Game of Thrones 3.08: Second Sons

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.

As I’ve often discussed in the past, I generally try to find unifying theme in each episode of Game of Thrones and base my blog around it.  Sometimes it’s hard, and takes a lot of pondering to find. Sometimes, as in “Dark Wings Dark Words,” there isn’t one to be found, as the episode is linked by graceful editing rather than a theme. Other times, as in “The Climb” or “Second Sons,” the writers are kind enough to put the theme right there in the title (although this week didn’t offer a Littlefinger soliloquy to put it in neon lights).

A lot of “Second Sons” is about, well, second sons. We’ve got the literal second-born male children, like Stannis and the Hound, as well as “second-class” sons like Gendry, due to being a bastard. Not to mention Tyrion, who fits into both categories. And how could we forget ol’ Samwell Tarly, a de-facto second son. Recall that Sam’s father stripped him of his birthright (in favor of his actual second son) and relegated him to the Night’s Watch despite his being the eldest.

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My Sword is Yours, My Life is Yours, My Heart is Yours

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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 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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