Game of Thrones – Season Four Finale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://i1.wp.com/d1mxyp5ceukbya.cloudfront.net/images/game-of-thrones-season-4-finale-children-arya-hound-illegal-download-hbo.jpgIn the Vale, Brienne and Pod come upon Arya practicing her sword dance. When they approach, the Hound presents himself, and some difficult introductions are made. The Hound believes she is there to collect the bounty on him, but she insists she is there to bring Arya home. A fight brutal fight ensues, and Sandor is pushed from a cliff and falls below. Arya slips away to come to his side, and denies him when he begs her for a merciful death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END OF SPOILER)

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

https://i1.wp.com/media1.onsugar.com/files/2014/06/15/168/n/1922283/348b15ef4e9cb95a_760006_GOT410_072313_HS_DSC9740_1_.xxxlarge/i/Brienne-vs-Hound.jpgAnd the fight scene between the Hound and Brienne, while it didn’t happen in the novel and was much like other unpleasant changes, it made for some good watching. While it didn’t effect any changes in the plot, it wasn’t useless like Yara’s attempted rescue of Theon or Jon’s and Bran’s near-reunion at Craster’s Keep. And the way they handled the Hound’s death scene was not only faithful to the books, but really well done!

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

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

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

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

GOT Fanfilm: A Tale of Benjen Stark

A-taleofBenjenStarkThough season four may still be many months away, some in the fan community have bravely stepped up to make sure the die hards of Game Of Thrones get a dose to tide them over. In this case, the fans in question are the good folks behind The Von Wong and Five Knights Productions, who have created A Tale of Benjen Stark, a short fanfilm that addresses a hole in the series’ story.

Basically, the film explores the question of what happened to Ben Stark, Lord Ned Stark’s brother and a man of the Night’s Watch. As fans of the book and TV series may recall, Benjen set out north of the Wall in the first installment, seeking to find what was behind the reported deaths of several Wildlings and the disappearance of his brothers. After setting out, he was never heard from again, and only passing clues were given as to his fate.

A-taleofBenjenStark1In A Tale of Benjen Stark, his adventure north of the Wall is chronicled, as is the discovery he makes that is later uncovered by Jon Snow. As expected, the production values are not as good as the show itself, and it kind of borders on a zombie B movie, but it still manages to address something that was never fully resolved in the story.

And based on the success of this movie, the production team has indicated that they are open to making a second installment. If all goes well, they should be able to wrap up Benjen’s entire story arc, culminating in the little “gift” he left behind for his brother’s to find. Enjoy!


Source: theawesomer.com

Timeline of Game of Thrones

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperNot too long ago, I realized just how immersed I was in the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a funny experience, getting into a series, realizing you’ve finally got some understanding of the universe contained within, and you find that you really like it! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t experienced this since reading Lord of the Rings or possibly Dune.

And in the course of my latest bit of research into the ASOIAF universe, I came across a helpful timeline. This, much like the geography of J R.R. Martin’s world, was something I had been pondering by the time I got to the fifth book. As anyone’s who read the series knows, there’s plenty of references to historical events which can be a bit confusing, at least if you’re the kind of person who likes to know how everything fits together.

And much like Tolkien, Martin’s timeline is very inspired, dense, detailed, and draws on a great deal of real history. And knowing it is quite helpful in establishing the deep background of the series and understanding the interplay of characters and events. So here is what I found, condensed and abridged for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

The Dawn Age:
south_GOT
This is the prehistoric age of A Song of Ice and Fire, where the important factions know as the “Children of the Forest” and the “First Men” are introduced. The former are a race of magical creatures who feature quite prominently in the later volumes of the story, where Greenseers and prescient dreams start to come up more and more. They inhabited Westeros in the prehistoric period along with giants and other magical creatures that only live in the North anymore. The Children of the Forest are also credited with forging the religion of the “Old Gods” which the Northmen still worship in the story.

ca. 12,000: The First Men invade Westeros across a land-bridge from the east, using bronze weapons to conquer and colonize Westeros. The Children of the Forest fight back and cast a spell to break the land-bridge, giving rise to the island formation known as the Stepstones (Echoes of the Bering Land Bridge here!) However, the First Men rely on ships and complete their conquest after generations.

ca. 10,000: The First Men and Children sign the pact of Isle of Faces, agreeing to coexistence after generations of warfare. This pact gives the First Men dominion over the open lands and lets the Children keep control over the forested areas. In time, the First Men adopt the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest.

Children_of_the_Forest_greenseers
The Age of Heroes
Much like the age of same name in Greek mythology, this age is so named because it encompasses a number of great figures who accomplished noteworthy deeds. These include the founding of many of the Great Houses, who trace their lineage in the story to this period. The include Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark; Lann the Clever who formed House Lannister; and Garth Greenhand who founded House Gardener of the Reach. Also, this was the time of the Storm Kings who arise in the Stormlands, and the Grey King of the Iron Islands.

ca. 10,000-8,000: The peace between the Children of the Forest and the First Men endures for thousands of years. The houses of Stark, Lannister, Gardener and the Storm Kings are established in the North, Casterly Rock, the Reach and the Stormlands respectively.

Azor-Ahai-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-3437825-905-521ca. 8,000-6,000: Period known as the Long Night in Westeros, a time of the coldest, darkest winter where a single night seems to last a generation. Ice spreads from the North, leading to the advance of the Others. It comes to an end following the Battle of the Dawn, where the First Men united under Azor Ahai (referenced in the text by Melissandre and the Red Priests) to repel the Others back to the north dragonglass weapons. Ahai also wields of a sword of fire known as Lightbringer.

After the defeat of the Others, Bran the Builder leads the raising of the Wall, a massive fortification of ice and ancient magic to shelter realms of Men. The Night’s Watch is formed to man and guard it against Others, Wights and Wildlings who live to the north. Bran then goes on to build Winterfell and becomes first King In The North. Not long after, a Black Brother betrays his oath and tries to install himself as king. The Starks of Winterfell and King Beyond the Wall Joramun join forces to destroy him. Joramun uses the Horn of Winter to summon giants from the earth to help him fight (the horn is buried, not to be found again until Mance Rayder uncovers it in A Storm of Swords)

The Andal Invasion:
The second of three major invasions of Westeros happens in this time period, leading to the Faith of the Seven and the tradition of chivalry being adopted. The divide between North and South is also rooted thanks to the failure of the Andals to conquer north of Moat Cailin.The Children of the Forest also begin their slow withdraw further from the lands of men in this period, retreating deeper into their forests and North of the Wall.

Andal_Invasionca.6,000-5,000: In the Hills of Andalos on the eastern continent of Essos, a new religion called the Faith of the Seven emerges. Supposedly, the supreme deity of the Andals appears to them and instructs them to cross the Narrow Sea and invade Westeros. They come under the banner of the Faith of the Seven, with seven-pointed stars carved into their chests, wielding weapons of steel.

The war endures for centuries and leads to the fall of the six southron kingdoms fall and the destruction of their weirwoods. The kingdoms of the North remain under First Men rule, thanks to the strategically placed fortification of Moat Cailin which resists multiple attacks, thereafter serving as the door between North and South.

Age of Valyria:
GOT_DanyThis period is characterized by the rise of the Valyrians as the dominant power in Essos and the many wars of expansion in Essos. These wars lead to the fall of the Ghiscari Empire, the Rhoynish cities, and the conquest of the Free Cities and the cities of Slaver’s Bay. Other Noble Houses are created during this time, most notably, House Martell of Dorne. It ends with the third and final invasion of Westeros, this time by House Targaryan, and the establishment of the Iron Throne.

ca. 5,000 – 700: On the eastern continent, the sheep-herding folk of the Valyrian peninsula find dragons lairing in the volcanoes that extend across the neck of the peninsula. The Valyrians tame the dragons with magic and gain influence over the area. The Valyrian Freehold is established and Valyrian steel, a magical metal renowned for its sharpness, light-weight and flaming properties, is forged. The Freehold goes to war with the Ghiscari Empire, the greatest power on the eastern peninsula. Valyria wins with the help of its dragons, destroys Old Ghis, and exerts influence over the cities of Slaver’s Bay.

north_GOTca. 3000: The Wildlings Invasion takes place as the northern men unite under the brother Kings-beyond-the-Wall Gendel and Gorne, manage to evade the Night’s Watch and bypass the Wall in great numbers using a network of tunnels that extend under the Wall. However, they are met by the Stark King on the other side and are eventually thrown back.

ca. 700: In the North, House Stark finally subdues House Bolton, their primary antagonists for dominance in the North. Karlon Stark defeats sea raiders from the east and founds the cadet branch of House Karstark. In the West, the Ironborn of the Iron Islands rise to power. At their peak, they control most of the western coast from Oldtown and the Arbor in the south to Bear Island in the North.

ca. 700-500: Valyria’s expansion beyond Old Ghis brings it into conflict with the great cities along the Rhoyne and manages to subdue them, again because of their dragons. Nymeria, a Rhoynish queen, evacuates the survivors and takes them to Dorne where she forms an alliance with Lord Mars Martell and form the ruling house of Dorne.

House-Targaryen-game-of-thrones-20596041-1600-1200ca. 500-200: Valyria expands once again and conquers much of the southern Free Cities. A religous sect known as the Moonsingers leads refugees to a remote lagoon concealed by mountains and mist to found the secret city of Braavos. They build the Titan of Braavos to serve as a defensive fortification. The Valyrian Freehold, under the Targaryens, annex a small island at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, and build a castle whose tower is shaped to look like Dragons, giving its name: Dragonstone.

ca. 350: The Storm Kings expand their control of the Westerlands north to include the territory of the Riverlands up to the Neck. Over time the Ironborn lose many of their possessions but, some three generations before Aegon’s Landing, conquer the territory of the Riverlands from the Stormlands. The Ironborn king, Harren Hoare builds Harrenhal.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-harrenhalca. 100: The Doom of Valryria begins. The volcanoes known as the Fourteen Fires erupt and shatter the Valyrian Peninsula and laying waste to the city of Valyria. The dragons of Valyria are virtually wiped out and the Valyrian Freehold crumbled apart, its various cities becoming independent city states. Braavos reveals itself to the other Free Cities and eventually becomes the most powerful due to its vast fleet and economic power.

The cities of Slaver’s Bay become independent again and Ghiscari power begins building again in the south. The warrior-nomads of the vast eastern plains arise thanks to the fall of Valyria and their dominant tribe, the Dothraki, begins raiding the surrounding lands. The Targaryens remain safe on Dragonstone, the guardians of possibly the last three dragons in the western world.

Targaryen Dynasty and Roberts Rebellion:
Events of this period direclty precede events in A Song of Ice and Fire. These include the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kindgoms by Aeon the Conqueror and his three dragons, the death of the last of the worlds dragons, the unification of the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne, and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty during Robert’s Rebellion.

The_iron_throne

 ca. 1 AL*: Aegon the Conqueror invades Westeros, conquers and unites six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros under his banner and constructs a new capital city at King’s Landing. He is unable to conquer Dorne and allows it to remain sovereign. Control of Highgarden passes to House Tyrell, House Tully of Riverrun takes control of the Riverlands and House Greyjoy become the rulers of the Iron Islands. Later Targaryans add Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms are united under the Iron Throne.

282-283 AL: Rhaegar Targaryen abducts Lyanna Stark. Lyanna’s brother and father (Ned Starks uncle and father) demand that Aerys discipline his son, but instead the Mad King kills them both. Aerys demands the heads of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark from their ward, Jon Arryn. Instead, Houses Arryn, Stark, and Baratheon raise the standard of rebellion. Robert’s Rebellion, also called the War of the Usurper, begins.

The Hand of the King, Jon Connington, is defeated in the Battle of the Bells and is sent into exile in the Free Cities. The rebel army defeats the royalists at the Battle of the Trident where Prince Rhaegar is killed. The Lannisters apparently march to the aid of King Aerys, but instead turn against him and sack the city. King Aerys is killed by Jaime Lannister.

A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-RobertPrincess Elia Martell and her children, Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, are brutally murdered by Lannister bannermen, causing a rift between Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon. Robert becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms and marries Cersei Lannister. Ned returns home to Winterfell with his bastard son, Jon Snow. Loyal Targaryen retainers carry Aerys’ two youngest children, Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys, to safety in the Free Cities.

*After Landing: The year that follows after Aegon lands in Westeros, establishing the “common era” of the Iron Throne.

Yes, its long, detailed and dense, and that’s just the stuff I chose to include. But you gotta admit, it does fill in the blanks and answer a whole lot of nagging questions! And of course, there are all those allegories I mentioned earlier. First there’s the invasion of the First Men across the land bridge calling to mind the migration of human beings across the Bering Land Bridge, giving rise to the First Nations and the establishment of American civilizations.

You also have the successive invasions of Westeros calling to mind the invasion of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans. The Children of the Forest also call to mind the systematic destruction of native populations the world over, and the division between the Old Gods and New is very similar to the conquest of Roman pantheism over the “pagan” religions of the Old World.

And of course, the Red Priests and their dualistic vision of a world divided between the forces of Light and Darkness is not at all dissimilar to Judea-Christian theology, or more likely Zoroastrianism. The fact that the faith comes from the East and is so focused on a war between good and evil that is expected to achieve culmination soon is more in keeping with the Zoroastrian tradition, though the monotheistic aspects of it, forced conversions and burning of “idols” do call to mind Christianity’s conquest of European and the New World.

And on top of that, there’s a very rich history taking place in the East, where Valyria resembles ancient Rome, who’s power base (in this case Dragons) allows them to conquer the Free Cities (similar to the Greek city-states), the Empire of Old Ghis (Persia and other Empires of the East), and whose fall creates a power vacuum that leads to the rise of “Barbarian Hordes” – aka. the Dothraki.

I tell ya, the historical metaphors are thick. THICK!

Source: awoiaf.westeros.org

Game of Thrones, Season 2 Finale!

Well it’s come at last. The big second season finale, the wrap up after the siege of King’s Landing, and the cliffhanger ending north of the Wall. And to be honest, I think this was the first episode I truly enjoyed. Not saying the other’s weren’t enjoyable as all hell. It’s just that with this episode, I found that I was finally putting aside the critical, comparative eye and just watching the show. Too bad too. But I guess I’ll have all summer to enjoy the re-runs. In the meantime, here’s what I thought about the season finale!

Valar Morghulis:
The mood is festive in King’s Landing, at least for most. Having secured the city from Stannis’ attack, Tywin Lannister and Ser Loras Tyrell are hailed as heroes. To cement the victory and the newfound alliance between House Lannister and House Tyrell, Joffrey agrees to marry Margaery Tyrell, rendering his marriage to Sansa null and void. Sansa is overjoyed, but must keep that herself. She is approached by Lord Pyter Baelish, who says he can smuggle her out of the capitol and bring her home.

Meanwhile, Tyrion wakes up in his new room to find that he’s been stripped of his duties as Hand of the King. His father has taken that role, and his Tyrion’s loyal followers have all been paid off and sent away. He is alone and virtually friendless, but luckily, he still has Shae and the allegiance of Varys, who appears to be hatching his own schemes with Ros, the lady of the night who works in Baelish’s brother. Robb announces his nuptials with Talisa, much to the chagrin of his mother. She warns him that Walder Frey is not a man to be crossed, but he is insistent that he proceed with his marriage as planned.

At Qarth, Daenerys enters the House of the Undying where she is confronted by the mages. Her dragons have been put in chains and so is she. However, her little scaled offspring begin belching fire at the mages and shattering their chains once they are reunited with her, and she quickly escapes with them in tow. Returning to Xaro’s house, Dany and her kin throw him into his chamber, which appears to be empty after all, and loot his house of anything of value. They proceed to the docks to buy what ships they can.

To the north, Theon is betrayed by his bannermen who kill him and set Winterfell ablaze. Brann, Rickson, Hodor and Osha leave the safety of the catacombs and begin heading north to the Wall where they believe they will be safe. Arya meanwhile meets up with Jaqen who is on his way back to Bravos. He invites her to come, but she says she must head north to her home. He gives her a coin and the words “Valar Morghulis” and tells her that they will buy her way to Bravos should she change her mind. He changes his face and bids her farewell.

And beyond the Wall, John and Qorin finally have at it and John manages to kill him. This moves earns him the Wildlings trust, and it appears that was what Qorin had in mind all along. He is taken to the Wildlings encampment in a frozen valley where he sees tents as far as the eye can see. And lastly, the Night’s Watch at the First of the First Men are best by White Walkers. Emerging from the snow and ice, they come in droves and shriek out a terrible, bone chilling war cry!

Final Thoughts on the Finale:
Well, once again I have to say that the did a very good job of adapting the novel to the screen. The ending was bone chilling and a real cliff-hanger,and they managed to do a good job of wrapping up all the seasons threads. When season 3 comes around, they will be in perfect firing position to pick the story up and take it even further towards resolution. Of course, changes were made again, but I have to say that with one exception, I was unanimously in favor of them this time around.

But before I get into that, I need to mention one change from the previous episodes that I totally forgot to mention. In episode 8, Arya and her pals make their escape thanks to Jaqen’s help. However, how they went about doing this was quite different than from in the book. There, Arya told Jaqen that she would un-utter his name if he freed the dungeons of all the Stark captives so they could take Harrenhal from the Lannisters. Since this would be done when Lord Tywin and the bulk of his army was away, there would not be enough men to defend against all the freed prisoners.

The plan worked, and Lord Bolton took command of the castle in the name of the Starks. However, that didn’t change Arya’s fortunes much, as she no one believed she was the Stark girl and she remained cupbearer, only this time to Lord Bolton. Jaqen had left at this point, giving her the coin and instructions on how to get to Bravos, so she had to free herself. She did this by killing a guard in the night and escaping with Gendry and Hot Pie, sans any help.

Of course, I could see why they simplified all this by having Jaqen simply kill the guards and letting her go free. It was a convoluted plot thread that took way longer in the book to resolve itself. And the same is true in this episode where we see both Theon’s betrayal and Sansa’s planned escape from King’s Landing being truncated. In the book, Theon was betrayed by one of his own, yes, but it was far more complicated. Essentially, Lord Bolton’s bastard was one of the men Theon freed from Winterfell’s dungeons, unbeknownst to him.

When he found that no help was coming from his father, he sent several men out to look for helpers. The bastard Bolton rode home, where he raised an army of his father’s men and returned just as Robb’s bannermen were outside the city. His forces set upon them and defeated them, and then were welcomed into Winterfell by Theon as liberators. However, the bastard of Bolton then killed Theon and ordered Winterfell razed, out of spite for how they put him in prison.

Complicated huh? Far better to just have Theon betrayed by his own men who then chose to raze the city and make a run for it, since it was obvious to them that no help was coming. And of course, Sansa’s planned escape from King’s Landing was more – you guessed it – complicated in the book. Here, it was Ser Dontos, the disgraced drunkard who’s life she saves at Joffrey’s tournament, offers to help free her during Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell. In time (spoiler alert) she learns that he is being helped by Lord Pyter Baelish who is once again motivated to help her because of the love he has for her mother.

But once again, to simplify this and cut down on the necessary screen time, they leave out all of her secret meetings with Ser Dontas and speed ahead to Baelish simply telling her, “I can get you out”. Personally, I would have liked a secret deal being struck early on much better. The conspiratorial nature of it, as she was forced to endure Joffrey’s beatings and the queen’s abusive nature, was much more intriguing. Finding out that Pyter was involved was a good revelation too, which was effective since it was saved for the last minute.

Last, but not least, there was the changed nature of John’s “defection” and his fight with Qorin. Already they changed things, as I said in my previous posts, John and Qorin were taken prisoner together after he set Ygritte go. There was no prolonged scene between John and Ygritte in the wilderness with her trying to temp him with her Wildling wiles (ha!). But alas, they seemed to tie that up when it was revealed that both he and Qorin were taken and Qorin wanted him to make up for his failure.

And it was clear that Qorin was executing that plan when he attacked John Snow, baited him to anger, and then let him win their fight. But he did all that without explaining what he wanted John to do. This is something that they will be forced to answer for in season 3. Either John will decide to play the role of defector merely to stay alive, or he will be genuinely torn between his genuine affections for Ygritte and his duty to the Night’s Watch.

Oh yeah, and that added plot thread involving Ros and now Varys. Not sure what they’ve got planned there, all I can tell you is it never happened in the book. In fact, as I’ve pointed out numerous times now, nothing involving Ros happened in book II. Much like Dany’s attendant, Doreah, they seem to be inflating her role and keeping her alive a lot longer than in the book. But I assume there is a reason for it. After all, Doreah’s character very quickly dies in book II, and the way they kept her around was ultimately better in the series. I can only assume her plot with Varys will connect back to actual material from the book and wrap up nicely in the end.

But that’s another season and another series of posts! Right now, all I want to think about was that ending. White Walker everywhere, blue-eyed zombies taking to the frozen field, ready to lay down a hurting. And of course, that war cry at the end and the way the camera pans out to show just how many of them there are… Spine-tingly-dingly!

Thoughts on the Season:
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with what they did with this book and can see the logic in all the changes they made. I also liked how they brought back Jason Momoa to reprise his role as Khal Drogo, even if it was short lived. Seeing him portray the burley, tough, and yet gentle leader of the Dothraki was one of the highlights of season one. Even though I couldn’t stand the re-imagined Conan movie, or perhaps because of that, it was good to see him back in this role again.

And let’s not forget, the seige of King’s Landing, the climax of book II, was a real highlight for this season. Beautifully rendered, well-executed and choreographed, and ultimately very faithful to the book. In all adaptations, the writers and designers have their work cut out for them, but these guys have managed to pull it all off with limited resources. But then again, dedication and a great cast can do that! I can honestly say that despite all the wonderful costumes, settings and storyline, the biggest selling point of this show is the acting. George RR Martin is quite the writer, but the cast has always managed to deliver.

Well, that’s it for season two. Now begins the winter of our viewing discontent, otherwise known as summer reruns! See you next season with G-O-T… Season 3 (rhymes!), otherwise known as A Storm of Swords. It’s sure to be a blockbuster!

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!