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: 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 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 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 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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