Well, Dear Readers, you and I are finally in the same boat this season – because I had no effing idea what was going to happen most of the time. This was the first time more things were changed that faithful to the book, and most of the episode was completely new to me. It was exciting and well-made but I’m still a little shell-shocked.
As a little change of pace, let me just go over the major tectonic shifts:
- Rodrik isn’t killed by Theon on the night of the invasion. He leads an army to re-take Winterfell later and dies when he’s betrayed by Roose Bolton’s bastard.
- Osha never has sex with Theon (that darn HBO “Sexposition” again. Is there no other way to advance the plot?)
- Arya never almost meets Littlefinger at Harrenhal in the books.
- Arya never has J’aqen kill Amoy Lorch
- Talisa (Oona Chaplin, Charlie’s granddaughter) the medic from a few eps back, never appears in the books at all. Robb’s heart is stolen by a young member of one of the minor houses of his Bannermen.
- And the big Kahuna,the dragons never get stolen
Of course there are other changes that were implied but are now confirmed, among them that Meera and Jojen Reed are definitely written out of the adaptation. I knew this was coming, but it still saddens me deeply – they’re good characters in their own right, and I think they’re very important to Bran’s arc in the novels. Their absence also likely means the entire branch of the story surrounding Howland Reed and his boggy realm is gone, and that Bran’s arc is generally going to be greatly reduced. There was also a subtler change here, as Bran never had that exaggerated crying scene in the books. I’m not fond of this change – the novel Bran took this whole fiasco more bravely than the TV Bran, and thought Isaac Hempstead-Wright is doing very well with the role as written, this sort of change doesn’t do Bran’s character a service.
You’ll understand, I’m sure, that I’m of two minds about all this new stuff. On the one hand I get something of the thrill I had in the first season when this was all new to me, and the changes individually seem fine (except for Bran’s storyline). But on the other, these changes have the potential to move outward like waves, growing larger and larger as they travel, and I worry about how dramatically different things will be a few eps or even seasons down the line as a result of these changes now. Some of them are pretty significant even now – that business with Danerys and the dragons can only mean a global shift in plot – and I suspect but can’t prove there’s going to be a major shift in Baelish’s plotline, based on this week’s events.
On the merits of the episode itself, as ever, I have few complaints – it was exciting, briskly but reasonably paced and brilliantly acted. I’m loving the scenes with Arya and Tywin at Harrenhal – these have been expanded from the books and this is a change I wholly endorse. Tywin is an incredibly complex and fascinating man (he made Forbes “Richest Fictional Characters” list last week) and Charles Dance is nailing the role. I find the relationship between he and Arya really interesting, almost warm in a bizarre way. You can’t have too much Tywin, really – I’ve said it before, but he really is a magnificent bastard.
Also handled beautifully was the scene where Joffrey and his party were attacked on their way back to the castle after seeing Myrcella off to Dorne (an event which needed a little more screen time, and one which comes as close as any to humanizing Cersei’s character). The series hasn’t done enough to show just how bad things have gotten in King’s Landing, but they’re pretty awful – the city is basically under siege at this poing, people are starving, rumors of Cersei’s and Jaimie’s affair are rampant and Joffrey is generally a douche. The terror of this riot was palpable, especially when the Septon was literally torn limb from limb, and of course poor Sansa’s terror was “stark”, as well. Another of those fascinating characters I never tire of watching is Sandor Clegane, “The Hound” – he’s a complicated fellow to say the least. And will Tyrion slapping Joffrey ever get old? I sincerely doubt it.
Let’s not forget that things are happening up North, too, where Quorin Halfhand is showing he can be a bit of a troll in addition to a total badass. This was an important sequence of events for Jon, and again there were some changes here from the way things went down with Ygritte (Rose Leslie, who looks about right) but I don’t necessarily see this as substantively critical. Jon’s importance in the story has been a little understated so far, but he’s going to be hugely important in the next run of episodes, and there are many and subtle implications about the encounter with Ygritte – both this week and in weeks to come – that are critical to understanding him as a character. Keep a close eye on Ned Stark’s bastard.
Obviously this week there are lots of things we could be discussing that TV-only viewers shouldn’t see, so please keep the comments clear of spoilers as a service to them, thanks.