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 Four, Episode Five

game_of_thrones_s3We have reached the midpoint of the season at last. Just five more episodes to go before we are finished with A Storm of Swords and no doubt have to look forward to another year’s worth of waiting! But I’m sure the fans will all find something else to watch while they wait. Cable television is good like that! In the meantime, this week’s episode was largely a pacing one, providing some updates on the course of the season four story arc, and a little resolution of its own.

In the former category, this included Tommen’s coronation as king  the preparations for Tyrion’s trial, Sansa arriving at the Eyrie with Lord Petyr Baelish, Daenerys settling in as Queen of Mereen, Arya and Sandor’s journey through the Riverlands, and Pod and Brienne’ search for Sansa. In the latter case, the resolution came in the form of Jon Snow arriving in the north to deal with the threat of the mutineer’s at Craster’s Keep…

First of his Name:
GOT4_5_1The episode opens in the Throne Room at King’s Landing, where Tommen is being crowned King of the Andals, First Men, and all of Westeros. Cersei and Margaery use the occasion to discuss what comes next, which is the marriage of her to Tommen. Shortly after, she meets with her father to discuss the possible preparations, and it is agreed they will marry within a fortnight, and she will marry Ser Loras a fortnight thereafter. The subject of Tyrion’s trial also comes up, with Cersei trying to sway his judgement.

In Mereen, Daenerys is busy taking stock of her conquest now that Mereen has fallen and is told that Joffrey is now dead. She also learns that her army has taken Mereen’s fleet intact, and that she can now sail to Westeros. However, news has reached her that in her absence, the slave masters have once again seized power in Yunkai and Astapor. She decides that the time is not right to leave and that she must stay behind to rule as Queen, and see to it that Slaver’s Bay is and remains liberated.

GOT4_5_2In the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor continue on their way to the Eyrie, and Sandor learns that Arya intends to kill him along with all the other people on her list. He sees her doing a “water dance” as Syrio taught her, and mocks her efforts. Elsewhere, Brienne and Pod are making their way through the wilderness, and Brienne is frustrated by Pod’s apparent lack of competence as a squire. She chooses to ease up on him when she learns of how he saved Tyrion’s life by killing Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard.

In the Vale itself, Sansa and Petyr arrive and are admitted to the Eyrie and are greeted by her aunt Lysa and Lord Robin. After sending Sansa and Robin away, Lysa demands that Petyr agree to marry her that same night. She speaks of how she was the one who killed Jon Arryn, and how she did at his behest. To quiet her, Petyr then agrees to her request, and discovers that she has the Septon waiting outside to perform the rights. They are married on the spot and begin their wedding night.

GOT4_5_4Later, she meets with Sansa. Over lemoncakes, she talks of her mother and Petyr’s obvious sense of duty towards her. In the course of this, she becomes very jealous and demands to know why he feels obligated to protect her, going so far as to accuse Sansa of being pregnant with his child. Sansa breaks down and cries, professing her innocence, and Lysa relents. She then says that they will all be safe, and that she intends to see Sansa marry Lord Robin.

In the north, Jon and his brothers come upon Craster’s Keep, and Locke spots Bran and the Reeds inside one of the shacks. He tells the others to avoid it, and when they attack, he sneaks in and tries to ferry Bran away. Bran takes possession of Hodor, and uses him to snap Locke’s neck and escape. Hodor frees the Reeds, and together, they watch as Jon and his brothers liberate the camp. Bran wants to call out to him, but Jojen warns him he will try to take him to Castle Black and not let him find the “Three-Eyed Crow”.

GOT4_5_5Jon meanwhile engages Karl Tanner in single combat. Karl nearly kills Jon after fighting dirty, but a Wildling woman manages to stab him in the back, giving Jon the time he needs to sink his sword into the back of Karl’s head. Jon is then reunited with Ghost, who freed himself and killed the last of the mutineers as they tried to escape into the forest. He tells the women they are free to come with him, which they are reluctant to do.

However, when faced with the prospect of staying at the Keep, they tell him to burn it to the ground as well as all the bodies of the mutineers. They watch Craster’s Keep catch fire and leave the place to burn…

Summary:
Yeah, again, this episode was little more than pacing and filler, even if it was relatively enjoyable to watch. Aside from Jon’s assault on Craster’s Keep and his execution of the muntineers, not much happened. Mainly, the characters simply talked about that which we already know, and nothing of consequence was really said. Cersei doesn’t trust Margaery and wants Tyrion to die, Arya hates Sandor, Pod isn’t that good a squire, and due to additional complications, Daenerys still can’t return to Westeros.

The only exception to this was Sansa’s arrival at the Eyrie, where we saw just how painfully irrational her aunt is and how jealous she can be. This is something that will come up in later episodes, with scary consequences (no spoilers)! We were also treated to the revelation that it was Petyr and Lysa who were behind Jon Arryn’s death. Up until now, it was attributed to the Lannister’s as part of their scheme to keep their incest a secret. However, we now see that it was part of Petyr’s ongoing scheme to play one house off against another.

As for Jon’s arrival at Craster’s Keep, we did get some action and some much needed justice. But in an entirely predictable twist, Bran and Jon do not meet up, mainly because the plot demands it. Never happened in the book, and of course Jon would try to take his brother back. So the only point of this added thread was to shoehorn some more action into the season, huh? I was also a bit annoyed that they changed Lord Robert’s name to Robin. Was it really necessary to make this change to avoid confusing audiences?

In any case, that plot thread is now closed, and Jon and the Nights Watch can get back to the matter of protecting Castle Black and the Wall from Mance and the Wildlings. And before the season is out, we will be treated to Tyrion’s trial, the consequences therefor, and the inevitable twists that will arise out of Arya, Brienne and Sansa’s misadventures in the Riverlands/Vale. These, I’m looking forward to, if not the additional pacing that is sure to accompany them!

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Three

got4And we’re back with another backlogged episode of Game of Thrones! As expected, the third episode of the season quickly picked up after the events of the “Purple Wedding”, following the escape of Sansa from King’s Landing, Tyrion’s arrest for Joffrey’s murder, and the Lannisters and Tyrells trying to pick up the pieces of their alliance. At the same time, we got to hear from some other threads characters, such as Arya and Sandor as they continue across the Riverlands, and Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch at the Wall.

But arguably, the most important thing to come out of this episode was Danaery’s and her long-awaited confrontation with the city of Mereen, the last great city of Slaver’s Bay. This was the highlight of the episode, which is why it bears the name…

Breaker of Chains:
GOT4_3_1The episode opens on the aftermath of the wedding, with Cersei ordering Tyrion’s arrest and that Sansa be found. She, meanwhile is ferried to the coast by Ser Dontos, who puts her on a small boat and rows her out to meet a larger vessel. Once on board, she finds Petyr Baelish waiting for her, and Ser Dontos is shot with a crossbow and killed. He reveals to her that her rescue was entirely his plan, and Ser Dontos his agent, and that they are now sailing for his home.

In the Grand Sept, Joffrey’s body is arrayed and Tommen, Cersei and Tywin stand over it. Tywin queries Tommen over what kind of king he will be now that his brother is dead. He teaches him that holiness, justice and strength – as epitomized by Baelor, Orys I, and Robert – must take a backseat to wisdom, which his brother lacked and which led to his death. He also councils him to marry soon so he can father an heir before long.

GOT4_3_2Jaime enters after and orders everyone leave him and Cersei alone with Joffrey’s body. Cersei accuses Tyrion of murdering their son and demands his death, but Jaime refuses to believe it. She tries to send him away, but Jaime forces himself on her on the Sept floor. Further north, Arya and Sandor are still on their way to the Eyrie, are discovered by a local land owner, and Arya talks them into getting room and board for the night.

Over dinner, the land owner tries to convince Sandor to stay around, claiming that Frey banner men are raiding all across the land and they are in need of protection. Sandor accepts, but in the morning, Arya finds that he’s assaulted the man and stolen his silver, and tells Arya they are leaving again. She calls him many names, but Sandor insists that the family won’t survive the winter and she needs to learn from her family’s fate that the world is a cruel place.

got4_3_5At the Wall, Sam and Gilly are settling back in. He urges her to go to Mole’s Town for her own safety, but she is hurt to think that he is sending her away. Once there, Sam arranges for her to work in the brothel as a maid and promises to come visit. On Dragonstone, Stannis tells Davos of Joffrey’s death and demands that they press his claim. Short of men and funds, Davos suggests they recruit the Golden Company, and decides to writes to the Iron Bank of Bravos to implore them for gold.

South of the Wall, the Wildling party wipes out a small village and Styr spares one boy, telling him to go to the Wall and inform them of their attack. At Castle Black, they debate what to do, and they agree that their main problem is stopping Mance’s army and that they must shore up the wall and its defenses. More survivors arrive from Craster’s Keep, and Jon orders that they ride there to kill the mutineers, who he fears will tell Mance of their true numbers once they are captured.

GOT4_3_6In King’s Landing, Tywin confronts Prince Oberyn about Joffrey’s murder. He naturally denies any involvement, and asks that he be allowed to meet the Mountain. Tywin agrees, but asks that in exchange, Oberyn act as one of Tyrion’s judges, sit on the Small Council, and bring Dorne back into the Seven Kingdoms, so that they may stands against all the unresolved threats to the Realm. In the dungeons, Pod meets Tyrion and tells him of his impending trial. Tyrion warns him to get out of King’s Landing and says his goodbyes.

In Essos, Daenerys and her army arrive at Mereen at last and are met by a champion of Mereen. Grey Worm, Ser Mormont and Ser Selmy and Daario all volunteer, and Daenerys decides to send him he claims to be the least indispensable. Daario confronts him on foot, and when the champion charges, he takes down his horse with a thrown dagger and then slices his throat before he can recover. Returning the champions opening gesture, he then urinates in front of the crowd standing on the walls.

GOT4_mereenDaenerys then addresses the slaves of Mereen, telling them she has come to free them from their masters. She then has her catapults lob cases filled with broken chains and slave collars from Astapor and Yunkai into the city, which then break and are taken and inspected by the slaves. One slave picks up a broken collar, similar to the one he wears, and looks over his shoulder at a fearful master.

Summary:
All in all, this was a pretty good episode, which provided some pacing and build-up after the previous week’s “Purple Wedding” shocker. Though I must admit, I was a bit disappointed with the climax and how they bit it short. After all this time marching towards Mereen, I had hoped that they would at least show a little bit of the of the siege. However, it is clear that we will have to wait until the next episode to see all that. And there were the numerous changes they made this week from the text that sort of stuck out for me as well.

First off, Jaime never raped Cersei inside the Sept while Joffrey’s corpse lay before them. It was when he returned to King’s Landing, before the wedding, that they had consensual relations. There was none of this vindictive “you took too long” crap and she was naturally very happy to see him. That whole seen seemed odd and distasteful to me, and apparently it was quite controversial with audiences in general. One has to wonder why they did it.

Second, Jon Snow never proposed riding to Craster’s Keep in the books, and no additional survivors made it back from the north aside from him, Sam and Gilly. Given that they were expecting an impending attack from Mance north of the Wall, and they had the raiding party coming up from the south, leaving Castle Black was the last thing they could afford to do. What’s more, no one was believed to have survived up there, so there really was no point to it.

Third, when they reached Mereen, the confrontation was between the Mereenese champion and Strong Belwas, a former gladiator who had been travelling with Selmy. Daario was not the one to kill the champion, but since they’ve chosen to write Belwas out, they had to do a substitution. Also, the fight was short and anticlimactic compared to what happened in the book. It was here that Belwas, a rotund and heavy-set guy, impressed Daenerys and the others by outmaneuvering the man on horseback and slaying him with his arakh sword.

Which brings me to another point that is going to be relevant come next week. In addition to Selmy having Belwas as a traveling companion when he first met Daenerys in Qarth, he was also operating under the assumed identity of Aristan Whitebeard. After he and Belwas saved Daenerys from an assassination attempt in Qarth, she rewarded them by accepting them as her companions. It was only upon their arrival at Mereen that she learned the truth of his identity, which he kept secret since he was in the service of King Robert (her sworn enemy).

This played in an important role in what came next, but more on that in next episode’s review. While I am always likely to gripe about changes made, I did still enjoy this installment and have noted that many of their more profound changes in the past did work out in the end. So I plan to give them the benefit of the doubt as I move onto the fourth and latest episode of the season. A siege awaits, and plenty more intrigue and action on all the other fronts!

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 5

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperMorning folks, welcome to another work week, and another episode review of GOT! This week, since I’ve got a bit more free time on my hands, I thought I’d get to this review early and avoid what happened last time. I mean, people don’t need to wait til Thursday to hear about a show they watched on Sunday right? Yeah, mea culpa. But its a new week and a new episode, and the mid-season one at that!

Naturally, I was eager to see this week’s episode, since the story was now in full swing and the big plot points were being addressed. For example, Daenerys campaign to raise an army of free people from the ruins of the slave capitol of the world. This was one of the best parts of book III, so I’m quite interested to see how they go about illustrating it. And of course, there’s also Robb Stark’s growing problems, which were not dealt with last time.

But biggest for me was the plot thread hinted at in the title. After weeks of having John Snow’s story only touched on, and with him not even making an appearance last week, I was happy to see that this episode would be dealing with his story. Not only is it too one of the most important in the third book, it is perhaps the most personal and emotionally involved.

Taken together, the promise of seeing all these threads further developed left me feeling eager and antsy…

Kissed By Fire:
got3_kissedThe episode opens in the Riverlands, where Beric Dondarrion prepares for trial by combat with Sandor Clegane. After setting his sword ablaze in true R’hllorian fashion, Beric fights Sandor, who’s naturally afraid of his flaming blade. However, Sandor manages to survive the bout and lands his sword in Beric’s shoulder, killing him. But the death doesn’t last long, as Thoros issues a prayer to the Lord of Light and resurrects Beric yet again. Found innocent by trial of combat, Sandor is released…

Later on, Arya learns that Gendry will be staying behind with the Brothers while she is taken to Riverrun and handed over to her brother. Afterwards, she learns from Beric that he has died many times and been brought back by Thoros, and wonders if her father could be resurrected in the same way.

got3_kissed2In Riverrun, Robb is faced with yet more problems as Lord Karstark take matters into his own hands and executes the Lannister captives. Though he is encouraged to take him as a hostage in order to ensure the continued loyalty of House Karstark, he decides to execute him and swings the sword himself. He loses the Karstarks as allies and laments how unity has broken down in his army. However, he knows he can still march on Casterly Rock, provided he can rebuild his alliance with House Frey.

In Harrenhal, Vargo Hoat delivers Brienne and Jaime Lannister to Roose Bolton. Being merciful, he chooses to let Jaime know that his family prevailed in the siege of King’s Landing and sends him to get the care he needs for his wound. Afterward, he finds Brienne in the baths and shares a tub with her. After agreeing on a truce, he explains to her why it is he killed King Aerys, thus earning him the name “Kingslayer”.

got3_kissed1Moving to the north, we see John with his newfound Wildling companions, sharing what information he can with Tormund about the Wall’s defenses. Afterward, Ygritte leads him on a bit of a chase and they end up inside a cave, where she undresses for him and tests his loyalties by seeing if he will break his vow of celibacy. He does, and the two are joined in Wildling fashion… a couple of times!

In King’s Landing, Cersei reaches out to Lord Baelish for help in dealing with the Tyrells, while Tyrion reaches out to Lady Redwyne for help with the royal wedding. Sansa gets a chance to see Ser Loras, whom she thinks she will marry. However, Tywin intervenes and decides to wed her to Tyrion. After gloating, Cersei is told she will wed Ser Loras, which sends her into a fit of self-pity.

got3_kissed3On Dragonstone, Stannis meets with his wife for the first time in ages. He comes to confess for his indiscretion with Lady Melissandre, but is told that he has done nothing wrong. As his wife is clearly crazed over the loss of her stillborn children, which she keeps in a set of jars, she confesses that she was overjoyed to learn that someone else was able to give him the son he deserved.

Afterward, Stannis meets with his daughter, Shireen Baratheon, who waits in her tower and suffers from greyscale. After learning that Ser Davos, who has always been a friend to her, is in prison for treason, Shireen goes to the dungeons to see him and brings him a book – Aegon the Conqueror. He confesses that he is illiterate, at which point she begins reading it to him and suggest she make a habit of coming to see him.

got3_kissed4In Essos, Daenerys army continues to march from Astapor to Yunkai. This gives Ser Mormont and Ser Selmy a chance to discuss the men they’ve served over the years and discuss how best to serve their new queen. But both agree that they are happy to be serving Daenerys now since they believe in her, though it is clear Mormont also holds a torch for her.

Daenerys also addresses her Unsullied officers and asks them to pick their own names and shed their slave names. Their leader, Grey Worm, tells her he will keep that name, as it is lucky. His birth name was the one he had when he was taken as a slave, whereas the one he has now he held when Daenerys set him free.

Summary:
As usual, high and lows in this episode, though I felt it was mainly characterized by highs. For starters, I was glad to finally see John and Ygritte hook up!  Their thread has been sorely neglected so far and I was seriously beginning to wonder if they would ever get around to showing their relationship or not. I was glad to see that they did!

In the third novel, this was not only an important aspect of the plot but the also one of the most gripping and emotionally involved parts of the story. Here, John’s loyalties are being severely tested, and his newfound love for Ygritte was causing him to break his oaths. Of course, he was only doing what Qorin told him to before they were captured, but that didn’t make it any easier for him.

Though that raises something that I’ve found generally unlikeable about their adaptation. In the second season, Qorin did not ask this of John and instead seemed to condemn him for letting Ygritte go, a move which led to their capture. Granted, it seemed obvious he staged their little “fight” to get John into their good books and sacrificed himself, but John was not in the know and is now groping around blindly.

Perhaps they thought this would make his uncertainty and test of loyatlies more genuine, but I think it only complicates matters. Better to have him playing the role of defector and constantly be wondering if he’s doing the right thing than have him vacillating between two camps for real.

Another high point was Jaime’s confession to Brienne of why he killed Aerys. Not only was the scene accurate and lucidly portrayed, it was a testament to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s skill as an actor that he managed to pull off Jaime’s torment so well. After years of being a cynical bastard because of how people view him as a man without honor, and having lost his sword hand – his only redeeming feature, in his mind – he is naturally in serious emotional pain and wants redemption. Personally, I thought he captured that here brilliantly.

And of course, the machinations that are going on in King’s Landing. As I’ve said before, the Sansa-Pyter plot has been simplified, since it was Boros Blount who arranged for her escape and Pyter’s involvement not revealed until later. But aside from that, they are capturing the spirit of this point in the story quite well, showing how plotting between houses is causing a general atmosphere of distrust that will threaten to boil over. And for the most part, it’s being conveyed accurately.

And as for Robb’s thread, there is a minor change here which caught my attention. His decision to repair relations with the Freys was not part of some brilliant idea to attack Casterly Rock. It was done out of necessity because his decision to marry Talisa Maegyr was basically a big middle finger to his promise to marry Walder Frey’s oldest daughter. What’s more, its hardly big news that he would plan to attack Casterly Rock, home of the Lannisters.

That was his aim in the book all along. Since it sits west of Riverrun and well north of King’s Landing, he knew he had to have it, since to march past it would expose his entire western flank. A nitpick, I know, but sometimes I wonder why they bother with little changes like these. They kind of seem frivolous and unnecessary, like they are trying to sex up the storyline or something. It’s already well-sexed, believe me! Just tell it and move on…

And to end things happily, I like that they brought in Stannis’s daughter and developed his back story some more. Naturally, its hard to give all the characters their worth in a format like television, especially when adapting something as voluminous as Martin’s series. But they managed to get her and his wife in, and show the kind’s of debilitating and tragic things which have effected their family. Oh, and the way they had his daughter singing the song that Patchface  – her jester, who was important in the books but didn’t make it into the cast of the show – always sung her was a nice touch.

And that was the middle of season three, people! Things are shaping up and we are due for some major action, betrayals and intrigue real soon! Stay tuned because I know for a fact that it’s only getting better from here…

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 4

game_of_thrones_s3I admit, the delay in getting to this episode was long. But this week has been one of those, the kind that drags out and taxes one’s constitution. You know the kind I mean! In any case, I wanted to get caught up before the midseason show arrives and there’s too much to cover! Plus, things are beginning to get dicey with all the threads the show is laying down this season and I feel the need to comment…

And Now His Watch Is Ended:
got3_watchThings open with Brienne and Jaime being brought back to Harrenhal by Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummers. Jaime’s severed hand is now dangling around his neck, and after falling from his horse, Jaime steals a sword and tries to fight his way free, but is defeated. Later, by a night fire, Brienne chastises him for wanting to give up and die, saying he’s finally understands what it means to lose something, but also thanks him for lying to save her life.

In King’s Landing, Tyrion meets with Varys to discuss how he intends to get his revenge. Varys lets him know that the key is to build influence, as he has for years, which he can then use to get revenge on those who wronged him. To illustrate his point, he opens a large box which contains the man who removed turned him into a eunuch as a boy, which he had shipped to King’s Landing from Myr through his myriad of connections.

got3_watch1

In King’s Landing, Margaery is taken on a tour of the Sept of Baelor, with Queen Cersei and Lady Olenna Redwyne in tow. After Margaery convinces Joffrey to stand out in front of a gathering crowd, Cersei begins to fear that Margaery has her hooks in her son. She appeals to her father for help, who tells her she’s allowed Joffrey to “run roughsod” over the city and her. She challenges him to intervene, and he accepts.

After speaking to his sources, Varys learns of Littlefinger’s plans to take Sansa with him to the Vale and approaches Lady Olenna for help. Between the two of them, he thinks they can come up with a better arrangement. Margaery continues to endear herself to Sansa and tells her that once she’s queen, she will be able to marry Loras and relocate to Highgarden, where she would be safe.

got3_watch2

In the north, the Black Brothers continue to toil in Craster’s Keep and plot taking matters into their own hands. Samwell tries to arrange a way to take Gilly and her newborn son with them, as they both know that Craster will sacrifice him to the Others as soon as he learns of the boy’s existence. Afterwards, after a funeral for one of their brothers, tempers break and the men turn on Craster, killing him and Mormont. Sam escapes with Gilly into the night…

Theon, who is now free and being protected by the boy who claims Osha (Theon’s sister) sent him, is delivered to what he believes to be Deepwood Motte. However, he soon learns that his rescue was all a ruse and that he is actually being delivered back into the Dreadfort, where he is now going to resume the torments and the torture he had endured thus far.

got3_watch4In the Riverlands, Thoros and the Brothers Without Banners bring Arya and Gendry to the caves call home. Once there, Sandor Clegane is brought before Beric Dondarion, the leader of their camp, who reveals they are now followers of R’hllor. Sandor is made to answer for his crimes, but as no one witnessed him killing Mica (which Arya accuses him of), Beric sentences him to trial by combat.

In Astapor, Daenerys finalizes her deal with the slave masters and takes possession of an army of Unsullied. After handing over one of dragons, she is given the decorative whip and becomes the Unsullied’s new master. After issuing a few commands to ensure that they will obey, she reveals that she speaks Valyrian and promptly orders her dragon to start burning the slave masters, and her new army to kill every last master in the city!

With the city in ruins, Daenerys declares that her Unsullied are free, and asks if they will fight for her as free men. No one answers right away, but slowly, the army begins to beat their spears against the ground as one and declares for her. Leaving the city with her army in tow, she tosses with the whip in the dirt and begins moving to free the next city.

Summary:
Well, I can tell you that I was pretty pleased with this episode for at least two reasons. One, the ending! Man, I was waiting for that scene. As one of the most badass parts of the book, I was eager to see how they would go about illustrating it. And as usual, they managed to go a good job turning available sets and a small army of extras into a realistic looking rendition of what Martin created, massive cities with ancient structures and hoards of armed soldiers.

The other thing I liked was the fact that they introduced Beric Dondarion at last. Up until now, I thought that the actor portraying Thoros of Myr was supposed to be the knight that had lost half his face but was resurrected by a Red Priest. However, they proved me wrong in this episode and delivered on him, and added the fact that they had all become followers of R’hllor. I was hoping to see the ensuing fight scene between Beric and Sandore, but there’s always next time.

As for the things I didn’t like, well they all had to do with the same basic pattern. Bran’s story received no real advancement in this episode, but they still show a tiny snippet that recalls his big fall and his journey north. What was the point of it, other than to give him screen time? And Theon’s entire thread for this series; since he doesn’t even come up until the fifth book again, where his reappearance is a surprise, I find this whole thread useless. Between items of significance, his torture seems like mere filler, designed to keep his character in the show as they flesh out the real story. Yeah, I know, actors gotta work, but it seems obvious and transparent.

Other than that, I think it’s safe to say this was my favorite episode of the season thus far. I’m looking forward to what happens in the next few episodes, where I trust they will be hitting John’s story with both barrels! I did miss the mention of him in this episode, but am pleased they didn’t give a snippet about him like they did Bran. Better to just leave them out if they’ve got nothing important to do, I always say!

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:
got3_walk
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!

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Premiere!

GOT_Season3_teaserWow, what a Sunday! The season finale of season three of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of season three of Game of Thrones, all in one night. Lucky for me I didn’t have to choose between watching one or the other, but unlucky for my followers, it has meant a bit of a delay in terms of both reviews. I can only hope people find my thoughts informative or at least agreeable.

Speaking of agreeable, I personally felt the season premiere improved considerably on last seasons. Though this one was also a bit of whirlwind introduction, it didn’t exactly feel rushed like that last one did. But of course, they also strayed from the text in many ways which I couldn’t help but notice. And as newly minted Thrones geek, believe me when I tell you, I will be griping!

So here is what I thought of this season’s opener!

Valar Dohaeris:
The episode opens exactly where the last left off, with Samwell Tarly running from the White Walkers as they attack the Fist of the First Men. After being rescued by John’s direwolf (Snow) and Lord Commander Mormont, Sam is told to join their party as they beat a hasty retreat south. The fate of the entire Realm depends on them making it back to the Wall…

got3_giantOver at the Wildling camp, John Snow gets a firsthand look at their army and sees a giant for the first time. Ygritte then brings him before Mance Rayder who asks him why he intends to join them. John tells them his reasons have to do with what he witnessed at Craster’s Keep. He says he wants to fight on the side of “those who fight for the living”, and Mance orders him a new cloak.

In the north, Robb and his army march on Harenhall, which they find abandoned. Inside the walls, he finds over 200 Northmen and their horses strewn about, and only one survivor, whom Talisa Maegyr (Robb’s new wife) begins to attend to. The sight of all this death angers his men even further that his mother let Jaime Lannister go, and he orders that she be arrested and restricted to quarters.

got3_tyrionAt King’s Landing, Tyrion has recovered from his wounds and is visited by his sister. Cersei naturally denies any complicity in his near shave with death, and demands to know why he has summoned their father to meet with him. He is then attended by Bronn, who naturally demands more money for his continued service. As the only friend Tyrion has left, he is forced to oblige…

Upon meeting with his father, Tyrion laments the fact that he is no longer Hand of the King and that Tywin did not come to visit him while he recovered. He then broaches the subject which is central to their meeting: his inheritance of Casterly Rock. After letting him know that he will receive a position befitting his name and title, he cruelly reminds him that would never allow one such as him to inherit the seat of Lannister power and sends him on his way.

got3_margaeryAt the docks, Sansa is met by Lord Petyr Baelish who begins discussing his plan for removing her from the capitol. He tells her he has a ship that will be leaving and she will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and she is happy to agree. Meanwhile, Shae and  Ros – who appears to be Baelish’s chief madame – speak privately, and she warns Shae to watch Sansa closely, especially when she is in the company of Baelish.

On their way back from the Sept, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are being carried in their litters and she decides to stop and take a walk in Flea Bottom. In the back alleys, she speaks to a group of orphans and hears of how their fathers died in the battle. She promises that Joffrey will be a good king and will take care of them. She and Loras meets with Joffrey and Cersei afterwards, and the seeds of tension are sown.

got3_stannisIn the Narrow Sea, Ser Davos Seaworth is found after being washed up on a rock after the Battle of Blackwater. After identifying himself as Stannis’ man, he is taken aboard by his old smuggler friend, Salladhor Saan, and returned to Dragstone. Once there, he meets with Stannis and Melissandre and takes issue with how he’s burning men alive as sacrifices. Melissandre tells him she could have gauranteed them victory at Blackwater, and tries to pulls a knife on her. Stannis orders him arrested and placed in a cell.

Farther east, Daenerys and Ser Jorah Mormont are on a ship bound to Astapor. Her dragons are growing and hunt freely over the waters, and she and Jorah speaks of their plans to recruit an army of Unsullied to follow her. Upon their arrival, she inspects the garrison and is told of their brutal training. Afterward, an attempt on her life is narrowly averted when Ser Barristan Selmy shows up and declares fealty to her.

Summary:
Okay, first up, the things I liked. After waiting almost a whole year for a new season of this show, I found this episode fit the bill quite well. The setting, the actors, the portrayals and attention to details were all done to great effect and spoke of a serious commitment. It was almost like biting into a meal that took an extra long time to prepare, and then realizing where that time went.

The opening scene where a giant is shown, that was the first thing to impress me. While reading the books, I had a hard time visualizing what these characters would look like, not to mention their mammoths and other such beasts. So naturally, I was impressed with this rendition, and I was pleased to see Mance Rayder and other key characters – like Tormund Giantsbane = being brought to life.

And now for the downside. Like I said, they’ve taken to this intro with some serious changes, many of which were necessitated by changes in the previous season. And for the most part, I didn’t approve. This began with John Snow’s professed reasons for joining the Wildling camp. At no point in the book did he witness Mance’s child being fed to the Others, and this played no part in his staged defection.

Forced to come up with a good reason for why he’d betray, John told Mance something dangerously close to the truth. He told him that as a bastard, he had no place at Eddard Stark’s family, and wanted his freedom to make his own way in a world where that would not hold him back. Being so believable, largely because it paralleled Mance’s own reasons for deserting the Night’s Watch, Mance took him in.

What’s more, they never showed how John’s defection was pre-planned by him and Qorin last season, though they hinted that this was Qorin’s intent when he attacked John and let him kill him. So the entire plot arc of John’s time with the Wildlings is being played a bit more mysteriously, but unclearly. It’s like, is he really defecting? Hedging his bets? Just looking to stay alive until he makes it back to the Wall? All of this was central to his dilemma in the first half of the book, so how they play with it will be crucial.

Second, there was Robb’s march on Harrenhal which, again, never happened in the book. After campaigning in the west and picking up Jeyne, they returned to Riverrun to continue plotting the campaign. The Lannisters did not abandon it, it changed hands thanks to Arya and Jaqen Higarr, who opened the cells to free the Northmen who then took the castle. This facilitated her escape in book II, and allowed Robb’s army to take control of the castle.

But since they changed the means of Arya’s escape (Jaqen simply killed the guards at the gate), they had to find some way of explaining how Harenhall fell and Robb’s men took custody of it. But frankly, this seemed lame, much like John’s phoney reasons for going over to the Wildlings. Might sound like nitpicking, but the only reason these changes needed to happen because they changed things last season. Stuff like that can pile up after awhile, and it is certainly is here…

Ah, then there’s how Petyr Baelish is plotting to get Sansa out, which was not revealed in the book til much later. In the original, Sansa’s plans were made with Boros Blount, the drunken knight whose life she saved. It was he that planned her escape at Baelish’ behest, and upon helping her realize it, he was killed. Clearly, they’ve decided to cut out the middle man in order to save on shooting time and writing.

And the same holds true for Ser Selmy’s introduction. In the book, he was posing as old man who wanted to help out Daenerys, and only later was his true identity revealed, much to her chagrin. Not only that, but they seem to be leaving out Strong Belwas, a former pit fighter who was traveling with Selmy and also joiner her service. I do hope they’re just waiting for the next episode, because he’s an important character and I’d like to see who portrays him!

And that’s about all for the changes and weaknesses for this episode. Aside from these salient issues, I rather enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the season, with all that I know to expect! I also look forward to the climactic battle in this season, which I shall say nothing of since there are people out there who are not Thrones geeks and don’t yet know what to expect. But trust me when I tell you, if you had read the books, you’d be excited too!

Welcome back GoT!