Sunday, August 25, 2013

GoT Review: 1x10

Season 1, Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”

I: Let’s start with the most exciting development: DRAGONS! At first, I was ready to write off the fiery lil’ babies as a tired fantasy trope: introduce plot-advancing salvation out of nowhere and chalk it up to “magic.” (Why, hello there, sword of Gryffindor!) Upon more reflection, it’s pretty clear the series was building up to this moment. For one thing, Dany’s dead son was described as scaly and winged. There have been frequent references to the “last dragon,” and Daenerys has been experimenting with her eggs and fire for awhile (at least in the book). I thought she was being metaphorical when she said “Fire cannot kill a dragon” after Superblonde’s crowning. As the AV Club pointed out, this statement has turned out to be pretty literal. I’ll be excited to see how Daenerys’s more merciful side meshes with her ambition. If you try to take over a kingdom, destruction and physical/sexual violence are pretty much inevitable.

Dragon battles are an awesomely terrifying possibility, but King Joffrey has much more than that to worry about. There’s also the threat of the two Baratheon brothers and “the king in the north.” Michelle Fairley did a great job portraying Catelyn’s internal conflict between her maternal concern for Robb and her desire for vengeance. It looks like we’ve been set up for a good war next season, and that’s not even considering the threats north of the wall. I’m hoping Arya makes it up there to be reunited with Jon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them is killed off. One of the best things about this show is that no one is truly safe, which makes it suspenseful from week to week.

Finally, a quibble: What was the point of the scene with the old advisor and the prostitute?! It didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know (the advisors are good at protecting their own interests, GoT likes naked girls, etc., etc.) I would have loved to see more of Jon’s moral dilemmas, or Daenerys’s reaction to her personal reenactment of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The first book was full of great material, and there’s no reason to skimp on storylines if it can be avoided. Still, this was a pretty great season of TV, and I’m sure most of it was just set-up for even more exciting things to come.

D: Excuse me, sexual violence is NOT inevitable! Daenerys saw to that herself- although, as the witch pointed out, she didn’t exactly “save” the women in time. This was such a heartbreaking episode, with really powerful performances from all the affected actors/characters. I don’t know what moved me most: Sansa’s visibly wrecked face (Joffrey: “You look nice today”), Catelyn’s emotionless walk through the camp, Robb’s hysterical tree thrashing, or Daenerys’s quiet realization that she’s lost everything almost overnight. But hey, now she gets to be the girl on fire! The girl with the dragon t...trio! And she’ll have to learn how to train her dragon(s)! Okay, I’m done now.

As I predicted earlier, Sansa and Robb are going through quite a journey. I think we’ll enjoy getting to know the new, smarter Sansa. I mean, her retort about Joffrey’s head on a pike was pretty amazing, even if she got slapped for it. (It would've been too easy if she could've just pushed him to his death, huh?) Likewise, when Greatjon started advocating for self-governance, Robb looked pretty shocked and overwhelmed, like he wasn’t sure what he’d just gotten himself into: “Uh… did I just become a king?” On the other hand, things aren’t going so smoothly for the Lannisters for once. Yeah, Starks! During the brief exchange between father and son, Tyrion looked so pleasantly surprised that Tywin acknowledged his intelligence and called him his “son.”  He’s always so glib and cynical but it's evident he just wants his old man’s approval.

Next season, I’m most looking forward to: Orphan ‘Arry (Little Orphan Annie + Harry Potter); more ridiculously intricate braided hairstyles; dragon fun; and more of Cersei and Jaime. We don’t know much about “The Kingslayer” but he seems like an interesting dude. By not admitting why he pushed Bran out of the tower, he shows that he knows his incestuous relationship with his sister is wrong, in contrast with Cersei who so proudly confessed their love to Ned. Clearly, he’s more grounded than her, but who is he, really? Least excited: all the prostitute "plotlines" and the wights, wildings, White Walkers, and everything at the Wall that takes us away from the war. Even Sam’s Neville Longbottom-like antics (“You can’t go out! I’ll- I’ll fight you!”) can’t save this gloomy storyline.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

GoT Review: 1x09

Season 1, Episode 09: “Baelor"

I: Thanks to the internet, I knew that Ned would die at the end of this episode. I still spent the last five minutes screaming and cursing out Sansa, Joffrey, and pretty much everyone else involved in this horrible event. The TV show has been very loyal to the books so far, but it was still a very gutsy move to kill the show’s ostensible protagonist. This episode settled something I’ve been wondering about for a while: Is Joffrey completely under his mother’s thumb? The answer is a worrisome “no.” I’d thought of Cersei as the show’s puppet-master villain, but I’ll definitely be watching out for Joffrey, too. Hopefully Ned didn’t die entirely in vain. His admittance may grant Arya and Sansa kinder treatment at the Lannisters’ hands. As Maester Aemon put it, “Love is the death of duty.”

Last episode, I questioned Robb’s decision to let the spy go. Luckily, it seems to have paid off for the Starks. I was genuinely shocked when Robb showed up with Jaime as his prisoner. Robb is forced to make an ethical decision as well: Should he sacrifice himself to prevent more of his soldiers dying? He decides to keep Jaime as his prisoner. I think this is the right choice. I highly doubt the Lannisters would be kind to the Winterfell army even if Jaime killed Robb. Besides, Robb also has to worry about his and Arya’s betrothals to the Freys. (Fun fact: The guy who plays Walder Frey was Filch in Harry Potter!) I’m beginning to understand why infidelity is so rampant in Westeros: Everyone’s married off to people they have no interest in. Although both Robb and Arya are pawns, it’s still a pretty sexist system. He at least gets to make a decision about his betrothal, while Arya has no input into her fate. Also, no one would judge Robb for picking up a mistress or two, but Arya would immediately be ostracized if she committed adultery.

Finally, this episode introduced my new favorite game: Make drunken acquaintances admit depressing secrets!
“It’s fun. Look at the fun we’re having.”
I’m going to start saying this every time I get bored at a party.

D: Bye bye, Ned. I figured it'd happen sooner or later but it was still terrible and heartbreaking to watch, especially through the eyes of his daughters. The dichotomy between Sansa and Arya was striking, with the elegantly groomed Sansa standing by the queen and a grimy, hungry Arya hiding among the rabble, but at the end of the scene, both of course showed the same reaction to their father’s decapitation. Where will they go from here? Arya has no money, no food, no guardian, and no shelter, yet in her exposure she is safer than Sansa, who remains under the watchful eye of Cersei and Joffrey. Now that King Robert and Ned are both dead and Robb and Catelyn have committed treason, Joffrey has no reason to keep Sansa as a fiancĂ©e. There’s certainly no affection on his part. I honestly don’t think he's capable of loving anything or anyone, not even his fawning mother. And I agree with you, Irene: I don’t think Cersei has a complete hold over him. Five bucks says Joffrey yells something along the lines of “I’M the king; don’t tell me what to do!” at his mother in the next episode.

Switching gears: the plotline with Khal Drogo’s festering wound definitely came out of nowhere. Last episode, he shrugged his injury off (“Meh, papercut”) and now he’s suddenly on his deathbed! With Westeros at war, it would’ve been a perfect time for Dany, Drogo, and the Dothraki- The Triple D’s: that could be the name of their alt rock garage band- to swoop in, but it looks like that won’t be happening. Didn’t Arya overhear Varys and that bearded Illyrio guy talk in the Red Keep about how they wanted a civil war for that very reason? Hmm. So is Varys a Targaryen ally? That could explain why he told Ned he serves “the realm” in the last episode, if he thinks the Targaryens are the true Protectors of the Realm. Gah!! This show is so mysterious and confusing- I want answers!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

GoT Review: 1x08

Season 1, Episode 08: “The Pointy End”
I: Doris, I definitely agree with your assessment of the Dothraki, and this episode only supports your arguments. Dany’s been assimilating pretty well, but this week she takes on the role of the “bewildered other” and takes a pretty awesome feminist stance on behalf of the women. I’m well aware that the Dothraki’s rape-and-pillage routine was common play in the Middle Ages, but it could be better developed. The only Dothraki character of note is Khal Drogo, who continues his whole “shout impressively and rip out tongues” routine this week. I just started reading the first book, where each chapter is narrated by a different character. I’ll be interested to see if Drogo gets a chapter, but I’m not holding my breath.

After a long absence, Robb and the youngest Starks popped up again this week. Seeing Robb and his mother reunite made me realize how much Tully there is in him. Both are fiercely loyal to their families and make rash decisions to avenge any hurts to their kin. Catelyn’s support of Rob’s battle made me realize what a bad idea this is. Robb also has a lot of his father in him, as he tries to live up to his code of honor. Letting the spy go may have been the right thing to do, but it’s as politically foolish as most of Ned’s decisions. I’m still mulling over what Varys said to Ned: “It was your mercy that killed the king.” I have no idea if Varys can be trusted (what else is new?) but there is some truth to these words. Ned is too good of a man to save anyone in King’s Landing, especially himself.
In other Stark news, Sansa is showing a surprising amount of family loyalty, and Arya has completed her first kill. The episode doesn’t return to her after she runs off, so I’m hoping that she’s okay. Maybe she’ll make it across the sea and team up with Dany so they can have their own show together. It can air after my imaginary Mad Men spinoff, The Joan and Peggy Show. 

D: There’s something about Westeros that makes kids grow up very, very quickly- well, everyone other than that creepy Robin kid who’s still suckling. At least Joffrey gets to be king; the Stark children are scattered across the country without their parents, and each one appears to be in his or her own sticky situation. Leaving out Jon and the Inferi wights for now: Robb is about to lead his bannermen into war, Sansa is being held captive by the ruling Lannisters, Arya is on the run, and who the heck is even taking care of Bran and Rickon?? That naked guy? [Quick tangent: contemplating the Stark family tree is making me think twice about Jon’s origins. Irene and I have both talked at length about how irritating good and noble Ned is- would a man so morally upright really cheat on his wife, even in the midst of war? Seems questionable.]

As much as I love Arya, I think it will be most interesting to see how the oldest son and daughter of the family develop in these troubled times. With Ned locked away, Robb is the “man of the house,” in terms of the physical home, the symbolic family unit, and the larger ancestral clan. Meanwhile, with Catelyn pretty much ineffectual for whatever reason, Sansa carries the burden of protecting the family. (And yes, that does create an interesting dichotomy of house vs. family along gendered lines, which I will have to explore another time.) Neither one is a character whom we’ve seen much of yet, but in light of Ned’s precarious state, they- and Robb especially- will have to step up and become the leaders they’ve been raised to be. This is not just true for the characters, but the actors as well. Just as Robb is disparaged as being too “green” to lead his troops, Richard Madden may have a hard time filling Sean Bean’s metaphorically huge leading-man shoes when Ned inevitably dies.
Father & son: a shared affinity for facial hair, furs, and foolishness
Yes, he’s got the scruff (which, fun fact, recent scientific research suggests is most attractive, to which we all say a resounding "duh"), but will he have the same screen presence that the great Boromir commands? Will we still sympathize with the Starks, even when the Lannisters seem more compelling? We’ll have to wait and see!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

GoT Review: 1x07

Season 1, Episode 07: “You Win or You Die”

I: Well, there’s an accurate title. The Lannisters have just won a throne, and everyone else is dead or in very severe danger. We bid farewell to the king this week, who died as drunkenly he lived. As Ned put it, “No man could have protected him from himself.” For a man on the brink of death, Baratheon seemed more relieved than sad. Maybe he didn’t understand how fragmented the kingdom is, which would explain why he voluntarily puts Ned in such a perilous position. There’s also the factor that makes Ned different from everyone else: he’s the only person who prioritizes the kingdom’s well-being over gaining power. Unfortunately, things aren’t going well for Ned. Littlefinger is still hung up on his youthful love of Catelyn and betrays Ned in an action that is simultaneously shocking and completely predictable. I was hoping Littlefinger would be more of a Severus Snape type, but honor is in short supply in Westeros.

As if the Lannister-Stark conflict wasn’t enough, we’ve got the Dothraki planning to cross the sea and wage war. Daenerys is clearly figuring out how to manipulate the smitten Khal Drogo. It’s amazing to think how far she’s come since they were first married. I’m wondering if everything’s okay with her pregnancy since she hasn’t started showing yet. It’s hard to tell how fast time is passing on this show, but she must be four or five months along. After all, it has to take a while to set up a wine-based assassination attempt from a faraway land. Now-king Joffrey seems to have a lot of bloodlust, so it’s safe to say that the threats on Daenerys’s life won’t stop soon.

In other exciting news: We finally meet the Lannister patriarch! That opening scene with him and Jaime was pretty intense, so now we have a better sense of why the Lannister kids are so power-hungry. Also, major props to whoever did the sets and sound for the deer-butchering. Yes, the show has great performances and writing, but I think a lot of its greatness can be attributed to the detailed, “realistic” sets and costumes that bring this show to a different world.

D: Stupid, stubborn, honorable Ned. He couldn’t have just taken Littlefinger or Renly up on their offers, could he? No, he’s got to go “do the right thing” and support a king that nobody wants. Ned’s nobility is his best characteristic but also his fatal flaw: he’s so hellbent on playing the “game of thrones” by the rules that he hasn’t realized that no one else is playing fair. As Littlefinger points out in that absurdly excessive “I’ll Make a Prostitute Out of You” scene, you can’t beat those in power through honorable means. Ned’s in big trouble, but at least we’ll get to see more of Lena Headey, who is somehow able to portray the indomitable Cersei as the tiniest bit sympathizable. Kudos.

Although I do find the Dothraki scenes engaging, I have to say that Dothraki-land is kind of... well, ridiculous. I always get a Xena: Warrior Princess vibe from the sets and costumes, and the people themselves are more caricatures than characters. And let’s face it: Khal Drogo wears more eyeliner than Jack Sparrow. 
Guyliner: who wore it best?
My impression is that the Dothraki are modeled after the nomadic Mongol tribes of Central Asia (skilled warriors who lived in their saddles and followed their ruler, the khan- sound familiar?), but the show depicts them as little more than savage beasts. Through the eyes of the “normal”/white Targaryen siblings, we initially saw the Dothraki as “barbarians,” what with their violent sexual practices, scantily clad bodies, and grisly, gladiator-like duels.. Some episodes later, the Dothraki are slightly more humanized, but we still know little about specific individuals other than their general ferocity and loyalty to their khal and khaleesi. Even in this episode, Drogo’s reaction to the attempt on Dany’s life was no more nuanced than an impassioned stomp around the room while vowing revenge on the Seven Kingdoms, to the shrieks of a blindly adoring crowd. I seriously thought he was going to start beating his chest with his fists and howl “George of the Jungle”-style. Maybe I’m overanalyzing everything but this portrayal does seem limited and even a little problematic to me.