Game of Thrones – Episode 10

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 10 – July 1, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Wrap up with a twist

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Episode 10,  “Fire and Blood” serves primarily as a transitional episode, moving the characters from our headless climax into position for season two. Still, it’s a great episode, doing a good job of managing our many story threads without seeming too rushed.

Arya is pulled out of her fathers execution and set on the way north with Yoren with a bunch of scumbags, Gendry, and some annoying boys. We could have gotten a better look at the men in the cage, but I guess we have episode 1 of season 2 for that.

In Winterfell, Bran has a good scene with Osha and Rickon in which the prophetic (or at least psychic) power of his dreams is hinted at nicely. We actually see Shaggydog too. I’m continuing to come around to Osha, but not sure about Rickon — not that he matters too much.

In King’s Landing we get two scenes showing the odious Joffrey at work. He’s amusing as always, but when he drags Sansa out to the battlements to see her father’s head we do get to see something impressive. Despite her being an annoying snit during most of the season, we can really feel for her predicament here, and the little seed of Stark strength that the situation is nurturing. A moment with the Hound hopefully foreshadows their peculiar relationship too.

Robb makes the transition from warleader to King, and they’ve done a pretty nice job with this. The moment of his proclamation was always one of my favorites, echoing the traditional elevation of sovereigns by the troops (Imperator Imperator!). It feels a tiny bit small, but good nonetheless. They should have picked him up on their shoulders or shields!

Catelyn has one final conversation with captive Jaime, which is as much to establish where we are leaving him at season’s end as anything. Still, this is a very nice scene, and Coster-Walkda continues to nail the character. His continued arrogance is pretty delectable, particularly “I’d hoped the fall might kill him” and the pause when she asks him WHY he pushed Bran out the window.

I suspect the Cersei sleeping with Lancel scene back in King’s Landing will come off as odd to new viewers (although it does satisfy the show’s never ending appetite for boy butt). But Tywin’s handing off of the job of Hand of the King to Tyrion is very well done. In the show it comes off more generous than in the book, less barbed. Sure it’s a reaction to Jaime’s capture, but it makes us think the bad man might actually care — just a little. Then we get just a touch more Shae.

At the wall, Jon is finally determined to run away and help his brother, but his new (black) brothers race after him and bind him metaphorically with a reiteration of their oath. This is surprisingly effective. Partly because of the strength of Sam’s performance, and partly because the oath itself almost brought a tear to my eye. He is then later pleasantly surprised when Morment knows, isn’t too pissed, and he learns they are about to march off north of the wall. And so we have him maneuvered into place with the northern offensive set to launch.

Then before we get to the real wrap up, we have a have a bizarre little bit with Maester Pycelle and Ros, the busiest whore in Westeros. In this we see the relativity of viewpoint as well as more of naked Ros. But what is most disturbing, and most amusing, is the moment at the end when a transparent top (only) wearing Pycelle does a little post sex octogenarian jig.

Now as to Dany, her final pivot of the season, and the culmination of her transformation from meek princess into Mother of Dragons. This is the seminal moment of the first season, the return of magic in Westeros. She smothers the lifeless Drogo, builds his funeral pyre, then loads the annoying Mirri Maz Duur on to burn (good riddance). Finally, walking in herself. But “no true dragon can be hurt by fire.” The acting was uniformly good — except for Duur — through both this scene and her morning awakening with the dragons, but I thought the pyre scene itself needed some more magical effect punch just like the tent scene did last episode. It seems weird and anti-climatic that Jorah and crew don’t notice anything weird and magical at the time, but come check the ashes out in the morning, only to find the hot, dirty, naked, bedraggoned Dany alive and well. This final scene, was however, very effective, despite the gratuitous use of a green dragon as a fig leaf! We just needed some more magic, and the time gap between the two actions possibly reduced. The dragons themselves looked good, although perhaps the camerawork could have been a little more dramatic.

Still it was a great end, and I weep with regard to waiting ten months for more.

As to my concluding thoughts on this very strong television adaption of a great book: Bang up job. I have only three real complaints — fairly mild considering — and all involve punching things up a little bit.  1) The score didn’t feel scored enough. A slightly more dramatic musical underscoring of events would have helped with the scale. 2) The supernatural needed better treatment. Not cheesy, but Lord of the Rings serves as an excellent model. 3) The large scale action and people scenes needed a bigger feeling of scope and more cinematic dynamism. The wide locations shots were great, but they needed this equivalent for crowds, and perhaps some more hectic and creative cutting  (in occasional scenes) to imply larger action.

But they got so many things right. The writing, casting, and acting first and foremost. 90% of the roles were cast and performed to relative TV perfection. And given the time constraints of 10 episodes, they more or less wrote the heck out of it.

Bravo!

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9 ] or a cool video about the CGI.

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

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

The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: High Fantasy

Length: 255,000 words, 720 pages

Read: May 2008 & Feb 28-Mar 2, 2011

Summary: Best new fantasy of recent years.

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In 2008, I read this 722 page novel in Xian China during a single sleepless night, and I reread it just now for the second time in preparation for the sequel (released this week): The Wise Man’s Fear. NOTW is a beautiful book. Of all the Fantasy I’ve read in the last 15 or so years, this is perhaps second best after The Song of Ice and Fire. But that’s not to say that they have much in common, other than both being good Fantasy. George R. Martin‘s books are full of characters, POVs, violence, politics, and a darkly realistic sensibility. NOTW is much more focused and relies on more traditional Fantasy tropes. How focused can a 700 page novel be? Not very, but it is good, and it concentrates on a small number of characters and a single (albiet meandering) storyline.

Kvothe is the protagonist. He’s a young man of many many talents, of no means whatsoever, who winds his way from the actor’s troupe to the mean streets to the magical University and to (implied) great and terrible things.

If I have any beef with the book, it’s that the meta premise of the tired hero telling his story is too drawn out. This volume opens in the “present day,” where very little happens except to set us up for the life story of the hero, which is brilliant. Much like Lord of the Rings or Hyperion, the reader must slog for a bit to get to the gold. In this case about 50 pages in. But the slogging isn’t exactly painful because Rothfuss’s prose is lyrical and masterful. Seriously, it’s a wonder given the tangents, bloated conversations (the dialog is great but not efficient), and the like that this book is so easy to read — but it is. Damn easy, even the second time.

The world and the hero juggle uniqueness and heavy — but delicious — borrowing from classic Fantasy of the best sort. I sniffed out a bit of Ursula K. Le Guin (think Wizard of Earthsea), Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time), and who knows how many others. The world is extremely well developed, and feels big, but it doesn’t doesn’t have the camp and cheese of Wheel of Time (although it does pay homage). I love origin stories and I very much enjoyed Kvothe’s journey. He’s a great character: humble, proud, skilled, lucky, unlucky all at once, but in a fairly believable way. Perhaps the most important relationship in the book (and there are actually relatively few) is the romance, and it has a tragic quality that feels very refreshing, and slightly reminiscent of the best of Orson Scott Card (think his old stuff like Song Master) or Dan Simmons.

The magic is very unique and interesting, and we focus on it quite a bit, as this is a story that spends a lot of time in the Arcane Academy. This ain’t no Hogwarts either, it feels altogether more mysterious and dangerous. There are several different magic systems interwoven in what is a world overall fairly light on magic. But this is also a world that feels a bit more technological than most Fantasy, with larger cities, a little more like antiquity than the Middle Ages. The “magical bad guys” have a nice character and bit of mystery to them. I don’t like all my mystery explained. There is a lot of music and theatre in here too, and that just helps heighten the lyricism.

But what exactly makes this book so good?

Proving my geek-cred, swapping some Crash Bandicoots for signatures with Patrick Rothfuss

Fundamentally I think Rothfus is just a great writer, and a very good world builder. I don’t think he’s a great plotter. The story drifts along, relies a bit on coincidence and circumstance, and the end fizzles then pops back out of the interior story and waits for the sequel. But that doesn’t really matter, because the prose, world, and characters keep you enjoying every page.

CLICK HERE for my review of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear.