Sunday, April 7, 2013

"We don't get to choose who we love."

First and foremost, one has to say that it's mildly disturbing watching Isaac Hempstead-Wright grow so quickly (relative to TV time, of course.) Last season he still looked 10 and sounded it. Now he sounds and looks like the 14-year-old that he is. Given that the producers have aged all of the child characters from their book counterparts in order to ease the task of filming, it's not as jarring as it would be if they were attempting a note for note production, but it's still a little odd.

This was the info dump episode for viewers, introducing no fewer than half a dozen new characters, among them several mentioned in the first two seasons, such as Thoros of Myr and the Brotherhood without Banners and Roose Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay. But we also finally got to meet Meera and Jojen Reed and Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns. There will once again be a round of wailing about possibly losing people who have only watched the TV series but let's be honest: if you've made it this far, keeping in mind all of the online resources, HBO and otherwise, you're not going to be dismayed by a few more people running around Westeros whose names you have to remember. It doesn't hurt that many of those introduced in this episode are some of the best characters in the story to begin with.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's a running joke among the producers to have Roose Bolton interrupt every scene between Robb and Talisa. But the presence of Bolton brings up my one mild complaint about the set designers: the banners. Now, heraldry is a complex issue. Most flags of European powers and families were hellishly complicated if the family had been in existence for any length of time. However, the purpose of having an identifying flag was so that it could be seen on the field of battle and armies could tell each other apart, both for the purpose of organizing one's own army and threatening the opponent's. With that in mind, there was no point in having an elaborate design on a battle flag that would be difficult to perceive from hundreds of yards away. However, several of the banners in the last couple seasons have been... less than I expected. Renly's version of the Baratheon stag was almost comical and the Bolton flayed man is rather less baroque than I imagined (or that presented by a literal reading of the books where the pink is presented as quite the contrast to the most menacing house in the North.) /end tangent.

The scenes with Jaime and Brienne are every bit as entertaining as they are in the books, presenting the great contrast between cynical reality and faithful aspiration to the idea that both figures are supposed to represent under the fatuous rules of the society they inhabit. That dynamic will never cease to be entertaining, even if the respective actors weren't already excellent in their roles. Their second scene reinforces their capabilities, as well, demonstrating Jaime's ability to fight while manacled and Brienne's skill at defending herself while also only neutralizing him. It's the veracity provided by these scenes that tends to transport the viewer into the world that Martin has created, especially when you can't afford a Battle of Blackwater every episode. And, again, it highlights how these two outsiders are still so bound by the people around them, as the quote that titles this post lays so very clear.

One of the aforementioned brilliant characters is Olenna Tyrell, played by Diana Rigg. Rigg nails this performance. The Queen of Thorns is a multifaceted character in the books and quite similar to Tyrion, in that she easily views the world apart from the fanciful notions that most of the noble class holds so dear (or pretends to) and she's not afraid to declare that vision, loudly and often. Rigg scores a half dozen of the best lines of the episode, but the crowner is probably: "Loras is young and good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise."

Of course, the introduction of the Brotherhood finally brings the aspect of class consciousness into stark (heh) relief in the story and I'm mildly dreading the number of reviewers that will attempt to draw parallels to modern society. It's not to say that GRRM didn't intend to draw some of those parallels, as they existed in medieval society and continue to exist today. But it's a simple-minded comparison, much as I might like to see the series inspire the revolution that so needs to happen...

In fact, for as much as this is the info dump episode, there's very little exposition (and absolutely no sexposition.) Instead, almost all the information is provided by personal interaction between two characters: Catelyn speaking of her cursing the infant Jon to Talisa, Robb and Rickard Karstark arguing about their march to Riverrun, Jojen elaborating upon wargs to Bran and, most prominently, Margaery attempting to ingratiate herself with Joffrey. This latter scene is one of the best performances of this or any other season. Jack Gleeson is the nervous boy attempting to impress a girl at the same time as he flaunts his sadistic nature. Meanwhile, Natalie Dormer lines herself up as the queen with one or two simple lines: "Would you like to watch me?" and the brilliant "The subtleties of politics are often lost on me."

Completely aside from the content of the episode, I have to go into my twice- or thrice-yearly exclamation not just about the cast, in general, but about Maisie Williams in specific.

She's astounding, from facial expressions to interaction with others. She's a treat to watch every time she's on camera.

Lines of the week (in addition to basically everything Olenna says):

"She was told to! That's what intelligent women do - what they're told." Joffrey giving Cersei the what for. Do you laugh when one contemptible person gets the upper hand on another with an utterly contemptible thought?

"He's too old."
"They never see it that way." Shae's lessons in life, as real in our world as they are in theirs.

"Tarly, I forbid you to die." James Cosmo, ever reliable. However, they were a bit let down by the sunlight in this scene. It was too nice outside for the grim nature of what was happening. If they could have filmed it during the snow that blanketed the scenes with Mance and Jon, it would have been more convincing.

And this week's winner: "Is there an idiot in any village who trusts Littlefinger?" Tyrion; still champion.

The final thought was one of mild dismay: No Daenerys this week... which means still no answer about Strong Belwas! Lame... And I said nothing about the totally new scenes with Theon, but it rhymes with (see you next) "week"...


  1. I have to admit that the aging of child actors and actresses really interferes with my ability to get caught up with their story lines. It's actually kind of intrusive, since I think about it every time they come on screen.

    As you mentioned, Bran looked soooo much older tonight than before. Perhaps because I watched the whole series up until now in the last week it has a bigger impact. I'm currently watching the new episode of Mad Men and there too, the difference in the children's age bugs me. Hopefully it's something I'll get used to as in both shows it's the start of a new season and this is kind of expected. We'll see.

    I also completely agree with your point about Arya. She's great.

    Having never read the books, I can't comment on new characters or their impact on the storyline, though one of my good gaming friends who I've known for like... 10 years at least and who has been trying to get me to read the books for about as long always named his WoW characters after characters from the books. Stannis and now Thoros are the ones I've come across thus far. It certainly adds intrigue to new characters.


  2. I think it helps to know that Benioff and Weiss have begun to stress that the show is an adaptation, not a note for note presentation. In that way, I think it eases the suspension of disbelief being disrupted by the aging of the kids. At least it does for me, since I'm already having to adjust to the differing appearances of some of the characters from what's in my mind's eye, despite the fact that the casting overall is pretty amazing in that respect.