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

ANY CHARACTER HERE

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!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

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!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

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 hbogo.com 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.

Game of Thrones – Episode 3

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 3 – May 1, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Episode 3 is titled “Lord Snow,” in reference to Jon Snow‘s nickname at the wall. This episode continues, and I think essentially wraps up, the trio of scene setting episodes. This world is so complex, with so many characters, it needed a three hour pilot. Still, it’s a damn enjoyable setup.

We do find ourselves with a different feel than last week’s “The Kingsroad.” This episode is brighter and faster, better I think, but also lacks any real momentous events or a dramatic conclusion. Episode 2 started off slower, but ended with a bang. Episode 3 just fundamentally introduces the Wall and King’s Landing. But both are fun. Varys and Littlefinger are a delight. There are a lot of very strong scenes in here, mostly in the area of character development and exposition. The scene where Robert, Barristan, and Jaime discuss their first kills is terrific. Others will and have quote it, but I will again. “They don’t tell you that they all shit themselves. They never put that part in the ballads.” Just awesome.

Tyrion and Arya continue to rock, Jon is building momentum. There’s good work with Arya and her sister, even better work with her and her father, and the fan fave delicious introduction of her “dancing instructor,” Syrio. No one who’s read the books doesn’t love Syrio and the waterdance. You can see subtle little nods to the characters, like Arya listing off those she hates, as this will flare into the flame that keeps her warm in the dark cold nights.

There are also curious absences. What happened to Ghost?  (Jon Snow’s albino wolf)  And Commander Mormont’s raven?  And time pressure makes a few of the scenes feel very very fast indeed for those viewers who haven’t read the books (particularly the Dany scenes this time around). If any of readers are in this camp (not having read the books), please comment below and offer your opinions of the show, I’m really curious. I love it, but some of this is propped up by my encyclopedic knowledge of the characters and their relationships.

I do also have to say that I don’t love the weird mixed race look of the Dothraki. The Khal is fine, but I would have just cast the rest as Mongols and made them straight up raw and tough. The blood rider is so young he looks soft, and middle eastern to boot. Who’s with me in thinking that Endo from Lethal Weapon would have made the perfect blood rider? — 25 years ago.

King’s Landing (aka Malta) has a different sunnier feel than I imagined it in the books, but I kinda like it, down to the interesting little detail of the floors always being dirty. And in a number of scenes the CG view out the windows is gorgeous, high up on the towers with the whole city laid out beneath like in Napoli. I also liked Maester Aemon, but he needs those white “blind guy” eyes because that’s how I imagine him.

Exposition or no, I enjoyed every minute of this episode, and we’re poised for some serious stuff in the hours to come ahead. Next week, jousts and dwarves in a pickle.

My reviews of other episodes: [Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4].

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

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

Game of Thrones – Episode 2

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 2 – April 24, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

After watching Episode 1 three and a quarter times, I was eagerly awaiting the continuation. This week’s installment, entitled “The Kingsroad” didn’t disappoint, although this is an extremely transitional episode.

In “Winter is Coming” (Ep 1) we were introduced to the major players in what amounts to two major settings and story lines, one at Winterfell with the Starks, King, and Lannisters, and the other across the sea with Daenerys. About midway in this second episode the main Westeros storyline splinters into three: Ned and the girls, Jon & Tyrion heading to the wall, and Cat, Robb, and Bran back at Winterfell. This fragmentation will continue a bit in further episodes, but for now everyone is moving into place. I suspect in the long run this will be one of the “duller” episodes of the series. But all is relative, and it still contains a number of very powerful scenes.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion continues to delight with his ironic tongue and sharp delivery. The queen shows both her calculating side, and her cruelty. Joff is appropriately loathsome and Arya every bit as spunky as she should be. While new viewers might not be totally aware of it. This episode really starts to drive home the consistant notion in the books that all choices and actions have consequences, and that those are never what they might seem.

Jon chooses the wall, but even from the start, it isn’t the romantic knighthood he hopes. Tyrion chooses to side, even if by default, with his own, and that will play out with fiery results. Sansa choses to stay out of the fray, Arya to enter one, with drastic consequences. Dany chooses to try and make the best of her miserable situation. I do wonder a little how new viewers (those who have not read the books) will take all this, as even in this long (10 hour format) the incredible richness of the characters, their interactions, choices, and consequences.

For example, despite spending an entire hour on this transitional moment the writers still have to rush Dany’s realization that she can take control of her situation. Married off by her abusive (and more than slightly creepy) brother to a mongol-type warlord who takes her every night “Dothraki-style” (like a Stallion and a mare) she isn’t in the best place. Some reviewers have issue with this, but personally, as this has been the plight of millions (or billions) of women throughout time, nobel and pauper alike, I think it belongs here. Some wonder, why does she stay? Well, what is she supposed to do, married to a warlord, virtually alone in a camp he controls with 40,000 of his people in the middle of nowhere? She does the only strong thing possible, she starts to seize on some measure of control in her relationship. One must not interject the modern conception of mariage is mutable into it. For much of history a sort of grim fatalism pervaded most people’s being.

The final bit of the episode too, with the crucial play out of various childish personalities having dire consequences in both the youthful and adult worlds is very well handled. Joff’s cruelty and impotence, Arya’s headstrong nature, and Sansa’s passivity clash. Who suffers? A cute doggy and the peasant boy. But this will have long standing consequences for everyone involved, including the adults. We can see it in the seething looks exchanged between Ned Stark and the queen. The very end rises to a nice emotional tieback. Still, I would have enhanced the mystical a bit here (almost totally downplayed by the producers). Perhaps showing all five of the other wolves howling and/or linking with one of Bran’s dreams as in the books. I suspect that because of a fear of being labeled too fantasy the producers will continue to soften the fantastic elements, subtle as they are even in the original books.

Still. I can’t wait for Episode 3, which with the arrival at both Castle Black and King’s Landing should make for some good stuff. Littlefinger!

For my reviews of other episodes by number: [1, 2, 3, 4]

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

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

Game of Thrones – Episode 1

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 1 – March 31, 2011

Status: First Season coming to HBO April 17

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I had the privilege to get an advance screening three weeks before the premier of the first episode of the new HBO miniseries Game of Thrones. For those of you living in a hole, it’s based on the stunning (and huge) series of novels by George R. R. Martin called the Song of Ice and Fire. The TV series is named after the first volume, Game of Thrones, and the first season covers the first novel. Currently there are four books to the series, with a fifth due this July.

These are arguably my favorite fantasy books (read them all twice) and fantasy is my favorite genre. I’m not reviewing the books specifically here, but it is worth noting that they are stupendously good. Political, dark, complex, and full of very human characters. While this is fantasy, set in a sort of medieval-England-like kingdom, the fantasy is light. There are no armies of trolls and orcs. Just good old fashioned human sex and violence and a touch of the magical.

Which makes it perfect for HBO, and if the first episode is any indication they have done a stupendous job of adaption. I was blown away. I wanted to like it. I love HBO dramas so I hoped I would. But I’m critical by nature, so I was thrilled to find it exceed my expectations on all accounts.

This is a very faithful adaption of fantastic source material, but the series also plays to television’s strengths. The production is lavish, landscapes, sets, costumes, food, everything looked tremendous. And sounded tremendous. I saw a 35 mm print on the big screen with a serious sound system. After the titles alone (gorgeous) and the pitch perfect music I had goosebumps.

The casting/acting is also fantastic, and combined with the great writing is going to make this ambitious show work. These books have a lot of characters, and very well written ones. There is no big Sauron-type villan, there are only conflicted people. The Lannister brothers are awesome. My favorite character is Tyrion, the  Imp, brilliant, sharp-tongued youngest son of the land’s richest (and meanest) Lord. This is a tough role, and made even more difficult by the inherently limited roster of actors short enough to play it. Peter Dinklage is off to a tremendous start, stealing every scene he’s in. Awesome, and cudos Peter! Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is also superb as his taller and prettier older brother Jaime. Both are complex characters, and it’s good to see them nailed out of the gate. The Stark daughters and Jon Snow were also great, plus Sean Bean dominates with all the powerful gravitas that Ned Stark deserves. Emilia Clarke is gorgeous and appropriately vulnerable as Daenerys Stormborn — I’ll be interested to see if she can handle the character changes in store for her. Some seriously good casting across the board.

The writing is also great. This episode pounds through a LOT of material. A lot of introductions, and a good amount of setup and action, and it does it without feeling rushed. I’ll be curious to see how viewers who have not read the books cope with the staggering array of characters. It seemed to me that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (they had the writing credits) did an incredible job unfolding the parallel threads of the book’s many viewpoints into one seamless narrative. They’ve linearized the story a bit, which actually makes it clearer. I hope that newbies give these characters a chance to unfold because as startling and brilliant as the first novel/season is, it’s really with books two and three that things really get crazy.

The atmosphere was perfect too. Detailed and moody. Filmed mostly in Ireland and Malta (across the narrow sea) it feels authentically “celtic.” And there is the now HBO standard hefty dose of nudity. We’ll also see what the producers make of some of the books’ more sordid moments — which are one of the things that make them such a dark pleasure to read. Now the only problem is that I have to wait a couple weeks for the second episode!

Congrats HBO and George R. on such an awesome job. Now just make sure to green-light the next 6 or so seasons!

For my reviews of other episodes by number: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

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