Game of Thrones – Episode 9

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 9 – June 30, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Best episode in the series!


Episode 9, “Baelor.”This is the episode where it all comes together, pretty much summed up by the text I got on first airing from a friend I convinced to watch (he hadn’t read the books — but is now): “OMG!  They killed Ned Stark!”

Not only does it take a lot of guts to up and kill your most central character near the end of the first book of an epic series, but George R. R. Martin really grinds the emotions in by making the reasons it happens so damned personal and believable.

This is the episode where the frothing cauldron of the last two boils on over. For everyone. This emotional tone renders it less sensitive than the previous episode to the diminutive effects of TV. We open with Varys visiting Ned again in the dungeon, and this narrative is used to spell out Ned’s last choice: die honorably, or confess and hope for exile and to save his daughters.

Then we have Robb faced with the choice of making a disreputable deal with an even more disreputable lord in order to gain military advantage in his war. He knows he’s got no choice but to win, and so he’s forced to go all in. Frey is just as amusing as in the books, and while he doesn’t have quite so many children as I imagined, the scene is well done. Particularly amusing is when Catelyn tells Robb he has to marry a Frey daughter and he asks, “how did they look?” and she replies “one of them was well…”

At the wall, Jon ponders not only his father’s imprisonment but the fact that his brother is going to war. Mormont tries to bind him further to the brotherhood by giving him his family sword. This is nicely done and there is some tie-back to Jorah. I particularly like the “he dishonored himself, but he had the decency to leave the family sword behind” bit. In another scene he gets a lecture from Maester Aemon about the hard choices between duty and family. Jon finds out exactly who the Maester was and we have another great scene from the books nailed with top performances.

Tyrion learns that he and his violent new tribesmen friends will get the most dangerous position in the upcoming battle. He stomps back to his tent to find Bronn has brought him a whore named Shae. She’s not how I imagined her in the books (they made her foreign), but I like the way Sibel Kekili plays her. I noticed her last year in the heavy German film Head On, and she’s a gifted actress. Although, we do have to wonder where Bronn dug up such a smart and sexy whore on short notice! Later in the show when the three play medeval “truth or dare” is a really good scene. Shae is cocky and sexy, and Tyrion’s rendition of his boyhood innocence and treatment at the hands of his father is perfect.

However I had mixed feelings about the battle — or lack there of. Tyrion is great and there are some funny lines like Bronn’s advice to “stay low.” But, instead of actually managing to fight — albiet badly — he’s just knocked out. The visual effect of him being dragged along is kind of cool, and I know they were trying to save time and money. But… they could have given us a three minute little window on the fight. I can’t help but feel this is more “TV shrinking effect,” the show’s biggest problem (really it’s only significant problem at all). I can’t help but feel the producers could do something creative and get a little more scope of action without too much more money.

And the same goes for the (non) battle of the whispering wood, where we just see Robb race back to his mother and deposite a captive Jaime at her feet. Come on. It was a night battle, they could have shown some horses and soldiers clashing in front of Riverrun and Jaime’s last stand. The books actually also suffer from certain large scale action being off screen (which I always felt was odd), but I’d hoped the show would rectify rather than amplify this. It would be easy enough.

Now as chaotic as the action is in Westeros, Dany’s journey is just as important. Her world is crashing around her. Drogo’s little chest wound from the last episode is now infected and he’s dying. For some slightly mysterious reason she has trusted the witch lady she saved (Mirri Maz Duur) to treat it, and now is willing to do whatever it takes to save his life, even if that means black magic. I love this part of the story, and I think Emilia Clarke handles it extremely well, but I do have a couple problems. The Mirri Maz Duur actress feels a little silly to me, not too bad, but she doesn’t have enough gravitas. And more importantly, the handling of the magic is underplayed. I liked the weird wailing sounds coming from the tent, but they decided to forgo any kind of special effects for the ceremony. I think this is deliberate rather than purely budgetary (although that is surely a factor). They have consistently played down the supernatural. But they needed it here. They didn’t have to go all the way to swirling wisps of light (ala early 80s Conan), but I think they should have done some kind of creepy animated shadow-play. As it is, the whole dark ritual is left mostly up to the imagination, and it may be hard for the new viewer to know what is supposed to be happening. It almost felt psychological. But the horse death was pretty decent.

And the final scene isn’t half assed at all, which is typical with the show, managing big pivotal (big in the sense of important, not scope) scenes nicely. Arya living in the streets is great, and then her viewing of Ned’s tragic “confession.” Joffrey continues in deliciously despicable style and orders the execution anyway. The handling of this for all involved is well done. Arya perching by that statue. The hysterical Sansa. Even Cersei livid. I would have just liked a little nod to the fact that they use Ned’s own sword: Ice. Come on, everyone loves a sword with a name. Jon said it when he gave Arya Needle, “all the best swords have names.”

Still, by the standards of TV, this is a near perfect episode. The human drama is handled flawlessly, they just need to add a little more cinematic feel to the action and magic.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8 ]

Or the next, Episode 10.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 8

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 8 – June 30, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Oh boy, it’s coming


I had to delay watching the last three episodes of the show for a month while suffering on vacation in Italy (travel log here). Even after being up for 36 hours I binged through two of the three after unpacking.

Episode 8,  “The Pointy End.” The last third of the season, or even last half, is all about grinding out the consequences of positions and choices made in the first half. Many of these lead to additional hasty decisions that will also have repercussions. Also it is worth noting that this episode is actually penned by George R. R. Martin himself, which is fitting because it’s one where the character arcs are really pivoting.

One of the great things about Martin’s novels are how believable these difficult choices are for the characters. They don’t see the future, aren’t even always aware of all that the reader is, and even more importantly, are filtered through their own biases and priorities.

We open with the play out of the season’s most central pivot, that Ned’s attempt to show the queen and her children mercy leads to disastrous results for his family and for the realm as a whole. His entire household in King’s Landing is slaughtered, and Sansa is captured. But Arya, training with her “Dancing Master” Syrio is not so undefended. Syiro is a favorite character and he is played delightfully by Miltos Yerolemou in the show. I do think that — like many scenes in this episode — that the production felt a little TV. Syiro holds off about five Lanister guards with a wood training sword, which is bad ass, but the choreography could have used just a little more punch. There just wasn’t enough zing to his movements. Still he kicks butt and his final line, “And what do we say to the god of death?” -> “Not today” is awesome. Similarly Arya’s all important stabbing of the stable boy felt a little flabby. Or maybe it was just by mood (very tired).

Ned is briefly visited by Varys in the dungeon, and I do love this portrayal of the spider. Instead of the interior monologue of the novel their conversation is used to expose the central crux of his moral journey: The fact that his mercy (toward Cersei) lead to his downfall, and that he must now chose between family and principles — and they aren’t good choices either way. We also have some wonderful background on Varys.

The news of events in the capital is spreading, linking the separate story-lines together. Jon is forced to cope with his own choices and loyalties between family and duty. We even see a bit of ghost! And then he gets to fight the white walker. This was pretty cool, but again, as I felt with a lot of this episode (but not about Episode 9) lacked a tiny bit of gravitas (not to mention Morment’s raven — boo!). But it’s still important as it really starts to establish his role with the Black Brothers.

In Winterfell Robb must deal with the imprisonment of his father, being forced to become the man he knows he should be. This is well handled, and there is a pretty good sense of him coming into his own. Theon is well set up. In the books he is extremely minor in book 1, but clearly the producers have chosen him as a character to emphasize in seasons 2 and 3. We have a bit of Bran in this part of the arc too. Somehow in the second two thirds of the show Bran feels much more absent than he does in the novels (as there he has all the POV for Winterfell). This brings him back a little, but I would have liked more emphasis on the wolves and the dreams. I’m coming around to Osha a bit though — even if she has crazy hair.

Tyrion and Bronn make their way out of the Vale. Their dialog is first rate as always, and they have their encounter with the mountain men. This too felt a little TV as they just couldn’t show enough men. You see about fifteen, but it really wanted at least 150, a real camp, and more of a sense of ferociousness.

Across the sea Dany is coming down off the high of being promised the world by Drogo to see a bit of the reality of what it really means to be a war leader. The Dothraki are slaughtering the “lamb people” and she tries to put a stop to the rape of some local women. This is a decision that for her will bring momentous change, continuing the theme illustrating the dangers of mercy. We also meet the witch, who looks like some Italian mother from Brooklyn. Like the other big scenes, and many of the Dothraki scenes in the whole show, this little battle felt crimped by the TV budget. Just not large enough or dynamic enough. Drogo’s fight however, defending his manhood and her honor, is pretty awesome. Jason Momoa has some real charisma, and I’m looking forward to the new Conan. He pulls off the very personal manly man-ness (guy-liner and all) to good effect.

The episode concludes softly with the dismissal of Ser Barristan, which is very well handled. You get a real feel for Cersei and this unctuous Joff overextending themselves. Barristan is wonderful too, along with Jaime the only developed member of the Kingsguard.

The plotting  and characters of this story are just so good. Everyone is in motion, in conflict all the time, but not just the kind of meaningless Transformers 2 style conflict, but real honest to goodness stuff that tests their fundamental values.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7 ]

Or the next Episode 9.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 7

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 7 – May 22, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: The pivot of action and consequence


Episode 7,  “You Win or You Die.” In a lot of ways, this episode is the biggest pivot of events in the maelstrom of plot shifts. While Game of Thrones took it’s time setting up the characters in the first four episodes, 5-7 are a whirlwind of motion. Consequences are the theme.

Because this episode is only on hbogo (for a week) and their are less summaries on the web, I’ll cover the scenes in more detail than usual. So spoiler alert (for this episode).

We open with Jamie and his father Tywin in a military camp, Lord Lannister. The excellent casting continues. They have a lengthy discussion while Lord T butchers a stag. This show uses the repeated device of putting explanatory dialogue on top of certain background but intense actions, like sex in a brothel, or Renly’s shaving. Here the butcher’s work is displayed in considerable detail, adding a nasty factor to the whole scene. We also observe just a bit of what Jaime has to deal with in his home life, and why doing the right thing hardly comes naturally to a Lannister. Oh, and the irony of Lord Tywin skinning a stag… sigil of house Baratheon, is not lost.

Next, one of the most important scenes in the book (and the series). Ned confronts Cersei in the garden, letting her know that he knows about the illegitimacy of her children. He gives her a chance to flee. Of course, he underestimates her, one should never corner a lion. All along, Ned’s honor, his need to do the RIGHT thing by a strict definition of the rules, rather than a flexible political definition, proves to be his achilles heel. This act of honorable mercy, in tipping his hand, more than anything else sets the entire war (which Robert predicted was coming) in motion.

Then we cut to Littlefinger in his whorehouse, training a newly arrived Ros and some other vixen. This earns the episode its nudity in spades. It’s also the same basic mechanic as used with the stag. Still this dialogue, where he slightly unnaturally confesses some of his youthful lessons in life to the whores, reveals a bit more of his complex character. This scene is new to the show, as the information contained here is revealed in Cat’s memory in the book.

We have more Theon exposition back at Winterfell as he attempts to tease Osha and is instead mocked. They are going to very considerable lengths to detail Theon’s background in this season, whereas in the books he barely has a role until Book 2. Osha seems too pretty to me, not hard enough looking.

Then we have Sam and Jon on the wall, where they see an riderless horse returning. They go down to find it’s uncle Benjen’s. Uh oh.

Back to King’s Landing where Renly rushes in to tell Ned that Robert’s been hurt hunting. We then see the injured king and Joff (hiss), and Ned and crew enter. The king shows off his nasty wound, and drives everyone but Ned out. He then writes a letter up making Ned Lord Protector and Reagent, and regrets his decision to have Dany killed (another decision that will have consequences!). When Ned steps out, Lord Varys (his performance is delicious) throws the blame Lancel’s way. Barristen the Bold is here too, and his character has been built up decently — although he’s the only member of the Kingsguard that is, other than Jaime.

Then across the sea, Dany and Drogo are chatting in Dothraki. Boy has their relationship changed. She’s playful and comfortable with him. But he does indicate that he thinks thrones are for sissies. And this from a man wearing way too much eye liner?!? Then Dany goes shopping at the crazy pseudo-middle-eastern bazaar. Some talk with Jormont, and he goes off to pickup his spy message from Varys’ agent — proving what we already knew, that he’s a double agent. Dany meets up with a wine seller from Westeros, and he offers to give her a special gift. But Jormont really is a double agent because he’s suspicious, and saves Dany from being poisoned. This scene has a slightly cheesy feel, as this is a whacky way to assassinate someone, as it depended on the coincidence of Dany stopping by for a drink.

Back to castle Black, where Jon and crew get a speech from the Lord Commander — again, where’s his bird? I loved the bird, and it wouldn’t have added any screen time to keep him. Save with the wolves. This bugs me considerably as in the books each of the boys at least has a completely integral relationship with their wolf, and the beasts are barely shown. In any case, Jon get appointed a steward rather than a ranger. He’s pissed. But Sam sees it for what it is, as he is to assist the Lord Commander directly. Sam is very well cast, and he’s likable, funny, and believably lousy as a solider.

Then back to King’s Landing where Renly is the first to attempt to convince Ned that practicality is more important than honor. If Joff is out of the succession, then that makes Stannis, the older brother of Renly and Robert, but not shown, the king. No one likes him. He has, as Loras said in Episode 5, “the personality of a lobster.” But Ned and his honor are on a unstoppable train. Renly presents detour #1, favor him as king.

But Ned sends a message to Stannis. Then enter Littlefinger to present door #2, make peace with the Lannisters and rule the kingdom as Joff’s Reagent — and Littlefinger’s assistance. Really, this is a pretty attractive looking door, and Littlefinger sells it so well. But alas.

Jon and Sam swear before the old gods. But first we see Ghost for about two seconds, and he’s cute, but where’s he been? The tree itself, with its bleeding eyed face is cool. The words of the oath suitable bleak. Loved it. The man hugs at the end were a bit cheesy though.

Dany and Jormont talk about the failed assassin’s unpleasant fate and Drogo enters.  He is another consequence, as Drogo swears before his gods and the stars to cross the narrow sea and give his bride her father’s throne back. Nicely done, and the Dothraki oath swearing was awesome. Lesson: if you attempt to kill your rival queen, don’t fail.

Then Ned is told of Robert’s death, and he plans with Littlefinger to get the guards anyway so that when he confronts the queen, he has some muscle. They then proceed into the throne room for a nice confrontation, which plays out very nicely. More consequences come back to haunt everyone as the straightforward and honorable Ned is out maneuvered again — caught in the snare of his own honor. Leaving us on a pretty serious cliffhanger. Joff is such a twat, I can’t wait for his wedding.

Absent this week: Tyrion, Cat, Bran, Arya, Sansa. The Lord Commander’s bird and all the direwolves except for two seconds of Ghost.

Overall the episode is great, packed with action and consequences again. We again have four out of the five threads (and really mostly the three: Dany, King’s Landing, and Jon). The note taking distracted me a little, I need to sit down and watch it again without all that.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6 ]

and of Episode 8, 9 or 10.

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 6

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 6 – May 22, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Unrelenting!


Episode 6,  “A Golden Crown.” The blast off that began last week with Episode 5 continues on full burn with Episode 6. The whole episode is pretty much wall to wall tension.

Unlike the first 4 episodes, exposition has been striped down to almost nothing. And after a week in absence, Dany and the Dothraki return with a vengeance. On her arc we see her eating an entire horse heart raw in a ritual to sort of anoint her son the prince in-vitro. Like the dragon, she sheds the skin of the vulnerable little girl. Even her crazy brother is aware of this, and it cripples his own hopes leading to the climatic and namesake scene.

In parallel, we have the resolution of Tyrion and the Eerie storyline. The Imp also comes into his own power, using his tongue to outfox both the imbecile turnkey Mord and the lady of the Vale herself. There’s both excellent dialogue and fun action in these scenes. My favorite line being, “You don’t fight with honor!” and the answer “No, he did,” pointing at the dead loser.

Jon takes a by for the second week in a row, but in Winterfell, we have a bit of development with Robb, Theon, and Bran, who is now outfitted with his special saddle that allows him to ride even without his legs. This leads to a pretty decent scene introducing Osha, although her hair and makeup looks more like Titiana in some production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is also yet another mysterious opportunity to show off Ros the hooker’s money (in the victorian sense).

The Dany, Tyrion and King’s Landing segments have roughly equal weight. Back in the capital, Robert has gone hunting (excuse for a little more fun between him and brother Renly) and Ned, reinstated as hand, is left to run the country. He starts by making another move against the Lannisters, opposing the actions of the mad giant the Mountain. For the novice viewer, this scene may seen a tad mysterious as well, as it serves to set up major actions and players in book 2 and 3. Arya continues some excellent work with Syrio. Then we have my least favorite scene in the episode, the only one I didn’t like, where Sansa is a bitch to her governess, and then that shit of a prince shows up to pretend to be nice to her. I’m not even sure this is in character after he’s been such a little prick to date.

The whole hour oozes tension and there are lots and lots of great moments. Four of the five story-lines are weaving here, and it feels fairly seamless except for one or two cuts.

Robert stands out as always, “killing things clears my head.” Tyrion and Bronn both, establishing this relationship that will continue for a while. Tyrion’s “confession” is a delight, particularly the part about the turtle stew! Dany with the heart is great, and the chanted Dothraki. I’ve always been a sucker for oracles, and “the stallion that mounts the world” and “a prince rides within me” bits gave me goosebumps. We do finally get a bit of sense of Dothraki culture her, just a bit. And the final scene with Viserys is touching and very well played.

The next episode, 7 is available a week early on hbogo! So my review here.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4, Episode 5 ]

And here for my review of Episode 7.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 5

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 5 – May 15, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Best episode yet for sure!


Episode 5,  “The Wolf and the Lion.” This is where four episodes of character development pay off. This week the writers deliberately narrow the focus of the story into the core conflict, like waters passing through a canyon, to build the pressure into a torrent.

Almost all of the story takes place in King’s Landing. With two brief scenes back in Winterfell and a number with Cat and Tyrion playing bass to the boiling over of the Stark vs. Lannister feud Ned plays on guitar. The Jon and Dany threads are given a breather (Dany will be back next episode big time). We also have an episode full of action, punctuated by a number of brilliant scenes not in the novels that develop the character relationships in a way needed by television as it lacks the interior monologue the novel’s multiple view points allow.

And there are some really kick ass scenes. Pretty much all of them.

We begin with the every amusing Mark Addy as King Robert where he taunts his squire and fails to even squeeze into his armor. He’s just so deliciously boorish. Then we role into the tournament and a face off between the Mountain and the Knight of (the) Flowers. As if a joust isn’t cool enough, the shows off the character of that lovely pair of brothers Clegane. Sandor is a big man, towering over ser Loras, but the Mountain is something else all together and his enormous broadsword just awesome. What he does with it too. Sad but good. But I loved most when he storms off through the crowd, a full two feet taller than most.

The Cat/Tryrion scenes on the road might have been a little better, although I did enjoying seeing Tyrion’s “low blow” style of fighting, and his one liners are great. But when they get to the Eerie it’s a pretty amazing, if slightly Middle Earthy place. The sky cells are cool, although not as cramped as I imagined. They also skipped the mule and basket ascent, which is a part of the books I enjoyed. But Lysa and her son are every bit as creepy/crazy as they should be. The eight year-old nursing is tres HBO, but it tells all in very short order.

We have a lot of Littlefinger and Varys intrigue in this episode, and I suspect new readers will have no clue about the motivations of either — which are still fairly opaque to me even having read the books twice! But their conversation together is pure delight. I am very much enjoying both actors and their casting couldn’t have been better. Arya is cute as always too in her little scenes, and we do get to see the dragon skulls (very briefly) that were foreshadowed in Episode 4.

The plot pivots on the council scene when Ned opposes the plan to murder Dany and breaks with Robert — and it’s fine — but it’s merely good lost among great scenes. However, it — along with Cat’s actions — forces things in the perilous direction where they need to go.

Another of the “new” scenes (not in the book) is one between Loras and Renly. The hinted homosexuality between the two in the books is raised (hehe) to highly explicit. Although the lip smacking sounds were too much even for me.  The scene is good character development too, setting Renly up for season 2, but it also has a subtle tension owing purely from the device of having Loras shave Renly (all over) during the entire conversation using a straight razor.

Then the show’s best scene to date, another new one, between Robert and Cersei. This is a fantastic stuff, making both characters more sympathetic, even though they’re brute and bitch alike. Their dysfunctional relationship has come so far that they are able to have this moment of truth like a calm before the storm.

Then, after being manipulated or stalled or helped by Littlefinger, Ned has his run in with Jaime. Leading to an awesome duel, some sad happenings, and the cliffhanger ending.

This is clearly the episode where the new viewers start to see to what drastic lengths George R. R. Martin is willing to go to make his characters miserable and his readers ecstatic. Next episode should double down — and as a special bonus next week as episode 6 airs, episode 7 is going to be available on simultaneously.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3, Episode 4 ]

And the following Episode 6.

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.