Monday, April 27, 2015


“We’re often stuck with the names our enemies give us.”

The High Sparrow tells Cersei (sometimes known as “The Mother Of Madness”) this is no big deal, and while folks like The Mountain, the Blackfish, the Red Viper, or Queen Of Thorns might nod along, those like The Imp, The Spider, Reek, or The Kingslayer would disagree. Names are damn near everything in Westeros.  Cersei is feeling this pointedly after Margaery humiliates her by musing on which lesser title she should address her mother-in-law by.  It took three tries to make it stick, but Marge, as the wife to King Tommen (first of his name), can finally call herself Baratheon.  And having finally found a king who is really (really, really) interested in what she’s selling, she wastes no time manipulating her new husband into sending his mother packing.  She’s feeling smug for the moment, but something tells me that particular lioness still has claws, and that Marge’s brother will be the next to feel them.

But the suddenness of her son’s turn leaves Cersei seeking allies in unexpected, and unexpectedly religious, corners, since the Lannister name doesn’t mean what it once did. Littlefinger (also not a name he gave himself) spells this out for Roose Bolton, after Bolton tells him that Sansa’s virtue does not interest him, only her name.  It’s a name the North remembers, and one that feels strangely ascendant this year, as the Lannister’s wanes without their ever having lost a battle or important family member to outside forces.  Bronn may have thought he was blowing smoke last week when he told his fiancée about what goes around always coming around, but he wasn’t entirely wrong.  The Lannisters held sway through fear and (the appearance of) riches, which worked great right up until they look momentarily weak, and then people start jumping ship awfully fast.

Whereas the Starks get nearly wiped off the map, and it only seems to have intensified the North’s loyalty to its fallen lords.  Or, for a small scale version of the same principle, Stannis’s ruthlessness may have made short work of his brother on the field, but he doesn’t realize that Renly’s small kindnesses left a legacy. And while this is not a show where a character expressing a desire for revenge guarantees they will get their shot at it, Brienne (make that “Brienne The Beauty”) is a formidable, determined legacy.

Plus she has a Pod!
I can’t believe that Littlefinger really means to allow Sansa to stay with the people that murdered his beloved Catelyn for any length of time, but the Boltons convince themselves to play along because they understand the power in a name.  You could ask Theon about that, if he still answered to Theon, and he’d tell you Ramsay can only make a plausible match for a lady because of a royal decree that gave him a higher name than “Snow”.  It’s the same offer Jon turns down from Stannis, as we knew he would.  But I didn’t expect him to display the level of immediate political acumen he does here, shrewdly determining that while he needs to make a show of respect to Lord Allister, he can afford to make an early example of Lord Janos The Useless.  The scene, like those with Robb and Theon before him, calls back to Ned’s execution of the deserter in the pilot, and Jon seems to have taken that particular lesson to heart, even if he didn’t take the name.

But considering how things turned out for all those guys, 
maybe I shouldn’t congratulate the Lord Bastard just yet…
Also stepping away from the Stark name is Arya, trying to become “no one”, but she can’t bring herself to throw away Needle.  And you know, I get it.  Besides the considerable sentimental value, the little blade has gotten her out of plenty of scrapes over the….man, how long has it been since she went on the run?  A year? Two? I have completely lost track.

The Arya storyline should be one of the best on paper – one of my favorite characters, with the most to avenge of anyone, getting trained in supernatural violence skills that will enable her to take that vengeance?  Why isn’t this more exciting?  It all feels a little genericly Karate Kid-ish, where she is required to do menial work and let her expectations go before she can get to the ass-kicking.  Jaqen’s a pretty cool Miyagi figure, but we’ve already seen him throw down, so having him play coy isn’t building much mystique or anticipation.  It’s strange that 15 minutes of time with a favorite character in a cool new setting does less to excite me than a couple seconds of a sheet flapping in the laboratory of a character I barely know, but them’s the breaks.

But something that is getting my motor running is Jorah butting into the Tyrion/Varys road trip.  He’s a fool if he thinks that the Imp (who even in a brothel where he’s supposed to stay incognito, struggles not to fall back on his family name) will buy him back into Dany’s good graces, but just the promise of these characters interacting is tantalizing.  And if Varys talking to his former spy gets us some more insight into how exactly his loyalties developed 
from the beginning of the series, I…

Damn it, is it Sunday yet? Oh come on!


Monday, April 20, 2015


The women of GOT are out for blood in “The House Of Black And White”.  While Brienne racks up the biggest bodycount, the title refers to the headquarters of the Faceless, where Arya is beginning her apprenticeship in the arts of nothingness.  Of course, she already has a head start on becoming a murderess, as while she only crosses off a pigeon this week (though in ruthlessly efficient way that demonstrates how much more formidable she’s become since we saw her chasing them in the first season), her list of names has gotten noticeably shorter – just Cersei, The Mountain, Walder Frey, and Meryn Trant. I’m not sure how Roose Bolton and Ilyn Payne managed to slip off, but that should still be plenty to occupy her for a couple seasons.

The return of Jaqen is welcome (because obviously) as is the added glimpses of Braavos, probably the most intriguing corner of this world that has gone largely unexplored. You can tell it’s new because the theme music when entering is surprisingly jaunty from a show whose normal musical palette varies between ominous and straight up dirge. It contributes to a different feel from anywhere we’ve been, but with a scale and look that is better realized than Astapor or Qarth; the season’s increased budget is perhaps more noticeable in the dragon effects, but since those scenes haven’t thus far added up to much in story terms, I appreciate it more when it’s building out the setting.

Image result for the house of black and white game of thrones
Although I do like the subtext of the dragons entering
 their snotty teenage years and acting out against mom
Another corner we visit for the first time is the oft-discussed Dorne, where Ellaria is agitating for vicious retribution against the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death. She is shut down for now by Oberyn’s brother Doran, for whom inaction seems a way of life. Though the wheels on his chair suggest that he’s not going to be challenging the Mountain to Round Two any time soon, it seems deliberate that the guy barely tilts his head throughout the entirety of a rather charged exchange. He won’t be able to remain passive for long, however, as the most promising development involves Jaime recruiting Bronn to come and steal Mycella back from the Martells.

WHOA!!! Calm down there, big guy
Jaime and Bronn on the road promises to be great (I was typing “I hope he takes Bronn” in my notes before it cut to him skipping stones with his drippy betrothed), as they have the biggest abundance of personality of anyone left in Westeros, and a high chance of swordplay to boot. But Jaime and Doran create interesting parallel figures. Two heads of great houses, cripples who recently lost a brother, resisting the efforts of bloodthirsty women in mourning black to push them into acts of war. If they ever get a chance to actually talk, they might just find that they have a lot more in common than they are supposed to. When Brandon Stark makes it back south (which apparently won’t be this season) to find that he has inherited the title King Of The North, they could set up a ruling council of cripples, bastards and broken things, without even inviting Tyrion, Varys, or Theon to the party.

“Not even get a mention??? That’s such…it…that’s fair. I mean,  
I can’t even remember my full name at this point.”
Or Jon Snow. That bastard gets his greatest wish granted, his father’s name, and the chance to rule the North in it*. But he’s too much a Stark to actually be a Stark, not when it would mean breaking his vow to the Night’s Watch. But even if he’s not Lord of Winterfell, he is the new Lord Commander of the Watch, in a twist that I can’t believe I didn’t see coming at all. Following a rousing stump speech (which goes delightfully negative on the useless Janos) by Sam, Jon is suddenly catapulted to a position of power that has the potential to put him even more at odds with Stannis than ever. Things at the Wall are happening at a faster clip than they ever have before, and along with the addition of Stannis’s crew and Jon’s increased self-possession, it has made that, if not my favorite part of the show, at least pull ahead of the stuff in Mereen.

Over there, Barristan convinces her not to give in to her genetic bloodlust, but she ends up having to take the head she didn’t want instead of the Harpy’s she did. He unknowingly echoes the same thing that Bronn tells his fiancée, which Jon also suggests to Stannis: cruelty may be a tempting way for a ruler to maintain control, respect, or at least the feeling of the same, but it has a way of breeding as many enemies as it suppresses. Bronn may not really believe in the crude form of karma he describes, but even in a world where nobility tends to breed decapitation, meanness does have a way of coming around.

Now if it would just come around faster. Is it Sunday yet?

Oh, come on!

*I know the theory, not going to discuss it until it comes up in the show

Monday, April 13, 2015


It’s April again, my favorite time of year. It means that once again winter is over here in the Midwest and winter is coming in Westeros, where we return to a significantly reduced cast facing drastically altered status quos at the Wall, King’s Landing, and across the Narrow Sea.  And with this new state of affairs we get a stylistic first, as the show opens with the first and only flashback scene in 5 years.   But it made me wonder, why was the opening flashback not a cold open, as the premieres of seasons 1, 3, and 4 sported?  I guess because it built to a transition to the present that would not have survived the cut to the credits, but it seems like that could’ve been dealt with somehow.

But then, how else would we possibly have made this connection?
This might seem like an arbitrary nitpick, and particularly unfair given that I’ve repeatedly praised the show for not succumbing to structural predictability, but this is one area where I’d actually appreciate consistency.  As essentially a prologue, it can’t give away anything storywise to know the premiere will include this little structural flourish; less than knowing, for example, that the penultimate episode is likely to feature the season’s major murders/battles of (which is about the only reliable indicator when it comes to plotting). But what that little bit of predictability does provide is a subtle reminder that all the upcoming twists and turns are part of an intentional design, that it is all going somewhere deliberate. As someone who gave 6 years to LOST, I like to be reminded of that as I settle in to a new season. And then never again for the next 10 hours.

Anyway, about that flashback.  It would seem that Cersei hasn’t changed much at all since she was 10, not even her dress.  It’s almost to the point of doing that unimaginative flashback thing where 20 years earlier the character is just a smaller version of the one we know.  But then, we already knew that she was bred to her particular role from the jump.  Indeed, the innate sadness of her character comes from her wanting to be more than the wife of a powerful man, but knowing neither how or what exactly that would mean in this world.

What she wants is the power to make her own way, and her own mistakes, an ideal for which Mance Rayder is willing to die, horribly. Cirian Hinds is so great in the character’s final scenes (the little eye twitch when he hears about the manner of his execution is particularly wonderful) that it has the unfortunate effect of underlining just how underused he’s been in the role – a champagne problem that only a show with an abundance of compelling characters could have. But he, and Stephen Dillane, also bring out the best in Kit Harrington, who finally seems to have made Jon Snow’s scenes into the equal of those in the other corners of the story.  He not only holds his own with Hinds, but is believable as the person willing to defy “King” Stannis by mercy-killing Mance as he is burnt at the stake.  It’s a moment that recalls very specifically the climax of Michael Mann’s Last Of The Mohicans, a connection further underlined by the actress who played Alice in the film also appearing as the witch in the flashback.  I don’t think that means anything particular, just something I noticed.

No sarcasm here. Some days it’s my favorite movie ever.
Mance dies with dignity, wishing Stannis well “in the wars to come,” echoing the phrasing Varys uses to convince Tyrion not to….well, to drink himself to death slower, anyway.  The guys can’t get to Mereen fast enough for me, as Dany’s scenes bring spectacle with the dragons and toppling of the Harpy statue, but not much in the way of new information.  The dragons are salty, the locals unruly, Dany’s likes = mercenary dick, and dislikes = questioning her decisions. Nothing we didn’t know already, but bringing two of the show’s best schemers into her orbit promises to at the very least give the inaction a bit more crackle from scene to scene.

It’s not just anyone that can make pushing their poop
 through a hole the most compelling part of an episode
We also get little new development in the Vale, where Brienne is still sulking about not having a proper lord to follow.  No wildling, Brienne; she wants nothing more than her mistakes to be someone else’s.  Sansa and Littlefinger, meanwhile, are heading to parts unknown (but probably Dorne), after dropping Robin off with a local lord for some much needed toughening up.  Again, this amounts to little more than some specifics on plans that were hatched in last year’s finale, but it is important to keep up with Littlefinger now.  With Tywin, Joffrey, and Lysa dead, the marauding wildlings subdued, no White Walkers in sight and Dany’s opponents faceless and let’s face it, not a very credible threat, the series is as light on pure villains as it’s ever been.  It’s currently up to Littlefinger and the Boltons to carry that torch, at least until the FrankenMountain gets up and shambling.

True, many might include Cersei in that list, but I continue to find Lena Headey’s performance oddly sympathetic, to the point that I’m kind of torn between whether I want the Lannister or Tyrell siblings to take the upper hand in King’s Landing. Which makes little sense given their respective actions, but that’s the delicious tension this show creates when it’s humming.

Now I just want to feel the same when the shortest hour of next week comes around, and we can check in with Arya, or Bron, or Theon, or Jorah, or….shit, is it Sunday yet?

Oh, come on!