Games of Thrones – 12

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“The Night Lands”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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  1. M

    First off, nice casting for Balon.

    Supposedly, Asha was changed to Yara because it sounds too much like Osha, the woman with Bran and Hodor.
    Stupid reason, really.

    All of those changes bothered me as well. The scene with Littlefinger and Ros was slightly too long, and mostly unnecessary. What's worse is, why is Ros still around?!

    The sexposition is as awkward as ever.

  2. S

    Its times like these I wish i had the self control NOT to read the books like i did with the first season- at this point though you just have to try pretending your hanging off every single plot twist and that the're amazing (including the twist where Melisandre&Stannis hook up) lol the scene with littlefinger in the brothel was pretty unnecessary but I'm always happy to see littlefinger being littlefinger so… :)

  3. v

    Urgh, can't they have casted someone better looking for Theon? For a character this horny with so many sex scenes, the least they can do is not make me suffer through all the scenes.

  4. E

    As a reader of the books (and a non-watcher of the series), I can't help but wonder what they changed about Stannis.

  5. If you want to send me an email, I'll tell you. Curse this lack of spoiler tags…

  6. Awet, I think that 2nd paragraph is a spoiler in my book until we know for sure that's where the TV is going. But yes, that was why the change concerned me. FTR. I like the choice of Patrick Malahide as Balon.

    Here's Awet's 1st paragraph:

    "Agreed on the majesty of Pike. Uncomfortable with the casting of Balon Greyjoy- I figured him with more hollowed eyes and bony cheeks. The actor seemed more gold born than iron born."

  7. A

    Being a fan of the books series for close to 11 years now, and having enjoyed your write up of the first season of the TV series, I sometimes wish you hadn't read through the books Enzo.

    This will seem incredibly selfish I feel, but seeing you point out what has been changed moreso than your impression of the episode, as well as speculating about how the changes in the TV series will affect future developments in adapting the book when before you used to speculate how the event shown will playout in the future of the characters themselves.

    I don't mean to be insulting, and I apologize if what I say is rude, but I honestly liked what you said about this show when you weren't spending more time with comparing it with the books.

  8. I'm not insulted, but I can't unsee what I've seen – that's the problem. What I'm trying to avoid more than anything is doing posts that are basically long plot summaries of the episodes, which is what I mostly see with GoT. I dislike summary posts immensely, be it anime or otherwise.

  9. S

    Well, this is special. Although I totally agree with Arabesque first paragraph, (and has said something of the like before) I thoroughly enjoyed this review.

    One can argue about having more impressions in the review, but I really liked the comments about the adaptation etc. It's hard to satisfy all readers, but if you really want to try, Enzo (^^) : through in a bit of both. And as you said, stay well away from summary posts. bleurgh

  10. I'm doing the best I can to strike a good balance. I mean, there are quite a few opinion statements about the ep itself in my post – maybe not as many as Arabesque would like, but it's a good chunk of the post.

    The only exception to the "no summaries" rule for me is when new characters are introduced, because I know that can be overwhelming when so many of them enter the picture, and I think it's helpful for new viewers to call out the ones who are important and how they relate to the existing cast.

  11. S

    That's a very good exception, and this series really needs it. Each episode/ season should actually be released with a pamphlet of characters, too many appear unimportant but are very important or at least will appear important before they die. Heck, even the book has a character list.

  12. S

    Well, I have to stop myself from writing a very long reply here, but it's because your review is so long (although I hardly noticed it whilst reading, so it's not a bad thing).

    First of all, TV original scenes? Excellent! And accelerate that shit, why not. The omitted Greyjoy plot was amazingly boring in the book. But why,oh why add these Littlefinger scenes? Surely there must be other ways of portraying Littlefinger, and why not closer to the throne room? Are they going somewhere here new and original with this?

    And wow, the Theon sex scene put me off sex for a week.

    P.S. adding spoiler tag functionality to your posts and reviews would be a great improvement #aniblog tourney

  13. If I could add it, I would have already!

  14. S

    not sure what the problem is there…

  15. Trust me, I've tried many options and done that search many times. Problem is, none of them work for the comments – just the posts. And the comments are where I really need the functionality. If you know of a workaround I'm missing, I'd love to implement it – just point me and fire the cannon.

  16. J

    As usual, I haven't read the source material, so this is a TV-viewer only…

    But man, I can't get enough of this series! Your posts are interesting Enzo, in that you keep present the differences with the books but don't go too much into them. It's always nice to know some scenes, like the last one with the white walker, is a TV addition. But then again, you don't go into spoilers, or how the adaptation *screwed up* here or there. Plus, you basically tell us to keep an eye on certain new characters for future events (I would have undoubtedly forgotten them by next week otherwise). Definetly coming back the next weeks if it all keeps like this.

    As regards to the show, I rarely find flaws in GoT's execution with such a compelling narrative. It's everything you want in an hour: medieval and a bit of fantasy, good good *good* script and dialogue and one-liners (Tyrion takes the cake here), sex, and above all else all these deep characters that anybody could get under their skin and feel their hardships. Definetly the fastest hour that goes by in my day!

    As regards to Littlefinger's scene issue, I thought it was nice. I may be your average viewer who doesn't remember every single detail in the series right from episode 1, so these scenes are always a nice reminder that characters like Littlefinger are -not- good guys, or at least not as saint as Ned Stark was: they play their games much dirtier than Ned would ever do. I also didn't know this was that same Ros from season 1, ha.
    Also, is the dialogue faithful to the books? As in, do they stick to it word by word, or have they changed it up in this adaptation?

    Cause it's damn good dialogue yo..

  17. Thanks, Justinnnnn (one, two three…). The dialogue is mostly faithful, though there are some tweaks and omissions. Every scene with Littlefinger and Ros is new, because she doesn't even exist in the books.

  18. B

    I thought she was mentioned briefly by Theon when talking to Tyrion on Tyrion's return to Winterfell after visiting the wall, pretty much as it happened in the show. Everything with her after that has been added though.

  19. B

    I should add, she wasn't named in the book, just called a red headed whore or something when mentioned in passing.

  20. So, I broke down and added the CSS for spoilers in posts – and added the spoiler for Stannis (hover over to reveal). I've resisted in mucking up my code even further when it doesn't work in comments anyway, but call it an experiment.

  21. J

    Oh, thanks for the reply Enzo (one N works, haha…In any case, they'd be six and not 5, mister!)

    Oh again, I didn't know Ros was filler…Now I don't want to ever see her again, let the canon move forward please!

  22. M

    Hello there Enzo!! I will try to keep myself controlled and not spoil things. It will be hard. XD

    First, I didn`t like this episode. Just too many disgusting "fanservice" for me, specially the Littlefinger brothel`s scene. Theon and Stannis sex scenes I understand, but didn`t like it much.

    I am really worried about the whole changes in the Stannis plotline. You haven`t mentioned that they actually "officially erased" in the series a character in Stannis family, which change the whole picture of the "epilogue". Also, I am worried about Davos`s story, eventhough the own George Martin said in his livejournal that he was personally managing that, so I am still hopeful. And poor Podrick Payne, I always thought of him as Arya`s male version, but really he is WAY too old.

    Arya`s plotline is soo far soo good, people are actually supporting an Arya/Genry Shipping, and I love how they introduced Gilly. Melissandre is ok, but I was actually expecting a hotter girl. XD

    And even with the good stuff I mentiones above, it was not my favorite episode in the whole series, I didn`t feel the good stuff (including Arya) didn`t made up for the bad, and it`s the first episode I actually felt bad for watching.

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