I feel as if I’m on the horns of a bit of a dilemma when blogging GoT. On the one hand, I have the strong urge to debate the merits of every change I see – and this week saw more significant changes from the book than any episode I recall. On the other, I’m not such a purist that I can’t accept a few changes – television is not a book, and some changes have to be made to ensure a smooth transition. I considered leaving out all all reference to changes from the books, or putting them at the end of the post as a kind of appendix – but in the end, I’ll just talk about them when they’re worth talking about – as long as there are no spoilers implied in the mentioning.
In talking about this episode, I think it needs to be pointed out that it was damned impressive visually. Both in the large scale – I’m thinking of our first glimpse of Pyke, most of all – and in the small, such as the way director Alan Taylor framed the scene where Jon follows Craster into the night and discovers what’s being done with the boy children of his “castle” (this is a 100% TV-original scene, BTW, but not one that fundamentally undercuts the meaning of the story in my view). And then there’s Taylor’s artful use of un-artful nudity and sex. Has any sex scene on camera ever been less erotic than the one between Theon and the ship captain’s daughter? That’s rather the point, and Taylor also uses these scene to move the story forward – the term “sexposition” was coined in response to this adaptation, after all.
We met a veritable army of new characters in this ep. There was Lommy (Eros Valhos) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) the two lads in Yoren’s motley crew of social rejects and criminals headed to The Wall. In that same party but residing in a cage are three condemned criminals – Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha, way better-looking than I pictured) Rorge (Andy Beckwith) and the fearsome Biter (Gerard Jordan). Up north of The Wall we have Gilly (Hannah Murray), one of Craster’s pregnant “wives” who fears for the son she says she’s carrying, and appeals to Sam for help. On the Isle of Pyke is the young lass on horseback who we later learn is Theon’s sister Asha – renamed Yara for some reason (Gemma Whelan, again, way better-looking and less fearsome than I imagined) and his father Balon (Patrick Malahide). And back in King’s Landing is the head of the City Watch, Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) who Tyrion replaces with Bronn and dispatches to Eastwatch, much to the chagrin of his sister (and Slynt’s leash-holder) – and briefly, Tyrion’s squire Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman, way, way way too old). Finally there’s the pirate and old friend of smuggler turned King’s Hand Davos, Salladhor Sahn (Lucian Msmati) whose 30 ships Davos so desperately needs for the attack Stannis dreams of mounting on King’s Landing – an alliance Davos’ Lord of Light-devoted son Matthos (Kerr Logan) strongly disapproves of.
It’s helpful to understand that at this point of the show, we’re adapting the early-middle portion of an early-middle book in the series, so quite naturally an awful lot of time is being devoted to setup. And as always, Taylor must continually jump around the globe, briefly checking in with his various sub-casts of characters, ignoring some this week and others next out of necessity. That said, I thought the episode had a good narrative flow and was surprisingly coherent and easy to follow. Some highlights for me were the easy chemistry between trap Arya and Gendry – this is an important relationship, and the two actors nailed their scenes this week. As always the conversation between Tyrion and Cersei was pure venomous pleasure – you can just feel the hatred dripping off these two siblings every time they address each other, and each knows exactly the buttons to push to enrage and humiliate the other.
Of the Theon arc, while I’m sad that it’s been accelerated as much as it has, I did think the scenes this week were excellent. Theon’s awkward reunion with his sister was every bit as hilariously humiliating as I expected, and the formidable Malahide was exactly as disdainful and dismissive towards his son as I pictured. The deficiencies of Kings and would-be Kings are certainly a recurring thread this season, as is the general tone of man’s inhumanity to man. As we did last week, we ended with infanticide – this time Craster leaving his son/grandson in the forest for the white walkers to take away. Sometimes I think the TV series tries a little too hard to make sure we get the point, and the completely original scenes with Littlefinger and Ros in his brothel feel a bit forced and unnecessary to me. Does anyone not have a good sense of the sort of man Littlefinger is, at this point? By contrast, every scene involving Varys seems taut and on-point, and Conleth Hill is every bit the match for Peter Dinklage whenever their on-screen paths cross.
The most significant changes from the novels involve Bronn and Stannis. One is straightforward – Bronn was never made commander of the City Watch in the books, and while this is a substantial change I suspect it was done to give Bronn a larger role, and shouldn’t materially impact the story too much. On the other hand, something is very different in the throne room at Dragonstone, and I’m not at all sure I like it. Spoiler: In effect, Stannis does not have sex with Melissandre in the books – it’s only implied, if even that. This is crucial because Stannis is a very righteous and rigid man (no pun intended) and I worry that showing him this way (especially now) undercuts this impression. Suffice to say, for now, that Stannis is a very key player in this season. He suspects – and we know – that he’s actually the rightful King. Cersei’s children are the bastards he claims, and he’s Robert’s eldest brother. Yet as he says, Renly (whom we haven’t even seen yet this season) commands 100,000 men, and Joffrey holds King’s Landing . I hope the series managed to communicate what the books had already done by this stage – how distasteful Stannis finds it to have to rely on men like Salladhor Saan to help him reclaim what he sees as rightfully his, and the complex nature of his relationship with Davos. I think it has, but I can’t say with certainty having read the books. And as we come to know more about Stannis as a character – what drives him and the “why” of what he does – the change from the book comes at a most crucial point in that process. I’ll hope for the best.