Friday, October 21, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm going to need closure on this...

Game of Thrones Season 1: Episodes 6-7 Review

Back again with a double header of "Game of Thrones" reviews as we now inch ever closer to the dramatic close of the first season. Am I finally being won over to Team Stark, embracing the sometimes overwhelming Westeros Universe and letting go of my petty "this is basically just softcore with more piping hot alloys being melted over main characters' faces" complaints? Let's find out...


As you'll recall from Episode 5 (or at the very least, my recap of Episode 5), Ned was stabbed in the leg by one of Jamie Lannister's personal soldiers. Now we cut to him convalescing in bed, only to find both the King and Queen staring him down. Cersei is still feeling vindictive over Lady Stark's arrest of her brother Tyrion, but King Robert feels more sympathetic towards Ned and, before all is said and done, he gives the Queen a good smack. (Hey, he apologizes later for being "not kingly"! That's about as good as you're likely to get from this guy, ladies.)

Anyway, there's some genuinely well-written dialogue here between Ned and the King. For the first time, we're starting to understand just how dependent Robert's entire reign is on his wife's family and their wealth. He's massively indebted to the Lannisters; he has no choice but to keep them happy or risk losing his throne. He's practically begging Ned to have Tyrion released, but disguises it with his usual bluster. ("I'm the king. I get what I want.") Anyway, Mark Addy plays it just right, and it works.

Switching over to Vaes Dothrak, the Khaleesi is again obsessing over her family's ancestral dragon eggs. This time, she's resting them on some hot coals. (I guess she really is tired of eating horse meat!) When she's able to pick up the flaming-hot dragon eggs without burning her hands, it becomes clear that... I'm not sure... she's somehow connected with the dragons? Like Harry Potter with snakes? I'm sure this is going somewhere, but it sure has been a long time developing this "the blonde lady really likes preserved fetal dragons" sub-plot with not much payoff so far. (OK, OK, it does get paid off later in this very episode, but I didn't know that while I was watching it, you guys.)


We're going to need an assload of Tapatio. And maybe some shredded cheese.

Back in Winterfell, Bran Stark yet again dreams of that creepy three-eyed crow. This time, in his dream, it's perched atop the head of a wolf statue. This seems like a bad omen, what with the dire wolf being the symbol of the Stark Family and all. I mean, sure, I'm making a leap here and assuming that a three-eyed crow is a BAD omen rather than a happy omen. (The whole "third eye vision" thing suggests that we're seeing an omen of SOME kind.) Maybe it's a happy crow - like one of those racist crows from "Dumbo" - and it's just coming around to cheer Bran up. This is high fantasy... George RR can do whatever the fuck he wants!

Anyway, Bran tries out the special saddle Tyrion suggested, and it works beautifully. But it does lead him into the forest where he's set upon by creepy forest people. His older brother Robb attempts a rescue but it doesn't come off so well, and it eventually falls to Theon Greyjoy (who secretly hates the Starks and has been pulling for a Stark/Lannister conflict) to save the day. He does, and wants to kill the last remaining woman from the Forest People group... but Robb stops him.

(As an aside, I didn't have to learn Robb Stark's name or anything about him until this episode. Up until now, I've been calling him Stark Jr. in my notes and I never had to actually look it up. It's Episode 6.)

Back at King's Landing, Arya has another swordfighting lesson with Father Guido... uh, her swordfighting instructor who is not at all a crude-a Italian stereotype-a. The Situation of Swashbuckling is full of little gems of wisdom like "There is only one God, and his name is Death." Which is all well and good, but Bill O'Reilly would argue that still doesn't explain the tides going in and out.

Back in Vaes Dothrak, the Khaleesi is performing some kind of weird pregnancy ritual that involves eating - and not throwing up - an entire horse's heart. Which is every bit at unpleasant as it sounds. Plus it comes with a site of bleu cheese fries, and those are so good that you can't eat just one, even if you also had an entire horse's heart. Khaleesi keeps it all down, once again proving that she is kind of a badass. She also decides during the ceremony that her baby will be named Rhaego, which is a shame, because Buster Khal really does have a nice ring to it.

Viserys, clearly growing concerned about his tenuous position with the Dothraki, makes the case to Mormont that the baby won't be "a real Targaryan." (It's totally not going to be invited to play on the softball team at the family reunion next month. )

Viserys is also trying to make a case for stealing the dragon eggs, and offers Mormont his sister's sexual favors in exchange for letting him escape with them. This is basically Viserys' only currency. He doesn't believe in paper money or coinage at all. Just offers of sex somewhere down the road with his sister. It makes going to the market a considerably more awkward task, especially on double coupon day. Mormont refuses the generous offer.

Back at the castle of Lady Stark's creepy sister, Lysa Arryn, Tyrion Lannister is being held in a "sky cell," of which he's not a huge fan. To get inside, he claims to want to confess, but ends up just telling disgusting stories instead and making a mockery of the proceedings. (That rogue!)

Next comes, honestly, one of the silliest scenes I can recall seeing in an otherwise dramatic series. Tyrion argues that he wants a Trial by Combat, which I guess means he gets to just fight someone and if he wins, he's innocent. But then, he argues that he should be allowed to pick someone else to fight on his behalf, to which Lysa agrees. Really? She agrees to letting him order some other guy to fight for him, and if that guy wins, he gets set free? If the goal was just to get a bunch of strangers to kill each other for no good reason, then yes, I'd say this is a perfect way to dispense with justice.

But if the goal is actually to figure out if someone is guilty of something, and maybe prevent them from doing the same thing over again with impunity... then this won't do at all. Why even hold a trial if you're willing to just replace the outcome with random strangers trying to kill each other?

Honestly, this whole bit just feels like the writers were in a corner and needed a way to get Tyrion Lannister out of this situation, so they invented a legal code that proceeds about as orderly and rational as a game of Calvinball. Anyway, Tyrion's champion wins the fight and thus, he walks, which is the sort of thing that probably happens all the time in this universe.

Next, we're back at King's Landing where a whole string of fairly confusing things happens all at once, and I had to look up what was going on just to be able to write a summary.

Basically, Ned fills in for the King at court, while the King is out on a hunt. Ned hears a grievance against Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (the big guy who fought with his brother at the tournament in Episode 5), who has apparently been attacking villages we've never seen before. Through research online, I was able to piece together that Ser Gregor is loyal to Tywin Lannister, the father of all these other Lannisters that have populated the show, and Gregor's attacking these places (called "The Riverlands") in retaliation for Tyrion's arrest by Lady Stark.

I'd argue there is no possible way anyone could have put this together just from the material as presented in this episode. It all is described too quickly and the references are all to obscure things never depicted previously on screen.


This guy is Ser Gregor! You might remember him from that ONE OTHER TIME we've seen him, in the whole show, when probably someone might say his name aloud I bet!

Anyway, Ned orders him stripped of all his titles and property and orders him brought in to face justice. This seems to be playing in to what everyone wants, which is for the Lannisters and Starks to fight it out, thus creating a vacuum on the throne that someone else can come in and fill. But who knows... maybe Ned has another plan in mind.

We get a scene where Prince Joffrey goes to Sansa Stark to apologize for his behavior up until now and give her some jewelry. This interaction would be almost sweet if they weren't already established as the two worst people in the world.

Speaking of horrible people, we cut back to Theon briefly, who's seeing his favorite prostitute leave him en route to King's Landing. He gives her a coin to see her vagina one last time. This is romantic by "Game of Thrones" standards.

Back in King's Landing, Ned studies the lineages of all the great houses of the Westeros, focusing his attention on the King's House, Baratheon. (This book seems handy. They should really give out a copy to everyone who subscribes to HBO.) He then notices that... wait for it... all the Baratheons have BLACK hair. And Prince Joffrey has BLONDE hair, which apparently he never noticed before. So this means Joffrey ISN'T ROBERT'S REAL SON!

This is, without a doubt, the dumbest scene in the show so far. It make the "I want that random guy to fight for my innocence" bit feel like "Inherit the Wind" in comparison. No one ever noticed before that Joffrey was the only one in the family with blonde hair? ROBERT, his supposed father, who obsessed over maintaining his family's hold on the throne, hadn't picked up on it? No one thought anything of it until Ned got this book out?

The episode ends with Khal Drogo holding a feast in honor of the Khaleesi, which Viserys interrupts, drunk. Worst of all, Viserys openly threatens young Rhaego. Drogo reacts the only way he possibly could, by coating Viserys with molten gold, killing him in the most ghastly manner imaginable. Khaleesi looks on, coldly... "He was no dragon."

See? Now it makes sense why she has the dragon eggs and can hold them and stuff. She... is a dragon? Hang on, I think I missed something...


We get our first look here at Papa Lannister, played by Charles Dance, whom acute film fans will remember from his roles in classics like "Alien 3," "Ali G In Da House," "Scoop" and "Last Action Hero." Yeah, he's really in all of those. When we first see him, he's gutting a stag. Is this symbolism, because the stag is the symbol of House Baratheon? Or is it just gross to be gross? You decide.

Tywin's giving what is, by now, such a recognizable "Game of Thrones" stump speech, they really don't even need to bother writing them any more. Just have a chime go off and we'll imagine someone talking about how individual lives don't matter, but it's the family name that lives on. We also gather from this discussion that, even before the grisly events of Episode 6, the Targaryans were seen as a "nothing house." The whole system is really starting to remind me of college fraternities. ("So, you guys pledging Tully House?")

Ned and the Queen have a real heart-to-heart following his blonde hair/black hair revelation. (Seriously... still not over what a stupid plot device this is. Does the entire kingdom have a learning disorder?)

The truth finally comes out... Jamie and Cersei Lannister are brother and sister, but they have sex to preserve the purity of the family bloodline (and, let's be honest, because they dig it.) Prince Joffrey is their child, not Robert's. Cersei also gets in some taunts at Ned, implying that, following the death of the Mad King, he had a chance to take the throne and passed on it. She explains: "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." Hey, that's the title of this show!


It honestly doesn't look all that comfortable. You think, if you sit down wrong, one of the points of those swords might poke you in the ass?

We cut to the brothel of Petyr Baelish, where he's giving seduction lessons to two naked prostitutes in a scene that clearly has a great deal of relevance to the main plot and isn't at all gratuitous. We do get a little backstory mixed in with all the candelit sideboob. Petyr was in love with Lady Stark, but she had put him firmly in the Friend Zone, opting instead for Ned Stark's brother. When Ned's brother died, she jumped beds and ended up with Ned himself. And now Petyr's the Medieval version of butthurt about it.

Next we get another terribly silly scene in which Theon Greyjoy hangs out with the mysterious woman who attacked Bran in the woods. She refers to the northern home of the Starks as "the south," and claims to be from north of the wall. She also fails to understand the traditional concept of "lordship" and together, they re-enact the "Constitutional Peasant" sketch from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." But taking it all SUPER seriously.

"Ooh, Theon, there's some lovely filth down here!"

Also, big surprise, forest woman brings news from north of the wall that there is an evil there that was sleeping but has now awoken. No duh. They've been saying that since Episode 1, lady. Where you been?

Meanwhile, the King has been mortally wounded by a boar during the hunt. He appoints Stark as Lord Regent to rule in his stead until Joffrey's old enough to become king. Acting quickly, Stark puts "rightful heir" on the document instead of Joffrey's name, thinking that he can resolve the situation without having to tell Robert the boy isn't his. Poor dumb Robert signs without reading. He also tells Ned not to have the Khaleesi and her baby killed, and asks him to train Joffrey to be a better man. Then, dead.

Up at the Wall, Jon Snow was hoping to be named a Ranger, which is really what you want to be, but instead he's made a steward. This is basically dooming him to a life of servitude, where he will be a ranger's squire. He's clearly depressed and humiliated by this turn of events - it's the Night's Watch version of being put into Hufflepuff.

Back at King's Landing, now we're concerned with who will ascend to the throne in Robert's place. There's a lot of talk all of the sudden about a guy named Stannis Baratheon, who has not been shown yet, but who is apparently next in line for the throne. The King's other brother, Renly Baratheon, asks to be put in charge until Stannis can be located, but Ned doesn't go for it.

Petyr also makes his play for power, arguing that Ned should take the crown for himself, and kill Joffrey when the boy comes of age.

Back in Vaes Dothrak, we see an assassin posing as a wine merchant, trying to poison the Khaleesi but failing miserably. Drogo, incensed by this attempt on his beloved's life, now finally seems convinced and decides to make a play for the Iron Throne. He also promises to rape a bunch of women in front of his wife, which is certainly a big thing to just throw out there.

But before any of these other people can throw their hat in the ring, Joffrey jumps the gun and has himself declared king. He and his mother demand fealty from Stark, who refuses, thinking he has the palace guard on his side. But alas, it appears that Petyr has double-crossed him. And... SCENE!

Things are certainly heating up a bit here, as we're now starting to see how the actual power play for the throne might come together. Sure, it's a bit convenient that Robert just happened to get gored by a boar right at this moment when all the other situations with other potential monarchs was just coming to a head... but I'm willing to forgive that, if only because things are finally starting to HAPPEN. With 3 episodes left, there may be hope for this show yet... goofy missteps and all.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on the "Walking Dead" premiere

Tonight is the second season debut of the AMC zombie series "The Walking Dead." I got a chance to see the first two episodes of the season a few weeks back (yes, legally... a friend loaned me an advance screener...)

Some quick thoughts:

The show is exceedingly well-made. The art direction, make-up effects, music, cinematography... all top drawer, pretty much as good as anyone can reasonably expect from a TV series. You can't really tell this wasn't made for, say, HBO, except in the general reluctance to impressive sets or crowd scenes. But the show is deft enough in how it develops to distract from that.

Here's my issue, and it's less a problem with the show "The Walking Dead," I suppose, than with horror TV in general. The story doesn't ever go anywhere. The basic premise of "Walking Dead" - the episode-to-episode plot arcs - has remained completely unchanged since the first episode. Honestly, I don't even need to put a spoiler warning on this review (not that I'd summarize what actually happens specifically in this episode regardless.) It's still about a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse who have banded together for the common defense even though there are lots of little personality clashes and conflicts along the way.

These people are essentially wandering around aimlessly, and the show has by now fallen into a rhythm that's considerably, noticeably repetitive. And it's starting to impact my enjoyment of the series. The group wanders around, thinks they come up with a good idea for a new location to settle, they head there, run into trouble along the way, stop and make friends with a new group, then get attacked and watch a few people - particularly their new friends - get picked off. These cycles take about 2 episodes or so, usually, to play out before we're on to the next destination.


The character development and interpersonal relationships on the show have utterly stagnated. We've got the same weak love triangle playing out as always, and then the sort of forgettable "we should hold up here vs. we should go take the fight to them" arguments you'd see in any zombie genre film. Over and over again.

I don't mean to sound churlish. I get that people just love seeing well-executed scenes of zombies attacking and killing people, and "Walking Dead" has at least 1 or 2 of those per episode. And that's enough. And yes, I do prefer it to a good many shows on television right now, and like the atmosphere and zombie effects enough to stick with it. But in terms of being compelling - "appointment TV," as they used to say - the show doesn't even remotely compare to the best dramatic series of TV, many of which surround it on AMC's schedule. (Can't be easy to draw immediate comparisons to "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," in my opinion the two best contemporary series on television.) It's good at being a zombie show. But so far, that's about it.

Posted via email from Lon Harris