Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 8

got4After a week’s hiatus, the episode that fans of the GOT series eagerly awaited finally aired this past Sunday. And true to form, it all came down to the most anticipated fight scene of the season – between Prince Oberyn Martell (aka. The Red Viper) and Ser Gregor Clegane (aka. The Mountain). And having just watched it, I can honestly say that it was a perfect example of everything the show has done right and wrong this season.

You know what, let’s not drag this out. Plenty of time to praise and criticize this episode after I’m done recapping it!

The Mountain and the Viper:
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The episode opens in Moletown, where Gilly is struggling to fit in with her new surroundings and companions. During a night of drunken festivities, she hears a noise coming from outside, and knows to be afraid. Within minutes, the Wildling party consisting of Ygritte, Tormund, and the Thenns attacks and overruns the entire place. Gilly manages to hide beneath the floor boards while the others die, and Ygritte takes notice of her, only to spare her and tell her to keep quiet.

At the Wall, news of the attack is received with anger and grief. Sam suspects that Gilly was killed and blames himself for sending her there. However, his brothers console him by telling him that Gilly has seen worse, surviving both Craster’s abuse, the forced march south, and an encounter with a White Walker before making it to the safety of the Wall with him. The brothers are angry that they cannot ride out to stop it, and Jon estimates that Mance’s army is nearing them.

got4_8_2In Slaver’s Bay, Missandei and Grey Worm appear to be experiencing a budding romance. After seeing her naked and washing in the stream, Grey Worm comes to apologize, only to learn that Missandei does not feel offended at all. Meanwhile, Ser Barristan recieves a copy of Jorah’s royal pardon from Robert, proof that he was conspiring with the Iron Throne to spy on Daenerys. When news of this is brought to her, she banishes Mormont from her court.

In the North, Theon is tasked by Ramsay Snow to go to Moat Cailin as Theon Greyjoy and deliver his terms of peace. In exchange for their surrender, the Ironborn – who are sick and dying in Moat Cailin – are promised to be received mercifully. They accept, but Ramsay promptly has them all flayed. He then presents the standard to his father Roose, who renames him Ramsay Bolton and designates him as the proper heir to their house.

moat_cailinIn the Eyrie, Baelish is entreating with the lords of the Vale after Lady Arryn’s death. He claims her death was a suicide, but they are unconvinced. They bring in Sansa, whom they believe to be his daughter Alayne, and ask for her version of events. She confesses that she is in fact Sansa Stark, and claims that Lady Arryn committed suicide out of jealousy for her. Baelish asks her why she did this, and she claims it was out of personal interest and self-preservation.

Impressed with her, Petyr takes Robin into the Vale to learn how to be a lord after securing permission from the other lords to do so. Sansa, who now appears darker and more confident, goes with them. Nearby, Arya and the Hound are seen entering the Vale and are stopped at the Bloody Gate. When the Hound asks for permission to enter and speak to Lady Arryn about having her niece in his care, he is told that Lady Arryn is dead. Arya begins to laugh uncontrollably at the news, though the Hound is hardly amused himself.

OberynIn King’s Landing, the trial by combat finally begins. Tyrion talks to Jaime beforehand, and then goes to the ring. Oberyn is dressed in light raiment and armed with a spear, whereas the Mountain comes in full armor wielding his giant sword. Oberyn is supremely confident, and puts on a display of skill by wielding his spear around in front of the crowd. The fight begins, and he tells Gregor who he is and why he has  come – namely, to kill him for murdering his sister and her children.

Oberyn proves equal to the Mountain and outmaneuvers him at every turn, all the while taunting him with the same lines over and over: “You raped her. You killed her. You murdered her children.” Soon, the Mountain gets enraged, is stabbed, and begins to falter. Oberyn finishes it with a powerful stab to his chest, and then demands he confess before he dies. Clegane manages to trip up Oberyn and then smashes his face with his bare hands, and then falls back down again. Tywin declares Tyrion guilty and sentences him to death.

Summary:
Let me be blunt. The fight scene was the obvious highlight of this episode, and it was pretty damn badass! This scene was definitely one of the high points of book III, and also one of those terribly sad George RR Martin moments where he kills off a beloved character! Still, the way Pedro Pascal and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson portrayed “The Mountain” and “The Red Viper” (not to mention the fight choreography) was nothing if not spot on.

got4_8_endHowever, the entire episode up until that point was long, boring, and more often than not, unnecessary. All throughout, it was packed with material that didn’t happen in the books, was supposed to have happened a long time ago, was not supposed to happen until book V, or just served no real purpose. The only exception to this being where Theon and Ramsay traveled to Moat Cailin to deliver the terms of surrender, which actually happened in the book and was accurately conveyed.

Everything else was a repeat of all that they’ve done wrong this season. First, the attack of Moletown, for example, never happened in the book, and Gilly was never there to begin with. And Jon Snow and the brothers saying they can’t ride out to meet this threat because “it’s what they want” seemed quite dumb in light of recent events. In episode four, Jon is given permission to ride north to kill mutineers; but now, suddenly, he doesn’t want to move, and they are told to stay put and not venture out. Weak!

Second, there was no relationship between Missandei and Grey Worm in the novels and this seemed like nothing more than a pointless aside to shore up material for the Daenerys thread. And considering that the Unsullied have no genitals for exactly this reason, it really makes no sense that Grey Worm would be entertaining romantic notions about Missandei. And they even acknowledge this, but undercut it by having Missandei say that she actually doesn’t know if they take off the “pillar and the stones” when they castrate them. Again, weak!

Got4_8_3Third, the whole thread involving Sansa, Baelish and the Vale was vastly rewritten. In the novels, Baelish blamed her death on a court musician, who he knew had made a pass at Sansa. After having the poor boy tortured to within an inch of his life and his eyes plucked out, the boy confessed and was executed. Sansa went along with the story, but mainly out of necessity and fear. She did not lie for him so boldly and change into this darker, more sinister version of herself. Thought I have to admit, it was cool to see them doing this with her. I am guessing all her victimhood and crying was growing tiresome for viewing audiences.

Also, the way Daenerys learns of Mormont’s betrayal was something that was supposed to have happened much sooner. As I mentioned a previous review – episode three, “Breaker of Chains” – it was during the siege of Mereen that she learned that Mormont had been working for King Robert, and of Ser Selmy’s (who had been posing as Whitebeard) true identity. It was for this reason she sent them into the sewers to open Mereen’s gates so it could be sacked. After this, she pardoned Selmy, but exiled Mormont because she grew tired of his advances.

But that was a minor issue compared to the rest. Really, the fight scene was the high point whereas everything else was just a lot of boring stuff leading up to it. Even the part where Jaime and Tyrion are talking while they wait for the fight to begin, holy shit that was boring! What purpose did that long story about their simple cousin serve? The last time I heard such pointless dialogue was in The Expendables when Randy Couture needlessly drones on about an experience he had involving a college roommate talking about his cauliflower ear!

And all this is reminding me of what I was saying last season. You know, how changes in season two necessitated changes in season three? Well its the same now. Since they chose to cut book III – A Storm of Swords – in half and make two seasons out it last season, it has left them having to pad this season just to make ten episodes out of it. And to do this, they’ve either had to add stuff that didn’t happen or mine material from book V in order to get it.

It’s understandable, there was too much material for ten episodes, not enough for twenty. And I’m guessing they wanted to give George RR Martin more time to write. But if this means the highlights of this season are going to be things that don’t even fit into the context of the larger story or feel like afterthought to the main plot, doesn’t it make things seem kind of dumb? Ah, whatever, I’ve grown cynical and more than a little elitist with this show, I’ve found.

So perhaps I’ll just not review next season and go back to waiting for book VI – The Winds of Winter – to finally come out. Which, by the way Mr. RR Martin, when will that be???

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 7

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Welcome back to more of the third season of Game of Thrones! As we have now passed the seventh episode in this season, we are fast coming up on the finale of season three and another long wait as they prep for season four. Yes, the show has been renewed for another season, but is anyone surprised at all? The ratings for this season have broken several records, and HBO can be expected to ride this high for as long as they can.

In addition, I should note that recently it was revealed that this season was in fact just the first half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Initially, I was curious how they intended to cram all the material from that book in ten episodes, especially at the pace they were setting. However, breaking it into an even twenty episodes would seem like the perfect solution, given all the material that remains and the climaxes that still need to happen.

Anyway, onto this weeks show! Last week, John and Wildlings managed to scale the Wall and were on the way to Castle Black. Robb and his kinsmen, wife and mother were on their way to the Twins for a wedding, the Tyrells and Lannisters where scheing, Sana was betrothed to Tyrion, Petyr and Arys were plotting, Arya was wandering, and Jaime and Brienne were about to be forcibly separated.

Which brings us to the latest episode, also known as…

The Bear and the Maiden Fair:
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The episode opens with John and the Wildings making their way towards Castle Black. As they go, both John and Ygritte are made aware that Orell, one of the skinchangers in Mance’s service, doesn’t approve of their little tryst. He tells John he won’t be able to hang onto her, and warns Ygritte that John is not one of them. That does not stop Ygritte from admitting she loves him though.

As they continue, John tries to tell Ygritte that the Wildlings don’t have a hope of winning and that he fears she and her kin will die. But of course, she does not listen, and they come together and promise to live before they die, together. Not far away, Bran and the Reeds keep moving north, and the going is tough as Osha continues to suspect them of black magic. Jojen reveals at last that they are moving beyond Castle Black to seek the “three-eyed Raven” beyond the Wall. Osha is afraid, since she has seen what happens where the Others strike, and does not want to go back.

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In King’s Landing, Sansa and Maergery talk of their upcoming nuptials and Maergery continues to console her. During their talk, Maergery intimates that he is not a virgin, and much more worldly than she let’s on (as if we didn’t know already!) Joffrey meanwhile confronts his uncle Tywin about the fact that he is holding Council meetings without him and demands details. Unfortunately, he finds his uncle much harder to bully than the others and even appears afraid of him.

On their way to The Twins, Robb and his company are stalled by bad weather, and he learns from his wife, Talisa, that she is pregnant. At the Dreadfort, Theon is freed from his shackles by two pretty girls who begin to ply him with their natural wiles. But of course, it proves to be just another cruel trick of Ramsay’s, who interrupts and threatens to castrate him.

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Daenerys and her army comes at last to Yunkai and assess its defenses. Ser Mormont tells her the odds of sacking it are not good, and they do not need it to reach Westeros. But Daenerys is determined to free it of its slaves and add them to her forces, as she did the Unsullied and slaves from Astapor. They set camp and Daenerys recieves the slave masters of the city to demand their surrender. She is rebuffed, and plans for battle begin…

Melissandre and Gendry return to King’s Landing where he learns for the first time that his father was King Robert. It is for this reason, she claims, that the Brothers wanted him, and why they need him now. Back at their camp, the Brothers learn of a Lannister war party in the area and they decide to ride to south to set a trap for them. This will delay their trip to Riverrun and Arya decides she’s had enough of their lies. She flees the cave, but is captured by Ser Clegane who has returned for her.

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Over at Harrenhal, Jaime prepares to leave for King’s Landing while Brienne is left to her fate. She asks Jaime keep his promise to send the Stark girls back to Lady Catelyn, and he swears he will. On his way out, Locke boasts to him that they will “take care” of Brienne. He learns that Brienne’s father has offered a ransom, one which Roose Bolton rejected, and that Brienne is likely to be sacrificed for his mens’ entertainment.

He immediately decides to turn around and ride back to save her. There, they find Brienne fighting a bear in a pit for the amusement of Hoat and his men while they sing “The Maiden and the Bear”. Jaime leaps into the pit while Bolton’s man shoot the bear with a crossbow. Brienne makes it out and in turn pulls Jaime out behind her, just in time to avoid an hornery and wounded grizzly! Locke is forced to let them go, fearing what will happen to him if he defies both Lord Tywin and Bolton.

Summary:
As episodes go, I liked this one. It had a good deal of faithful material this time around instead of the changes that are likely to annoy a Thrones geek like me! Sure, some of those found themselves being continued in this episode, but they were pretty scant compared to the material that really needs to be included at this point in the series.

Of that, the part with John and Ygritte was probably my favorite. Up until now, his relationship with her and the Wildlings has been the subject of a lot of alterations, including why he’s fighting for them. But they did a good job of capturing the dynamic that is taking place between them, how they love each other but still finds themselves on opposite sides in the fight. The jealousy angle is something that never occurred in the book, but that is clearly just thrown in to accentuate how they come from different worlds and really didn’t detract from things at all.

Naturally, I was kind of bothered that they dedicated more time to Theon again. Throughout this season, they’ve been giving us glimpses into the pain and misery he is enduring at the Dreadfort. It’s all true to what we learn in book 5, but I wonder if they plan to display every single cruelty Ramsay inflicted on him just so they can keep him in the show. Trust me when I say there’s a lot, and a few minutes every episode of Theon getting tortured is getting depressing!

And sure, they’re still going with the whole bit about Gendry being taken away by Melissandre because she needs “kings blood”, but it seems like they are preparing to write that one to a close. What’s more, I did find it interesting how they did the scene with them sailing up the Blackwater, where all the wrecked ships now lay. Her explanation as to why the Brotherhood wanted him was also kind of apt, and the way she revealed the truth of his past was also kind of fitting. In the book, Gendry is sort of written off. This way, he is at least likely to have an ending that is poignant and meaningful.

One thing I didn’t like was the revelation that the man I’ve been calling Vargo Hoat this whole time – leader of the Bloody Mummers – is in fact named Locke. I had to look it up since I didn’t recognize it, and it turns out Locke was actually a highborn member of the Night’s Watch, not one of Bolton’s mercenaries. But the fact that they’ve named him this means Vargo isn’t in the story, and he and the Mummers have been written out of the story altogether!

All I can ask is… WHY?! Is this another simplification for brevity’s sake? Vargo was an awesome character, a man you loved to hate and laughed at because he had a lisp that made him sound somewhat less than threatening. Naturally, he overcompensated for it by being a brutal jagoff who cut off people’s hands. Seeing him do his thing and get his just desserts in the books was something I enjoyed. I’m going to miss him…

Getting back to the purely good stuff, I was also very happy they finally got to the part involving the Yunkai. For three episodes now, they’ve shown it in the opening credits but stopped short of actually showing it. Now that they’ve brought out the tall walls, the pyramids and the Harpy, things are getting pretty cool. All that remains now is for her to assess their strength, and unleash her own on them! Looking forward to seeing it happen!

And of course, they managed to capture Jaime’s rescue of Brienne – although who saved who was open to interpretation – very well. Last time, they skewed why she was being held while Jaime was being set free, but this episode pushed past that and got to good stuff. For some time, people have been wondering if Jaime and Brienne would ever join forces and bond over a shared sense of honor. And this is exactly how it happened.

Now the two are set to go to King’s Landing to see their promises through to the end. But of course, since Arya is unaccounted for and Sansa has a number of people vying for her hand, that’s likely to get a bit complicated. And trust me, it does! Several battles to come and intrigues to take place before the season ends. And this point these include Daenery’s seige of Yunkai, the Wildling’s assault on Castle Black, and two weddings, neither of which are likely to be happy occasions!