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:
got4_8_1
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 Four, Episode Seven

got4More of Season Four of GOT – or three-point-five, as I like to think of it. This week, we had more development and more buildup to what is to be the season’s climax. And judging from all the tidbits ventured this week and in previous episodes, this will all come down to an assault on the Wall involving Mance Rayder at one end and Ygritte and Tormund at the other, and Tyrion’s fate being decided in a trial by combat. Those are the main big ticket items are they are set to be exploding in the coming two weeks!

As for the lesser plot points, Arya is either going to make it to the Eyrie with the Hound or strike out and finding her own path. Sansa is going to be stuck with and hit upon by her creepy-uncle figure Petyr and try not to vomit. Brienne is either going to find her and her sister or get lost in the woods with Podrick (and maybe find out what the whores in King’s Landing already know!), and… something involving Daenerys and Stannis. Not a lot of promise there yet, but whatever…

Mockingbird:
GOT4_7_3The episode opens in King’s Landing, where Tyrion and Jaime discuss his demand for a trial by combat. Jaime tells him he cannot fight for him since the loss of his hand, and Tyrion asks that he find Bronn for him. Jaime then lets Tyrion know that Cersei plans to call on Ser Gregor Clegane – aka. the Mountain – to be her champion. We then see him in a yard slicing through prisoners before Cersei comes to his side and thanks him for answering her call.

Bronn comes to Tyrion and tells him that he’s now married, and that Cersei arranged it. He declines the offer to be Tyrion’s champion since the odds of winning are slim, and because Tyrion can offer him little. Prince Oberyn arrives later, telling Tyrion of how he was at Casterly Rock after Tyrion had been born and how Cersei had been horribly cruel to him even then. He then tells him that he intends to seek justice for his family, and that he will be Tyrion’s champion so he can kill the man who murdered his sister and her children.

GOT4_7_2Farther north, Arya and Sandor Clegan come upon another burnt out hut and a dying villager. After telling them of his woe, Sandor stabs him in the heart to end his pain. Two men then jump him, one biting Clegane’s shoulder before he manages to snap the man’s neck. We then see that it was Biter and Rorge, two of the prisoners Yoren was taking to the Wall before. Arya recognized Rorge and remembers how he threatened to rape her. After learning his name, she stabs him through the heart, and Sandor congratulates her for learning.

At the Wall, Jon Snow returns from his mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the muntineers. A council is held to discuss what to do about the impending Wildling attack, and Jon Snow advices that they block the gates with rocks and ice. He is overruled by Bowen Marsh and Janos Slynt, both of whom mistrust Jon due to his time amongst the Wildlings. To add insult to injury, he and Sam are given the night’s watch until the next full moon.

got4_7_4In Mereen, Daenerys finds Daario in her chamber offering himself to her, which she accepts. In the morning, Mormont comes around and learns of what has happened. He counsels Daenerys not to trust him, but she replies that she doesn’t, which is why she has sent him to liberate Yunkai and kill all the masters. Mormont cautions her that her actions will only lead to more suffering, and advising mercy. As a compromises, she decides to send Hizdar zo Loraq with Daario to caution the masters into obedience.

In the Riverlands, Brienne and Podrick set down at an inn for the night and enjoy some kidney pies – which, as it turns out, which cooked by Hot Pie. They meet him while taking their meal, he sits down to chat. She lets him know they are looking for Sansa Stark, and that they intend to bring her home. He confides that he knew Arya, and that she was in the company of the Brotherhood Without Banners, and that the Hound was with them too. From this, Pod suggests that Arya would likely be heading to the Eyrie, and that Sansa may be there as well.

got4_7_5In the Eyrie, Robin finds Sansa in the courtyard playing in the snow. She has built a snow castle of Winterfell, which Robin accidentally damages. This prompts an argument, Robin throws a tantrum and kicks down the castle, and Sansa slaps him. He runs off, and Petyr comes in and tells her not to worry. She asks him why he really killed Joffrey, and he confesses he did it to avenge her mother because he loved her. He then kisses her, which her aunt sees.

Afterward, Lysa summons her to the throne room and asks her to stand beside her at the Moon Door. She accuses her of kissing Petyr, flies into a jealous rage and threatens to throw Sansa out. Petyr then enters and calms her down by promising to send Sansa away. She lets Sansa goes and begins to cry. Petyr them takes her in his arms and says he’s only ever loved one woman, her sister, and then shoved her out the Moon Door.

Summary:
Overall, not a bad episode! And a nice surprise after last week’s bomb-fest. There were the bits and pieces I was expecting and looked forward to – including Oberyn becoming Tyrion’s champion, the presentation of the new Mountain (once again recast, and played this time by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), and Petry shoving Lysa out the Moon Door. Other than that, not much happened, but not much was meant to. There’s plenty going on before the season finale, and this episode needed to set much of that up.

That being said, there were some bits that seemed kind of dumb. As usual, this had to do with the ongoing storyline in Dragonstone, where they usually cut to whenever they need some pacing. The only difference was, this time around they at least hinted at something significant, which appears to be that Melissandre wants Selyse (Stannis’ wife) to sacrifice her daughter to the Red God. And while I can’t complain about seeing Melissandre naked, it was admittedly unnecessary – much like Daario dropping his pants!

Speaking of which, Daenerys’ parts were once again filler. First, we have her bedding Daario (which is something that doesn’t happen until book V) and then sending him off to recapture Yunkia (something that didn’t happen in the books at all). I tell ya, they are just trying to keep her storyline going since they did a rush job on all those sieges! A Storm of Swords, which this season and last are based on, ended with her seizing Mereen. But with that done, they now have nothing for her to do but deal with the travails and travesties of ruling. BORING!

But other than that, things were pretty good. I really do enjoy what they are doing with Oberyn, who is being very well played by Pedro Pascal. When it was initially announced that he would be playing the role, some fans were critical since they didn’t think he looked the part. In fact, the word “whitewashing” was used. However, I think he’s done a magnificent job in the role. And Kate Dickie really killed it as the irrational and insanely jealous Lysa Arryn. Too bad Petyr killed her 😉

And let me take this moment to say that I am glad they’ve recast a few roles. Daario Naharis, as played by Ed Skrein last season, didn’t look a DAMN THING like he is described in the books. Michiel Huisman, who plays him this season, might not fit the role to a t, but he’s way closer than that braided-haired, beardless pretty boy. And after replacing Conan Stevens in season one with Ian Whyte in seasons two, I’m glad they have an actor again who captures The Mountain’s true appearance and nature.

So now, things are all set for next week’s showstopper – the fight between Prince Oberyn and Ser Gregor Clegane. It is appropriately titled “The Mountain and the Viper”. And no spoilers, but it’s gonna be epic and very… George RR Martinesque!

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones is back!

This past April 1st, fans of the Game of Thrones miniseries were treated to a real delight! For months, we had been told that season two was coming. And, praying that this was no April Fool’s joke, fans everywhere kept their fingers crossed and their feet tapping while they anxiously waited for it to come true. Seriously, I don’t think there was a fan among us who wasn’t sitting on one butt cheek the whole month of March!

Finally, the rumors were confirmed and it was no prank. After witnessing the big set-up, the death of Ned Stark, the build-up to war, and the cliffhanger ending (complimented by dragons and a nude lady!), we were finally going to see A Clash of Kings on our screens!

So, now that we’re two episodes in, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on season two. I would have offered up a review of the first episode the second it broke, but I wanted to wait until at least two episodes aired so I could see where they would be going. Now that I think I have a feel for it, here it is…

Ep.1. The North Remembers:
Well, episode one was a bit of a letdown. After months and months of waiting, and knowing what to expect, I found it both topical and rushed. Naturally, any season opener needs to introduce everything and this can weight it down a little. And knowing what to expect can also lead to the inevitable sense of “they changed this, they changed that”. But I’m quite certain my impressions were not informed by either.

For starters, the book opens with a chapter from the point of view of Stannis’ priest. His perspective informs us of the comet that has appeared in the heavens (something that got barely any dialogue in the episode) and how Stannis has taken up with Melisandre. It also introduces Sir Davos Seaworth, the “Onion Knight” who will become a central character as the story progresses. Sure, these things get some coverage in the first episode, but the real development is left to episode two.

And then there was the scene between Cersei and Lord Petyr Baelish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall this ever happening in the novel. Granted, in the wake of Ned Stark’s execution and Joffre’s ascension, there was plenty of plotting and suspicion in the royal court. But none of it that took place between Baelish and Cersei. So really, this scene was just superfluous. The same is true of the scene where Robb confronts Jaime in his cage. Again, not in the book! Aside from recapping how they have him prisoner, I didn’t see the point in it.

But they did get two things right. First, we got to see and hear plenty from Tyrion and Cersei upon his return to court. And the scene between Sansa and Joffrey during his name-day tournament, that was quite faithful! And then there was the scene where the Night’s Watch reach Craster’s Keep and get an eyefull of his twisted little commune. All bang on, from what I recall. But as for the rest, it felt rushed and topical. Sure, they picked up where the last season let off and managed to tackle the salient points. But other that, didn’t seem like there was much development.

Ep.2. The Night Lands:
And then episode two aired, and things began to pick up. For one, they finally got into Arya’s story and provided some details on her situation. This included her companion Gendry and the fact that the Kinsgaurd were looking for him; not to mention Hot Pie, Lommy, Joaquin H’ghar and the other two criminals. There was also the faithful scene where Tyrion begins exercising his powers as the new Hand, removing Janos Slynt as Lord of the City Watch and replacing him with Bronn. The subsequent scene where he has it out with Cersei was also pretty awesome! And last, there was the highly accurate scenes depicting Theon’s return to Pyke, and the little misunderstanding between him and his sister.

As for things that didn’t quite fit or misfired… Well, there was the scene in the brothel where Baelish threatens one of his ladies, a woman who never appeared in the book but is a recurring character in the show. She is apparently mourning the loss of one of their fellow ladies, who was cut down with her child when the Kingsguard went around slaughtering Robert’s bastards. Didn’t happen in the book, so I really got the feeling that it was just jammed in for some added nudity and evil character development. You know, just in case we didn’t already know Baelish was an asshole!

And then there was the final scene where Jon witnesses what Craster does with his sons. In short, he sees him bring one out to the forest where the Others take him away. Granted, it was established in the novel that this is what Craster does with all the boys his daughters/wives bear him, but it was never shown. Neither was the part where Craster knocks Jon out after he realizes he’s seen the whole thing. This I can’t imagine will be easy to explain in episode three. Craster is a man who threatens to kill anyone who so much as touches one of his daughters/wives. How is he going to let Jon go now that he’s seen how he’s offering up sacrifices to the White Walkers?

What’s more, there’s the added issue of White Walkers now being spotted near their camp. In the novels, they themselves aren’t spotted even in Book III, preferring to let their Wights do their fighting for them. This totally throws things off, especially where the Night’s Watch and Craster’s working relationship is concerned. What is Lord Mormont going to do when he finds out, say “shame on you” to Craster, pick up and then leave? Having read well into book IV, I know for a fact that they come back his way later and stay with him again. They can’t do that if they know he’s welcoming Others into his property! This just doesn’t jive!

Good episode, inexplicable ending. Ah well, I’m sure episode three will have something in the way of explanations…

Overall, so far, so good. I can’t wait until they get into the big burly battle at King’s Landing! That is sure to be awesome, as are the various other action scenes involving (edited for spoilers). See you next time!

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!