The Momentum Blog

Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 10 – Mother’s Mercy

Posted June 16, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Last season ended with the magnificent episode ‘The Children’, bringing many characters to a point where they had to commit to a way forward, giving up on the past and investing the show and the audience in the future. Think of Arya boarding the ship to Braavos, leaving her family behind.

This season finale is much more sombre, concerned instead with the inevitable consequences of those long ago decisions. And while there are flickers of hope in certain small corners of Westeros, the characters seem to continually encounter that which all men – and women – must face.

Emblematic of this theme is the opening sequence, which is the final covergence in the North of several characters that has threatened all season. Rather than disssecting them all in turn, it’s worth just following the line of action as it flows from one camp to the next.

Firstly, Melisandre notices the thawing ice, which is the logical conclusion to a fire. Nobody’s happy though, as Stannis rebuffs her for possibly the first time. Half his men have deserted, and though they have a clear march now to Winterfell, everyone has to question what the price of fanatacism is.

We don’t wait long for an answer. Selyse has hung herself, and Stannis – the Westerosi Macbeth – shows no emotion whatsoever. Once his devotion to Melisandre’s Lord of Light brought him a shadow demon that killed Renly, and we’d also witnessed the same magic bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life as well. So we know there’s real power there, one had to speculate what Shireen’s death would bring. But Stannis had long strayed from desiring the throne for the good of the realm, and his ambition has brought only death.

Melisandre leaves, but Stannis accepts he can only move forward. It’s too late now.

Winterfell, meanwhile, is preparing for the attack, allowing Sansa an opportunity to sneak her way out of her locked chamber.

Nearby, Pod sees the Baratheon army approaching, motivating Brienne to move, taking an opportunity to exact revenge for Renly. But as a result, she misses by minutes Sansa’s lighting of the candle in the tower, asking us to question whether Brienne is joining the list of characters who stray from their path to pursue personal interests.

But the seige isn’t going to be a seige, as the Bolton’s ride out for a headlong attack on Stannis. There’s some marvellous wideshots here showing not just the scope of the attack and the insurmountable odds facing Stannis’ army, but the best detail was in seeing those fleeing the Bolton army and heading back from where they came.

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We cut immediately to the aftermath, as Stannis stumbles injured through the woods. He’s spent, but still strong enough to cut down two Bolton men, but only until Brienne arrives.

She can only finish him off, but Stannis at least accepts her charge that he has lost his way, having killed his brother with ‘blood magic.’ Brienne assumes the duty of a knight, as she has done previously, and brings to an end the torturous path of Stannis Baratheon. She, though, is juxtaposed immediately with Ramsay doing just the same to a maimed Baratheon soldier, questioning whether Brienne is giviing in to the same base emotions that Ramsay too often does (and that Arya later does): killing because that’s all they know.

But I think there’s something in Stannis’ underscoring of Brienne’s action: it is her duty to kill him, she swore an oath. He sees this in her, and she takes no pleasure in it, despite it being a personal resolution for her. It is also evidence of Brienne holding fast on her loyalty toward some concept of what is good, and what is just. There are increasingly arbitrary ideals in Game of Thrones, as shown way back in Season 1 when Ned Stark as beheaded. Trivial notions of justice have long been simply that, and any character who thinks they will be shielded by the cloak of justice has so far met a bad end.

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So there’s nobility in Brienne’s continued pursuit of the right path, navigating her way through the eternal conflict of Westeros like some wandering samurai. It’s a very different final image for her character than what is presented in the books, and one of the most interesting aspects to the finale for everyone, whether they’ve read the books or not.

Sansa is found by Myranda on the walls of Winterfell, but then saved by the revived Theon, and the two take their leap of faith of the wall to the snow beyond. It’s an interesting conclusion for both of them, particularly as Sansa had been the one character where we started the season fully anticipating new material, but instead seeing her assuming the role of a minor character in the books. So for the readers in the audience, we’re none the wiser as to what’s going to happen next, except for speculating that Sansa in the show is a long way from Sansa in the books.

That extended sequence brings to an end the storyline of several main characters this season, some faring better than others in how they were presented, but showing once more Game of Thrones’ ability to unite disparate threads with growing confidence and skill.

So across to Braavos, where seeing Ser Meryn Trant brutalise young girls is literally the worst thing to see. But in keeping with the episode’s swift plotting, we’re suddenly headlong into Arya’s revenge, as she reveals herself from the guise of a faceless girl, stabbing out Ser Meryn’s eyes and torturing him through to his death. Horrific, and we have to wince throughout it, knowing that Arya has taken a backward step on her journey.

Like Ramsay, there is a direct contrast here with Brienne’s earlier actions: she took no pleasure but only served her duty, whereas Arya revels in Ser Meryn’s death, as she abandons her duty to the Many-Faced god.

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She took the wrong life, says Jaqen and the waif. It’s literally cloak and dagger stuff in the House of Black and White, as Jaqen pretends to poison himself but then appears in the waif’s place. He shows Arya just how little she has valued taking a life, and we’re completely in the cave on Dagobah as Arya confronts her own visage on a dead body. As punishment, Jaqen takes her eyes.

This is the one plot where they haven’t really managed to connect it to the overall narrative, similar to what we saw with Bran last season. Game of Thrones is clearly leading up to some intersection between the Stark children and the overarching narrative held between Daenerys and Jon Snow, it’s just we’re a long way from seeing how that’s going to happen.

640-49Then it’s off to Dorne, which has fast become the new Meereen of nonsense plotting. Jaime, Bronn and Myrcella are sailing back to King’s Landing, offering Jaime a moment of clarity with his daughter, who promptly dies. It’s pretty indicative of everything in the Dornish plot this season: too rushed, too heavy-handed, and in the end we haven’t really achieved much.

It’s really just renewed bitterness between the Lannisters and the Martells. One has to wonder if they were originally going to cut this sideplot, as they did with the Iron Islands, but were so swayed by the performance of Pedro Pascal as Oberyn last season they had to give him some legacy. Instead we’ve had some rubbish writing, silly accents, and inconsequential time-wasting.

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And so to the leftovers of Meereen: all who missed the Goodship Drogon are left licking their wounds and counting their losses. Grey Worm, Missandei, Jorah, Daario and Tyrion are debating what course of action to take in Daenerys’ absence.

Tyrion gets to take care of Meeereen while Jorah and Daario ride off to do masculine things, and search for Daenerys. And then Varys arrives, the two standing once more on a balcony regarding the view, as they did in the season openener. It’s a nice sign of progress: Tyrion then was in hiding and drunk. Here he wants to drink, but is instead charged with the opportunity to have an impact on Meereen, and plan his revenge on King’s Landing.

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Daenerys meanwhile has landed with Drogon in his nest. But the Mother of Dragons still has a lot to learn about riding them, or getting them to obey.

But then the Dothraki arrive, and again we have to ask about the progress of Daenerys: is she rejoining them from a position of strength, or weakness? Certainly it’s one of clarity for her character.

In King’s Landing, Cersei leaves her cell and confesses to High Sparrow: she was unfaithful with Lancel Justice Lannister. But only to that sin, she won’t admit anything else. Certainly High Sparrow thinks otherwise, and will put Cersei to a trial. For now, she must serve punishment for what she has admitted.

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So the walk of atonement. It’s ugly all round. Nobody comes out of this with any good on them, even those who had for so long wanted Cersei to have a comeuppance. The elegance and gravitas that Cersei approaches her attrition is in direct contrast to the farcical plotting that got Maegary and Loras imprisoned, starting this whole chain of outing sin in King’s Landing. It’s a shame, and an exemplar of this whole season: lazy early storytelling leading to dramatic and powerful conclusions.

Added to that, there’s a shock and power in seeing Cersei confront how ugly she and Tywin before her have made their world. There’s no going back to the old order anymore – how could King’s Landing stand for any royalty after this?

Qyburn is there to greet Cersei at the end of the walk, introducing her to Ser Mountainstein, who has emerged from Qyburn’s laboratory of unnatural horrors, silent and terrible.

This is one of the few parts left with still some material to exhaust (not much, but a few key points), but it will be interesting to see how they adapt this in light of the refinements they’ve brought to other parallel plots, like that of Jaime. Until next year.

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Okay. The Wall. Okay. I guess we can all talk about this now. The only last secret the book readers were holding on to, the final piece of GRRM’s fiction where we could watch with glee as the TV audience watches on with horror. But, as with any adaptation to screen, what is subtle on the page is rendered specific as a visual, and there’s enough of a difference between the two versions of Jon’s story to warrant a discussion.

Firstly, Sam has to leave as he should take Gilly with him to Old Town. On one hand he wants to keep her and the baby safe, but also he knows he should become a maester, and embrace his role in the story. So they leave, and Jon is truly alone.

Until Davos arrives, closely followed by the fast-travelling Melisandre, who looks oddly subdued. She won’t answer anyone about Stannis’ fate, or Shireen’s. We know, and Davos and Jon can see the truth in her face. Has she come to claim Jon as her new champion now that Stannis has been revealed as a false hope?

There’s a whole story in the next cut, I feel, in that we go immediately to Jon alone at his desk, called outside by Olly. What has happened between Melisandre arriving and this night-time interruption? This is where the ambiguity lies in the show, given the bluntness of what follows.

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Olly leads Jon outside, with the rumour of Benjen Stark as a lure. And Jon is confronted by his Night’s Watch brothers as a traitor, and stabbed. This brings to a conclusion his conflict with Ser Alliser Thorne, drawing out the stabbing far more than it is in the book, shorn of its ambiguity and swift shock, giving us instead a slow, brutal end for Jon. This is shown most in the final blow from Olly, bring to a head this wholly invented character’s arc that started last season when he saw his parents murdered by the Thenns.

Given that readers of the book will swear up and down that GRRM would never kill Jon Snow in a cliffhanger, and that there’s enough in the resurrections that have happened elsewhere in Westeros, and in Jon’s warging abilities to believe that there’s far more than an off-page death to come for Jon Snow. Consider as well how the show cut from the resurrected Mountain to Jon’s death.

This is not to mention the ongoing debate about his parentage, and how that ties in with the overall mythology of the show and its epic Song of Ice and Fire, which were threads very carefully dropped into the show at key moments this season. Despite Kit Harrington’s interview where he swears dead is dead, and how much he will miss the show, one has to smell a large rat and a big sense of misdirection.

We may not get Jon Snow right away, but he will return. The question will be how to return him uncorrupted, as all others have been. The wights of the White Walkers, the Mountain, Beric Dondarrion – Game of Thrones has shown us many times how characters can die and then return, but so far they’ve never done so in a positive way. This is the path for Jon’s character, and for the story. And this is where, if anywhere, Jon’s half-siblings in Arya and Bran can connect their stories with his.

So it’s been an up-and-down season, starting well then becoming rather terrible in the middle, only to be saved by three epic episodes back-to-back. Part of this is an unforunate byproduct of the endlessly spun-out source material, and the show was at its best this season when it cut and streamlined. Given how little of the books still remain unadapted, and how strong these last few episodes were, I think the show will come into its own when it fully embraces its role next season as an adaptation of a future, unwritten book.

  • Valar Morghulis: from the top: Selyse, Stannis, lots of soldiers, Myranda, Ser Meryn Trant, Myrcella, and, uh, Jon Snow? Nah. He’s totally alive.
  • Maybe Jaime shouldn’t come back to King’s Landing, especially since Myrcella is dead? Can’t say there’s much left for him there.
  • Best exchange between Daario and Tyrion: ‘So mainly you talk?’‘And drink. I’ve survived so far.’
  • And best comment from Sam, as he provides a summation of how his first time with Gilly went: ‘Very carefully.’
  • Has Jaqen been the waif all along? This scene actually raised far more questions than gave answers.
  • As this is the final episode and the final recap, a big thanks to the Momentum folks for allowing me to rant and rave and generally just waffle on each week. Tremendous fun.

 Previous episode: The Dance of Dragons

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 9 – The Dance of Dragons

Posted June 10, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

The title alone should inspire viewers to think this is going to be one epic episode – if it weren’t for the fact that the final half hour of last week’s Hardhome set an enormously high bar.

But in the end it was a dark, dark hour, not without surprises and revelations, and the show left us with plenty of room to speculate on what’s going to happen next week, and next season.

Let’s dispense with the most trivial first: Dorne. It was an oddly interesting couple of scenes there this week, showing up basically everything that’s come before this season, but also suggesting that there won’t be any more Dornish action for some time.

Firstly, Doran Martell doesn’t want any more bloodshed, at least not in a way that would bring about open war with the Lannisters and the Iron Throne. I’m assuming at this point that Cersei’s imprisonment is not common knowledge. So Jaime is free to go, and so too is Bronn, after a fashion.

Doran’s bargaining has allowed Myrcella to return to King’s Landing, but only if the marriage to Trystane goes ahead, and Trystane sits on the Small Council in the departed Oberyn’s place. Jaime agrees, because this all makes sense. It just seems strange that all the Dornish action this season has preceded this decision, rather than the decision coming first. It’s logical, and handled dipomatically. What were the showrunners thinking?

Ellaria must pledge her loyalty to Doran to avoid any more antagonism between her and Jaime, and she then admits that she had no real grief with Jaime after all. Again, this begs the question why Doran didn’t quash this insurrection earlier, given that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have been all Keystone Kops in Dorne, fooling nobody with their pretense of loyalty.

So everything in Dorne has just been backstory to Trystane landing a spot on the Small Council, which just makes everything all the sillier. What’s the net result? Trystane Martell, Kevan Lannister, Qyburn, Mace Tyrell, Maester Pycelle and Jaime make up the council – all individuals with no sense of allegiance to each other, and very little toward Cersei or Tommen. That is promising, it’s just a shame we had to go through all this nonsense first.

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In Braavos, Arya’s training continues, now tasked with the mission of taking out the insurance man on the docks. But, as expected, she spies Mace Tyrell arriving with Ser Meryn Trant, who was once high on the old Arya’s hitlist, for crimes against the Braavosi, Syrio Forel.

So, the choice is, kill the insurance man and became a Faceless servant, or kill Ser Meryn and become a Stark once more. More storylines are colliding, as expected. Arya may be through with the past, but the past clearly has something it still needs from her. That, no doubt, will be resolved next week.

Jon Snow arrives leading the Wildings to the passage under The Wall, but has a tense moment where he waits just a little too long for Ser Alliser Thorne to let them through.

This is the tragedy that was seeded in last week’s episode: Jon and the others narrowly escape annihilation from the White Walkers, only to have his efforts completely rejected by the Night’s Watch. This is the summation of Jon’s leadership, where he is able to inspire everyone he meets except those he commands. The path toward the greater good is a lonely one.

Okay, now it gets dark.

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Firstly, we’re at Stannis’ camp outside Winterfell. Melisandre witnesses the work of Ramsay and his men, setting fire to the camp, and jeopardising their position even further. She and Stannis both know that it is desperate for them.

So Davos advises retreat to Castle Black, but instead is sent there by Stannis, as punishment for being a good man. But honestly, when did Stannis ever take any of Davos’ counsel? We have to wonder why Davos serves him given the constant rejection. But Stannis is sending him away because he can’t bear to look at the one person who wouldn’t stand for what happens next.

If it wasn’t clear already, Stannis and his army are the batshit crazy fundamentalists of Westeros. They might have helped Jon achieve a ceasefire with Mance Rayder, and he might’ve appeared to appeal to Jon’s sympathies since (and therefore ours), but he’s always been a bad guy – we’ve just been too close to him to be concerned about it. The guy has been burning people at the stake since he first turned up, has constantly betrayed his wife and all but neglected his daughter, and is really the main challenge between notable ‘good’ characters like Daenerys gaining the throne. And don’t forget it was Stannis that was attacking King’s Landing when Tyrion saved it.

So when he agrees with Melisandre to put his daughter to death, to magic some form of an attack against the Boltons, it should really come as no surprise. The difference in Game of Thrones is that we spend time with everyone, good and bad, and it clouds our judgement. Additionally, most stories about good and evil focus on the ending, the path of the good to conquering the evil. George R.R. Martin has just developed a really really long prequel-in-disguise, where we get to witness all the seeds of the conflict that eventually will be quashed by the ‘good’ characters.

This is why events like Shireen’s death and the Red Wedding confound everyone, because we’re witnessing plot details that normally happen in the past in traditional stories, as motivation for the good characters.

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Finally, to Meereen. The fighting pits are finally in full swing and the games begin, with expected Gladiator echoes in abundance. Daenerys is reluctant about the whole thing, and it’s all made worse by the pissing contest between Hizdahr and Daario, which even bores Tyrion, who normally loves verbal jousting.

But what hits home for us is that this episode has really focused on the sacrifices that people make: sacrifices for victory for Stannis, or sacrifices for popularity and stability for Daenerys. All leadership is a bloodsport in Game of Thrones, because that’s how it’s always been, as Hizdahr reminds us.

And on that theme, Jorah arrives in the stadium, ready to die for Daenerys’ lasting glory. There’s a parallel here, and not just about what Daenerys and Stannis are prepared to do for the Iron Throne.

Shireen is suffering from greyscale, and is put to death by fire. But we know that Melisandre’s fire is not true fire – it runs cold. In the song between ice and fire, hers is inert, and so Shireen’s death is all the more tragic. There will be no victory for Stannis.

Jorah, too, is suffering from greyscale, and he is prepared to die, only for the true fire to intervene. Firstly he saves Daeners from a would-be assassin, and then when trying to lead her to safety from the Sons of the Harpy as they launch a full-fledged uprising, Jorah is justly saved with Drogon’s arrival, putting the true enemies to the flame.

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The show is trying to focus us on the symbolism of these moments, and how they contribute to the as-yet unknown design of the story. In the novel, Drogon’s attack on the stadium is brought on by the noise and the bloodshed, and Daenerys’ flight is a measure she takes to save everyone from his attack. Here Drogon’s arrival and her subsequent departure are presented more as symbolic conclusions to this part of the narrative – the only answer to the constant irritations in Meereen, and Daenerys’ answer to Tyrion’s questions last week about what she truly wants.

Jon’s escape from Hardhome brought us face-to-face with the big bad of the series, in a way it had never done before. Daenerys’ escape here reminds us that there is a force greater than any throne or army, and allowing us to connect these two more strongly as the inevitable convergence of the show’s ongoing conflict.

The last two episodes have allowed us to see a much clearer view of the story than we had ever before, but in doing so they’ve stretched the epic spectacle across more episodes than ever before, rather than giving us little updates on what everyone was doing, as early episodes in a season sometimes feel. With the seige on Winterfell promised now for next week, and no doubt a few more surprises, these three episodes will together sequence some of the most dramatic storytelling Game of Thrones has screened to date.

What is most fascinating is that these episodes promise to be the most free from the books to date. It’s almost as if they needed to wade through the over-written drudgery of plots like Meereen and Dorne just to get all the characters to this position where they could tell truly captivating stories.

  • Valar Morghulis: look, a lot, really. Many Sons of the Harpy, many Meereenese, including Hizdahr, but it’s worth just spending time reflecting on Shireen.
  • Even Selyse realises how far Stannis and Melisandre have strayed from humanity at the last minute. It’s pretty damn tragic. Can’t imagine Davos coming back in support of any of this.
  • Daenerys is rendered useless during the attack. She is just standing still while blood is spilled around her, all because of her presence in Meereen. This brings her flight so much more power, as foreshadowed when Drogon visited her at the top of the pyramid several episodes back.
  • Shireen’s long cold march toward her doom is reflecting that of the show, anticipated in the terrifying climax of Hardhome. The dark of winter is setting in, making the actions of those few in service of the greater good stand out so much more.
  • Still no Brienne, who appears to be watching on Winterfell and Stannis’ army at the same time, without doing anything. More stalling.
  • So Melisandre was able to do a hell of a lot with a few leeches on Gendry, but now Shireen needs to die? The show is doing some weird thing with her, at times distancing us from Stannis while supporting her actions, but now holding her up as completely insane. Whatever happens to the Boltons as a result of Shireen’s death, it’s hard to see any method to her madness.
  • Next week: will Jon’s plan to save the Wildings work? will Sansa get free of Ramsay? will Stannis beat Roose? will Daenerys find some place to land? will Tyrion rule Meereen? will Cersei and Margaery find a way out of their dungeons?

Previous episode: Hardhome

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 8 – Hardhome

Posted June 2, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Interestingly, most Game of Thrones seasons start slow in the ratings, and then slowly build. In some respects this isn’t surprising, especially given the structure of the seasons seems to be about building toward both climax and revelation.

However, this season has done the opposite. It started higher than ever before (on the strength of the mania surrounding illegal downloads and Best Show Ever hyperbole), but has dramatically dropped each episode since then, particularly in response to the utter awfulness of Episode 6.

Not that one wants to put much stock in ratings these days, but I do wonder if this episode will get things back on track in time for the final two episodes. It was certainly many things Game of Thrones has been in the past, plus a whole lot of things it has never been before.

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Firstly, business. In Meereen (sigh), Tyrion and Jorah have some explaining to do in front of Daenerys. Jorah is banished, but Tyrion is able to gain an audience with Daenerys on the strength of his boasting honesty (‘I am the greatest Lannister killer of our time’), and the two enter into an interesting byplay of testy understanding.

On one hand, Tyrion is her enemy, but on the other he is everything she has been needing since Khal Drogo went to that big stable in the sky: Tyrion is direct, and thus brings momentum to the storyline. Her plot has been inert for too long, stuck in a wheel that goes nowhere, endlessly discussing who to trust, who to kill, how to lead and whether her army is large enough yet. So Daenerys wants to break the wheel.

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Tyrion arrival challenges her: why does she want the Iron Throne so much? This is not power for power’s sake, and Tyrion remarks that there’s no real service for the greater good these days. Until the end of the episode, that is.

Jorah, suffering from the greyscale and continued banishment from Daenerys, signs up once more for the fighting pits. Death and glory, then.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is in the cells, refusing to confess. How quickly things have changed, after her mocking of Margaery in the same situation. There’s not much here, except a little bit of Chekovian Qyburn, reminding us that he’s still doing god-knows-what with the Mountain.

But Cersei’s imprisonment does raise a question: who is in charge? The Faith Militant are not really concerned with ruling, only cleansing. Tommen is an imprisoned puppet. Stannis is occupied with Winterfell and the North, and Daenerys with Meereen. Can Westeros handle a vacuum?

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Over at Braavos, Arya is training to become a Jedi like her father before her. She has a new name, Lana, but not a new face. Somehow I imagined more of a transformation here, particularly in how these scenes are described in the books. But still, she is learning to lie, and learning to see the truth in the lives of others. Her mission from Jaqen is to observe the harbour, and see.

It is fascinating to think how Arya’s storyline might one day intersect back with the others. For now, it’s just an excellent progression of her character, particularly when one considers everything she’s gone through since leaving Winterfell. But at the moment her place in the master plan is still but a mystery.

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At Winterfell, there’s continued fallout from Theon’s betrayal. He insists he is Reek, Theon was taken away from him piece by piece (‘I deserve to be Reek’). But Sansa gets the truth out of him: he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon, and she might not be alone as a Stark.

Roose and Ramsay are discussing Stannis’ arrival, but other than a nice title drop in the conversation (‘leave a feast for the crows’), this is really just about reminding the audience that the battle for Winterfell will kick off next week.

Similarly, events at The Wall aren’t great in everybody’s absence. Sam and Gilly are holding firm, but Olly’s questioning of Jon motives is a nice way of voicing the mutiny from an innocent. Olly saw his parents murdered by the Wildlings, and so is unable to see how Jon can treat with them.

This allows Sam to think he can convince Olly that it’s all for the greater good, but allow us to realise Olly is not convinced, and neither will other seasoned men of the Night’s Watch, whose hatred of the Wildlings is far more ingrained, and they are likely to be far more dissenting of Jon’s actions.

(Also, it’s worth saying that it’s nice to be writing about scenes with subtlety again. More on this later.)

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Jon has arrived at Hardhome to meet the Wildlings with Tormund. The Lord of Bones is having none of this, so Tormund dispenses with him in order to initiate more civil conversation with the other Wildling leaders.

Jon the leader emerges once more, rousing all but the Thenns to join him, promising that this isn’t about past differences, but about the future. Very political is Jon Snow.

So they start to pack up and head off on the boats, but before they all depart the enemy arrives. The true enemy: the one that has been looming over the series since the very first scene.

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The arrival of the White Walkers and their wights is a thing of terror, playing much like a classic monster movie. The wights are hidden behind a makeshift gate, within a veil of fog, and we catch only glimpses at first. The show is reintroducing the main antagonist, and its chilling and worthy of the magnitude that their role should have.

The world of Westeros is effectively one that is under threat by a force of destructive nature: winter has finally arrived, and the only thing they can anticipate now is death. What we’ve been witnessing in most of the characters is whether the humanity that still survives will kill itself off before winter sets in, or whether they can rally together to make a stand. We’ve known this for a while, really, but this was the first time it was ever truly witnessed.

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Daenerys, Stannis, Cersei, Littlefinger and Roose: all want the throne. The White Walkers only want death. The Starks and Tyrion are the difference: none of them want to rule, and they seem to be the only ones who know what to do now. Interestingly, Robb died as the only Stark child who made a claim for the throne.

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The battle is scrappy and bleak, and the show reaches new heights of fear when a White Walker lieutenant arrives, striding through fire and killing a Thenn. The old enemies are gone now, Jon’s choice is between survival or the long, cold sleep.

And then something strange happens. Without any dragonglass, Jon kills the White Walker. Valyrian steel raises itself as a forgotten symbol with new-found meaning. Jon and Tormund barely escape to the boats, and we all catch our breath.

That is until the White Walker king arrives, striding through the Wildling dead, along the pier to stare at Jon. He raises his arms, and the dead raise with him. This is all handled in gutwrenching silence, a masterpiece of restrained and subtle filmcraft. We look upon his works, as the army of the dead rises, and despair.

Holy heck it’s terrifying. And the rest is only silence, played out over the credits.

  • Valar Morghulis: Lord of Bones, that Thenn guy, a lot of Wildings and some of the Night’s Watch, a stack of wights, and Karsi.
  • On Karsi’s death: only introduced this episode, and only a handful of moments to make the character resonate, but gosh that was a terrifying death. Shows how much can be done with so little, if you just choose to show the right moments.
  • Jon answers Tyrion’s call: putting his own life at risk to treat with the Wildlings, gave them safe haven and then saved many lives, nearly lost his own, all for the greater good.
  • Dragonglass is all lost, but Valerian steel is back in vogue. Now who had the other swords? Pretty sure Brienne had one, from memory.
  • Also: how does one make dragonglass? Asking for a friend.
  • Probably time to recognise Edd Tollett as one of the great survivors.
  • Varys is mentioned, and Kevan Lannister is back as the Hand. Two characters referenced but not seen. Cluuuuuuuess.
  • Next week: Dorne (eh), Arya (ay!), Wildlings at the Wall, Winterfell, the fighting pits, and dragons. It’s all coming to a head.

Previous episode: The Gift

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 7 – The Gift

Posted May 26, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

So after last week’s disappointing episode we’ll begin this recap in the North, with a series of scenes that only reiterate just how close winter is. Just about every shot outside shows the falling snow, adding a chill to scenes south of the Wall that hasn’t been present since the early scenes in Winterfell in Season 1.

In a sign that the show is getting a bit messy with its sequencing, given that last time we were at The Wall, Jon was heading off to Hardhome at the same time that Stannis was marching on Winterfell. Somehow, Stannis has made a fair bit of distance and is worrying about the damange the weather is having on his troops, while Jon’s still saddling up with Tormund.

It’s evidence of this padding out of storylines that is beginning to frustrate me this season. It’s several episodes ago that the show seemed to be promising a mid-season climax of several storylines, and now we’re just left waiting for them to have their inevitable Episode 9 Big Spectacular. This rhythm has been well-established since Season 2, and it makes for tedious viewing when we’re just marking time as characters join the dots.

Anyhow, there’s a gift of Sam’s to Jon of some dragonglass daggers, you know, just in case. So to be clear, absolutely no White Walkers will appear at all between now and the end of the season.

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Maester Aemon passes away, the last but one of the Targaryens. Sam says some nice words, and it shows how well he is gradually shifting into the role of Maester-in-waiting, but Ser Alliser Thorne reminds him he is quickly running out of friends.

And then just great – another woman in jeopardy scene, because that’s what we all need after last week. And like last week, the problematic aspect here is that Gilly’s jeopardy seems manufactured to prop up Sam’s growth as a man. The tropes are coming thick and fast in Game of Thrones.

Like last week, I’m struggling to work out what the reason for this scene is. Are we meant to value Sam becoming a man? Is it meant to emphasise how alone he and Gilly are now with Jon, Aemon and Stannis departed? Didn’t we get that when Ser Alliser said ‘You’re losing all your friends’?

It’s a bit poor, really. The best I could come up with is they’re emphasising Sam’s movement away from his oaths to the Night’s Watch, and toward his oath to humanity (given the increasing depravity of the Watch). Which is a similar path that Jon has taken since he treated with Mance Rayder last season, but still, this has all been propagated on the back of threatening a woman.

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On the way to Winterfell, Stannis and Davos are getting colder, and Stannis’ men are dying. But they must march on, he says, telling Davos and Melisandre. Surely his haste for victory will be his downfall? Of all the suitors for the throne, Stannis is the oldest, and therefore the one less likely to compromise if that involves patience. I’d be surprised if he lasts the season, to be honest.

Melisandre wants to sacrifice Shireen, believing this will give him the strength to attack Winterfell and the Boltons. And despite recent events, I don’t think even this show would stoop to that, but it does again raise the spectre of greyscale being countered by some sort of fire (and we’ve already established that Melisandre’s artifical fire isn’t the same as dragonfire). Clues rather than threats are the key here, I feel.

In Winterfell proper, it’s all very bleak. Sansa can’t convince Reek to become Theon, and he gives her up to Ramsay all too easily. So we have basically entered a revenge plot, and the most frustrating kind. We’re essentially waiting (lot of waiting this season) for Sansa to decide when the right moment to kill Ramsay will be. It’s a sufferable type of tension, created by having a character desire vengeance, but unsure when to act (think Gangs of New York). Tedious plotting, and the suspense equivalent of a car chase: between the beginning and the end, the rest is irrelevant and only delaying the inevitable.

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Moving south, we finally get to see some sun when we join Jorah and Tyrion and Mr Eko, who is selling the odd couple as slaves for the fighting pits. So off to Meereen they go, and we finally get what we’ve waited all season for: Tyrion meeting Daenerys.

Jorah’s quest for redemption in Daenerys’ eyes is well handled, and the moment comes quickly and without any spectacle that might have been anticipated, but it’s Tyrion’s choice to not flee but instead march out without his manacles that shows the potential strength the show has in these two characters meeting. It’s just amazing they let it dawdle for so long.

In King’s Landing, High Sparrow and Olenna are haggling over the handling of her children. She doesn’t have much success reasoning with him for Loras and Margaery’s safety, especially when he counters with ‘you are the few, we are the many.’ These are strong words especially given the stakes of the entire show rest around a bunch of the few trying to claim ownership of the many. Perhaps there is some sort of revolution at hand for GRRM’s Westeros?

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Tommen at least would like to start some sort of uprising against the Faith Militant, but Cersei knows he won’t last five minutes. And plus, she started this bunfight.

Littlefinger and Olenna catch up, each realising that there’s strength in their uneasy alliance (are there any others?) rather than giving each other up to Cersei as the mastermind behind Joffrey’s poisoning.

After Cersei’s visit to Margaery, I’ve started to worry about how the show is painting Cersei as a character. It’s a difficult thing to get a villain right, something they did so well with Tywin previously. Instread, Cersei is becoming more like Joffrey and Ramsay – utterly hateful and only there to spur us to hate her more. Given that previously she was entirely motivated by keeping her family safe, and lately out of avoiding the prophecy of her life, it is disappointing to see her reduced to a snarling villain, concerned only with power and self-interest.

The main problem is that when Cersei gets her comeuppance (which started in the final scene of this episode when she is thrown into a cell), the audience has been engineered to applaud her downfall. When shows make characters intentionally awful just to allow us to feel good when they perish is problematic – it’s the fallacy that underpins every terrible crime drama that thrives on good cops outmanoeuvring evil killers.

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Game of Thrones has been so much better than this in the past – particularly with how it has played with our sympathies over characters like Jaime, the Hound, and even Stannis to a degree – the last couple of episodes have felt like a lesser version of the show, reduced to caricature.

With Cersei, we knew her arrest was on the cards as soon as we saw Lancel was with the Sparrows – it’s just a shame they’ve taken the less complex route and given in to mining audience bloodlust. There’s an argument to be made here that they have become carried away with how much everyone loathed Joffrey, and since then they’ve been trying to fill his vacant seat with someone of equal loathing.

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Oh, and we might as well finish with a small note on Dorne, and whatever the hell is going on there. There’s an entirely forgettable scene with Jaime and Myrcella, that amounts to all of nothing, other than it feeling like Uncle Jaime won’t let Myrcella go to the prom.

And there’s a terrible scene with Bronn and the Sand Snakes, who are all imprisoned down in the cells (but not Jaime, apparently). But before we can wonder what four volatile sellswords might start cooking up when left alone, the scene transitions into a terrible play for Tyene’s power over Bronn, who suddenly begins to suffer the effects of some slow-release poison from her blade.

It’s basically Male Gaze 101, trying to show Tyene’s mastery of the situation while still giving in to lurid camera work, and in the end nobody comes out of that scene feeling good about themselves.

The show has a lot of course-correcting to fashion in the final three episodes, which seems to begin with Jon and Tormund’s arrival at Hardhome next week. Stannis’ attack on Winterfell will probably be saved for the episode after, and probably any resolution to Daenerys’ time in Meereen as well. And god I hope they wrap up the embarrassment that is Dorne soon.

  • Valar Morghulis: Maester Aemon, some slaves, and the old lady who was unfortunately still faithful to the Starks.
  • Daenerys and Daario were still talking about how to rule properly: justly or with tyranny. That old chestnut. That conversation hasn’t changed since Daenerys rode with the Dothraki.
  • With Tyrion seemingly on his way to some sort of understanding with Daenerys, might that promise a return for Varys?
  • Brienne still looms over Winterfell, if there’s any sort of silver lining.
  • Next week: was that Rattleshirt? will Hardhome fail or succeed? can Jon save Stannis, or take his place?

Previous episode: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 6 – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

Posted May 19, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Well, they managed it. I’ve finally run out of excuses for the show runners, and I’m more than happy to lump them in with the rest of the lazy, derivative, reductive male writers kicking around prestige television.

This, of course, has to do with the final scene of the episode. And it’s such a disappointing, insulting, offensive scene that it really makes discussing the rest of the episode a non-event. So I’ll be brief.

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Arya is still in the House of Black and White in Braavos. She’s washing more corpses and learning to respect the dead, but ultimately hasn’t yet let go of her past identity. Like Daenerys refusing to open the fighting pits and Jon refusing to take Winterfell, Arya’s refusal to give up her past has been padded out across several episodes now, to the point of tedium.

Even Arya senses this, and lashes out at Jaquen: ‘I don’t want to play this game anymore.’ But, in one of the few solid moments in the episode, he replies: ‘We never stop playing.’

It’s a deft piece of thematic clarity that shows up the rest of the episode’s script for the ham-fisted mess that it is.

Arya does keep playing, and learns how to lie convincingly, allowing a dying girl the opportunity to entering death peacefully. As a reward, Jaquen shows her where the faces are kept, and that while she isn’t ready to be no-one, she might be ready for a new identity.

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Tyrion and Jorah are still on their way to Meereen, and in an episode that doesn’t go near Daenerys or Jon Snow, manage to bring both of them into a conversation. Tyrion reminds us that Jorah’s father used to be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but has now died. And Jorah speaks of why he came to follow Daenerys, describing his service as that of a true believer, giving Daenerys’ storyline an added dynamic it has been sorely missing since Season 1.

The show, if anything, is getting better at having all the different storylines talk to each other.

It’s not long though until some slavers catch them, incluing Mr Eko, who promises to keep them alive while leading them toward the fighting pits. ‘Finally’, everyone says.

In King’s Landing, Littlefinger encounters the Faith Militant, personified by Lancel ‘Justice’ Lannister. He is nonplussed by this however, and has more important business: informing Cersei of Sansa’s presence in Winterfell, and her betrothal to Ramsay Snow, legitimising the Bolton’s hold on the North.

Lady Olenna is back to sort things out with Loras and Margaery. So while Cersei is in over her head with the politics, and despite Olenna knowing exactly what buttons to push, the inquest into Loras’ activities will continue.

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The High Sparrow’s manoeuvres to implicate both Loras and Margaery in a crime is pretty obvious stuff, it’s really a wonder the Tyrells didn’t see this coming, considering they had managed to successfully poision Joffrey last season. The handling of this diminishes their intelligence, while hinting that Cersei doesn’t realise how isolated she is making her own family.

In Dorne, Myrcella gets some lines.

Bronn and Jaime are still bent on rescue-napping Myrcella, but their effort dovetails with the efforts of the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand to kill Myrcella. The show is working overtime to get this convergence to happen to quickly, with only one previous scene with the Sand Snakes to give it context and motivation.

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This is either an attempt to inject more action into a talk-heavy first half of the season, or a way of getting the Dorne plot over and done with in favour of more invested characters getting more time later on. As it is the whole thing feels rather amateurish, on behalf of the characters, and the show.

So, on to Winterfell. It’s all dour, and we’re treated to a scene between Sansa and Myranda that is all about exploiting Ramsay’s cruel nature, drawing out the danger Sansa is in before it turns at the end,  and showing us just how far she’s grown as a character.

And this would all be fine if it proved to be the way the episode goes. After all, Littlefinger himself said he trusted Sansa to be able to look after herself, giving the audience the hope that there’d be some unexpected surprise from Sansa, relieving her of the terror that is Ramsay Snow.

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But that’s not the case. They draw out the terror, and then it goes as badly as we might have predicted. Only that’s worse, because it shouldn’t have. It was needless.

If we could forgive what happened with Daenerys on her wedding night to Khal Drogo, for reasons of fidelity to the story and the future agency of the character, then that’s one thing. If we could get around Joffrey’s torturing of women because Joffrey is evil, then that’s another. And if we could get across last season’s scene between Jaime and Cersei because, well, at a stretch it was poor adapting of an existing scene (but if we’re honest it was pretty horribly reprehensible), then what are we meant to do with this?

None of the justifications that were present in the other instances are there in this one. It has no correlation in the books. And yes, we don’t know what is going to happen to Sansa in the future, she may castrate Ramsay and wear his appendages around her neck for the rest of the season for all I care, it doesn’t change how needless this final scene was.

Are we just meant to see her as strong because she is conscious of Ramsay’s awfulness yet stoically heads toward her fate? Find another way to show her strength. Hell, we’d seen her strength already, and so have to ask ‘why was this necessary’?

If this is incentive for Theon to regain his identity and rescue Sansa, again, why was this necessary?

And if this was merely more motivation for us to see Ramsay as the main antagonist and push us more firmly toward hoping Sansa gets her revenge, well, we were there already. We didn’t need this. Why was this necessary?

Because it wasn’t necessary.

Find a better way to write stories, please.

  • Valar Morghulis: the girl in the House of Black and White, and that’s about it.
  • Ever get the feeling Littlefinger has no plan, and he’s just messing with everyone because he can?
  • Never thought I’d say this, but I preferred it when we were in Meereen.
  • Next week: Oh who cares? Hopefully a lot of grovelling from Benioff and Weiss.

Previous episode: Kill the Boy

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 5 – Kill the Boy

Posted May 13, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Winter is coming, and it’s a cold, cold episode this week.

Last week I spoke about how the show was becoming increasingly deft at weaving together characters and plots, by taking a cause-and-effect approach to certain scenes.

Well this week they basically stepped that up a level, with the entire episode operating very much as one long sequence from start to finish, tying together characters from the farthest reaches of the show’s geography, while also highlighting and connecting various symbols and plot points that might otherwise fade into the background.

It’s a strength of the show that I’m finding it has in spades over the books. Shearing the story from the weight of oppressive amounts of detail and backstory, we’re getting the refined version in the show. It’s almost as if George R.R. Martin’s books read like the first draft of a story that we’re now seeing in a much cleaner and efficient form.

And while most of this episode is centred around the North, we begin in Meereen, with Missandei watching over Grey Worm as he recovers from the ambush that nearly took his life, and did that of Barristan Selmy. It’s testament to the strength of the scenes between these two, in this and the later one, that we get so much out of their connection – a nice subplot to the drudgery in Mereen.

But Barristan Selmy is dead, and Daenerys uncertain how to proceed without one of her trusted advisors. He promoted peaceful measures, whereas Daario Naharis favours swift and clinical aggression. Daenerys has other plans for the city, as she seeks to squash the Sons of the Harpy.

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In her strongest scene since that chance encounter with Drogon, she rounds up the usual suspects – the heads of the important families – and takes them into the dragon pit. It’s a return to her maverick moves that won her an army and her reputation, and a welcome relief to the stagnation that’s followed. Viserion and Rhaegal have a barbecue with one of the patriarchs, but Daenerys imprisons the rest, as she doesn’t want to overfeed them.

After taking a suggestion from Missandei to embrace her own abilities to see ways forward that others can’t, Daenerys decides to betrothe herself to Hizadr zo Loraq, and potentially shoring up her wavering support in the city. The motivations behind this act plays out differently than it does in the books, but somehow it works. It places Daenerys in a position where she potentially knows what she is doing, rather than as someone struggling to react to the machinations of those around her.

This return to her reputation is noticed, and carried in the news to The Wall, as read by Sam. It’s a nice touch, and a clever segue, bringing these two extremes to a form of connection. Sam is talking to Maester Aemon, himself the only remaining Targaryen (or is he?) that might be able to offer Daenerys any assistance. It’s a good reminder about the Maester’s past, as well as nodding to the potential revelations of last week’s episode.

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Jon sits down with the Maester, to discuss a difficult decision he must make that will make half the Night’s Watch hate him. Later on, once he makes the decision, he realises it will make the wrong half hate him – those that would always support him. This episode is setting up future threats to Jon’s control of the Night’s Watch, but simultaneously strengthening the character as one who can only act for good even when it puts him at risk.

As Maester Aemon says to him, Jon has realised he must ‘kill the boy, let the man be born.’

So he talks to Tormund, and the two reach an agreement that they will head to Hardhome to recruit (and save) more Wildlings, to join the Night’s Watch and move to safety south of the Wall.

To do so, he needs Stannis’ ships, and he gets them. While it’s a nice exchange, and a further sign of Stannis actually becoming the Human Who Would Be King, it’s also at odds with how these two characters have interacted all season. Jon has done nothing Stannis wanted, including his mercy killing of Mance Rayder, yet somehow Stannis feels comfortable lending his ships to Jon.

Anyhow, Stannis chats with Sam, fact-finding about the White Walkers. Sam mentions dragonglass, and Stannis zeroes in on this. Like the greyscale, one can’t help but place significance on the highlighting of this fact. Again, it’s there in the books, but it lands so much better here. The threat of the White Walkers was also much articulated in this episode, reiterating that they are the big bad looming at season’s end (perhaps).

Stannis won’t wait though, and decides to march on Winterfell with his army, Davos, Shireen and Selyse, and Melisandre. A diverse group indeed. It’s a parting of the ways at the Wall, after the uneasy truce formed at the end of last season. Jon and Tormund head to Hardhome, Stannis to Winterfell, and Sam and Gilly may perhaps have a journey in front of them as well.

So to the outskirts of Winterfell, where Brienne and Podrick plan their potential rescue of Sansa. If I’m correct in my suspicions, these two could replace a slightly different rescue mission in the books. Which was to rescue fake Sansa, not real Sansa, so it’s all a bit interesting right now.

In Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton needs to put some clothes on. Everyone keeps saying winter is coming, and this psychopath likes to prance about a stone castle complete naked. I told you it was a cold episode.

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His scene with Myranda sets up her antagonism toward Sansa, who she finds looking at the tower where Bran fell back in the first episode of the show. It’s a nice visual moment, and helps bring home to the audience how Sansa is feeling with her return to Winterfell. Myranda sends Sansa into the kennels, where she finds a cowering Reek, still trying his hardest not to be Theon.

And continuing this chain of small moments affecting later moments, Reek then confesses to Ramsay that Sansa has seen him, prompting Ramsay to parade Reek in front of Sansa at dinner, as the killer of her two brothers. Roose Bolton is irritated, Sansa somehow holds it together (having clearly learned much from her proximity to Joffrey), but the scene raises an interesting question.

Ramsay knows the old Theon never killed Bran and Rickon. And Reek still somehow knows he didn’t. And revealing this to Sansa would bind the two together in a way that might allow them to escape the Boltons. So why would Ramsay bring this whole topic up?

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Regardless, Roose Bolton sees through all of Ramsay’s antics and still manages to manipulate him into devoting all his energies toward holding the North, particularly as Stannis is marching.

The trip to Valyria, to join up with Jorah and Tyrion, is potentially the one shift that feels out of joint with the rest. But bear with me, it works.

Firstly, they’re on a boat. There’s been a lot of boats this season. Tyrion sums it up the situation nicely as:

‘Long sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face- the Mormont way.’

Jorah is steering them into the ruins of Valyria, and they treat the audience to a bit of backstory about the cursed place where doom still rules. But not only doom. Realisation hits home for Tyrion the cynic when Drogon soars overhead. Dragons have returned from the past, and suddenly he’s a world away from the political brinkmanship of King’s Landing.

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This dovetailing of disparate characters and storylines is working a treat during this season, and this moment was promised by one of the promotional images released before the season began. It certainly lives up to it.

But not for long. The stone men arrive, and attack Jorah and Tyrion. Afflicted wholly by greyscale, it appears to affect their perceptions as well, rendering them into growling, hulking monsters. Tyrion jumps ship, but is dragged down by one of the stone men, only to come to on a beach, rescued by Jorah.

And then the kicker: Jorah reveals to us, but not Tyrion, that he’s been infected with greyscale. Its importance has been looming all season, and finally here we have it playing a central role in the future of a major character, if not a major storyline as Jorah brings Tyrion to Daenerys and her dragons.

The connection between greyscale, the dragons, dragonglass and the White Walkers is something this episode really tried to illustrate. And the good thing is, the exciting thing, is we know they’re going to be important in the future of the story, we just don’t exactly know how and why. And, if we’re really keeping an eye on the future, there’s still Bran’s discoveries with the Three-Eyed Crow to tie into the ongoing mythology of the show.

  • Valar Morghulis: a Meereenese family head, and a few stone men. After Barristan Selmy last week, it’s all a bit quiet on the brutality front.
  • Initially I thought next week would bring all the conflicts to a head, but now I think it’ll be the week after when we reach the battle for Winterfell, Jon gets to Hardhome and Tyrion gets to Daenerys.
  • Uncle Davos is the best.
  • Next week is all King’s Landing, Dorne and Arya, who all sat this week on the bench.

Previous episode: Sons of the Harpy

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 4 – Sons of the Harpy

Posted May 4, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

After last week’s Seven Kingdoms-hopping jaunt, where characters like Sansa moved great distances in a very short space of time, this episode decided to opt for a more settled, sequenced aproach. This was an element that worked well last season, though generally they’d save the longer sequences for the end of episodes, whereas here they’re threaded throughout the entire runtime.

With only a couple of exceptions, most storylines were given several scenes without break, starting with Cersei in King’s Landing. We moved from a Small Council meeting, to a conversation with the High Sparrow, to the Faith Militant’s rounding up of the usual suspects, and ending with Tommen and Margaery.

It’s bold in its approach, as there’s a lot of information that needs to be doled out to the audience – both book readers and TV watches are in the same boat now – but they do so while showing a strong level of cause and effect between them all, and threading a line between Cersei’s fear of losing control, and Margaery’s realisation that Cersei will not go gentle to Casterly Rock.

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Along the way, Mace Tyrell is bundled off on a long boat to the Iron Bank of Braavos to shore up some money, but he takes Ser Meryn Trant with him, and little hope of returning in one piece. Loras is arrested by the Faith Militant, and suddenly Margaery is as alone as Cersei, with only a battle of wits left to decide who between the two will emerge on top.

Cersei does have her own brownshirts now – the Faith Militant – unleashed by the High Sparrow’s religious fundamentalism, and while they’re taking their zeal out on Littlefinger and Loras, Cersei must be rather wilfully blind to think that the Sparrows will sniff out sin in every corner of King’s Landing, but excuse her own. They showed their indifference to kowtowing to Tommen during this episode, so she must really over-estimate her power at this point.

Next we have the North, firstly stopping by the Wall for yet another occasion for Jon Snow to refuse Stannis’ wish to come to Winterfell. That’s four times now, in four episodes. This really does start to feel like treading water, waiting for all the other plots to align before Stannis marches on Winterfell.

But, there is something rather interesting in this: Selyse initially derides Jon as yet another bastard, but Stannis comments that it would have been extremely unlikely for Ned Stark to father a bastard. More on this later.

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And, just in case the audience were wondering why we should care about Stannis launching an attack on Winterfell (and the Iron Throne), the showrunners give us a lovely scene between him and Shireen, prompted by her asking if he’s ashamed of her. According to Stannis, she is only alive because of him, the greyscale she suffered as an infant would have killed her had he not intervened, or abandoned her as others requested. How do we humanise Stannis? Show him having human emotions, apparently.

Over at Winterfell, Sansa is hanging around the family crypt, and it gets a bit creepier when Littlefinger turns up. Despite his assurances to Roose Bolton last week, he’s banking on Stannis taking Winterfell, leaving Sansa to be wardeness of the North. But before then, she’s on her own, left to Ramsay and his inclinations.

Oh but wait, Littlefinger just also happened to mention during his chat about how Sansa’s aunt Lyanna was favoured by Rhaegar Targaryen, leading to a conflict that started the rebellion that left Robert Baratheon on the throne (remember?). Sansa says it was a kidnapping, when Rhaegar took Lyanna, but there’s something in Littlefinger that shows he perhaps doesn’t believe this version of the story. More on this later.

After a trip on a merchant ship, Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne. They make interesting bedfellows, Bronn more than happy to question Myrcella’s parentage in front of Jaime without fear of reprisal, but Jaime more than happy to lump all the heavy lifting with Bronn.

Jaime believes they are there to rescue Myrcella, but Bronn sees it more as a kidnapping. This and the talk of Lyanna Stark earlier certainly allows us to wonder just what this path Jaime has taken will lead to for the Seven Kingdoms. But does anyone actually think they can resuce Myrcella successfully? Barely are they off the beach before they’re set upon by four Dornish soldiers, and Jaime only just gets away with his life after discovering the wonders of a metal hand in close combat.

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Nearby, Ellaria Sand is meeting up with the Sand Snakes – Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters who are all keen on a bit of revenge. It’s really a scene of introductions, allowing Ellaria to speak to Obara, Nymeria and Tyene about each of their reasons for avenging their father’s death. And along with this comes the revelation that Jaime’s presence in Dorne is no secret.

On the way to Meereen, Ser Jorah Mormont has stolen a boat to transport Tyrion as his prisoner for Daenerys, and hopeful payment for his return to her service. Tyrion finds this all rather funny, as he was headed there anyway.

Daenerys meanwhile is still trying to insist to Hizdahr zo Loraq (please don’t make me write that again) that she doesn’t want the fighting pits open. It is customary, he says, for people to gather together and spectate in a visual display of blood and gore, probably on a regular weekly schedule, though I imagine it’s harder to download in Meereen.

Like Jon and Stannis, we’ve had several of these scenes as well, where really the same request is offered and refused. More delaying of the eventual conflict.

But down on the streets, the Sons of the Harpy have conspired to ambush a group of Unsullied, including Grey Worm. There’s a nice bookend between this and the Faith Militant’s uprising earlier in the episode, though this has rather more disastrous consequences.

Grey Worm holds fast, but only just, saved at the last minute by Barristan Selmy, who joins the fray and reminds everyone that he’s been doing this sword swinging stuff for a long time. But no longer. A magnificently bloody and final stand, and one clearly designed by the Sons of the Harpy (and the showrunners) to remove Daenerys’ base of support and force her hand.

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But, without wanting to detract from Barristan Selmy’s final moments, it’s worth going back just a bit to the conversation he had with Daenerys before all the fighting and the killing. In this, he got a bit nostalgic and started reminiscing about the good old days, especially Rhaegar Targaryen.

Hang on just a minute: two characters completely unconnected to each other by plot or geography just happen to mention the same long dead character? And in that tie it to that character’s connection to a long dead Stark? For those playing along, it’s hard to not pay attention to this coincidence, and the sly remark of Stannis’ that he never believed Ned Stark would father a bastard. This is not a case of bringing up a spoiler from the books, but rather noticing that the show is totally embracing the likelihood that Jon Snow’s parentage is not what we’ve been told. More on this here, for those that want to read up on it.

By the end of this episode, it’s clear that we’re on track for a mid-season clash of rather large proportions, and in three different locations: Winterfell, Dorne and Meereen. In each the attraction is the potential of major storylines colliding, and major characters. The board is set, with a few random pieces floating around like Arya, Varys and Brienne. Watch all these spaces.

  • Valar Morghulis: a briefly rich Pentosi merchant, speared through the head by Obara Sand, and Ser Barristan Selmy, unexpectedly ahead of time. This also confirms the identity of the actor surprised by their early exit, interviewed here.
  • Tommen clearly is not Joffrey, and has no taste for violence. But at the same point, he’s definitely not aware of how at risk his own neck is.
  • Isn’t it fascinating how at home Stannis appears in the cold? Lord of Light indeed.
  • Melisandre apparently sees something in Jon, much as she did once in Stannis, and then Gendry. Nothing mysterious here (shadow demon aside), she’s clearly just trying to pick the right horse to the Iron Throne.
  • Littlefinger reminds us that very few people know Arya and Bran are both still alive.
  • Next week: full blown fantasy! Tyrion sees dragons, and Jon Snow mentions that winter is coming (still), but so are the White Walkers.

Previous episode: High Sparrow

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 3 – High Sparrow

Posted April 28, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Well, it’s finally happened. For those book readers in the audience, the series has finally launched headlong into the great unknown, and despite the subtle and incremental plot developments of this particular episode, there was at least one moment that was – for this book reader at least – as unexpectedly thrilling as either the Red or Purple Wedding, and no blood had to be spilled at all.

But we’ll get to that. Firstly, in Braavos, Arya is settling in to the House of Black and White by sweeping, as all men must serve. But the artist formerly known as Jaqen H’ghar tells her that faceless men must serve most of all. The question is, who do they serve? Just in case it was in any doubt, someone dies in the background, and is promptly taken away. There is only one god they serve, and everyone knows his name.

What is interesting is that in what is essentially a house of death, and as Arya cleans a cadaver, she suddenly becomes more human than she probably has been since Season 1. Arya had until now become increasingly sociopathic, and despite their banter, only became more so under tutelage from the Hound. It is good to see her finding some life.

She is, as in the books, made to give everything up, not just her name. But is unable to part with Needle, hiding the sword Jon made for her under a pile of rocks nearby. It’s up to us to wonder whether this is just symbolic of her inabiltiy to fully let go, or if it is necessary for a future plot development. Probably both.

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Jon, meanwhile, has assumed his new position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The North is full of intrigue and manouevring in this episode, and events at the Wall live up to this. Stannis tries to lure Jon into becoming a Stark once more, and is refused again. But at least Davos gets some lines! He reminds Jon that the Night’s Watch is the shield that guards the realms of men, and therefore should feel compelled to aid the planned assault on Winterfell to reclaim the North.

Which basically means Jon will have to convince Tormund to lead the wildlings under Stannis’ banner. Still undecided on how much this part of the story is matching or deviating from the novel.

Jon manages to successfully (maybe) shore up some begrudging support from Ser Alliser Thorne, but has no luck with the coward Janos Slynt. It’s been a relatively brutal-free series so far, but the show hasn’t ever shied away from beheadings before, especially in the name of justice. Jon passes the sentence, and so swings the sword. It is notable that in refusing to become a Stark and then executing Janos, Jon resembles Ned Stark more than ever.

Stannis approves.

Littlefinger and Sansa are still travelling, but we’re done guessing now. They arrive promptly at Moat Cailin, but it’s only a pitstop as Sansa knows. They’re heading to Winterfell; Littlefinger is delivering her to be married to Ramsay Bolton. And if the suggestion of this wasn’t enough to make the book readers gasp at the changes, she promptly arrives at Winterfell in the very next scene, wasting no time at all. It’s been a long journey for her to return there, even if she is now being introduced to the current lord, Roose Bolton, who kiled her brother and mother. But New Sansa handles it deftly.

Also, Theon is around, and has seen Sansa.

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This was thrillingly wonderful, it has to be said. There’s been lots of enjoyment and appreciation for the storytelling so far, but it’s now that we’re heading into dangerously good territory. It’s become an almost irrelevant point now to tally the differences between the books and the show, as the show is now fully embracing of its different status. There is huge drama in having Sansa present among the enemy at Winterfell, and this doesn’t exist at all in the books. The directness of this approach can only be fruitful for future episodes.

Nearby, Pod and Brienne are closely following Sansa, and Brienne knows where they’re going. Brienne is going to start training Pod to be a knight, and she regales him (and us) to the tale of how she became to be Brienne the wandering knight, firstly in service to Renly and then now to avenge Catelyn Stark.

It’s mostly told as a monologue, in a lovely long moment for the character, speaking probably more than she has since her time with Jaime Lannister. In a different way to the developments with Sansa, I’m really enjoying their approach to Brienne, who disappears for long stretches of time in the books. It’s a worthwhile investment, and now we have a purpose: kill Stannis.

So, the Boltons are in Winterfell with Sansa and Theon. Pod and Brienne aren’t far behind, and Stannis will march soon with his army to try and reclaim the North. Some sort of very explosive intersection is about to happen, and hopefully sooner this season rather than later.

King’s Landing is much as it ever is. Tommen and Margaery are married and she finally lands a king for good, third time lucky. Certainly not afraid of weddings, despite their reputation in the show. She’s working well to isolate Cersei, and it’s interesting to see whether the show is trying to gain our sympathies for the new Queen Mother, and if they are, why? There must be a pay off coming.

Cersei is able to meet the High Sparrow, who claims the title of the episode despite not really appearing much at all. But maybe she is spying an opportunity to gain new allies in unexpected places, particularly as the High Septon has disgraced himself.

Qyburn meanwhile is playing Frankenstein, with the Mountain under a sheet on a slab, not totally dead but certainly not yet alive.

640-7And finally Varys and Tyrion arrive in Volantis, en route to Meereen. It’s shore leave for Tyrion, who goes out in search of drunkeness and iniquity, but finds the disgraced Jorah Mormont instead.

That cliffhanger aside, the episode was a clever look at the developments of the remaining (and present) Starks: Arya, Sansa and Jon. Each are trying to give up parts of their past, but finding it entirely difficult to do so. Arya can’t quite let go, Jon embodies his past in all but name, and having embraced her alter-ego, Sansa is now forced to be a Stark against her wishes.

There’s a mid-season conflict looming I feel, and the show is working double-time to get the characters into place for it to happen. If the books were spinning out endlessly in the world-building, the show has already found the edges of the map, and now its characters are finding their way back to each other, and to conflicts as yet unexplored in the books.

  • Valar Morghulis: all men must serve, and so did that random guy in the House of Black and White. Oh, and Janos Slynt, of course.
  • Some nice, if haunting touches of Theon confronting his past in more ways than one.
  • No Meereen! Unfortunately I feel this means lots of Meereen next week.
  • What is up with Sam and Maester Aemon?
  • Greyscale Watch: referenced again with Tyrion and Varys in Volantis, in some talk related to the Stone Men.
  • Roose Bolton and Littlefinger fancy themselves heirs to Tywin’s throne. Not the toilet throne, the other one.

Previous episode: The House of Black and White

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 2 – The House of Black and White

Posted April 21, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Out with the old and in with the new.

It’s a strange old episode this one, containing some much longed for moments, some unexpected delights, all capped off with a bit of been-here-done-that in Meereen.

Let’s start with the delightful. Somewhere near The Eyrie, Brienne and Pod stop for a drink at an inn. And, despite us thinking she’d come so close and yet still failed to find Sansa, there Sansa is with Littlefinger, propped up in a booth discussing the weather.

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She stakes her claim, but Sansa refuses to come with her, the second Stark to do so. Brienne it seems is all honour and servitude, a knight-errant following the old ways, the old codes. But after the refusal, she beats a hasty exit with Pod and the two escape into the woods, not without a bit of bloodshed along the way.

This is interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, Pod tells Brienne her time honouring her pledge to Catelyn Stark has ended. Brienne is quickly confronting the fact that she is out of place and out of time – there is no role for her. She must reinvent herself or face becoming obsolete. But on top of this we have the idea that her character is literally being reinvented from her counterpart in the books – none of this happens at all, or at least has happened. While there is a vague echo with a corresponding scene in the books at an inn, it’s still markedly different.

Far away, we get Arya arriving in Braavos, sailing under the Westeros version of the Colossus of Rhodes and dropped off at the House of the Black and White. It’s here where she brings her Braavosi coin, but she receives no entry, she has ‘everywhere else to go.’ In the bay goes the coin, and Arya sets off to wander the streets and pick fights.

But eventually she does gain entry. Her coin is returned by the hooded old man, who then reveals himself to be Jaqen H’ghar, he of the many faces who hasn’t been sighted since Season 2 when helping Arya escape the horrors of Harrenhal. This again is a slight deviation from the books, but maintains a continuity for the viewers who are familiar with the character, and can therefore encounter a new location with a friendly face.

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To gain entry, it appears Arya has to learn to give up her name. She must, like others in this episode, learn to let go of being a Stark, and let go of all the other names she’s been dragging around like totems.

And it’s here we get the connection with Sansa’s story. Both have said no to Brienne, refused her service, and then gone elsewhere. Bran too has said no to his heritage, leaving Jon Snow alone north of the Wall, and heading out into the wilderness. The Stark children are clearly keen to find new beginnings, new stories, and have no set on the Iron Throne. Robb, their brother, was like the older generation, and he died for it. These three still thrive.

The invited contrast is with the Lannisters, who are still in King’s Landing attempting to cleave themselves more tightly to the throne. Cersei is increasingly worried about Myrcella, and sends Jaime off to Dorne to save her. Cersei herself is killing dwarves, or at least having them killed for her, in the hope that one is Tyrion. But also so that Qyburn can, uh, do something with the heads.

She is trying to take hold of things, all but assuming the role Tywin had. There’s an interesting angle here in that Tywin essentially commanded expectation that he was in charge, whereas Cersei has to grease the wheels a bit more just to get some recognition, not least because of her gender. Unlike the Starks, she can only look back, and worry that it might be lost.

Meanwhile, in another change, Jaime is taking Bronn – Ser Bronn – to Dorne with him, which no doubt looks to bring the Dornish plot into the fold as part of the major story, rather than being an extension of the fallout from Oberyn’s death-by-head-explosion. Screen-Shot-2015-04-14-at-09.08.14

So we get a little preview of Dorne, brought to us by the already familiar, and now grieving Ellaria Sand. She takes us to Doran, and tells him that she and the Sand Snakes – Oberyn’s bastard daughters – are bent on revenge and want to kill some Lannisters, starting with Myrcella. Seriously, does nobody learn that revenge leads to death in this show? Anyhow, Doran says no, though this may change once Jaime and Bronn arrive.

Up at The Wall, Sam and Gilly and Shireen are having a ready circle, or something, and there’s more talk of Shireen’s greyscale affliction. As mentioned last week, this fuels my suspicion that the illness has some part to play in the grand scheme of things, so we’ll have to watch with interest.

Stannis wants Jon to join him in taking the North, promising him legitimacy as a Stark, and Winterfell when they take it. But Jon – like the other Starks – turns his back on the past and settles on the future as part of the Night’s Watch, though really he’s been doing that since the pilot.

However, they hold an election for the new Lord Commander, and it’s left to Sam to make Jon into the leader that he’s struggled to become all this time. He was the one they turned to when the night was darkest, and so Jon wins the vote. It’s a nice moment, despite being a bit of a dog-and-pony show, because really, who else was it going to be?

Between Pentos and somewhere else, there’s a small scene with Tyrion and Varys, but it doesn’t reach too much new territory, except in the odd repetition that Tyrion was very good as the Hand. This is the second time Varys has mentioned it in two episodes, and we can only assume this is leading toward some future development.

So we finish with Meereen, despite the groans from the audience. There’s some more kerfuffle about the Sons of the Harpy killling Unsullied, but we know all this. Daenerys has the opportunity to execute a prisoner but doesn’t because politics, and so someone else kills the prisoner and she then executes them. Eh. We’ve seen all this before.

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This is the problem with Daenerys’ storylines. After the early flourish, it’s settled into a repetitive plodding of politics and power struggles. We’ve seen both aplenty, as well as leaders struggling with conflicting priorities, and so this plotline is suffering from a lack of the new, in contrast to the rest of the show. If there’s anything to be gained, it’s that for once Daenerys seems to agree, and rushes away from the upset that her execution causes with overwhelming disinterest.

That is, until Drogon arrives. And though he doesn’t stay long, we get a sense once more of the future, of the new, and of the freedom that these dragons promise her. Phew. There’s life yet in dusty old Meereen.

  • Valar Morghulis: a Son of the Harpy, and that guy who killed him. You know that guy. Him.
  • Where is Littlefinger taking Sansa?
  • Does anyone know where Gendry is? Still rowing a boat? Does anyone care?
  • Best exchange of the episode between Brienne and Pod:
  • ‘Ready the horses.’
  • ‘We only have one horse.’
  • ‘Find more.’
  • Next episode: more Arya and Jaqen, Cersei paranoid again, and I’m sure everyone is just delighted to get more adventures of Theon Greyjoy and the Boltons.

Previous episode: The Wars to Come

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 1 – The Wars to Come

Posted April 14, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the first in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Isn’t it great to be back in Westeros? I guess that depends on who you are, as there’s a lot of unhappy characters in this opening episode of Season 5, one that comes at a really interesting time for the show.

As anticipated in last season’s finale, we’re fast running out of material from the books. In addition to that, audiences are faced with the increasingly important decision of George R.R. Martin handing over the reigns of the storytelling to Game of Thrones’ showrunners. What was merely suggested at the end of Season 4 is now entirely obvious in Season 5: only important characters and plot points will remain.

As the most recent two books were bloated beyond need, there seems to be a desire on the show to streamline and unify characters and storylines, bringing everything we’ve seen so far into the beginning stages of the endgame. Which is to say, all the major characters began the pilot episode in one location, and have since been increasingly scattered. Now we’re finally seeing them find their way back to each other, if somewhat tentatively.

After a previously on that ran through all the major players, as well as reminding us that Lancel Lannister is a person and Myrcella still exists, we begin the season in the first ever flashback for the show.

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Entirely unannounced, it’s a young Cersei heading into some woods with a nervy friend, spying out a fortune teller in her hut. Important to note that Cersei as a kid is still evil – why does anyone trust blonde-haired people in Westeros? This scene is a key source of motivation for Cersei in the books, and it wasn’t surprising to see this depicted, where Cersei is told that she will be queen for a time but ‘then comes another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear.’ There’s also the little nugget from the fortune teller that all her children will have golden shrouds.

So, we can gather that an axe looms over Tommen and Myrcella’s heads, and Cersei fears this almost as much as she fears Margaery Tyrell, who is her choice for the ‘younger, more beautiful’ queen-to-be. The viewer may have other ideas, however.

The scenes with Cersei in King’s Landing position her as the centrepiece of yet another round of power-jostling. While everyone pretends to be in mourning for Twyin – he of the crossbow bolt through the heart on the toilet – it’s an occasion for everyone to take stock and realise how much has changed now that the Hand is dead.

Cersei needn’t marry Loras, who couldn’t care less. Margaery still wants in with Tommen, and thus the throne, but now has to contend with an angrier and far more present Cersei. Jaime finds himself without a brother, without a father, and far more distant from his sister than he’s ever been (including that fun time when he lost his hand). And as we’ve been reminded, Myrcella is in Dorne, where we’ll no doubt visit next week. The Lannisters are as scattered as the Starks, but without the family bonds.

There’s a nice little scene to reintrodue Lancel, newly pious and shorn, as he’s joined up with the Sparrows, a religious movement that’s popped up in response to the ongoing war for the Seven Kingdoms. This is more scene setting for future plots, but it is handled well, and reminds us all that Cersei started much of this when she had Lancel poison King Robert.

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The other Lannister, Tyrion, arrives in Pentos, which we’ve not seen since Season 1. There’s quite a nice touch of introducing his journey through the airholes (shit holes?) in the crate he’s occupied since fleeing King’s Landing last season. He’s here with Varys, who appears likely to thankfully replace Illyrio Mopatis (also not seen since Season 1), and maybe later play more of a part in this neck of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a good move, as more Varys is good for everyone, the Realm especially.

Tyrion is a hard sell on this journey though, telling the eunuch that ‘the future is shit, just like the past’, before vomiting and drinking some more. But eventually Varys talks him round, convincing Tyrion to play a part in bringing peace to the lands, not as a future king, but as one who could bring someone else to the Iron Throne.

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And who is Varys talking about? Daenerys, of course, who is still in Meereen. Honestly though, they better do something far more exhilarating with this part of the plot, otherwise it’ll play much the same as it has since she first busted those dragons out of their eggs.

We get a nice introduction to the Sons of the Harpy, a secretive and masked opposition to Daenerys that is quietly slitting the throats of Unsullied in the brothels of Meereen, while she struggles to maintain the respect she earned when she first liberated the city. In addition, Drogon has gone, and she admits she is losing control over her two remaining dragons.

Her visit to Viserion and Rhaegal is wonderfully terrifying. It’s a great reintroduction to the dragons, and their grown stature, reminding the audience that they’re not just a bargaining chip for Daenerys’ power, but untamed and monstrous creatures in their own right.

There’s also a nice little moment between Missandei and Grey Worm, two minor characters that might otherwise sit in the background, but here seem to be adding much needed heart and morality to this part of the story.

Loras is meanwhile enjoying himself teaching the viewers the anatomy of Westeros, until he is visited by Margaery, who seems to have plans for Cersei, as she’s definitely not following Tywin’s plans of marrying Loras.

Up in the Eyrie, we only get a brief couple of scenes, but they’re thrilling enough. And why? Because we’re out of book for Sansa and Littlefinger (ignoring this preview chapter from GRRM), and so any scenes with these two are brand new material. But just in case you thought it might tip the show’s hand in terms of where we’re heading, Littlefinger leaves us guessing, saying only that they’re heading west.

However, literally across the field sits Brienne and Podrick, two characters I didn’t expect in this opening episode. Brienne is unhappy, because Arya didn’t come with her, and she has no mission now as ‘all the good lords are dead.’ Little does she know that Sansa is within sight.

Brienne is an interesting character for the show to stick with, because of their deviations from the books late last season. This means that while we’re not out of material for her from the books, that material is potentially irrelevant if they’re fast-tracking Brienne (and Pod) to a more relevant part of the story. Watch their space with interest.

Finally, the Wall. There’s a bit of discussion between Sam and Gilly about who the next Lord Commander will be – Ser Alliser Thorne, Janos Slynt or Jon – and a reminder that Gilly has a baby and that Sam will follow her. No surprises there for what they’ll do this season.

Jon is summoned by Melisandre to meet with Stannis, who tries to lure Jon into action to reclaim Winterfell from Roose Bolton, but then decides he’ll do it himself anyway. The catch is Stannis wants the Wildlings to beef up his army, and conscripts Jon to sell this deal to Mance Rayder, imprisoned in Castle Black.

As an aside: any scene on top of the Wall is great in my books. Visually wonderful stuff.

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Jon’s conversation with Mance is excellent, playing off the strengths of both characters and giving us an understanding of why Mance is the leader he is. Ciaran Hinds is fantastic, in what has so far been a limited role, and he engineers lots of sympathy in a brief amount of time, as he is shortly lead to a funeral pyre for declining to kneel to Stannis, and thus conscript the Wildlings to fight for someone else’s war.

The final moments with Mance on the pyre is excruciating, and played well, all between looks from the main characters. Mance to Jon, to Stannis, to Melisandre, and Shireen and Selyse on the balcony. And, if my eyes don’t decieve me, to Tormund. I think there’s something in this for the book readers, if you watch carefully. Much will hinge on this moment, I feel.

But the pyre doesn’t last, as Jon puts an arrow through Mance, ending his suffering. The scenes at the Wall in this episode have been some of the strongest for Jon Snow, the most defining for him, and that’s including the Wildling assault late last season.

This episode was a strange one, but unsurprisingly so. Much of it was about clarifying the stakes for the characters: Cersei and Margaery battling for the throne, Danaerys for her own legitimacy, and Tyrion for his place in the world. But most importantly, it established clearly that the big enemy is not within, but without – the White Walkers are coming, with the winter, and finally this is something that Jon Snow knows.

  • Valar Morghulis: an Unsullied has his throat slit, and Mance Rayder was shot by Jon Snow. Or was he?
  • Great to see Pod and Brienne again, as mentioned, because ultimately they are great characters played perfectly, and in adaptation, seemingly improve our understanding of how they fit into the main story.
  • Didn’t get to mention, but it was great to see Davos on the Wall with Stannis. Finally the guy gets in on the main storyline.
  • Interesting that Shireen and Selyse were there, as it’d be easy to jettison them from the story. This is the point about the show now: given that they are present, one can assume they have a significant part to play in this corner of the story. For my part, I think Shireen’s suffering from greyscale is more than just a character detail.
  • Next week: Arya! Alexander Siddig! More Podrick!
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11 Bookish Costumes You’ll Want to Wear Immediately

Posted March 13, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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It was World Book Day last week, and public outcry was caused in the UK as one 11-year-old boy dressed as Christian Grey, complete with eye mask and cable ties. Other than it being wildly inappropriate, my main problem with this is that you’re supposed to go as your favourite book character – in all of available literature he chose that one dimensional suit-wearer. The boy needs to be taught what decent characterisation looks like. So here are my suggestions, collated from a world wide web of imagination and talent, for cooler book-based costumes.

1. Game of Thrones may as well have been invented for cosplayers. This World Book Day some of my library colleagues looked incredible.
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2. Katniss Everdeen is easily done with a plait, earthy jacket and bow and arrows. Girl on Fire would look even more awesome, but has many health and safety implications.Katniss

3. Why not blend two books? DumbleDora the Explorer is so many levels of brilliant.
Dumble4. I’m not saying A Clockwork Orange is necessarily appropriate for a child’s costume, but look at him!Clockwork

5. Everyone born after 1990 has dressed up as Harry Potter at some point in their lives. Fact. So if you’re going to do it, mix it up with a winning accessory, like a casual three-headed dog. Harry6. Don’t be afraid to go for a full family costume. If your child gets lost they can just ask someone where the wild things are. Where7. There are few things more charming in this world than a small child dressed as a Hobbit.
Frodo8. The White Witch from the Narnia series is a costume that anyone can throw together in moments with a bed sheet, tin-foil crown and some serious attitude. The latter is demonstrated fiercely below.
WB9. Back to Harry Potter, This Sirius Black is exceptional. I sincerely hope he maintained that expression throughout.
Az10. Had enough of dressing as characters? Dress as an author! This dude is a doppelganger for Margaret Atwood.
Magaret11. Why be an author or a character when you can be a whole setting. This kid is the yellow brick road. Bow down.
baaMore bookish costumes are on my Pinterest board. Have you seen any other winning outfits? I’d love to see them – comments please!

 

 

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Love is in the Air – the best love stories in literature

Posted February 16, 2015 by Achala Upendran

Valentine’s Day approacheth, and with it the looming spectre of that movie’s release. You know the one I’m talking about—the one that started out as a piece of heavily reviewed Twilight fan fiction and then snowballed into a three book deal. The one with the protagonists creatively named Steele and Grey. Yup, that’s the one.

I haven’t read the Fifty Shades series, so I can’t really comment on it, but the fact that it’s releasing on a day hailed as ‘the’ day to celebrate romantic love is quite amusing. If nothing else, it attests to the fact that love comes in all sorts of strange forms, and with a bunch of strange fetishes. To get into the spirit of things, I’ve compiled a short list of the most stirring, strange and downright scintillating love stories in fantasy lit that I have read in my (thus far) brief life. 

The Moste Tragic Affair : In my opinion, Aeneas (of Virgil’s Aeneid) pulled the original Loving Hero Paradox. When he and his crew were shipwrecked in Carthage (in North Africa), they were taken in and sheltered by the Queen, Dido. Being a handsome, brave, smart and driven man, Aeneas took little time to win her heart, and dido and aeneassoon the two were inseparable, to such an extent that she was neglecting her kingdom and he had thrown his quest to found Rome on the backburner. Finally, Aeneas realised that he had to get a move on, and possibly starred in the first great break-up scene in Western literature, where he gave Dido all the lines that would soon become classics like, it’s not you, it’s me, I am doomed to do this great deed and cannot get sidetracked by the pleasures of love, if I had my way, I would never leave you, etc. Being a rather emotional being, Dido built herself a funeral pyre and threw herself onto it, just when Aeneas was pulling away from shore. Later, when they crossed paths in the underworld, she refused to give him the time of day.

If Aeneas was the original Loving Hero, Dido was the first Taylor Swift. She knew that boy was trouble when he walked in.

Part Time Lovers and Full Time Friends: I know this is a bit of an odd choice, but I’ve always been a Hermione/Ron shipper, regardless of what JKR might say about him being the wrong guy for her. For one thing, this is the one couple who Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Princenever have any ‘I cannot be with you because I must save the world/you from myself’ drama and they’ve seen each other at their absolute worst and learned to put up with it. Plus, I think it’s super sweet how the whole ‘opposites attract’ thing plays out between them: where Ron is laid-back, Hermione is over-zealous with her planning; where Ron is an improviser who operates (like Harry) on gut instinct, Hermione is a rational, theoretically-minded kind of girl. In many ways, this is a fantasy romance for any high-strung type A girl—to find a man as accepting and unthreatened (well, he eventually gets there) as Ron.

Love the Way You Lie: So the Wheel of Time series, like the Harry Potter books, is all about how (spoiler) love will save the world. Rand, the hero, is saved by his ability to love, to care for his fellow men. Rand is also saved by his immense love for and attachment to three very important women, but the most steadfast of those is, arguably, Min. Unlike most of the other characters in this series, Min has no special defensive powers, is not royalty and stays by Rand’s side through the darkest of times, literally almost dying for her dedication. I do find her need to be around him, regardless of his temper tantrums, a little disturbing, so as much as I like her, that’s why I’ve slotted this in this particular category.

rand and min

The Love that Dare not Speak its Name: But most everyone knows about anyway. This title obviously goes to my favourite incestuous couple—Jaime and Cersei Lannister from G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a true testament to jaime and cerseiMartin’s genius that he manages to get his readers emotionally invested in these incestuous psychopaths. I don’t know about you, but I sort of do find myself rooting from J and C to win through and (knowing the ways of Westeros) die together. What can I say—if you write it well, obviously even incest isn’t a barrier to ‘true love’. 

Never Let Me Go: There are so many, many stories about death inserting itself rather rudely between lovers, right from Romeo and Juliet to Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost. But then, there are those lovers who refuse to let TN-Luthiens_Lament_Before_Mandosthat be a concern, and march bravely into the face of it in order to yank back their better halves. My favourite in that line? Definitely Luthien the Super Elf and Beren from Tolkien’s Silmarillion. No character, regardless of gender or race, accomplishes as much as Luthien in Tolkien’s universe. Literally going to the halls of death to plead with the (for all intents and purposes) resident god to send her lover back? All in a day’s work for Luthien. I’m waiting for the Peter Jackson to make a movie about her.

Of course there are tons more, but to go on forever would no doubt be exhausting. And besides, who wants to sit around reading lists when they can write their own epic romance narratives, literally or figuratively? Or, best of all, both?

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Ain’t no love like storybook love

Posted January 15, 2015 by Achala Upendran

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If you’re a book nerd, whether a rabid reader or a writer, or both, chances are at some point in your life you have fallen head over heels in love with a character from a book. This is slightly different from falling in love with someone in a movie, and potentially more devastating. As someone who’s felt the sting of this kind of love many times, I think I’m perfectly qualified to talk about it, and present you a guide of what you should and should not do when this evil snake enters your literary garden of Eden.

The Signs

The signs of the literary crush are innocuous, and much like those that herald a real crush. You will find excuses to talk about this person to your friends (or your forum boards), you will look up fanart, you will spend hours daydreaming about them and what they get up to in the time they’re not spending adventuring or sword fighting or pondering existential truths. You will also cruise various actors’ IMDB pages and think about who, if anyone, could bring this person to life most accurately, and then come to the conclusion that no mere mortal could do him/her justice.

Except maybe Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep could do justice to anyone.

Except maybe Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep could do justice to anyone.

You will also start to feel a powerful attraction for people who look vaguely like this character, or your imagining of him/her. This can be problematic, especially if the real life equivalent is already romantically entangled. Oh well, unrequited love does have a certain appeal, doesn’t it? At least it will help you flesh out that angsty novel if you have firsthand experience.

And be like, you know, Snape.

And be like, you know, Snape.

How Will Society Respond?

Luckily, we live in an age where social media has raised our embarrassment thresholds significantly. We are no longer ashamed to admit to attractions to fictional characters, if we ever were. In fact, falling madly in love with one is now considered a rite of passage, nearly, and if you haven’t felt the sting of Cupid’s arrow when confronted with a name printed on a piece of paper, then you are so not deep. What kind of girl reads Pride and Prejudice and doesn’t fall for Darcy, I ask you?

Swoon, my gracious audience, swoon.

Swoon, my gracious audience, swoon.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t, but then again I fell for Theon Greyjoy from A Song of Ice and Fire so obviously I’ve got some problems.

If you have good, supportive, similarly crazy friends, they will understand your predicament and not roll their eyes too obviously when you go into one of your monologues about your current flame. Hopefully they will restrict their ‘voicing concerns’ conversations to behind your back, and present you with pieces of framed fan-art and ironic T-shirts to signify how much they love you and are ready to love whoever you bring to the group.

Even if this partner is just a name in a book.

What You Can Do

Thankfully, the really intense period of most literary crushes does not last too long (in my experience at least). The human heart, for all its frailties, has one great redeeming quality:

It gets over things.

If it’s not fed a diet of hope and reciprocated feelings, your crush will eventually diminish, leaving you with naught but a faint soft corner for this one particular character. It’s no fun being crazy about someone who a) doesn’t know how you feel and b) does not physically exist.

If you’re not interested in letting time take care of your overriding obsession with Darcy, Jo March, or the Red Viper of Dorne, here are some things you can do to speed up the process:

 

Swoon

Swoon

Read Fanfiction: The internet is never at a loss when it comes to fanfiction, the labyrinthine subculture of fandom. Fair warning: once you’re hooked on these sties, it’s really, really difficult to stop talking ‘ships and alternate universes (AUs) and slash (same sex relationships).

Write Fanfiction: How better to work a romantic entanglement out of your system than to purge it through writing about it? It’s like therapy, only you get to play God with the character you’re crazy about.

Try getting hooked on another book: Put your lover’s book away. Pick up something else, with equally compelling characters, a well plotted storyline, and lose yourself in a new universe where you can find new people to admire. Cons to this: you might just find yourself repeating the crush process with an entirely new person. But it’s a risk worth taking.

All said and done, I have never regretted a literary crush. It’s a true testament to a writer’s ability to conjure a believable character. Imagine that— creating something out of pure words and imagination and compelling someone sitting halfway across the world to experience romantic feelings for what you’ve written? It’s just one of the amazing gifts, or scarily intoxicating powers, that writers, and stories, have.

Share your stories. Which fictional characters have you fallen head over heels for? 

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Naming Your Characters – That’s what I’m Tolkien about

Posted November 5, 2014 by Eve Merrier

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Fantasy authors, you are the creative geniuses and clearly you should call your characters whatever you please: sometimes a fellow just feels like a Trevor. That said, a lot of people creating magical, incredible worlds want to create original names to go with them. Here are a few things to think about in the context of novel nomenclature.

Bilbo

 

Take a leaf out of J. R. R. Tolkien’s book (well, not literally, libraries hate it when you do that). Most of his made up, never-before-heard names are easy to read, and have only one sensible pronunciation. ‘Bilbo Baggins’: We’re all saying that the same in our heads. It works because if follows standard phonetic rules. The same is true for Katniss Everdeen. Give your creations to a few friends – if they all say it the same way, you have a winner! And also an exceedingly dull night down the pub.

Hunger Games

 

Readers often struggle through a hard-to-pronounce name every time it appears, (Dear Sci-Fi, I’d like to introduce you to vowels…) but choosing something they can confidently read means they’ll be able to whiz through and enjoy more of your exemplary plot choices. If they can easily pronounce your character names without verbal stumbling or uncertainty a reader is eleven times more likely to spontaneously read extracts aloud in public places. Fact.

R2D2

 

What can be a real relief is when each character name starts with a different letter of the alphabet. A lot of readers don’t read the whole word every time, so an ‘Alice’ and an ‘Alex’ can easily be confused and the intelligent twists of your plot will be lost. I am of the opinion that Tolstoy’s work would be much easier to follow if he hadn’t named every third character ‘Alexei’.

 

Alexei

It’s an old-school device, but there’s nothing wrong with using names to give the reader some indication of their characterisation, as long as it’s in moderation. You could go the full Dickens and use very literal names: ‘Grimwig’, ‘Sharp’, ‘Krook’, and ‘Heep’ are not chaps you’d like to meet down a dark alley. Artemis Fowl is a great modern example. There’s a way to do it more subtly too: in Game of Thrones Jon Snow’s single syllables sound strong and dependable, but hint at depth.

Jon Snow

To sum up, names should be easy to pronounce, not similar to another character’s, and a little indicative of their personality. I’ve been Eve Merrier (make of that what you will), thanks for reading!

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Podmentum: Thronementum

Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done specials on Star Trek and Doctor Who, now we bring you a special episode all about Game of Thrones! We discuss the TV series and the books with special guests, including former Podmentum host Anne Treasure. This is also Mark Harding’s final episode as host. Oh, and massive spoiler warning for Game of Thrones.

 

Recommendations:

Anne 

Death, Sex & Money podcast

Patrick

Words of Radiance: The Stormlight Archive Book 2 by Brandon Sanderson

Joel

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Mark

Orphan Black

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 and beyond

Posted July 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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If there was one fascinating thing to take away from Season 4 of Game of Thrones, it was how much the show was beginning to deviate from the books.

With George R.R. Martin giving showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss inside knowledge on the fates of all the major characters (not on the overall storyline, mind you), it’s become an interesting game in itself to take note of how certain moments from the books are kept and others jettisoned. Similarly, particular themes in this latest season have been amplified more, providing perhaps a clearer indication of where the show is heading.

When you combine this with the fact that next season should cover most of the remaining published material, the show is quickly heading into territory that neither the readers nor the TV viewers know anything about. Exciting indeed.

So, in light of that, I decided to survey a bunch of people to see how they thought next season and the rest of the series would pan out.

Of those surveyed, two thirds hadn’t read the books. This is interesting just on its own, showing how much farther the reach of a TV show can be when it captures critical and popular opinion.

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Which character won’t survive next season?

Obviously the book readers know what’s up here, but the two characters most expected to be killed off next season were Hodor and Jaime Lannister. Given Hodor’s popularity for a minor role, I can only assume everyone feels GRRM is in the mood to kick a few more puppies, and that might leave Hodor on the chopping block.

Jaime, on the other hand, has run a rather interesting trajectory as a character, and at the moment nobody is entirely sure how to view him. This is not so different from his portrayal in the books, but I think there’s perhaps a touch more sympathy for him there than in the show, and maybe that’s leaving everyone feeling like his time may be up.

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Whose storyline are you most interested in next sesaon?

Three standouts here: Arya, Tyrion and Jon Snow.

Jon I think ends up there by default given that his storyline – along with Daenerys – seems the one most closely aligned with the major arc of the series. He is the closest to the white walkers, and that gives his storyline immediacy and validity over, say, whatever Brienne is up to.

Tyrion will always be of interest to viewers of the show, thanks largely to both the writing of the character and Peter Dinklage’s performance. But now that he’s abandoned the cloak and (relative) comfort of his family, and is paired up with Varys, there’s a new dynamic added to his character’s destination which I’m looking forward to.

Arya’s storyline with the Hound was probably the most favoured by the viewers this season, again down to the performances and the writing. The quality of both stands out as well given how little time they actually spent on screen, and how little they had to do. Knowing as well where Arya goes in the books from this point on also leaves me very keen to see how that’s realised in the show next year.

On the other end of the scale, nobody is interested in seeing more of the Boltons and Theon. Can’t imagine why.

 

Now to the big crystal ball predictions.

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Who will end up on the Iron Throne?

Over two thirds seem to think it’ll be Jon or Daenerys. And really, that’s likely as the series does set them up to be predestined for some royal conclusion, one way or the other.

But, the question to ask is whether the relevance of the Throne will still be around come the end of the series, or if the game will become insignificant and the prize meaningless.

Someone also suggested that a different Targaryen might end up on the Throne, but unless the show goes anywhere near that part of the plot from the books next season, I doubt we’ll see it included at all.

game-of-thrones-white-walker

Who will the final battle be between?

Half seem to think it’ll be between the white walkers and the dragons.

Considering the series title is A Song of Ice and Fire, this would seem to be a logical guess. Considering that the white walkers are on one side of the map, and the dragons the other, an eventual meeting would also seem to be logical. Considering that Daenerys realises she can’t ride all three dragons and needs others to aid her cause, and that Bran was told in the finale that he will one day fly, this again seems logical. Additionally, this part of the show has seen some interesting deviations that has inevitably prompted much speculation around the internet.

What’s interesting in this is we can see how irrelevant certain plots become. The Greyjoys and Boltons don’t really factor in this equation, nor does Stannis, despite being the current top pick for taking over any available throne. Additionally, Littlefinger’s manipulations don’t seem to extend to controlling dragons. And there’s no love at all for the Lannisters – except Tyrion.

All this points to the possibility of GRRM offering us a story that vanquishes old and corrupt powers, and offers up newer, more morally sound replacements. (If by morally sound we mean people riding dragons and burning undead ice people in all-consuming fire.) And this isn’t that unusual or revolutionary. But as we’ve seen with the story so far, there will surely be many more twists in the tale before we get to the end.

 

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The future of blockbuster films

Posted June 20, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Let’s be honest, all the good screen stories have migrated to TV.

With blockbusters and franchises increasingly becoming tentpole echo chambers, most of the narrative invention and originality is happening in greener pastures like HBO and Netflix.

Additionally, films have hit this mire where opening weekends rake in the revenue, but there’s no lasting value to the word of mouth, and release windows are increasingly tiny. When this is coupled with audiences who are shunning inflated ticket prices, poor quality projection and sound and (gasp) other people, we’re left with a system that presents TV as almost the independent cinema of the film industry.

Actors, directors, writers, even cinematographers are finding rewarding and lasting work on the smaller screen, and audiences are buying into it in droves. Currently the most significant stories of traditionally ‘film’ genres are happening on TV: Game of Thrones for fantasy, Hannibal and The Walking Dead for horror and post-apocalyptic horror.

Is this a case of stories actually working better on TV? Or is there something they’re just not getting right in film at the moment?

The success of big Hollywood films has always waxed and waned. Like any creative form, there’s an organic ebb and flow to the styles, the popularity and success of cinema. The golden era of the 50s and 60s hollowed itself out into a production-line mentality, which subsequently created the first boom of quality TV as writers fled one studio system for a newer, smaller one.

On top of that, the capitulation of the studio system springboarded the signficant movement of American independent cinema in the 70s, which is, for me, one of the most fascinating periods of cinematic storytelling. If you’ve never seen it before, track down a copy of Ted Demme’s A Decade Under the Influence – perfectly documents the era.

But out of that there was the resurgent and superficial blockbusters of the 80s (superficial in focus, not in value), which gave rise to more independent filmmakers in the early 90s, who in turn were folded into the studios in the 2000s, and that about brings us up to speed.

Everything old in film is new again, and then old once more. The revolutionaries become the establishment, until somebody rises up in their place to challenge the status quo.

Where we’re at now, strangely enough, is what some people are coining the Age of Fanfiction, where it seems the fans and established fanbases are the ones dictating the more-of-the-same approach that blockbusters seem to have. And while listening to millions of fans is often a good thing, do it for long enough and no singular unique visions are offered up. Witness the unending resistance of studios to female superheroes. Witness the slavish adherence to the monomyth, to McKee, to concurrent trilogies. We’re in that bottom-end of the cycle unfortunately, where every success spawns endless imitations, until it becomes difficult to discern good from bad and we just settle for middling films that look nice. Mind of the mob, and all that.

So is it all bad for film?

The complicating factor here is the dominance of TV at the moment. And while this may seem to be a count against any possible hope of better blockbuster cinema happening soon, the dynamic of quality TV offers an interesting consideration.

Essentially, TV no longer relies on ratings. At least, not the old ratings. With programming and standard viewing seasons quickly disappearing, immediate braodcast ratings are no longer a surefire way to tell whether a show will be renewed or axed. Networks are realising that TV shows have a very different lifespan now, and can last far longer away from regular programming.

So what does this mean?

Better TV shows are being made. As with Breaking Bad, shows don’t need to be an immediate hit. What they do need to be is quality. And that takes time for the writing to develop, for the show to organically evolve and take root in the audience’s imagination. So networks are increasingly trusting singular visions, and quality writing, banking on the fact that the viewers will come given word of mouth and time. This is the entire reason behind Hannibal’s greenlighting for a third season despite a slackening of already paltry ratings from its regular programming schedule.

And so we turn to film, now up against uninspired studios and bare cupboards of creative minds and talent. Since word of mouth has long gone, and even opening weekends are slackening, and the rise of audiences who stay at home rather than venture to the cinema, studios and filmmakers need to think, well, creatively.

The natural ebb and flow will kick in, and soon they will hopefully see that audiences value – as in really value for a long, long time – well-crafted, original stories. These are the ones we come back to, the ones we buy and keep, and download and watch over and over again. That’s where the revenue is these days, and so that’s where they’ll go.

You can only shill for mediocrity for so long before everyone grows tired of it and finds something else. Quality will win out, because it’s the only true currency that lasts.

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 10 – The Children

Posted June 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the last weekly Game of Thrones recap for this season, and once again it is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t.

However, for once there will be some spoilers from the books discussed at the bottom of this post. So be warned, non-book readers, that way lies dragons.

And so our watch on Season 4 has ended.

I’ll say it outright: this was a strange finale. In a sense, it was more of a traditional finale than those in the previous three seasons, which typically left all the big moments for the penultimate episodes (‘Baelor’, ‘Blackwater’, ‘The Rains of Castmere’), and so given the anticipatory nature of last week’s episode, I was fully expecting the finale to be the one full to the brim with climactic moments.

In a sense there were lots of those, though. Most of the static characters this season have been static for a reason: they’re building up to a defining moment. Bran, Tyrion, Arya and even Stannis have all been doing pretty much the same thing for all season, until they are finally able to enact some major change in this episode.

But by the same token, there was more I was expecting and so a large part of me is frustrated at still having to wait for those moments. Book readers certainly will have been expecting other events to occur, but I will save that for the spoilers below.

The episode picks up where it left off, with Jon Snow walking out from under the Wall, off to negotiate terms with Mance Rayder. This was actually a really excellent sequence, I can’t help but wish they had pushed it to conclude episode 9, so as to leave more time for other things in the finale.

Ciaran Hinds as Mance finally returns, with his Mt Rushmore face and uneasy banter with Jon. They drink and break bread, and toast those who have gone from both sides as a result of the fighting. And to remind us all about the point for all of this, Mance declares: ‘We’re here to hide behind your Wall.’

They’re both afraid of the white walkers, but I’m still unsure as to why these negotiations couldn’t have taken place before all the killing. Still, there’s a moment of distrust where Jon seemingly might murder Mance in his tent, but the challenge is there: does Jon forgo tradition and custom like the Lannisters before him, or is he one of the few characters left with an ounce of moral credibility?

Jon relents, but only long enough for Stannis and Davos to storm in with their army. It’s a decisive moment, bringing these isolated characters into the fold and solving Jon’s problems at the same time, but it’s punctuated by two key points. Mance refuses to kneel to Stannis, and Jon stakes a claim on his Stark lineage. Tormund reminds Jon later that he spent too long with the wildlings, and now he understands that kings cannot demand fealty and respect, it must be earned.

Tormund also entreats Jon to carry Ygritte north of the Wall. He takes her to the weirwood, where he swore his oath to the Night’s Watch. Stick in the mud he may be, but Jon is one of the few characters still upholding what is seen as an outdated moral code, even if it has brought him nothing but misery and death.

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Elsewhere, further north, Bran and his gang of Hodor, Jojen and Meera finally reach the tree from Bran’s vision. It’s the first we’ve seen of them since Craster’s Keep, and they’re struggling to survive in the cold, Jojen especially.

It’s a weirwood, just to establish further their mystical presence in the world of Game of Thrones, but before the travellers can get any closer they’re set upon by skeletal wights that emerge out of the ice and snow. It’s a thrilling sequence, and a massive nod to Ray Harryhausen with some wonderful CGI work on the wights. But then a lot of strange things happen all at once.

Firstly, one of the titular Children arrives to save the day, shooting fireballs at the wights and saving Bran and Co. Simultaneously, the show leaps wholly into typical fantasy territory, as if it had been there all along. And then, out of nowhere, Jojen is stabbed repeatedly by a wight, and dies.

The shock of this is that it isn’t in the books. Game of Thrones is in bat country now. One can only assume the showrunners are acting upon their inside knowledge and saving themselves some logistical headaches with actor contracts by removing a still-living book character from the board.

The mysterious Children lead Bran, Hodor and bereft Meera under the weirwood into the root system, there to finally confront the three-eyed crow from Bran’s dreams. Only the crow isn’t a crow but a very old man encased in the roots. Again, book readers will know more about this character, but Bran is offered the tantalising insight that while he may not walk again, he will one day fly.

Look, you could think the old guy is talking about Bran warging into a bird, or you could think that there’ll be dragons in the North soon. I know which way I’m leaning.

In King’s Landing, where we’ve spent so much time this season, we get a scene that really isn’t about anything other than set up for later developments. Cersei, Pycelle and Qyburn are inspecting the dying Mountain, having been poisoned by Oberyn’s blade during their duel. Pycelle objects to Qyburn’s treatment, who is offering to keep the Mountain alive, but at a cost. Cersei cares not.

There’s a brief antagonistic scene between Cersei and Tywin, where it becomes apparent that Season 4 has really been about breaking apart House Lannister, and she declares openly the extent of her relationship with Jaime and the truth of her children. This then continues into a scene between Jaime and Cersei that confirms just how wrong Alex Graves handled the direction of episode 3 and Jaime’s rape of Cersei. Given that Graves also directed this episode, the logical and tonal inconsistency shows quite clearly that that whole section of the plot was handled poorly, if not reprehensibly.

Later, Tyrion is freed by Jaime from his cell, dissipating all the tension that has existed for Tyrion since he was arrested at the end of the second episode. Why has Jaime not done this sooner? Why is there still loyalty between Jaime and Cersei given how much she has driven Tyrion to near execution?

Tyrion doesn’t leave immediately, but instead detours to Tywin’s quarters, where he finds Shae in Tywin’s bed. For once there is restraint from the camera, and Shae’s murder is kept mostly out of frame, though the scene still underscores just how monstrous Tyrion has become, having been called such all his life.

Tyrion finds Tywin on the toilet, but no words will save him now. All his protestations about family and his paternal responsibility for Tyrion is entirely hollow, registering nothing with Tyrion nor us. In the end, he’s an old man on the toilet, and it’s his repeated use of the word ‘whore’ that brings Tyrion to fire a bolt through his father’s chest.

He escapes finally with Varys, bundled away in a box on a ship set for the east. But Varys halts, hearing the bells ringing from the castle, and knows Tywin’s death has been discovered. He chooses instead to stay on the ship, and travel with Tyrion. Again, this is very strange. This does not happen in the books. And not to be one to harp on about fidelity to source material, but the differences are stacking up, and demanding acknowledgement. Where is Varys going? Who will serve the realm now?

Daenerys is still being Daenerys in Meereen, and dealing with governance and all of that. Come on, why couldn’t they inject a bit of free-form adaptation to this part of the story? The impact of this scene comes when Daenerys must accept that her dragons are killing people. Freedom is easily fought for, and won, but difficult to maintain. She locks up two of her dragons, aware that the most dangerous one, Drogon, is yet to be found.

The challenge for Daenerys next season is twofold: how do you rule over freedom? And, when one is the Mother of Dragons, how do you control chaos?

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Back to the Riverlands, and more departures occur when out of nowhere, Brienne and Podrick run into Arya and the Hound. In many respects, this works and works well, even if it does have the air of fanfic about it. There’s a really nice moment where Arya briefly spies in Brienne the model of who she might have once become, in better days. Additionally, they exchange notes over their named swords, and Arya is completely unaware that the sword Brienne carries was forged from the Stark greatsword. From Ned to Joffrey to Tywin to Jaime to Brienne – and yet the significance of this is missed.

Arya consciously decides on her future, and chooses not to go with Brienne and Podrick. The fight between Brienne and the Hound is well staged, and leaves us in much the same situation as the Hound was last seen in the books, though we just got there very differently. But there’s more impact in having his wounds inflicted by Brienne, and having Arya actively flee safety, even if there’s a bit of coincidence about the whole thing.

Arya’s refusal of mercy to the Hound is one of the lasting moments of the episode, perfectly matching the scene from episode 7, when the Hound helped ease a wounded man into death. She takes his money and runs, receiving passage on a ship sailed for Braavos, paid for by the coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar so long ago.

And so it ends, for another year. And everyone seems even further apart than they were before. The Starks are effectively nonexistent, and none of them seem as concerned with returning to Winterfell as they once did. The Lannisters have spectacularly imploded, and a power vaccuum hovers over the Iron Throne once again. With Littelfinger, the Tyrells and now the Martells all gunning for revenge, succession and power, a vastly different Westeros is shaping up for Season 5.

Oh yeah, and winter is still coming, remember.

  • Valar Morghulis:  well, that was a bit unexpected. Jojen Reed died thrice over, having been stabbed by a wight, had his throat slit by his sister, and then vanquished in a ball of flame from one of the Children. A peasant girl is similarly destroyed by Drogon. Many wildlings are killed by Stannis’ men. Tywin shot twice by Tyrion, who also strangled Shae.
  • Brienne and Pod must be the worst searchers in the Wall if they can’t see Arya hanging around the Hound’s falling place. I mean, come on.
  • Credits have been updated to include Braavos, in a nod to next season.
  • Mance and Jon’s toast to both the giant and Grenn is great.

Okay, now, SPOILERS BELOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

 

 

 

 

Where the hell was Lady Stoneheart? Why was this not included in the finale? Even the actors seemed to acknowledge this was going to occur in the pre-episode buzz, and yet it wasn’t there.

Very strange, given how much of a shockingly natural conclusion it would be for the season, and the effect it would have on the audience in the months off before Season 5. This, coupled with Jojen’s death, Varys’ sudden departure, and Brienne and the Hound’s fight made the whole episode be exceptionally surprising and somewhat maddening for a book reader.

UPDATE: Alex Graves has commented on this, casting doubt on whether Lady Stoneheart will ever appear at all.

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 9 – The Watchers on the Wall

Posted June 10, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoilers in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

Well, we’re finally here. They’ve only been talking about it since, well, the pilot. But the onslaught on the Wall is finally happening, and we’re given a whole episode to revel in the spectacle.

For the first time since ‘Blackwater’ all other plots are abandoned in favour of focusing on the conflict at the Wall, and for the most part it works. It’s been a season of extended sequences, and that’s what this battle is turned into, even if we don’t get an effective resolution to it in 50 minutes.

Strangely, though, the episode sits quite jarringly with everything else this season has dealt with. The cliffhanger of Tyrion’s death sentence is left until next week, and rather than delivering more anticipation, it seems to be unecessarily drawing it out (he was arrested back in episode 2, remember). We’re asked now to invest in a battle that everyone else in Westeros seems to be ignoring, and the show has done a good deal of ignoring all season.

The only meaningful time spent with Jon Snow has been the raid on Craster’s Keep, and all that seemed to serve was to decimate the Night’s Watch numbers further and eliminate an invented character – Locke – from the playing board.

The Wildlings too have been given short shrift. Ygritte, so meaningful last season as a character, has had little to do but scowl at Tormund and the Thenns, and yet now we have to resuscitate our investment in her feelings for Jon, so as to connect more when they inevitably face off.

Still, the episode goes for spectacle, and for the most part it reaches it.

The opening scene with Sam and Jon on the Wall hits all the right notes: the bond between the two young men, Jon’s love for Ygritte, Sam’s acumen, his concern for Gilly and her baby, and the resentment toward Ser Alliser Thorne’s leadership. It’s testament to the much more concetrated approach of this season, that a brief conversation between two characters can cover so much of the show’s depth and yet still be coherent to the casual viewer. And it’s all happening while they are awaiting the hoards.

On a side note, I do love that elevator that takes them up and down the Wall. It’s great to see the world working. Neil Marshall’s camerawork is effective as ever, leaping from the wildling army on the other side of the Wall, to the heights of the Wall itself, down to Castle Black’s courtyard, and over to the surprise attack of Ygritte and Tormund. The score, too, is sumptuously bombastic, especially when the camera spies the army creeping up on the horizon.

Gilly returns to Castle Black having escaped the raid on Mole’s Town. And while it’s good to see the strengthening relationship between her and Sam, it does seem odd that her story has basically been to arrive at Castle Black, be sent off, and then find her way back again. Still, it’s a character relationship that is easily skimmed over in the books, but works on screen on the basis of the performances. John Bradley-West, as Sam, is particular good this episode.

But these moments are brief and to the point, and the episode moves briskly towards the conflict itself. And once it begins, it’s rightfully chaotic.

One of the successes of Game of Thrones as a long narrative is that it employs the tropes and structures of other epic fantasy stories, but then subverts them. The success of moments like the Red Wedding, the dominance of the Lannisters, and even Oberyn’s death last week underscore  how accustomed we are to certain expectations and how this translates to shock when our expectations don’t play out.

Strangely, most of this episode doesn’t just echo other stories, it seemingly mimics them. This seige is basically a remix of Helm’s Deep, complete with giants, mammoths, thumping drums, grappling irons and flaming arrows. Jon Snow does his best Aragorn impression. The authority – Ser Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt – are unlikeable and weak. The enemy are uncompromising and innumerable.

This battle of the odds between the hundred-ish Night’s Watch and the thousands of wildlings feels like we’ve seen it all before, despite how good it looks on our TV screens. Even when it does eventually subvert expectations – Janos Slynt’s breakdown, Ygritte’s death, the non-ending to the battle – the episode feels curiously like a damp squib rather than an explosive shock.

Slynt’s breakdown is handled rather well, however, displaying not only the man’s fragility – ‘No such thing as giants’ – but also how in his former role commanding the King’s Guard he was far removed in body and mind from the terrors invading from the North. It’s a nice reminder of how much the King’s Landing throne obsessives are happily ignoring the great danger that the Night’s Watch faces.

On top of this, Jon and Sam are allowed to grow and develop more as characters. Given that Jon especially has been marked out for leadership since the pilot, there’s a bit of relief that he’ll finally be able to do something worthy of the character’s strengths. Thorne is wounded, and Slynt out of action, so Jon’s ascension to commanding the Night’s Watch is finally a certainty.

His reunion with Ygritte is similarly effective, but it was always going to be that way. He succeeds, she dies, and so does our expectation that perhaps someone might live happily ever after in Westeros. Jon’s side wins (this skirmish), Ygritte’s doesn’t, and the poor kid who shot her did the right thing and audiences will hate him for it, depriving them of another happy ending where Ygritte joins Jon in defending the Wall.

Elsewhere, there’s a worthy moment where Sam’s mocking of Pyp’s crossbow skills changes immediately to comforting the young Watchman as he dies with an arrow through the neck. Below the Wall, Grenn and his band of lucky few face down a rampaging giant in the tunnel, certain of their deaths but still reciting the oath they took to defend the realm. It’s arguably the most powerful moment in the episode.

Great to see the enormity of the Wall used to effect, showing off the scale of the structure itself while illustrating the geography of the battle. Game of Thrones normally works in cuts from one place to another, but in this episode much is shown in uncut shots, connecting each small battle with the others.

And then, true to subversive form, the night ends not with a bang but a whimpering ceasefire. Tormund won’t die or triumph, he’ll just be tamed. Grenn and Pyp fall, in service of defending Castle Black. The Night’s Watch put their lives on the line, and so it’s only natural that their lives are taken. Nothing good comes without a cost. Jon marches out of the tunnel under the wall, knowing he must deal with Mance Rayder or face the end of the Night’s Watch entirely.

What to make of that ending? It’s a curious thing. Tormund and Ygritte’s advance party are defeated, and the larger army north of the Wall retreats after the giants and mammoths are unsuccesful, but Jon knows they can’t hold them forever. For me, it gets to the heart of this part of the books, and the series. Why are they even fighting?

The wildlings want to escape the North, given the white walkers have awoken, and they want to head south. But in doing so, they want to fight everyone they come across, and so we have this battle. Essentially, the wildlings and the Night’s Watch are the only ones who know where the true threat lies, and yet they fight each other? They’re on the same side. It’s all a bit anticlimactic and battles for the sake of battles.

Meanwhile, we’ve had to postpone all other plotlines in favour of this one, which in the end just boils down to a bit of spectacle but no substance.

  • Valar Morghulis: Ygritte, Pyp, Grenn, the cannibalistic Thenn guy, plus scores of wildlings and Night’s Watch soldiers. A battle brings casualties.
  • Great to see the use of POV in a couple of key moments: when Ygritte was firing her arrows, and when Ghost is unleashed on the wildlings.
  • For the book readers, there’s a few subtle nods at where Season 5 will go. Then again, I’m rather unsure how much or how little they will fit into next week.
  • Strangely good to see Thorne being an effective soldier, given how much of an ass he’s been all series. Still, I couldn’t quite gather whether he was dragged off by his own men or by wildlings.
  • For a good breakdown of why the wildlings and the Night’s Watch are fighting and not getting along, take a look at this article. 
  • Last episode of Season 4 next week, and there’s a LOT to get through. Honestly, I expected more from this episode, but it does leave many exciting things to arrive next week.

 

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 8 – The Mountain and the Viper

Posted June 3, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoilers in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

Do they not know any other songs in Westeros? Seriously. Half a dozen episodes this season have featured the Rains of Castamere, and we begin this one in Mole’s Town with Gilly, as the occupants of the local inn haggle over whether they’ll sing that or The Bear and the Maiden Fair. Still, it does give the world a bit of cultural unity, as even far flung places close to the Wall are echoing distant events.

But the Wildlings have finally arrived, and we get a brief moment of interaction between Gilly and Ygritte – who hasn’t been sighted in a while – as the threat on Castle Black continues to loom. But to be fair, it’s been looming all season long, ever since Jon Snow returned from his undercover work. A hundred thousand of Mance Rayder’s Wildlings, including the cannibal Thenns, are ready to assault the Night’s Watch, and Jon and Sam have to decide their next move. Rest assured, we’ll get there next episode.

In Meereen, Grey Worm and Missandei become more acquainted with each other, in a nice bit of character-building away from the major players, which will hopefully pay off down the track. Grey Worm describes the chain of events that lead him to meeting Missandei, acknowleding that there’s no point bemoaning past conflicts, it’s better to see what one can do in the future, and make the most of what one has now.

This idea of a chain of events is played out when Barristan Selmy – who once served King Robert – comes across a letter that implicates Ser Jorah in his forgotten mission of spying on Daenerys.

The audience knows Jorah abandoned his mission in favour of serving Daenerys, but his failure then to never come clean counts against his loyalty now, and he is banished by Daenerys. This is a long-buried sequence of events that has finally surfaced, casting Jorah into unknown territories, and his loss of position somewhat mirrors that of Tyrion last episode. One is without family, the other without service, and both have come to realise they must make their own journey. It’s a good move for Jorah’s character, who has been playing the earnest guardian for nearly four seasons now, and in desperate need of a new dynamic.

In the North, Ramsay of the crazy eyes and Theon-Reek are launching a surprise takeover of Moat Cailin. Theon, who now identifies as Reek, must pretend to once again be Theon in order to gain admittance to Moat Cailin, held by House Greyjoy soldiers, and bring about a takeover.

‘Who are you?’ they ask him on his arrival at the Moat, and he gives no answer. He, and we, may well wonder, as his identity hangs on a knife-edge held by House Bolton.
Alfie Allen’s acting is once again superb, as he faces yet another moment where his birthright, and his fellow Iron Islanders, pay him no recognition nor respect. There’s something horridly sympathetic in how Theon seeks comfort in Ramsay’s open arms, knowing how it hurts him yet is still more welcome than what he ever received from his father.

Ramsay and Roose Bolton share a moment on a hill in the North, and Ramsay is legitimised as a Bolton, leaving behind his bastard status. Roose is again manouevring for power here, recognising that he rules the North, and thus needs a legacy to maintain his House’s standing. In a significant final shot, the Boltons ride to Winterfell, ready to claim it for good.

In the Eyrie, Littlefinger is pleading his case to the Vale’s nobility, and thus aiming to maintain his claim to lordship based on his tenuous marriage to the late Lysa Arryn.
In a great scene, Sansa quashes all the complaints about her character and comes to the aid of Littlefinger, revealing that she is a surviving Stark yet exonerating him of Lysa’s murder. Mixing the truth with the lies that Littlefinger thrives on, Sansa has clearly learned from all her time spent as a passive cog in the machinery of King’s Landing. Each shot of her pleading their case is framed with an out-of-focus Littlefinger in the background, and she revels in playing the game, finally.

Nearby, the Hound and Arya finally arrive at the front gate, and for a moment it appears as if two Starks might be reunited. Even if Arya and Sansa never shared much kinship back in the first episodes of Season 1, it’s an interesting prospect to imagine their connection now, given all they’ve both been through. But it’s not to be, and Arya laughs hysterically at yet another confounding twist in the tale of the Stark family, who seem destined to be scattered.

Finally, in King’s Landing, we return to the trial of Tyrion. In the latest of Jaime and Tyrion’s prison visits, the two discuss a distant cousin of theirs, Orson. They joke of his simplicity – having been dropped on his head as a baby – but Tyrion muses how Orson only sought pleasure in smashing beetles. It’s a parable about wanton and needless violence, which confuses Tyrion. Why kill the beetles? Is Tyrion just the latest beetle? Why must I die, he seems to be asking us. Why must anyone?

But the trial by combat begins, cast in the glorious sun. The Mountain and Oberyn – the Viper – finally get to square off, after all the anticipation that’s built up since Oberyn’s introduction in the season premiere. It’s a classic David and Goliath battle, emphasised even more by the fact that this is for Tyrion’s life.

And for a while, we believe we’re in the right spot. Having sympathised with Tyrion’s plight, and become enamoured with Oberyn, it appears as if we might finally have some rightful vengeance on the Lannisters, that we can feel assured in hating them, just as Oberyn does. It feels good to be on the right side, doesn’t it?

But no. Just as Oberyn appears set to defeat the Mountain, having skewered him to submission, his pride leads him to a fall, and the Mountain crushes his head between his hands. It’s awful, almost comically grotesque, but then the shock kicks in. The Lannisters win again, only this time it means Tyrion’s death.

There’s a deal of course-correcting going on this season. Game of Thrones has thrilled many by the fact that it has refused to allow a classic good-versus-evil narrative. We want to hate the Lannisters, yet we sympathise for Tyrion. But then again, he saved King’s Landing at the Blackwater, which saved Tywin (in a sense) and enabled the Red Wedding to occur. Tyrion is innocent, and so we want him to live, but why? Will that allow the Starks to thrive, who we nominally see as good?

Tyrion is now not a Lannister, which validates our sympathy. He is not one of them, so it’s okay. Game of Thrones is almost settling into a place where the characters are sorting themselves out, realising that their allegiances may not be correct, and need to find new places in order to do their best. So maybe it is good versus evil, after all.

  • Valar Morghulis: a scattering of Iron-born soldiers, flayed by Ramsay, naturally. Some Northerners, as the Wildings loom. And Oberyn, ending everybody’s love affair with him, as he lost his head for gloating too much. And is the Mountain dead? Not yet. Or is he? No, not yet. Maybe not. Possibly not.
  • How good was Sansa? Good? Good. Now that it’s settled, we’ll hear no more nonsense.
  • Only two episodes to go, and guaranteed the next one conforms to type as having major blood-letting and battle stuff in the season’s penultimate hour. So that means the attack on the Wall, undoubtedly, given the Night’s Watch can’t seem to shut up about it. So what’s left for the final episode? More twists and turns, as the book-readers know.
  • We’ll need resolutions (of a kind) for Bran and his gang, some more stuff for Stannis and Davos to do, while hopefully we’ll get to find out what happens with Daenerys’ dilly-dallying, Arya and the Hound’s midnight run, and the consequences of Tyrion’s lost trial. Heaps to do.
  • Oh, and something about Brienne and Podrick, in case they were forgotten. Probably best you don’t forget them. Just saying.

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 7 – Mockingbird

Posted May 20, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoilers in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

This episode begins with the fallout from Tyrion’s rampage in court. Jaime has come to visit Tyrion in his cell in King’s Landing, and reminds him: ‘I’m the last friend you’ve got.’ If the great rivarly all along has been Starks versus Lannisters, the Starks are looking in much better shape. While the older generation are all gone, having lost their heads to prideful honour, the younger thrive, albeit in farflung reaches and bitterly steep learning curves. The Lannisters are crumbling, and yet have little in the way of a younger generation to continue their legacy. Tyrion admonishes Jaime for falling into Tywin’s plans, while driving a wedge further between the two brothers.

Bronn arrives, having not had much time lately to train Jaime at left-handed sword fighting, but is really only here as a manoeuvring piece for the plot. He won’t serve as Tyrion’s champion, and thus will not repeat their trick at the Eyrie in Season 1. Tyrion is without his retinue, his support, and effectively his family. He is jettisoned entirely from the motivations and machinations that kept him progressing as a character through the first three seasons.

It’s a bold move for his character, in that regardless of what happens in the coming episodes and seasons, we’ve basically witnessed the shedding of everything that made him what he is, even if that predominantly ran a line of rebelling against his father’s wishes. One can’t rebel if one is expelled. There is a larger destiny for Tyrion, and that lies beyond merely being the bastard Lannister. We the audience have always sensed this, even without realising it, but Tyrion himself is only now coming to terms with the fact that he is not who he used to be.

After last week’s vitriol at the court of King’s Landing, Tyrion this week is effectively dealing with the aftermath’s clarity. He has nothing left. To further emphasise this, Oberyn arrives by darkness, and explains how when he saw Tyrion as an infant he was greatly disappointed. Tyrion was not a monster, was not hideous and demonic, but was just a baby.

If everyone thought last week’s outburst in court was Emmy-calibre acting from Peter Dinklage, I suggest looking at his effort here in quiet restraint, as he listens to Oberyn’s tale. Oberyn is giving Tyrion a new life, a blank canvas. To Oberyn, Tyrion is not a monster, not a bastard, not a dwarf. He is just Tyrion. And Tyrion has no idea who that is anymore. Oberyn then announces he will fight for Tyrion, but also for justice, for his sister who was raped and murdered under Tywin’s orders.

This has been my favourite scene of the season so far. Quite magical.

Meanwhile, Cersei recruits Ser Gregor Clegane to fight as her champion in the case against Tyrion. The Mountain and the Hound’s brother. Just in case we weren’t up to speed (he’s also been recast).

The Hound, still in the Riverlands, is slowly reclaiming Sandor Clegane from the forgotten past of his childhood. As he accompanies Arya, he’s in effect wandering a knight’s quest, without realising it. Protect the (somewhat) innocent,  restore some sense of a moral code to those he passes – his arc is one of the more fascinating in the show ever since we heard Littlefinger regale Sansa at the tourney in Season 1 about how the Hound was physically and mentally scarred by Gregor when he was a boy.

But it’s not long before Arya gets to strike another name off her list, and she declares to a dying man that:

Nothing is just nothing.

The echoes with King’s Lear’s declaration that ‘nothing can come of nothing’ is hardly accidental, lending the series even more epic depth and psychological complexity by evoking another story about another fallen king whose lands are shattered and divided between the power-hungry and morally dubious children of the kingdom.

‘You’re learning,’ the Hound later remarks, though it seems Arya is only learning nihilism.

The moments with Arya and The Hound and later Brienne and Podrick on the Kingsroad are lessons in adaptation. Again they’re a case of either extrapolation or invention, as a means of taking a different journey to the same destination, though with a curious effect of cleaving the audience more closely to the story. Podrick’s partnership with Brienne is developed far beyond what it is in the books. Equally, Arya and the Hound are more unseen than seen. Hot Pie makes no further appearance after Arya leaves him in the book. But the constant involvement of minor characters in major plot points allows a more emotional contact with the story than if they were just other incidental characters cast for each episode.

Jon Snow has finally returned from Craster’s Keep to the Wall. It’s once again a power-struggle between the rightful leader – Jon – and those who currently run the Night’s Watch: Ser Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt. This scene is really just a touch-base, given that he was absent from the last episode, but will need to feature more heavily next week.

In Meereen, Daenerys is dealing with Daario, who is getting far more story time than any of Daenerys’ other suitors. Personally, I find this the least compelling aspect of her storyline, and I care little for jealous Jorah with his protestations of honour. This is a problematic corner of the books, and so far the story has handled a potentially tepid journey well. It will be intriguing to see how they shape her character through the remaining episodes this season.

At Dragonstone, it’s time to catch up with Melisandre and Selyse, Stannis’ neglected wife. Their discussion is just another moment to catch up on this also neglected part of the plot, where last we saw Stannis and Davos were furthering their interests in Braavos. Having received financial backing for their claim on the Iron Throne, Melisandre and Selyse are packing up to leave, though we are clearly not meant to know where to.

One feels we’ll see little of these characters until they are deposited in a part of the story that actually uses them effectively. Until now it’s been a question of patience, ever since Melisandre unleashed the demon on Renly in Season 2. Since then, other than the bit of byplay with the leeches and Gendry, they’ve had precious little to do but teach Davos how to read. In a season of concentrated focus where each character and plot strand has fed into a grander narrative, Dragonstone is still yet to find its place, though this somewhat reflects Stannis’ character and claim for the throne.

Winter has come to the Eyrie. It’s a nice touch, visually, symbolising once again the growing closer of the plot’s extremeties. As winter creeps further south in Westeros, so Jon Snow’s travails in the North edge closer to King’s Landing, as Daenerys simultaneously does from the east. All points converge. Or at least will, in two books’ time.

Regardless, this week’s endgame has Sansa has trading one madhouse for another, one insane heir for another. Joffrey has been replaced by Robin, though Sansa has now been around long enough to take control of the situation and start making demands of her own. She confronts Littlefinger about the poisoning of Joffrey, and he masterfully (dodgily) turns it around into a declaration of love first for Catelyn Stark, and then for Sansa herself.

Given Littlefinger’s ability to engineer conflict a thousand steps in advance, it’s a fair assumption to make that his clumsy seduction of Sansa is just further fuel to tip Lysa over the edge, mentally and literally. If it wasn’t apparent to anyone, his movements in the last few episodes – murdering Joffrey, stealing Sansa, marrying Lysa and claiming the Eyrie – are all evidence of his development into a major antagonist. Indeed, the title of the episode is after the sigil of his house, of which he is the only member. He has no claim for the throne whatsoever, according to the old rule, but has set about rewriting the rules to place himself a stone’s throw away from control.

This may still be all setup for season climaxes, but it’s thrilling to watch the spinning plates start to crash into one another. As the Lannisters crumble this season, much like the Starks did last season, a vaccuum emerges at the top. Littlefinger knows this, because he created it, and he desires only power. But what of the others? What of the Stark children, who probably have most claim to our sympathies?

Arya seeks vengeance but, as she discovered this episode, knows not where to find it, nor recognises it when it stumbles into her path. Sansa is clearly looking for an honest person, but now that Brienne is after Arya, her journey home is still far, far away. Above anything, she seems to need her family, in a nice twist on the beginning of a character who once sought only to leave her Stark origins behind. Jon wants what is right, though he is struggling to get anyone to listen to him. And Bran is off in pursuit of meaning, of answers, of the secrets that lie at the heart of the realm. Not one among them craves power, and have become the conscientious objectors of Game of Thrones.

Only three episodes to go, and for those who know what’s to come in the books, the journey is going to be fascinating to watch given the departures this season has taken from the source material. For all of us though, we know the wildlings will hit the Wall soon, and that Oberyn will fight the Mountain. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s game.

  • Valar Morghulis: Biter, by the Hound’s hand, and Rorge, by Arya’s. Also, the old man on the road, shown mercy by the Hound. The Mountain killed a few at the beginning, if only to re-establish the character. And finally Lysa Arryn, done in by her new husband and fellow conspirator. Seriously, the series has a big thing about marriage.
  • The CGI folk have obviously realised a way to show scale and credibility on their generated structures – particulary the pyramid of Meereen – which is by having birds flit by in and out of frame. Seriously, every major CGI shot, or stage shot at the pyramid, has birds flying around.
  • The reminders about Brienne’s oath to Catelyn were excellent, and timely. It is refreshing to see this slightly embellished plot take shape as a female knight and her male squire.
  • Nothing on Bran, second episode in a row now. None of Ramsay Snow and his bunch, who seem to have a one-on one-off type deal with the writers. The question now comes as to how much the show continues this division across episodes with only a handful to remain in the season. We might see some characters have their plots wrapped up before the finale, rather than hopping around madly just to fit everybody into the last hour we get until 2015.
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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 6 – In the Eyes of Gods and Men

Posted May 13, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoilers in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

Everyone in this epsidoe wants the right thing to be done. But in Game of Thrones, some are more right than others, while some are just wrong all the way through.

Finally, we see Braavos. And Davos. And Stannis. On a boat. And my, doesn’t it look impressive? They sail their way into the city – evoking the Colossus of Rhodes – to pay a visit to the Iron Bank. And when Mark Gatiss turns up it’s almost as if we’ve wandered into an episode of The League of Gentleman and someone is going to make Davos their wife and call him Dave.

But the one thing that rings true is that Stannis actually has a rightful claim to the throne. ‘More than any man living’, he says, forgetting that Daenerys is alive, and has more claim, while remaining quite clearly a woman. Still, it’s a worthy point Davos makes, given that Tommen is on the throne, and the Lannisters are looking like a rabble of divided debtors.

‘The war is not over,’ Davos reminds the audience, briefly assuming Gandalf-like expository duties, and he’s right. Everyone is in a holding pattern, waiting for the right moment to strike on King’s Landing and make their claim for the throne, and if Braavos had to bank on anybody (sorry), Stannis does look like the rightful choice. There’s a nice moment where Davos reminds them that Stannis sticks by his word by waving his fingerless hand in front of them, echoing Ned Stark’s maxim that ‘he who passes the sentence should swing the sword.’ Though didn’t that line of thinking lead to Ned’s death? And if by rightful choice to the throne we mean traditional, clearly Game of Thrones lately is all about depicting the loss of tradition and established order, in the hope of new and more morally sound practices.

So the contrast is there between Stannis and Daenerys, who is learning that it’s one thing to win through conquering, another thing entirely to then keep winning through sound and just rule. In Meereen, her new-found rule is suddenly forced to take a backward step from all-conquering no prisoners mode, and she’s learns to accept that overthrowing corruption is a theory, but one has to deal with the reality of people’s lives that go on after the revolution.

Yara Greyjoy – Theon’s sister, remember? – is sailing from the Iron Islands to march on the Dreadfort, and does so with a stirring speech about what it means to avenge Theon’s torture and dismemberment. If Yara was born elsewhere, perhaps she too might rule an army and a kingdom, but unfortunately she’s stuck with a narrow-minded house and an insipid brother – hardly the Mother of Dragons.

Still, you can see why they cast Gemma Whelan, as she finally gets something to do in the show. It’s a daring raid to fetch Theon, who unfortunately has disappeared so far into his Stockholm Syndrome that he flees her rescue back into the cells, and Ramsay Snow’s keeping.  What it is to be ironborn.

And jumping jillikers, if Ramsay isn’t the creepiest sadist on television. He’s setting Theon-Reek a task, one which is clearly laying the foundations for later climactic developments in the season.  It’s hardly worth mentioning, but this section is all largely inference and invention, but as discussed last week, when the show does this we now take it to mean this isn’t just a case of adaptation, but also a setting of the narrative on a path toward the as-yet unwritten conclusion.

In King’s Landing, The Small Council convenes for the first time in a while, which means we get a bit more Varys and Oberyn. However, this scene really only serves to connect the Iron Throne with Daenerys’ faraway actions, something the show used to do a lot of but had cooled on this season. Again, the show is conscious of uniting the plots in a way that the books are reluctant to do.

I liked the little byplay between Varys and Oberyn – two of the more intriguing characters in King’s Landing, which is basically just full of courtly intrigue these days. Varys in particular is fascinating, and an anomaly on the show, absconding from desire (he says) in pursuit of other matters. What they are we can only guess, though the show implies he – like others in this episode – craves justice for the realm. He’s almost like a different type of Littlefinger – both using secretive and manipulative means for their ends, only one craves the power that was never his in the first place, the other is far more ambiguous, shall we say. It’s Story 101 to create desire for every character, and for the show to give us Varys, who refuses desire, it is exciting to watch, even if he is a relatively minor role.

But really, the bulk of this episode is spent dealing with Tyrion, and the accusation of murdering his nephew and king several episodes ago now. He’s had scant to do since Joffrey’s very public mocking of him, but is given central focus in the trial, with the show taking a slightly awkward step into courtroom drama.

The trial is really the realisation of the opening moments of the season, when for all their conquering achievements, the Lannisters were shown to be a spiteful, infighting family of mistrusting egos. It’s a wonder that Tywin – who always seems to see ahead better than others – is unaware of how this trial is merely a continuation of the mockery Tyrion received at the wedding, and ends up the equivalent of family bickering in public. With the possibility of an execution at the end of it. While Tywin has his motives – sending Tyrion far away to the Night’s Watch, and restoring Jaime as his heir – it’s a strangely mistaken process for his character, who seems to think Tyrion will thank him for the potential pardoning.

Tyrion is set up to fail here, and the procession of witnesses seek to twist his so-far honourable actions to render him guilty. Honour is abandoned, seemingly, and King’s Landing is now the seat of a meaningless throne that wields law devoid of justice.

The arrival of Shae as the surprise witness only confirms how deluded Tywin is, that rewriting Tyrion’s relationship with Shae publicly will somehow cause Tyrion to retreat to the Wall is bizarre thinking. Tyrion has all along been the one who could match Tywin’s cunning, and his reaction to Shae’s testimony is logical to us, and in keeping with the character we know. Tyrion would never head to the Wall in shame, he has endured more shame than almost anyone else in Game of Thrones.

His speech at the climax of the show is played large, and achieves it, as he declares ‘I’m on trial for being a dwarf’, some of the strongest words about his character since we were first introduced to him in Season 1. Tywin has overshot his mark, and Tyrion has matched him, from being put on trial in a position of weakness he has assumed a stage, and lectures the court – and the people of King’s Landing – with words that clearly separate them from the world of the just. Tyrion is done with the lot of them, and his demands for a trial by combat is confirmation that he’d rather abandon all claim to his nobility, his house and his family than be decried as a grotesque by those who had until now tolerated him.

After the relatively meandering character pieces in last week’s episode, this week was all about setting on track the end-play for the season. The holding pattern is over, and the consequences of Tyrion’s trial await, as do further tribulations of Daenerys’ rule in the east. However, we can’t help but wonder why nobody is bothered about the baby-stealing white walkers in the North.

  • Valar Morghulis: various Greyjoy soldiers, and Bolton soldiers, during the raid for Theon. Also a goat.
  • This episode was very focused on just a few characters, similar to the Purple Wedding episode, and as such we didn’t see many of the characters who had featured heavily in the last few episodes: Jon, the wildlings, Bran and his bunch, Arya and The Hound, Sansa and Littlefinger at the Eyrie. Basically no Starks at all (unless we’re counting Tyrion).
  • Also, something in this episode of Ser Jorah and his spying ways? Just saying. Might want to remember.
  • Sponge bath time with Reek and Ramsay. Big echoes for me with a scene in Spartacus between Laurence Olivier’s ruler Crassus, and his slave Antoninus, played by Tony Curtis. Only this one was weirder.
  • I’ll give the show credit for turning the Iron Islands characters into something slightly more interesting, it’s a part of the books I’ve never been keen on and this was at least a more enjoyable extrapolation than what I had anticipated.
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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 5 – The First of His Name

Posted May 6, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoilers in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

There’s an air of apathy, almost resignation, to the opening conversation between Margaery and Cersei in this latest episode, both seemingly aware that for all their conspiring against each other around Joffrey, they are now back in the same spot. Cersei a mother, Margaery a potential spouse. It is Tommen who is first, in his name as the episode title reminds us, and so we continue the arc of the last two episodes, that Game of Thrones is no place where a woman can rightfully play the game for power as men do.

What is a game?

Essentially, it relies on all parties agreeing to a set of rules, a contract that decides everyone is a participant, and everyone operates on an understanding that certain objectives will be sought and certain paths will be taken. Additionally, there is an element of tradition, certain people play games certain ways, that allows individual agency to work.

The power struggle at the heart of Game of Thrones has really been the dominant theme this season – if it hasn’t been all seasons – but what has really surfaced since Joffrey’s poisoning is that the game is in danger of breaking, and may be lost entirely. That the series recognises this as not necessarily a bad thing is what gives the story dynamism this season, more so than previously.

I’ve said before how the Lannisters’ actions at the Red Wedding (and the Freys’, while we’re at it) seemingly broke the rules of the game. By disregarding custom, and tradition of the rules, they wrote new ones. This was then visited on them at Joffrey’s wedding, and since then the characters seem to be either struggling to maintain their previous convictions over how to play the game, or quickly realising that all bets are off. Margaery and Cersei almost appear bored at their irrelevance to the status quo. Sister or mother, wife or daughter, but never first.

Those who broke the game are having their sins visited upon them. Others who bought into it, and abided it, are growing tired that it brings nothing but horror, as Margaery states. So what is left? Give up, like the mutineers, or bring a whole new game, like Daenerys over in Meereen.

Possibly for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if George R.R. Martin is actually offering a more traditional narrative than first suspected. For all our shock at his revelry in killing off protagonists, it becomes increasingly noticeable that Daenerys will be there until the end, and is the only likely solution to the woes of the Seven Kingdoms. All the bad guys will be overthrown, and the good girl wins.

She actually shirks at the opportunity of sailing to war, of attempting to wage more horror on Westeros, something the men in power never seem to worry about. This isn’t playing the game, this isn’t following the rules, and Daenerys is actually living rather than playing. Interestingly, the endless stalling that her storyline seems to create in the books is actually given more significance in the show, here is a direct contrast to Westeros, to the jostling and bloodshed in King’s Landing, to the death and fear of the North. The Mother of Dragons won’t be just a mother, she will be more than that.

Sansa, meanwhile, is taken to the Eyrie by Littlefinger, the first time she has left King’s Landing since the first season, and the first time we’ve visited this place in about as long. Sansa’s aunt Lysa is still occupying the same deluded space she did back then, revealing to us how she orchestrated her husband John Arryn’s death by poisoning (provided by Littlefinger, of course), which resulted in King Robert marching to Winterfell to beg Ned to become Hand of the King. Littlefinger is thusly shown as the engineer of the entire game, the one who started it all, even if it was with just a little push. Small actions have very large reactions in Game of Thrones.

Lysa’s confession to lying about the Lannisters isn’t just hasty exposition, or a way of means of adding intrigue to Littlefinger, rather it joins current events with those that happened way back in the pilot, or even prefiguring the lifetime of the show, and demonstrates how this season is concentrating on unifying the plots, on keeping them tied to each other in a way that it hasn’t before. Also, this is in defiance somewhat of the books, which only seem to stretch the strands between the plots further and further apart, to the point of breaking. On screen, it’s difficult to juggle constantly divergent plots and mysteries stacked upon mysteries. When Lysa explains to us how Jon Arryn died, she is providing an answer to a mystery for the audience, and allowing them to once again look clearly at the narrative with renewed understanding. Any long-running series suffers under the weight of amplification and accumulation, with characters and plots stacking up endlessly, an element that is extremely present in the books – but Game of Thrones the TV series is working overtime to provide some unity and clarity.

I can’t help but feel that their focus on maintaining a unity to the plots this season is as a result of Benioff and Wise’s conversations with Martin about the ending, and that we are being shown a directed narrative, rather than an adaptation done by those who aren’t necessarily sure what to keep and what to jettison.

Arya and The Hound are still on their travels through the Riverlands, with Arya reciting all the names of those she wants to kill (unaware that some are already dead). This gives an opportunity to remind us all not only of her growing hatred of the world, but also that The Mountain is The Hound’s brother, and that The Hound is last on Arya’s list. But, we may well ask, what does that mean for Sandor Clegane?

Part Two of our Odd Couple road trip is Brienne and Podrick, on the King’s Road, in search of Sansa. It’s not quite in keeping with the books, but really it matters not, giving more life to the characters, and offering a bit more interest in the travels of characters that might otherwise pass without the audience caring. Is it necessary that we see Podrick burning his meal and Brienne chastising him? Not really, not unless we care about having characters to care about.

Oberyn turns up again in King’s Landing, and mentions his eight daughters to Cersei, and also his sister. Did he mention his sister? Oh yes his sister. Killed by The Mountain, who happens to be The Hound’s brother. Tiny details that they’re really trying to make sure we don’t miss. Oberyn’s sister, The Mountain, Braavos, Brienne’s oath, John Arryn’s poisoning – the show is screaming out for us to pay attention, lest we fall under the weight of accumulation that any long-running show develops, and we start to forget where we came from back in the pilot.

And then to Locke, who’s stalking the mutineers at Craster’s Keep, and we get the convergence of several story lines (the Dreadfort, the Wall and Bran’s journey), which doesn’t really match with the books at all, but illustrates how adaptations are really about getting to the same place in a vastly different way. Certain notes in this final sequence echo moments in the book, almost as a type of rhyme, and we finally get to spend some decent time with Bran’s group, particularly Jojen and Meera.

Theirs is a story line that isn’t always popular, but to me it really gets to the heart of the series’ mythology, which appeals to my interests. While Jon and Daenerys fight the battles on the surface of the world, Bran and his merry band of travellers are trying to find answers within it, and it was nice to seem him make that conscious choice in this sequence.

Particularly affecting is Hodor’s reaction to Bran warging control of his body to dispense of Locke, seeing the blood on his hands as Bran orders him to fetch Jojen and Meera and complete their escape. It’s a subtle yet powerful reminder that Bran is not averse to breaking rules as well, and getting others to do his dirty work.

The final set piece at Craster’s is the latest in a season made of final set pieces, yet everything still feels like anticipation. We know the wildlings are marching on the wall, but is that all we’ve to look forward to this season? I suspect not, though my suspicions are based less on what I’ve read in the books than in how the season is progressing. There have been more surprises in the first half of this season than any of the others preceding it.

Much of this episode is invention, and has little direct adaptation from the books. Much of it as well is set-up, for events we know or assume will happen soon. But for an episode that seemingly didn’t move us forward too much, it took time to reassert some characters, and character points that might get lost if all we pay attention to is the ever marching drum beat of the plot. We have to care, ultimately, or we’ll just become players in the game as well.

  • Valar Morghulis: 11 mutineers, including Rast and Karl, as well as 5 Night’s Watch brothers, though whether we count Locke as a legitimate brother is debatable.
  • Direwolves to the rescue! First time they’ve featured in a while, but it was nice to see this part of the Stark characters brought back.
  • Goes without saying really: no Dreadfort, no Dragonstone.
  • Also no Varys for a while. I like Varys. I like that he serves the realm. More Varys please.
  • Interesting tidbit: Bran’s choice to leave Jon and continue on his journey was framed much as Frodo’s choice to leave the fellowship in The Fellowship of the Ring film. Or at least it reminded me of that. Interestingly, neither moments have parallels in the books, yet work to strengthen the choices of the characters and still remain true to the trajectory of their stories.
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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 4 – Oathkeeper

Posted April 29, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoiler in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

‘You want to fight pretty or you want to win?’

This question, posed by Bronn to Jaime during their sparring session, is one Game of Thrones offers many times, and a variation on a line spoken by Cersei to Ned in Season 1. In this particular episode, it is refined to an even simpler question: what is it to keep an oath?

In the series, keeping an oath is becoming a rare thing. So rare, they are rendered meaningless. Names, titles, significant deeds are all worth nothing, unless they’re everything.

In the season opener ‘Two Swords’, we were treated to Tywin Lannister forging two new swords. One was given to Jaime, who cared none for it, the other to the departed Joffrey, who proceeded to use the sword to demolish a book of kings and kings’ deeds that was a present to him. Joffrey cared none for those that came before, nor the lineage that he participated in, but finds more satisfaction in naming his new sword, even if it falsely prescribes significance to the acts he takes credit for. The fact that these two swords were forged out of the molten ruins of the Stark ceremonial sword is testament to how these characters interact with their past, and with honour. In short, they destroy it, and move on. They want the title, but not the meaning.

In direct contrast, Arya reclaims her sword – named Needle before she was even able to wield it – and is suitably chastened by The Hound, in his affable dismissal of the nature of those who name their swords.

The Freys abandoned oaths when they killed Robb, Catelyn and the rest last season. Joffrey did long ago when he beheaded Ned. Jaime did when he killed the Mad King, leaving Robert Baratheon to take the throne. Honour is gone, so too have oaths. Ned’s fate was a way of showing the lack of relevance and power in oaths – remember our first sighting of Ned was taking an oath before he executed a deserter? – and the series is quickly establishing that the characters either give in to this world without honour, or seek to restore it.

That search, and that hope of restoration, is increasingly in the hands of two characters, Daenerys and Jon Snow, with a little help from some others along the way.

In the opening scene in Meereen, we witness two minor characters – Missandei and Grey Worm – discuss how for the first time there may be hope that justice will be restored. They have known only dishonour and cruelty in their lifetimes, yet spy a way out of the darkness with Daenerys. The method for Grey Worm is simple: kill the masters. The masters have lost their way, so they must go. Every example of authority the series has offered us has been corrupt in some way. From Robert to Joffrey, Stannis to those that ruled Yunkai and Astapor – their way has led to ruin.

Daenerys’ victory in overthrowing Meereen is portrayed as a glorious one, bathed in sunlight as she climbs the steps to the city to the growing cheers and discarded chains, but it is a victory won through Grey Worm’s journey in the mud and muck of the sewers. Given that the show showrunners are now telling stories with an understanding of the endgame, we can start to anticipate how these threads are going to play out in the end. The hope here is that Daenerys’ journey to reclaiming the throne is one where she can hold fast and maintain her just cause, or whether she too will give in to the corruption that blackens authority.

The looming threat of the white walkers is the manifestation of this, the terror that recognises no crown concerns itself with the division of people. And again, we must ask ourselves, as we took glee in Joffrey’s demise, do we see justice in the crucifixion of the Meereenese nobility?

There’s a brief scene in the jail of King’s Landing, with Tyrion explaining how unlikely the truth is to hold sway in a court of justice. Truth doesn’t matter, nor do any of the old codes. Cersei wants him dead, and Tyrion knows he has no option but escape.

Later, Jaime meets with Cersei and she challenges him to find Sansa, while similarly trying to turn him against Tyrion. Given that this is the first moment the two are interacting since the scene in the sept last episode, it again raises questions over the handling of these characters. This particular moment is presented to show Cersei’s irrational grasp on the truth and desire for chaotic vengeance, while illustrating Jaime’s loyalty to his brother, and possibly to his oath to Catelyn back in Season 2. Had last week’s scene not occurred, this would make sense. But now these character notes are all awry, and I find it difficult to understand what they’re trying to present in both Jaime and Cersei.

This is further confounded in Jaime’s new desire to restore pride to his name by holding Brienne to her task in serving Catelyn Stark. He gives her his sword, and a new suit of armour to boot, and Brienne takes up Jaime’s noble cause. There’s no doubt this scene would hold more impact were we not clouded by his actions last week. Regardless, Jaime’s hollow cause is given meaning in Brienne’s code of honour, and she sets off with Podrick in search of Sansa, reminding the audience of how scarce oath-keeping characters like her are in Game of Thrones.

Sansa realises this as she questions Littlefinger and his motives in abandoning loyalty to the Lannisters by conspiring to poison Joffrey, in partnership with Lady Olenna. As they flit back and forth below deck, at times cast in light, other times in darkness, Littlefinger is suddenly revealed to the audience as the new major player in the game, someone who is prepared to ‘risk everything for what he wants’, which just happens to be everything. Joffrey with a brain, it would appear.

But what’s this? Locke has snuck into Castle Black. Cue terror. Here we have the show once again tracking differently to the book, and nobody has any idea what is happening. Locke, invented for the show so as to provide a smoother amputation for Jaime last season, isn’t supposed to be in the story, let alone in this part of the story. One can assume they’re mining the threat and malevolence of the character for benefit in another aspect of the story, to further strengthen the idea that while Jon Snow is the emerging leader of the Night’s Watch, he is also a remaining heir to Winterfell (and perhaps to something else as well), and therefore any risk to his life is a risk to a major part of the overall plot.

Ser Alliser Thorne subsequently gives Jon Snow a fool’s errand to head off and catch some mutineers, in a scene that works well to not only establish Jon’s leadership credentials, but also give further depth to the shaky ground his honour stands on in the Night’s Watch.

The mutineers haven’t been seen for a while, and while they’re well dug in at Craster’s Keep, the whole scene is quite awful, showing just how much Game of Thrones seems to relish in the hideous. It’s almost as if a Martin Scorcese film wandered onto the set of an Eli Roth film, such is the extent of the verbal and visual depravity. This is the opposite to Daenerys’ sun-filled glory, and the end of the spectrum for those who abandon their oaths, such are the mutineers of the Night’s Watch.

Based on this trajectory, one can assume Jon and Daenerys are fighting the same fight – provided here at polar opposites of the episode – and will one day connect in their struggles. One can assume.

But it is here that once again the show takes a significant departure from the books, a departure that already seems to be putting the cat among the pigeons. Firstly, Bran and his team are caught loitering near Craster’s Keep, and forced to give up their identities. This in itself isn’t a huge departure, and one can anticipate that an element of danger added to what is essentially a walking tour will bring some dynamism to Bran’s storyline. Also given that Jon is on his way to Craster’s Keep, there’s the possibility of a reunion, or (more likely) another near-miss of the Stark children.

Then it gets even weirder. A baby left as a sacrifice in the snow by one of the traitors is fetched by a white walker, taken to a group of standing stones, and rather ceremonially turned by what looks to be a white walker in a  position of authority. Given that we’ve already seen more of these creatures in the show than we have in the books – coined ‘Others’ on the page, a title already taken on TV screens – this is a huge invention of the show, but one that requires reflection. Again, these people know more than us, more than the books have covered, and clearly this is playing in to some later development. Or it’s just pure invention for the sake of threat and drama and padding out.

Either way, this episode largely affirmed what is at stake in Game of Thrones – what these few noble characters are fighting for – and what they’re up against, in a world fast set for death and destruction.

  • Valar Morghulis: a bunch of Meereenese nobility, crucified (for justice, remember), and a baby belong to one of Craster’s midwives.
  • Still nothing from the Dreadfort, despite Locke’s appearance.
  • Nothing as well from Dragonstone, so we are yet to see if Davos is able to actively participate in the story yet.
  • There was a rather creepy scene with Margaery and Tommen that I didn’t get time to cover, but in short there’s more manoeuvering to keep Margaery (and Lady Olenna) close to the throne.
  • As predicted, more and more scenes are popping up that are inventions of the show, and lacking any counterpart in the books. This will get interesting.
  • The attack on the wall still seems a couple of episodes off now, despite last week signalling it could happen anytime soon. Oh well, we’ll get back to the wildlings soon enough.
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