Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Game of Thrones Project CONCLUDES! Episodes 8, 9 and 10 reviewed!

Was thinking of splitting this all into two posts but... screw it, this has gone on long enough. Time to wrap up this epic retelling of the entire first season of "Game of Thrones" and move on to other things, like rewatching the entire series "The Larry Sanders Show" on Netflix Streaming. (Not going to copiously take notes on that one for fear of carpal tunnel... That show was on for 100 years.)

Forgive my Episode 9 round-up... I lost about half of my diligent notes made while watching the episode by stupidly forgetting to sync Evernote. (My own fault, not Evernote's. Still love and highly recommend that app.) But I have managed to reconstruct most of my thoughts from memory, and with a bit of help from Wikipedia's episode summary.

So here we go...


Episode 7 ended with Ned Stark refusing to recognize Joffrey Baratheon (but really Joffrey Lannister) as the new King, after being betrayed by Petyr Baelish. Now we find he's been accused of treason, and Lannister soldiers are coming after Arya Stark, who's still at King's Landing, under the watchful eye of her swordfighting maestro.

We learn a bit more about Syrio and his people - the Braavosi - in this episode, including that they never run away from a fight, no matter how hopeless. So, obviously, he's dead soon enough, and there's a great moment where one of the soldiers orders another to "Kill the braavosi, kill the girl" and you REALLY hope he finishes with "take the cannolis," but alas, it is not to be.

Arya manages to get away, and in doing so, accidentally kills a fat kid. This is never really referenced again, and I can't help but feel like it would have more impact if I knew who the kid was. (I'm pretty sure he's never been in the show before, and is just some stable boy.) But there you have it.

(QUESTION: Would have upset audiences more if the victim was a random skinny kid? Less? The same? Discuss.)

Meanwhile, we see that Ned is being kept alive in a dungeon, with Lord Varys as his only visitor. Varys brings him water and gives him vague updates of the news outside. Varys also implies that he's the only one in King's Landing who actually wants to do what's best for "the Realm," while all the others squabble over petty rivalries. It's absolutely an accurate characterization of this world and its politics... the question never arises of who would be the best monarch, and what would represent the best interests of the civilization as a whole. No one seems to care about much save the "honor" and reputation of their house. It's part of what makes "Game of Thrones" so hard to get into emotionally - nearly all the characters, save possibly the Starks (more on this in a bit) - have the same toxic worldview. Who do you root for when everyone's a sick perverted shit?

We cut to Sansa Stark, who is being blackmailed by Queen Cersei and her new bestie, Petyr Baelish, into selling out her family. She's being instructed to write to her mother and Robb Stark, telling them to swear fealty to Prince Joffrey. Otherwise, she won't become Queen and her father will be killed. Sansa agrees.

Robb, on the other hand, clearly seems to want a war with the new King, and is calling up an army. We get a scene where Catelyn Stark goes to her weird sister, Lysa, asking for her personal army's help in the coming war, but Lysa refuses. We're also quickly getting a lesson in the politics of the area Lysa presides over, known as "The Vale." Also, we're once again being reminded that her grown son likes to breastfeed. You know, just in case we momentarily forgot that everyone who lives in the Westeros has some bizarre kinky fetish.

SPEAKING OF PERVERTS (easily my most-used segue in this entire series of posts), Tyrion Lannister and his new "champion," Bronn, wander in The Vale (hey, that place from before!) after escaping Lysa Arryn's castle. They are set upon by a mountain tribe called the Stonecrows, who seem to want to rob and/or rape them, until Tyrion offers to bring them to his father and turn over the entire Vale to the "hill tribes." (See, lords like Lysa Arryn have long presided over The Vale and made things unpleasant for the hill folk. Possibly by referring to them as "hill folk," which no one really appreciates, even dirty guys with big stone hammers who live on hills.) The Stonecrows take the bait.

Jon Snow is still at the Wall in the Night's Watch when he gets the word about Lord Stark's arrest. He gets into a fight with a guy Wikipedia tells me is named Alliser Thorne, who calls him a "Traitor's Bastard." (Oooooh, that guy I had to look up! He's incorrigible, apparently!) Snow is confined to his quarters.


The Dothraki are getting ready to sail for the Westeros, and to finance the trip, they've started pillaging villages and raping the women. (I humbly suggest we start just referring to this behavior, in shorthand, as RR Martining. Just for the sake of ease, because it comes up so often. As in: "The Dothrakis enter the village and start RR Martining all over the place. Pretty much every house gets RR Martined.")

I'm also starting to see how George RR has done the Tolkein thing of having different parts of this world obviously represent different areas of Earth. Like how Braavos is home to crude Italian stereotypes who accept challenges from 8 guys with actual swords while armed only with 1 wooden sword. This area (unnamed in the show, near as I could tell, but Lhazar on the wiki) has a Middle Eastern flavor.

We also get insight into just how central Spirit Animals are to every culture in this world. The Dothraki are horse people, the Lhazari are sheep people, so the Dothraki feel superior. (They only rape Lhazari women, for example, and don't marry them, because a horse would never marry a sheep. A horse would probably not marry another horse either, because they don't do that sort of thing, but stop being such a stickler.)

It's interesting that the animal motif is important on Westeros as well - every house has its animal emblem, and some, like the Targaryans and their 'dragon blood,' take it more seriously than others - but in a slightly different, more overtly symbolic way. Anyway, subtext! Always good.

The Khaleesi sees all the RR Martining going on and feels like that's more a Showtime thing than HBO, so she tries to call it off. Mago, however, a Dothraki lieutenant (or whatever) feels strongly that the men should be allowed to rape as a reward for serving the Khal so nobly in battle. Also, I feel I should point out that Drogo specifically said, in front of his wife, that they were going to go do some RR Martining just last episode, so I fail to see how this is a huge surprise.

Anyway, even though Khal Drogo backs up Khaleesi, the decision doesn't sit right with Mago. He was REALLY looking forward to the rape. He's like that guy, when a group of dudes agree to go to a strip club, who is clearly TOO excited about the decision and sort of weirds all the other guys out.

Mago challenges Drogo and, um, loses, but not before wounding the Khal pretty badly. One of the non-raped sheep ladies - who may or may not be a witch - agrees to heal The Khal, and the Khaleesi agrees. She has no choice, because if the Khal dies, she doesn't actually have any power over the Dothraki and will most likely get RR Martined. Oh, you Dothraki and your constant excuses to rape. Let's make a show about you.

Back in Winterfell, Robb Stark gets into an animated argument with Greatjon Umber about who will lead the vanguard of his new army. The argument gets so animated that Robb's wolf leaps across the table and bites off two of Greatjon's fingers, after which they all have a good laugh. Maybe start, I don't know, keeping the wolves outside? These maulings seem to keep happening. We're up to like 3 an episode.

Bran and the weird forest lady from north of the Wall have become fast friends. So they're just letting her roam around the castle now? Anyway, she's upset that everyone's distracted by the fight over succession when the soldiers should really be heading North, to fight the mysterious White Walkers who turn you into some kind of creepy frost zombies. While they're talking, mentally disabled stableboy Hodor stumbles into the frame, nude, saying "Hodor" for no good reason. Subtext? Or just random wang? We'll see if this pays off later.


[Image from here]

Back at the Lannister camp, Tyrion introduces Dad to his new friends, the hill folk! Tywin, who has just been appointed the new Hand of the King, agrees to turn over The Vale to them if they fight by his side. The Hill People insist that Tyrion ride into battle with them, so they can hold him to his deal. They drive a hard bargain!

The, the episode ends on kind of a weird, muted note considering all that has come before. Sansa is begging for mercy for her Dad, arguing that he was being treated for his leg injury with "milk of the poppy" (the Game of Thrones version of being hopped up on goofballs.) Joffrey agrees to be merciful if Ned Stark confesses and confirms that he is the real king. And that's it.

This episode itself felt kind of off in general. It's an obvious bridge needed to set the stage for the really big, sweeping, dramatic final two episodes... but not nearly as compelling in general as the previous few. It was reminiscent of the show in its early stages, all foreboding speeches about how "Winter is Coming" and hints of the intrigue to come.


Once more, Varys has come to visit Ned Stark, and once again, he insists that he's the lone champion for peace in the entire kingdom. If that's true, it pretty much means he's doing a shitty shitty job. Maybe he should STOP promoting peace so much and see if that works better.

He also presents Ned with a fairly compelling argument for telling the Lannisters what they want to hear to save everyone's life. Is this the first time in the entire series anyone has suggested that anything is more important than your family's honor? Arguably so. Of course, Ned refuses such a ridiculous notion.

The Starks need to cross the River Trident, the crossing for which is controlled by the House of Frey and its... wait for it... PERVERTED Lord, Walder Frey. (He likes to feel up girls while presiding over court and says stuff like "A little flower... and her honey's all mine.")

He's also the janitor from the Harry Potter films. (No, really, not like I was saying Joffrey is "Draco Malfoy" just because there's a resemblance. Walder is actually played by David Bradley, the janitor from the Harry Potter films.)

At this point, it's like George is running a personal contest to determine which lord fo the realm is the biggest creep. Why would anyone want to be in charge of this place, and have to interact with all these whackadoos all day? (It's a good thing shaking hands never became a cultural practice in this culture or everyone would die of Hep C like immediately.)

Catelyn Stark goes to negotiate with Walder, so he will allow the army to cross, and he starts actually making a lot of sense. "Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon… give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you." Sometimes, I gotta tell you... I feel the same way...

Catelyn eventually gets him to agree not just to allow the armies across the river, but to send along his own troops. And all she has to promise him as that Arya will marry his son and Robb will marry his daughter. They'll probably throw in sex with the Khaleesi as well, just because that seems to be part of most of these high-level Westeros coital negotiations.

Back at Castle Black, near the Wall, we find out that Jon Snow's commander is Jeor Mormont, the father of disgraced knight Jorah Mormont, who now serves the Khaleesi. Were we supposed to know that before this? Anyway, he gives Jon a sword that he was originally going to give to Jorah before the whole "slavery/disgrace the family name" thing.

In quite possibly the most dynamic scene featuring the Jon Snow character thus far, possibly because not much is required of Kit Harrington, Jon is confronted by the old blind member of the Night's Watch. This turns out to be Aemon Targaryen, the "Mad King's" brother. The two of them reflect on how difficult it is to be in the Night's Watch and no longer be allowed to fight on behalf of their families. (Aemon was hanging out at The Wall as his entire family was being purged.) Shouldn't he be a dragon or something?

Back at Camp Lannister (for Aryan kids who always pay their debts!), Tywin - just to be a dick - puts Tyrion and the Hill Folk in the vanguard, basically a death sentence. (Nice contrast here from Greatjon's angry insistence that he be put in the vanguard of Stark's army in the previous episode. We once again see how the modern Tyrion's attitudes contrast with nearly everyone else in his society.)

Tyrion spends what may be his last night of life playing drinking games with Bronn and a prostitute named Shae, played by Sibel Kekilli. (Side Note about Kekilli: She starred in the amazing 2004 German/Turkish co-production "Head-On," and if you haven't seen that film, you really really should. Also before that she was in porn. Just putting that out there.)

At Shae's insistence, Tyrion opens up about the fate of his wife. She was a prostitute Jamie Lannister had hired to play at being a rape victim, so Tyrion could swoop in and save her. After Tyrion married her, Tywin gave her to his troops to RR Martin, and made the kid watch. (OK, was starting to get worried we'd get an entire episode with just a child molestation and no rape. Go Tyrion with the last minute save.)

Back in Pentos, Drogo's wound from last episode is infected. He's dying. The rest of the Dothraki mutually agree it's pretty un-Khal-like. Khaleesi brings in the witch (or is she?) and begs her to save the Khal's life. She agrees, but it involves a forbidden blood ritual. The Dothraki try to put a stop to the use of dark magic but Jorah successfully fights them off. Then just as the Khal's horse is being slaughtered ritualistically, the Khaleesi goes into labor! Hijinks! Grab the suitcase! Get some hot water! Did you print out the directions?!?!?


You just know the baby's going to be healthy and strong because she was so careful with her diet while pregnant.

All the battles are disappointingly, but predictably, held off-screen. Robb outwitted Tywin Lannister, we hear, by allowing a scout to report back that the Starks had 20,000 men, only to divert 18,000 of them to go fight Jamie Lannister's army instead of Tywin's. So Tywin expends all of his force to rout 2,000 Stark soldiers (wonder if they heard about this plan in advance?), leaving Jamie's army exposed and easily overcome.

No worries about those 2,000 soldiers Robb just sacrificed, though, cause Theon says one day the bards will write songs about them. It'd be like telling Hurricane Carter not to worry about spending all those years in jail cause... hey... that Dylan song is aces.

Tyrion survived the battle, as did Bronn. Jamie Lannister has been captured by the Starks.

Finally, Ned is on the gallows, Sansa is standing by with the King, Arya is hiding out in the crowd, and he decides to listen to Lord Varys. Significantly, Ned casts aside his pride and the Stark family name, and pledges his loyalty to Joffrey, hoping to save his daughters by lowering himself. Joffrey has him executed anyway. The dastard!


So Episode 9 was clearly the best episode of "Game of Thrones" to date. Does it pay off all the build-up that came before? Um... a bit. I still can't shake the feeling that we've spent a lot of time setting up things that don't really matter all that much, while leaving things that it would be good to know more about to the side. (Greyjoy Family, I'm looking in your direction.)

But at the same time, it's obvious that there's just so much going on in this world, there'd be no adequate way to set everything up and still keep the show compelling as a show. I honestly do think some sort of primer or 30 minute "Introduction to the Westeros" would have been MASSIVELY helpful to air before the series premiere and then frequently thereafter.


Ned's dead, baby. Ned's dead.

We open the season finale with Lord Stark's head being held aloft above a cheering crowd, and Arya being rushed away by Yoren. (I didn't recognize him, but apparently he was introduced early in the season as the traveling recruiter for the Night's Watch.) Yoren cuts off Arya's hair and starts calling her "boy"; he's planning to disguise her and sneak her back to the North.

The Forest Woman at this point has basically adopted Bran. He's telling her about his creepy 3-eyed raven dream, and it turns out, Bran's younger brother has been having the same visions of their father in the family crypt. Cause he's dead, folks!

Catelyn and Robb Stark get the news as well, and react with seething anger and a desire for vengeance. Catelyn: "We have to get the girls back… then we'll kill them all." Oh, if only AC/DC had done the soundtrack... this would have been their time to shine.

Joffrey, meanwhile, is clearly going to be an awesome king. His first act is to torment a man who made up a funny song about him in a tavern, by having his tongue cut out. Then he tells Sansa: "As soon as you've had your blood, I'll put a son in you." Oh, I bet you say that to all the girls.

Oh, and then he takes her outside and shows her Ned's head on a spike. Pretty standard for Date #3.

Robb's generals, meanwhile, are debating who they should back as the next king in Joffrey's place. Stannis and Renly Baratheon - the dead King Robert's brothers - are discussed and dismissed. Greatjon then nominates Robb Stark for the title, starting a chant of "The King of the North!" Really? Greatjon? That guy who, just last episode, has his fingers bitten off by Robb's wolf? I guess that's politics for you. He disagrees with his "domesticated wolf" position but likes his take on the estate tax.

Catelyn and her new prisoner, Jamie Lannister, have a heart-to-heart. Jamie talks about being an atheist, and admits to pushing Bran out the window (though he won't say why, exactly.) Catelyn hits him with a rock.

Cersei, meanwhile, is with some random non-Jamie naked guy who is talking like her collaborator. "What's our next move?" and all that. Interesting that this is just being shown in passing now. Possibly Jamie is out of the picture next season and Cersei will need a new partner in crime?

The Lannisters are also debating THEIR next move after last week's humiliating defeat. It would REALLY be helpful to have a slightly better idea for the geography of the Westeros to actually follow the conversation. I have no clue where they are in relation to anyone else.

Tywin and Tyrion both agree that Joffrey having Ned killed was the wrong move, calling it "madness and stupidity." Tywin is observing that his son - who he's always dismissed as frail and useless - has a sharp, strategic mind. He decides to send Tyrion to King's Landing to serve as Hand of the King in his stead. Sadly, he's not invited to bring his new favorite prostitute, Shae, along, but he does anyway.

Khaleesi's son was stillborn, and also freakish, covered in scales and with "leather wings like a bat." (Or a DRAGON??!??!?!?!??!) Everyone's predictably blaming the blood ritual, including the witch, who now says this was the life that had to be swapped for Drogo. (What about the horse, then? He had a wife and 12 foals!) Oh, also, Drogo's technically alive of braindead, causing the Dothraki army to move on and desert them. The witch was not exactly aiming to please.

(She confesses that she ruined everything for Khaleesi on purpose, as punishment for destroying her temple. Plus the rape. But mostly the temple.)

Snow decides he's going to leave the Wall and help his family (after we in the audience see the first big battle is over, an odd dramatic choice), then turns back when confronted by his new Night's Watch friends. It's a largely uneventful plot strand for the season finale... it ends with a bunch of the Night's Watch members leaving to go venture north of the Wall, which has the promise of excitement to come in Season 2... but I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat. They couldn't have given us a bit more beyond the Wall to whet the appetite for Season 2?

More interesting is a little scene with Pycelle, the Grand Maester who's a constant presence at court, and who is bragging to a prostitute about all the various Kings he has served. We see that he's a lot more youthful and spry than he lets on, and the "doddering old man" bit is an act. Hmm...

Petyr and Varys also have a scene that's clearly meant to set up some of the events of Season 2, in which they basically compliment one another on being shadowy, duplicitous figures working behind the scenes to get what they want.  Fair enough, though it seems like a conversation that wouldn't actually happen.

Saying goodbye to Arya, we find her hiding out with a bunch of orphans heading for the Wall. So... she cut her hair slightly... and brought along her fancy sword. This is an excellent disguise.

Finally, Daenerys (no longer a Khaleesi) puts together a funeral pyre for Drogo. For good measure, she puts the dragon eggs in there, plus the shepherd witch lady. (She frees the rest of the Lhazari people.) Then, she walks into the fire herself.

In the dramatic final scene, we see her the next morning. Alive, naked and with 3 new baby dragon buddies.


What, you got a no-nudity clause for Season 2? I'm calling my agent.

This entire side of the plot - with Daenerys now feeling a real claim to the Iron Throne and possibly having the strength of will to make a play for it (plus help from dragons) - is probably the most eagerly anticipated Season 2 plotline, and arguably the only real "cliffhanger" moment in this entire finale.

The other stories are a bit more muddled. We know that the Night's Watch will proceed North of the Wall to have it out with... some kind of mortal, existential threat. But we basically knew that 5 minutes into the first episode, and that mystery hasn't really deepened since then. The enemy is such a vague menace, and has been such a background element of the show all along, it's hard to suddenly find it so threatening just because one character keeps insisting.

The war between Stark and Lannister, as well, ends on a muted note. The first major victory was the Stark's, but it has had little real-world impact. After all, Catelyn Stark has had a Lannister as a captive for most of the first season, Joffrey still has the throne, Tywin seems as intractable a foe as ever...

Also, because so much of the landscape, and the strategic victories that would have to be won to truly take control of the Seven Kingdoms, remain unknown, I have no concept of how this war will develop. Are there more rivers to cross and lords to negotiate with? Do the Tullys need to be involved? Other families? Other warlords and tribes? Who at King's Landing must be turned in order to win control of the government? I'm sure there are answers to these questions, but I'm not even sure which are the right questions.

I will say this: The show's willingness to kill anyone and everyone, seemingly at random, in order to keep viewers guessing is admirable. After watching this entire season, I legitimately feel like anyone could be killed in any episode, which is a much more realistic way to approach a scenario like this than in most TV shows, where you can be relatively certain the most likeable characters and main characters will be okay. (Imagine if Tony had died in the second-to-last episode of the first "Sopranos" season. Or if the first season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" involved Richard Lewis being gored to death in a boar hunt. That would be a totally different show!)

But the final verdict on my revisiting of "Game of Thrones"? I have a clearer idea for why people liked it, and now that I've really done the hard work of watching this season attentively and following up on characters and plotlines that confused me... I'm duly sucked in and will have no choice but to watch Season 2. You win, Internet. You always win.

Posted via email from Lon Harris