Game of Thrones – 15

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“The Ghost of Harrenhal”

It’s remarkable how often the thoughts I have about Game of Thrones mirror those I have about Fate/Zero.  These are two stories that share much in common – a large cast, a struggle for power that cuts through all the threads, and an extremely dark and pessimistic view of the human animal.  Both are epic stories that can dazzle the viewer with spectacle and shock them with violence.  But perhaps most importantly, both are better when they step back from the shock & awe storytelling and focus on the characters, and the most memorable scenes are invariably those where two or three of them quietly converse.

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This was arguably one of the most low-key episodes of GoT so far – despite starting and ending with a death – but it was one of my favorites.  There were no battles, no sieges, no disasters or armies on the march.  But there was a human quality to the ep that made it one of the most accessible and engaging so far.  As well, there were the beginnings of what will be an increasing focus as the series progresses this year and beyond, the history behind the story.  It happened in the North and it happened in the South, as more than ever before we began to get a sense of what came before the characters we see walked this land, and how the past is connected to the present.

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Given that Game of Thrones is such a dark and generally pessimistic show with an enormous cast of characters, I find myself latching onto certain of them – they’re my anchors as I’m buffeted about by the sheer size of the story and the abundance of man’s inhumanity to man.  We got more than a normal share of those characters this week, and that always makes a good episode for me.  Tyrion is one of them of course, but he’s as close to a central figure as this ensemble has, and always a difficult and dangerous character to try and pin down.  When he does something like returning Ned’s bones to Cat or saving Sansa from Joffrey’s debasement, we can’t be sure if he did it because it was the right thing, or for the strategic sense.  Tyrion is obviously a brilliant man, and he would certainly have done those things for strategic reasons alone.  So did he?  No, Tyrion is more endlessly fascinating than reassuring.  This week, he’s busying himself in trying to find a way to defend the city from Stannis’ now overwhelming forces with one hand while fending off Cersei’s incompetence, which takes him into the catacombs of the Pyromancer’s Guild with Hallyne (Roy Dotrice) where thousands of jars of the mysterious and deadly substance wildfire are being stored, their creating having been ordered by the Queen.

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Bran is definitely one of those anchor characters for me, because he’s innocent in a way Arya will never be.  As hard as the lessons life is teaching him are, he’s still a pure soul, and watching him try his best to keep Winterfell running it’s impossible not to root for him.  When he says “If we can’t protect our Bannermen, why should they protect us?” it’s also impossible not to see Ned in his young son.  Bran has honor and courage, like his father did, but what are honor and courage among snakes and spiders?  Bran continues to be plagued by dreams – three-eyed ravens, and the sea lapping at the walls of Winterfell.  Maester Luwin tells him they’re just dreams, but Bran is learning that in matters of dreams, Osha is more an authority than Luwin, even if her chains are not so pretty as his.

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Brienne of Tarth is another character I feel that “anchor” sense about, and Gwendolyne Christie – while definitely too pretty – is winning me over with her portrayal.  Brienne isn’t a complicated woman – she loves Renly and that’s enough for her, but when she fails to protect him from the shadow demon (she says it had the face of Stannis) her world comes crashing down around her.  It’s only Cat’s quick thinking that spares her from being hanged as the presumed killer, and Brienne escapes to chase the ghost of revenge.  I liked Renly – we didn’t get to see much of him, but if not honorable per se, he was at least humane.  His story ended much too quickly in the TV version, alas, and Brienne fled with Cat, finally pledging her service to her because Cat possesses “a woman’s courage”.  What Brienne lacks in sophistication she seems to make up for with perception, as this sums up Catelyn Stark as any short description ever could.

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It’s easy to see the conflict rising inside of Davos, another of those characters who anchor GoT for me.  It’s rare to see a character in epic fantasy so completely devoid of ego as Davos is, especially in the corridors of power.  He reacts like a kicked dog when Stannis questions his loyalty, but Davos sees his role quite clearly – true loyalty means telling your Lord the truth, even at the risk of his wrath.  What is a justifiable price to pay for power?  What means justify the desired end?  Yet another question in common between this series and Fate/Zero, and both Davos and Stannis struggle with it in their own way.  If Brienne summed up Cat’s character this week, it falls to Stannis to do so for himself – “The hard truths cut both ways.”

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On the geographical extremes of the story, new players are introduced.  In the North another anchor character, Sam, is coming into himself as the book-smart intellectual among his rough-hewn brethren.  As Lord Mormont’s party reaches the ancient hilltop fortress, the First of the First Men, Sam gives them an unasked-for history lesson about the place – one which Jon finished in unsettling fashion.  Joining the party is legendary Ranger Quorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong), the only Ranger to survive an entire winter beyond the Wall.  He says Mance Rayder is gathering a huge army of Wildlings, and tells Mormont he needs to take a small party to kill Rayder’s scouts – a party which Jon talks his way into joining.  And in Qarth, Danerys meets two more members of The Thirteen – creepy Wizard’s Guild leader Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) and mysterious masked Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) as Xaro tries to woo her into marriage with promises of half the wealth he hides behind the Valeryian steel door to his vault – an offer Jorah urges her to reject.

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Lastly, our story returns to Arya, who seems to be involved in final scenes quite often this season.  Tywin Lannister has clearly recognized much about the girl – she’s whip-smart, and from the North – but doesn’t realize just who his new cup-bearer is.  Tywin has also realized that Robb is more formidable than his overconfident yes-men believed, and a force to be feared and respected.  But the headline in Harrenhal is Jaqen H’Ghar, who tells Arya that in exchange for the three lives she saved, three must be given to the Red God – and that he will send any three whose names he gives her.  This is the one sequence this week that’s radically different from the book – some will find the change troubling, but I see it as relatively minor in the larger scheme of things…

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  1. J

    I cannot /CANNOT/ express enough how hard it is for me to experience those three seconds: those three seconds in which you know credits are about to appear.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Enzo: while having no fights or epic moments, it was gold. I thought this was character development at its best. First time in the whole season I was /so/ glued to the screen.

    -Tyrion awesome as ever: "Demon Monkey! Me!"
    -That scene between Danerys and Jorah was too damn sweet. Seriously, Jorah deserves a pat in the back for being one of the few men in this series with such a kind heart. I feel like he will eventually be killed, and I'm going to have a hard time moving on…
    -Arya. Oh Arya, so young, sweet and brave. Who wouldn't have liked to have a friend like her at that age? She defies Tywin at his own game, and tells her friend he's doing it wrong at practice…How can you go better than that? Oh yes, have an Assassin at your disposal. Do order him to kill Tywin and end this sh*t already, please!
    -We got to see dragons spit fire this week. Yesssssss.
    -Cat's actress is superb. I'll get a little sentimental here, and say her job at acting as the worrying mother gets under my skin too much. She actually reminds me of my mother (mostly with those concerned, worried looks the poor woman does every week).

    I cannot express the enjoyment I had this week with GoT (unlike last episode). From the first shocking moments with the shadow Assassin appearing (lol, no mention about that coincidence with F/Z, Enzo?) to the very last, heart-wrenching three seconds of this episode. HBO is doing one hell of a memorable series here.

    Damn this gets me in a good mood…Have a nice start this week people 🙂 !!

  2. J

    Oh, one last comment:

    -Seeing in the recap the scene with Bran talking about his dreams of being the wolf, I got all excited hoping he'd start to awaken those powers this episode. Oh well, tough luck, haha…

    The huge question mark is Bran's little brother, though. He seldom appears in the series, and when he does, he's saying/doing the weirdest/most irritating of things. This usually /does/ lead to acquiring super powers though, and while it's always welcome to have some Starks kick some ass, I have to admit it would be damn unfair to Bran: he's the one working hard to keep Winterfell together; he's the one withouth the limbs to walk. Give him some brownie points in the form of psychi powers, please~

  3. Rickon? Well, bear in mind that he also happens to be the youngest character in the bunch, and youngest characters are harder to write for generally speaking.

  4. M

    There is one thing that quite surprise me on this episode: Tywin smiling to Arya.

    A fast fact about Tywin for non-readers: Tywin has only smiled 5 times in his life.
    1) When he was raised to be Hand
    2) When he married to Joanna
    3) When Cercei/Jaime were born
    4) When Jaime won his first tourney
    5) When he talked with Cersei about marrying her to Rhaegar

    He is suppose to be a stone-cold person, so it came as a shock to see him smile to Arya.

  5. S

    Now that you mention it…true~ but I'm actually in love with how they portray 'that magnificent bastard' (in the words of Enzo). I think Tywin's amused smile totally suits him and makes him a much more interestingly devious and dynamic character. Kinda like Kirei in Fate/Zero when he does his evil grin/acts. Well you could always take it as a fake smile that doesn't reach his eyes kind of thing and that he's actually dead inside.

  6. I would certainly love to discuss Tywin, as the Lannister men are all fascinating characters and he's certainly no exception. but that's a very difficult thing without spoiling.

    Here's what I would say, based only on what's happened in the TV. I would say it's accurate to interpret what you've seen as Tywin being "stone'cold" as Maverick says. However, I don't think the TV Tywin is dead inside.

    I was thinking last night about how I would describe Tywin if I had to do so in one phrase, actually. I think it would be "a hard man".

  7. M

    Tywin wasn´t dead inside in the book. He was cold and harsh, but he was still human.

    BTW, I have a question. It is a spoiler if we talk a bit of the past of the characters? Like talking about the Aerys/Tywin/Joanna affair that was 30 years before the main event?

  8. Well…

    My take on that is, if Martin doesn't reveal that element in the past till later in the books, maybe he has a reason – so I'm probably not going to talk about it here. But I guess it would be a case by case basis.

  9. V

    "There were no battles, no sieges, no disasters or armies on the march."


  10. And that's just fine, because while they're undeniably great, HBO has fallen a little too much in love with them for this adaptation.

  11. t

    I couldn't spot what it was that felt different about this episode,now I know lol,thanks!

  12. L

    You, as a book-reader, probably don't know how valuable your weekly coverage is to TV-viewers.

    I had no idea who half of the minor characters were, like how the guy who offered Arya three deaths was really the guy in the cage, or who the ranger who popped up at the First of the First Men was. But more importantly, keeping track of all the names is a complete nightmare…

    So reading your posts has become a weekly regimen for my GoT viewing experience. Thanks for helping me not drown in a metaphorical body of water whenever the series gets confusing. And props to anyone who's watching the series I referenced. ^_^

  13. Heh, some small part me of knows that if nothing else, just pointing out the names of the new characters might be useful. It's a big show with a big cast.

    This was the first time this season I felt as if I really found my voice with GoT. I haven't been happy with most of my posts – it's a hard show for me to blog under the circumstances.

  14. A

    Uhmm.. What's the title of this book? and who's the author. I'd like to read the first season. Thanks.

  15. George R.R. Martin. The name of the series is "A Song of Ice and Fire" – 5 books released, of a planned 7 total.

  16. A

    Thanks. I'm going to buy all of it. I'll be reading the first season. I don't want to get pass the second season so I won't get spoiled. I'f I can help it…

  17. It goes roughly 1 book per season, at least so far.

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