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, 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 Five

game_of_thrones_s3We have reached the midpoint of the season at last. Just five more episodes to go before we are finished with A Storm of Swords and no doubt have to look forward to another year’s worth of waiting! But I’m sure the fans will all find something else to watch while they wait. Cable television is good like that! In the meantime, this week’s episode was largely a pacing one, providing some updates on the course of the season four story arc, and a little resolution of its own.

In the former category, this included Tommen’s coronation as king  the preparations for Tyrion’s trial, Sansa arriving at the Eyrie with Lord Petyr Baelish, Daenerys settling in as Queen of Mereen, Arya and Sandor’s journey through the Riverlands, and Pod and Brienne’ search for Sansa. In the latter case, the resolution came in the form of Jon Snow arriving in the north to deal with the threat of the mutineer’s at Craster’s Keep…

First of his Name:
GOT4_5_1The episode opens in the Throne Room at King’s Landing, where Tommen is being crowned King of the Andals, First Men, and all of Westeros. Cersei and Margaery use the occasion to discuss what comes next, which is the marriage of her to Tommen. Shortly after, she meets with her father to discuss the possible preparations, and it is agreed they will marry within a fortnight, and she will marry Ser Loras a fortnight thereafter. The subject of Tyrion’s trial also comes up, with Cersei trying to sway his judgement.

In Mereen, Daenerys is busy taking stock of her conquest now that Mereen has fallen and is told that Joffrey is now dead. She also learns that her army has taken Mereen’s fleet intact, and that she can now sail to Westeros. However, news has reached her that in her absence, the slave masters have once again seized power in Yunkai and Astapor. She decides that the time is not right to leave and that she must stay behind to rule as Queen, and see to it that Slaver’s Bay is and remains liberated.

GOT4_5_2In the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor continue on their way to the Eyrie, and Sandor learns that Arya intends to kill him along with all the other people on her list. He sees her doing a “water dance” as Syrio taught her, and mocks her efforts. Elsewhere, Brienne and Pod are making their way through the wilderness, and Brienne is frustrated by Pod’s apparent lack of competence as a squire. She chooses to ease up on him when she learns of how he saved Tyrion’s life by killing Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard.

In the Vale itself, Sansa and Petyr arrive and are admitted to the Eyrie and are greeted by her aunt Lysa and Lord Robin. After sending Sansa and Robin away, Lysa demands that Petyr agree to marry her that same night. She speaks of how she was the one who killed Jon Arryn, and how she did at his behest. To quiet her, Petyr then agrees to her request, and discovers that she has the Septon waiting outside to perform the rights. They are married on the spot and begin their wedding night.

GOT4_5_4Later, she meets with Sansa. Over lemoncakes, she talks of her mother and Petyr’s obvious sense of duty towards her. In the course of this, she becomes very jealous and demands to know why he feels obligated to protect her, going so far as to accuse Sansa of being pregnant with his child. Sansa breaks down and cries, professing her innocence, and Lysa relents. She then says that they will all be safe, and that she intends to see Sansa marry Lord Robin.

In the north, Jon and his brothers come upon Craster’s Keep, and Locke spots Bran and the Reeds inside one of the shacks. He tells the others to avoid it, and when they attack, he sneaks in and tries to ferry Bran away. Bran takes possession of Hodor, and uses him to snap Locke’s neck and escape. Hodor frees the Reeds, and together, they watch as Jon and his brothers liberate the camp. Bran wants to call out to him, but Jojen warns him he will try to take him to Castle Black and not let him find the “Three-Eyed Crow”.

GOT4_5_5Jon meanwhile engages Karl Tanner in single combat. Karl nearly kills Jon after fighting dirty, but a Wildling woman manages to stab him in the back, giving Jon the time he needs to sink his sword into the back of Karl’s head. Jon is then reunited with Ghost, who freed himself and killed the last of the mutineers as they tried to escape into the forest. He tells the women they are free to come with him, which they are reluctant to do.

However, when faced with the prospect of staying at the Keep, they tell him to burn it to the ground as well as all the bodies of the mutineers. They watch Craster’s Keep catch fire and leave the place to burn…

Summary:
Yeah, again, this episode was little more than pacing and filler, even if it was relatively enjoyable to watch. Aside from Jon’s assault on Craster’s Keep and his execution of the muntineers, not much happened. Mainly, the characters simply talked about that which we already know, and nothing of consequence was really said. Cersei doesn’t trust Margaery and wants Tyrion to die, Arya hates Sandor, Pod isn’t that good a squire, and due to additional complications, Daenerys still can’t return to Westeros.

The only exception to this was Sansa’s arrival at the Eyrie, where we saw just how painfully irrational her aunt is and how jealous she can be. This is something that will come up in later episodes, with scary consequences (no spoilers)! We were also treated to the revelation that it was Petyr and Lysa who were behind Jon Arryn’s death. Up until now, it was attributed to the Lannister’s as part of their scheme to keep their incest a secret. However, we now see that it was part of Petyr’s ongoing scheme to play one house off against another.

As for Jon’s arrival at Craster’s Keep, we did get some action and some much needed justice. But in an entirely predictable twist, Bran and Jon do not meet up, mainly because the plot demands it. Never happened in the book, and of course Jon would try to take his brother back. So the only point of this added thread was to shoehorn some more action into the season, huh? I was also a bit annoyed that they changed Lord Robert’s name to Robin. Was it really necessary to make this change to avoid confusing audiences?

In any case, that plot thread is now closed, and Jon and the Nights Watch can get back to the matter of protecting Castle Black and the Wall from Mance and the Wildlings. And before the season is out, we will be treated to Tyrion’s trial, the consequences therefor, and the inevitable twists that will arise out of Arya, Brienne and Sansa’s misadventures in the Riverlands/Vale. These, I’m looking forward to, if not the additional pacing that is sure to accompany them!

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New GOT Trailer – Season Four, Part II

GOT_4posterAt long last, after many months of waiting, fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones have finally been treated to the first teaser trailer for the second half of season four! And as you can see, the series producers decided to give the fans just enough to whet their appetites, while not giving too much away. But of course, us A Song of Ice and Fire geeks could tell what’s in store, not that it helps much!

As the preview opens, we see King’s Landing with a dragon’s shadow passing over it (purely symbolic, don’t worry!). We also get Joffrey speaking to the newly returned Jaime about the progress of the war, which – after the events of last season’s Red Wedding – he is claiming victory in. And of course, we hear from Daenerys, who continues in her campaign to overthrow the slave cities of Essos and build an army to retake the Iron Throne.

And between all that, we get hints and previews of other threads and plots, all punctuated with plenty of voiceovers. These include the trial of Tyrion (won’t say for what); the arrival of Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and his duel with Ser Gregor Clegane (now played by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson); and of course, Jon Snow rallying the Night’s Watch for the Wildlings’ much anticipated attack on the Wall.

The show premiers on April 6th, and if their previous records are any indication, this one is sure to be one of the highest rated premiers of all time! Enjoy the trailer…

Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 8

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperThe season is almost done, and some big climaxes are coming! And without giving too much away, let me just say that I’m looking forward to seeing Robb’s wedding, Joffrey’s wedding, and the Wildling’s assault on Castle Black. I predict the season will end with the weddings happening simultaneously, and perhaps the assault happening next episode.

Could be wrong, but anyone who’s read Storm of Swords – and knows that the next season will be tackling the latter half of it – knows that at this point, those will be the season enders. But before that can happen, there’s all that took place during this week’s episode. Here’s what I thought of it as well…

Seconds Sons:
got3_sons3The episode opens with Arya and Sandor Clegane, who as we saw last time kidnapped her from the Brothers Without Banners. After stopping her from trying to kill him with a rock, he tells her that he is bringing her to The Twins so he can collect the reward from her mother and brother. She also learns that they are traveling here because her uncle, Edmure Tully, is to be wed to Walder Frey’s eldest daughter.

We then go to Yunkai, where Daenerys is meeting with the Captain’s of the Second Sons, the mercenary army for which the episode is named. After looking into the matter concerning Yunkai’s supposed “friends”, Daenerys entreats with the leaders of the sellsword armies the city has paid off to fight for them. She offers them a chance to fight for her, but its clear there’s to be no deal had with their Captain, Mero of Bravos. However, their Lieutenant, Daario Naharis, seems much more amenable to her…

GOT3_sonsBack at their camp, Mero and the others discuss how they will kill her, and they agree that they will have to assassinate her. Daario draws the short straw (in this case a coin) and is sent in to kill her. Sneaking into her tent while she’s taking a bath, he puts a knife to Missandei’s throat. With her attention fixed on him, he presents his Captain’s heads at her feet and declares his loyalty and the Second Sons to her.

In King’s Landing, the preparations are set for the wedding between Sansa to Tyrion and the entire court is in attendance. Cersei and Maergery naturally take the opportunity to exchange false pleasantries, and Cersei is sure to threaten her. Since he had her father killed, Joffrey gives Sansa away. He also takes the opportunity to embarrass his uncle  by removing his stool, thus making it nearly impossible for him to place his cloak on her.

got3_sons1The wedding is naturally an uncomfortable affair as Tyrion proceeds to get very drunk and gets a stern talking from his father. Joffrey then announces the “bedding ceremony”, but Tyrion says there will be done, prompting threats and insults. Tywin intervenes and says they will dispense with the ceremony and Tyrion takes Sansa away to their bedroom. Sansa undresses and prepares to “do her duty”, but Tyrion tells her to stop and proceeds to pass out.

At Dragonstone, Melissandre arrives with Gendry and presents him to Stannis. They prepare him for the sacrifice, which at the moment consists of giving him a room, a bath, and some clean clothes. Below, in the dungeons, Davos continues to learn to read and is visited by Stannis himself. He tells Davos he will be set free, and of their plans to sacrifice Gendry and why. He agrees to set Davos free, provided he doesn’t raise a hand to her again. He agrees, but vows to go on counseling Stannis as he sees fit.

got3_sons4Melissandre also takes the opportunity to meet with Gendry and begins plying him with wine and talk of her God and the destiny Gendry has. And as usual, she seduces and has sex with him, then ties him down and applies leaches to his skin. Davos and Stannis then enter, and she reveals that what she has prepared is a demonstration for Davos’ benefit. Stannis takes the leeches, now engorged on “King’s Blood”, and burns them, uttering the names of his enemies – Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon.

Whitewalker1In the far north, Sam and Gilly continue to head south towards the Wall. They come upon a shed and decide to set camp for the night. When night falls, they discuss giving her boy a name, and the screaming of countless crows can be heard. Sam goes out to look, and the crows go silent as a White Walker appears. Gilly believes its come for her baby, and after being tossed aside, Sam stabs it with the dragonglass knife he’s kept, which shatters it like ice…

Summary:
Not a bad episode this week, and after seeing it I really have only one complaint, and a few compliments. I’ll cover the complaint first since its a quick one, and I know that’s it’s already been harped on and even spawned an internet meme. And that has to do with the decision to cast Daario as a clean-shaven pretty boy.

In the book, Daario had a long beard that was died purple and braided, much like his hair. This was in keeping with the Tyroshi fashion, as he is from the free cities. What’s more, he wasn’t a Lieutenant in the Second Sons, but the Captain of the Stormcrows, a entirely separate group of mercenaries. On top of that, they were one of three companies that was contracted to defend Yunkai, and his decision to deliver the heads of the other Captains turned the tide in Daenerys’ favor during her siege of the city.

But of course, budgets meant they had to cut this down to one group of mercenaries, and I’m sure the actor’s inability to grow a beard had something to do with his clean-shaven look. Aside from that, I really didn’t have much in the way of complaints. In fact, I liked what else they did, which was to take changes made previously and use them quite effectively to advance the story.

For example, the writer’s took the Gendry plot line, which seemed to be going nowhere for me, and steered it back in the main storyline very well. In the book, the blood sacrifice shown here actually did take place and did involve one of Robert’s bastards. Davos didn’t agree with it, but it took place anyway, during which time Stannis cursed the names of his enemies and asked for their death.

Naturally, the books contained far more characters and the series writers no doubt felt that they had to take an existing character rather than introducing someone new and unheard of until now. This was not only understandable, but it worked quite well. And it portends something very important which will be coming up soon. No spoilers, just wait for it…

And of course, the episode ended with something I’ve been waiting for for a long time! I was hoping to see the scene where Sam stabbed a White Walker with his dragonglass blade for awhile now. In truth, he did it before his brothers were lost to him at Craster’s Keep, which was how they learned that the White Walkers are vulnerable to both dragonglass and Valyrian Steel. It’s also how Sam picked up the nickname of “Sam the Slayer”.

 

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 7

game_of_thrones_s3

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

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

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

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

The Bear and the Maiden Fair:
got3_bear

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

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

got3_bear4

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

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

got3_bear2

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

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

got3_bear3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones – Season 3, Episode 5

Game-of-Thrones-WallpaperMorning folks, welcome to another work week, and another episode review of GOT! This week, since I’ve got a bit more free time on my hands, I thought I’d get to this review early and avoid what happened last time. I mean, people don’t need to wait til Thursday to hear about a show they watched on Sunday right? Yeah, mea culpa. But its a new week and a new episode, and the mid-season one at that!

Naturally, I was eager to see this week’s episode, since the story was now in full swing and the big plot points were being addressed. For example, Daenerys campaign to raise an army of free people from the ruins of the slave capitol of the world. This was one of the best parts of book III, so I’m quite interested to see how they go about illustrating it. And of course, there’s also Robb Stark’s growing problems, which were not dealt with last time.

But biggest for me was the plot thread hinted at in the title. After weeks of having John Snow’s story only touched on, and with him not even making an appearance last week, I was happy to see that this episode would be dealing with his story. Not only is it too one of the most important in the third book, it is perhaps the most personal and emotionally involved.

Taken together, the promise of seeing all these threads further developed left me feeling eager and antsy…

Kissed By Fire:
got3_kissedThe episode opens in the Riverlands, where Beric Dondarrion prepares for trial by combat with Sandor Clegane. After setting his sword ablaze in true R’hllorian fashion, Beric fights Sandor, who’s naturally afraid of his flaming blade. However, Sandor manages to survive the bout and lands his sword in Beric’s shoulder, killing him. But the death doesn’t last long, as Thoros issues a prayer to the Lord of Light and resurrects Beric yet again. Found innocent by trial of combat, Sandor is released…

Later on, Arya learns that Gendry will be staying behind with the Brothers while she is taken to Riverrun and handed over to her brother. Afterwards, she learns from Beric that he has died many times and been brought back by Thoros, and wonders if her father could be resurrected in the same way.

got3_kissed2In Riverrun, Robb is faced with yet more problems as Lord Karstark take matters into his own hands and executes the Lannister captives. Though he is encouraged to take him as a hostage in order to ensure the continued loyalty of House Karstark, he decides to execute him and swings the sword himself. He loses the Karstarks as allies and laments how unity has broken down in his army. However, he knows he can still march on Casterly Rock, provided he can rebuild his alliance with House Frey.

In Harrenhal, Vargo Hoat delivers Brienne and Jaime Lannister to Roose Bolton. Being merciful, he chooses to let Jaime know that his family prevailed in the siege of King’s Landing and sends him to get the care he needs for his wound. Afterward, he finds Brienne in the baths and shares a tub with her. After agreeing on a truce, he explains to her why it is he killed King Aerys, thus earning him the name “Kingslayer”.

got3_kissed1Moving to the north, we see John with his newfound Wildling companions, sharing what information he can with Tormund about the Wall’s defenses. Afterward, Ygritte leads him on a bit of a chase and they end up inside a cave, where she undresses for him and tests his loyalties by seeing if he will break his vow of celibacy. He does, and the two are joined in Wildling fashion… a couple of times!

In King’s Landing, Cersei reaches out to Lord Baelish for help in dealing with the Tyrells, while Tyrion reaches out to Lady Redwyne for help with the royal wedding. Sansa gets a chance to see Ser Loras, whom she thinks she will marry. However, Tywin intervenes and decides to wed her to Tyrion. After gloating, Cersei is told she will wed Ser Loras, which sends her into a fit of self-pity.

got3_kissed3On Dragonstone, Stannis meets with his wife for the first time in ages. He comes to confess for his indiscretion with Lady Melissandre, but is told that he has done nothing wrong. As his wife is clearly crazed over the loss of her stillborn children, which she keeps in a set of jars, she confesses that she was overjoyed to learn that someone else was able to give him the son he deserved.

Afterward, Stannis meets with his daughter, Shireen Baratheon, who waits in her tower and suffers from greyscale. After learning that Ser Davos, who has always been a friend to her, is in prison for treason, Shireen goes to the dungeons to see him and brings him a book – Aegon the Conqueror. He confesses that he is illiterate, at which point she begins reading it to him and suggest she make a habit of coming to see him.

got3_kissed4In Essos, Daenerys army continues to march from Astapor to Yunkai. This gives Ser Mormont and Ser Selmy a chance to discuss the men they’ve served over the years and discuss how best to serve their new queen. But both agree that they are happy to be serving Daenerys now since they believe in her, though it is clear Mormont also holds a torch for her.

Daenerys also addresses her Unsullied officers and asks them to pick their own names and shed their slave names. Their leader, Grey Worm, tells her he will keep that name, as it is lucky. His birth name was the one he had when he was taken as a slave, whereas the one he has now he held when Daenerys set him free.

Summary:
As usual, high and lows in this episode, though I felt it was mainly characterized by highs. For starters, I was glad to finally see John and Ygritte hook up!  Their thread has been sorely neglected so far and I was seriously beginning to wonder if they would ever get around to showing their relationship or not. I was glad to see that they did!

In the third novel, this was not only an important aspect of the plot but the also one of the most gripping and emotionally involved parts of the story. Here, John’s loyalties are being severely tested, and his newfound love for Ygritte was causing him to break his oaths. Of course, he was only doing what Qorin told him to before they were captured, but that didn’t make it any easier for him.

Though that raises something that I’ve found generally unlikeable about their adaptation. In the second season, Qorin did not ask this of John and instead seemed to condemn him for letting Ygritte go, a move which led to their capture. Granted, it seemed obvious he staged their little “fight” to get John into their good books and sacrificed himself, but John was not in the know and is now groping around blindly.

Perhaps they thought this would make his uncertainty and test of loyatlies more genuine, but I think it only complicates matters. Better to have him playing the role of defector and constantly be wondering if he’s doing the right thing than have him vacillating between two camps for real.

Another high point was Jaime’s confession to Brienne of why he killed Aerys. Not only was the scene accurate and lucidly portrayed, it was a testament to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s skill as an actor that he managed to pull off Jaime’s torment so well. After years of being a cynical bastard because of how people view him as a man without honor, and having lost his sword hand – his only redeeming feature, in his mind – he is naturally in serious emotional pain and wants redemption. Personally, I thought he captured that here brilliantly.

And of course, the machinations that are going on in King’s Landing. As I’ve said before, the Sansa-Pyter plot has been simplified, since it was Boros Blount who arranged for her escape and Pyter’s involvement not revealed until later. But aside from that, they are capturing the spirit of this point in the story quite well, showing how plotting between houses is causing a general atmosphere of distrust that will threaten to boil over. And for the most part, it’s being conveyed accurately.

And as for Robb’s thread, there is a minor change here which caught my attention. His decision to repair relations with the Freys was not part of some brilliant idea to attack Casterly Rock. It was done out of necessity because his decision to marry Talisa Maegyr was basically a big middle finger to his promise to marry Walder Frey’s oldest daughter. What’s more, its hardly big news that he would plan to attack Casterly Rock, home of the Lannisters.

That was his aim in the book all along. Since it sits west of Riverrun and well north of King’s Landing, he knew he had to have it, since to march past it would expose his entire western flank. A nitpick, I know, but sometimes I wonder why they bother with little changes like these. They kind of seem frivolous and unnecessary, like they are trying to sex up the storyline or something. It’s already well-sexed, believe me! Just tell it and move on…

And to end things happily, I like that they brought in Stannis’s daughter and developed his back story some more. Naturally, its hard to give all the characters their worth in a format like television, especially when adapting something as voluminous as Martin’s series. But they managed to get her and his wife in, and show the kind’s of debilitating and tragic things which have effected their family. Oh, and the way they had his daughter singing the song that Patchface  – her jester, who was important in the books but didn’t make it into the cast of the show – always sung her was a nice touch.

And that was the middle of season three, people! Things are shaping up and we are due for some major action, betrayals and intrigue real soon! Stay tuned because I know for a fact that it’s only getting better from here…

The World of “A Song of Ice and Fire”

a_song_of_ice_and_fire_version_2_by_scrollsofaryavart-d4rabm1After reading four of the five of the books in the ongoing Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve come to realize something. I really like the world George RR Martin has created! In fact, you might say I haven’t found myself becoming so engrossed with a fictional universe since Dune or Lord of the Rings. In those fictional universes, as with this one, one gets an incredible sense of depth, detail and characterization.

And in honor of this realization, or perhaps because I couldn’t keep track of the names, places and events alluded to in the texts, I began doing some serious research. For one, I found several lovely maps (like the one above) that speculate as to the complete geography of Martin’s world – the continents of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos.

And when I say complete geography, I mean just that, not the snippets that are given in the book that leave out the all important sections of Qarth, Slaver’s Bay, and the Free Cities. While these places are described in relation to the rest of the world, keeping track of them can be tricky, especially if you’re a visual learner like myself! And seeing as how much of the story involves a great deal of travel, it helps to know where characters were going, how far, and which direction they were headed.

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080Even before I began reading the books, I could tell that Westeros was very much inspired by the British Isles, with its tough and grizzled Northerners resembling the Scots, Picts, and Celts of old while the Southerners were more akin to the aristocratic Normans. “The Wall” was also a clear allegory for Hadrian’s Wall, with the people on the other side being portrayed much as the Roman’s would have viewed the “Northern Tribes” that threatened their domain.

King’s Landing also seemed very much inspired by London, with its pomp, opulence, and extensive moral decay. Yes, just like London of the Middle Ages, it was a fine patchwork of royal finery, castles, fortifications, religious ceremony, brothels and public executions! And it even lies upon a large river, the Blackwater, which seems every bit like the Thames.

Essos also seemed very much inspired by Asia of ancient lore. Here we had the Dothraki Sea where the Dothraki horsemen roamed free and pillaged in all directions, exacting tribute and taking slaves. Can you say Mongols and/or Huns? In addition, their capital – Vaes Dothrak – seemed in every respect to be an adaptation of Karakorum, Ghengis Khan’s one time capitol that was little more than a collection of temporary houses and tents. And Master Ilyrio, as if his name wasn’t enough, seemed to be every bit a Mediterranean at heart, living in a lavish sea-side estate and growing fat of off trade in cheese, olives and wine.

Upon cracking the books, I found that the metaphors only went deeper. In fact, they were so thick, you could cut them with a knife! In terms of Westerosi geography and character, the different regions of the continent called to mind all kind’s of archetypes and real-world examples. The Reach sounds very much like Cornwall, fertile, populous, and in the south-east relative to the capitol. Casterly Rock and the domain of the Lannister’s, though it resides in the west away from the capitol, seems every bit like Kent, the wealthiest region of old where the most lucrative trade and shipping comes in. And their colors, gold and red, are nothing if not symbolic of the House of Lancaster – of which Henry V and the VIII were descended.

And last, but certainly not least, there were the all-important cities of Qarth, Mereen, Astapor, and Yunkai. All eastern cities that inspire images of ancient Babylon, Cairo, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Antioch. With their stepped pyramids, ancient history, flamboyant sense of fashion, and lucrative slave trade, they all sounded like perfect examples of the ancient and “decadent” eastern civilizations that were described by Plato, Aristotle, and medieval scholars. The conquest of Westeros by the First Men, the Children of the Forest, the Andal and Valyrian Conquest; these too call to mind real history and how waves of conquerors and settlers from the east came to populate the Old World and the New, with genocide and assimilation following in their wake and giving rise to the world that we know today.

Middle-earthFans of Tolkien will no doubt be reminded of the map of Middle Earth, and for good reason. Martin’s knack for writing about space and place and how it plays a central role in the character of its inhabitants was comparable to that of Tolkien’s. And what’s more, the places have a very strong allegorical relationship to real places in real history.

In Tokien’s world, the Shire of the Hobbits seemed very much the metaphor for pre-industrial rural England. The inhabitants are these small, quirky people who are proud of their ways, lavish in their customs, and don’t care much for the affairs of the outside world. However, when challenged, they are capable of great things and can move heaven and earth.

In that respect, Gondor to the south could be seen as London in the early 20th century – the seat of a once proud empire that is now in decline. Given it’s aesthetics and location relative to the dark, hostile forces coming from the East and South, it’s also comparable to Athens and Rome of Antiquity.

And it was no mistake that the battle to decide the fate of Middle Earth happened here. In many ways it resembles the Barbarian Invasions of the late Roman Empire, the Persian Wars of Classical Greece, the Mongol Invasions or the Byzatine Empire’s war with the Turks in the High Middle Ages. In all cases, classical powers and the home of Western civilization are being threatened from Eastern Empires that are strange and exotic to them.

Dune_MapAnd let’s not forget Arrakis (aka. Dune) by Frank Herbert. Here too, we have a case where space and place are determining factors on their residents. And whereas several planets are described and even mapped out in the series, none were as detailed or as central as Arrakis itself. From its Deep Desert to its Shield Walls, from Arrakeen and Seitch Tabr; the planet was a highly detailed place, and the divide between Imperials and Fremen were played out in the ways both sides lived.

Whereas the Fremen were hardy folk who lived in the deep desert, took nothing for granted, and were a harsh folk sustained by prophecies and long-term goals, the Imperials were lavish people, pompous and arrogant, and used to doing things in accordance with the Great Convention. But far from being preachy or one-sided, Herbert showed the balance in this equation when it became clear that whereas the Imperials were governed by convention and thereby complacent, the Fremen were extremely dangerous and capable of terrible brutality when unleashed.

But as I said, other planets are also detailed and the influence their environments have on their people are made clear. Caladan was the ancestral home of the Atreides, covered in oceans, fertile continents, and a mild climate that many consider to be a paradise. As a result, according to Paul,  the Atreides grew soft, and it was for this reason that they fell prey to the Emperor’s betrayal and the machinations of their Harkonnen enemies.

And speaking of the Harkonnens, the world of Geidi Prime is described on a few occasions in the series as being an industrial wasteland, a world plundered for its resources and its people reduced to a status of punitive serfdom. What better metaphor is there for a people guided by sick pleasures, exploitation, and exceptional greed? Whereas the Atreides grew soft from their pleasures, the Harkonnens grew fat, and were therefore easily slaughtered by Paul and his Fremen once their rebellion was underway.

And of course, there is Selusa Secundus, a radioactive wasteland where the Emperor’s elite Sardukar armies are trained. On this prison planet, life is hard, bleak, and those who survive do so by being ruthless, cunning and without remorse. As a result, they are perfect recruits for the Emperor’s dreaded army, which keeps the peace through shear force of terror.

*                       *                        *

There’s something to be said for imaginative people creating dense, richly detailed worlds isn’t there? Not only can it be engrossing and entertaining; but sooner or later, you find yourself looking back at all that you’ve surveyed, you do a little added research to get a greater sense of all that’s there, and you realize just how freaking expansive the world really is. And of course, you begin to see the inspiration at the heart of it all.

Yes, this is the definitely the third time I’ve experienced this feeling in relation to a series. I count myself as lucky, and really hope to do the same someday. I thought I had with the whole Legacies concept, but I’m still tinkering with that one and I consider my research into what makes for a great sci-fi universe to be incomplete. Soon enough though, I shall make my greatest and final attempt, and there will be no prisoners on that day! A universe shall be borne of my pen, or not… Either way, I plan to blab endlessly about it 😉