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 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8 ]
Or the next, Episode 10.
Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.