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Monday, May 6, 2013

Game of Thrones Recap: Bleakness and Death Edition

Posted by Joe Streckert on Mon, May 6, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Well, that was weird. Bleakness. Death. Hopelessness. Last night's Game of Thrones was short on action and long on angst and death. Compared to the last two episodes it was something a tad slow. It certainly had more brooding than action and more setup than payoff. A mixed bag, all around.

That, and a character death that I quite frankly did not see coming.

Awfulness is everywhere. More after the jump.

Fuck you, gravity, said Tormund Giantsbane, my beard and I defy you mightily!
  • "Fuck you, gravity," said Tormund Giantsbane, "my beard and I defy you mightily!"

Arya will be Katniss now. Having already acquired sword skills, Arya continued her quest to become a miniature killing machine by acquiring arrow-based abilities as well. In a departure from the source material, Melissandre showed up to check in with the Brotherhood Without Banners and we learned that Thoros of Myr has been a sleeper agent for the church of the red god, charged with converting Robert Baratheon.

I enjoyed this development. R'Hllor's followers still seem to be a nebulous menace for Westeros, and getting a brief little peek into their power structure and how they operate provided a welcome bit of definition. Melissandre absconded with Gendry, presumably to use him as a spell component in some kind of spooky fire magic she's planning to do. This is a bit different from the books- looking forward to how this plays out, precisely.

Meanwhile, at Abu Ghraib… Theon got tortured some more. And, that was kind of it. The shirtless Greyjoy remains tied to a piece of SM equipment while getting mocked, stabbed, and otherwise tormented by Ramsay Snow some guy who hasn't been identified yet.

I'm sorry, but there's no real reason for us to check in on Theon again and again. It would be weird if Alfie Allen were to check out of the series for a whole season, but an appearance or two would have been enough. Nothing was happening in Theon's scene. Plots didn't move forward, schemes weren't hatched- it just seemed static. The show did try to give us a little bit of tension by making Theon guess who his tormentor was but it just didn't work. Most of the fans have read the books, and even if you haven't it's pretty damn obvious that the house whose sigil is a guy getting tortured is doing the torturing.

Robb Stark makes wedding plans. In order to regain the loyalty of the Freys, Robb’s uncle Edmure agreed to marry one of Walder Frey’s numerous lady children. That was a plot point that happened. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go cackle with glee in a corner.

More wedding plans! Sansa, Loras, Cersei, and Tyrion are all facing down marriages that they're not particularly into. George R. R. Martin must have been to some fairly terrible weddings the year he wrote A Storm of Swords, as matrimony seems to be a gigantic source of dread for the characters involved.

Sassy scheming old people are the best old people. Oleanna Tyrell is the best thing about season three. She's smart, witty, and knows exactly how the game is played. Seeing her spar with Tywin Lannister over marriage arrangements for their various progeny was fantastic- the both of them are experienced, seasoned, and very good at what they do. I'll take smart, amoral schemers over Ned Stark wringing his hands about honor any day.

Best line of the episode: "A sword swallower, through and through."

Jon and Ygritte: Action Climbers. The big action-y set piece last night was Jon, Ygritte and a crew of Wildlings climbing the Wall. Winds blew, snow flew, and a large chunk of Wall-valanche made life somewhat difficult for our heroes as they ascended. The action scene was good (well, maybe not as good as some other filmic masterpieces about rock climbing) but it did seem a little artificial. A chunk of Wall fell because it had to. There needed to be danger, so danger just literally fell out of the sky. It wasn't bad, per se, but it felt a bit more rote than Game of Thrones usually is.

Littlefinger gets off on life being horrible. The episode ended with an encounter between Varys and Littlefinger in an empty throne room. The dialogue between the two revealed a deep divide. Varys believes in the Seven Kingdoms as an abstract concept, but Littlefinger is all about ambition. "Chaos isn't a pit," he said, "it's a ladder." In an almost supervillain-esque monologue, Littlefinger revealed to Varys that he'd outmaneuvered the eunuch by having Ros, one of Varys' main informants, killed. The Mockingbird gave her to Joffrey to use as a pincushion for his new crossbow. For Littlefinger, there is no goal, no end point, no desirable outcome. There is only one's position at the moment, and the only thing one can do is to constantly climb toward something better.

Ros’ death was something of a shock, and elevated Littlefinger to a whole new level of callous brutality. It was also the first time in a while that the series has surprised me by killing off a character. The first time I read through the series a good deal of the character deaths surprised me, but I haven’t gotten that feeling with the show. A good deal of the suspense from the show has been “How are they going to do this?” as opposed to “what’s going to happen?”

Ros isn’t in the books, though, and throughout the series it’s been nice to see her pop up in at important times. Seeing Joffrey turn her into a gender-swapped St. Sebastian seemed to take the series’ cruelty a little far. We already know that Joffrey’s a sadistic little dickwad, and Ros seems to have just been ejected from the series rather than killed in a way that satisfies the narrative.

Just as Littlefinger was ending his speech, though, we saw Jon and Ygritte crest the wall. Looking out at the snow-flecked expanse, they provided a visual refutation to Littlefinger's speech. The had actually accomplished something, and had actually reached an end point. Kissing in earnest at the top of the wall, they showed us something other than ever-hungry ambition.

Daenerys Targaryen was conspicuously absent from the episode, which makes sense. Dany is on a roll with her newly acquired army, and ready to conquer the slaver cities of Essos. The upward trajectory of her story arc wouldn’t have worked all that well with last night’s downer tone. Hopefully she (and a bit more dynamism) will return next week.

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