Game of Thrones – 11

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“The North Remembers”

In a way, it’s too bad I’ve read the five extant novels in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series in the last nine months, because it’s impossible for me to view the TV series in the same light as I did when I watched the first season with unvarnished perspective.  And truly, HBO’s series is a remarkable piece of television in its own right, just as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a remarkable achievement.  But that didn’t stop me from missing Tom Bombadil and it doesn’t stop me from noticing the little things here – like how all the Stark children are too old, and how the loving details of a character introduction are skipped.  These are mostly necessary changes, no doubt, but they still cut.

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There’s also the matter of the wait, which is likely to be a long one – Martin seems to take about six years between the publication of the books, and the fifth (of a planned seven) was just released in 2011.  Of course that wait is even worse with the TV series, which figured to catch up to the books somewhere around the release of the sixth novel.  So it is what it is, and my approach is going to be to blog the TV series as a distinct entity, and to avoid offering any spoilers as to future events.  I would ask that any comments please be written with the same courtesy, for the benefit of the majority of the TV viewers who haven’t read the novels.

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The second season then, picks up more or less where the first left off.  They didn’t change the theme music, thank goodness – I love it and it suits the material perfectly – and we still have plenty of nudity, depravity, intrigue and shocking violence.  Missing this season, of course, is the comforting presence of Sean Bean as Ned Stark, who lost his head late in the first.  Ned’s death – which provided a hell of a shock to those not expecting it (I didn’t know it was coming, but sensed it might be) – significantly changes the experience of Game of Thrones.  He was the moral anchor of the story, an easy man to root for in a cast of dubious characters, and the closest thing the show had to a main character.  With a huge cast spread across the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, Game of Thrones can often feel like many small stories rather than one large one, and often seeming only tangentially connected.  This is unavoidable given the format, but it can make watching the series challenging – even the most prominent characters are absent for most of the episode in any given week.  And with Ned gone, there’s no obvious center of this story – although my vote goes to Tyrion, who presents a viewpoint that’s wider than anyone else in the cast at this point of the story.

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Novel readers will certainly note the arrival on the scene of several major characters.  On the island fortress of Dragonstone we have Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), eldest surviving brother and in Ned’s view, rightful heir to the throne of Westeros.  There, the Seven Gods are being burned by the woman in red, the Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten) as a symbol of Stannis’ conversion to belief in the Lord of Light.  This horrifies Stannis’ old Maester Cressen (Oliver Ford Davies) and displeases Stannis’ Hand, Ser Davos Seaforth (Liam Cunningham).  Cressen tries to poison the Lady, drinking the poison himself first to deceive her, but while he dies, Melisandre mysteriously appears unaffected.

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Stannis isn’t the only King, of course – Westeros is crawling with them.  Youngest Baratheon brother Renly claims the throne too, and the loyalty of many of Robert’s bannermen and an army of a hundred thousand.  Robb Stark has declared himself King of the North, and dispatches Queen Cersei’s cousin with terms he knows the bastard King, Joffrey, will never accept.  In the Red Wastes of the far East, Danerys and her hatchling dragons slog through the trackless desert with the remains of her Khalasar, and she dreams of the throne she believes is rightfully hers as the last of the Targeryen family.  At Winterfell, kind, wounded Bran is left to do his best as Lord (and dream strange wolf dreams), with the armies of the North called to Robb’s service far away.  North of the Wall the scraggly Black Watch treks further into Wilding territory searching for missing Benjen Stark and intelligence as to the plans of the mysterious Wilding King, Mance Rayder.  And Arya has escaped from King’s Landing disguised as the boy, Arry, in a convoy of conscripts headed for the Wall.  All all occurs under the watchful gaze of a comet, its tail burning red across the sky…

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It’s a lot to keep track of, this story – and really, I’ve only scratched the surface of what happened in the episode, which only scratches the surface of what was happening at this stage of the novels.  I have many friends who are serious fantasy fans who dislike Song of Ice and Fire, because they see it as all politics and sex and gore, and not much fantasy.  This is the challenge HBO has taken on, because this is not only a huge tale but a somewhat inaccessible one too.  There aren’t a lot of warm and cuddly characters here, though there are an abundance of loathsome ones.  I’ve always viewed the series as an example of what would happen if otherwise fairly normal modern people were yanked out of our world and placed in this medieval, magical setting – and they bring with them the same sort of pettiness and incompetence that’s rife in the corridors of power in the real world.  It’s the antithesis of most epic fantasy, which is about exceptional people fighting exceptional evil.  I can see where not everyone – fantasy fan or not – might find that appealing.  For me, it’s rather fascinating and I can’t take my eyes off it.

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If there’s an anchor in this story for me, it’s Tyrion – currently ensconced in the role of Hand by the decree of his father, to try and rein in the excesses of the vile and sadistic boy King Joffrey and his venal mother, Cersei.  King’s Landing is the nexus point of the story, the center of the swirling chaos – where the City Watch is sent to murder the dead King’s bastard children, and the schemers and deceivers on the Small Council try and outflank each other in their games of treachery.  Into this morass comes the perennial outsider, The Imp, loathed by his family (all but brother Jaime, imprisoned by Robb far away), with only his whore, his champion and his army of savages.  He’s no fool and far from naïve, yet he’s tasked with keeping order and with defending an illegitimate King from a hostile kingdom.

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  1. N

    No, George doesn't need 6 years for every book.

    Clash was released ~2 years after the Game.
    Storm was released ~2 years after the Clash.
    Feast was released ~5 years later, however, after around first 2 years the WHOLE text was scrapped (originally, Martin planned to have a 5 years timeskip in the story) so it is actually ~3 years.
    Dance, which needed 6 years, is a Black Sheep. And hopefully it will stay like that.

    We will see how long Winds will need to be written: could be more, could be less.

  2. S

    I'm pretty sure that George wrote all three first books pretty much parallel, so that when the game was published, it doesnt mean he immediately started writing storm and smacked it out in 2 years. These babies are long and needs time for George to write. And he need to fire his editor. He writes too much shit in between stories

  3. But Martin has said that his work on the tv series (with which he's quite involved) actually takes up some of his writing time. The sense I get is that things definitely aren't getting any faster.

  4. L

    Must… not… read… text… or look at pictures. I'll post back whenever I get the chance to watch it, which should be any day, since the rips are posted online. Gosh I wish I had cable…

  5. e

    As a non ASOIAF reader I'm more of a Team Stark: Arya&Bran&Jon gal (R.I.P. Ned), but more Tyrion is a good thing. VERY good.
    I hope I can watch the episode today and brave the sexposition.
    Thanks for blogging!

  6. I love the Stark kids,too, eli – if you do, you really should read the books because their roles have been somewhat reduced in the TV version.

  7. e

    I'll have to grab the English books then. Going by some of my friends who are also reading the books, the Italian translation for them is infamous XD. The original translator added *unicorns* because 'they'd give a more fantasy feel'. Ahaha.

    In terms of manga readings… could I suggest to try Kaze Hikaru and Ooku: the Inner Chambers? Both are published in N/A but you can also preview and *cough cough* retrieve *cough* the volumes online :> .
    KH is what I'd summarize (roughly but effectively) as Kenshin for girls and by the Shinsengumi POV. With lots of slice-of-life. Love the characters and the drawing style: not a flashy one, but a very solid and sympatehtic one… very human. One of the few stories when you can see people killing and dying one moment while the same people can laugh and be kind the next, one moment heroic, one moment goofing around and brought down by oh-so-prosaic bodily functions without this feeling inconsistent or contrived. There are happy spikes and bloody spikes but the middle ground (or main narration tone could we say? ) is just so well done imho either development feels natural time by time.
    Oooku is a true fanta-historical novel in manga form based on a giant what if: what if Japan was hit by a plague decimating most of the males and women had to get in charge? Starting from Tokugawa himself? how would the new ratio affect the balance of power, roles and feelings in every level of society?. The characterization of both men and women, the detail! Good stuff.

    I'm waiting myself for the English books to be shipped home soon actually :DDD. Ooku's edition is here already… it's really classy and a pleasure to hold to boot.

  8. I

    Interesting return for the series.

    It sets up the story with the continued effect that Ned and his message had on the seven Kingdoms. I would still like to see more of what happens with Jon, as a long side Ned, he was one of my favourite characters from the first season.

    Also what happened to the 40,000 that Drogo originally commanded, did they abandon their Queen while she has dragons?

    Good start the season and hoping it becomes even better and someone torturing Joffrey and Cersei to death please. I recommend chopping fingers, eyes, ears, noses…. you get the picture.

  9. B

    @Ishruns, yes Drogo's riders broke off into several smaller groups. Pretty much the only ones who stayed with Danerys are Drogo's blood-riders, some women and children, and those too weak and sick to continue with a new leader.

  10. Maverick, please feel free to re-post the comment without the references to book 4 – I think that's too much of a spoiler for non-readers (and please note that I can't selectively edit comments – it's all or nothing).

    Didn't you feel that scene with Cersei was slightly out of character for Littlefinger? He's usually a bit more cautious and circumspect about the way he confronts those who have the means to destroy him.

  11. M

    I am sorry. I will try to be more careful, eventhough I must admit it is quite dificult.

    But to repost a few things: I really like that the Stark teens are close to the 14-18 years old range than the 8-14 range of the books. I really like how HBO is mananing the timeline of events and age.

    I also loved the extra scenes. The Cersei and LittleFinger and the Cersei and Joffrey scene. Does it feel out of character? To be honest I felt it more out of place to see the "Cersei/Joffrey drunk in power" face this early. About Littlefinger…it may be a bit off character, yet he knows too well that sometimes he needs to take a hit or two to sneak the bomb. XD

  12. T

    I was reading on some movie blogs that HBO said that they were not necessarily sticking to the 1 book per season format so that should allow the show to run a little bit long so Martin has more time to finish the series.

    On an other note it was a great episode and great start. Just needs more Arya.

  13. You mean Arry? 😉

  14. T

    Its a trap!

  15. B

    That's good, because there's no way to do Storm of Swords justice in 10 episodes. And since Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons are parallel in time for parts, splitting them up by book wouldn't make much sense either.

  16. K

    Martin is confident to have published the remaining books before the TV series overtakes him,[20] although he told major plot points to the two main Game of Thrones producers in case he should die.[20] (Aged 62 in 2011, Martin is by all accounts in robust health.)[52] However, Martin indicated he would not permit another writer to finish the series.

    From Wikipedia, just check there for the interviews.

    If he doesn't die and keeps his promise we will see Winds of Winter around 2013~2014 and Dream of Spring around 2 years later 😉

    But well, he rarely kept those in the past sadly.

  17. V

    I actually liked the idea of casting older actors / actresses for the Stark kids. It's a personal preference but I just can't take the show seriously if they have a teenage boy leading an army to war.

  18. It was a common enough thing in medieval and ancient times, though. I guess I just defer to the author's vision – he wrote it that way for a reason.

  19. S

    Nice review, although I still think you're a much more interesting read when you haven't read the future material already. You've read all the books I take it?

    On the topic on why fantasy lovers hate this is because it is completely new in an unexpected way (for them). It is about how no man is wholly good or wholly evil, it is about character development (not in skill points), and politics. There's not a being in there that is as good as Frodo is good or as purely evil as Sauron is Evil. Fantasy is kinda retarded that way, as in Sauron only does what evil should do, and nothing else. and vice versa for Frodo.

    I'm a fan of the TV series, not a huge fan of the books, (because -spoiler-spoiler-spoiler), but I'll look forward to reviews! ^^

  20. Yes, I've read all the books that exist – plus the Dunk & Egg side stories. There are flaws there, but I think they're generally pretty great – but it's not classic epic fantasy by any means. Not even the children are wholly sympathetic here – except probably Bran.

  21. S

    I actually think the TV series tells the story better than the book. I mean some of the adaptions are awkward but actually, the book is too. It has a somewhat childishly written language in the book, and the lack of editing (Dear god, that editor needs to get fired!) is really annoying.

    Bran was the guy I decided I would support whole-heartedly when I read the book. And then he broke his spine and became useless. ^^. Now Arya and Tyrion are my favourites, they're awesome.

  22. Useless? Harsh! Bran's still the most likable and morally unambiguous character in the books, IMO. I like Arya and I love Tyrion, but they're both characters with a serious dark side.

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