Posted in Television

No Surprises

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Never Get Between a Khaleesi and Her Dragon

“Game of Thrones” Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood,” certainly brought a bushel basket of new developments. In no particular order:

Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother, whom everyone thought dead, appeared out of the mist and snow to rescue Bran and Meera from one angry band of wights;

Sam Tarly’s father ridiculed his first- born for being fat, insulted Gilly for being a wildling and otherwise acted like a total jerk;

Edmure Tully, Caitlyn Stark’s brother and bridegroom at the Red Wedding, showed up alive, if most likely not entirely well, as a captive of Walder Frey;

Tommen drank the Sparrows’ Kool-Aid and declared politics and religion to be the twin stanchions of King’s Landing;

Drogon found Dany (see above); and (finally)

Arya reclaimed Needle and presumably her identity as a Stark.

However, with the exception of this last, which I’ll get to in a moment, none of these were really surprising. All were variously foreshadowed, hinted at, and had their seeds planted at various times over previous seasons of the show (Keep in mind this is coming from soneone who never gets the murderer right in mysteries). I don’t intend this as criticism—actually it’s a relief to be freed of mayhem for a week to focus on storytelling,

For a number of viewers I’m certain the reappearance of Benjen Stark was the most surprising, at least after they got over their initial “Who in the world is that?” Given that we last saw Benjen in Season 1, this reaction was predictable. If you recall, our last view of Benjen was his departure from Castle Black to scout north of the Wall, at which point he seemingly disappeared into oblivion. However, if you’ve read or even glanced at the George R.R.Martin novels, you’ll notice that Benjen, as listed in the Stark family tree, is described as (I’m paraphrasing here) “missing and presumed dead.” Based on this ambiguity alone I never bought his demise, and since a body never turned up, I expected a living Benjen to appear at some point. And so he did—at the most fortuitous moment.

Sam Tarly’s father isn’t worth discussing, so we won’t linger. Nevertheless, while foreshadowing is a major theme this week, I fully expect the sword Heartsbane to be put to use before this season ends, and by the budding maester himself.

Edmure Tully? The last we saw of him he was being hustled out of the Frey banquet hall as the slaughter began at the Red Wedding. Edmure was always more valuable to Walder Frey as a live captive as opposed to a dead Stark in-law, so again, no surprise there. But am I looking forward to the eventual hellish torture of Walder Frey? You better believe it.

While GoT has obviously been pointing toward Tommen’s getting religion, it feels like there’s a great deal more to come. I can’t help but think his conversion was Step One in a Margaery game plan, no matter how demure she appeared when Tommen announced the alliance of church and state. That girl is still Olenna Tyrell’s granddaughter, and has she ever learned her lessons well. With no love lost between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that she sees a Tommen-High Sparrow partnership as the best way to permanently render the Lannisters politically as well as militarily impotent, what with Jamie ordered off to Riverrun for Lannisters vs. Starks, Round Two.

Despite all this, the most intriguing development—and for me the one real surprise of the episode—was Arya’s refusal to go through with the assigned murder of Lady Crane. One of the more distressing arcs of GoT has been Arya’s transformation from a lovable girl with a strong moral sense into a killer with a hit list. Not that she doesn’t have cause—betrayal and witnessing your father’s public beheading will do that, not to mention seeing your brother’s corpse paraded about topped by Grey Wolf’s head. A real turning point came when she abandoned a dying Hound. While she later voiced some ambivalence about it, the act was perhaps more shocking than her butchering of Merwyn Trent.

Why did Arya knock the cup of poisoned rum out of Lady Crane’s hand? Was she so awed by Lady Crane’s skills as an actress? More likely she was swayed by the actress’ interest and unexpected warmth. Arya hasn’t had any mothering in a very long time, and Lord knows, Jaquen and the Waif aren’t exactly nurturing types. Nor are they any fun, and it was wonderful to see Arya enjoying the troupe’s ribald performance. It would be fitting indeed for Arya to fulfill the Faceless’ mission by becoming an actress and wearing many faces.

So after two seasons in The House of Black and White she finally retrieves Needle and presumably reclaims her identity as a Stark. While she couldn’t beat the Waif as a Girl Who Has No Name, my money’s on her to do so as her father’s daughter.

One final note: I’m not spoiled, but there was a huge anvil dropped when Cersei, in her usual “I always win” manner, told Jamie not to worry about her upcoming trial by combat to be conducted by the Sparrows—the Mountain will be her champion. Guess what, honey? I think the Hound is alive and well and in the employ of the Sparrows. The Clegane Brothers still have a lot of issues to settle, for sure.

To be continued.

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Posted in Television

Come Together

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Finally.

Two Starks in the same place–and at the same time.

Was there a dry eye in the house when Sansa Stark and Jon Snow were reunited at Castle Black? Their mutual astonishment was beautifully played–not a beat too short, nor a beat too long (Kudos to Sophie Turner and Kit Harrington, who are giving terrific performances this season). As they contemplate the present situation, their states of mind couldn’t be further apart. He’s grown weary of the fight; she, showing more and more of her mother’s grit, is determined to retake the North from Ramsay Bolton. Nevertheless by the end of the episode, with his family and Castle Black under threat, he’s back in the fray.

The tenor of this season of GoT has been unlike any other. Despite Melisandre’s magic and Bran’s warging, there’s a new sense of groundedness. Bran and Arya are no longer children; more essential perhaps is that Sansa is longer a pawn. There’s also a feeling of convergence, of an end in sight; in fact the show runners have indicated that there may only be two more truncated seasons of GoT. But more than that it seems having burned through the five “Fire and Ice” novels, the show’s spirit, not just its plot, has been freed in a fundamental way.

However not every storyline shares the blessing of creativity. The show runners may love Ramsey Bolton, his smirk and his weekly brutality show, but all have worn out their welcome. I realize “Less is more” is not exactly GoT’s motto, but as far as Ramsey’s concerned, its application would be most welcome.

On a more positive note this episode served as an excellent tutorial on how to negotiate common interests. Wonder of wonders, the Lannisters and the Tyrells agreed to join forces to break the High Sparrow’s hold on King’s Landing and free Margaery and Loras (Good luck with that). More ominous, though, is the deal Tyrion struck with the Masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volaris. Sadly, I think Grey Worm and Missandei are right. I sense that our favorite Lannister has seriously misjudged the situation—the Masters’ “best interests” are likely more complicated than he thinks, and his support in Meeren seems to be wearing thin. Dragons to the rescue?

Speaking of deals, Littlefinger has returned, still playing both ends against the middle. His end game has seemingly not changed—claim Sansa and through her, rule the North. Although he’s promised Sansa to the rather simple Robin Arryn, the Lord of the Vale is only Littlefinger’s tool. It takes no effort to foresee that Lord Baelish will drop the kid (literally) once he’s no longer of use. I find it somewhat amusing that Petyr Baelish is a virtual personality clone of Tommy Carcetti, the insatiable politician Aidan Gillen played in another superb HBO series, “The Wire,” without the homicides, of course. Obviously the passage of centuries, albeit in reverse, has not withered his charms.

A few final random thoughts:

Brienne almost stole the show. Whether making her entrance into Castle Black to Thormund’s astonishment, stating that she’ll neither forgive nor forget Renley’s murder, or being revolted by the table fare of the Night’s Watch (or Edd’s manners–it was hard to tell), she just shone.

In the prison scene with Loras, Natalie Dormer as Margaery never looked more like the young Diana Rigg. Great casting for this grandmother/granddaughter team.

Dany does it again! Evidently you don’t need dragons’ eggs to survive a killing fire. Danaerys Stormborn had a definite plan from the start: the smirk she wore throughout that ripe Dothraki judgment scene just said it all.

Onward, “Game of Thrones”!

Posted in Television

In Stark We Trust

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Eyeing the Past: The Three-Eyed Raven and Bran Stark

We “Game of Thrones” fanatics never doubted it for a minute.

The build-up was tremendous. Try as she might, Melisandre seemingly could not bring Jon Snow back to life. Not really surprising, considering his chest was riddled with wounds. But the pay-off came in a bit of delayed action mojo when we finally saw Jon draw his first agonized breath, eyes wide open in shock. Let the games begin!

This last scene of Episode 2, “Home,” was a superb bookend to what we saw at the beginning of the show. In a surprise move, Bran Stark, missing since Season 4, made his reappearance. Although now in late adolescence, he’s still under the tutelage of the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran is a young man of many talents, not the least of which is his ability to warg, i.e., leave his crippled body and inhabit another, fully ambulatory. He’s since added time travel to his skill-set, and in a poignant sequence he watches his father and Uncle Benjen as young children learning sword play. Bran’s stroll down memory lane at Winterfell affords us a glimpse not only of Lyanna, whose rape and murder presaged the events of the GoT saga, but also the teen-aged stable boy Hodor, who not only can speak, but whose name is actually Wilys. I can’t wait for more Winterfell back story.

In a move that made me jump, Ramsey Bolton knifed his father to death upon learning of the birth of his half-brother. Apparently the assurance from Daddy Roose that “I’ll always consider you my firstborn” wasn’t good enough. In a way I was disappointed. Given Roose’s role in the Red Wedding, I was hoping the show runners would save him for a revenge killing by one of the Stark kids. Lady Stoneheart, where are you?

Ramsey’s dispatch of Walda Frey and her son via unleashed hounds underscored my growing Ramsey fatigue. I get it—he’s so villainous that the show runners are forced to up the grue ante every week. But they’ve made Ramsey so awful that he’s becoming a parody of himself. There’s always been an element of not-quite camp with Ramsey and pronouncements like “I always wanted to be an only child” following the murder of his half-brother undermine the tone of his actions, and not in a good way. I relish black comedy, but I much prefer the badinage of Varys and Tyrion. The wit displayed is far sharper.

Speaking of which, I was glad to see:

–Tyrion making new friends. Nothing like cultivating Daenerys’ left-behind dragons to create a reptilian air force.

–Arya finally getting off the schneid and evidently undertaking Step Two toward becoming No One.

–More scenes in the North with Sansa and Brienne. It’s always magical to see the snow falling in the mists of Winterfell.

–Theon Greyjoy, maimed as he is, heading home to vie for the kingship of the Iron Islands. A coming struggle between Theon and his sister should prove far more interesting than the doings of the Sand Snakes.

–The ongoing clash of the Lannisters and the High Sparrow (jonathan Pryce), a wonderfully passive-aggressive villain (Not a few will cheer when he finally gets his). A repentant Tommen’s reliance on the once again empowered Cersei makes a wonderful addition to the mix. Good times should shortly ensue.

“Game of Thrones” now seems fully under way once more. Sunday can’t come soon enough.