Game of Thrones – Season Four Episode 9

got4This past weekend, the penultimate episode of Season Four of GOT aired, and an event which was a long time in coming was finally showed. Yes, after two seasons of build-up, the Wildlings under “King” Mance Rayder’s leadership, assaulted the Wall. Strangely, Mance was nowhere to be seen during this assault, but from the way they ended the episode, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him soon enough. And as usual, I got some bones to pick with the writers, but not the same reasons others have.

After this weekend’s episode aired, a common thing I noticed from the critics was the statement that the attack on the Wall was no “Blackwater Bay”. Much like Season Two’s smash-up where Stannis and his armies lay siege to King’s Landing, the entire episode was dedicated to this one battle and those involved. And while it didn’t exactly have the same epic scope and grandeur as that battle, I think this is an unfair comparison.

One cannot expect a massive siege every season! It’s just not cost effective. No, in the end, I felt this battle fell a bit short because of the way they changed things around in the story, not to mention the way they shot the whole thing. By the time things really got started, I wasn’t sure if I was watching GOT or Lord of the Rings. Somehow, it felt like Peter Jackson was at the helm and not George RR Martin. But first, a recap…

The Watchers on the Wall:
GOT4_9_1The episode begins with Jon and Samwell standing atop the Wall and discussing love. Sam asks what it was like being with Ygritte, while once again lamenting the fact that he left Gilly at Moletown, where he suspects she died. Jon sends Sam below to get some rest, but he instead goes to the library to learn what Wildlings are known to do to their captives. Aemon finds him and they spend the time talking of lost love.

Going back outside, Sam comes to the gate in time to see Gilly knocking at Castle Black’s gate and asking to be let in. After convincing the Brother guarding it to let her in, he tells her they will never be apart again. Their reunion is interrupted when they hear a horn sound. From atop the Wall, Jon and the other brothers spot a massive forest fire looming in the distance. Mance’s signal to attack is issued, and thousands of Wildlings, giants and mammoths form up.

GOT4_9_2Under the command of Ser Alliser Thorne, the Brothers begin preparing their defenses, and he takes a moment to let Jon know that he will be equal to the task of leading them. The mammoths move forward to the gate while other Wildlings begin scaling the Wall. Sam places Gilly in a chamber below and locks the door, telling her she must hide and he must stand with his Brothers. He kisses her goodbye, and she makes him promise he won’t die.

South of the Wall, Ygritte, Tormund, the Thenns and their raiding party are preparing to make their assault. While they wait for Mance to send the signal – “the biggest fire the North has ever seen”. When they spot it, they launch their attack on Castle Black’s gates. Sam and the others let loose on them with arrows, but are quickly overtaken as the Wildling party moves in and scales the short walls that guard the southern approach.

GOT4_9_4Hearing of the attack on the Castle, Thorne goes below to organize the defense, leaving Slynt in charge. Below, two giants lead a mammoth to the gate and hitch ropes from its harness the doors, intending to pull it off. Slynt quickly proves unequal to the task of leading the defense and begins muttering about how it was so much easier commanding the Kingsguard. Grenn then tricks Slynt and tells him he’s needed below too, which leaves Jon in charge.

Relying on the lessons he learned during his time among them, Jon has his archers fire arrows onto those scaling the Wall and drops barrels on those at the gate. Below, the battle in Castle Black’s courtyard turns bad. The brothers lose many men, Thorne is injured and incapacitated, and Slynt runs and locks himself in the same room as Gilly. Jon decides to go below with Grenn and some others, and orders Eddison to unleash fire on the mammoths.

GOT4_9_3This he does, which kills most of the Wildlings and sends the mammoth running. One of the two giants is then killed by a Scorpion up on the Wall, sending the other into a rage and leading him to begin prying the gate open with his bare hands. Jon arrives below and tells Grenn and the others to get to the gate an hold it at all costs. He then has Sam unlock Ghost from his cage and begins fighting his way through the Wildlings.

In a pitch fight, Jon kills Styr (the leader of the Thenn party) with a blacksmith’s hammer and comes face to face with Ygritte, who has her bow drawn on him. She hesitates to shoot him, and is then shot with an arrow through the chest by Olly, the young boy who mans the elevator. She dies, repeating the same words she said to him, time and time again: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Inside the Wall gate, the giant breaks through and attacks Grenn and his brothers. They die holding the giant off.

got4_9_5Up top, Eddis sees that they only have the few Wildlings scaling the Wall to deal with, and orders that they drop the “Scythe” – a large metal blade at the end of a chain that combs the wall when released. This kills the remaining attackers, and the rest fall back. In the courtyard, Tormund is wounded and captured, and Jon orders him put in chains. Sam returns below to find Gilly safe, and Slynt cowering in the corner.

Surveying the damage, Jon tells Sam that this was just the first assault, and that Mance will break through before long if they allow him to continue. He then tells Sam that he will meet with Mance, during which time he will attempt to kill him so that the Wildlings once again become divided. They head to for the gate, where they find the bodies of Grenn, the giant, and the others who died holding it. Sam orders the gate opened and says goodbye to Jon.

Summary:
Well, the episode certainly was fun and entertaining. One can’t deny that an incredible amount of time, effort, and good direction went into making it. And it did manage to capture the spirit, if not the letter, of the battle as it was described in the book. But as usual, there were some things that bothered to me that had to do with changes, not to mention how those changes affected the feel and flow of things. Here’s what they were, in chronological order…

First, there was no last-minute reunion between Sam and Gilly. She had been at the castle for some time, and a romance had not quite budded between them. Second, Tormund, Ygritte and the Wildling raider party had already assaulted Castle Black at this point in advance of Mance’s main assault. Having struck at Castle Black days before, they were thwarted by a great deal of ingenuity and booby traps, which were installed thanks to Jon’s help.

Third, there was none of this shuffling around of commanders in the novels. While it is true that Thorne and Slynt did not trust Jon, he was still put in charge of the Wall’s defenses since he had intimate knowledge of Mance’s plan of attack, and because Aemon on his Brothers vouched for him. It was not the case that he had it thrust on him because Thorne had to go below, or because Slynt was a coward. This last aspect they really played up, and it felt like it was just to give us someone to hate.

Fourth, two decidedly cheesy moments happened in this battle. The first was where Sam narrowly managed to get his crossbow loaded in time to take down a Wildling. The second – and by far, the worst – was Ollie going from a frightened little boy who couldn’t stand the sound of fighting to grabbing a bow and killing Ygritte with it. This more than anything was like a scene out of Jackson’s LOTR. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Legolas riding a shield down a set of steps like it was a skateboard, but still!

Fifth, Tormund was not taken prisoner during the battle. After losing his attack force south of the Wall, he fled north again and began rallying Wildlings later. Ever since, even as far as book V, he has not been heard from. And finally, Jon Snow did not decide to venture out and assassinate Mance once the battle was over. In fact, it was Slynt’s idea to send him out in the hopes that he would die while attempting to kill Mance.

You see, after the battle, Slynt and his allies were still nominally in charge since no new Lord Commander had been elected. And he would go on to be a pain in Jon’s ass since he didn’t trust him and saw him as a threat to his possible leadership. However, the way they’ve presented him here, as an incompetent coward, is melodramatic to say the least. It also kind of complicated the plot now, since Slynt disgraced himself for all to see.

In short, it felt like they were trying to sex things up from the original material; but really, I only felt like they dumbed it down. Many things they did get right, like the way the giants penetrated into the gate, or how Ygritte died with Jon standing over her and crying. They also captured the defenders sense of desperation, knowing that they were vastly outnumbered, but still protecting by the Wall’s defenses. And I have to say that this was one episode this season that didn’t bore or disappoint the hell out of me.

Still… where the hell was Mance this whole time? Has anyone else noticed he completely disappeared after his brief appearance last season? He better show up next week, as he’s kind of intrinsic to the plot!

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, 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 3, Episode 6

game_of_thrones_s3It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Time to recap on the latest Game of Thrones episode! And as usual, I was eager to see what would be happening this week. Not only was the name of this episode a clear reference to a major event in the story, they also seemed poised to  show us Yunkai, Daenerys’ next conquest. And there’s still plenty set to happen with Robb and the Freys, Arya and the Brotherhood, Bran and the Reeds, Cersei and the Tyrells, Brienne and Jaime, Sam and Gilly…

Well, you get the idea. By the third book, the story really began to multiply in terms of plot threads. It seemed like there wasn’t the tidy three points of interest of the Wall, Kings Landing and Essos as there was in the first book. Now, its a wartime saga and there’s plenty of people in plenty of places, all with their own story to tell and independent take on it all. So the show makers have their work cut out for them.

So here’s what happened this week and what I thought of it…

The Climb:
got3_climb
Things open in the north, where three of our main characters now find themselves. The first is Sam and Gilly, who are traveling south together after fleeing Craster’s Keep. The second is Bran, Osha, Hodor and the Reeds, who are heading the opposite way. And last, their is John and the Wildlings, who find their way to the Wall at last, and intend to scale it.

As they prepare to follow Tormund, who is reputed for having climbed it dozens of times, Ygritte tells John that she knows he is still “a crow” at heart. While not truly loyal to Mance, she does expect him to be loyal to her. With Tormund in the lead, they begin to scale the Wall. The climb proves treacherous as a section gives way, killing an entire war party in the process. John and Ygritte are almost killed too, but a last minute move by John saves the both of them.

got3_climb2In the Riverlands, the Brotherhood are met by an unlikely visitor, Lady Melissandre herself, who entreats with Thoros. After raising the issue of his previous mission – which was to convert King Robert – she is taken to see Beric. She is astounded to see what Thoros has done with Beric, and tells them they have someone the Lord of Light needs – referring to Gendry. Since he has the “King’s Blood” – i.e. King Robert’s – he is fit to be sacrificed.

At Riverrun, Robb meets with the Freys emissaries to discuss the terms of their continued alliance. He is told that in exchange for an apology, the right to Harrenhal, and Lord Edmure Tully’s marriage to his eldest daughter, they will continue to be friends. Edmure is extremely reluctant, but is compelled since they need the Freys to win the war and because of his failure in engaging the Lannisters. They agree to the terms and plan to travel to The Twins for the wedding.

got3_climb1In King’s Landing, Tywin and Lady Redwyne discuss the possibility of Cersei marrying Ser Loras. Redwyne initially refuses, claiming Cersei is too old to bear him children. But Tywin, refusing to be denied, threatens to appoint Ser Loras to the Kingsguard, a move which will ensure that the Tyrells bear no heirs and the Lannisters will take over Highgarden down the road.

Tyrion and Cersei also discuss their impending nuptials, and Tyrion confronts her about the plot to kill him. He tells her that Joffrey is an idiot for ordering such a murder, but is told that nothing will happen as long as Tywin is around. Tyrion then meets with Sansa to reveal his father’s plan to have them wed, and she is naturally heartbroken. So is Shae, who is on hand to hear about it directly.

got3_climb3Varys and Littlefinger also exchange words in the Kings Hall, where he reveals that he found out about Varys plot to marry Sansa to the Tyrells. He further reveals that Varys’ source in the matter, his assistant Ros, has been removed from his service and has been handed off to “a grateful friend”. This turns this friend is Joffrey, who had her bound and then killed her with his crossbow.

At Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton meets with Jaime and Brienne, both of whom have recovered from their time with the Bloody Mummers. He agrees to let Jaime continue on to King’s Landing as recompense for the loss of his hand, but demands that Brienne stay behind since she abetted treason. Jaime is not happy about the decision, but is not in a position to make demands.

The episode closes with John and his party making it to the top of the Wall. Once there, Ygritte fulfills a lifelong dream of looking out at the world from the top. They stand together and share a long kiss…

Summary:
Well, as it turned out, this episode had a double meaning to it. On the one hand, there was the physical climb which John and the others accomplished as they scaled the Wall. On the other, there was Littlefinger’s diabolical speech about how chaos is “a ladder”, which some climb while others fall. And in this clever little double-entendre, the episode finds its true meaning. And overall, we got a fair dose of pl0t advancement, and a good heaping of machinations as all the interested parties continued to scheme.

But of course, there were some changes which once again, I feel obliged to note. Some were the result of previous changes which then forced these new ones upon the writers, but others struck me as being entirely out of the blue. In the case of the former, you’ve got Roose Bolton deciding to send Jaime Lannister on to King’s Landing. In the book, this didn’t happen, since by the time Jaime and Brienne made it to Harrenhal, it had passed back into the hands of the Lannisters.

On top of that, this decision really makes no sense here. Roose claims to be letting Jaime go as recompense, but also because he recognizes that Tywin will pay more or him. At the same time, he’s holding onto Brienne because she’s guilty of treason. Yet, by letting Jaime go, he’s committing an even worse one and putting himself in jeopardy with Robb. Vargo Hoat wasn’t willing to give Jaime back to his father for fear of losing his head, but Roose seems to have no such fears.

But of course, this is all necessitated by the way they cut out how Harrenhal came to be in the hands of Robb in the first place, plus that they rushed this plot thread to get Jaime and Brienne out of the wilderness sooner. And of course, there’s the plot thread involving Cersei’s impending nuptials to Ser Loras, which never happened in the book. True, Cersei was pissed that her father intended to marry her off again to cement alliances, but Ser Loras was never a candidate.

This might seem like a very minor point, but I realized this mainly because in this episode, Tywin makes a big deal about threatening to make Ser Loras a Kingsguard. In the book, that’s exactly what Ser Loras did, and it was because he wanted to so he could avoid being married off to a woman he knew he would not love. And since the Tyrells are gaining the throne through Margaery’s marriage to Joffrey, shouldn’t his threat of depriving them of an inheritance be baseless?

Which brings me to out-of-the-blue stuff, which here includes Gendry being hauled off by Lady Melissandre. Again, never happened in the book and I don’t see why they are doing it here. True again, Stannis needed Kingsblood to make a proper sacrifice to R’hllor, but that didn’t take place til much later and didn’t involve Gendry at all. After deciding to stay on with the Brotherhood, Arya and he parted ways (won’t say how, it’s coming up), and that was that. What they are doing with him here, can’t imagine where they’re headed with it, but I know it will necessitate changes down the road.

Which brings me to my final gripe, which has to do with Theon again. Once more, we have him on screen being tortured, and they don’t even reveal who has him or why. They pull a little misdirection by pretending his tormenter is the Karstark heir, but that of course proves to be false. In reality, he’s the bastard Bolton, aka. Ramsay Snow, and all this again just seems like a whole bunch of filler! But then again, so was Ros’ part, which came to an abrupt end this week since they decided to kill her off.

Looking back on my comments here, I can tell that I’ve become a bonafide Thrones geek, the kind who gripes about changes and nitpicks the inconsistencies between the books and the adaptations. But in all honesty, the longer this show goes, the easier it becomes to notice these things. Though it is still a kick ass series, the way they are diverging from the script can only get worse at this rate.

But of course, I still want to see what they do with it. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch!

P.S. Oh yeah, and they didn’t show Daenerys making it to Yunkai… again. When oh when is that going to happen? They keep showing it on the map at the beginning, when is she going to get there?! Like a few other gems that are yet to be revealed, this one promises to be pretty cool!

Game of Thrones

Or as its known by its literary name, A Song of Fire and Ice. This is the series which inspired the recent HBO series, named after the first novel in the series, and which is apparently destined to keep that name for the duration of the show. After watching the first season, I was inspired to pick up the second book, then I was inspired to buy the Kindle set of all four books. And then the author George RR Martin released the fifth book in the series and two more are planned… Wow. I tell ya, this series could go on forever! But apparently, that’s the thing about these books. As many fans have told me, his work is expected to take the same route as Wheel of Time. Aptly named, because it just keeps rolling on and on and on…

But I digress. A while back I decided I would tackle this series and give it a full review. Having loved the miniseries, I sought to delve into the source material and get a sense of what it was all about. And of course, I wanted to see where the story was going and what would come of all the characters, and I was quite pleased. While Martin’s notorious characteristics as a writer – his level of detail, his willingness to kill of main characters, his ability to really flesh out a storyline – were all abundantly apparent in later installments, I also found examples of his strengths in abundance. These included, but were not limited to, his ability to create rich, engrossing worlds, his drawing on historical sources, his ability to make readers emphasize and identify with characters, and his ability to keep people guessing. I tell ya, nothing about these stories seems predictable! The downside of that last aspect is, people keep dying, and not always the ones you hope will! But in the plus column, it keeps the reader on their toes!

Down to specifics: George RR Martin was already famous before writing A Song of Fire and Ice. During the 1980’s, he worked in Hollywood as a writer for such shows as The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. His early fantasy novel, The Ice Dragon, became a best-selling children’s novel. However, it was with A Game of Thrones and subsequent novels that his fame as a fantasy author was cemented, earning him the nickname, “The American Tolkien”. This is an appropriate description, given the fact that the depth and breadth of his fantasy novels are rivaled by only The Lord of the Rings. Several differences have been noted, however. For starters, his stories are much more gritty and realistic. Fantasy elements – that is to say, supernatural things like magic, dragons and mythical creatures – appear sparingly and only as the story progresses. And, as I’ve already mentioned twice, he kills his main characters! In short, Martin’s books revolve around realistic human characters and their goings on, with all the sex, violence, betrayal and intrigue that that entails!

The world of George RR Martin is a fictitious world set in a medieval period, hence why it falls into the genre of medieval fantasy. In this world, something transpired long ago known as “The Doom”, which has had the effect of making the seasons longer. Summer and Winter, for reasons no one can explain, last years instead of months. The coming of winter is a time of fear since it means that the White Walkers, a supernatural force from the frozen north, will be returning to threaten the Seven Kingdoms. As the story opens, a particularly long summer is coming to an end, and in the north, dark forces appear to be on the move. Further south, throughout the land known as Westeros, King Robert “the Usurper” is facing a conspiracy within his own Kingdom which could lead to another civil war (the last one is what made him king). Meanwhile, on the nearby continent of Essos, the exiled Targaryens are plotting their return to Westeros. The deposed heir, Viserys Targaryen, is planning on marrying his sister, Daenerys, to a Dothraki warlord named Khal Drogo. This marriage, he hopes, will provide him with the army he needs to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne.

The first novel thusly opens with these three story lines and ends with all three being poised on a cliffhanger note. At the Wall in the north, the giant ice-barrier that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the north, the Wildlings are apparently fleeing their villages, prompting the Night’s Watch to go and investigate. When only one man returns, he claims to have witness White Walkers, but is executed for desertion. Meanwhile, Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and head of House Stark, is visited by King Robert, the man he helped become king. Robert needs a new Hand of the King, seeing as how his old one, Lord John Arryn, has died suddenly. Ned agrees and travels to King’s Landing to take up the role, and quickly become privy to the conspiracy that took his predecessor. Meanwhile, on the continent, Viserys succeeds in wedding his sister to Khal Drogo, an arrangement which begins to backfire on him when he realizes that Drogo and Daenerys are actually falling in love with each other, and are perhaps planning on cutting him out of the deal.

(Spoiler alert!): Things come together as John Snow, Lord Eddard’s bastard son, joins the Night’s Watch and begins to witness for himself what is happening the North. An attack by wights, the resurrected bodies of people killed by White Walkers, begin attacking the Wall itself. After his own uncle fails to return from a patrol beyond the Wall, Lord Mormont prepares a campaign to go north in force and meet the threat head on. For John, this means turning his back on the troubles of his family to the south. When news reaches him that his father might be in danger and his half-brothers riding to war, he is tempted to desert and ride to their aide. But as a sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, he is bound by honor to serve until death, even at the expense of his true family.

At King’s Landing, Eddard soon uncovers the conspiracy that claimed the life of John Arryn and even involves an assassination attempted on his own son. It seems that the Queen, Cersei Lannister, is engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, who is one of Robert’s Kingsgaurd. Before he can inform King Robert, Robert is crippled during a hunting expedition and dies shortly thereafter. Eddard is forced to move quickly to ensure that Joffrey, Cersei’s eldest son, does not take the throne. However, his attempts are thwarted when Lord Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin, betrays him to the Queen. Eddard is executed by the brutal and stupid Joffrey, and his daughter – Sansa, who was betrothed to him – is now his hostage. Ned’s youngest daughter, Arya, escapes with the help of a Night’s Watch brother who disguises her as a boy recruit, and they travel north together. In response to his father’s death Ned’s oldest son, Robb Stark, declares war on the king and mobilizes every house in the north to march on King’s Landing. They are joined from forces to the far south, led by Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stannis who were next in line to the throne. However, rather than declare their fealty to either of Robert’s brothers, Robb’s bannerman declare him “King in the North”, using this war as a pretext to declare independence from the south.

On the continent, Drogo and Daenerys fall in love and she learns that she is pregnant with his heir. This, plus the fact that his sister is able to stand up to him now, leads Viserys to force the issue with Drogo. During a feast, a drunken Viserys threatens Drogo by declaring that he’s taking his sister back and will cut his son to be right out of her belly. Unless of course he gets what he wants, which is the golden crown he covets. Drogo responds by having his men break Viserys’ arm and then hold him down while he prepares a pot of molten gold which he proceeds to pour on Viserys’ head. His promise of “a golden crown” is thus fulfilled! Free of her abusive brother, Daenerys tries to convince Drogo to take the Iron Throne for their son, but Drogo is reluctant, until a would-be assassin sent by Robert’s court tries to poison Daenerys. Enraged, Drogo declares that he will conquer and ravage Westeros, but unfortunately succumbs to a festering wound during combat with one of his own men. Daenerys tries to save him using a slave’s witchcraft, but is betrayed and loses her son as well. Most of the Dothraki move on, and she is left with just a small host, her advisor Jorah Mormont, and the dragon’s eggs he gave her as a wedding gift. When she burns Drogo on a funeral pyre, she walks into the flames with the eggs, and miraculously survives! The Dragonborn, which all Targaryens are said to descend from, are immune to fire, and the eggs hatch to become the first dragons the world has seen in generations. Mormont and her host declare their loyalty to her, the true Dragonborn, and plot to reclaim Westeros with her!

Thus ends book I. And as I said, one can see the influence of real at work almost right away. On the one hand, Westeros is clearly styled on the British Isles, its northern/southern divide clearly an allegory for the divide between the English south, and the Scottish North. The Wall is clearly analogous to Hadrian’s Wall, the barrier that kept the “northern barbarians” at bay during the Roman occupation of Britain, and which serves a similar function in the book. The continent of Essos is also a clear reference to the European mainland, the Dothraki styled on the Huns or Mongols (invading horsemen from the East), whereas the free cities and slave cities are inspired by Asia Minor and its vast, ancient metropolises (more on that in book II). And of course, the royal intrigue, the very concept of the “Game of Thrones” – a reference to the never ending fight to claim the crown – is a fitting rendition of the actual royal intrigues taken from medieval history. Much like real wars of succession, it is loaded with secret alliances, plots, backstabbing, and of course, bloody civil war.

And the miniseries did a very good job of adapting all this to television. Naturally, any adaptation of Martin’s work would be hard pressed to adapt all the interwoven storylines, detail and events that characterize his writing. Still, the HBO miniseries did a pretty good job of getting all the relevant info in, making time for secondary perspectives without moving too far away from the main characters. And of course, there was the shocking scene where Eddard Stark is killed, much to the chagrin of television audiences who don’t expect main characters to die. Yes, that was masterfully done too. I myself was appalled and even angry at first, but respected them all the more for doing it. It’s what’s in the book and you can’t go changing major elements just because the audience might object. I hope they keep this in mind come season two. Rumor has it Jason Momoa is hoping they’ll bring Drogo back from the dead. Clearly he hasn’t read the books!

Furthermore, the casting was SUPERB! Sean Bean, a man who brings a touch of awesomeness to just about everything he does, was perfect as Eddard Stark. Mark Addy was also superb as King Robert, capturing his pudgy, teddy bear exterior and his bitter, angry personality! Lena Headey, of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles and 300 fame, achieved a sort of perfection in the role of Cersei. I’m telling you, you seriously think she’s an evil bitch after seeing her in this, a tribute to her acting talent! Jason Momoa, who went on to play Conan in the remake of the Schwarzenegger classic, fit the bill perfectly as Khal Drogo. He was brutish, strong, manly and scary, but also endearing and loving at times. A good thing too, since the Conan remake kind of sucked! Emilia Clarke, a relative newcomer to the acting scene, was nevertheless very convincing as Daenarys, capturing both her frailty and quiet strength quite well. And last, but certainly not least, was Peter Dinklage, who played the role of the dwarf Tyrion Lannister to absolute perfection! Seriously, this guy has the best lines of the entire series as the rude, crude, but brilliant and bawdy black sheep of the Lannister clan. You love him, love to hate him, and sympathize with him, even when you’re shaking his head at his antics!

The rest of the cast, which is just too extensive to mention, was similarly awesome. Understandable given the fact that most of them are classically trained actors, people who cut their teeth doing Shakespeare and are therefore accustomed to performing epic roles. I wish I could do them all justice, but like I said, too many to count! I hope its enough just to say they were awesome!

And like most fans of the book and miniseries, I can’t wait for season two. The book was quite spectacular, picking up where book I one left off with war on the horizon and major battle in the works. And word is, cast and crew had a real hard time adapting the damn thing, it was just so epic in scope! But that only ensures that the outcome is likely to be that much more awesome to behold! A Game of Thrones, everybody. Read it, watch it, and then read book II because the series will be back soon! Not soon enough…

Stay tuned for my review of book II, A Clash of Kings, coming up next!