Monday, May 20, 2013



“Second Sons” is an unusually focused episode of Game Of Thrones, spending almost all of its time focusing on the stories of Dany, Stannis, and Tyrion at the expense of other plotlines that are working like gangbusters (Jaime and Brienne), barely puttering along (Theon or Bran), or falling somewhere in the in-between (Robb or Jon Snow).  While I’m as ever more interested in what’s going on in Westeros than Dany continuing to walk over dickheads in the east, and I doubt I’ll remember this as a particular favorite episode at any point in the future, this was still the shortest hour of my week.  And if it were to win an Emmy for Peter Dinklage, why that would be just fine by me.

Other than the primary three stories, we only have bookends featuring Arya failing to kill the Hound and Sam succeeding in killing a White Walker.  It seems a bit unlike Arya to lose her nerve when offered a free shot at her captor, but I suppose we have to remember sometimes that she is still a 10 year-old girl, even if she is the most badass ten year-old girl that could conceivably be.  What’s more surprising is that Sam does not lose his nerve when his sweetheart and her little brotherson are threatened by a Walker.

 Does eats babies, but dreamy eyes, right?
 Does eat babies, but dreamy eyes, right?

At least I think it’s a Walker, technically.  It’s definitely not one of the seemingly mindless zombies that Jon killed in season 1, or attacked Sam in the premier.  No, this guy is familiar-looking, as a sort of supervisory figure that probably spent his last few moments in Westeros wishing he’d taken a moment to actually kill Sam in the closing seconds of season 2 instead of focusing on creating an appropriately epic cinematic tableau.  Finding out that Walkers are allergic to obsidian does take the wind out of their sails a bit in terms of monstrousness, but I suppose it’s nice for Sam to get a hero moment after three years.  Not that I expect him to be in competition for anyone’s favorite character all of a sudden.

Meanwhile, over in Yunkai, Dany does jack shit and gets another new army for it. 

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one really.  She meets a new guy (who is, improbably, as pretty as she is), he puts hoes emphatically before bros by decapitating his mates on the off chance it will impress her, it does and they’re in the express lane to the bonezone.  I’m about as non-plussed by this development as Jorah is sure to be; some folks on the message boards have been commenting that Dany seems to be “playing the game on Easy Mode,” which hits it pretty square, in my opinion.  Everything’s been coming up Khaleesi all year, and the adversaries she’s faced are so cartoonishly douchey (and this on a show packed with Littlefingers and Greyjoys) that they never seem like real people or real threats.  She needs to experience some setbacks soon if I’m to continue sympathizing with her; I’ve never necessarily wanted her to take the Iron Throne, but it’s getting to the point where I kind of want her to fail to take Yunkai just so she has to try her hardest next year.  


Stannis is another character that is more interesting when he’s on the ropes.  When he’s winning, his righteous air is insufferable, but watching him try to maintain it in defeat is much more appealing to me.  My favorite Stannis bit so far is the tiny moment of hesitation before telling his daughter that no, he didn’t win the battle, though the conversation when he came to free Davos was a close second.  Having him sidelined for so long kept the Stannis material from really popping the majority of the year, but there’s a lot that interesting about it in general, and I’m not just talking about pagan bloodletting ceremonies and Carice Van Houten’s utter dearth of modesty.   

What’s interesting to me about Stannis is that on one hand, he is the prophesied savior of a fantasy kingdom, which is basically the oldest archetype in the oldest book there is.  But he’s not the protagonist of this story, and convention dictates that such role is reserved for teenagers, so between watching a middle-aged man wrestle with that weight and the sinister portrayal of Melisandre as his Merlin/Obi-wan figure, it puts enough of a spin on the trope to keep it from feeling too hoary.

 I think

The real festivities (dick-leech parties aside) are taking place in King’s Landing, though, as Tyrion and Sansa tie the knot with all the Lannisters and Tyrells looking on with varying degrees of disgust, bitterness and sadistic glee.  I would never describe Game Of Thrones as an especially funny show, but between Joffrey’s exquisitely shitty move during the ceremony, Olenna’s attempts to parse the web of familial connections the pending nuptials will create, to Tyrion deifying himself as the patron of tits and wine, and Cersei’s utter dismissal of Loras’s attempt to reach out, this extended sequence pulled as many laughs out of me as any previous episode in its entirety.  That it also managed to pivot in and out of legitimate tension whenever Joffrey re-entered the scene is a mean feat of tonal balancing, one that director Michelle MacLaren obviously honed on Breaking Bad, a show that manages to be consistently hilarious despite a generally grim tone and not having much in the way of characters that are intentionally funny.  Hopefully Thrones will bring her back regularly, as the occasional lighter touch is always welcome (not for nothing is Tyrion the breakout character of an overcrowded show).

Tyrion’s outburst is definitely the highlight of the season for him, and seems likely to accelerate whatever plans his nephew has to have him killed.  But it’s Tywin’s reaction, both to the threat to the royal prick and failure to knock up Sansa, that I’m more immediately interested to see.  We only have two episodes left in the season, and the penultimate episode is generally where the climax (prior seasons gave us “Baelor” and “Blackwater” respectively) falls, with the finale being more of a transitional piece.   However, with this season only covering half a book for the first time, it’s possible that this one won’t have quite the same fireworks on deck.   The big events on deck seem to be more weddings, both at Kings Landing and the Twins, but hopefully Dany will finish up in Yunkai and Bran and Jon will make it to Castle Black as well.  The sad part is that it will take us two weeks to see what’s next, since HBO has decided not to air a new episode over Memorial Day.  

Two weeks?  Oh, c’mon!


Monday, May 13, 2013



I’m not sure why George R.R. Martin chose this week to pen his annual episode, as outside of the thrilling final sequence, it’s very much a moving-pieces-into-place installment with little in the way of real story meat.  But uneventful Game Of Thrones is still pretty great Game Of Thrones, at least to me.

Starting with the bad part, though, Theon…yikes.  There was no point in the T&A session where it wasn’t clear the this was just a different type of torment and that the Horn-y Toad would be interrupting at some point to start cutting him up again.  My gripe with this stuff so far has been that we keep coming back to it without any new developments or information coming to light.  I guess I should have been careful what I wished for, though, since despite not carrying any great love of Theon, there is pretty much no context in which I can enjoy a castration scene.  Having Varys describe his gelding at several decades remove (and with retribution at hand) is one thing, but witnessing it firsthand is much more disconcerting, as disturbing a scene as the show has served up since Joffrey decided he didn’t like his birthday present.  That scene too cut away without showing us anything graphic, but was all the more disturbing for walking us right up to the line and leaving the worst to our imaginations.

Okay, shaking that off, let’s also check in with Bran, who is…still camping without learning any useful information about his visions.  I thought the Reed siblings had potential to be interesting at first, but Jojen is on the verge of becoming that most tedious sort of character, the “I know more than you about the mysterious goings-on that are driving the story than you do, and I’d totally tell you if I could, but Mystery…” guy (alternately known as “every single character introduced after the pilot of Lost” guy).  The scene is still worth it, though, for providing Natalie Tena a meaty monologue and especially for the long, thoughtful pause before Hodor gives before he answers her indignant line of questioning with his signature catch-phrase.

 "As Pablo Neruda might say..." (studio audience goes nuts)
 “As Pablo Neruda once said...”
(studio audience goes nuts)

Bran’s little sister does a better job of treading water, at least.  Sure, Arya has just been bouncing from hostage situation to hostage situation for a long time now, but having the Hound to bounce off is very promising.  And I liked the little note that she has not forgotten her old dancing master’s theology lessons.

Plus she’s about to be an aunty!  I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that things looks far too happy with Robb and Talisa for something horrible not to be on the horizon.  Making plans for foreign honeymoons and introducing the in-laws to the little hard-headed Starkling just has to be a portent of impending doom, right?  A lot of folks on the boards have been predicting Robb as this season’s major casualty since the beginning.  I’m still not sure I see it, if only because there’s no one else ready to continue the war in his place and ending it would bring a giant portion of the narrative crashing down.  Which only makes prospects for his queen look even more grim.
And did I mention Yowza? Because, you know, Yowza
 And did I mention Yowza? Because, you know, Yowza.

Jon Snow’s romantic bliss is similarly doomed, but he knows it.  Which may be the biggest revelation of the episode: Jon actually does know something!  Specifically, he knows the history of the North, which strongly suggests that Mance’s army will rapidly unravel once they get past the Wall.  Gareth the warg tries to drop some knowledge on our bastard about the opportunistic nature of human relationships, but we’ve been able to see that waving banners and banging drums does actually work to instill discipline in fighting men.  Sure, alliances between houses fall apart due to disagreements and decapitations between their lords, but how many rank and file soldiers have we seen abandon their masters when shit goes down?  The wildlings fiercely independent nature does seem likely limit their long term effectiveness as a military force; as Robert explained to us back in the first season, one closed fist is a more effective weapon than five individual fingers.

Contrast that with the nearly featureless Unsullied, a closed fist if ever there was one. These guys don’t need a drumbeat to march in unison, and as a result their mistress is as secure in her power as we’ve ever seen, downright haughty while making sweeping demands of the slavers of Yunkai.  In her confidence she is becoming more or a crusader than a conqueror, intentionally picking a fight that won’t get her any closer to the Iron Throne.  But she’s got her army and dragons (and a surprising FX budget for a scene that doesn’t strictly require using them so heavily), so why not kick back and talk shit to the lords of this city?  It’s not like there’s a character within 1000 miles that is well developed enough to constitute a real threat to her.  The guy mumbles something about having friends he’s going to call, but Dany’s already handed the warlocks of Qarth their asses once, and who else could it be?  The remnants of Drogo’s old khalessar?  What could even be a threat to her dragons?

 Unless...oh shit, it's totally McConaughey, isn't it?  Please be McConaughey's McCounaughey, isn't it? Please be McConaughey

But the best parts of the episode, as has been the case all year, revolve around the Lannisters.  Tyrion’s scenes with Shae have become a drag, but put him with Bronn even briefly and you have still have automatic awesomeness.  I’m sure the Imp will get his mojo back at some point, but sooner would be better than later.

Tywin’s mojo, on the other hand, is still in full effect.  He extends his Family Devastation Tour to his grandchildren, strolling into the Red Keep to tell “his grace” that his own time is more valuable than the king’s, which is certainly true, and that Dany’s dragons are of no concern to them, which is more questionable.  It’s a terrifically staged scene, with Charles Dance bringing his full authoritative weight to bear without raising his voice the slightest tic or making the smallest gesture, beyond climbing a couple stairs.  The old man dominates the exchange, but given how the little prick bristles at it, it does little to allay my fears of what he’ll do when grandpa oversteps in front of an audience.  As with the Robb situation, everything coming up Tywin for the whole season seems like it has to bode ill.

But the funnest parts of the episode involve my new favorite Lannister, Jaime.  Yeah, he’s a sisterfucking child-killer, but he’s just such a dashing sisterfucking child-killer.  We’ve been steadily exposed to the more heroic side of the character all year, and this week he gets a full blown Han Solo moment, leaping into a pit where Brienne is fighting a GODDAMN FULL GROWN GRIZZLY BEAR with a wooden stick. This is all the sweeter since Game Of Thrones doesn’t generally go in for this kind of straightforward fantasy derring-do.  Would it have been even sweeter if he had ended the whole thing by shoving Locke into the bear pit himself?  Oh, don’t be greedy, you pricks.  Brienne fought off a bear with a wooden stick!  And now her and Jaime are hitting the road together, hopefully to exchange flirtatious banter and stuff bananas in the tailpipes of Stannis’s siege engines and maybe they adopt a chimpanzee to be their servant, but he’s a cheeky little bugger and is always getting into their wineskins?

 Oh, Sprinkles, you're incorrigible...
 SPRINKLES!!! Why I oughta...

Is it next Sunday yet?  Oh, come on!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013


“The Climb” opens and closes on scenes of our (nominally celibate) Crows making time with their best gals, which should make for one of the sweetest episodes of this generally unsentimental series.  Unfortunately, Joffrey exists.  And so even though he’s only on screen for five total seconds, it actually winds up being one of the more disturbing hours of a show that has heaped abuse and despair upon its characters from the opening episode.  Fucking Joffrey.

 I am a rational adult who understands the difference between an actor and the character they play, but if I ever see this guy on the street I will shit in my hand and mash his face with it
I am a rational adult who understands the difference 
between an actor and the character, but if I ever see 
this guy on the street I will literally shit in my 
hand and mash his face with it 

But we’ll come back to that.  This is possibly the first time since…ever, probably, that Jon Snow material wound up being the most memorable parts of an episode, mostly due to how spectacular the Wall climbing scenes are.  HBO has budgets that most cable shows would kill for, but we only get a couple of these epic sequences each year, and I didn’t expect to get one so close on the heels of the destruction of Astapor.  But the scenes aren’t just spectacle, they also develop the relationship with Ygritte into something more real than before.  It’s good to get some clarity on where exactly she really stands when it comes to Jon, and it helps that while her feelings are sincere, she is not foolish about any of it.  She’s not dumb enough to think that the boy completely flipped sides the moment he was captured, but she’s also pragmatic enough to see that loyalty to Mance isn’t necessarily in her interests either, so what the hell.  She sits the know-nothing down and basically spells out to him that they’re going steady now, and certain pretenses can be dropped.  And also threatens to chop off his manhood and wear it as jewelry, lest we think she’s gone soft.  It’s kind of sweet all the same.
While Jon and Ygritte are climbing the Wall, Sam and Bran are heading towards it from different sides.  Sam just appears long enough to wave a piece of dragonglass at the camera and tell us to remember for later that he’s got it, while  Bran has to broker peace between Osha and Meera, who are on the verge of either murdering each other or sleeping together (with this show, it could really go either way).  We also learn that the magical visions he is developing come with seizures sometimes, though that doesn’t seem terribly significant to anything yet.  I just want something to happen in this plotline already.  It feels weird that we’re over halfway through the season and they are still just somewhere in some woods, and we’ve learned practically nothing  new about the characters since their introduction five hours ago.

But somehow that does not even qualify as the slowest-moving storyline.  Theon is still being tortured, and he/we still don’t know why or by whom.  Sure, it’s looking increasingly obvious that Iwan Rheon is Lord Bolton’s bastard, what with literally flaying him on an X in an exact replica of their sigil. But it really is starting to feel like sadism for sadism’s sake, which is of course precisely how he presents it to Theon.  Still, it’s getting draining to watch.

 When his torturer is feeling really sadistic, he forces him to watch the seasons of Misfits after Nathan left
When his torturer is feeling really sadistic, he forces him to
 watch the seasons of Misfits after Nathan was written out

But I’m not turning on the show or anything, because these two sluggish plots only take up two scenes between them, and the rest of the episode is pretty great.  We only get a brief look in on Jaime and Brienne, but just seeing her scowling in a frilly dress would’ve made up for a lot of filler.  It also appears that Roose Bolton has lost faith in Robb’s war, as he is hedging his bets and preparing to deliver Jaime back to his father.  I do wonder if there is more to this play, though, as he never struck me as the sort whose allegiances swayed in the wind.  Not like Walder Frey, who comes back to Robb’s side a little too easily at the promise of Lord Edmure (who appears to be pushing 40 as nobleman bachelor, though no one seems to find that unusual) marrying one of his daughters.  Something tells me there’s more complications in store on that front too.

Back in King’s Landing, Tywin and Olenna haggle over their families’ marital destinies, and it as delicious as we could hope that watching the two legendary Brits face off would be.  Between cheerfully acknowledging that her grandson is a “sword-swallower”, needling Tywin about his own sexual history, and the old man backing her into a corner by threatening to do to Loras what the Mad King did to Jaime (appointing him to the “honored” Kingsguard, and denying him children and inheritance in the process), this was a real treat.  Even the old lady seemed happy to find someone who could actually keep up with her.

 Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, you do 
NOT want to see a quilled pen in this man’s hand

Less thrilled with the proceedings are any of the four new fiancees.  Tyrion and Cersei ponder who has it worst of them, but the answer is pretty clearly Sansa, who finds herself cruelly thrust back into the Lannister fold after so nearly escaping Joffrey and the capital.  She even cries to see Littlefinger sailing off, though we have just seen that she is immensely better off with Tyrion than that vicious twat.  I mean, yes, any of the players of the Game would punish a betrayal like Roz’s with murder, but he takes a relish in informing Varys about it, and we see from the aftermath how hellish her last minutes must have been.  Baelish has never been a sympathetic character, but this is a new level of villainy for the little rodent.  Which on this show probably means he’s about to become king for the next 3 years.

On a…well, not pleasant but at least less stomach-churning note, we also get some time with Arya and the Brotherhood.  A Melisandre/Arya confrontation is something I never thought to wish for, but is great to see, even without the tantalizing hints as to the corpses she will make in her future.  The witch has, as expected, come for Gendry, in order to use his Baratheon blood to somehow raise Stannis’s stock back up.  Seeing as how there’s been nothing in the least bit nasty or ominous about her and the Lord of Light thus far, I’m sure that will go perfectly well for the smith.

 No, really, "the night is dark and full of terrors" is totally just as good as "amen"
  No, really, “the night is dark and full of terrors” 
is a perfectly non-creepy alternative to “amen”

What I like about these scenes is that there’s a cutting-through-the-bullshit vibe to them, even as they are neck deep in the most mystical bullshit of the series.  Arya won’t let the Brotherhood pretend that their motives for handing over Gendry are religious rather than financial, Thoros won’t pretend that he understands the power he wields over life and death or what he could’ve done to merit it, and Berric is quick to disabuse Melisandre of the notion that the Lord of Light draws his followers to his bosom upon their death.

Part of what I like about this is that it doesn’t run too far afoul of my own less than spiritual nature, but I also think it’s important that the fantastical bits, as they ramp up, are not allowed to completely drown out the human element.  Westeros is a more compelling place because it is closer to medieval England than it is to Narnia, and as much as I’d like to see dragons going at it with giants and zombies, I’m much more interested to see Tyrion butt heads with his father, or Arya lay bloody siege to Stannis’s castle to free Gendry, or Jaime and Brienne figure out what they are to each other, or how Marge is going to try to bring her shithead husband to heel, or how Varys’s next move against Littlefinger will go, or what Olenna…

Jesus, is it next Sunday yet?  Oh, come on!