Monday, May 5, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: First of His Name

One of the increasingly interesting and baffling things about both this series and to a lesser extent the books upon which it is based is how great shocking moments can come in both very big obvious build ups and in little asides which the casual reader or viewer may not even notice unless they go back and re-watch, re-read or think about it for a second. This episode was one such event. It tied up what was a completely different storyline from the book and had other things happen in different ways. The creators have obviously found their sea legs so to speak. Sometimes this is good and sometimes this isn't. More on that quiet shocking moment in a second.
In King's Landing Tommen is coronated. We also see a more pensive and calculating Cersei. It could all be an act but it seems that she's made a certain peace with Joffrey being gone, even as she says a mother always has a special spot for her firstborn. She admits that Joffrey shocked her. Cersei seems to reach an understanding with Margaery, claiming that Tommen will need a good wife to advise him. Margaery, as is the Tyrell way, claims not to even have given thought to marrying Tommen. Cersei sees through that, obviously, but is not interested in having a fight with Margaery at that point in time, even smiling as Margaery calls her sister. If you remember Cersei had previously threatened to have Margaery killed if she presumed such familiarity again.

Margaery will have to talk to Mace Tyrell to get permission to marry Tommen. 
Cersei is also mellow when she talks to Oberyn, asking after her daughter Myrcella. She bemoans the inability of the powerful to protect all they love but agrees that they can take revenge. And Cersei is even polite to an atypically worried Tywin, who admits to his daughter that the famed Lannister bank accounts have just about run dry. The crown owes a lot of money to the Iron Bank, who is infamous for not taking no for an answer and getting their money back no matter what. Tywin also sympathizes with his daughter about her upcoming marriage to Loras Tyrell and confides in her that he never liked Robert. Of course, worried or not Tywin still is a shrewd man and refuses to discuss Tyrion with Cersei. Cersei asks her father that what good are the sacrifices they've all made for the Lannister future if Tyrion killed it.
Littlefinger has escorted Sansa to the Eyrie where she is to pretend to be Alayne Stone, an illegitimate relative. This pretense need not be carried out in front of Lysa Arryn or her son Robin. Lysa appears to be happy to see her niece and despite youthful insensitivity to death, so is Robin. Of course Lysa is much more happy to see Littlefinger, whom she intends to marry. They've been doing the do for quite some time. When Littlefinger talks of having a marriage later Lysa one ups him by producing the septon and witnesses and getting married immediately. The wedding consummation keeps everyone up at night just as Lysa bragged it would. O-kay. I could sort of feel for Sansa. I mean who wants to listen to their aunt run through her heptatonic orgasm scale?
And now about those quiet shocks. You may remember in Season One, when the Starks were united, safe, happy and blissfully ignorant of and far from King's Landing, that Catelyn Stark received a coded letter from her sister Lysa. This letter informed Catelyn and Ned that the King's Hand Jon Arryn, Lysa's husband and Ned's godfather, had been murdered by the LannistersThis set off a chain of events that brought Ned and his daughters to King's Landing, put the Starks and Lannisters at each other's throats and culminated in war and the seeming destruction of House Stark. Well, as Lysa reminded Littlefinger in this episode, it was at his insistence that she put those drops in her husband's wine and wrote the letter to Catelyn blaming the Lannisters. Did you get that? Because there will be a test later. As Vito Corleone might have said, Joffrey was a punk. He never could have outfought Ned. But what we never knew until this day was that it was Littlefinger all along! Lysa did what Littlefinger told her to do. She murdered her husband and set up her sister's family. Now she wants the payoff. Well what might make a woman behave that way? 
Jealousy. Sibling rivalry. Lust.
In a great scene Lysa is sharing family stories and lemoncakes with Sansa but we soon learn that the intense look in Lysa's eyes towards Sansa is not relief at seeing what she thinks is her only remaining niece but suspicion that Sansa is out to steal Littlefinger. Lysa also has IMMENSE resentment towards Catelyn for being older and prettier. She even claims that Catelyn was fat.  Have you ever been backed into a corner by a large dangerous dog snarling at you? Because that's what Lysa does here. It's only when a frightened Sansa says she's a stupid virgin that Lysa relents. The crazy in her eyes subsides a bit. Well only a little bit. If I were Sansa I would not want to be around Lysa if there is anything sharp in the near vicinity.
Brienne and Pod and The Hound and Arya are still on their respective road trips. Brienne intends to go to the Wall to find Sansa. These scenes bookend each other as the older member of each group is skeptical (Brienne) or contemptuous (The Hound) of the younger member's martial skills. Ironically Brienne is impressed that Podrick killed Ser Meryn (a Kingsguard) while The Hound is scornful of the fact that Arya's sword instructor Syrio Forel was apparently killed by Ser Meryn, whom The Hound held in quite low regard. The Hound is still on Arya's list. In Meereen Daenerys has heard of Joffrey's murder. Daario has commandeered some ships. Her advisers think it's time to invade although they lack numerical superiority. Upon hearing that the previous cities she liberated have been re-enslaved or fallen into chaos Daenerys decides that she must fix those problems first. Jorah gets some alone time with Daenerys but STILL doesn't make a move. Jorah, does seize the moment mean anything to you? Jorah obviously needs to learn some Game. Send me 19 gold crowns Jorah and I will teach you the three things you never tell a queen, how to deal with pretty boy rivals and the tricks a knight needs to avoid falling into the friend zone.
The episode's balance was taken up by the Night's Watch's attack on its renegade members at Craster's keep. The "good guys" win after a few hairy moments. Bran wargs into Hodor to kill Locke. A freed Ghost kills Rast. Jon Snow kills Karl with an assist from one of Craster's wives/daughters. Under advice from Jojen, Bran decides not to reveal to his brother that he was there. He continues heading North. This storyline was created for the show. As long as they're changing stuff like that it might have been MORE interesting had Bran returned with Jon to the Wall. Public knowledge of Bran's survival makes Roose Bolton's Wardenship of the North very iffy. Of course the Night's Watch is supposed to be neutral. If Bolton, with the authority of the Iron Throne, had sent a force to the Night's Watch to demand Bran Stark, legally speaking the Night's Watch would have had to give him up. But I doubt Jon Snow would have tolerated that. Anyway they didn't go that route.

What I liked
  • The quiet reveal of Littlefinger's and Lysa's responsibility for starting the conflict. It was done a little differently in text but works ok here.
  • The fact that Arya tries to kill The Hound, just as she said she would. It doesn't work but girl's got heart.
  • The ferocity of Lysa's lust for Littlefinger and disdain for Catelyn. The actress really brought this out. The scene with Sansa and the lemoncakes was something else. The large eyes helped quite a bit.
  • The fact that Jon Snow used Commander Mormont's family sword to kill Karl felt very fitting.
What I didn't like
  • The attack on Craster's Keep just felt cliched. The bad guy is more skilled at street fighting than the good guy. Jon is just about to be killed when Karl is stabbed from behind. How many times have we seen something like that in movies?
  • There has been some controversy about the use of rape as a dramatic device. Although this episode was directed by a woman (Michelle MacLaren) I still thought the threatened and attempted rape of Meera Reed was cheesy. Bran, Hodor and the Reeds getting captured in the first place wasn't believable as the Reeds, particularly Meera, are supposed to be almost unparalleled in woodcraft. It's unlikely that renegade Night's Watch members would have been able to sneak up on them.
  • Locke's death before Jon Snow could learn his true purpose there.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea..
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