Game of Thrones – 25

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“Kissed by Fire”

Is it really possible that this season is half over?  The deeper into this series we get, the more convinced I am that 10 hours is nowhere near enough time to tell the story the way it deserves to be told.  But given the time constraints it’s working under, Game of Thrones is doing a miraculous job of it.

Not for the first time I find myself torn between the part of me that agonizes over the elements of the books that I loved that are dropped or severely changed (it seems inevitable now that Edric Storm’s character has been dropped entirely, which is a shame for Stannis’ arc) and the part that watches the series in awe at just how good it is.  I also find myself surprised – just as I was when reading the books –   at finding the Lannisters perhaps the most fascinating people in the cast.

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Taking things more or less sequentially, we have the trial by combat between The Hound and The Lightning Lord, which was some of the best swordplay TV has seen in ages. I truly feel for Sandor Clegane, who was burned as a child by the man who truly is the monster Sandor isn’t, his brother, and now seems cursed to be tortured by flame for his entire life.  But the standout here for me is, once again, is Richard Dormer as Beric – what a stupendous screen presence he has.  I loved the scene where he and Thoras (who seems a lot Godlier than Melissandre – she burns people to death, be brings them back to life) told Arya about the many times Beric has died, and come back – “leaving a piece of himself behind” every time.

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For Robb, things are going, well, badly.  Lord Karstark, dissatisfied with Robb’s gentle punishment of his mother, takes his revenge into his own hands and murders the two Lannister boys in Riverrun’s dungeons (in the books, one of them is a Frey).  Karstark seems to goad Robb into doing exactly what he does – executing him – though his Mother and Uncle urge him not to do so, as he’ll lose the Karstark army (though why the TV decided to make it “half his forces” is beyond me).  Here again we see that Robb is a weaker man than his father, and we’ve already seen he’s not as honorable – would Ned ever break a vow the way Robb has, even for love?  Backed into a corner Robb decides that his next course should be to assault a lightly defended Casterly Rock (a plan that’s new to the TV version) and for that he’ll need the help of the man he broke his vow to, the “late” Lord Walder Frey.

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In Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne are delivered unto Roose Bolton’s graces, and he’s treated by Qyburn, refusing both the amputation of his arm and milk of the poppy despite the agony of having his flesh purified by boiling wine.  The highlight here, though, is no doubt the scene between Jaime and Brienne in the bath.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been pretty much dead-on as Jaime since day one, but this may just have been the finest of many fine moments.  The truth of that fateful day that forever led to the nickname that he loathes is shared for the first time, and it’s Brienne he shares it with – as Jaime says, he trusts her.  Jaime is many things, but he’s not blind to those with honor when he sees them, and he sees honor in Brienne.  As I’ve said before, Jaime may just be the most surprising character in Game of Thrones – nothing with his character ever goes just as you expect it to.

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Then there’s the matter of Stannis, whose storyline seems to have undergone perhaps more changes than anyone except Danerys’ and Theon’s.  The evidence is that those arcs more or less get back in-line with the source despite the detours, and I suppose the same is likely for Stannis – though his character and the way it’s perceived is changed in ways that will never be undone.  Selyse makes a rare appearance – I had to double-check to make sure she’d even appeared before – and she’s way nuttier than she is in the books.  The whole business with the stillborn sons, never mind keeping them in jars, seems unnecessary and garish to me.  Stannis sees a lot more of his wife in the books than he does in the TV, it seems, though her dedication to the Lady in Red is about the same.

We also meet Stannis’ daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram) for the first time (and the first in a long time for Stannis).  Shireen’s face is disfigured by greyscale, a topic I won’t go into detail about as I assume the TV will explain it in detail in due course.  What I liked here is that we see some of the self-doubt that plagues Stannis – both about the way his daughter is treated, and about what he’s done to Davos (not to mention sleeping with Melissandre).  Stannis is a more complicated man than the TV series has successfully portrayed so far, and tortured by the contradictions in the choices he’s made – and we haven’t seen as much of that as I’d like.  This ep made a welcome change.

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For a change, Danerys doesn’t finish off the episode.  She’s still in the process of trying to her her slave soldiers to think like free men, and we see some small hint of the challenges she may face in doing so.  The meat here, though, is in the TV-original conversation between Jorah and Ser Barristan.  Their cautious verbal parrying is interesting, but not so much as the contrast being set up between Barristan and Jaime.  Barristan, as he points out, spent a lifetime serving bad Kings – the Mad King, and Robert (“a good man, a great warrior, and a terrible king”).  What would Barristan have done, had he been in Jaime’s shoes – this man who places his oath above all else?  Would he have killed his father and burned thousands alive in their homes for a madman?  Oaths are a strong theme in this series, their significance floating all over the ether – Jaime, Robb, Ser Barristan.  Is an oath sacred, always, or is there a time for practical considerations to take hold?

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Finally, we have King’s Landing, where things are quite busy.  There’s a cute but unnecessary segment between Tyrion and Olenna haggling over the cost of the royal wedding, seemingly added so Peter Dinklage and Diana Rigg could have a flashy scene together.  There’s been a surprising lack of boobs and butts lately, but GoT seemed intent on making up the deficit this week, showing us plenty from both sides of the gender and sexual preference spectrum (starting with Jon and Ygrite’s rather anti-climactic (sorry) cave sex North of The Wall).  There’s some slightly clumsy exposition surrounding Cersei’s countermeasures to the Tyrell “plot” to marry Sansa off to Loras, Littlefinger’s response being to send a spy to bed Loras and extract the truth (among other things) from him.

Tywin – who as always manages to steal every scene he’s in – calls his son and daughter before him to announce that his response is to have Sansa marry Tyrion (he won’t have The North stolen out from under him) as Cersei looks on smugly.  Tyrion’s response is classically in character – he’s aghast that Sansa should have to suffer yet more cruelties in having to marry him.  But then Tywin pulls another shocker, and just as much so to readers of the books as new viewers – he plans to marry Cersei off to Loras as a final measure to keep the Tyrells in line.  Where this is going I have no idea (it interestingly does give Tyrion and Cersei something in common), but it’s certainly a joy to watch Tywin ruthlessly slice open Tyrion and Cersei and lay their guts on the table – never was a character’s introduction scene more fitting that Tywin’s, and it remains the best single addition that the TV series has offered to the series.

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  1. A

    Remember this season covers only half of Book 3. Next season will cover the second half.

    (WARNING: Spoiler heavy link)

    If Robb were a weaker man, he would have done many things differently in this episode, such as:
    * Not be the executioner of Lord Karstark (contrary to his father's rule in episode 1 of season 1)
    * Listen to his council, be more tactical if not strategic and cave in on his principles of "justice"

    In fact Robb is actually the most like his father, in how he idealizes justice, but only lacks his wisdom in finding the right balance between duty and utility. (such as his decision to raise Jon Snow with his sons)

  2. j

    I also thought Robb was very much like his father in this episode.

    Instead of taking the decision that would benefit him and his army the most, he took the noble path and killed the traitor, because his sense of honor would have been otherwise sullied. Honorable or selfish? Who knows, but I think that was very much what Ned Stark would have done, and I enjoy seeing Robb follow his father's footsteps.

  3. But the entire scenario is caused by Robb's decision to break his oath to Frey (vile though he is) which Ned would never have done. That's the point.

    I also seriously question whether Ned would have killed Karstark, even in this scenario. There's a difference between honor and pride, and what Robb did was driven by the latter.

  4. M

    I found Robb's blunders easier to accept in the book, naturally he his much younger and his decision to marry Jeyne is more noble and strategic. The TV version carries an air of experience but also naive righteousness that I'm not too fond of.

  5. It's worth pointing out, Awet, that at 1216 pages A Storm of Swords is far longer than the first two books – in fact the UK editions split it into two separate books. The rate of adaptation really hasn't changed at all.

  6. M

    They've already greatly reduced the the book significantly compared to the first and second. I wasn't expecting certain stuff to happen so soon since I figured we'd be playing catch ups with newer characters and reduced story lines from season 2. Book 3 is far from double the size of 1 or 2 so having 20 episodes to tell it all seemed really generous. Having said that, it all feels a bit rushed – like they're trying to jam pack so much epic into this turning point of a season. Considering costs and the admirable job they've done so far I'm not complaining much. I'd expect to see certain introductions from book 4 creeping in to season four though.

  7. i

    What makes GoT so great is not the epic story, brilliant characters, clashing philosophies or movie level production values.

    Its that there is a -13% of the lord of light turning out to be a loli fairy that calls someone onii-chan or papa.

    Also one by one the Lancisters are being redeemed, though hopefully Joffrey and Cersei hit the sack right after it like an anime death flag.

  8. h

    "There is a -13% of the lord of light turning out to be a loli fairy that calls someone onii-chan or papa."

    Do low negative chances wrap around and become high positive ones?

    Anyway, it's great to see the episode shedding light on the complexities of Stannis and his conscience through his visit with his family. His daughter's face, scarred and disfigured by this "greyscale" you speak of, is a sorry sight to see. By confessing his transgression of sleeping with the Priestess, only to have his actions religiously pardoned, he not only shows his tortured conscience but also reveals he is not quite as invested in the Lord of Light business as seemed when he imprisoned Davos. Same with his reiterated doubts in the Lord of Light's prophecy of "sure victory."

    Am I the only one who found the scenes with Davos and Shireen absolutely heart-melting? Davos is such a good, sweet man. (As if we needed further reinforcement of that fact!)

  9. As even many fans of the series will point out, this series is short on truly good and likeable (though not fascinating and charismatic) characters. Davos – despite his background as a non-violent criminal – is every bit as decent and kind as he appears to be, and the TV has done a perfect job of capturing that (no small thanks to Liam Cunningham).

    It's kind of sad that pretty much all of the unambiguously good characters – Davos, Bran, Sam, Tommen (remember him?), Myrcella, etc. have seen their arcs severely curtailed in the TV version. I guess wicked and conflicted appeals more to HBO.

  10. k

    I think it's not good vs wicked but "important characters involved with the main storylines and conflicts" vs well, everyone else. From those you mentioned, Bran's storyline is building steadily (if very slowly), they're also doing something with Sam, but there's no time for characters like Cersei's younger kids, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I wouldn't want the show to get more fragmented than it already is.

  11. I'm just saying that, in comparison with the books, the nice guy characters have had their storylines get shaved back by a much larger amount – there's really no comparison. While some of the more conflicted or downright nasty (like Jaime and Theon) have had large tracts of original material added, pretty much all the nice guys have had them removed or been eliminated entirely. Bran's arc especially is one that's been a disappointment in how the TV series has largely reduced it to two or three minutes every other week.

    I don't think the nice guy label can applied as unambiguously to him, but you could really consider Jon a part of this too. At this stage of the novels he and Tyrion had probably had more "screen time" than anyone else. Jon is important in the TV series, but significantly less so.

  12. i

    It does return to a high positive but in the other possibility.

    So in this case that would be 113% chance of the lord of light NOT being a loli fairy with a brocon/dadcon.

    When I recomended GoT to other people, about half of them (mostly girls) didn't take to it. They said it was just another story about 'revenge and revenge and revenge'.

    If there were a few more vital characters like Ned Stark that might have and if the redemption, as I see it, of Jaime and Tyrion was a bit earlier they might have kept watching. Simply put they thought this was just like Spartacus or worse Xena.

    And on one point I agree with them. Good characters are a rallying point for most people when reading about a cruel world and it doesn't get crueler than the Seven Kingdoms. For me the only really good characters that are important (near weekly appearance) are Jon Snow, Tyrion and Arya (Sansa is neither good nor bad, because she's just a simpleton).

    Robb isn't for me because he didn't take the more honorable choice, which coincidentally would have been the better one, that is to fight for Stannis. That would have given him a powerful ally and an even more powerful army when Remly died. Together they could have attack from the north and west/south to take King's Landing and maybe Casterly Rock. Ned would have seen that and done that. Robb was greedy for love, power and vengeance and didn't.

    Bran's story isn't very important or relevant, to me Sam is just Jon's sidekick and Cersei's children are even more simple than Sansa. I do hope for more Davos, Shireen and the Brotherhood without Banners (though I'm guessing that will happen)

  13. Have you read the books, ishruns?

  14. i

    Sort of. I bought a storm of swords after season 2 but because quite a bit was different I returned it and decided to be TV only. So my assumptions are based on what happens in TV only and Bran's really isn't too important right now, but I'm guessing your asking because it becomes important.

  15. That was a good guess. But I also think it's important all along in the books, and there are several other elements of your comment I don't necessarily agree with, but it would hard to say why safely (although I think the point we're at with the TV is far enough to make a case).

  16. i

    Can Eblogger do spoiler tags, cuz then I could safely learn what's contentious about my comment.

  17. Not in comments, alas.

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