Science, Fiction, Life

Month: April 2014

Recap & Review: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 4 “Oathkeeper”

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People seemed to like my recap/review last week, so here we go again!

We start the episode off with Gray Worm getting language lessons from Missandei, and a brief glimpse at their lives before they became slaves. Or, in the case of Gray Worm, the extent of his psychological damage. One of the nice things about the show is that it can do scenes like this and flesh out non-point-of-view characters. This scene segued into the taking of Meereen, with Gray Worm and some Unsullied sneaking into the city with weapons and arming the slaves. We get just a glimpse of the slaves trapping one of their masters in an alley and rushing him with a large number of knives. One weird part of this alley ambush scene was that there were words written on the wall… in English. Right on the heels of Gray Worm’s language lesson, and his speech to the slaves that so strongly reminded us that the people of Essos mostly don’t speak English, it was weird for the slaves’ threat to their masters to then be in English. If the show didn’t feel like inventing a written language, then why not just skip the red writing altogether?

I noticed that this week they did show a few slaves who seemed to be causcasian, and there was also mention of previous slave revolts, so that helps a bit to address some of my complaints about the tendency for these scenes in the show to be simply “white people show up and save brown people”. Still, I’m glad we’re transitioning to the next stage of Dany’s story where she has to come to grips with ruling all of her new subjects. We got the tiniest hint of this upcoming struggle when Barristan tried to advise Dany to be merciful to the captured slave masters, who are now her subjects. Of course, she had no interest in mercy for slavers, and she had 163 of them crucified just like the child slaves that the masters had placed along the road to Meereen.

From Meereen, we go to Jaime and Bronn practicing their swordsmanship again. After slapping Jaime down with his own golden hand, Bronn  manages to make Jaime feel bad about not visiting Tyrion in jail yet. This scene also serves as a nice reminder of Tyrion’s previous trial at the Eyrie, reminding viewers of those events before we return to the Eyrie next episode.

Cut to Jaime in Tyrion’s cell, failing to make Tyrion feel better by saying that his imprisonment by Robb Stark was way worse. They discuss the hopelessness of Tyrion’s situation, with particular emphasis on the fact that Cersei wants Tyrion dead by any means necessary. Jaime wants to help Tyrion, but when Tyrion suggests helping him escape, Jaime says that it’s impossible, especially since he’s the head of the kingsguard and Tyrion is on trial for regicide. They also discuss whether Sansa might be the killer, and that Cersei has put a price on her head.

Speaking of Sansa, she’s still on a boat with Littlefinger. She asks where they are going, and Littlefinger tells her they are going to the Eyrie for him to marry Lysa. She also asks him if he killed Joffrey, which leads to the first in what will be many examples of Littlefinger being a creepy dude while also teaching Sansa his crash course in being a power-hungry manipulative backstabber, who is also smart enough to avoid physical danger. It is my strong suspicion that these lessons of theirs are going to be very important for the future of Sansa’s story.

Anyway, Sansa is shocked to learn that her necklace played a role in the assassination. Littlefinger explains that his loyalties have shifted from the Lannisters to some new friends who wanted Joffrey dead (at this point the camera shifts to show Margery and Olenna walking in the garden, while Littlefinger’s voice continues), and that he enabled the assasination to “make a new friendship grow strong.” This was a nice nod to particularly obsessive book readers who may know that “Growing Strong” are the Tyrell house words.

Margery and Olenna chat in the garden about their next steps, and much to my surprise, Lady Olenna admits to Margery that she is the one who poisoned Joffrey. I was sure they would at least to wait for this reveal until the episode focusing on Tyrion’s trial, but apparently not! This way was rather anticlimactic, but then, find out out that Olenna did it is not really the exciting part is it? The exciting part is watching to see how Tyrion gets free when everyone is convinced he’s the culprit, including most of his own family members.

His siblings have a tense encounter where Cersei questions Jaime about why the Starks released him, and then questions his loyalty given that he swore to return the Stark girls to their mother. She is outraged when he refuses to hunt down Sansa and return with her head. Cersei is also annoyed that only one kingsguard is posted at Tommen’s door, and orders Jaime to place more men there. This scene begins with Jaime greeting Cersei formally as “queen regent”, and ends with her dismissing him just as formally.

What’s really weird about this scene is that it completely ignores what happened last episode. I said last week that I hoped the show had a really good reason for changing a consensual sex scene in the books to a rape scene in the show, but it appears that the show is going to proceed as if nothing happened. Yes, Jaime and Cersei are more and more at odds, but their unraveling relationship was already clear without tossing a random rape scene in. What’s most concerning is how this episode clearly thinks Jamie is a good guy and Cersei is evil/crazy. This whole confrontation, it’s clear that the viewer is supposed to be siding with Jaime. After all, Cersei is angry at him for doing whatever was necessary to get back to her, she orders him to hunt down and kill an innocent girl, and she tells him how to do his job protecting the king. And yeah, it would be easy to side with Jamie in this scene, except for the part where he raped her last episode. For all her many failings, Cersei is not a weak character, but we’re suppose to think she is going to do nothing about being raped other than chide her rapist brother for not posting enough guards on Tommen’s room? I’m just failing to see why this major change was made if they don’t plan to follow through with it.

But, moving on. We get to see Jamie being a sympathetic and nice guy to Brienne (please just ignore the voice in your head that keeps reminding you that he’s a rapist who throws children out of windows). He gives her his Valyrian steel sword and a sweet suit of armor and asks her to track down and protect Sansa. In a change from the books, he asks her to name the sword instead of naming it himself. The name is the same: “Oathkeeper”, but coming from her it’s a not-so-subtle jab at him rather than the ironic self-deprecation that we see in the books. Also: Pod is going with Brienne! I liked this change. In the books, it takes him a while to catch up with her, but this way we get another wonderful odd couple to travel around with.

Back in the castle, we see Margery follow Olenna’s advice and pay her future husband a late-night visit. This scene was wonderfully awkward, but was great at showing Margey’s skill at manipulating Lannister boys, and at knowing right where to draw the line, kissing the boy on the forehead before leaving. Also, can I just say how great it is that Ser Pounce is now in the show? It’s actually a smart and concise way of differentiating Tommen from Joffrey. Joffrey killed things with his crossbow, Tommen raised a kitten and named it Ser Pounce, and that basically tells you what you need to know about the brothers.

And finally let’s talk about what happened at the Wall and beyond. Jon is training new recruits and who should appear but Locke, on his mission from the Boltons to kill Jon. Not that Jon knows it yet, since Locke is posing as a newbie who just happens to know how to fight. Jon is sent back inside to clean chamber pots by Allister Thorne, who is then advised by Janos Slynt that maybe that foray beyond the wall might be a good way to get rid of Jon Snow. They meet with Jon later in the mess hall, where Allister is messily eating some chicken. Messily eating seems to be shorthand for “this person is loathsome”, see also: Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor. John gets permission, but is only allowed to take volunteers, a neat way for Thorne and Slynt to see who Jon’s friends are.

Cut to Craster’s keep itself, where we are very quickly reminded that the mutineers are bad guys. The show lays it on really thick here. Not only is what’s-his-face drinking out of Lord Mormont’s skull, but he is encouraging his men to rape Craster’s wives “until they’re dead”. To fulfill the show’s nudity quota for the episode, we get a brief glimpse of several of the wives without clothes on, being taken by some of the mutineers. There’s even an out-of-focus rape going on in the background of the shot while what’s-his-name rambles drunkenly about growing up on the streets. It’s almost as if this show doesn’t really get that rape is a horrible thing. They’re using it here as an excuse for nudity, because why else would these women be nude or partially clothed? They live in a shack in the arctic. So is the young male demographic supposed to find it sexy to see these women partially clothed…while being raped? There’s all sorts of things wrong with that. Are the showrunners going to argue that showing these rapes was necessary to establish that these are bad guys? Because I’m pretty sure drinking from a human skull establishes that pretty well!

Anyway, one of the wives comes forward with a newborn, who is set out in to cold as a sacrifice. Nearby, Bran et al hear the baby crying and Bran wargs into his wolf to go investigate, only for the wolf to first find that Ghost has been locked up, and then get captured himself. Bran et al. rush into the camp and are promptly captured, and the mutineers do some Hodor-baiting (I was really hoping Bran would warg into Hodor and kick some butt, but alas). They also discover that Bran is Bran, and are pleased to have such a valuable captive. Also: Jojen has a seizure.

I’m really wondering what HBO plans to do with this storyline, which is entirely new. I can’t see how Jon and Bran can meet and still have things go as they’re supposed to, but I don’t see how they wouldn’t meet either. One thing’s for sure, it is really exciting to watch the show and not know what is going to happen. Is this what it’s like for non-readers the whole time? No wonder this show is so popular!

And speaking of things that are totally made up and not in the books. How about them white walkers? We get to see one pick up the sacrificial baby, and carry it to some sort of icy stonehenge, where the king of the white walkers (?) comes out and turns the baby into a walker?! That was certainly… interesting!

One thing’s for sure, the show is getting much more confident in deviating from the books, and in this case, it might even be getting into territory that is in future books. It’s exciting to be seeing things as a new viewer sees them, but also a bit scary for people like me who hoped that the books would remain well ahead of the show so that we can experience events in the “official” novel setting before seeing them on the screen. I suspect this is just a taste of things to come…

Recap & Review: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 3 “Breaker of Chains”

I realized last week that, as someone who does reviews and is a big fan of Game of Thrones, I should really be posting reviews of each week’s episode. So, Here we go, starting with the third episode of this season: “Breaker of Chains.”  Warning: here be spoilers! 

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So. Last week Joffrey kicked the bucket and this week we begin to see the aftermath. I was expecting the showrunners to make it clear that the murder was coming and who was in on it, to build suspense by giving the audience information that the characters don’t have, a la Hitchcock’s famous example of the bomb under the table. But I like what they did instead even better. Leaving it ambiguous, with so many suspects, makes the suspense last a lot longer, and gives viewers who haven’t read the books the fun of guessing whodunnit.

This week’s episode starts with Tyrion being arrested, and Sansa’s escape, which was done well. I liked the touch with the necklace, giving non-book readers another hint as to its significance. Gems, and even glass, don’t normally shatter that easily.  Also, let it be noted that Littlefinger as always is a creeper. I’m still not a fan of the weird growly voice they gave him in the show, but it’s way too late to change that.

Next, we see Joffrey’s wake, where he is looking mighty creepy with those eye-stones. I enjoyed Tywin’s lecture to Tommen (non-book-readers: remember Tommen? He’s suddenly important!), particularly because it was also a lecture to Cersei, basically saying: “You messed up with Joffrey, I’ll take over from here with Tommen. PS: Tommen, has your mother explained where babies come from?”)

I liked that part of the scene. I even liked when Cersei demands that Jamie kill Tyrion, because it shows (a) how messed up and paranoid she is, and (b) how conflicted Jamie is. But then for some reason he rapes her, which is… rather different than the (mostly) consensual crypt-sex in the books, and casts Jamie in a very different light. He’s already an incestuous dude who pushed children out of windows, so I get that he is still a terrible person, but we were in the process of coming to sympathize with him against our better judgement. This is something that Martin does really well in the books, taking bad guys and making you sympathize, and taking good guys and making them unlikable. But I have to say, showing Jamie raping his sister in a church next to the body of his dead son makes it pretty hard to redeem his character. The audience is not going to sympathize much with him now, are they? It will be interesting to see what the show intends to do with this. I hope they did it for a very good reason.

Aside from the plot ramifications for the show, I can’t see how this was a good move for HBO considering the abundant criticism of the books and the show for their misogynistic tendencies and heavy use of rape. Deliberately changing the story to add in the rape of one of the more prominent female characters shows a disturbing level of ignorance about the ongoing discussions of sexism and rape culture in modern media and particularly in sci-fi and fantasy. (This article from A.V. Club deals more eloquently and in greater detail with the show’s tendency to turn sex scenes from the books into rape scenes in the show, and its implications)

Speaking of HBO’s misogyny issue: later in the episode we got some more gratuitous nudity in the brothel as Tywin walks in on Oberyn in the midst of an orgy. At least there was some minor male nudity to even things out this time, but still. I’ve said it many times: almost every episode HBO deploys some gratuitous nudity and/or violence just because they can, not necessarily because they should. Otherwise though, the conversation between Oberyn and Tywin at the brothel was an interesting confrontation that we don’t get to see in the books, which is something that I appreciate about the show.

The episode also returns to everyone’s favorite odd couple: Arya and The Hound. They somehow manage to serve as comic relief even as they do terrible things. This week the comedy comes from Arya claiming the Hound is her dad and then reacting with silent astonishment as he decides to work for a fair wage for the poor farmer the encounter. The terrible part comes pretty quickly though: the Hound knocks the farmer out and steals his silver. Again: a character who started out as a bad guy, became more sympathetic, but now seems to be headed back toward baddie territory by revising his personal code to permit robbery.

We also check in with Sam and Gilly at the wall in a wonderfully awkward few scenes as he tries to protect her from his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, many of whom are “rapers”, but can’t bring himself to say that he is interested in her. Unfortunately for Gilly, Sam’s version of protecting her involves shipping her off to Mole’s town rather than, you know, actually being willing to confront any of his brothers in person if they try to do anything inappropriate.

Jon’s story line at the wall looks like it is going to be doing some ad-libbing, with a possible foray beyond the wall to get rid of the rebellious Crows who murdered the lord commander and took over Craster’s keep. This doesn’t happen in the books that I recall, and I suspect it is just to give Jon something to do until the battle at the wall happens. But I guess we’ll see how this plays out.

Next stop: Stannis and Davos at Dragonstone, where Stannis is happy to hear that Joffrey is dead (thanks to Melisandre’s leech-magic, he believes), but less than happy that he is lacking an army or any money. Davos goes from Stannis to Shireen for his reading lesson, and we get a fun scene between this adorable odd couple (the show seems to really enjoy these odd-couple pairings, and I can’t complain, they work). I like’s Davos’ quip that the difference between a smuggler and a pirate is that if you’re a smuggler and everyone knows your name, you’re not very good at your job.

Shireen’s book-of-the-week inspires Davos to get the money needed for Stannis to hire an army by borrowing from the Iron Bank of Braavos. I’m pretty sure the Lannisters have also been borrowing from the iron bank, and I’m sure nothing terrible will befall whoever fails to repay the bank when the time comes.

Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion is locked up, and has a sad scene with Podrick, where he essentially orders Pod to testify against him, figuring that it’s best not to take the boy down with him in the ongoing fiasco. The scene, much like the one in the book, helps to reinforce just how hopeless Tyrion’s situation is. Basically the only person he can turn to is Jamie. In the show, even Shae is gone, but somehow I suspect she will make a shocking appearance at the trial, which, by the way, is going to be an awesome episode.

The episode wraps up with Dany doing her thing at Meereen. The duel between the Meereenese champion and new-Daario was fun, but as a book reader I couldn’t help but miss Strong Belwas. Oh well. Dany gives a nice speech and then launches barrels of broken shackles into the city, presumably inciting a slave rebellion.

The whole Dany-frees-the-slaves story line has a rather uncomfortable “white people save brown people” thing going. Notice that all of the most important characters in Dany’s storyline are white? And how the slaves are not even a single race of darker-skinned people, but are just generally brown? It’s as if the show decided that people with brown skin are interchangeable, but they had better not include any white people among the slaves, to make it clear that they are different from the White Heroes. This is another issue that has been with Game of Thrones since the first season and has been discussed in great detail elsewhere so I’ll just say: Yep, the show is still doing this, and yep, it’s still uncomfortable. On a related note, if you’d like to get a better understanding of the controversy over race in Game of Thrones and other fictional (and historical!) depictions of medieval worlds, I very highly recommend checking out the Medieval People of Color tumblr. It’s worth reading if for no other reason than that it demolishes the argument that a lack of people of color in medieval Europe-like settings is “historically accurate”.

And that wraps up this weeks episode. This was definitely a set-up episode for events later in the season, but I find myself often enjoying these types of episodes of the show quite a bit.  This season has been consistently good so far, which is fitting since there’s so much exciting stuff that happens in the latter half of the third book, but it’s nice to see. I’m really looking forward to some of the events later in this season, and HBO has made it quite clear that they will be sprinkled throughout the season rather than having a big episode 9 shocker like previous years. This, plus the show’s gradual departure from the strict timeline of the books, makes it fun to watch even as a book reader who technically knows what will happen, because I don’t know what will happen when anymore!

 

8-Question Book Meme!

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I came across this meme over on SF Signal, and it reminded me of the olden days of Live Journal, when it seemed like all anyone did was post answers to sets of themed questions. For nostalgia’s sake, and because I’ve been too busy to do much reading, writing, or blogging lately, here are my answers:

  • The first science fiction, fantasy or horror book I ever read was:
  • The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I read that I’d put in my “Top 20″ list is:
    • I guess I would say Wool by Hugh Howey is the last book that has really wowed me enough to earn five stars on Goodreads, and I’m pretty stingy with my 5-star ratings. You can read my full review here.
  • The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I couldn’t finish was:
    • I don’t often give up on books partway through. I guess the last time I did was for Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. I’ve heard great things about the Malazan series, but I put this one down after just a few chapters because it wasn’t working for me. Of course, my impatience with this book might be because I tried it during the primary operations period for the Curiosity Mars rover, when I was living in an apartment in Pasadena, working bizarre hours on the rover team, and my leisure hours were very precious. Maybe I’ll give this another try someday when I am more rested and less stressed out…
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror author whose work I cannot get enough of is:
    • I’m not so fervently loyal to any one author that I don’t get tired of them eventually. Sure, I am waiting eagerly for the next book in certain series, but no author is perfect and variety is good. For example, I love George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, but before A Dance with Dragons came out, I re-read the whole series and I was definitely ready for something else afterward. The same thing happened when reading a massive collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories. I love his writing style, but after such a large dose of it I was ready for something different. So basically, I don’t have a good answer for this question.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror author I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet is:
    • Peter S. Beagle is the first that comes to mind. In particular, several authors who I respect greatly have recommended The Last Unicorn, but I have not gotten around to reading it yet. Also, I am ashamed to say that I have never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut!
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book I would recommend to someone who hasn’t read sf/f/h is:
    • I suspect most people have actually read something that is sf/f/h, or at least watched movies in these genres. But for someone who really has no idea what to read, I would have to say The Fellowship of the Ring for fantasy, just because it is so fundamental to the genre. Some people say that books like Game of Thrones are a better “gateway” because they are not so prominently fantastical, but I would argue that in many ways Game of Thrones is a response to Lord of the Rings, so it is much better if you are already familiar with the genre. Also, I guess I favor going “all in”: If someone wants to try fantasy, I prefer to recommend something that is clearly fantasy (while still being excellent).
    • For science fiction, I would recommend Fahrenheit 451. It’s a wonderful book with beautiful writing, and clearly has a speculative element to it, but also shows how sci-fi can be used to say something about current issues and society.
    • I don’t read much horror, but I really enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, so I guess I would recommend that. Stephen King’s The Stand was also great, but I think I consider post-apocalyptic a genre of its own that overlaps with horror and science fiction.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly underrated is:
    • I had to think about this for a while, but I will go with City by Clifford Simak. For some reason, while Asimov and Bradbury and Clark are still well-known names from golden age sci-fi, Simak is not. I really enjoyed City, and the stories have a quiet poignancy that stands out from some of the more gee-whiz technology-oriented older sci-fi.
  • A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly overrated is:

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