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 😉