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A Clash of Kings, by George R R Martin

Title: A Clash of Kings
A Clash of KingsAuthor: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 1998
Length: 761 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars
Spoilers: Be ye warned!

I feel like A Clash of Kings is the book that gets overlooked in this series. A Storm of Swords is generally the highest-rated, best-reviewed, majority-fan-fave of the series. A Game of Thrones tends to fall in second in the overall vote, noted for its tighter plot and for having that “new series shine” — the sense of creation and world-building that generally makes successful first books so enjoyable. Fan opinions are wildly split over A Feast for Crows — some hate it, some defend it, but they care either way, and will generally voice their opinions quite vehemently, one way or another. Whereas A Clash of Kings slips through the cracks a bit. And that’s a bit of a shame, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

It’s a set-up book — carefully placing all of the dominoes that get knocked down in A Storm of Swords. And there’s a lot of intricate political posturing, re-posturing, sizing up, and kicking in the shins that happens to get those dominoes in line. The title of this book refers to the War of the Five Kings which storms up after Robert’s death. So let’s wander through this book by means of examining those claimants, shall we?

We learn a lot more about Robert’s brothers, for a start. Stannis (the middle child) and Renly (the youngest by a good margin) have both declared themselves, proclaiming Cersei’s children to be bastards born of incest. Which is true — the trouble is that half of Westeros isn’t listening to them. Or, rather, only half of Westeros is listening to Renly, and no one is listening to Stannis. Stannis is an interesting character, because he’s a total jerk, he has (as the HBO series put it) the personality of a lobster, and you get the sense that he doesn’t actually want to be king, but he sees it as his right and therefore he’s going to take it, come hell or high water (or, possibly, both simultaneously, as we see later in the book). He actually has a lot in common with Ned Stark, in that bullheadedly righteous sort of way, even though he never liked Ned (on account of Robert liking his foster-brother better than his actual brother). Strictly following the rules of succession, he does have the best claim, but, in the immortal words of Renly Baratheon, “No one wants you for their king, Stannis. Sorry.”

Renly, meanwhile, is an utter charmer, who has married pretty young Margaery Tyrell in order to bring most of the South under his control (the exception being the Dornish, still holding themselves aloof till they see how the first few rolls of the dice go). He might make a good king; unfortunately for him, he doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to get there. He has a host 100,000 strong, all ready to besiege the Lannisters, could easily tear them apart while they’re distracted with the Starks… and he’s lollygagging his way up the Roseroad, holding tournaments and feasting his vassals. He’s a perfect picture of a romantic, chivalric king… and his tardiness gets him killed. Because Stannis, although nobody else likes him, does have a sidekick sorceress who thinks he’s a legendary hero-king reborn (her reasoning is really flakey, if you ask me, no idea where she got this into her head from) — and Melisandre has some pretty icky shadow magic on her side, which she uses to off dear little brother.

So much for Renly. The contender giving the Lannisters the most trouble is Robb Stark, the King in the North, who is winning battles left, right, and center. He has Jaime Lannister prisoner, along with a host of other Lannisters and Lannister-kin. He’s advancing down to the Westerlands, the Lannisters’ home territory.

Unfortunately, these successes are marred by the arrival on-scene of the fifth king in the wars: Balon Greyjoy, who led a doomed rebellion ten years earlier, and who sees the current chaos as an excuse to reassert himself. He decides he’s not quite satisfied being King of the Islands, however, and sends his son Theon — erstwhile hostage/foster-son to Ned Stark, who grew up best friends with Robb — to take the North. Theon does this, for reasons I still can’t quite figure out. It’s clear as can be that the other Greyjoys have no regard for him whatsoever, that they see him as soft and ruined from his time at Winterfell, that they can’t even bring themselves to like him all that much… and yet he doesn’t hesitate to stab Robb in the back and take over Winterfell in the name of the squids. Fortunately, the remaining Starks, Bran and Rickon, manage to escape — though to save face (…somehow), Theon kills two peasant boys of the same age, and tells everyone that he killed Bran and Rickon.

And what of the other Starks? Well, Jon’s up north of the Wall on the Great Ranging. Some interesting things happen, but this section is definitely all set-up for the next book. They meet Craster, an enthusiastically incestuous wildling, who marries his daughters and gives his sons to the Others; they find a hoard of dragonglass (obsidian); they find out that the “king” of the wildlings is bringing an enormous host south to storm the Wall. Arya, meanwhile, is on the run, disguised as a boy, headed up with Yoren to “join the Night’s Watch” — really Yoren intends to drop her off at Winterfell. Also in the group destined for the Wall is Gendry, one of Robert’s bastards, who’s been sent away for his own safety (Cersei’s starting to hunt down and destroy the bastards, since they support the truth of her children’s incestuous heritage), even though he doesn’t know who he is. The group gets caught up in the middle of the battles, however, and Arya winds up at Lannister-held Harrenhal. She assists in its overthrow, aided by the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar, putting it in the hands of at-least-nominally-Stark-bannerman Roose Bolton. The end of the book sees her finally saying “Balls to all of this”, because the Boltons are clearly just as screwed up as the Lannisters, and escaping.

Meanwhile, Sansa is in King’s Landing, and Catelyn is running errands for her son and brother. I have a problem with Cat and Sansa’s viewpoints in this book, in that they don’t really exist to have viewpoints. It’s not what they’re doing or thinking that’s important. They exist to show us what’s going on with the war and in King’s Landing, respectively. Our two kings in those regions — Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon — aren’t POV characters in of themselves, nor is anyone else close to Robb. The other viewpoint in King’s Landing is Tyrion, whose chapters are both hugely intriguing and vastly frustrating, as he desperately tries to hold the city and the kingdom together with both hands, and gets absolutely no credit for doing so.

The story in Westeros culminates with the exciting Battle of the Blackwater. Stannis’s fleet sails on King’s Landing, only to be trapped by enormous chains raised in the water and incinerated by wildfire (a nigh-unquenchable green substance something like the legendary Greek fire). They also get smashed by the sudden (if belated) appearance of Mace Tyrell and the power of Highgarden — all those in the south who hadn’t switched allegiance over to Stannis when Renly died. So, the Lannisters prevail, though it’s at considerable expense to poor Tyrion, who leads a sortie and ends up getting half his face sliced off — by a catspaw belonging to his dearly beloved sister.

Finally, out in the east, we have Daenerys, the allegiance across the Water, who no one in Westeros is quite aware of yet — though a few rumours are leaking back to them about three-headed dragons. After making her way across the red wastelands, she ends up in the city of Qarth, where she is at first feasted and feted, but where she soon realizes, everyone’s out to get her, in some way or another. Dany’s best moment in this book is her chapter in the House of the Undying, where a group of powerful warlocks show her a lot of fascinating prophetic images, and then threaten her life. She, via toughest dragon Drogon, burns them to a crisp. This doesn’t make her any friends in the city, though, and she’s soon the target of assassination attempts (again). She’s saved from one of them by Strong Belwas, a champion pit-fighter, and his supposed squire Arstan Whitebeard, sent to Dany by her old Pentoshi protector, Illyrio Mopatis — who has also sent ships, so that Dany can get the hell out of Dodge.

Overall — this is a solid build-up book. Far more so, I think, than A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, which appear to be, together, serving the same purpose for Winds of Winter, but not doing it nearly as well. The storylines in A Clash of Kings are getting more complex, but they remain crisp and focused. The number of POV characters hasn’t yet spun out of control.

I couldn’t help, during this re-read, thinking about how HBO’s going to handle translating this book for the next season. We’ve already heard rumours that they’ll be pushing Jaime Lannister’s plotline up — indeed, the end of the last season saw a scene that doesn’t happen until the end of ACoK. I suspect that the book-to-season ratio is going to break down pretty swiftly, and I have no problem with that — the plotlines start to diverge more and move at different paces from here on out, so I trust the screenwriters to rearrange sensibly. We also know that Natalie Dormer, a fairly big name, has been cast as Margaery Tyrell, which gives me great hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the series than we do in the book. Renly’s trip up the Roseroad might get a lot more screen time, not just seen through Catelyn’s eyes, but followed through since the beginning. HBO’s already seeded that by including some scenes with Renly and Loras that weren’t in AGoT — clearly they realise (as GRRM has not) that the Tyrells are a damn interesting family and need more time devoted to them. I also wonder if they’re going to make any attempt to hide the fact that Arstan is Barristan Selmy — which Dany doesn’t find out, and which the book doesn’t make totally explicit, until late in A Storm of Swords. The big adaptation question, of course, is the Battle of the Blackwater — the episode which GRRM is writing for next season. They can’t really skimp out on it like they did the battles in the first season; too much of real importance happens during it. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. Filming started last week — so we should find out in April.

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A Dance with Dragons, by George R R Martin

Title: A Dance with DragonsDance With Dragons
Author: George R R Martin
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 959 pages
Genre: fantasy
New or Re-Read?: New after a six-goddamn-year-wait
Rating: 3.5 stars
Spoiler Warning: Enormously. I will have one general reaction paragraph that is non-spoilery, and then everything else will be stuffed to the gills with spoilers.

I don’t know how to feel about this book. I don’t know that I like it any better or any worse than A Feast for Crows, which was my least-favourite book of the series thus far. And I was, if not expecting, at least hoping to like this one a lot better, because I so many more of my favourite characters were in this one. And there were certainly parts I enjoyed a lot. But there were a lot of parts that frustrated me, a lot of parts that bored me, and a lot of parts that felt completely extraneous. It’s definitely in need of judicious editing. I sort of get the feeling that his editors, so happy to have him finally declare it finished, didn’t actually spend much time editing before sending it to print. Apart from a lot of unnecessary repetition and a lot of extraneous material, I also found five typos.

Spoilers Begin Here

My biggest disappointment in this book was Dany’s plotline. She spent 95% of the book pissing me off. I’ve been saying for years that if Dany didn’t wake up and get out of Meereen in this book, I was going to throw an epic hissy fit, and, well, I did. Because she spent almost this entire book not only staying in Meereen to try and rule, but making horrifically stupid decisions while doing so. And she totally lost sight of herself. She forgot her goals, she forgot her history, she forgot who she actually owes loyalty to, she forgot what she’s trying to do. She let other characters manipulate her into poor decisions. It sort of felt like she just gave up on being herself.

At least, at the end, there’s a sense that she’s realised this — that she feels ashamed for having tried to be something she’s not, that she recognises she’s going to have to start over with a different approach — but that doesn’t make this book any less of a waste of time as far as her plot was concerned. She’s going to start The Winds of Winter in more or less the same place as she started A Clash of Kings, only with larger, uncontrollable dragons and more people trying to kill her. It’s pretty obvious that Dany’s is the story that most would have benefited from GRRM’s original plan of jumping five years of story-time between books. Having decided not to have that time lapse, he had to fill the space with something… and that something really isn’t very good. The only moment of her story that I really enjoyed in this book was when she subdues and then flies Drogon. That felt good. That felt like my Dany. Nothing else in the book did. And it so pains me to say that, because I’ve defended her against the Mary-Sue accusations, she’s my pick to win the whole series, and I so badly want to stand by her… but it was difficult to like her in this book. Not only that, her chapters started to bore me in this book. I could not care less who ends up in control of Slaver’s Bay. They can slaughter each other till the cows come home, as far as I’m concerned. My emotional investment is in Westeros. I don’t want to have to care about an entire other continent’s worth of politics — particularly not when this story is already over-large and in desperate need of trimming and tightening.

On the bright side, more characters are starting to find Dany, which means that her part of the story is getting more POVs… Except those also weren’t very well-used. Quentyn Martell, who I had high hopes for, turns out to be completely and utterly pointless. His entire story could’ve been cut from this book with no detrimental effect whatsoever. And it pains me to say that, because I really wanted him to turn out to be a cool character, possibly a dragonrider, possibly one of Dany’s husbands. Instead, he’s inoffensive but ultimately pretty uninteresting — cute and sweet, but more pitiable than enjoyable. He’s hard to root for — and he doesn’t get enough chapters to allow the reader to make a real connection with him. His boldest action is also his stupidest action, and the one that leads to his premature death. We also get some POV chapters from Barristan Selmy, and here, I think the main flaw is how underused he was. Even though he’s with Dany the whole time, his chapters don’t start coming in until about halfway through the book, and I think it could’ve been beneficial to have his voice throughout — especially to give opinions on Dany making highly questionable decisions.

Tyrion’s story briefly crosses Dany’s, but not for very long. Fleeing after having murdered his father, Tyrion first meets up with Illyrio Mopatis, erstwhile keeper of fugitive Targaryens, and then crosses the continent, aiming for Dany. Unfortunately, along the way he almost dies a couple of times and then gets sold into slavery. His chapters were the other ones that irritated me almost past my ability to endure them, as Tyrion spends at least 75% of this book mentally whinging about his daddy issues and his not-really-a-whore first wife. The refrain — where whores go — is repetitive in the extreme. I know he’s had some trauma, but so has everyone else in the damn series, and I feel like Tyrion should be tougher than that. He’s also putting far too much stock in his father’s last words — he won’t ever be free of Tywin if he keeps letting Daddy control him from beyond the grave.

Tyrion’s story also intersects that of one of our new POVs — Jon Connington, aka Griff, one of Rhaegar Targaryen’s best friends, who happens to be the guardian of someone who, we are at least led to believe, is Aegon Targaryen, Rhaegar’s son, who is generally believed to have had his head smashed in as an infant by Gregor Clegane. I say “led to believe” because a lot of fandom has already decided he’s a pretender, the “mummer’s dragon” of Dany’s House of the Undying vision. I don’t know how I feel about it one way or the other, although the pretender angle makes sense (particularly considering GRRM’s English Wars of the Roses inspiration). Mostly I’m going to be annoyed if this kid who gets introduced halfway through the series ends up winning, just because we haven’t had as much investment in him. So far he’s making a good go of it, though — he and Griff hired the Golden Company of sellswords and have already made landfall in Westeros, retaking Connington’s ancestral home.

Meanwhile, up in the North — Jon showed wins the Westeros Most Improved Award. Until his last two pages, when he makes a monumentally stupid decision, which apparently gets him killed (though I feel relatively certain Mel’s going to show up just in the nick and bring him back from the dead — thus indebting him to her). Up until then, though, he was kicking ass and taking names — and heads. Seriously, Janos Slynt sasses him one too many times, and for his outright insubordination, Jon does what someone should’ve done a long time ago and takes the jerk’s head clean off. Jon spends most of the book leading at the Wall — making really tough (and, in many cases, unpopular) decisions, sticking to his metaphorical guns, and all towards what seems like it’ll be the greater good. And then he gets word that Ramsay Bolton (see below) has claimed to have killed Stannis and intends to come after wh0-he-thinks-is-Arya and then after the Night’s Watch — and instead of framing this was “the Watch has been threatened; we need to deal with this,” Jon decides to make it about him and his family and declares he’s taking off to protect his baby sister (who he doesn’t know his a fake), which makes the Lord Commander of the Watch involved with politics in violation of his vows, which gets him stabbed.

Melisandre’s much-anticipated POV wasn’t nearly as mind-blowing as I’d hoped — and she only got one chapter. Bran also didn’t get nearly enough time, although he makes it to the three-eyed crow (who turns out to be long-ago Targaryen Bloodraven, who has more or less turned into a weirwood tree) and starts learning how to greensee. This provides a few exciting flashbacks, but ultimately, I was just left wanting more. I’m also excited about Davos, who does not die (as posited in A Feast for Crows), but who Lord Wymen Manderly (a previously barely-there background character who controls the biggest harbour in the North) sends off to Skagos to search for Rickon Stark. Manderly’s story is actually the bigger draw in those chapters, for me — he’s sort of turning into the Doran Martell of the North, plotting in the background and executing subterfuge while keeping himself outside of the realm of suspicion. It’s also strongly hinted that he serves several of the Freys to their kinfolk, baked into pies, which I highly approve of both for the bloody vengeance and for the classical/Shakespearean reference.

The other exciting story up North is that of Theon. I still don’t like him, but I’ve started to pity him (rather like how I feel about Sansa, really). Ramsay Bolton — currently vying with Walder Frey for the Most Destestable Character award — first turns Theon into Reek, a whinging, cringing, mangled shadow of a man. During the course of the book, though, Theon starts putting the pieces of himself back together. This ultimately leads to him rescuing Jeyne Poole (disguised as Arya Stark and forcibly married to vicious, abusive Ramsay to cement his claim on Winterfell) and his sister Asha (taken captive by Stannis Baratheon). These chapters are probably the best written in the book — even if you don’t like Theon, as I don’t, his story is pretty compelling.

Then, entirely separate from all those stories, we have a smattering of chapters from folk we saw in A Feast for Crows – Jaime, Cersei, Arya, Asha, Areo Hotah, Victarion. I know this is probably going to be a minority opinion, but I really wish none of those chapters had been included at all. For one thing, it makes the timeline even harder to get straight, because it puts the narratives even more out-of-joint than they already were. For another thing, with the possible exception of Arya’s, they don’t feel as thematically linked together as many of the other stories in A Dance with Dragons, which have fairly strong connections of disease and decay (both literal and figurative, both of physical and mental health), as well as of quests-for-identity. (A Feast for Crows, by contrast, was much more about the mechanics of politics: maneuvering for control, filling in power vacuums, and setting up the pieces for the next play). And for a third, I think it was just more mean than anything. Nothing from AFFC gets resolved — you just end up with more dangling ends. It’s kind of a dickish tease.

The best of that set is definitely Areo’s chapter, which shows us what the Dornish are up to — lots of plotting that could turn out for good entertainment in the future (assuming, of course, that these plans don’t fizzle out as anticlimactically as Quentyn’s story did). I also enjoyed Jaime’s chapter, partially because he’s become (against all odds) one of my favourite characters — but it really didn’t satisfy, since it was, again, only one chapter. I’m also going to be severely irritated if Brienne really has sold him out to save her own skin, because I don’t care for her at all, and Jaime deserves a better ending than that. We need him to strangle Cersei before he goes. Speaking of whom — Cersei’s chapters were pretty painful. That bitch deserves all kinds of pain and suffering, in my opinion, but the glorious celebration of misogynistic abuse that the Faith heaps on her is just awful. She confesses to fornication (though not to incest or treason), and the Faith forces her to take a walk of penance through King’s Landing — naked, shaved bald, and barefoot. Public humiliation is what religion turns to when it’s gone sour and rotten, and it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. I now want to hold off her inevitable death long enough for her to exact retribution on those pious jackasses. Arya’s chapters were just kind of nothing — only a couple of them, and they didn’t so much feel like they had an arc of their own in this book so much as they got left off from her arc in the last book, and GRRM only got around to finishing them now. As for Asha and Victarion, theirs are the chapters that upset the timeline the most, I think, because it sort of implies that everything from the Greyjoys in A Feast for Crows happened really quickly, in a much shorter span of time than everything else in that book. Asha has been forcibly wed to some Ironborn lord who I probably should remember from AFFC, but totally don’t, and has run off to hold Deepwood Motte on her own — except then she gets besieged, loses, and gets taken captive by Stannis. Victarion does nothing in this book except sail towards Dany and prove what a disturbing creeper he is. If that horn of his really can control dragons, I’m going to be so irritated, because of all the characters who don’t deserve one, he’s damn well near the top of the list.

In the epilogue, we see Varys taking rather more direct and definitive action than we’ve witnessed before, outright murdering Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister, who had been serving as Regent with Cersei imprisoned. He flat-out says that he couldn’t have Kevan restoring peace between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, because he needs everything still broken and chaotic for a Targaryen reconquest. Specifically, for Aegon. Interesting, considering we’d more or less assumed he was clearing the way for Dany. I don’t know if I think he’s intended for Aegon all along, or if he’s just not putting all his dragon eggs in one basket, as it were. The other interesting thing about the epilogue is the revelation that the maesters of the Citadel have officially declared it winter. Someday, I’d like to find out how they know/determine the change of seasons.

So, overall — I’m giving this 3.5 because I just sort of don’t know what to do with it. There were quite a few moments that genuinely excited me. But there were a lot of things that frustrated me, that needed editing, or that should’ve been held off till the next book. And there are some things still left unanswered — What has been going on with Rickon and Osha? And what about Maege Mormont and the others that Robb, back in A Storm of Swords, sent off to find Howland Reed? Between those questions and the many, many arcs that began in this book or in Feast that have yet to see any kind of fulfillment whatsoever… Well, I guess we’re in for another five or six frustrating years until The Winds of Winter comes out.

If anyone’s interested, I kept record of my play-by-play reactions to the book while I was reading over on my personal journal — the entry is unlocked and available for public view (or at least will be for a few weeks).

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TV Review: Game of Thrones – S01E09 – Baelor

Show: Game of Thrones
Channel: HBO
Episode: S01E09 – Baelor
Original Air Date: 12 June 2011
Spoiler Warning: In effect for both books and series — and this episode has the big-daddy spoiler of the first book/season, so reader beware

Arya BaelorThis episode is the moment when all of us who have read the books got to watch all the newcomers discover just what kind of a story GRRM is writing. And I must confess to a somewhat sadistic thrill from it, as I watched Twitter explode last Sunday night. Anyone who hadn’t already picked up on the message knows it now: no-one, but no-one, is safe here.

The opening scene is familiar, Varys visiting Ned in the black cell, making another try. I’m still disappointed by the lack of fever dreams, but I was sort of ready for that, since we hadn’t had anything of that kind up till now. I love Varys’s performance here even more than in the last episode, because he’s all of a sudden so fierce. He’s genuinely disturbed by the spiral into violence and chaos, and he’s so earnest when he tells Ned to stop being an idiot, to serve the realm rather than letting his honour fling him into his grave. Telling Ned to save himself isn’t working, but plucking on the thread of his daughters’ safety gets him farther.

In the Riverlands, we finally meet the Late Lord Frey, who is as creepy and curmudgeonly as could be hoped. The scene definitely gives the sense of decay and corruption in his hall. All of his brood, from his grown sons to the herd of daughters to his awkward fifteen-year-old wife, are cowed and grey, thoroughly under the control of a petty tyrant. It’s hard, knowing what happens later on, not to cringe at the entire negotiation between him and Cat. Frey strikes a hard bargain, knowing he’s got Robb over a barrel – Robb and Arya are both promised in marriage to Freys. (I’ve got a suggestion for the next ruler of Westeros: build a bridge that isn’t controlled by a local lord. Seriously, whose idea was that? Just asking for trouble).

The Lannisters take the field against the Stark forces – only to discover that Robb deliberately misled them, letting them think he was taking all 20,000 of his men down one side of the river, not knowing he’d split his forces. He sacrificed 2,000 men so that 18,000 could have victory – and quite a victory he gets, capturing Jaime Lannister in the process. I feel thoroughly cheated, though, out of not seeing the Whispering Wood. Robb shows a lot of maturity and judgment, refusing to fight Jaime one-on-one to settle the dispute (because, as he notes, “If we do it your way, you’d win. We’re not doing it your way”), and then reminding his bannermen that one victory does not a won war make.

Up at the Wall, Jorah Mormont is making plans and putting a lot of faith in Jon Snow – who is once again feeling his loyalties tested. Just when he’s feeling a bit sorry for himself, Maester Aemon turns up to snark some sense into him. He starts off speaking in the abstract, telling Jon that “love is the death of duty.” But when Jon’s still being sullen and insisting that no one knows how he feels, Aemon reveals that he is, in fact, Aemon Targaryen, son and brother and uncle to kings, who had to sit and watch as his family’s dynasty fell to pieces. Sorry, Jon; for familial drama, no one out-crazies the Targs.

Across the sea, Khal Drogo’s strength fails him; the wound he incurred defending Dany’s preferences last week has festered (and kudos to the makeup team for the detail there – you can really see the streaking red lines which indicate certain death, the point of no return). Desperate to save him, Dany turns to blood magic wielded by Mirri Maaz Duur, one of the slaves Dany redeemed in the last episode. No one’s happy about this – not Jorah, who wants to get Dany the heck out of dodge as fast as possible, not Irri and Doreah, who are frightened to bits, not Rakharo, even though he defends Dany and stays admirably loyal to her, not the other Dothraki, who consider blood magic cursed and evil. One of Drogo’s bloodriders challenges her, Jorah defends, and we see an interesting reversal of the Bronn-Vardis fight. This time, armor defeats speed; the curved Dothraki sword isn’t a match for plate and chain mail. Unfortunately, Dany starts going into labour, none of the Dothraki women will tend her, and Jorah carries her into the tent, hoping for the maegi’s help.

I was actually a little let-down by this episode, not going to lie. Overall, I wanted more action. I know that battles are expensive, but it would’ve been nice to see something, and, sorry, I don’t feel like Tyrion, Shae, and Bronn playing Never-Have-I-Ever made up for it (and I’m not quite sure about foreign, savvy Shae, for another thing). I’m also annoyed they took Tyrion out of the battle, because that’s such a proving moment for him in the books. It’s one of the few changes so far that’s really rubbed me the wrong way. And dammit, I wanted to see Grey Wind eat some Lannisters. I also didn’t think the Mirri Maaz Duur stuff was as creepy as it could’ve been – the business in the tent isn’t nearly as scary in daylight, without the dancing shadows — and Jorah was just an idiot. “Hi, I’ve just killed a guy to keep him from going in there, but I think maybe I’ll just stroll on in with the princess.” Poor judgment, there. Something about this whole episode just didn’t ring right for me. Except for Varys and Aemon, who were magnificent, and Arya and Sansa’s reactions during Ned’s execution.

I also had trouble finding a theme for this episode, which I don’t think would have bothered me if I was viewing more casually, but since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been really impressed by how cohesive each episode’s been, to some central idea. This episode lacked that a bit, and I found that I missed it.

There’s no way to deny the power of the last scene, though – even though I was too busy not feeling sorry for Ned to appreciate it as much as I should have the first time around. I really do feel less pity for him each time around, book or show, because of how much he brings it all down on himself. But it’s beautifully shot. First we follow Arya, scruffier than ever, through the streets as the bells peal in the background. She climbs atop a statue of Baelor the Blessed to watch as her father is dragged through a jeering mob – though you get the sense they’re not quite sure why they’re jeering, they just feel as though it’s expected for the afternoon’s entertainment. Ned looks to Sansa before he confesses, confirming for everyone that, yes, it’s concern for her that’s made him do something detestable to him. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late, because Cersei’s created a monster – Joffrey, with a smarmy, self-satisfied smile, exercises his newfound power and decides to have Ned executed rather than sent to the Wall. Sansa, Arya, and Cersei all react beautifully here – Sansa in hysterics, Arya looking near-numb with shock and almost disbelieving at the angry reaction of the mob, and Cersei appearing rather alarmed at things not going according to her plan. Pycelle and Varys, too, look quite taken aback – and did anyone else notice Littlefinger smiling? You have to look real damn close, because the camera’s not focusing on him, at about 54:21, but he definitely doesn’t look as distressed as anyone else on the scene. I do enjoy the change that Ned sees her, and knows she’s there – and he looks for her right at the end. He doesn’t see her, though, as she’s no longer on the statue. Fortunately, Yoren’s got her by then – Ned told him as he passed, with the single word “Baelor”, the title of the episode.

And with that, I am primed and ready for tonight’s episode. Here’s hoping HBOGO picks up faster than it did last week – I don’t like being twenty minutes behind on the Twitter feeds. I am made of excitement, though.

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TV Review: Game of Thrones – S01E08 – The Pointy End

Show: Game of Thrones
Channel: HBO
Episode: S01E08 – The Pointy End
Original Air Date: 5 June 2011
Spoiler Warning: For both show and book seriesArya Pointy End

This episode examines mercy and sacrifice, and where those things do and don’t get you. And it begins with a display of no mercy whatsoever, as Queen Cersei’s men brutally slaughter all of the Stark men they can find – soldiers, servants, everyone. When Cersei makes a move, she doesn’t screw around – she goes for the jugular. Ned’s failure to do so, as we saw in the last episode, is what seals his fate. These moments show us two phenomenal sacrifices, though, as Septa Mordane (who is a lot cleverer and quicker on the uptake in the series than in the book) and Syrio Forel take defiant last stands to protect their charges. The Septa’s quiet dignity as she walks calmly towards the Lannister guards, seeing but not flinching at their bloody swords, is a beautiful, harrowing moment. This series made me like her a lot more than I ever did in the book, and though we don’t see what happens to her – we can guess. For sheer badassery, though, the award goes to Syrio, First Sword of Braavos. He fearlessly faces down the men sent after Arya, giving them a thorough whooping with his wooden practice sword – we get to see him really and truly in action for the first time, to see just how good he is. But a wooden blade, ultimately, is not a match for steel – Arya runs before we see what comes of his battle. We have to fear the worst – and yet, the series definitely leaves certain theories about his survival open as possibilities. Arya chants his refrain “Not today, not today” as she flees – and she makes it out, giving this episode its title, putting Needle’s pointy end to use for the first time. Arya gets her first blood, and then runs like hell (not to be seen again in this episode). Sansa’s not so lucky. I understand all the San/San shippers are quite disappointed, but having no dog in that fight, I couldn’t care less.

We then find Ned in a black (but quite spacious) cell, visited by Varys – who gives a phenomenal performance. Conleth Hill is so delightful in this role – he plays everything with such nuance. When Varys tells us he serves the realm, because “someone must” – do we believe him? Can we hope to? Varys is the one who points out to us that Ned’s mercy is what killed King Robert. The lighting and cinematography in this scene is really beautiful – it gives such a sense of how low Ned’s fallen. We met him in all the foreboding glory of the North, spacious and open, sky and trees – and we see him here, framed by darkness, in the flickering light of the single torch Varys brings.

I still don’t like Sansa, but I started hating her less in this episode. She becomes more pitiable here, at least. She’s terrified and surrounded – and she sues for mercy. She thinks she’s getting it, and she believes so much in it that she, unwittingly, betrays her family again. It’s an interesting contradiction in her – she believes so strongly in courtly honour and in chivalric ideals, but she can’t adhere to her own family’s strict moral code. She would rather her father confess to treason and that her brother bend the knee than that they pay the price honour demands. I’m not making a judgment about who’s right or wrong, or which decision is smarter, but it’s an interesting incongruity.

Meanwhile, in the Vale (where, have you noticed, everything echoes? It’s a nice touch), Lysa is crazy and selfish, Cat looks convincingly distraught. Tyrion and Bronn, on their way out, run into the mountain clans, who could kill them quite easily. Tyrion, with his silver tongue, convinces them to show mercy – or, rather, bribes them into it. (As a side note, did anyone else think that the clansmen look like something out of Monty Python?). Tywin Lannister is not a man much acquainted with mercy, and he certainly shows none to his son. Their conversation is illuminating in many ways, though, particularly as Tyrion realises just how much events have spiraled into madness in his absence. He looks so genuinely alarmed when he finds out that Robert’s dead, that his nephew sits the throne, and that his sister is now exercising her power.

Across the Narrow Sea, Dany tries to impose mercy on a culture that doesn’t have much of a concept of it. She’s suddenly finding being a khaleesi and a hopeful conquror more than a little morally complicated, as the Dothraki burn, pillage, enslave, and rape – in her name. They need to claim goods and sell slaves in order to get money to buy ships to take an army back across to Westeros. Dany’s not too happy about the way the riders are abusing the conquered people, though, and she starts claiming all the women she can find for her own – which doesn’t sit too well with some of the riders. If you re-watch this episode, pay attention to Irri and Doreah behind her – their reactions to everything are both telling and interesting, even though they get almost no focus. Irri is so skeptical of what Dany’s doing, whereas Doreah looks pleased and proud. Cultural differences.

Poor Robb is also finding leadership a little complicated, as he has to convince his proud bannermen to work together and accept his command. Of course, a little help from his direwolf goes a long way, as the Greatjon finds out. He loses two fingers for his pride, but Robb gains his loyalty from it. (As a side note, Bran’s reactions during this scene are brilliant – he looks so alarmed by what’s going on, at how much the men end up laughing at the idea of going to war). He’s struggling with his responsibilities, but he’s bearing up as admirably as can be hoped. Cat drops by, and as inconvenient as a mother is to a boy trying to become a man and a leader, she has sound advice for him – the only hope is to kick Tywin Lannister’s ass as thoroughly as possible. When the Stark men capture a Lannister scout, however, Robb reminds everyone that his father understood mercy – so he lets the scout go. Of course, Robb’s using some craft along with his dose of mercy, sending the scout off with false information. We also finally get some words out of poor little Rickon, and Bran talks with Osha – previous benefactor of Robb’s mercy – about messages from the gods. Not as much to work with there, but it’s seeding things that will pay off in the next season.

I haven’t said much about events up at the Wall, mostly because the theme there isn’t as knit together with the rest in this episode as in others, but that doesn’t make events there less important. The Night’s Watch is getting its first solid indication of what’s stirring out there in the cold, white wastelands: the dark powers at work can’t be denied or laughed off as children’s fables when the dead are coming back to life and trying to kill your Lord Commander.

At the end of episode, Cersei makes a critical misstep, dismissing Barristan Selmy from the Kingsguard. And he’s really not happy about being put to pasture. He vows, “I am a knight; I shall die a knight,” and when he unsheathes his sword, he reminds the 5 other knights of the Kingsguard present that he could cut them down easily. Barristan storms off – and Cersei’s just made herself another enemy. Those who’ve read the books, of course, know where he’s going. I wonder how the TV series is going to disguise him so that we don’t know immediately when he returns – or will they? Will the TV audience get to know what Daenerys doesn’t?

We wrap up not far from where we began, with Sansa on her knees, begging mercy for her father. In a trembling voice, she makes a promise we can’t be certain she can keep – that her father will confess his supposed crimes in exchange for his life. As the episode ends, the cameras panning strategically, she literally disappears underneath the throne, looking so small.

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TV Review: A Game of Thrones – S01E07: You Win or You Die

Show: Game of Thrones
Channel: HBO
Episode: S01E07 – You Win or You Die
Original Air Date: 29 May 2011
Spoiler Warning: For both show and series — extra warning for character deaths, both which happen in the show and which they haven’t yet gotten to (some of which they won’t get to this season) — so read at your own risk

Win Or Die
This episode, to me, feels like the break point. This is where the scales tip from manageable to chaos, with no hope of turning back.

Tywin Lannister tells us this from the very beginning, when he talks about the future of his family being decided in the moment. He has a sense of the times. He knows that everything can be won or lost on this pitch of the dice. I may not like Tywin Lannister much, but I cannot deny his badassery. And meeting him really does inform a lot about why all three of his kids turned out the way they did. We see it here as he needles Jaime about caring what people think, and we see it more in the next episode when he talks to Tyrion. This guy is the very definition of “no-nonsense”. He kills and guts his own (highly symbolic) meat. That’s the kind of father who terrifies you, but who damn well makes you want to prove yourself. I also appreciate that he arranges his military camp in the same fashion as the Roman army.

Of course, it’s not Tywin who pushes things over the edge. No, that responsibility falls solely to Ned Stark. Ned “My honour makes me stupid” Stark. The scene between him and Cersei is interesting – it’s not quite the same as in the book, and Lena’s acting quite convinces me that Cersei really would rather Ned go back up North and never come back. She doesn’t have malice for him. And her life would be so much easier if he just removed himself from the situation and went back to ignoring everything south of the Neck. But, no, he will insist on being in the way, and he’s about to do something that she cannot allow. He flipping tells her that he knows her deepest secret, a secret he knows perfectly well she’s already killed to keep quiet. Showing her father’s ruthelessness (and perhaps tapping into that same sense of the moment), Cersei utters both the series and episode titles: “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.”

Robert manages to do both. He won the throne, and he dies, in my opinion, because of his inability to sit it properly. Would Cersei have been driven to such extremes if he’d been a better man, a better king? Who knows. But if he’d been those things, he might, at least, have been able to keep better control on her and her family. Varys tells us in Episode 8 that it’s Ned’s mercy that killed the king, but I think his own worthlessness is equally culpable. Well, so much for him. He dies (and Joffrey, perhaps to his credit, looks genuinely distressed about it, which came as a surprise to me). No one wastes time letting the body get cold. Ned intends to see the throne passed to the “rightful heir” — in his opinion, Robert’s next brother, Stannis. Renly (youngest of the three Baratheon brothers) urges Ned to join with him, to proclaim Joffrey’s bastardy and name Renly king, rather than Stannis — and he makes a great point here, really, about a king needing to have skills other than battlefield acumen. Ned refuses. Petyr urges Ned to take up for Joffrey, to seize him along with Myrcella and Tommen, with the idea that, if they become intractable or if Cersei cause trouble, they can always proclaim the bastardy later, get rid of yet-unseen Stannis Baratheon, and proclaim Renly king. Ned refuses. Cersei swiftly pronounces Joffrey king and starts making changes – starting with Ned. They face off publicly, and Ned, who wasn’t willing to do what it takes to win, falls. The episode ends on this moment, so we don’t see the repercussions, but this is the moment that tips a lot of scales – this is what brings the Starks and Lannisters to open war.

Meanwhile, up at the wall, the boys become men – at least in name. It’s the most explicit case of “no turning back now” that we see in this episode, because, for the men of the Night’s Watch, their vows are lifelong. For Jon, it’s quite a choice – he has to set aside his family – not knowing just how muddled things are becoming for them at the moment – and resign himself to a new life. And that new life isn’t looking quite like what he expected. Just as he’s getting over the disappointment of his new brothers not being all he imagined, he then gets dealt the blow of being named to the Stewards rather than to the Rangers. It takes Sam (who shows rather more courage and forthrightness here than in the books, at least when it comes to words) to point out to him that being named Commander Mormont’s steward means being tapped for leadership, which is far more noble than riding a horse north of the wall and chasing wildlings around.

Across the Narrow Sea, circumstances finally push Drogo into decisive action. While the Dothraki scenes open with him telling Dany (in, I believe, the longest scene they’ve shared thus far) that there’s no reason for him to cross the black water and win back the Iron Throne. He changes his mind when a poisoner, commissioned by King Robert, tries to kill Dany. Drogo declares “no going back” in a rather more spectacular fashion than the boys up North did, howling his indignation and his desire to rape and pillage for all to hear. The scales have tipped here, as well, though we’ll see the consequences of that in Episode 8.

Finally, and this is entirely off of the theme, but I can’t talk about this episode without discussing the rather infamous Littlefinger’s School of Whoring scene. This is probably the most blatantly gratuitous case of sexposition we’ve seen so far, and it goes on for so long. Honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that much, although I do agree with another comment I saw, that all the titillation thus far has been for masculine benefit. Both of the girl-on-girl scenes are about pleasing men, and certainly none of the men we’ve seen thus far seem overly concerned with pleasing their women. Of course, this isn’t a series with a lot of romance in it, but you’d think they could at least work in some mutual pleasure. (I’m also hoping that they won’t kill Doreah off like in the books, and that she’ll stick around and she and Dany will have some funtimes after Drogo’s gone).

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TV Review: Game of Thrones, S01E06 – A Golden Crown

Show: Game of Thrones
Golden CrownChannel: HBO
Episode: S01E06 – A Golden Crown
Original Air Date: 22 May 2011
Spoiler Warning: Armed and Active, for book and show

This episode is a lot about leadership, and a lot about miscalculation. All of the main threads that we follow in this episode deal, however openly or subtly, about what makes someone fit to rule.

First, in King’s Landing, we have Robert Baratheon, a selfish shit who freely admits that he doesn’t have the mettle of a monarch, but who likes his crown for the privileges it gives him. I would like Robert a lot more, and I would have a lot more compassion for him, if he even made any effort at being a decent king. But he doesn’t. He wants nothing to do with government, to the extent that he orders Ned to resume his post as Hand and dictates that the Starks and Lannisters just need to gloss over their problems so that he can get on with his whoring, hunting, and drinking.

Then there’s his brother Renly, who has a gorgeous moment of standing up to Robert in this episode. Sick of hearing Robert talk about “the good old days”, back when he was overthrowing the Targaryens, Renly points out in no uncertain terms that what was glorious for Robert was miserable for the people of his kingdom. Renly, your heart is in the right place. And the show is doing a good job of making us realise that while also making us question if Renly has the steely core necessary to rule. It can’t be all compassion all the time, after all — as others in the episode will show us.

Ned, meanwhile, has to do the ruling while Robert’s off doing the killing on a hunt. We learn that Gregor Clegane is terrorizing the Riverlands, and Ned, without hesitation, strips Gregor of title and sends Beric Dondarrion out to bring him to justice. He also summons Clegane’s liege-lord, Tywin Lannister, to answer for his vassal’s crimes. Here we see — as though we needed further proof of it — that Ned makes decisions which are right, but not always smart. Ned doesn’t think about consequences; he acts entirely in accordance with his sense of justice. His style of leadership clearly contrasts with Robert’s, and it’s better in some ways, but it’s still far from the best of all possible options.

We don’t get to see a lot of Sansa and Arya in this episode, but what we do is quite character-exploring. Arya’s worried for her father, and it’s affecting her practice with Needle. Syrio’s having none of this sentimental nonsense, however, pointing out that fighting while you’re emotional will get you killed. He asks if she’s prayed for her father, and when she says yes, to the Seven and the Old Gods. Syrio replies that “There is only one god, and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: Not today.” That line could so easily be cheesy, but because Miltos Yeromelou is so good, so charming in his own way, it completely works. I’ve seen some speculation that the series may be seeding the Syrio-is-Jaqen theory, and while I’m not sure if they’re doing it deliberate or not, they do at least seem to be leaving the possibility open.

Sansa, meanwhile, is bitchier than ever. The show sure doesn’t seem to be building up any sympathy for her. Frankly, I’m okay with that, because I’ve never liked Sansa, I’ve always thought she was a spoiled brat, and I find it quite difficult to make excuses for her. I wonder how new fans are taking it, though — if any of them think they should be sympathizing or not. She’s horrible to Septa Mordane for no good reason, and then when Joffrey comes in — belatedly following his mother’s advice about making nice with her — she just laps up everything he has to say. He paints her a lovely picture of a future where they are king and queen; it rings as false as a tin bell, but Sansa’s so besotted that she can’t see that. This becomes particularly clear when Ned tells his daughter’s he’s sending them back to Winterfell. Arya clearly thinks about as highly of Sansa as I do, openly disdainful of Sansa’s dream of bearing Joffrey’s children; her snickering when Sansa asserts, “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong, I want him!” is just delightful. This is also the conversation that finally makes it dawn on Ned just what’s been going on in the royal family — when Sansa declares that Joffrey is a lion, nothing like his drunken king of a father, Ned finally realises that… no, he isn’t anything like Robert, is he? And so he finally drags out that genealogy book Jon Arryn was reading, and discovers that every Baratheon in the history of ever has had black hair.

Meanwhile, in the Vale, Tyrion’s fighting injustice of his own. Lysa, who has more or less assumed total sovereignty on behalf of her son, is blatantly ignoring things like rule of law and has imprisoned Tyrion in a sky cell. Tyrion convinces his keeper, Mord, to tell Lysa he wishes to confess his crimes — and watching Tyrion try to reason with Mord to get to that point is one of the more fun moments of this episode. Dinklage expresses the barely-controlled frustration so wonderfully. When he manages to get in front of Lysa, though, he’s not confessing the crimes she wants him for; instead he expounds on a hilarious litany of childhood misdeeds and sexual misconduct. It’s one of Tyrion’s and Dinklage’s best moments in the show so far. This is also the speech where you can really tell Jane Espinosa wrote this episode, between the quirky humour and then the sudden turn of emotions. Bronn’s smirky reactions are also priceless.

Tyrion demands trial by combat, and when Lysa refuses to let him send for his brother Jaime to stand in as champion, Bronn the sellsword offers himself. This battle is really interesting — I enjoyed how the camera points out the differences between what Bronn is wearing and what Ser Vardis is wearing. No one has to talk about it; instead, they just let the audience see it. Ser Vardis is encumbered by his armor, that shell that he thinks is protecting him, whereas Bronn moves swiftly. He also fights dirty, much to the displeasure of Lysa and the watching-from-absurdly-close-vantage-points Vale court. And this is where we feel just how badly Cat and Lysa both miscalculated — Cat in trusting her sister, Lysa in her blind convictions. Bronn triumphs, and Tyrion strolls out like the cat that got the cream.

Not much is going on up North. Bran continues to be adorable, and his sheer joy at being able to ride is a great moment. I know others have lamented the lack of direwolves in the scene where he gets attacked by wildlings, but I’m willing to let it slide. They were working with puppies, after all, and I’d rather they leave them out than have them in awkwardly. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of the wolves next season, when they’re older and have been trained up a bit. The show continues to foreshadow Theon’s eventual betrayal; it feels as though, after forgetting about him for the first few episodes, they’re now laying in on a bit thick.

Finally, in Vaes Dothrak: I really love the first scene, short as it is, where Dany puts an egg in the fire and then takes it out with her bare hands. Irri rushes to stop her, but gets burned, and then we see… Dany isn’t hurt at all. I love this moment so much. It foreshadows so many things for Daenerys. First that, yeah, there is something just a little special about her. (Haters to the left, please).  I cheerfully shouted “The Unburnt!” when that happened. And also that there’s just that little hint of madness in her, that bit of obsession that even the good Targaryens have.

Daenerys eats a stallion heart without casting up her accounts, and the crones proclaim that she’s carrying the Stallion Who Will Mount the World inside of her. Drogo looks seriously turned on by the heart-eating, whereas Viserys looks like he’s the one who might be sick. He displays some paranoia about his sister having a son, but the really gorgeous moment here is when he realises that Dany has people who love her. They might be, to his eyes, barbarians, but she has their loyalty and their devotion. Viserys appears both hurt and confused by this, clearly feeling it should be him, but bewildered as to figure out how to win that adoration for himself. Since he can’t have that, he’ll settle for wealth and his crown; the scene where he tries to steal her dragon eggs is a nice addition, as it gives us the chance to see what both he and Mormont value.

Later, at a celebratory feast, drunk Viserys stumbles in, sword unsheathed (in violation of the sacred laws of Vaes Dothrak), and demands that Drogo yield up what he believes he’s owed. In another underscoring of the love Dany’s already managed to inspire in others, Doreah tries to stand between Dany and danger, even though she’s clearly terrified, which I thought was a lovely little detail. Dany, though, isn’t flinching at her brother anymore. Viserys threatens Daenerys and her son, and Drogo then agrees to give him his golden crown — molten gold, which he pours over Viserys’s head, killing him.

This series made me like Viserys so much more than I did in the book. Or at least it made me feel more emotion for him. And that is entirely credit the amazing acting skills of Harry Lloyd, who I am so sorry to see go (but whom I’m sure we’ll be seeing more great things from in the future). It’s so heartbreaking when he thinks he’s getting what he wants, because he looks so happy for a moment, before he realizes what’s actually happening. You can see, too, that while Dany might not know exactly what’s about to happen, she knows it’s not going to be good, and she’s accepted that. Viserys has had his chance, after all.

The end of this episode may be my favourite moment in the series so far. Dany, still unflinching, says of her brother’s death: “He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.” And I love it. It’s showing her strength, but again, it’s showing just that little hint of Targaryen-brand madness. Gorgeous.

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TV Review: Game of Thrones, S01E05 – The Wolf and the Lion

Show: Game of Thrones
Channel: HBO
Episode: S01E05 – The Wolf and the Lion
Original Air Date: 15 May 2011
Spoiler Warning: Active for show and books

Subtlety was not the primary concern of this episode.

And I’m kind of okay with that.

For an episode that’s a lot of conversation, it’s also a lot of in-your-face things happening. Mind, this series hasn’t ever shied away from showing us the gory bits, or the sexy bits, but in this episode, the visuals are joined by a lot of verbal, character-driven bald-facedness. The funny thing is, for an episode where everyone’s talking about backstabbing, deceit, and sinister dealings, what the audience actually sees is a lot of people being themselves, just as they are.

Let’s take Lysa Tully, for example. In the book, you’ve got a chapter or two, as I recall, to see just how much she’s cracked. You know she is, as Tyrion puts it, a bit touched, but it isn’t until the end of the conversation, when she whips her tit out for her six-year-old son to feast from, that you really see just how deluded she is. In the show, they open with that. No easing into it at all, just bam! Crazy mother and bloodthirsty brat. I love how you can see, so clearly, on Catelyn’s face, that she realises she’s made a pretty severe error in judgment. Then, of course, poor Tyrion (who can never hide what he is, and so doesn’t bother to hide much else) gets thrown into a sky cell, where, as the books tell us, a prisoner is left open to the scrutiny of the gods.

Then there’s Renly and Loras. In the world, of course, they’re hiding what they are. To the audience, it’s right out there – far more explicit than in the books, where it was always rather coy and shy. (In case I haven’t said it before, bless HBO and their equal opportunity nudity. Between Theon, who I hate as a character but cannot help but drool over as a body, and then these two, it was a good episode for those of us who favour menfolk). I like that Loras is more, well, badass than he comes off in the books. A little more snarky, a little more unflinching. It somehow makes him seem more appropriately Tyrell. Here, enjoy a gif that I shamelessly stole from this awesome chick.

Renly/Loras

And for another, less-happy couple, Robert and Cersei, bluntly honest with each other about their miserably failed marriage. They know what they are and what their marriage has done for the kingdom, good or ill. Perhaps for the first time in their marriage, however, they admit some things, answer some questions, stare certain untruths in the face.

These little revelations trail through the rest of the episode, through other characters, as well: Gregor Clegane sure doesn’t hide the fact that he’s vicious and crazy. Varys comes clean with Ned (more or less), and even he and Littlefinger, squaring off, lay a few cards out on the table. Then there’s Arya, who refuses to be anything other than as she is, to the point where it’s now obscuring who she’s “supposed” to be. Watching her dress down two goldcloaks was just entirely too entertaining. And when Jaime Lannister, never a man for subtlety or subterfuge, challenges Ned, and we see both Jaime’s true concern for his family and his own brand of honour.

I missed Jon, Dany, and the rest at the Wall and in Vaes Dothrak in this episode, but I understand leaving them out, and I expect we’ll get plenty of both in Episode 6. Their stories have quite different themes from this one, so I think they would’ve been discordant notes in what’s otherwise a nicely flowing hour of television.

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