Science, Fiction, Life

Month: May 2014

Recap/Review: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 7 – “Mockingbird”

Another very good episode of Game of Thrones this week. Some changes from the books, some direct quotes, but all good stuff. Book and show spoilers ahead! Also, I’ve given up on doing the recaps in chronological order… lately there is so much packed into an episode that remembering it all is hard enough. Remembering it in order? Nope.

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The episode started off with Tyrion and Jamie arguing about Tyrion’s awesome speech from last episode. Jamie can’t believe Tyrion threw away his only chance at living because he fell in love with a whore. And then I yelled at the TV: “But you’re in love with your twin sister. And you raped her next to your dead son’s body!” And then Tyrion said something pretty similar, pointing out that Jaime can get away with anything up to and including losing his hand and incest, but Tyrion can never catch a break because he’s always guilty in his family’s eyes. The scene ends with Jaime revealing that he can’t fight with his left hand, so he won’t be Tyrion’s champion.

The episode came back to Tyrion’s cell a couple of times as he tried to find other champions to fight for him. The second scene in his cell is between him and Bronn. This was a deviation from how it went in the books, but it was a really well done scene. It was hard to watch Bronn say no, but at the same time it made perfect sense. I particularly liked when Bronn asked Tyrion “When was the last time you risked your life for me?” Ouch.

But for me the final scene in Tyrion’s cell, with Oberyn, was my favorite of the episode. Partially because much of it was a direct quote from the books, revealing just how deep Cersei’s hatred for Tyrion goes, but mostly because Pedro Pascal and Peter Dinklage acted the heck out of the scene. The show has made Oberyn such a badass, and Pascal has played the role perfectly. I’m really looking forward to the big showdown with the mountain next week.

Speaking of which: The Mountain apparently practices his fighting on prisoners? This short scene sure got the point across that he’s brutal, but also, I have to think it wouldn’t be very good practice. I think this is the third actor the show has had playing the mountain, but at least this one is not just tall but also huge. Once he’s suited up in full armor, he’s going to look enormous, which is perfect.

The other Clegane brother had a painful episode this week. After Arya and the Hound come across a farmer with a mortal wound, we get to see Arya being nihilistic about death and then the Hound mercy-kills the guy, teaching Arya where to stab to hit the heart and make it a quick death. And then the Hound gets jumped and bitten by Biter, who he promptly dispatches. They have a longer conversation with Rorge: just long enough so Arya can learn his name, add him to her hit-list, and then cross of his name with a well-placed Needle to the heart.

I’m not sure why Rorge and Biter died here, because in the books don’t they have to cross paths with Brienne? I guess Brienne’s mauling at the hands teeth of Biter won’t be happening. This scene served the purpose of giving the Hound a nasty infected wound, which I believe is consistent with the books.

Later on in the episode, the Hound is trying to stitch the wound shut, and freaks out when Arya tries to burn away the infected flesh with a flaming brand. This allowed the show to give the backstory of the Hound’s scarred face, which he told to Sansa long ago in the books, further establishing that his brother is a monster. I wondered why they downplayed the relationship between the Hound and Sansa and left out this moment back in earlier seasons, but I can understand why they might have wanted to save the details of his scars for this episode.

The other odd couple, Brienne and Pod are stopping at an inn to eat something that Pod has not set on fire, and the find familiar baker who loves to go on and on about the nuances of making a proper steak and kidney pie. Hot Pie! When Brienne tells Hot Pie that they are looking for a Stark girl he clams up, but then approaches them as they are getting ready to leave, saying that he knew Arya stark, and giving them some adorable direwolf bread to give to her if they find her. So, Birenne and Pod decide that their best bet is to head toward the Vale, and the Stark girls’ last living relative, Lysa.

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In the Vale, Sansa is reminiscing about Winterfell and showing some serious snow-castle-making prowess when Robin shows up. He gets really excited about the prospect of adding a moon door to Winterfell, apparently not making the mental leap that a moon door requires a castle to be perched on a cliff. When he knocks over a tower Sansa gets upset and nobody gets upset with the Lord of the Vale, so he goes Godzilla on her castle. So she slaps him. No seizures for show-Robin apparently, but he runs off crying and Sansa immediately realizes that she probably can’t get away with slapping Robin no matter how much he deserves it.

Littlefinger shows up and reveals that his real reason for killing Joffrey was his deep love for Catelyn. Nope, no other motives, just True Love. I definitely believe you, Littlefinger. And then Littlefinger goes into full creep mode, saying in one breath that Sansa could have been his daughter with Catelyn, and then kissing her because she reminds him of Catelyn. And of course, Lysa sees.

She confronts Sansa in the throne room and totally flips out, threatening to toss Sansa out the moon door. We are reminded again that Lysa has committed murder because of her love for Littlefinger. I still don’t understand why we learned about her murder of Jon Arryn a few episodes ago instead of this week, but anyway. Petyr comes in just in time and talks Lysa into letting Sansa go. Then he tells Lysa that he has only ever loved one person… her sister. And out the moon door she goes. Apparently in the books his last words to her are “Only Cat,” and this has the more die-hard book-reading fans upset about the line change. I was not that attached to the specific line, but it does highlight the show’s annoying tendency to change things that don’t need to be changed.

Considering that the defense the show gave for slipping Lysa’s big confession into a bit of throwaway dialogue with Petyr was that viewers are smart enough to catch little details and figure things out, it seems silly to change the line from “Only Cat” to “Your sister” so that viewers aren’t confused. Either claim that you think viewers are smart enough to follow along, or be honest about dumbing down some details to make the show easier to follow. Don’t do one and then claim to be doing the other.

Up at the wall, we just get a quick scene to show that, yes, Jon Snow made it back to Castle Black, and no, Thorne and Slynt et al. still don’t like him, or his wolf. Jon urges them to seal off the gate of the wall with ice and rocks, saying that a giant could definitely break through the 4-inch steel bars that currently brace the door. Thorne scoffs at this, virtually guaranteeing that he will later be killed by a giant busting through those doors.

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Across the sea in warmer climes, Daario sneaks into Dany’s room and complains that he isn’t allowed to kill anyone fun anymore and that if she’s not interested in him then he needs a mission. She orders him to take off his clothes. We check back in the next morning as Daario is leaving and Jorah (also known as Lord Friendzone on twitter) is not particularly happy to see that Dany has decided to put Daario’s talents to good use. He also urges temperance when she blithely says that she has sent Daario and his men off to massacre the slave masters in Yunkai.

Jorah reminds Dany (and viewers) that he was once a slaver and is only alive because of Ned Stark’s mercy. I liked how this set up a contrast between Dany and Ned, and also showed once again how interconnected the characters on the show are, even when they are on separate continents. Ned was the sort of good ruler that Dany wishes to be, and this is a Stark reminder (I didn’t even mean to make that pun until I had already written it) that she is veering over to the dark side and acting more like the bad rulers she wishes to depose than the good ruler she wants to be. She decides to let Hizdar zo Loraq accompany Daario and give the slave masters an ultimatum instead of just summarily executing them.

And finally, we checked back in with Melisandre at Dragonstone, where she is enjoying a half-filled bathtub and revealing to Stannis’ wife that she lies a lot to convert people to the faith. This scene seemed to exist primarily to fit some female nudity into the episode (can’t briefly show a naked man in the show without balancing it out with lingering shots of a naked woman), and also to inform the viewers that Melisandre has some nefarious plans involving Shireen, presumably related to her royal blood. Speaking of which, what ever happened to Gendry, who seemed to be taking the place of Edric Storm? Now Shireen is being the royal blood instead of Edric? Also, apparently Stannis and friends are getting ready to set out on a voyage. Do we know what this is about? Has the show told us that he plans to sail north, or why?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough. That’s a wrap for this week. Next week… is memorial day, so no new episode. And then we get to see the duel between the Mountain and the Viper that everyone has been waiting for!

Recap & Review: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 6 “The Laws of Gods and Men”

After a few slower set-up/filler episodes, this one was a breath of fresh air. Yes, it contained scenes that were completely made up for the show, but they never felt as pointless or far from the main plot as the strange Craster’s keep arc did. Warning spoilers for the episode and for future plot points ahead!

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The episode starts off with the dramatic introduction of a new location: Braavos, complete with its giant titan (a bit larger than I had always pictured it, but that’s something I’m willing to forgive in a world with 700 foot tall walls of ice). In a completely new but very good scene (with a nice cameo by the actor who plays Mycroft on Sherlock), we get to see Stannis beg the iron bank for money on the grounds that his bloodline makes him deserve it. They aren’t particularly interested in his bloodline and dismiss him, but luckily Davos has a thing or five to say about how Stannis pays people back. While Stannis pouts in the corner, Davos earns him the money by impressing the bankers with Stannis’ character rather than his royal blood. This argument apparently works, because next thing we know Davos is interrupting Sallador Saan’s bathtime comedy hour at the brothel with a large sum of gold and an order to be ready to sail at dawn.

Back in Westeros, Asha Yara and her Iron-Born seal team six decide that sailing at night is better for their purposes. We get a rousing voiceover style speech as she leads her men into the Dreadfort to rescue Theon. They scale the walls and find their way to the kennels where Reek is being kept. He’s completely terrified, convinced that this is just another cruel trick that Ramsay Snow Bolton is playing on him, and he refuses to go. This gives Ramsay himself enough time to leave his human-hunting lady friend in the bedroom and come charging into battle half-dressed. I guess he’s a pretty good fighter because he manages to kill quite a few ironborn while only sustaining minor scratches. All TV-watching instincts say that we’re about to see a cool fight scene between Ramsay and Yara, but instead he just opens up the kennels, and next thing we know, Yara and her men are fleeing in their boats, and Yara is saying that Theon is dead.

This ending to the scene was pretty abrupt, and it bothered me a bit that a group of warriors who just battled their way through a castle full of armed and armored men, run away when a few dogs are released. I mean, being mauled by dogs is pretty scary, but the dogs aren’t wearing armor. I guess Ramsay and his men could have easily dispatched the ironborn while they were grappling with the dogs? But this still seemed a bit weak to me. In this episode I think this action scene was the weakest, but overall it was still fine, and it helped that it was early on in the episode.

There’s a brief follow-up with Reek and Ramsay later in the episode, where Reek is rewarded with a hot bath from his psychopathic host. Mostly this scene involved a lot of cringing on the part of the audience about whether even HBO would be willing to show a castrated man naked below the waist, and the answer was no. But this scene also set up Reek’s next big task: in a truly cruel twist, he now has to go and “pretend” to be Theon Greyjoy to help Ramsay take back Moat Cailin from the Ironborn.

Over in Meereen, Dany’s dragons are roasting goats and she is feeling smug when she pays the poor goatherds thrice the cost of their lost livestock. I seem to recall in the book that it’s the skeleton of a young boy rather than a goat that the poor goatherd deposits in Dany’s throne room… but maybe we’re working our way up to that. Dany is considerably less pleased with herself when the guy whose name I can never remember shows up and reveals that his father was one of the men that Dany crucified, and that he had argued against the crucifixion of the slave children. So even though he was one of the Masters, he was innocent of that particular crime that Dany claimed to be punishing him for.  Of course we knew something like this would be coming after seeing Dany confidently ignore Selmy’s advice to have mercy, but this scene was very well done. Turns out “doing what queens do: Rule” is a lot harder than it sounds and Dany is shaken after her encounter. And she has more than two hundred more to get through. Dany, if I may suggest something? Delegate some authority. Ok, maybe not to Daario, maybe not even to Jorah (he does have that unfortunate history of selling slaves and spying on you), but Barristan Selmy seems like a solid choice.

So that was the first half of the episode. The second half was Tyrion’s trial. The show did a great job with this. It felt a bit rushed, but on the other hand it might be better than erring on the side of too long and boring. All of the witnesses dredging up every witty remark that Tyrion ever made was great, mostly because it took all those moments that show viewers cheered for Tyrion’s willingness to speak truth to power and basically said: “See? This is what you get when you tell the truth in this show.” You get, in Jamie’s words, “a farce” of a trial. The brief scene between Jaime and Tywin was, I think, something new that wasn’t in the books, but it was well done. It was great to see the shock on Jamie’s face as Tywin called his bluff without batting an eye. It’s a shame that Tywin won’t be around much longer on the show, because Charles Dance is nailing the character.

They dealt with Shae’s shocking return to King’s Landing and her betrayal of Tyrion very well. This was something that the show did differently than the books, but they laid the groundwork for it very nicely and it paid off. I also enjoyed the tendency for the camera to find its way to Margery, who struggled through the whole trial knowing for a fact that Lady Olenna did the deed and that Tyrion is innocent.

But most of all, I enjoyed Peter Dinklage’s performance as Tyion. Let’s just say it, he knocked this one out of the park. There’s another Emmy in his future, I think, and it is largely thanks to the performance in this episode, which was more powerful than anything he’s had before on this show. I was a little worried at first because he was playing the whole trial so passively, with fewer outbursts and witty retorts than I remembered from the books. But this only served to highlight his complete loss of composure when Shae betrayed him. The eloquent, hate-filled, speech he gives is completely convincing as the culmination of a lifetime of torment for the way he was born, and the shocking twist of demanding a trial by combat manages to be shocking even though we’ve already seen Tyrion resort to this before. This time it’s less about saving his own life, which at this point he has basically given up on, and far more about doing anything at all to derail his father’s grand plans. Tywin thrives on being in complete control and knowing how things play out, so Tyrion’s decision to essentially turn his conviction into a game of chance is desperate but perfect.

It’s clear that we’re moving from the middle “moving the pieces around on the board” episodes into the series of major events that makes the third book my favorite in the series. I’ve been pretty down on the previous episodes even though I actually enjoyed them pretty well, but I definitely liked this episode better. And based on the preview for next week, we’ve got a lot more major plot events coming up in our near future!

 

 

Recap & Review: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 5 “First of His Name”

Another week, another Game of Thrones recap and review! Spoilers ahoy!

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This week we started off with Tommen’s coronation which quickly became a very tense scene between Cersei and Margery. Most interesting was Cersei’s admission that Joffrey was a monster and Margery’s very careful navigation of that minefield. The scene ends with Margery reminding viewers that Cersei is set to marry her brother Loras, making Cersei Margery’s mother in law and sister in law. Not quite incest I guess, but certainly weird.

Across the narrow sea, Danaerys is struggling to decide what to do next, especially given the news that Joffrey is dead. Daario has apparently captured some ships, enough to sail about 10,000 soliders across the sea to assault King’s landing, but Jorah points out that, since that’s barely enough to take King’s Landing, that certainly isn’t going to be enough to take a whole continent. He also informs Dany that those cities she liberated? They’ve devolved into chaos after she created massive power vaccuums by killing the masters and freeing the slaves. Surprise!

In the books, Dany’s story line dealing with trying to actually rule the cities that she has captured gets to be a bit slow and boring, but I am hoping that this might actually translate well to the screen, and at least the intrigue will be a nice change from the now-repetitive slave-freeing scenes.

We get a short scene with Arya and the Hound, with Arya going through her To Do To Murder list and ending with… The Hound. Later, we check back in with them and get to see Arya practicing with her sword and looking generally awesome. The Hound interrupts her and makes fun of her “poncing about,” and then goes a step too far and insults Syrio Forel. He challenges Arya to stab him and show what she has learned, but apparently she didn’t remember the part that Syrios must have taught her about how, when fighting with a slim blade like needle, you don’t stab a dude right in the middle of his breastplate. Because then he laughs at you and backhands you to the ground. The whole point of Syrio’s epic death scene was that even with a wooden blade, he was deadly because he knew how to aim for the weak points in a knight’s armor. I guess Arya will remember that now?

We get a couple of scenes with Cersei chatting up two of the judges in Tyrion’s upcoming trial. With Tywin, they discuss the schedule and necessity of the upcoming marriages with the Tyrells, and there is a lot of emphasis on the vast sums of money that the Lannisters owe the Iron Bank of Braavos. I get the feeling this is going to play a more prominent role in the show than it did in the books, likely because the show is less constrained in terms of which points of view it can show. Unfortunately, this looks like it is going to give us our first glimpse of Braavos way before Arya makes her way there. Cersei and Tywin make a show of how they can’t possibly talk about the upcoming trial, but then Cersei talks about the trial and leaves.

With Oberyn, we’re reminded that: Hey, Cersei has a daughter too, and she’s been in Dorne with Oberyn’s family for quite a while now. Cersei makes a big show of how much she misses her daughter, which is in character: for all her faults, Cersei does love her children. But this also can be read as a ploy to get Oberyn’s sympathy for the loss of her son in the upcoming trial. Of course, in this scene we’re also reminded that the Lannisters murdered Oberyn’s sister. For some reason he still seems to be upset about that…

As expected, the scenes in this episode between Pd and Brienne are great. This show does odd couples really well, and Pod is hilarious as he fails at all the practical skills like riding or cooking that he never had to learn while serving as a butler squire for Tyrion. But of course, once he reveals that he also saved Tyrion’s life by killing one of the Kingsguard who gave Tyrion his famous scar, Brienne warms up to him.

Sansa and Petyr have arrived at the Eyrie, blowing past the brief stay at the Petyr’s birthplace in the Fingers that is in the books. We promptly see that, yes, Lysa is still nuts and her son Robin is still rather too attached to mother. Oddly, the show decided to have Littlefinger call Sansa his niece rather than his daughter. I’m not sure if there’s any significance to that change.

But let’s talk for a moment about a very significant change: Lysa’s confession. In the books, the truth that Lysa murdered her husband Jon Arryn under orders from Littlefinger is the bombshell revelation that is the climax of the final chapter. Because really, it’s a huge revelation. Littlefinger is behind everything that has happened so far. That one murder set off the whole chain of events leading to Ned being chosen as hand, being killed, triggering the war of the Five Kings, etc. And of course, in the books, Littlefinger rids himself of Lysa after marrying her, now that her part in all this is played out.

In this episode of the show, they instead made the baffling decision to drop this huge bombshell of a plot point into a brief conversation between Lysa and Petyr. This is a textbook example of “As you know, Bob” exposition, something that is a writing 101-level no-no. You never ever ever have two characters tell each other something that they both already know, just to inform the reader. Why? Because it comes across as really fake! Because why would they be telling each other something they both know? And for heaven’s sake, don’t use this to deliver information that has mind-blowing consequences for the plot! For some reason, HBO took what is the climax of the third book, the best book in the series, and awkwardly shoved it into the middle of a mediocre episode in a poorly-written scene that was mostly an excuse to remind us how crazy Lysa is? I’m just… really disappointed in this change. The book scene had so much impact, but instead we get this, where new viewers barely even register what they’ve just been told. I just don’t know what the writers were thinking.

Speaking of which… we wrap up the episode at Craster’s keep. Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor are locked up in a shed, and Vargo Hoat Locke spots them but doesn’t tell Jon. Instead he tells the knight’s watch guys to avoid that shed because it has a bunch of dogs in it. Jon announces that they will wait until night and then attack.

This conveniently allows some time for Jojen to have some weird visions, telling Bran that he must keep heading north at any cost and find a giant weirdwood tree so he can meet the three-eyed raven. And then Karl and his thugs burst in and decide to chain up Meera and threaten to rape her. Because it’s not possible to be a strong female character on this show without being threatened with rape. Remember when we first were introduced to Meera, and she was a badass, confident and skilled with a bow and a sword? How she was the fighter, who protected her brother instead of vice versa? Well, now she is the obligatory damsel in distress in this scene. Sigh. Anyway, Jojen manages to creep Karl out with talk of his visions long enough for the knight’s watch to attack and force Karl et al to run off to fight them.

During the battle, Locke shows up and abducts Bran, but in a move everyone saw coming, but everyone was cheering for anyway, Bran wargs into Hodor, busts free from his shackles, and then crunches Locke’s neck. (Someone elsewhere online pointed out that ironically, this means that Bran, who was crippled by Jaime, end up killing the man who crippled Jaime).

After escaping, Bran wants to go meet up with Jon, but Jojen tells him that they must go north instead because of Reasons (what he can’t say is that they have to go north because otherwise it would break the plot beyond repairing). So Bran and friends head off into the woods while the battle wraps up.

Jon of course has to have a confrontation with evil Karl, who is evil. They have a dramatic fight, and Karl lasts improbably long considering he’s using knives against a guy with a hand-and-a-half sword. Jon is on the ground, about to be stabbed, when one of Craster’s wives stabs Karl. Karl tries to go after her, but then Jon stabs him through the back of the head, with the blade emerging from his mouth in a gratuitously nasty shot. Now, I’m no expert in weaponry or human anatomy, but I do know that skulls are pretty hard, and the way Jon slowly pushed his sword through Karl’s head seemed more consistent with a sword going through a watermelon than through a bunch of bone. Also, I’m no expert on swords, but it seems to me if you wanted to dispatch a guy kneeling on the ground with no helmet on, you would slice, not stab, his head. This would certainly have fulfilled HBO’s blood and gore quota (which they had to amp up because there was miraculously no way even HBO could come up with of having nudity in this episode) and make a lot more sense.

We also get a brief and completely predictable scene showing… Rast? I think that was his name, fleeing the battle only to be killed by Ghost. Apparently Summer was set free as well but he is nowhere to be found. Ghost reunites with John, and everyone is happy, and impressed at how much the CGI for the wolves has improved.

So that wraps up the completely original Craster’s keep storyline. And  now it is clear that this little arc was purely filler, designed to add some action and give Jon and Bran something to do in the middle part of this season. For all the excitement, nothing actually happens: Bran and friends are still headed north. Jon and his friends (at least, the ones who are named characters and not bad guys) are all alive, and have to go back to the wall to face the wildlings and the upcoming elections for new Lord Commander. Craster’s wives are free now, but they don’t factor into the plot at all after this. So yeah, filler.

I guess I’m actually ok with some filler, and I suspect we may be seeing more of this as the show tries to drag its heels a bit and give Martin time to write more books. But at the same time, I wish they would pad things out by drawing from the books. There’s plenty in them that could be adapted for the screen and not feel as fake as the completely made-up Craster’s keep arc. I think I read somewhere that the third book is roughly long as the full Lord of the Rings trilogy! Let’s see some more of that in the show!

 

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