Game of Thrones – Season Four Finale!

got4We come to it at last, GOT’s Season Four finale! And I’m sorry it took me this long to post about it, but this week has been mighty hectic (what with school coming to a close for the year) and my computer suffering a broken screen. But thankfully, I was able to watch the episode earlier today, and have finally been able to see the episode and notice all the issues I heard about by other reviewers. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but hear the hype.

In any case, a lot happened that I was very much looking forward to. This included Tyrion’s escape and execution of his father, Stannis’ march on the North, and Bran finding the “three-eyed raven”. All of this made for a pretty good climax to the season. That being said, there were also some letdowns. For starters, there was the much publicized absence of Lady Stoneheart, the confrontation between Brienne and the Hound, and the usual changes and filler added to various story lines.

All of this added up to what I think was the best episode of Season Four, which itself was the worst season of GOT thus far. Kind of dubious spot to be in, but there it is. Anyhoo, here’s what happened…

The Children:
https://i0.wp.com/www.flickeringmyth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Screenshot-87.pngThe episode opens with Jon Snow meeting Mance Rayder in his camp beyond the Wall. Inside Mance’s tent, they drink to fallen comrades and discuss a possible negotiated settlement. However, their talks are interrupted when riders begin pouring in, bearing the standard of House Baratheon. Stannis and Davos ride up to Mance, who surrenders, and Jon Snow introduces himself. He advises that Stannis take Mance prisoner and burn the dead before long.

Afterward, Maester Aemon gives the last rights to the Black Brothers who fell in battle and the bodies are burned. Stannis, his family, Davos, and the Lady Melissandre in attendance, and she looks to Jon across the flames. Jon meets with Tormund after and talks of Ygritte, and he tells Jon she loved him and that she must be interred in the North. True to his word, Jon takes her body beyond the Wall and constructs a pyre in the forest, where he burns her body.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.winteriscoming.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/cotf.jpgIn Mereen, Daenerys is troubled by two developments. First, she learns that former slaves are returning to their old professions because they have no means to support themselves otherwise. She is then made aware of the fact that Drogon, who escaped her care, has escalated and murdered a small child. She has Aggo and Jhogo chained up in the catacombs for the time being to prevent any further incidents, though it tears her apart to do so.

In the North, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds finally come upon the Weir Tree he has seen in his visions at last. As they approach the cave under the tree, they find it defended by animated skeletons. Reed is mortally wounded, and they are saved at the last minute by a Child of the Forest who guides them inside. Inside, Bran comes face to face with the “three-eyed raven”, who turns out to be an old man who is rooted to the tree. He tells Bran he will regain what he once lost, and learn to fly.

https://i0.wp.com/d1mxyp5ceukbya.cloudfront.net/images/game-of-thrones-season-4-finale-children-arya-hound-illegal-download-hbo.jpgIn the Vale, Brienne and Pod come upon Arya practicing her sword dance. When they approach, the Hound presents himself, and some difficult introductions are made. The Hound believes she is there to collect the bounty on him, but she insists she is there to bring Arya home. A fight brutal fight ensues, and Sandor is pushed from a cliff and falls below. Arya slips away to come to his side, and denies him when he begs her for a merciful death.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is told that The Mountain is dying thanks to the poisoned spear that Prince Oberyn used to stab him. Grand Maester Pycelle claims there is nothing to be done, but Qyburn assures Cersei he can be saved, though he claims the procedure will leave him “changed… somewhat”. Cersei meet with her father and denounces his plans to marry her to Ser Loras, going so far as to tell him that she and Jaime are lovers.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.crooksandliars.com/files/imagecache/node_primary/primary_image/14/06/tyrion_got.jpgOn the night before his execution, Jaime sneaks into Tyrion’s cell and frees him, telling him to meet with Varys. However, Tyrion instead goes to the Hand of the King’s room and finds Shae sleeping in his father’s bed. They fight and he strangles her with her necklace, then fetches a crossbow from the wall and finds his father in the privy. After speaking briefly, Tyrion shoots him in the chest with two bolts, and escapes to find Varys. He takes him to the docks, where a ship is waiting to take him to Essos.

In the Vale, Arya comes upon a port and finds the captain of a ship that is about to depart. She asks for passage north to the Wall, but he denies her and says they are going to Braavos. She hands him the iron coin Jaqen gave her and repeats the words, “Valar Morghulis”. The captain responds with “Valar Dohaeris” and welcomes her aboard. They set sail, and Arya says goodbye to Westeros.

Summary:
First, I would like to cover the things they changed or did wrong (in my opinion) since that requires some explanation. First of all, the meeting between Jon and Mance was done very well, but was missing one key element. In the novel, Mance revealed to Jon during their parlay that he still had a major card to play, in the form of the Horn of Winter. Already, Jon had heard that Mance had sent out parties to find this artifact of Bran the Builder’s, and it was here that Mance revealed its purpose.

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/thumb/1/11/Nights_watch_wall_by_reneaigner.jpg/800px-Nights_watch_wall_by_reneaigner.jpgIn the backstory to ASOIAF, it is said that Bran the Builder, the Northern King who built the Wall and Winterhold, used the Horn of Winter (aka. the Horn of Joramun) to erect the Wall of ice that separated the Wildlings from the “knee-benders”. By using it again, Mance believed he could melt the Wall in one swift move, thus rendering the Black Brother’s only real defense against him moot. It was then that Stannis’ men attacked, and Mance was taken prisoner.

Second, the scene with Bran finding his way to the “three-eyed Raven” was altered a little. In the story, they found their way to the cave with the help of a strange (and helpful) Wight whom they called Coldhands. When they found the cave, other Wights, (not reanimated skeletons) attacked them. And Jojen Reed did not die here, but made it inside to safety. However, there were hints that he thought he was going to die down the road, so his death here wasn’t a total divergence.

https://i0.wp.com/thecelebritycafe.com/sites/default/files/images/GOT760006_got_410_cut_K_1_pub_12_0%5B1%5D.jpgThird, Brienne and Pod never caught up to Arya and the Hound in the books. Rather, the Hound supposedly died from wounds he sustained in the fight at the Inn with the Lannister men. It was in the Riverlands that Arya left him to die, and then rode to the nearest port to go to Braavos. The closest Brienne ever came to her was learning from various sources that he was seen with a Stark girl, who she initially thought was Sansa. She later learned that it was Arya, and that the Hound had apparently died.

Fourth, Tyrion’s escape involved a great deal more last-minute goodbyes and confessions between him and Jaime, and were central to why he chose to kill his father. After freeing him, Jaime told Tyrion that his first wife (Tysha), whom his father had claimed was a whore, was in fact just a lowborn girl. Tywin had her raped by his men and then proceeded to send her away, and lied to Tyrion by telling him she was a prostitute who tried to trick him into marriage.

Enraged by this, Tyrion chose not to descend the steps to get of the cells (which would have led him to the shore where Varys was waiting for him) and instead went up to the Hand of the King’s chamber to confront his father. There, he found Shae, and killed her. He then confronted his father on the Privy and demanded to know why he had become of Tysha. When his father replied that she went “wherever whores go”, and Tyrion shot him through the chest.

https://i0.wp.com/i.huffpost.com/gen/933737/thumbs/r-READ-WINDS-OF-WINTER-large570.jpgThis, like many other elements left out, was a very important part of the story’s rich background. Tyrion’s attraction to ladies of the evening, coupled with a deep-seated mistrust of them, all grows from this romance that ended in heartbreak for him. The story of the Horn of Winter is also one of the more mythical and fantasy-based elements of the ASOIAF universe, so I was sad to see it left out.

As for the confrontation between Brienne and the Hound, this was just another case of tying together threads in the story that never crossed in the original novel. And much like the other aforementioned cases – Jon nearly meeting up with Bran at Craster’s, but then not; Yara going to save Theon, but then leaving him behind – it went nowhere and seemed like an excuse to add a fight scene. A really good fight scene, but still one that never happened in the original text.

(SPOILER AHEAD! DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED NEXT SEASON!)

But by far the biggest issue was the fact that Lady Stoneheart – aka. Catelyn Stark – was nowhere to be seen! Not only was this a major plot point in the story, it was the big finish for the third book (A Storm of Swords). But of course, this requires some explanation, so bear with me. You see, after being murdered at the Red Wedding, Walder Frey had his men throw Lady Catelyn’s body into the river.

https://i1.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/screencrush.com/files/2014/06/lady_stoneheart___asoiaf___game_of_thrones_by_azad_injejikian-d5vuvtd.jpgIt washed up downstream where the Brothers Without Banners found it. And it was there that Ser Beric Dondarion, asked Thoros of Myr to resurrect her as he had done for him so many times. However, tired of playing God, Thoros refused, and Dondarion, himself sick of life, passed his life force to Catelyn with a kiss. You may recall these characters from Season Two, where Arya spent time amongst them before being kidnapped by the Hound.

In any case, the resurrected Catelyn was now a rather unsightly thing, her vocal cords cut and her face a swollen, grey mess. And she was some pissed over the fact that her family had been betrayed and murdered. As such, she and the Brothers rode round the Riverlands picking off the Freys one by one. She would sit in judgement on them and sentenced them to death, which is how she earned the name Lady Stoneheart. Why they chose not to preview this is beyond me…

(END OF SPOILER)

And now for the stuff that was done right. Stannis’ attack on the Wildlings was a pretty cool scene. The way they presented a Child of the Forest and the three-eyed raven was also quite neat, and I was wondering how they were going to go about it. And while they were once again mining information form book V to provide Daenerys with something to do, this was one time that I didn’t feel that her scenes were totally superfluous or rushed.

https://i0.wp.com/media1.onsugar.com/files/2014/06/15/168/n/1922283/348b15ef4e9cb95a_760006_GOT410_072313_HS_DSC9740_1_.xxxlarge/i/Brienne-vs-Hound.jpgAnd the fight scene between the Hound and Brienne, while it didn’t happen in the novel and was much like other unpleasant changes, it made for some good watching. While it didn’t effect any changes in the plot, it wasn’t useless like Yara’s attempted rescue of Theon or Jon’s and Bran’s near-reunion at Craster’s Keep. And the way they handled the Hound’s death scene was not only faithful to the books, but really well done!

Shows like Game of Thrones are famous for setting high standards, be it terms of production value, casting, writing, or sets. So when I say that this was their worst season ever, I do hope it will taken with a grain of salt. Still, worst season ever! But, conversely, I would have to say that I enjoyed this episode more than any other in this season thus far, even more so than The Sand Viper and the Mountain.

Whereas that episode had a killer climax, it was horribly boring and superfluous up until that point. In contrast, this episode had fun and interesting things happening throughout, and only a few disappointing points. I’m glad too, since the pace they were setting in this season (which was more like Season 3.5 rather than Season 4) almost made me want to stop watching and reviewing it altogether.

So I guess I’ll be tuning in to Season Five, mainly because I want to see what they will do with it and hope this past season was an aberration. Honestly, I think the reasons for its faults deserve a separate post entirely. So see you all next season, which is another freaking year away, and remember…

https://i1.wp.com/i1281.photobucket.com/albums/a519/psychotic47914791/StarkTheNorthRemembers_zpsb8bdc0f7.jpg

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Six

GOT4_6_1To quote Tyrion Lannister: “I’ve decided I don’t like riddles.” Well, much the same applies to me and how this season is turning out. Between the way they have been choosing to skim things down, leave things out, and make serious changes from the original text, I’m beginning to find Season Four rather disappointing. And this week’s episode reinforced that in many ways. Basically, I’ve decided that I don’t like it, at least not nearly as much as the previous seasons.

To be fair, this week’s episode promised some serious elements – i.e. trial of Tyrion Lannister and the many machinations and intrigues it brings to the fore – which it did deliver on. Watching it was certainly enjoyable, I liked what they did with it, and it was largely true to the original material. However, highlights like this have been few and far between this season, which otherwise seems to be made up of filler and diversions that serve little purpose except to keep things going at this point.

Basically, I am waiting eagerly for this season to wrap up so we can finally see the cool stuff that the latter half of A Storm of Swords provided. And then, maybe they can get things back on track with Season Five, which will have two books as source material, and can be parceled out in a decent fashion, without the need for lots of filler and needless changes. Alas, here’s what happened this week…

The Laws of Gods and Men:
GOT4_6_2The episode opens in Bravoos, where Stannis and Lord Davos arrive to meet with representatives of the Iron Bank. After tallying Stannis’ own assets and his chances of taking the throne, they refuse to back his claim. However, Davos tells them that Stannis’ is the only one who is likely to settle the Throne’s debts since Tywin will die someday and no one trustworthy is fit to replace him. He then shows them how Stannis took each of the fingers on his right hand to the first knuckle, as payment for his years of smuggling.

Davos finds Sallador Saan, his old pirate friend, in a brothel and gives him his pay, letting him know that he is once again in Stannis’ employ. They set out to Dragonstone again to continue plotting the war. Meanwhile, Yara Greyjoy arrives at the Dreadfort to rescue Theon, who is being kept by Ramsay in the kennels with his dogs. In the course of trying to rescue him, Theon refuses to go, thinking its another one of Ramsay’s tricks, and Yara is chased off by Ramsay’s dogs.

got4_6_3In Mereen, Daenerys’ is settling into her role as queen and is busy taking requests from supplicants. She learns that her dragons are causing trouble in the countryside for herders, another indication that they are growing uncontrollable. She is then is met by Hizdarh zo Loraq, an old Ghiscari noble, who implores her to let him bury his father, one the master’s she had crucified. She obliges him, giving him permission to bring his father’s remains down and bury him in the Temple of the Graces.

At King’s Landing, the high council meets and discusses Daenerys’ ongoing campaign and the Hound’s appearance in the Riverlands. Shortly thereafter, Tyrion’s trial begins and he is brought before his judges – Lord Tywin, Lord Mace Tyrell, and Prince Oberyn. The witnesses speak against him, beginning with Ser Meryn Trant and Grand Maester Pycelle, the latter of whom accused Tyrion of stealing poison from his stores, and shows them the necklace used to administer it.

GOT4_6_5Cersei follows, and tells them of the threats Tyrion made to her and her son before the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Varys is next, who claims that Tyrion not only threatened Joffrey at a meeting of the Small Council, but that he openly expressed sympathy towards the northern cause and Robb Stark’s death due to his marriage to Sansa. Tyrion tries to sway him, reminding him of how Varys told him he saved the city, but to no avail.

During a break, Jaime pleads with his father for Tyrion’s life, and offers to leave the Kingsgaurd and become his father’s rightful heir. Tywin agrees, and claims that when the guilty verdict is rendered, he will give Tyrion the option of joining the Night’s Watch. When the trial resumes, Shae is brought forward and speaks against Tyrion, saying that he Sansa planned it together. Tyrion becomes enraged by this, and demands a trial by combat.

Summary:
I’ll start with the good points. Tyrion’s trial was well done, with Peter Dinklage once again capturing the pain and angst that Tyrion so often bears, but which was especially poignant at this part in the story. And they certainly covered the bases, showing how at this point, everyone was lining up to turn against Tyrion, either for their own personal reasons, or because they knew full well that Cersei would see him dead no matter what.

They changed a few things, like in how they gave Shae additional motivation for turning on him (how Tyrion spurned her). Also, Tyrion did not ask for a trial by combat out of anger. It was something that was prearranged at this point in the trial because he knew he was going to lose. And Jaime never tried to sway his father’s judgement by offering to leave the Kingsgaurd. But this really didn’t matter, as it didn’t affect the flow of things or reduce the impact of it.

GOT4_6_6But outside of that, there was little about this episode I liked. To start, Stannis never went to Bravoos to implore them for money. An arrangement was struck between them later, but that’s two whole books from now. The only reason to do it now was to keep Stannis and Davos in the story, since otherwise, they would have nothing to do. And once again, Daenerys’ part seems like mere window-dressing, with her doing day-to-day stuff and only hearing about major developments.

Basically, they’ve run out of material for her after all her major battles, so now they are just panning to her from time to time to show that she’s still relevant. But these were all minor issues compared to the confrontation between Yara Greyjoy and Ramsay Snow. While Asha (that’s her real name, once again changed to avoid confusion) did meet up later in the story, it was not at the Dreadfort and it wasn’t as a result of a rescue attempt.

Westeros_Castles_NamedWhat they did in the show, by comparison, was completely superfluous and insipid. One, this never happened in the books. Like just about everything else they are doing this season with Stannis and Jon Snow, it’s just to keep the characters involved and off script. Two, the Dreadfort is an inland place on the other side of northern Westeros – which would make it unreachable to Yara (Asha) unless she had been at sea for months and sailed all the way around the south and back up (see the map at right).

In reality, Asha was at Moat Cailin at the time, which is reachable from the Iron Islands, and stayed there until much later. She had no reason to go forth to the Dreadfort because eveyone assumed Theon had died in the siege of it. Ramsay was keeping Theon as a prisoner and torturing him, but did not castrate him, nor send the remains of his “favorite toy” off to threaten the Iron Islanders. What began as an attempt to keep him in the story has become totally superfluous.

But above all was the ridiculous way the confrontation ended. After sailing halfway around Westeros, storming the Dreadfort and killing a dozen or so guards, Asha turned tail and ran because… Ramsay let loose a bunch of dogs? And then she just runs back to her boat and says her brother is dead (hurray for metaphors)? C’mon, really?! The Iron Islanders who put it all the line to rescue their prince and their honor ran away because said prince was freeaking out and because a pack of wild dogs?

And I thought the bit where Bran, Hodor and the Reeds showed up at Craster’s Keep at the same time as Jon and then avoided him completely was contrived. But this was way worse! It wasn’t just contrived, it was stupid, and about the weakest way to end this totally unnecessary thread. The only saving grace is that it seems like these threads – Stannis looking for money, Theon’s captivity, and Jon Snow looking for his siblings – are coming to an end. I hope so, at least!

Okay, just four more shows to go. And one can only hope they’ll stick to the script and keep to the stuff that’s actually interesting. Not only is this trial going to end on an exciting note (and result in some pretty serious shit going down) there’s still the Wildling’s coming assault on the Wall, which . Please tell me we’ve covered the filler from this season and are moving on now!

Game of Thrones – Season Four Premiere!

got4Once again, and to the excitement of nerds and geeks everywhere, Game of Thrones has come back after an extended hiatus!  And after the events of last season, fans were no doubt hoping some bloody vengeance, some more answers, and plenty of resolution. Sad to say, they won’t be getting much of any! And for fans of the original novels, this is yet another opportunity to come together and nitpicks the ways in which the series isn’t living up to the original series… I am one of them!

In any case, the season premier picked up where things left off last season, roughly midway through the events told in A Storm of Swords. These include the royal wedding between Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, Brienne and Jaime’s return to King’s Landing, Daenerys’s march on Meereen, and Arya’s ongoing misadventures in the Riverlands. And of course, there’s plenty of machinations, plots, and developments happening in between.

And now, onto the premier episode, aptly named…

Two Swords:
got4_1_1The episode opens with Tywin Lannister overseeing the destruction of Ned’s sword Ice, who melts it down and uses the Valyrian steel to forge two new swords. Afterwards, he meets with Jaime and gives him the longer of the two. He then offers his son Lordship over Casterly Rock, which Jaime refuses so he can remain a White Cloak, which displeases his father. Outside the city, Tyrion is waiting with Pod and Bronn to Prince Doran Martell of Dorne, who has been invited for Joffrey’s wedding.

However, Tyrion is informed that Doran could not come due to his ailing health, and that Prince Oberyn came in his stead many days prior. They then find him and his paramour, Ellaria Sand, at a brothel, where Oberyn is making trouble with some Lannister men. After pulling him outside to talk, Oberyn claims he’s come to the capitol to seek justice for the death of his sister and her children, and tells Tyrion to tell his father “the Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts.”

got4_1_3Afterward, Tyrion returns to Sansa, who is naturally distraught over the death of Robb and her mother. He tries to console her, but is unsuccessful. He then finds Shae in his bedroom, who demands to know if they will ever be together again. She leaves when Tyrion will not answer, and we that a spy was listening in on their conversation. Meanwhile, Jaime is fitted for a golden hand by Maester Qyburn and Cersei, who afterwards spurns him for “taking too long” to return. The spy then arrives to report to Cersei.

To the north, Ygritte and her party meet with the Thenns, another clan of Wildlings, who bring the body of a Nights Watchman to eat. At Castle Black, Jon is recovering from his injuries, and talks to Sam of his half-brother’s death. He then goes to the Lord Commander to answer for Qhorin Halfhand’s death and his actions with the Wildlings. He tells them it was Qhorin’s plan to learn their plans, and shares all he learned about Mance’s plans and the raiding party to the south. They stay his execution and let him go for the time being.

got4_1_2Over in Essos, we see Daenerys and her forces as they march towards Mereen. As they go, Daario continues in his efforts to woo Daenerys, which he does under the pretext of teaching her about the various flowers of the land. They come to a stop when they find a dead child tied to a post. Daenerys is told that there is a dead slave for every mile along their way, serving as a warning to her approaching army. She orders them to press on and refuses to be shielded from the sight.

Brienne meets with Margaery while in the capitol and tells her what happened to Renly, and vows to avenge him. Jaime discusses preparations for the wedding and how the war is not yet finished. He is then met by Brienne, who reminds him of the pledge he made to return the Stark daughters to safety. After praying near the shore, Sansa is surprised by Dontos Hollard, the former knight who’s life she saved, who gives her a family heirloom in thanks.

got4_1_5In the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor Clegane continue on their way, with the latter claiming he intends to ransom Arya to her aunt. They come to a tavern and Arya spots Poliver, the man who killed Lommy, stole Needle, and brought the rest of them to Harrenhal. Arya and Sandor go inside find Poliver and his men trying to rape the innkeepers daughters. Poliver sees Sandor and Arya and recognizes the Hound, and offers him the chance to come with them and raid and pillage their way towards King’s Landing.

The Hound declines and says “fuck the King”, and things go downhill fast. Poliver draws on him and Sandor knocks him down and kills all of his men. A few remain and Arya finishes them off, stabs Poliver in the back, and then retrieves her sword. Standing over him, she reminds him of how he took her captive and killed her friend, then stabs him in the throat. Stealing one of their ponies, Arya and Sandor ride off through the burning Riverlands.

Summary:
Overall, this was not a bad premier! Much like season two’s premier, things felt a little sparse in places and rushed. However, I saw the value in putting these small scenes in, in that they preview things that will be coming later on. These include Dontos reaching out to Sansa, Brienne pressuring Jaime to keep his word, the preparations for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding, and Daenerys dragon troubles. And between and around all this, they managed to cover the major plot points.

At the same time, there were noticeable differences from the original text. For instance, Oberyn did arrive with the train from Dorne and met with Tyrion right off. There was no detour into a brothel where Oberyn picked a fight, or expressed some serious bicurious desires. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single hint was given that Oberyn as bisexual, nor his paramour Ellaria. However, they still did a very good job of capturing Oberyn’s character and his hopes to get revenge for his kin.

The_WallOn another front, the whole cannibalism thing with the Thenns – this was not in the original story, and felt like a forced attempt to make them evil. Personally, I felt they were menacing enough with their hard stares and decorative scars. Also, Jon Snow told the Lord Commander, Aemon and Trant that he killed Qhorin as part of a plan to earn the Wildling’s trust. But no such plan was ever hatched by Qhorin in the show (unlike the novels), thereby making Jon’s entire defense for killing him speculation.

And last, but not least, there was the way that Cersei spurned Jaime in this episode, which seemed to come from nowhere. In the book, Cersei and Jaime made love the moment he returned, even before he donned his White Cloak again. She continued to be amorous with him for some time, and only gradually did they become estranged. But there’s still plenty of time for them to factor that in, I’m just not sure why the writers had her acting this way. Did they think we needed another reason to hate her?

meereenHowever, these things seemed entirely topical to me and really didn’t distract or deter from the flow of things. Mainly, I found the episode enjoyable, especially the part where Arya gets some revenge for herself by stabbing Poliver in the throat. They also did a good job with Daenery’s march on Meereen, where she was forced to witness countless slaves being crucified to warm them away. And I really liked the fact that they cast a new actor in the role of Daario. The last one did not fit the bill AT ALL!

Oh yeah, and that sword forging scene was totally awesome! Other than that, I’m happy to see the show return and am looking forward to what they do with things this season. In particular, I am looking forward to the battle for Meereen, and the big wedding. No spoilers, but lets just say a whole lot of crap is still set to hit the fan, and on occasion – even in George RR Martins universe – bad things happen to bad people! Stay tuned…

Skyrim: A Video Game Review

the_elder_scrolls_v_skyrimBack with another video game review. And picking up where I left off last time (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) I’ve decided to follow up with its sequel – Skyrim! I was a bit late to the game with this one, having purchased it a few short months ago. But I’ve certainly had it long enough to appreciate it. All told, I’ve played it through twice, and bought all three expansion packs.

And let me tell you, its pretty damn awesome! In fact, I would even go as far to say that it is a big improvement on Oblivion. And since I loved that game and got endless hours of gaming enjoyment out of it, that’s hardly faint praise. But its true. In terms of the games interface, graphics, gameplay, storyline, quests, abilities, items, and detailed environments, everything looked, felt, and played better than the last one.

skyrim-mountainsAnd as usual, the latest installment in the Elder Scrolls series takes place in a new province of Tamriel. As the name would suggest, the setting for this game is Skyrim, the cold, mountainous climate that is home to the Nords and the birthplace of the Empire. As always, the game is a platform for some serious worldbuilding, and the game makers spared no expense or effort to give Skyrim a realistic look, feel, culture and backstory.

And another major difference between Skyrim and Oblivion is the fact that this time around, there is not one but two main quests that are closely intertwined. Of course, there are countless secondary and additional missions that you can do, but the main plot lines have to do with the civil war that has engulfed Skyrim, and the return of the Dragons, an event foretold in the Elder Scrolls which signals the end of the world.

skyrim-dragonsHowever, the focus is undeniably on the return of the Dragons, as well as the “Dragonborn” who’s return was also foretold. Basically, a Dragonborn is a person of Tiber Septim’s line who has dragonblood, and hence can speak the dragon language. Words in this language are known as “Word of Power” since to speak them is to unleash destructive and other magical powers.

As the main character, you are Dragonborn, and have the option of learning and unlocking Words of Power as the game goes on. This is intrinsic to winning the game, since these words not only convey power, but are necessary in helping you to defeat the dragons.

Plot Synopsis:
The_Elder_Scrolls_V_Skyrim_coverThe story opens some two hundred years after the events of Oblivion where the Imperial Septim line ended, and Mehrunes Dagon was defeated. However, the Empire now finds itself in dire straights after being defeated in the Great War by the Altmeri Dominion. As you come to learn, this powerful faction – which was founded by the Thalmor (a group of High Elves) – declared war on the Empire over the worship of Talos (aka. Tiber Septim).

After losing the war some thirty years prior, the Empire formally signed a peace treaty known as the White-Gold Concordat which, amongst other things, forbade the worship of Talos within the Empire. This decision led to many Nords feeling like they had been abandoned by the Empire, and eventually led a Nord named Ulfric Stormcloak to mount a rebellion. This began when Ulfric killed High King Torygg, thus plunging the realm into civil war.

The game begins much as the last one does, with you being prisoner by Imperial Forces. As you quickly realize, you are being take alongside a group of Stormcloak rebels and their leader – Ulfric – to the nearby town of Helgen for sentencing. Though you were taken by mistake, the Legion decide to send you to the chopping block anyway. However, your beheading is interrupted when out of nowhere, a massive dragon shows up and begins laying waste to the town.

Alduin_Helgen_1The dragon, you learn, is none other than Alduin, the mythic beast that was defeated in the First Age and who’s return to “eat the world” was foretold by the Elder Scrolls. Helgen and its defenders are quickly killed, but you manage to escape with either the help of a Legionnaire named Hadvor or a Stormcloak named Ralof. This choice will likely influence the main characters choice of which side to win in the war.

After escaping Helgen, you and your companion travel to the nearby town of Riverwood where you are asked to go to Whiterun – capitol of the Hold – and request aid from the Jarl. Jarl Balgruuf’s agrees, but asks for you assistance in retrieving the Dragonstone – an ancient tablet that marks the burial sites of all the old dragons. Apparently, the dragons have been rising from their graves to take on living form again, and it is happening all over Skyrim.

skyrim-screenshot-dragon-fireThe stone resides inside Bleak Falls Barrow, and is protected by Draugr – a race reanimated mummified Nords. After fighting your way to the stone, you come upon a Dragon Word Wall, where you learn your first Word of Power. After returning to Whiterun, word reaches the Jarl that a dragon is attacking nearby, and you are asked to go and help. After defeating the dragon, the player absorbs its soul, and everyone realizes you are Dovahkiin – aka. Dragonborn.

After returning to Whiterun, the Jarl names you Thane of the Hold and gives you a Housecarl (bodyguard) and the right to buy property. Afterwards, you hear a Dragon Shout calling from on top of The Throat of the World – Skyrim’s tallest mountain. This is a summons from the Greybeards, an order of monks who live in seclusion in their temple High Hrothgar near the summit. Once you travel there, the Greybeards begin teaching you the “”Way of the Voice”.

skyrim_delphineThis includes teaching you words of power and enhancing your Thu’um (your voice), as well as sharing the prophecy of Alduin’s return and how a Dragborn would emerge to do battle with him. As a further test, the Greybeards ask yo to retrieve the legendary Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. However, the player discovers the Horn has been stolen by another, who wishes to meet with the Dragonborn at Riverwood.

The thief reveals herself as Delphine, Riverwood’s innkeeper and one of the last surviving members of the Blades. She indicates that the Blades were once the guardians of the land against the Dragons, and she wishes to help in your quest. Together, you and Delphine travel to a Dragon burial mound where you witness Alduin reviving a Dragon, and must defeat him.

skyrim_thalmorembassyAfterwards, Delphine informs you that she thinks the Thalmor are behind the return of the Dragons. Not only have the Thalmor been hunting her and all other remaining Blades for some time, it stands to reason that they would stand to gain the most by helping the Dragons wreak havoc all over Skyrim and the Empire, as a prelude to renewed war.

Together, you hatch a plan to infiltrate the Thalmor embassy near Solitude and find proof of this. This consists of posing as a guest as a diplomatic party, and then sneaking off to search the embassy. After finding a series of diplomatic recrods, you learn that they are not behind the Dragon threat, but are searching for a man named Esbern, an archivist of the Blades Order.

skyrim_alduinswallDelphine then instructs the player to locate Esbern, who is known to be hiding in the sewers and ratways of Riften. This town is located on the opposite side of Skyrim, and is home to the notorious Black Briar family and the last known stronghold of the Thieves Guild. Together, the three of you then seek out Alduin’s Wall at Sky Haven Temple, where the prophecy of Alduin was originally written.

While the Blades set up in the temple, Esbern reveals that the ancient Nords used a special Thu’um against Alduin called “Dragonrend”, representing mankind’s comprehensive hatred for the Dragons, to cripple his ability to fly so they could engage him. To gain more information, you meets with the Greybeards again and they decide it’s time for you to speak with their leader, Paarthurnax.

skyrim_PaarthurnaxPaarthurnax, as it turns out, is an ancient dragon who was once one of Alduin’s most feared generals. He reveals that Alduin was not truly defeated in the past, but was sent forward to an unspecified point in time by the use of an Elder Scroll in the hopes that he would get lost. Paarthurnax tells you you will need that Elder Scroll so you can peer into the past and learn the Dragonrend shout to defeat Alduin.

This latest mission takes you to the College of Winterhold, where you are forced to join to get information. You are then shown to Urag gro-Shub, an orc who runs the Arcanaeum – the College library. He directs you to Septimus Signus, a hermit who was driven mad by reading the Scrolls and who now lives in a outpost in an iceberg located on the nearby coast.

skyrim_septimusIn his outpost, Septimus is working on a Dwemer Box, a massive combination box that contains a Dwemer artifact. He tells you that you must travel to the ruins of Blackreach, one of many ruins left behind by the highly advanced Dwemer civilization in Skyrim. He gives you the Attunement Sphere and the Blank Lexicon, which you will need to reach the Scroll once you reach the heart of the ruin.

This journey takes you deep underground, into a world of bioluminescent plants and terrifying Falmer creatures. Once you find your way to the heart of the ruin, you come upon a Dwemer Sphere, a massive combination structure that you must adjust a series of focal lenses in order to unlock. Once this is done, the Scroll is removed from the Sphere and given to you.

skyrim_alduinTaking the Scroll to the Throat of the World, you glimpse into the past and witness the heroes of the First Age engage and defeat Alduin using the Elder Scroll and the Dragonrend shout. With this knowledge, you then summon Alduin to do battle, and with the help of Paarthurnax, you defeat him and send him fleeing to Sovengarde – the Nordic afterlife. You are told that you must go to face him there so that he can be defeated for all time.

The only way for you to travel after him is to trap a dragon and force them to bring you to Alduin’s lair, from which you may travel to Sovegarde to face him. This involves asking the Jarl of Whiterun to use his great hall – the Dragonsreach – which was originally constructed to trap a dragon. The Jarl is reluctant to do this while the war rages on, which either requires that end the war first, or ask the Greybeards to mediate a temporary cease fire in the war.

skyrim_battle_whiterun In between all of this, there is the second major quest, which involves taking sides in the civil war. As Hadvor tells you at the beginning, the  best way to contend with the returning Dragons is to join the Legion and use their resources. But Ralof will urge you to join the Stormcloaks as a “true son of Skyrim”. Depending on which side you choose, you are either required to travel to the capitol of Solitude, or to the Stormcloaks seat of power in Windhelm to sign on.

Once you’ve taken a side, battle is joined, and your first mission is either to lead the defense of, or assault, Whiterun. As Thane of the city, this will either mean upholding your oath of office, or betraying it in service of your new liege lord, Ulfric. In either case, this is the first of many battles, which are followed by missions to various forts to seize strategic passes, culminating on a siege of the enemy’s stronghold.

skyrim_battle_windhelmAs you progress, you are given higher and higher ranks in the army and entrusted with tasks of increasing importance. At the end of the Imperial campaign, you and General Tullius and Legate Rikke lead the assault into Windhelm and fight your way into Ulfric’s palace. After defeating him and his bodyguard, he asks that you – the Dragonborn – be the one to take off his head, as he thinks this will be more appropriate.

In the Stormcloak campaign, the war culminates in the siege of Solitude, where you, Ulfric, and Galmar Stone-Fist fight your way through the streets and to the Legion barracks and force the surrender of General Tullius and Rikke before executing them both. Ulfric then declares victory in the civil war and declares himself High King of an independent Skyrim.

skyrim-sovengardeWith the civil war complete, the plot to trap a dragon in Dragons Reach takes succeeds and you manage to secure a dragon named Odahviing. He agrees to help you since many dragons are disenchanted with Alduin’s rule, and agrees to fly you to the portal to Sovengarde, which is located high in the mountains at an ancient fort called Skuldafn. Once there, you battle your way through Draugr and lesser dragons and enter.

Upon your arrival, you find your way to Ysgramor, the legendary Nord who, along with his Five Hundred Companions, drove the Elves out of Skyrim. Ysgramor informs the player that Alduin has placed a “soul snare” in Sovngarde, allowing him to gain strength by devouring the souls of deceased Nords. The player meets up with the three heroes of Nordic legend who defeated Alduin and, with their help, destroys the soul snare and defeats Alduin in combat.

skyrim_dragonrendThe player then returns to the summit of the Throat of the World in which Paarthurnax and the other Dragons wait. Paarthurnax explains that even though Alduin is defeated, they are in no condition to celebrate for he was once their ally and is still one of their kin. Having asserted his authority over many Dragons, Paarthurnax convinces those loyal to him to leave Tamriel.

However, there is an alternate ending which takes place if the player obliged the Blades earlier in the game and killed Paarthurnax as punishment for his crimes while serving under Alduin. In this version, the player returns to the Throat of the World and speaks to Odahviing, who tells you that you have inherited Alduin’s position and that he will serve at your pleasure from now on.

Expansions:
DragonbornIn this regard, Skyrim kicks the crap out of its predecessor. Whereas Oblivion had expansion packs which seemed good, but not great, Skyrim’s three packs really impressed the hell out of me! These included Dragonborn, Dawngaurd, and Hearthfire, each of which offers additional quests, items, and abilities; and not in the tack-on, lower-quality types offered by the last game.

In the Dragonborn expansion, you are tasked with traveling to Solstheim, an island off the eastern coast of Tamriel inhabited by Nords and Dark Elves. Once here, you learn that the last Dragon Priest and one-time ruler of the island, a man named Miraak, is attempting to take it over. Naturally, he sees your emergence as the latest Dragonborn as a threat, and you must do battle with him.

skyrim_solstheimIn order to do this, you must learn from the Skaal people of the island who possess specialized magic. It also requires you cut a deal with the Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of forbidden knowledge and Miraak’s apprentice. In exchange for getting the Skaal to surrendering their secrets to him, he gives you the ability to travel to the realm of Apocrypha and fight MIraak. In the end, Mora betrays him and offers you the chance to become his new apprentice.

Additional items offered in this package include Nordic weapons and armor, which are of superior quality to most offered in the game thus far. In addition, you also gain the abilities to create armor and weapons out of Stalhrim (an ice-blue mineral), Chiton, or bones- which includes dragon bones and dragon scales. These are pretty deadly and pretty frightening to behold! I should know, I know have a full suit and arsenal of them!

skyrim_apocryphaAnd then there is the Dawngaurd plug-in, where an ancient vampire clan is returning to Skyrim. As usual, this has to do with a prophecy foretold in the Elder Scrolls that tells of the coming of eternal darkness. The vampires that belong to Clan Volkihar, led by Lord Harkon, seek to actuate the prophecy by performing a ritual involving a mythic bow and a blood sacrifice.

After recruiting Harkon’s own daughter (Serana) to your side, you manage to obtain several more Elder Scrolls, the bow itself, and are then forced to travel to another mythic realm, and eventually confront Lord Harkon and his clan at Castle Volkihar off the north-western coast of Skyrim. Once complete, the Dawnguard returns to its old glory and you and Serana are made permanent members.

skyrim_dawnguardAnd last, but not least, is Hearthfire, where things get a little different. Instead of offering additional quests that have to do with other prophecies, Hearthfire gives you the ability to purchase land in Skyrim and build your own tailor-made houses on them. This requires you to amass building materials – such as quarried stone, wood, clay, and various iron components.

With these secured, you are then able to build a home from the ground up, adding different wings and special sections – which include a Great Hall, a Kitchen, an Alchemist Tower, Trophy Room, Storage, Cellar, Bedrooms, and Entrance Foyer. You can augment these further with furniture, furnishings, a stable, a carriage, a bard, a smelter, a forge, a shrine, and about a hundred other options.

skyrim_hearthfireBetween Windstad Manor, in the salt marshes in Hjaalmarch, Lakeview Manor in the forests of Falkreath, and Heljarchen Hall in the Pale, you have the option to build three manors. And of course, you need a Housecarl to look after them and have your pick of three. And what’s also cool is that the expansion gives you the option to adopt two children, and you have your choice of four possible ones.

Having played them all, I can tell you that I enjoyed them all, particularly the first and third. If you happen to buy Skyrim, splurge and get the expansion packs!

Summary:
As I said already, this game was absolute awesomeness! Much like Oblivion, the production value was extremely high, and it features the voices of several well-known actors. This includes actress Joan Allen who does the voice of Delphine, Max von Sydow as Esbern, and Christopher Plummer as Master Arngeir of the Greybeards. All of this goes real well with all the world-building and detailed environments.

What’s more, I liked how the two main quests were intertwined, the one very much dependent upon the other. This gives you a chance to engage in some immersive medieval-style warfare, and also provides an opportunity to fight it out with beasts several times your size. I was especially impressed with this last aspect, which is something you don’t see in the gaming world often.

tamriel_mapIn addition to dragons, there are also giants, mammoths, and giant anthropomorphic robots that defend the Dwemer ruins. In most games, going up against larger-scaled enemies can look and feel awkward. But here, it both looked and felt natural, and was mighty fun to play at. And of course, there were countless other enemies that were just as cool to fight.

But what I especially loved about Skyrim was the way they managed to once again create a realistic setting, with a world that contained a highly interactive environment, wind-blown snow, rustling trees and bushes, and people who looked and moved in realistic ways. And as always, the cultural aspects of the game, which included food, drink, literature, ingredients, and items that are peculiar to Skyrim’s culture, but also includes items from other provinces.

skyrim_mountedAnd like the last game, you have quests which are connected to the guilds. In this case, this includes the College of Winterhold, which is the holdover from the Mages Guild in Skyrim, and the Companions, which is the local version of the Fighter’s Guild. Joining them means taking on quests which will allow you to climb the ranks and take on their enemies, ultimately earning the position of leader. There are innumerable other quests, plus the ability to amass abilities and bonuses based on amassed experience.

And of course, you can amass property, money, and personal possessions galore. But unlike Oblivion, you also have the option of getting married. This can be to any central character from the story, and can even be same-sex, if you’re so inclined. Combined with the Hearthfire ability to adopt and build your own home, you have the ability to create an entire family in this game. Kind of like Second Life, only set in Tamriel. Way better!

Of course, I could go on and find more to praise about the game, but some things you just need to check out for yourself. Consider this my long-winded wringing endorsement! And just for fun, I thought I’d post the trailer since it was pretty impressive too:

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 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!

Game of Thrones Season 3 Trailer: “We Do Not Choose Our Destiny”

GOT_season3It seems we’re in for a bit of a two-fer today. Its become a habit of mine to post trailers for upcoming movies on Mondays now. However, it just so happens that while I was doing my due diligence for one, I came across a second must-see teaser which I had to pass on. This one is for the third season of Game of Thrones, which premiers in less than one week!

And I think you’ll agree, this one is definitely the biggest and baddest. Whereas the first gave us nothing but some voice over and a simple graphic (like the one featured above), and the second gave us a brief glimpse with a little eye candy, this one has gone the full nine yards and covered all the major bases.

In addition to all the intrigue and plots taking place in Kings Landing, we are given some quick glimpses of the ongoing War of Five Kings, Danearys’ efforts to obtain an army in Slavers Bay, John Snow’s time amongst the Wildlings and their efforts to bring down the Wall, Brienne and Jaime in the Riverlands, Stannis’ ongoing attempts to fulfill an ancient prophecy, and even Bran’s journey to the far North.

And fittingly, they gave the voice over for the whole thing to Stannis, who performs the “We do not choose our destiny speech”. Though he is referring to himself in this speech and the role he thinks he will play, it pretty much sums up what everyone in the series is going through at this point. Beyond all the warring, intrigue and personal ambitions, it is fast becoming clear that there is a greater plot at work. But for those of you who haven’t read the many tomes that make up this series, I guess you’ll just have to wait to see what it is!

Six more days, people! If you’re not going to be at home, be sure to set your TiVos and DVR’s! And then be sure to swing by because yours truly will of course be doing a review 😉