery Tyrell was illuminating for all three characters. Lord Baelish asks Loras what he desires most. Loras responds, “revenge,” which Littlefinger has “always found to be the purest of motivations.” Perhaps a hint as to why he betrayed Ned Stark, who was married to the only woman he’s ever loved, Catelyn.

In this week’s “Inside the Episode,” the showrunners explained that House Tyrell is a “secret matriarchy,” in which the men are “handsome dopes” and the women are the “brains behind the operation.” Littlefinger asks Margaery if she wants to be a queen. “No,” she responds, “I want to be the queen.” Margaery is a saner version of Cersei, she’s not so conniving, but she’s certainly a player in the game of thrones.

King’s Landing

Back in the capital, Tyrion continues his attempts to restore order and institute justice, always quipping as he goes. Lancel tells him of Cersei’s plan to defend the city from siege using wildfire. Tyrion takes control of the plans, knowing that in the wrong hands, the volatile substance is likely to burn the city, and people, it’s meant to protect. On his way to the Alchemist’s Guild, he learns he’s being made a scapegoat for the city’s ills, because it’s easy to blame someone who’s different. Tyrion is incredulous, “Blame me?” he asks, “I’m trying to save them.” Story of his life.

The parallels between both Cersei and Joffrey and Aerys II Targaryen, the “Mad King,” are becoming increasingly clear. Joffrey is quick to punish anyone who questions his reign, or, you know, anyone he feels like punishing, be it Sansa, Ser Dontos, or a lowly bard. And like Cersei, the Mad King had a penchant for paranoia and wildfire. Last season, when asked what Aerys said when he stabbed him in the back, Jaime responded, “He said the same thing he’d been saying for hours. Burn them all.” In the books we learn that Aerys planned to burn the city, and everyone in it, rather than surrender. “Let [Robert] be king over charred bones and cooked meat… Let him be the king of ashes.”

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