Game of Thrones, Season Four – What Went Wrong?

got4

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Just the other day, I saw the finale for season four of Game of Thrones, and it got me thinking. While the episode was hailed by some critics as the show’s best finale so far, others raised the obvious point that Thrones geeks did not fail to miss. That being the absence of Lady Stoneheart from the proceedings. In the novel, A Storm of Swords, which provided the material for seasons three and four, things ended with the appearance of a resurrected Lady Catelyn Stark, who now went by the name Lady Stoneheart.

Like most GOT geeks, I felt surprised and disappointed, a sentiment that has been echoing throughout this season. In fact, though I felt that the finale was the best episode of the season, I also had to conclude that season four was the worst season to date. And the reasons for this seemed to be pretty clear after ten episodes with some pretty consistent mistakes. So I thought I might go over them…

1. Pointless Changes that don’t go Anywhere:
One of the biggest annoyance for me this season was the fact they made some rather drastic changes to the storyline, ones which would have altered the plot significantly if they had been allowed to truly unfold. However, not wanting to get terribly off-script, the writers were then forced to tie these divergences up by making sure they didn’t have any lasting effect. As a result, we were left with sequences that were truly pointless.

Ramsay-406The worst of the lot had to do with Theon. In the novels, Theon was presumed dead after A Clash of Kings after he was betrayed and defeated at Winterfell. He didn’t appear again until book V (A Dance with Dragons) where it was revealed that he had been Ramsay Snow’s prisoner the entire time. At this point, he is compelled by his father to use Theon to persuade the Ironborn to leave Deepwood Motte and other captured territories.

But in the show, Ramsay decides to openly advertise that he has taken Theon prisoners and is torturing him in order to persuade the Iron Islanders to leave the North. This prompts Asha Greyjoy (renamed Yara) to sail up the river and mount a rescue. This made little sense, since the Dreadfort is not reachable by river, but the real fault was in how things turned out. After finding Theon, Asha and her men are quickly dispatched when Ramsay decides to unleash his hounds.

Asha retreats, claiming her brother is dead. Not long before, she claimed that rescuing her brother was a matter of honor and an injury to him was an injury to all Ironborn. But after seeing him terrified and brainwashed, and frightened by Ramsay’s dogs, she decides to leave him to his fate. Not surprising, since there really was no other way this thread could have been resolved without seriously altering the plot down the road. But this only made the whole attempted rescue seem pointless.

la_ca_0327_game_of_thronesAnother pointless change that was clumsily resolved was Jon Snow’s mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the mutineers. In the novel, Jon only real concern at this point was the Wildling army riding to the Wall, not to mention the Wildling raiding party that was making its way towards Castle Black. The mutineers were all suspected of being dead, which made sense since Mance’s army was practically upon the Wall at this point.

Another thing, Jon did not know that Bran and Rickon were alive. And so, he didn’t venture out to Craster’s Keep in part because he figured they would be stopping here on their way further north. As a result, there was no close shave where Bran very nearly met up with Jon but then didn’t. What’s more, the fact that Jon was willing to ride out and risk running into Mance’s invading army, but would not ride south to engage Tormund and Ygritte’s raiding party made even less sense as a result.

got4_aryahoundAnd last, Brienne’s encounter with Arya was something that never happened in the books, and therefore necessitated that it end in a way that didn’t violate the plot. This one they actually did pretty well, in my opinion. Not only was the fight between Brienne and the Hound well executed, but it even made a bit of a sense that Arya would choose not to go with her and slip off, for fear that Brienne was working for the Lannisters. Still, it was a made up addition, and one which has to be included since it necessitated a contrived resolution.

2. Padding/Mining:
At the same time, there were additions to the story that never happened in the books and were pure filler. And in just about all cases, it involved the same threads – Theon and Jon Snow in the North, Daenerys in Slaver’s Bay, and Stannis and co. at Dragonstone. In just about all instances, the writer’s were scrambling for stuff for these characters to do because their storylines were exhausted at this point in the book and did not come upon again until book V, which required that material from that book be brought forward and used.

For instance, Roose Bolton did not concern himself with the whereabouts Bran, Rickon, or Jon Snow upon returning from the Red Wedding. His only concern was cementing his rule by having his son marry a Stark and be declared legitimate, which meant that he never sent Locke to the Wall to find them and kill anybody. And so, Locke’s attempted murder of Bran, his death at the hands of Hodor, and the plot to kill the last of the Starks was entirely made up.

GOT4_mereenMuch the same holds true for Daenerys entire storyline after the sack of Mereen. Having proceeded to cover her sack of Slaver’s Bay in a very speedy and topical way, the writer’s of the show were now left with a very important thread where the characters essentially had nothing to do. As a result, they mined material from book V to keep her busy, or just threw in some added material that never happened in the novels and really accomplished nothing.

In the former case, this included Daenerys’ affair with Daario Naharis and her learning that Drogo has killed a herders child, thus prompting her to lock her dragons up beneath one of the city’s pyramids. In the latter, it involved the relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei, which makes little sense seeing as how he is an Unsullied and completely castrated. But to confound this, the writer’s decided that Missandei was suddenly unclear as to whether or not the Unsullied’s castration involved both the “pillar and the stones”.

Much the same held true for Stannis’ thread this season. After being defeated at the Battle of Blackwater, very little was heard from Stannis until his forces appeared in the North and overran Mance Rayder’s Wildling army. However, to ensure he had something to do, the writer’s added many superfluous scenes where we simply see him and his people droning on about very little. And, similar to what they did with Daenerys, they even mined material from book V where Stannis meets with representatives from the Iron Bank.

GOT4_6_2In the novels, the representatives came to Stannis only after he had come to the Wall and routed Mance’s army. The reason being, Lord Tywin was dead, Cersei was in charge of King’s Landing, and she had made it clear that they would not be making payments to the bank just yet. Ergo, the Iron Bank was backing her enemies to ensure that whoever won would make good on the Thrones massive debts. So basically, they took material that happened later, changed it, and moved it forward to keep Stannis’ story going.

The same held true for Stannis’ decision to sacrifice a child of royal blood so Missandre’s could divine the future. This wasn’t to happen until he reached the Wall, and involved entirely different people than Gendry (who was gone from the story at this point). Here too, the material was moved forward and altered just so the character remained in the show.

3. Boring and Superfluous:
Something else that kept popping up for me this season was the endless array of short scenes with pointless talk, the prolonged scenes with pointless talk, and the scenes that tried to be dramatic but were just filled with superfluous stuff. This I generally filed under the heading of “filler”, and there was some crossover with stuff in item two. Still, I felt that it deserved its own category since there was quite a lot of it.

For example, the episode The Mountain and the Viper was one of the most anticipated of the season, and the fight scene that provided the climax was quiet awesome. However, everything leading up to it was some of the most boring material I’ve seen in years. This included Missandei and Grey Worm carrying on like teenagers, Tyrion talking endlessly before the fight about his simple cousin for no apparent reason, and a slew of other scenes in the North or Slaver’s Bay.

OberynMuch the same was true of Daenerys’ siege of Mereen in episodes five and six. What was essentially a major undertaking in the books was covered in three short scenes in the show. It begins with the fight between Daario (it was actually Strong Belwas in the books) and Mereen’s champion, which ended far too quickly. Then the siege itself which involved them throwing barrels filled with broken chains in, and then a quick sneak attack that opened the next episode.

Speaking of which, episode five, Breaker of Chains – what can you say about an episode where just about the only scene of consequence is a rape scene? Seriously, what were the writers thinking with that? It was completely different from what happened in the books, was ugly and unnecessary, and was the only point of interest in an episode that had nothing but after-the-fact dialogue and a slow, plodding pace to it.

4. No Stoneheart!:
But by far, the biggest inexplicable change this season was the absense of Lady Stoneheart (aka. Catelyn Stark) at the end of the season. Not only was she introduced at the end of the third book to preview what was coming in the next two volumes, it also provided a surprise ending that shocked readers and gave them hope. After getting away with bloody murder, it now seemed that the Freys were going to pay for their crimes! But first, a little explanation as to how Catelyn was up and walking again…

Basically, Catelyn became Stoneheart after she was murdered at the Red Wedding and her body cast into the river to float downstream, where it washed up and was found by the Brotherhood Without Banners. There, Beric Dondarion begged Thoros of Myr to use his Red Priest magic to bring her back to life, as he had done with Ser Beric so many times now. However, Thoros was tired of playing God and refused, which led Beric to kiss Lady Catelyn on the lips and pass his life force to her.

Stoneheart_2Tired of being brought back from the dead, he decided he would let the magic which had resurrected him many times bring her back. Ser Beric died on that riverbank, and Lady Catelyn came back – albeit in a scarred, muted form. Not only did she have a hideous scar on her throat and a bloated face, she was also functionally mute. And she was some pissed, and sought revenge against the Freys for their betrayal. As such, she now led the Brothers through the Riverlands to find all those who had betrayed her family and execute them.

So the question is, why was she left out? Well, Alex Graves, who has directed several pivotal episodes of show, commented on this and other issues after the final episode of the season aired:

They [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have such a challenge adapting the books into a really focused television experience. It’s very hard, it’s very complicated, it’s much harder then they’ve been given credit for, I think — and they do a brilliant job. But to bring back Michelle Fairley, one of the greatest actresses around, to be a zombie for a little while — and just kill people? It is really sort of, what are we doing with that? How does it play into the whole story in a way that we’re really going to like? It just didn’t end up being a part of what was going to happen this season. And finally one [more] reason: In case you didn’t notice, a lot happens this season … To add that in is something they opted out of. But what’s funny is that it was never going to be in the season, yet it took off on the Internet like it was going to happen.

Wait, so they didn’t want to show Catelyn as a zombie and because they were too busy with other things? Well okay, except that she’s NOT a walking corpse, she’s a reanimated, living being, who just happens to look a bit the worse for wear. As for the latter explanation, that they were busy, this sort of makes sense since they chose to change things in the final episode where Brienne and the Hound fight it out. But as I said, that never happened in the books and it also served little purpose.

GOT4_briennehoundSo if Graves is saying they chose to forgo a major plot point to focus on something that, while fun to watch, really didn’t effect the story, I would have to check my BS meter. As for whether or not Lady Stoneheart will be appearing in the next season, the director basically said that this was up to the writers and they were not being forthcoming on that point:

As somebody who’s worked deep inside the show, begged to have an answer and wants more than anybody, I have no idea. They won’t tell me. They’re very good at being secretive.

Hmm, so Lady Stoneheart may or may not be making an appearance in the next season, huh? There’s just one problem with that. SHE HAS TO! She’s an integral part of the plot as far as the next chapter in the story – A Feast for Crows – goes. To leave her out would be to leave a big, gaping plot hole where Brienne and Jaime’s story threads are concerned. I mean, its one thing to not bring her back just so she won’t be appearing for a few minutes at the tail end of a season. But to leave her out entirely when her character is central? That’s just plain weak.

But that wasn’t the last thing Graves commented on as far as this season’s finale and future shows were concerned. Fans also wanted to know if that semi-tragic scene involving the Hound was in fact his stand. Graves was strongly suggested that it was:

As far as The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone. How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that she walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.

Yet another problem. In the original novels, when Brienne came to the Riverlands and began tracking down leads, she was told that the Hound had been spotted and was carrying a Stark with him. Initially, Brienne thought it might be Sansa, but later learned it was Arya that was with him, and that she left the Hound to die underneath a tree on the Trident. But later on, reports began to circulate that the Hound was in fact not dead, and had been spotted on the move once again in the Riverlands.

GOT4_hounddeadHonestly, Graves’ guesswork on these topics makes it sound like he really isn’t familiar with the source material. But to be fair, only Martin knows for sure if the Hound is coming back, so announcing things either way at this point would be premature.

Summary:
Of course, its easy to pass judgement of television writers for making changes from original material. And Graves was right when he said that the writing team have their work cut out for them and are working hard to bring George RR Martin’s novels to life. But the problems this season seemed to stem from one central thing: they split the book in half. While this seemed logical since it was clear they couldn’t possibly make all of A Storm of Swords fit into one season, the decision to split it into two meant they didn’t have enough materiel for this season.

After all, ASOS is one of the most eventful and shocking installments in the series, and ten episodes simply wasn’t enough to cover the Red Wedding, Joffrey’s Wedding, Tyrion’s trial and escape, the battle at Castle Black, Mance’s assault on the Wall, Stannis’ assault on the North, and Daenerys’ sacking of the cities of Slaver’s Bay. But twenty episodes was too much, which meant the writers had to make stuff up, take stuff from the next books, or just expand what they had to make it fit.

And the result was a season with some bad parts to it. Still, there were plenty of highlights too. Joffrey’s wedding and his death scene was some pretty good viewing, Tyrion’s trial did not disappoint, the fight between Prince Oberyn and the Mountain was badass, the battle at the Wall was hectic, and the Hound’s (supposed) death scene was quite well done. And the finale was one of the better episodes in the series, and perhaps one of the better finales as well.

And the additions, though they went nowhere, weren’t all bad. In fact, the only thing I would say was done poorly this season was the entire Daenerys thread, which gravitated between boring and superficial. I mean, the woman’s leading an army through the entire Slaver’s Bay and conquering cities! Why did they skim these things so quickly and then give her nothing but boring administrative duties for the rest of the season? Budgets? …ah, maybe.

In any case, I will be watching next season, and look forward to what they will be doing with it. Thanks to how George RR Martin wrote books IV and V (A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), we will be seeing aspects of both books presented simultaneously, but there will be enough material for two seasons this time. Which is good, seeing as how Martin needs time to produce book VI – The Winds of Winter – which will inevitably provide the basis for season seven.

Yeah, the man’s wheels grind slow, and exceedingly bloody! Until next season folks…

Game of Thrones – Season Four Finale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END OF SPOILER)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode 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 Four

GOT4_3At last, I am finally caught up with GOT and the many episodes which took place while I was either overseas or in transit. And while I’m pleased with that fact, I have to say this past week’s episode was kind of a disappointment. And there are a few reasons for that. For starters, it was loaded up with stuff that didn’t even appear in the original books. And I don’t mean they changed some things for the sake of adapting to a TV format, as they’ve done countless times in the past. No, this week, they had whole segments that were entirely made up.

Second, there was the way they explained every single aspect of the conspiracy surrounding Joffrey’s death. They’ve done this a lot in the shows, being explicit about things that were implicit in the novels. But this time around, they really spelt it out for us! And last, but not least, there was the whole mutineers at Craster’s Keep thread and the way they turned up the ugliness factor. Forget Oathkeeper, the episode should have been called “C*nt” – as in, how many times can we say it in one scene!

However, there were some parts of it that were interesting and even intriguing, mainly the ending…

Oathkeeper:
GOT4_4_1The episode opens with Daenerys’ attempt to take Mereen, which consists of Grey Worm and other Unsullied sneaking into the city through its sewers. Disguised as slaves, they made their way inside to where the city’s slaves are holding congress and discussing open revolt. Upon their arrival, Grey Worm and the others distribute weapons and tell them that Daenerys is there to free them, and that they outnumber the masters three to one.

The next day, the masters see Daenerys’ banner flying from the tallest of the city’s pyramid and find graffiti denouncing the masters. One such master is caught in an alleyway between dozens of armed slaves and is killed. The slave uprising neutralizes the defenses, and Daenerys enters into the city and is hailed as a liberator. She then orders that the slave masters be publicly crucified in the same fashion as the children that they saw along the road.

GOT4_4_2Back in King’s Landing, Jaime meets with Tyrion for the first time and asks him if he is guilty of Joffrey’s death. He denies it, and Jaime believes him, which puts him at odds with Cersei who continues to hold him responsible. After asking him if he would find and kill Sansa for her, Jaime calls Brienne to him. Giving her a new suit of armor and his sword, he tasks her with fulfilling her duty to Lady Caitlyn and finding her daughter. She names the sword Oathkeeper, and sets out with Pod to find Sansa.

Lady Olenna Redwyne meets with Margaery and tells her in no subtle fashion to begin ingratiating herself to Tommen so she can defuse any attempts Cersei has at poisoning him against her. In the course of their talk, she admits that she is the one who poisoned Joffrey. Out to sea, while traveling to the Eyrie to marry her aunt, Lord Pyter Baelish admits the same to Sansa, and intimates that he did it to please the Tyrells – his new ally.

got4_4_3At the Wall, Locke has arrived and begins to befriend Jon Snow, who is there to kill – on Lord Bolton’s orders. Amidst training the new recruits, Jon comes to learn from Sam that Bran and the Reeds are travelling north of the Wall and suspects they may find their way to Craster’s Keep. He then is told by the acting Lord Commander that he has leave to go there and kill the mutineers before they can fall into Mance’s hands.

Locke and a handful of other Brothers agree to go with him, and they set out. Meanwhile, at Crasters Keep, where Karl Tanner (one of the mutineers) is running things as his own private fiefdom. When a newborn baby boy is presented to him, he is told that Craster sacrificed them to “the gods” (aka. the White Walkers). He orders one of his men to take the baby out, who then leaves it in the snow and goes to a cage where (surprise!) Ghost is being kept.

GOT4_4_4Just then, a cold wind blows in, signalling the approach of the Walkers, and he runs away. Not far off, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds are camped and sense the approach as well. They hear the baby crying, and Bran changes skin with Summer, who then wanders off in search of the baby. His wolf hears howling as well, sees Ghost in his cage, and then falls into a trap. The next day, they approach the Keep and see what’s become of it.

They begin planning on freeing Summer, but are captured by the mutineers. Hodor is chained up so the mutineers taunt and abuse him, and one stabs him in the leg with his spear. Bran and the Reeds are taken inside the keep where Karl comes to them and demands to know who they are. He threatens to kill them and Jojen begins to have a seizure, at which point Bran tells them his true identity. At this point, Karl means to ransom them or hold them hostage.

GOT4_4_5The episode ends out in the frozen wastes, where the White Walker who was seen assaulting the Fist of the First Men is riding his dead horse and carrying the baby with him. After arriving at the foot of a mountain, the Walker comes to a sort of shrine made of ice and places the baby down on an altar. Another Walker comes forward from a large circle of them and touches the baby’s face. It’s eyes turn blue, indicating that it has become an Other.

Summary:
So… where to start? I’m guessing with the stuff I didn’t like since the ending was the big exception to all that. Let’s see if I can’t break it down in sequential order. First off, the sack of Mereen, which was very quick and involved some changes from the original story. As I mentioned last time, the way the show chose to write Strong Belwas and the fact that Ser Barristan Selmy was originally hiding his identity from Daenerys out of the show. As I might have also said, this would come up this week as Daenerys’ forced sacked the city.

Basically, Daenerys learned the truth as she sat outside Mereen’s walls and tried to think of a way to breach its defenses. Not only did she learn that Whitebeard was actually Selmy and in the employ of Robert – the man who usurped the throne from her father and tried to have her killed. His confession also raised the fact that Ser Jorah Mormont was working for Robert as well. At least he was, until he chose to switch sides and prevent her from being poisoned.

Incensed, Daenerys chose to send them on a dangerous mission, which involved sneaking into the city’s sewers at night and opening it’s gates. This was the only weakness they could discern of Mereen’s defenses, and Mormont and Selmy happened to be successful. By contrast, the way they did this in this week’s episode happened so fast and quickly, it kind of made it seem like taking the city was a piece of cake. But it still worked, so no real complaints there. And the way they rendered the city was very beautiful and accurate to the text.

However, the whole storyline in the North is something that I found rather annoying. For starters, Jon Snow never asked to go off and kill the mutineers at Crasters Keep, mainly because they had their hands full with the Wildling party that coming up from the south, and Mance coming down from the north. As Jon knew, Ygritte and Tormund’s whole purpose was to take Castle Black so that they could open the gates and let Mance and his army through without a fight.

Jon knew that the only advantage the Night’s Watch had was the fact that the Wall would be very difficult for Mance’s army to overcome. But that advantage would be lost if the Wildlings managed to seize Castle Black, which seemed likely given how outnumbered the Night’s Watch was at this point. Faced with attack coming from two directions, both of which were practically upon them, Jon’s only thought was preparing their defenses. He gave no thought to the mutineers whatsoever, since they were all believed to be dead anyway.

And speaking of giving something no though, Bolton never ordered Locke to go Castle Black to find and assassinate Jon. While it is true that he was concerned with cementing his family’s rule over the North, this involved him sending his bastard son (after he was made a full Bolton) to Winterfell where he was to marry Jeyne Poole (Sansa’s friend in King’s Landing who was now being forced to pretend to be Arya Stark). This show-wedding would have made the Bolton’s rule over the North legitimate by law.

At no point in the story did Bolton learn that Bran and Rickon were still alive, not for certain anyway. And as for Jon Snow, Bolton never concerned himself with him since, as a bastard, he had no claim to Winterfell. And to top that off, the mutineers never captured Ghost, and Bran, Hodor and the Reeds never traveled to Craster’s Keep to be captured and interrogated. All of this stuff was made-up and filler, and the way they turned Karl Tanner from a background character into Evil the Cat seemed especially overdone.

And while I get that they need to come up with things to keep certain characters and threads engaged, I would think they could do what they have been doing with Theon, who also didn’t appear again in the story until A Dance with Dragons (book five). Here, they simply used what Martin wrote about his intervening time to keep him in the story. With Bran and Jon now, they are making stuff up and diverging wildly from the text.

But at least this week, Cersei and Jaime’s strained relationship seems to have some merit. In fact, it was their disagreement over Tyrion that caused their split in the first place, not to mention Cersei’s growing paranoia and vindictiveness. That whole “you took too long” thing was pure nonsense, and the rape scene of last week was as wrong as it was unnecessary. Not in the books, didn’t fit with their characters, so I liked that this week, they ironed that out.

And of course, the ending! What can I say about that? No, really, what can I say? I ask because it wasn’t in the books either, not in A Storm of Swords (which provides the material for this season) or the two others that have come since. This means that this final scene, which was very cool and cryptic, was also providing hints as to the larger plot, stuff that George RR Martin hasn’t even revealed yet to his loyal readers. What can you say about that? Other than COOOOOOL!

Anyhoo, midseason is coming up, and we’ve got some rather major events in the works before the season ends. These would include Tyrion’s trial – which is going to have its own share of big surprises and consequences! – and of course, Mance’s assault on the Wall, which I am looking forward to with some high zest. No matter what else they’ve done this season, fight scenes and major battles are two thing they’ve consistently managed to do well!

Game of Thrones – Season Three Episode 2

game_of_thrones_s3Welcome back to another episode of Game of Thrones. I think I speak for everyone when I say that last week’s episode was the whirlwind intro, a big high after waiting almost an entire year for the new season to air. And as expected, things were visually appealing, exciting, and eye-popping from time to time. At the same time, in what is fast becoming the trend for this show, differences from the source material are becoming all the more apparent and obvious.

This is largely due to the fact that changes in the last season have required the writers to make further changes this season. These include rewrites, additions, things left out, and late introductions. And with this second episode now aired, I feel like I’m beginning to sense how these will play out. At least I think so, but I’ll keep them to myself to avoid any potential spoilers, especially for those who haven’t read the books yet.

Needless to say, the central theme of this episode was the bad news that becomes so manifest in book three. Between the shifting fortunes for Robb and the Stark family, the chaos that grips the Seven Kingdoms, the ongoing battles of Daenerys, and the fate of lesser players (Theon and Jaime being foremost amongst them), everyone seems to be suffering from setbacks, debacles and ill omens. Here’s how it all went down this week:

Dark Wings, Dark Words:
got3_jojenreedThe episode opens with Bran having more dreams about the three eyed crow. This time, a young boy appears telling him that the raven is him. He wakes up to the company of Hodor, Osha, and the direwolf Summer, his companions as they continue to make their way north. On the way, they encounter Jojen and Meera Reed, who claims that they have come a long way to find him. They inform him that he is a Warg, and can control animals and experience “greendreams”.

North of the Wall, John and his Wildling companions move towards the Wall and learn from one of Mance’s wargs that the Fist of the First Men has fallen and is littered with bodies of the Night’s Watch. Sam and the others are still retreating south, battling cold and starvation, and Sam seems ready to die. However, Lord Commander Mormont refuses to let him yield and orders his brothers to help him along.

GOT3_brienne_jaimeRobb meanwhile is summoned back to Riverrun when word of his grandfather’s death reaches them. His mother is perturbed by the news, but not nearly as much as by word that Winterfell was burned to the ground and that Brandon and Rickard are missing. They begin the march back to Riverrun to attend the funeral, during which time Catelyn and Talisa (John’s new wife) get a chance to bond.

In the Riverlands, Brienne and Jaime continue south, and it is hard going as the two find each other’s company quite difficult to endure. While attempting to cross a river, Jaime grabs a sword from her and they fight. Unfortunately, this gives their position away and the two of them are fallen upon by the Brave Companions (aka. Bloody Mummers), another free company that currently owes service to House Bolton.

got3_joffrey_margaeryIn King’s Landing, everything is being dedicated towards the preparations for Joffrey’s wedding to Lady Margaery Tyrell. Cersei is naturally suspicious of his newly betrothed, but Joffrey refused to listen to his mother’s counsel. Sansa, meanwhile is introduced to Margaery and her grandmother, Lady Olenna Redwyne – the Queen of Thorns. She asks Sansa for the truth about Joffrey, and after some convincing that she is safe, she confides that is he is an absolute bloody monster.

She gets a taste of this when Joffrey summons her to him and interrogates her about her marriage to Renly and why it didn’t produce an heir. However, Lady Margaery manages to skillfully manipulate him, hinting at Renly’s interest in men and lying about their night together. In the end, Margaery plays to his weaknesses, tapping into his endless appetite for cruelty, and clearly has him wrapped around her finger.

got3_aryaElsewhere in the Riverlands, Arya and her companions, Hot Pie and Gendry, wander freely now that they have escaped Harrenhal. While seeking out the way to Riverrun, they come upon Thoros of Myr and the Brotherhood without Banners who take them into their company. Over food and ale, they see the Hound brought in shackled, and Arya tries to sneak out unseen. However, the Clegane recognizes her and identifies her as Stark’s daughter.

In between all of this, we see Theon being tortured in an unidentified dungeon, which includes his finger being flayed and his foot being mangled by a screw. His tormenters are unknown to him, and he is asked only one question. “Why did you take Winterfell?” He finally answers truthfully, and is left alone for the night. A young man comes to him and claims he was sent by his sister and will free him in the night.

Summary:
Overall, this episode was not bad. In fact, they did a few things here which I thought were pretty interesting, which included using material taken from the latest book (A Dance with Dragons) to fill in some areas that were not mentioned in the third book, but which happened during the course of it and were not covered. This includes what became of Theon after he was betrayed at Winterfell, though it was by the Bastard of Bolton, and not his own men.

However, that small technicality they seem to have glossed over quite well by simply saying the Northmen torched the city before the Bolton’s army arrived. The rest is true to the text, Theon being taken captive and tortured mercilessly as part of Ramsay Bolton’s predilection for cruelty and villainous schemes. And, having read the fifth book, I know what lies in store for Theon, and I pity the poor bastard! I approve of the way they are parceling it out though, not revealing just yet who his tormenter is or what he has planned…

Other changes which I didn’t like much included Robb’s return to Riverrun. Here, the show is once again working with changes that were forced on it by previous changes. Robb did not take his mother or Jaime Lannister with him as he fought his way to Casterly Rock. They were left behind in Riverrun, hence he did not see him until he returned for his grandfather’s funeral and to confront his mother about her treason (letting Jaime go). And it was for this reason that she didn’t meet his new bride until he came back.

Which reminds me, Robb’s return to Riverrun had little to do with his grandfather’s death. It had more to do with his mother letting Jaime go and his uncle, Lord Emdure Tully, deviating from the orders he had left him with. While Robb was campaigning in the west, Edmure chose to engage the Lannister forces in the Riverlands, forcing them to attempt to ford the rivers and causing them many losses, which included wounding Ser Sandor Clegane (“The Mountain”).

While this seemed like a good idea to Edmure, it had the effect of making Tywin refocus his troops to defend the south and not pursue Robb’s forces as they neared Casterly Rock. This deprived Robb of a chance to commit an outflanking maneuver and deal Tywin and his forces another stinging defeat. Because of this, Robb was not only facing troubles for breaking his betrothal to the Frey daughter and the loss of his hostage, but also because he was no longer in a dominant tactical position.

In addition, Bran’s introduction to the Reeds was quite different than it was in the book. There, the Reeds had come to Winterfell to pay homage to the King and meet Bran. They did not come to him in the wilderness. But since they were not introduced last season, it was necessitated that they be dropped in at this point in season three.

All of these represent changes that are now being forced on the show because they chose to omit or alter things last season, most likely due to budgets. I get it, but it still can be annoying, since they do seem to have a cumulative effect. However, in just about everything else, they managed to get things right. Aside from the fact the Ser Thoros was supposed to be missing part of his face, due to his earlier death and resurrection, the storylines appear to be faithful.

All I can say is that I wish the episode got into things a little bit more. Much like the first episode, this one felt kind of whirlwind-esque, with plenty of nuggets being left for later. But of course, that seems necessary since the story is branching out, with three main threads turning into half a dozen or so. Since they feel obliged to show how all characters are faring at this point, it only seems logical and natural that they parcel things out and try to cover all their bases.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to the reveals and I believe others should be too. If you haven’t read the books yet, you’re in the perfect position to witness some rather big surprises, and I envy you that. As for the Thrones geeks out there, you know what’s coming and I’m pretty sure you’re anticipating it as much as I am. So stay tuned. Things get pretty interesting from here on in, and pretty bloody!

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Premiere!

GOT_Season3_teaserWow, what a Sunday! The season finale of season three of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of season three of Game of Thrones, all in one night. Lucky for me I didn’t have to choose between watching one or the other, but unlucky for my followers, it has meant a bit of a delay in terms of both reviews. I can only hope people find my thoughts informative or at least agreeable.

Speaking of agreeable, I personally felt the season premiere improved considerably on last seasons. Though this one was also a bit of whirlwind introduction, it didn’t exactly feel rushed like that last one did. But of course, they also strayed from the text in many ways which I couldn’t help but notice. And as newly minted Thrones geek, believe me when I tell you, I will be griping!

So here is what I thought of this season’s opener!

Valar Dohaeris:
The episode opens exactly where the last left off, with Samwell Tarly running from the White Walkers as they attack the Fist of the First Men. After being rescued by John’s direwolf (Snow) and Lord Commander Mormont, Sam is told to join their party as they beat a hasty retreat south. The fate of the entire Realm depends on them making it back to the Wall…

got3_giantOver at the Wildling camp, John Snow gets a firsthand look at their army and sees a giant for the first time. Ygritte then brings him before Mance Rayder who asks him why he intends to join them. John tells them his reasons have to do with what he witnessed at Craster’s Keep. He says he wants to fight on the side of “those who fight for the living”, and Mance orders him a new cloak.

In the north, Robb and his army march on Harenhall, which they find abandoned. Inside the walls, he finds over 200 Northmen and their horses strewn about, and only one survivor, whom Talisa Maegyr (Robb’s new wife) begins to attend to. The sight of all this death angers his men even further that his mother let Jaime Lannister go, and he orders that she be arrested and restricted to quarters.

got3_tyrionAt King’s Landing, Tyrion has recovered from his wounds and is visited by his sister. Cersei naturally denies any complicity in his near shave with death, and demands to know why he has summoned their father to meet with him. He is then attended by Bronn, who naturally demands more money for his continued service. As the only friend Tyrion has left, he is forced to oblige…

Upon meeting with his father, Tyrion laments the fact that he is no longer Hand of the King and that Tywin did not come to visit him while he recovered. He then broaches the subject which is central to their meeting: his inheritance of Casterly Rock. After letting him know that he will receive a position befitting his name and title, he cruelly reminds him that would never allow one such as him to inherit the seat of Lannister power and sends him on his way.

got3_margaeryAt the docks, Sansa is met by Lord Petyr Baelish who begins discussing his plan for removing her from the capitol. He tells her he has a ship that will be leaving and she will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and she is happy to agree. Meanwhile, Shae and  Ros – who appears to be Baelish’s chief madame – speak privately, and she warns Shae to watch Sansa closely, especially when she is in the company of Baelish.

On their way back from the Sept, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are being carried in their litters and she decides to stop and take a walk in Flea Bottom. In the back alleys, she speaks to a group of orphans and hears of how their fathers died in the battle. She promises that Joffrey will be a good king and will take care of them. She and Loras meets with Joffrey and Cersei afterwards, and the seeds of tension are sown.

got3_stannisIn the Narrow Sea, Ser Davos Seaworth is found after being washed up on a rock after the Battle of Blackwater. After identifying himself as Stannis’ man, he is taken aboard by his old smuggler friend, Salladhor Saan, and returned to Dragstone. Once there, he meets with Stannis and Melissandre and takes issue with how he’s burning men alive as sacrifices. Melissandre tells him she could have gauranteed them victory at Blackwater, and tries to pulls a knife on her. Stannis orders him arrested and placed in a cell.

Farther east, Daenerys and Ser Jorah Mormont are on a ship bound to Astapor. Her dragons are growing and hunt freely over the waters, and she and Jorah speaks of their plans to recruit an army of Unsullied to follow her. Upon their arrival, she inspects the garrison and is told of their brutal training. Afterward, an attempt on her life is narrowly averted when Ser Barristan Selmy shows up and declares fealty to her.

Summary:
Okay, first up, the things I liked. After waiting almost a whole year for a new season of this show, I found this episode fit the bill quite well. The setting, the actors, the portrayals and attention to details were all done to great effect and spoke of a serious commitment. It was almost like biting into a meal that took an extra long time to prepare, and then realizing where that time went.

The opening scene where a giant is shown, that was the first thing to impress me. While reading the books, I had a hard time visualizing what these characters would look like, not to mention their mammoths and other such beasts. So naturally, I was impressed with this rendition, and I was pleased to see Mance Rayder and other key characters – like Tormund Giantsbane = being brought to life.

And now for the downside. Like I said, they’ve taken to this intro with some serious changes, many of which were necessitated by changes in the previous season. And for the most part, I didn’t approve. This began with John Snow’s professed reasons for joining the Wildling camp. At no point in the book did he witness Mance’s child being fed to the Others, and this played no part in his staged defection.

Forced to come up with a good reason for why he’d betray, John told Mance something dangerously close to the truth. He told him that as a bastard, he had no place at Eddard Stark’s family, and wanted his freedom to make his own way in a world where that would not hold him back. Being so believable, largely because it paralleled Mance’s own reasons for deserting the Night’s Watch, Mance took him in.

What’s more, they never showed how John’s defection was pre-planned by him and Qorin last season, though they hinted that this was Qorin’s intent when he attacked John and let him kill him. So the entire plot arc of John’s time with the Wildlings is being played a bit more mysteriously, but unclearly. It’s like, is he really defecting? Hedging his bets? Just looking to stay alive until he makes it back to the Wall? All of this was central to his dilemma in the first half of the book, so how they play with it will be crucial.

Second, there was Robb’s march on Harrenhal which, again, never happened in the book. After campaigning in the west and picking up Jeyne, they returned to Riverrun to continue plotting the campaign. The Lannisters did not abandon it, it changed hands thanks to Arya and Jaqen Higarr, who opened the cells to free the Northmen who then took the castle. This facilitated her escape in book II, and allowed Robb’s army to take control of the castle.

But since they changed the means of Arya’s escape (Jaqen simply killed the guards at the gate), they had to find some way of explaining how Harenhall fell and Robb’s men took custody of it. But frankly, this seemed lame, much like John’s phoney reasons for going over to the Wildlings. Might sound like nitpicking, but the only reason these changes needed to happen because they changed things last season. Stuff like that can pile up after awhile, and it is certainly is here…

Ah, then there’s how Petyr Baelish is plotting to get Sansa out, which was not revealed in the book til much later. In the original, Sansa’s plans were made with Boros Blount, the drunken knight whose life she saved. It was he that planned her escape at Baelish’ behest, and upon helping her realize it, he was killed. Clearly, they’ve decided to cut out the middle man in order to save on shooting time and writing.

And the same holds true for Ser Selmy’s introduction. In the book, he was posing as old man who wanted to help out Daenerys, and only later was his true identity revealed, much to her chagrin. Not only that, but they seem to be leaving out Strong Belwas, a former pit fighter who was traveling with Selmy and also joiner her service. I do hope they’re just waiting for the next episode, because he’s an important character and I’d like to see who portrays him!

And that’s about all for the changes and weaknesses for this episode. Aside from these salient issues, I rather enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the season, with all that I know to expect! I also look forward to the climactic battle in this season, which I shall say nothing of since there are people out there who are not Thrones geeks and don’t yet know what to expect. But trust me when I tell you, if you had read the books, you’d be excited too!

Welcome back GoT!

A Dance With Dragons: A Review

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080Done at last! It seems like its taken me forever to finish this novel. And yet, now that it’s done, I find myself missing it already. After weeks on end of being immersed in Martin’s epic fantasy universe, it’s hard going without! What’s more, given how long – loooooong! – it took him to produce this last novel, who knows how long it could be before the next one comes out?

But I digress… I bought this book looking for some closure to the previous four, especially in the last one. With events in A Feast of Crows seeming to drag a bit, and the sudden twist and promise of resolution that came at the end, I was eager to see how things turned out. And, true to form, Martin managed to  provide some degree of resolution while still managing to drag things out further.

And of course, there were even more cliffhanger endings this time around. Damn you Martin, five books in and you still have me baited like a worm on a hook. You better produce the next book in a year’s time like you promised to do last time but didn’t or KAPOW! Oh, and there really better be only two more books. After all you’ve put us through, you owe us a final resolution, dammit!

Okay, that’s enough threats for now. Onto the story…

Plot Synopsis:
a-dance-with-dragons-coverAs promised in the epilogue for Crows, A Dance With Dragons completes the narrative that took place in the previous book, covering all the stories that didn’t make it in there and offering a balance to the other perspectives. This includes stories involving Tyrion, Daenerys, Davos, Brandon Stark and John Snow, while also offering more on the threads involving the Martells, Cersei and the Ironborn.

Initially, the story parallels events in the previous book, the first few chapters taking place before Crows ends. But by the end, things once again pick up and continue, bringing the entire story to an end where everything is poised for several more major developments. Essentially, it all comes down to four perspectives, with events taking place in the North and South of Westeros as well as the Free Cities and Slavers Bay in Essos.

The Wall:
a-song-of-ice-and-fire-the-wallIn the north, where Jon Snow has taken up his role as the Lord Commander and is seeing to preparations for the Others and dealing with the aftermath of Mance Rayder’s assault. After saying goodbye to Samwell Tarly, Gilly, and Maester Aemon, who are being dispatched to Oldtown, he continues in his negotiations with Stannis Baratheon. After burning the captive Wildlings, which include Mance Rayder, who will not swear feality and embrace the Red God R’hllor, he prepares to march South.

As usual, Jon Snow tells him the Watch will not take part in his war. Stannis’ appeal to the Northmen is also complicated by the fact that the Lannisters have installed Roose Bolton as ruler of the North and the Freys are allied with them. However, the Karstarks are willing to fight alongside him and John tells him that he will find an army in the Northman hill clans who owe loyalty to no lord.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-melisandreMarching south, Stannis leaves Melisandre and his queen, Sylese, in John’s care. Against the queen’s advice, and that of his Brothers, Jon arranges for a peace treaty with Wildlings, promising them food and safety south of the Wall in exchange for their service in manning it against the Others. Thousands of Wildlings are admitted, with the promise of many more thousands to come.

Melisandre also begins sharing her visions with Jon Snow. In addition to telling him that there is a murder plot against him, she also reveals that Mance Rayder is alive and the man burned was Rattleshirt, who’s identities were switched using sorcery. He dispatches Mance south to rescue Arya from Ramsay Bolton, unaware that the girl he is set to marry is actually Jeyne Poole. Eventually, her warnings come true as his brothers turn on him and stab him in the yard.

a-dance-with-dragons-bran-starkNorth of the Wall, Bran search for the Three-eyed Crow leads him, Hodor and the Reeds to a secret cave where the last surviving Children of the Forest dwell. As they take shelter in the cave, they meet the “Three-eyed Crow”, whom they call the “Last Greenseer”. He is a former human member of the Night’s Watch, who has been sitting on an underground weirwood throne for so long that its roots have fused into his body. He explains to Bran that he has been appearing to him as the Three-eyed Crow in his dreams so that he could lead him here, and train him in greensight.

Bran learns that there is truth to the belief that the sacred weirwoods are the eyes and ears of the Old Gods: the trees are capable of seeing and hearing all around them, and recording it in their memory for centuries. They also allow a greenseer at one weirwood to see and hear events going on at another in the present, and communicate through them. Using his increasing powers of greensight Bran sees memories of his father Ned Stark at Winterfell’s godswood in the past, and communicates with Theon Greyjoy at the godswood in the present.

Free Cities:
a-song-of-ice-and-fire-tyrionHaving fled King’s Landing with the help of Varys, Tyrion arrives in Pentos where is taken in by Magister Illyrio. Tyrion is then sent south, and learns along the way that Varys’ plot involves the son of the late Prince Rhaegar, Aegon Targaryen, who was thought to be dead. He was raised by John Connington, the former Hand of the King under King Aerys, who now commands the Golden Company – the largest and most skilled mercenary army in the Free Cities.

After traveling with Aegon halfway across Essos, Tyrion is kidnapped by Jorah Mormont in Volantis. After being banished by Daenerys, he hopes to deliver Tyrion to her in the hopes that she will take him back. However, Tyrion and Jorah are shipwrecked and sold by slavers to a Yunkish merchant, who then travels to Meereen to take part in the siege. After reaching the city, a plague begins ravaging the Yunkai’i army, and Tyrion and the others escape in the midst of the confusion. They then signs on with the Second Sons mercenary group and plan to switch their support to Daenerys.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-arya-starkMeanwhile, in Braavos, the girl once known as Arya Stark continues in her training as one of the “Faceless Men”. This includes taking away her sight and forcing her to find her away about the House of Black and White using only her other senses. She is then tasked with killing her first target, a corrupt merchant, using poison. After succeeding, she is admitted to the guild to complete her training.

Slaver’s Bay:
Daenerys continues to rule Mereen as queen, but is beset by murders carried out by the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance group committed to restoring the old ways. In addition, she learns that Astapor was sieged by the Yunkai’i and the people she freed there massacred. Refugees come to the walls of her city seeking help, as a plague known as the “Pale Mare” or “Bloody Flux” is decimating their people. Temporary shelter is placed outside for them, but it is clear little can be done.

a-dance-with-dragons-Meereen_cityIn order to end the resistance and cement peace with the Yunkai’i, Daenerys agrees to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, a Mereenese nobleman. Her mercenary captain, Daario Naharis, whom she has taken as a lover, is not pleased, but goes along with it out of loyalty to her. In addition, to prevent her dragons from killing people and livestock, she has them chained inside the pyramid, except for Drogon, who escapes capture and flies away.

Shortly thereafter, the Yunkai’i and Volantene armies arrives at her doorstep and a tentative peace is arranged, with hostages exchanged. Daenerys also agrees to open up the fighting pits, as a compromise with her new husband, and attends the first spectacle with him. During the fights, Tyrion and Penny joust, Strong Belwas is poisoned (but survives) and Drogon arrives and begins attacking the fighters and guards. After reaching him, Daenerys climbs on his back and is ferried away.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-dany_drogonBarristan Selmy takes over with a provisional council and is made to believe Hizdahr attempted to poison Daenerys and is leading the Sons of the Harpy. He then arrests Hizdahr and begins planning with those loyal to Daenerys to attack the Yunkai’i camp before they can launch their own attack. However, these plans are stalled when Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, and his Dornishmen try to steal one of her dragons and fails.

Having failed in his attempt to court Daenerys, he and his men hoped to return to Dorne with a dragon in tow. Instead, the dragons break free, Quentyn is killed, and his men are arrested and taken into custody. Meanwhile, Drogon flies Daenerys to the Dothraki Sea where Dany, starved and ill from being stranded in the wilderness, eventually encounters the khalasar of Khal Jhaqo, a former Bloodrider to Khal Drogo who betrayed her after Drogo’s death.

The North:
Having secured his army, Stannis and his forces march on Deepwood Motte and take it from the Ironborn, capturing Asha Greyjoy in the process. This swells Stannis’ ranks further as House Glover and House Mormont join Stannis’ army and decide to march with him on Winterfell. To cement his control over the north, Ramsay Bolton orders his bastard son and their supports to march to Winterfell to hold the mock wedding with Arya (Jeyne Poole), and Stannis plans to attack him there. However, Stannis’ host becomes bogged down in the terrible snows that begin falling, forcing them to stop and slowly starve.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-stannisDavos Seaworth is taken prisoner in White Harbor after going ashore and trying to enlist House Manderly’s support. However, Lord Manderly secretly frees Davos and tells him that he is only feigning allegiance to the Boltons since the Lannisters are holding his son Wylis as captive. He is also planning revenge against the Freys since they murdered Ser Wendel Manderly at the Red Wedding. He enlists Davos help to find Rickon, who is apparently at Skagos with Osha, so the northmen will rally around a living Stark heir and rebel against the Boltons.

Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy is revealed not to be dead, but is languishing in the Dreadfort prison and brutally tortured by Ramsay Bolton. He is freed to serve him as “Reek”, and travels with him to Winterfell where he waits upon Jeyne Poole. With the wedding complete and the snows hemming them in, Roose Bolton and his bannermen wait for Stannis to attack and slowly begin to turn on each other.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-ashaEventually, and with the help of some serving maids, Theon arranges to free her and escapes the city just as the Manderlys and Freys begin open fighting. They travel together into the wilderness, where they are intercepted by Mance Rayder, and ride to Stannis’ camp. Theon is then reunited with his sister Asha.

The South:
Cersei Lannister, imprisoned by the Faith of the Seven, confesses to several of the less grave charges against her to alleviate her suffering. These include adultery and sleeping with her cousin Lancel Lannister, but stops short of admitting that she murdered King Robert, or that her children are actually the product of incest. The Faith is willing to release her, but she must still stand trial and make the penance walk naked back to the Red Keep.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-great-septHumiliated, Cersei places her hope in a trial by combat, hoping that a new knight named Ser Robert Strong will champion her. Some mystery surrounds Ser Robert, as he is as huge as Gregor Clegane, and is never seen sleeping, eating, or using the privy. Ser Kevan, who now serves as the Hand, suspects that it is Ser Gregor and that some kind of sorcery has been used by ex-maester Qyburn to resurrect him.

In the Riverlands, Jaime Lannister arrives with his army at the siege of Raventree Hall where he manages to negotiate the surrender quite painlessly. The last stronghold of Robb Stark’s kindgom in the Riverlands bends the knee, and Jaime relocates his camp when he gets word that Brienne of Tarth was seen in a nearby village. After arriving, Brienne of Tarth comes to his camp tent and tells him that she has found Sansa Stark and she is in danger from Sandor Clegane.

a-song-of-ice-and-fire_storms-endIn the Stormlands, Aegon Targaryen and Jon Connington arrive with the Golden Company in order to recover the Iron Throne. Taking Tyrion’s advice that their arrival would be met with jubilation, Connington prepares to march forward and take Storms End, believing that Dorne will raise their banners and march to their aid. When word reaches King’s Landing, Ser Kevan advises marching, but Lord Tyrells wants to hold off until after Maergerys trial.

In his solar, Varys sneaks in and murders Kevan Lannister and Grand Maester Pycelle with a crossbow. Before Kevin dies, Varys reveals to him that he supports Aegon, and that he is trying to prevent him from fixing the damage Cersei had caused in her attempts to build Tommen’s power base. Varys declares that with Tommen back in Cersei’s control, the kingdoms of Westeros will spend their strength fighting each other while Aegon prepares to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.

Summary:
And there we have it. After five books, the story stands poised, once again, on the edge of knife. After first learning in Crows that all roads were leading to the East, that virtually every faction was placing their hopes in Daenerys and conspiring to bring her home, it also became clear that there was another Targaryen heir that had plans of his own to restore the Dragonborn to the Iron Throne.

What’s more, many threads are proceeding towards culmination. Though Cersei seems to have freed herself from captivity in the Great Sept, her plans to get back in charge seem all but thwarted. At this point, its obvious that the Tyrells are in control, that Tommen’s power is temporary, and with Varys’ assassination of Ser Kevan, that the way is paved for Connington and Aegon Targaryen to assume the throne.

But of course, there were plenty of uncomfortable cliffhangers too! For one, Jon Snow’s betrayal by his brothers puts him in a bit of a bind. I am wondering how he will come out of all this, whether he will be saved by Val, Melisandre, some of his brothers, or some of his Wildling allies. On the other hand, its entirely possible that Martin is finished with him and plans to kill him off, a la Ned, Robb, or the many other main characters he’s killed so far.

Then there’s Daenerys’ thread, where she has gone from being the frying pan into the flame, having been whisked away from the siege of Meereen to captivity with Khal Jhaqo. Once more, I am hoping this doesn’t drag out because lord knows Martin has a real knack for putting his characters through endless trials and diversions before they finally get to where they are going. Or he kills them! In any case, the war of Five Kings will not officially be over until she resolves all her problems in Slaver’s Bay and makes it back to Westeros.

And again, after many books and all the hints he’s dropped about “skin-changing” and “Greenseers”, Bran finally seems to have found his way home and realized his true purpose. And personally, I found this to be quite interesting, in that it delved deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Children of the Forest and the history of Westeros before the First Men came. It will be interesting to see how this is woven into the larger story, which I assume will have to do with the legend of Azor Ahai reborn (in Daenerys) being fulfilled.

Overall, I really enjoyed the way this installment in the series took us deeper into the culture of the Free Cities, especially Volantis with its Tetrarchs, elephants, cuisine and drink, and its abundant use of tattoos. I also enjoyed the chapters that moved between Meereen, the Yunkishmen, and the culture portrayed throughout. And of course, the way the plot against the Lannisters is coming along was very pleasing to see. I hate that house and any kind of misfortune which could result in their destruction appeals to me! Now if he can just see his way to restoring House Stark, or just letting some of them know that the others still live, I would be even happier!

Only two books to go, presumably! No telling when the next installment, The Winds of Winter, will be released. But if I could be so bold, might I implore Mr. Martin to please get it done! After waiting five years for book five, we fans are kind of hungry for a finale. What’s more, HBO is going to needs those book if they are going to keep turning out new seasons! You don’t want to get on their bad side, sir. They’re ruthless!

Speaking of which, only thirty-nine more days to go til season three kicks off! Woohoo!