Sunday, October 09, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 1: Episodes 3-5 Review: The Catchupening

After vowing I'd return to blogging regularly and catch up on all of Season 1 of HBO's epic fantasy smash hit "Game of Thrones"... I completely got distracted and dropped the ball.

Here's what I discovered. When watching a certain TV show entails writing copious notes along with it, and watching other TV shows entails staring ahead blankly and eating 8-12 cookies... I will usually watch that second show.

BUT I'M BACK! Sheer mental fortitude and gritty determination have urged me to push on and complete my task. I may even only eat 5 cookies while I'm writing. Because I'm in control here, people.

What I am going do to make things easier on myself is condense the project a bit. Rather than writing blog posts roughly the length and scale of a Dostoyevsky novel about each episode, I'll write a bit less and push through a few episodes at a time until we're all caught up.


The third episode opens with Ned Stark arriving in the capital to serve as the King's Hand, and meeting immediately with the king's inner circle. As is the show's custom, we get a BIG chunk of backstory all at once here, and considering how important all of these characters and their various positions of power will become in the rest of this episode and the next, it's weird that we speed through the introductions so quickly. If this first scene with them had been a bit more patient at revealing who these guys were, I think I'd have enjoyed a lot of subsequent encounters with them more.

A prime example is Aidan Gillen as Petyr Baelish, a guy who has a big role to play in Season 1 and who also really looks a lot like an older, Medieval version of Cameron from "Ferris Bueller."


Pardon my French, Prince Joffrey, but you're an asshole!

The gist of it is this: The King is an idiot and has bankrupted the kingdom through a series of needless, self-aggrandizing extravagances. This includes a tournament he wants to hold in honor of Ned Stark's appointment as his Hand. Like I said, kind of an idiot, this king.

Meanwhile, the Queen and her son, Prince Joffrey (who continues to look a lot like Draco Malfoy) have a heart-to-heart. He's feeling bad about being a big weenie and getting attacked by his girlfriend's pet wolf, you see. But the Queen assures him that he's got to focus on more long-term evil, like revenging his enemies once he becomes king, rather than petty short-term evil. It's sort of a super-villain pep talk, and it's all a bit much; the whole scene feels like it was written with a sledgehammer, or that it's made up of lines originally written for Sith to say in a "Clone Wars" episode. I know were contrasting the effete, elitist, entitled Lannisters with the noble, hardy Starks but this is over the top. They already killed the little girl's pet just last episode... They suck ass. We get it.

Jon (the "Lord Snow" of the episode's title) and Tyrion Lannister arrive at the great Northern Wall - with Jon staying on permanently as a member of the Night's Watch, and Tyrion basically stopping by out of curiosity. They get an earful from the First Ranger about the intense, spooky dangers on the other side and the importance of the enlisted men's commitment. The very first scene in the series, located on the other side of the wall, was definitely one of the most exciting thus far, so I get why they wanted to keep it where they did... but I can't shake the feeling that it kind of spoils scenes like these a bit. We in the audience already know the First Ranger is at least somewhat correct - there definitely do seem to be monsters in them thar forests. It's still an above-average scene just because (now Emmy-winner) Dinklage is so great as Tyrion and brings a bit of personality to a show that can sometimes be very dry. But there's not a lot of actual tension in this debate; we've already seen the White Walkers. They exist, unless the show was blatantly deceiving us. Which wouldn't be very nice.

We cut to the Dothraki Army marching along and find that the Khaleesi has become preggers, which seems pretty quick, but hey... they were making eye contact during sex... So what did you expect? We discover this information in the course of a long, drawn out conversation about how the Khaleesi shouldn't have to eat horse meat, as is the tribe's custom. Which sounds unpleasant, but some fresh tomato, maybe a couple avocado slices... not terrible. It helps to distract yourself by staring longingly at some dragon eggs while you eat it, though.

This episode also FINALLY gives us some insight into exactly how seasons work in the "Game of Thrones" universe. Up until now, we've heard vague discussions of how "winter is coming" (and believe me, there's yet more of that this time around), but now we actually get a sense for the unpredictable nature of this world's climate, as seasons can last a short while or extend to years, even decades. Kind of a... <sunglasses>... chilling notion.


Episode 4 is significant in these blog posts, because it is the last episode I watched the first time around. After this, we're in unexplored territory, people. Savor the moment.

The episode opens with young Bran Stark having a dream in which he sees a crow with 3 eyes. So... that happens. As with most HBO series, dream sequences seem to be a chance for the director to kind of show off and give us a weird, creepy moment that will look good in the commercials for the show's latest season. It's moderately effective here.

Next up, we get a lot of backstory all at once about a character I had previously assumed was, in fact, a member of the Stark family. Wikipedia tells me that this is Theon Greyjoy, whose family tried to rebel against the Starks and who is now a servant in their house.

This is a PRIME GRADE-A EXAMPLE of what's wrong with "Game of Thrones," people. We start the show getting occasional glimpses of this guy, but not even enough to get a sense for who he is, and certainly not enough to learn his name. Then we're expected to follow a conversation other characters are having about his FATHER, and to connect that to the original person, all without seeing him for more than a moment? Why should I care about his father when I don't even know who he is? I know there's a lot of characters but surely they can do better than this.


You're certain we've met before? Are you the kid who looks like Draco Malfoy, grown up and dying your hair brown now, maybe in an attempt to look less like Draco Malfoy? You're sure?

We cut to Jon Snow now in training at the Northern Wall. In a bit seemingly inspired by "Full Metal Jacket," he takes an overweight fuck-up under his wing and defends him from his abusive cohorts and commanders. Again, not sure if this is a failure of the writing or Kit Harrington's performance, but I feel like we get very little insight into who Jon Snow is or what his motivates are for acting this way. Does he take pity on this kid? And why? (The guy is so pathetic, it's near impossible for even the audience to root for him.) It certainly doesn't SEEM like Snow sympathizes, and yet we intuit that he must because he's behaving that way. But I want to see him care, not just go through the motions. It's like we're waiting to find out his REAL motivation but it never comes.

Now across the sea, where the Dothraki army returns to their capital city, Vaes Dothrak. The little snot Viserys, who apparently thought he was marrying his sister into a race of Beaux Arts-inspired architects, rather than barbaric horsemen, expresses his disappointment, reminding us again that he's a little snot.

We also get some backstory about Jorah Mormont, who has been advising Viserys and the Khaleesi and we know learn was a knight exiled by Ned Stark for selling slaves. (As one does...) He continues to worry, as we have heard before, that the Dothraki will refuse to cross the sea. Got to wonder if this is going to be an issue down the road... <reaches for sledgehammer>

Then Viserys has an almost human moment with the prostitute who also serves as the Khaleesi's lady in waiting, and who is apparently really turned on by dragons. The show is now at least 2/3rds of the way to making Viserys an almost mildly sympathetic character, but then has to go ruin it by being randomly cruel and evil. Ooohhhh, you guys were so close to three dimensions! It was RIGHT THERE!

Back at court, there's a lot of intrigue surrounding the death of the PREVIOUS guy who had Ned Stark's job, Jon Arryn. It's confirmed that King Robert has a bastard son who is now working as a blacksmith, and Arryn may have had to die because he discovered this secret potential heir.

OK, I'm calling it. This episode is officially a slog. The story is totally DOA, especially as it pertains to the Jon Arryn mystery, which is totally obscure and concerns a bunch of characters we haven't even seen before. Plus, the council is obsessed with a tournament that sounds awesome but that we see none of, and every conversation is pure backstory. (There's even more random chatter about Theon Greyjoy awkwardly shoehorned in in the episode's second half.) This is precisely why I tuned out. 6 month ago Lon, I take back everything bad I've said about you.

The episode ends with its best moment, Lady Stark having Tyrion arrested, believing that he hired the assassin who tried to take Bran's life. It's a good scene, an example of how women can wield power in this world. (A theme for the whole episode really, which is about how women can negotiate with and turn the world of knights and soldiers.)

We need more like this, giving us a shorthand understanding of this world in a way that's exciting as well as informative. I'm pressing forward this time, and really really hoping things pick up from here...


First observation here: We really get no sense for what the king actually does, and the method in which he actually governs his kingdom. The only thing we've yet actually seen him do is boss people around in his immediate circle. We get no real sense for his power. Seeing as the entire series revolves around everyone wanting to be King, you'd hope there was more to it than just a license to be a drunken, womanizing boor. Perhaps that really is the gist of it. Each kingdom only has the wealth to provide one man at a time with the drunken, womanizing boor lifestlye, and King is it, so everyone wants to be that. (No, wait, Tyrion also lives that lifestyle and he's just the Queen's brother. So never mind.)

We finally get an actual look at the tournament that we've heard discussed repeatedly by the council in full-on "Civilization" mode.


"Sire, a tournament would raise the citizen's happiness level, but we'd have to raise taxes to fill the treasury. What would you like to do?"

Two brothers fight after one of them slays one of the competitors' horses and goes after him, but the king puts an end to it. Can't have something exciting happen, after all. It might interrupt the backstory! (Oh, I'm kidding around with the "Game of Thrones"! Ha ha, we've having fun!)

We see Lady Stark on the road with her new prisoner, Tyrion Lannister, and it's basically made clear that everyone already thinks he's innocent. Later, Bran Stark - back in Winterfell - is getting a lesson in all the different Houses of the kingdom. Normally, I'd whine about this being YET MORE backstory, but this was actually quite helpful and fills in a lot of gaps that were troubling me up until this point. We also find out that Lady Stark was a Tully. Where have the Tullys been all this time? They're like the Hufflepuffs of Westeros.

Also we've got to catch up with Theon Greyjoy, who now appears to be a main character by a force of sheer will. He's bragging about his family to a prostitute and it's clear that this character is, yet again, an angry egomaniacal narcissist obsessed with his family's name and honor. Seemingly the only kind of character Mr. R. R. Martin cares to write, at least judging from this adaptation. It's all kind of tiresome. Tyrion is essentially the only male character who doesn't spew this hateful claptrap whenever the script gives him an opening. By embracing that character so whole-heartedly, aren't audiences basically saying they find the rest of the series' male characters to be charmless oafs?

Next we get a lot of intrigue at the King's Court, most of it having to do with Lord Varys (or the bald eunuch guy, as I have come to know him). Check out this guy's typical day:

- First, he tells Ned that the person who killed Jon Arryn also hopes to poison the king, and it could be Ser Hugh.

- Then Arya Stark also overhears Varys speaking with Illyrio Mopatis about a plot against the King, counting on an upcoming war for power between the Starks and Lannisters. Dun dun duuuuunnnnnn.

- WE ALSO learn that Varys knows about Petyr Baelish's illegal brothel in town.

- PLUS Varys then returns to the King's council to ensure that King Robert pushes for war against the Targaryans, whom he knows have a new baby and heir on the way uniting their family with the Dothrakis.

Basically, it's a busy afternoon. But he has no genitals! So there are few distractions.

Ned's so disgusted with the goings-on, he quits his position as Hand. King Robert is not pleased.

We then follow Lady Stark as she brings her prisoner, Tyrion, to her sister Lisa's castle. Lisa, it turns out, is crazy now, which we discover when she starts breastfeeding her grown son. (Say it with me now: "As one does...") Tyrion is locked in the high tower, which is realized in a very pretty, cinematic manner. (Maybe the most visually pleasing sequence in the show thus far, honestly.)

We then meet up with the Knight of the Flowers (whose exploits we followed at the tournament) to discover that he has a gay lover - whom he's in the process of shaving - with a reasonable claim to the throne. (He's 4th in line, apparently.) The scene ends with the Knight of the Flowers telling his beloved "you would be a wonderful king" before giving an implied (though off-screen) blowjob with realistic sound effects. I think we can all agree that all oral sex should really begin this way.

We get a nice scene with King Robert and Queen Cersei looking back and coldly summing up their miserable, failed marriage. It's well-written, and Eddy does a nice job, though Lena Headey plays the entire scene with one arched eyebrow, and it gets SUPER distracting. She's giving probably my second-least favorite performance thus far, after Kit Harrington as the laconic Jon Snow.

Finally, Jaime Lannister ambushes Ned Stark, killing all his men. One of Lannister's soldiers stabs Ned in the leg with a spear, injuring him but leaving him alive. Jaime then punches the guy out and we fade out.

Overall, this was an above-average episode with some really nice moments. (Everything at Lisa's castle with her creepy son was solid. Nice to see characters behaving in ways that are unpredictable, mixing up all the more heavy, droning "Winter is Coming" tone of the rest of the show. Still, we're halfway through the season by now... really feels like things should be picking up at a faster clip, certainly by Episodes 6 or 7.

Posted via email from Lon Harris