Game of Thrones, Season Four – What Went Wrong?

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(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Just the other day, I saw the finale for season four of Game of Thrones, and it got me thinking. While the episode was hailed by some critics as the show’s best finale so far, others raised the obvious point that Thrones geeks did not fail to miss. That being the absence of Lady Stoneheart from the proceedings. In the novel, A Storm of Swords, which provided the material for seasons three and four, things ended with the appearance of a resurrected Lady Catelyn Stark, who now went by the name Lady Stoneheart.

Like most GOT geeks, I felt surprised and disappointed, a sentiment that has been echoing throughout this season. In fact, though I felt that the finale was the best episode of the season, I also had to conclude that season four was the worst season to date. And the reasons for this seemed to be pretty clear after ten episodes with some pretty consistent mistakes. So I thought I might go over them…

1. Pointless Changes that don’t go Anywhere:
One of the biggest annoyance for me this season was the fact they made some rather drastic changes to the storyline, ones which would have altered the plot significantly if they had been allowed to truly unfold. However, not wanting to get terribly off-script, the writers were then forced to tie these divergences up by making sure they didn’t have any lasting effect. As a result, we were left with sequences that were truly pointless.

Ramsay-406The worst of the lot had to do with Theon. In the novels, Theon was presumed dead after A Clash of Kings after he was betrayed and defeated at Winterfell. He didn’t appear again until book V (A Dance with Dragons) where it was revealed that he had been Ramsay Snow’s prisoner the entire time. At this point, he is compelled by his father to use Theon to persuade the Ironborn to leave Deepwood Motte and other captured territories.

But in the show, Ramsay decides to openly advertise that he has taken Theon prisoners and is torturing him in order to persuade the Iron Islanders to leave the North. This prompts Asha Greyjoy (renamed Yara) to sail up the river and mount a rescue. This made little sense, since the Dreadfort is not reachable by river, but the real fault was in how things turned out. After finding Theon, Asha and her men are quickly dispatched when Ramsay decides to unleash his hounds.

Asha retreats, claiming her brother is dead. Not long before, she claimed that rescuing her brother was a matter of honor and an injury to him was an injury to all Ironborn. But after seeing him terrified and brainwashed, and frightened by Ramsay’s dogs, she decides to leave him to his fate. Not surprising, since there really was no other way this thread could have been resolved without seriously altering the plot down the road. But this only made the whole attempted rescue seem pointless.

la_ca_0327_game_of_thronesAnother pointless change that was clumsily resolved was Jon Snow’s mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the mutineers. In the novel, Jon only real concern at this point was the Wildling army riding to the Wall, not to mention the Wildling raiding party that was making its way towards Castle Black. The mutineers were all suspected of being dead, which made sense since Mance’s army was practically upon the Wall at this point.

Another thing, Jon did not know that Bran and Rickon were alive. And so, he didn’t venture out to Craster’s Keep in part because he figured they would be stopping here on their way further north. As a result, there was no close shave where Bran very nearly met up with Jon but then didn’t. What’s more, the fact that Jon was willing to ride out and risk running into Mance’s invading army, but would not ride south to engage Tormund and Ygritte’s raiding party made even less sense as a result.

got4_aryahoundAnd last, Brienne’s encounter with Arya was something that never happened in the books, and therefore necessitated that it end in a way that didn’t violate the plot. This one they actually did pretty well, in my opinion. Not only was the fight between Brienne and the Hound well executed, but it even made a bit of a sense that Arya would choose not to go with her and slip off, for fear that Brienne was working for the Lannisters. Still, it was a made up addition, and one which has to be included since it necessitated a contrived resolution.

2. Padding/Mining:
At the same time, there were additions to the story that never happened in the books and were pure filler. And in just about all cases, it involved the same threads – Theon and Jon Snow in the North, Daenerys in Slaver’s Bay, and Stannis and co. at Dragonstone. In just about all instances, the writer’s were scrambling for stuff for these characters to do because their storylines were exhausted at this point in the book and did not come upon again until book V, which required that material from that book be brought forward and used.

For instance, Roose Bolton did not concern himself with the whereabouts Bran, Rickon, or Jon Snow upon returning from the Red Wedding. His only concern was cementing his rule by having his son marry a Stark and be declared legitimate, which meant that he never sent Locke to the Wall to find them and kill anybody. And so, Locke’s attempted murder of Bran, his death at the hands of Hodor, and the plot to kill the last of the Starks was entirely made up.

GOT4_mereenMuch the same holds true for Daenerys entire storyline after the sack of Mereen. Having proceeded to cover her sack of Slaver’s Bay in a very speedy and topical way, the writer’s of the show were now left with a very important thread where the characters essentially had nothing to do. As a result, they mined material from book V to keep her busy, or just threw in some added material that never happened in the novels and really accomplished nothing.

In the former case, this included Daenerys’ affair with Daario Naharis and her learning that Drogo has killed a herders child, thus prompting her to lock her dragons up beneath one of the city’s pyramids. In the latter, it involved the relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei, which makes little sense seeing as how he is an Unsullied and completely castrated. But to confound this, the writer’s decided that Missandei was suddenly unclear as to whether or not the Unsullied’s castration involved both the “pillar and the stones”.

Much the same held true for Stannis’ thread this season. After being defeated at the Battle of Blackwater, very little was heard from Stannis until his forces appeared in the North and overran Mance Rayder’s Wildling army. However, to ensure he had something to do, the writer’s added many superfluous scenes where we simply see him and his people droning on about very little. And, similar to what they did with Daenerys, they even mined material from book V where Stannis meets with representatives from the Iron Bank.

GOT4_6_2In the novels, the representatives came to Stannis only after he had come to the Wall and routed Mance’s army. The reason being, Lord Tywin was dead, Cersei was in charge of King’s Landing, and she had made it clear that they would not be making payments to the bank just yet. Ergo, the Iron Bank was backing her enemies to ensure that whoever won would make good on the Thrones massive debts. So basically, they took material that happened later, changed it, and moved it forward to keep Stannis’ story going.

The same held true for Stannis’ decision to sacrifice a child of royal blood so Missandre’s could divine the future. This wasn’t to happen until he reached the Wall, and involved entirely different people than Gendry (who was gone from the story at this point). Here too, the material was moved forward and altered just so the character remained in the show.

3. Boring and Superfluous:
Something else that kept popping up for me this season was the endless array of short scenes with pointless talk, the prolonged scenes with pointless talk, and the scenes that tried to be dramatic but were just filled with superfluous stuff. This I generally filed under the heading of “filler”, and there was some crossover with stuff in item two. Still, I felt that it deserved its own category since there was quite a lot of it.

For example, the episode The Mountain and the Viper was one of the most anticipated of the season, and the fight scene that provided the climax was quiet awesome. However, everything leading up to it was some of the most boring material I’ve seen in years. This included Missandei and Grey Worm carrying on like teenagers, Tyrion talking endlessly before the fight about his simple cousin for no apparent reason, and a slew of other scenes in the North or Slaver’s Bay.

OberynMuch the same was true of Daenerys’ siege of Mereen in episodes five and six. What was essentially a major undertaking in the books was covered in three short scenes in the show. It begins with the fight between Daario (it was actually Strong Belwas in the books) and Mereen’s champion, which ended far too quickly. Then the siege itself which involved them throwing barrels filled with broken chains in, and then a quick sneak attack that opened the next episode.

Speaking of which, episode five, Breaker of Chains – what can you say about an episode where just about the only scene of consequence is a rape scene? Seriously, what were the writers thinking with that? It was completely different from what happened in the books, was ugly and unnecessary, and was the only point of interest in an episode that had nothing but after-the-fact dialogue and a slow, plodding pace to it.

4. No Stoneheart!:
But by far, the biggest inexplicable change this season was the absense of Lady Stoneheart (aka. Catelyn Stark) at the end of the season. Not only was she introduced at the end of the third book to preview what was coming in the next two volumes, it also provided a surprise ending that shocked readers and gave them hope. After getting away with bloody murder, it now seemed that the Freys were going to pay for their crimes! But first, a little explanation as to how Catelyn was up and walking again…

Basically, Catelyn became Stoneheart after she was murdered at the Red Wedding and her body cast into the river to float downstream, where it washed up and was found by the Brotherhood Without Banners. There, Beric Dondarion begged Thoros of Myr to use his Red Priest magic to bring her back to life, as he had done with Ser Beric so many times now. However, Thoros was tired of playing God and refused, which led Beric to kiss Lady Catelyn on the lips and pass his life force to her.

Stoneheart_2Tired of being brought back from the dead, he decided he would let the magic which had resurrected him many times bring her back. Ser Beric died on that riverbank, and Lady Catelyn came back – albeit in a scarred, muted form. Not only did she have a hideous scar on her throat and a bloated face, she was also functionally mute. And she was some pissed, and sought revenge against the Freys for their betrayal. As such, she now led the Brothers through the Riverlands to find all those who had betrayed her family and execute them.

So the question is, why was she left out? Well, Alex Graves, who has directed several pivotal episodes of show, commented on this and other issues after the final episode of the season aired:

They [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have such a challenge adapting the books into a really focused television experience. It’s very hard, it’s very complicated, it’s much harder then they’ve been given credit for, I think — and they do a brilliant job. But to bring back Michelle Fairley, one of the greatest actresses around, to be a zombie for a little while — and just kill people? It is really sort of, what are we doing with that? How does it play into the whole story in a way that we’re really going to like? It just didn’t end up being a part of what was going to happen this season. And finally one [more] reason: In case you didn’t notice, a lot happens this season … To add that in is something they opted out of. But what’s funny is that it was never going to be in the season, yet it took off on the Internet like it was going to happen.

Wait, so they didn’t want to show Catelyn as a zombie and because they were too busy with other things? Well okay, except that she’s NOT a walking corpse, she’s a reanimated, living being, who just happens to look a bit the worse for wear. As for the latter explanation, that they were busy, this sort of makes sense since they chose to change things in the final episode where Brienne and the Hound fight it out. But as I said, that never happened in the books and it also served little purpose.

GOT4_briennehoundSo if Graves is saying they chose to forgo a major plot point to focus on something that, while fun to watch, really didn’t effect the story, I would have to check my BS meter. As for whether or not Lady Stoneheart will be appearing in the next season, the director basically said that this was up to the writers and they were not being forthcoming on that point:

As somebody who’s worked deep inside the show, begged to have an answer and wants more than anybody, I have no idea. They won’t tell me. They’re very good at being secretive.

Hmm, so Lady Stoneheart may or may not be making an appearance in the next season, huh? There’s just one problem with that. SHE HAS TO! She’s an integral part of the plot as far as the next chapter in the story – A Feast for Crows – goes. To leave her out would be to leave a big, gaping plot hole where Brienne and Jaime’s story threads are concerned. I mean, its one thing to not bring her back just so she won’t be appearing for a few minutes at the tail end of a season. But to leave her out entirely when her character is central? That’s just plain weak.

But that wasn’t the last thing Graves commented on as far as this season’s finale and future shows were concerned. Fans also wanted to know if that semi-tragic scene involving the Hound was in fact his stand. Graves was strongly suggested that it was:

As far as The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone. How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that she walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.

Yet another problem. In the original novels, when Brienne came to the Riverlands and began tracking down leads, she was told that the Hound had been spotted and was carrying a Stark with him. Initially, Brienne thought it might be Sansa, but later learned it was Arya that was with him, and that she left the Hound to die underneath a tree on the Trident. But later on, reports began to circulate that the Hound was in fact not dead, and had been spotted on the move once again in the Riverlands.

GOT4_hounddeadHonestly, Graves’ guesswork on these topics makes it sound like he really isn’t familiar with the source material. But to be fair, only Martin knows for sure if the Hound is coming back, so announcing things either way at this point would be premature.

Summary:
Of course, its easy to pass judgement of television writers for making changes from original material. And Graves was right when he said that the writing team have their work cut out for them and are working hard to bring George RR Martin’s novels to life. But the problems this season seemed to stem from one central thing: they split the book in half. While this seemed logical since it was clear they couldn’t possibly make all of A Storm of Swords fit into one season, the decision to split it into two meant they didn’t have enough materiel for this season.

After all, ASOS is one of the most eventful and shocking installments in the series, and ten episodes simply wasn’t enough to cover the Red Wedding, Joffrey’s Wedding, Tyrion’s trial and escape, the battle at Castle Black, Mance’s assault on the Wall, Stannis’ assault on the North, and Daenerys’ sacking of the cities of Slaver’s Bay. But twenty episodes was too much, which meant the writers had to make stuff up, take stuff from the next books, or just expand what they had to make it fit.

And the result was a season with some bad parts to it. Still, there were plenty of highlights too. Joffrey’s wedding and his death scene was some pretty good viewing, Tyrion’s trial did not disappoint, the fight between Prince Oberyn and the Mountain was badass, the battle at the Wall was hectic, and the Hound’s (supposed) death scene was quite well done. And the finale was one of the better episodes in the series, and perhaps one of the better finales as well.

And the additions, though they went nowhere, weren’t all bad. In fact, the only thing I would say was done poorly this season was the entire Daenerys thread, which gravitated between boring and superficial. I mean, the woman’s leading an army through the entire Slaver’s Bay and conquering cities! Why did they skim these things so quickly and then give her nothing but boring administrative duties for the rest of the season? Budgets? …ah, maybe.

In any case, I will be watching next season, and look forward to what they will be doing with it. Thanks to how George RR Martin wrote books IV and V (A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), we will be seeing aspects of both books presented simultaneously, but there will be enough material for two seasons this time. Which is good, seeing as how Martin needs time to produce book VI – The Winds of Winter – which will inevitably provide the basis for season seven.

Yeah, the man’s wheels grind slow, and exceedingly bloody! Until next season folks…

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Finale!

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperThis is it! The third season climax, and the follow-up to the most bloody episode the show has ever produced! And naturally, the producers and writers weren’t done with us yet. As I’ve said repeatedly, there’s plenty of blood, intrigue, warfare, and at least one more wedding. And, to my surprise, the damn show featured some additional content from the Red Wedding, the stuff we only heard about in the book. Ugly, ugly stuff…

And after the past few episodes, there are a few threads that are coming together which need a good seasonal finish! These include Bran’s journey north, Arya’s ongoing attempts to get back to her family, Stannis and Melissandre’s campaign to make him king, Theon’s captivity, Jaime and Brienne’s escape from Harrenhal, and of course, the upcoming wedding! Alas, here’s what they chose to do about all that…

Mhysa:
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The episode opens on the brutal and bloody scene that was the Red Wedding, where the Freys are mopping up the Stark forces and presenting Robb in a terrible mock display. Having cut off his head and sown the head of his direwolf on, they parade his body around on horseback chanting “King of the North!”. In  the yard, Arya (barely conscious) is forced to watch the display as Clegane carries her away.

We then move to King’s Landing, where Tyrion is called to council by his father and learns of the news that Robb and Catelyn Stark are dead. Another argument breaks out between Joffrey and Tyrion, and threats are once again uttered. Afterward, Tywin and Tyrion speak privately where the former once again reiterates Tyrion’s need to produce an heir. Afterward, Jaime and Brienne comes at last to King’s Landing and he and Cersei have an amorous reunion…

got3_mhysa1

In the north, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds find their way to the Nightfort, just south of the wall. While they sleep, they begin to hear a terrible noise that they suspect is the ghost. However, it turns out to be Sam and Gilly, who have also just arrived at the Wall. Sam quickly realizes who Bran is and tells them he is John’s sworn brother. Bran asks for their help getting north, but Sam tells them they must all go to Castle Black. Bran and Jojen tell them he must go north, since only he has a chance at stopping the White Walkers.

Sam then shows them the blade he used to kill one, which Jojen identifies as Dragonglass. He distributes other heads from the collection he found, and tells them there are many more out there. They part company then, with Sam and Gilly heading to Castle Black, and Sam showing them to the tunnel they used so they may go north of the Wall.

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Not far away, Ygritte meets up with John Snow again. He tells her he must go home, despite his love for her. She manages to hit him with three arrow, but John still manages to ride away safely. He arrives at Castle Black shortly thereafter, wounded but alive, and is carried inside. At around the same time, Sam and Gilly come before Maester Aemon and tell him of what’s happened. Aemon grants asylum to Gilly and her son (whom she’s named Sam), and asks Sam to take letters calling for aide from every corner of the Realm…

At Dragonstone, Stannis receives word of Robb’s death as well, and Melissandre claims this was due to her ritual. Stannis is now double convinced of the need to sacrifice Gendry. Making his way to the dungeon, Davos frees Gendry, sets him off in a lifeboat, and tells him to make for King’s Landing and never look back. Stannis sentences him to die, but Davos presents him with the letter from the Wall and tells him of the contents. Melissandre confirms the truth of it by looking into her fires, and Davos is spared.

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At the Twins, Walder Frey enjoys his victory and toasts the death of all the high lords who looked down at him and are now dead. They also celebrate their new positions – now that House Frey is gone Walder is to become warden of the Riverlands, while Bolton is to become warden of the north. The subject of Ramsay comes up, and it is revealed that he is the one who is now holding Theon…

We also get to see Theon at the Dreadfort, who is in the midst of suffering from Ramsay’s latest cruelty. In addition to removing one of his fingers and crippling a foot, he has apparently removed his manhood too now. After cruelly jesting about his latest act in front of him, Theon begs for death, but Ramsay claims they still need him. He also confers a new name on him since Theon no longer seems appropriate: Reek.

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We then move to the Iron Islands, where Balon Greyoy receives a letter from Ramsay. He issues an ultimatum, telling him to remove all his forces from the north. To make his point, he also sends the remains of Theon’s “favorite toy” – aka. his manhood, and threatens to send him more pieces unless he leaves. Balon is unmoved, and chooses to press on, but Asha defies him and says she is taking a ship and their best warriors and going to the Dreadfort to save him.

On the road, Arya and Clegane come upon a small camp of Frey men who are boasting about her mother’s death. Arya hears one of the men talking about how he stitched the wolf’s head on her brother, and approaches them. Offering one of the men the coin Jaqen H’gar gave her, she forces him to bend over to pick it up, and then stabs him in the neck. Clegane steps in to kill the others, and Arya retrieves her coin and remembers what H’gar told her about coming to Bravos.

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At Yunkai, Daenerys and her armies are welcomed by the people for the first time. Their greeting party consists of countless freed slaves, who begin chanting “Mhysa” to her as one. She learns that the name means “Mother” in Old Ghiscari, which the slaves have taken to calling her. She commands her dragons to fly and begins walking amongst the people, who lift her up and begin carrying her on their shoulders.

The episode ends with an aerial shot, showing Daenery’s dragons circling the crowd of thousands of freed people as they hold her above and chant her new name…

Summary:
Not a bad way to end the season, though I have to say I was a little disappointed. After the “Rains of Castamere” episode, I suspected they would end the season with the other major wedding and the first of many showdowns that take place at the Wall. But since they didn’t get into any of that, I’m forced to hold my tongue and avoid any spoilers until next season! Which, by the way, is not until sometime next year…

Sure, it’s a wise policy to keep all those good nuggets until season 4, but it did make for a pretty thin season finale. After the massive bloodfest last week, this episode felt like little more than winding up. What’s more, I know for a fact that much of this episode was mere padding – stuff that wasn’t even in the book and was just thrown in to pace things out. Everything from Theon’s captivity, Asha’s decision to rescue him, to and the many, many conversations between secondary characters. All filler.

But I can’t complain too much. Most of the scenes from this episode did provide relevant information and plot development. And they did bring the season down after a terrible 11th hour high. And some of the content, which was only conveyed through dialogue and narration in the book, was illustrated quite nicely here. I’m thinking mainly of the scene with Robb’s corpse. Though horrid, the production of that scene was quite good! Fucking Freys!

And though I’ve complained repeatedly about them throwing in the scenes with Theon, the part about Ramsay giving him his new “name” was kind of neat. Here too, we see material which doesn’t come up until book five, but which becomes highly relevant by then. I suppose filling in the backstory so we’re not lost later does kind of make sense…

Still, waiting a whole year for another season. It’s kind of criminal, really! Yes I know that a big-budget show like this doesn’t happen overnight, but remember the criminally long wait for this last season? Remember the kind of memes it inspired, like this gem:

got_memeThat’s right! But there might be a silver lining, like if Martin somehow produces the sixth book in the series between now and then… Ha! Yeah, right! See you next season!

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 3

GOT3Good afternoon folks, and welcome back for another Game of Thrones season 3 review! I regret to be bringing you this episode several days after it premiered, but life has been getting busy again. However, since I found myself with a day off, I naturally decided to get caught up on all my unfinished articles, which included a review for the third episode of the third season.

Well, this most recent installment was a bit of a doozy! Bloody, baleful, full of pain and the prospect of rape, and just enough nudity to put you in mind of season one, it really took viewing audiences by storm. Of course, there were also some juicy tidbits that I was waiting on, but also, sadly, some that were left for the next episode and after. And as usual, some changes were made and liberties taken with the text…

Walk of Punishment:
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The episode opens with Robb Stark and the Tully family attending Catelyn’s father’s funeral. After setting his body down the river, Robb entreats with his uncle, Edmure, who he scolds for violating his plans. Instead of drawing Ser Gregor Clegane (“The Mountain”) towards Riverrun, as he was meant to so Robb could surround him, he instead fought him in the open country. Though victorious, this has deprived Robb of a victory he sorely needed to end the war quickly.

In King’s Landing, Tywin convenes his small council, which consists of Tyrion, Pyter, Cersei, Varys and Pycelle. In addition to discussing the whereabouts of Jaime, Tywin orders Baelish to the Vale to court Catelyn’s sister in the hopes of bringing her into the war on their side. In his absence, Tyrion takes over as Master of Coin, a position he naturally loathes. Luckily, it gives him a chance to repay a debt…

got3_walk5In the North, the Wildlings come up on the Fist of the First Men and find the remains of dozens of horses arranged in the shape of a vortex, but no men. Mance orders Tormund to take a scouting party to the Wall to assess Castle Black’s defenses and order John’s along. He tells them to await his signal for the attack, which will be “the greatest fire the north has ever seen.”

Not far away, Samwell and the surviving brothers have taken up at Craster’s Keep again. Hungry and desperate, Craster is forced to offer them his hospitality, but relations are quite strained due to his usual arrogance. While there, Samwell witnesses Gilly, the young wife he met on the way up, give birth to a son. She and Samwell are both terrified, as they know that this means Craster will offer him to the Others as tribute.

got3_walk3In Astapor, Daenerys witnesses the “Walk of Punishment”, a waterfront display where slaves who have committed acts of defiance are crucified. Ser Mormont and Ser Selmy argue about what course they should take, whether she should take the Unsullied or raise an army the old fashioned way. She opts to buy the Unsullied, and offers them one of her dragons. She gains Missandre as part of the bargain, an Astaporian translator, and confirms from her that the Unsullied are unquestioning.

In between all this, Theon is rescued by the dungeon hand who claimed Asha sent him. After setting him on a horse, he is turned loose and told to head East. However, it’s not long before Theon is captured again by Ramsay Bolton’s men who appear to want to rape him. Theon is then saved by the last minute intervention of a man who kills them all with his bow and then takes him away…

got3_walk1In the Riverlands, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie are taking to their newfound friends in different ways. Arya feels like a prisoner, by Gendry is working as their blacksmith and Hot Pie decides to stay behind at an inn they were camped at as a baker. Arya and Gendry say goodbye to him and head off on campaign, taking Sandor Clegane (“The Hound”) with them as their prisoner.

Not far away, Brienne and Jaime have been taken captive and being brought to Harrenhal by the Brave Companions (aka. Bloody Mummers). When they make camp, Vargo and his men try to rape Brienne, but Jaime tells them that she’s the daughter of a noble lord and worth her weight in sapphires, but only if she’s alive and unspoiled. That puts an end to all attempts to rape her, but Vargo takes Jaime’s hand when he tries to buy his way out.

Summary:
Like I said, I was waiting on the Jaime dismemberment scene, and it was predictably, hard to watch! And yet, I much missed the parts I was really hoping for, like when (spoiler alert! spoiler alert! spoiler alert!) and there’s a terrible mess to clean up afterwards. Now that was good plot development! Alas, I lament that I will have to wait on these tidbits, as they shall prove quite awesome I suspect!

Other points of interest in this episode included Tyrion’s visit to the whorehouse with Pod, whom he repaid in kind for saving his life by purchasing an evening with not one, not two, but three ladies of the evening! And yet, when Podrick is finished, he returns home with Tyrion’s bag of coin still in hand. Completely flabbergasted as to why Pyter’s ladies would not accept payment, he and Bronn sit Pod down, give him wine and demands he recount his visit, in gratuitous detail.

I also liked what they did with Robb’s return to Riverrun, as it was fitting to the story in a lot of respects. The details of how Edmure Tully screwed up, how Catelyn mourned her father, and how broken up she was for the sake of her boys were all well conveyed and true to the text. And Arya’s thread, though brief, was faithful enough while still getting in the main points. But they do need to introduce the Brotherhood’s red priest at some point, otherwise they’ll be glossing over an important point…

And let’s not forget the key lines of dialogue which made it in directly from the book. These included Mormont’s assessment of Rhaegar Targaryen’s end: “Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly. And Rhaegar died.” Or Mance Rayder’s declaration: “I’m going to light the biggest fire the north has ever seen!” As a Thrones nerd, those lines could only resonate with me… and they did!

Otherwise, this episode did seem a bit quick and sparing in a lot of respects. While some threads got a good dose of development, others, like John Snow’s were once again quick and sparse. For example, in the north, when they came upon the Fist of the First Men, there was plenty more happening than was shown here. And if they continue to move along as they have with this thread, a good deal of really decent material will be lost.

For starters, Mance was angry when they found traces of a large Night’s Watch force, mainly because John never told him about it. Mance then accused John of playing him and was ready to have him killed, but his hand was stayed by Ygritte who vouched for his loyalty. I shall not say more, as the details of that are spoiler related. Suffice it to say, this all took place before he was sent off to the Wall, so we shall see how that plays out. But rest assured, this is another point that they cannot expect to gloss over easily…

Last, there’s Theon’s thread, which is going in an odd direction. In the books, this was not mentioned until book five, as I’ve said. But there, he was never rescued while attempting to flee. So if he’s safely away, this represents a major plot twist that is way off script! In fact (spoiler alert! spoiler alert!)… but that can easily be corrected with a few more lines of dialogue and another plot twist.

All in all, a pretty good episode, better paced and more thorough than the previous two. And there’s plenty more to be had. I just hope they remain true and faithful, because what happened next was pretty damn badass!

A Feast For Crows!

a_song_of_ice_and_fire_version_2_by_scrollsofaryavart-d4rabm1We come to it at last, the fourth and final book in the Song of Ice and Fire Box Set! Wait, what? There’s a fifth book, and two more on the way? And I just bought the fifth book and promised to review it too??? Son of a bitch! Sigh… Alright, let’s get things moving and review this bastard. Lord knows George RR Martin isn’t done writing books, nor I in reading them, apparently.

Ha! I joke because it’s fun, and true. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had originally planned to quit after book four, but then decided some months back to buy the latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series thanks in part to the rave reviews it was getting from friends and critics. But the choice was cinched just the other night when I finally finished Crows and enjoyed how it ended.

To put it simply, A Feast For Crows felt like an afterthought to the series, a depository for the story lines that weren’t particularly important and didn’t make it into the previous volumes in the series. Hence why it took me so long to complete it – coupled with the many other books I started while in the middle of it – it really was a slow read! But upon completing it, I found that there were some rather interesting twists that made the story interesting gain, not to mention worth following!

What’s more, Martin ended the story with the misleading chapter entitled “Meanwhile, Back At the Wall”, which was really a letter to the audience stating that what they had just read was really only half of what he had planned as a fourth installment. At this point in the story, he had so much to say that he felt the only way he could say it all was to either write a massive single-volume or split it in two. And he could either write all the stories half-way, or write half the stories all the way, and leave the others for the next.

And of course, that’s what he did. Whereas the story lines of Cersei, Jaime, Samwell Tarly, Brienne, Arya, Sansa, and a host of other secondary characters get their due in this installment, the equally (if not more important) narratives of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran, and others would be reserved for book five. And like I said before, I could see the wisdom and crass commercial value in this! Damn you Martin, making me buy more of your books! Here’s what happens in this book:

Plot Synopsis:
The book opens with the War of Five Kings coming to an end. With most of the major player dead – Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Renly Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy – and Stannis defeated at King’s Landing, the war has reached a lull and it seems that House Lannister seems poised to inherit the entire realm. All that remains is for them to seize the last of the Stark’s strongholds (like Riverrun, which is still holding out) and to push the Ironmen back from all the ports they’ve seized.

However, the realm is still beset by intrigue as old scores are being settled and new plots put into action. At the same time, Cersei finds that despite the removal of all her enemies, as well as the death of her eledest son and father, she is unable to wield absolute power, and gradually begins to turn inward and succumb to paranoia and self-destruction. And of course, Sansa is still hiding in the Vale, doing her best to remain hidden and attending to Lord Baelish’s ongoing schemes…

King’s Landing: As is quickly becoming apparent, Cersei is incapable of running the realm on a day to day basis, which is made worse by the fact that her Council, which is staffed by loyalists, is ineffectual. At the same time, there is her growing distrust of the Tyrells and their apparent attempts to position Margaery to inherit the throne. As such. Cersei begins scheming to bring the House down.

At the same time, she has to come to terms with the crowns creditors, which include the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Faith of the Seven. In the former case, she fails and the crowns assets are entirely frozen. In the latter, she agrees to the restoration of the Faith Militant, a military order that is answerable only to the High Septon. However, in so doing, she allows for the accumulation of armed zealots in the capitol, most of whom believe her to be an adulterer. It also means the Faith now has its own army in place and is less compelled to accept her authority.

In her bid to lessen the Tyrell’s influence over the masses, the court and her son, she sends Ser Loras Tyrell to help with the siege of Storm’s End. He is mortally wounded in the assault and may not survive. Cersei then interrogates Grand Maester Pycelle and learns that he has been giving Margaery moon tea, and that she and her cousins have been having elicit sex with multiple suitors.

She turns Margaery and her maids over to the faith and has Ser Osney Kettleback, whom she has been bedding, testify to her falseness. This backfires however when Osney is interrogated by the Septon and reveals how he has been sleeping with Cersei and murdered the previous Septon on her orders. Cersei is jailed in the temple and hopes Jaime will return to fight for her…

The Riverlands: Jaime is sent north to assist in the siege of Riverrun and assist in bringing order to the war torn region. He succeeds in the former endeavor, ending the siege bloodlessly by convincing House Tully to surrender peacefully. The next step in his task is to locate the Brotherhood Without Banners, Lord Beric Dondarion, who is dead at this point, and Stoneheart (Catelyn Stark, who are still active in the Riverlands and hanging Lannisters, Freys everyone who had a hand in betraying House Stark. Afterwards, he gets word that Cersei needs his help, but tosses her letter into the fire.

Brienne is also in the Riverlands now after following the trail of Sansa Stark. Her companions include Ser Podrick Payne (former squire to Jaime) and Ser Hyle, one of Renly’s old knights. In time, they are set upon and captured by the Brotherhood and brought before Stoneheart, where she learns her true identity. Since she is carrying a Lannister sword, Catelyn believes she is in the service of the Lannister’s now, and demands she kill Jaime as a test of faith. Brienne refuses, and is sentenced to hang along with her companions.

Dorne: Picking up where A Storm of Swords left off, there is the growing plot by House Martell to avenge the death of the Elia and make Myrcella the queen of Westeros. They have not been appeased by the death of Ser Gregore Clegane, as they know it was Prince Oberyn who killed him, and that Tywin Lannister was behind the murder. Doran Martell, the ruler of Dorne, must now deal with the plotting of his bastard nieces – known as the Sand Snakes – who want war and to avenge their fathers death. He has them all locked in the tower, but soon finds that the plot is extending to his own daughter, Arianne.

For some time, she has been bedding Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsgaurd, and uses him to abduct Myrcella and try and install her as queen. When this fails, she too is placed in the tower and Ser Arys is killed. But before long, her father hauls her before him and tells her of his true plans. He too wants revenge, but has more subtle plans. This involves sending her brother Quentyn to the east to bring back “Fire and Blood” – Daenerys Targaryen – who he believes was prophesied to restore Westeros to its former glory.

Iron Islands: With the death of Balon Greyjoy and the ongoing war against the other Houses of Westeros, there is a question of who will lead the Ironmen. Aeron Damphair, the high priest of the Iron Islands, calls a Kingsmoot, a gathering to determine a successor, which becomes hotly contested by Asha and Victarion, Balon’s daughter and brother. However, Euron Greyjoy – Balon’s oldest brother, known as the exiled “Crow’s Eye”- is chosen as king due to his promise that he can control dragons with a recently acquired horn. He too sends out a party to travel to the east and find Daenerys with the intent of taking her dragons and conquering all of Westeros.

The East: Arya Stark arrives in Braavos and finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the assassins known as the Faceless Men (of whom Jaqen H’gar was a member). She begins her training as an initiate and takes on a new identity, a girl who goes by the name of “Cat of the Canals”. However, her former identity continues to assert itself in the form of wolf dreams, and also when she comes across members of the Night’s Watch who are in town. This includes Samwell Tarly, whom she meets without knowing, and when she murders his companion Dareon for abandoning his brothers. The morning after Dareon’s murder, she admits to the Kindly Man that it was “Arya” who committed it, and is given a glass of warm milk as punishment. After drinking, she wakes up blind the following morning.

Meanwhile, Sam, Gilly and Maester Aemon stop on the way to Oldtown, where they hope to uncover the mystery of the one who has been prophesied. Aemon now believes this to be Daenerys as well, and seeks information about the “Lady with Dragons” to the east so he can help restore his niece to the throne. Sam finds a ships of Summer Islanders who claim to have seen the dragons firsthand and agree to take them to Oldtown. Aemon dies in transit, and Gilly and Sam become intimate over their shared sense of grief. When they arrive in Oldtown, Sam sends her to his family’s holdings for her own safety – as the Iron Men have been reeving in the region. He then proceeds to the Citadel, where he is told that Daenerys is the one prophesied to save the realm, and he begins training to go and find her.

Summary:
As I may have said already, this book largely felt like a depository for threads that were not part of the main story. After events in the previous three novels, one would think that the fourth book would have something on the Wall and the growing threat of “The Others.” However, the ongoing story about Arya’s new life in Braavos, the conspiracy in Dorne, Cersei’s own machinations at King’s Landing, and the leadership struggle amongst the Ironmen – all these felt like diversions from the climactic storyline. And after three books, I was beginning to get quite impatient for it. It’s like, C’mon, when are The Others going to attack? When is all this prophecy going to be revealed?

However, by the end, it became abundantly clear where Martin was going with this. At last, we find out that Daenerys is not just a contender for the Iron Throne, but the subject of the very prophecy that was being foretold since the second book, when the Red Comet first appeared. What’s more, by the end, it was abundantly clear that all the threads appearing in this book were closely related. The Iron Islanders, the Nights Watch, and the people of Dorne are all seeking Daenerys, and it’s clear at this point that she will be coming back to Westeros in force, and might even be seen as a force of liberation after all the infighting.

In addition, Cersei’s fate at King’s Landing was a welcome twist. While there are those who see her as a sympathetic character who’s only doing what any man in her position would do, I see that and all the talk of double standards as crap! Crap, crap, crap! She’s a cruel, selfish, and narcissistic woman who only cares about herself and condemns anyone who doesn’t do her bidding. So to see her get hers after all this time made me quite happy. It was also fitting that Jaime, whom she shunned when it became clear he wasn’t sympathizing with her, would spurn her appeals for help.

All of this was just enough to pique my interest in the series again, which was beginning to wane after Robb Stark was killed and it became clear the war was going to drag out and end in the Lannister’s favor. Not only that, but the War in the North, the prophecy involving the coming darkness (i.e. the Others) and Daenery’s own campaign to return in force; all of these seemed to be dragging inexorably on. As I said before, it seemed like the original story, with its three dominant threads, could have been wrapped up nicely in three books. And with book four beginning with all these secondary threads that seemed unrelated to the main plot, I was really beginning to tire.

However, Martin managed to wrap things up nicely. And coupled with all the nice reviews I’ve been hearing about book five, I will continue to read and report on what comes of things. I really, really hope for the sake of the series and his readers that things proceed towards a climax now. Because of this ends up being a “Wheel of Time” scenario after all, where the story just keeps going and going, I will be sorely disappointed and forced to give up. Here I go with A Dance of Dragons, wish me luck!