Monday, June 3, 2013

Slow realizations

If you think about it, anyone who hasn't read the books could have seen this coming. After all, what have all your book-readin' friends been raving about for the past decade? "George R. R. Martin is a favorite character killer! No one is safe!" And through three seasons, who has actually died? Ned, Robert, Drogo, Viserys, Renly. That's about it and it's a stretch to consider the latter three fan favorites. Meanwhile, the last two episodes' material with Robb have basically been a series of (ahem) pregnant pauses. You could feel something building up, given the borderline insane plans to treat with Walder Frey and then stroll off to lay siege to Casterly Rock. It's that slow realization of dramatic change that forms the real basis for this episode, as that reaction happens again and again as people discover that what they most hoped for has been dashed and what they most feared has been realized. This is Westeros (and Essos) and welcome to it.

Scene after scene is built upon or highlighted by the expressions on various characters' faces as their inner thoughts, that crucial element that is so important to the books and yet is absent from the show by nature of the medium, tell them something that they should have known but are still utterly shocked by. One of the best is in the first few moments, when Catelyn stares holes through Robb as now- now! -he comes to her for advice. You can see her searching him for an agenda, for what it might mean for their damaged relationship, for what it might mean in his entreaties to Lord Frey. There are extreme hopes and fears there and there is no one that is immune to them.

Jorah Mormont feels it when Daario first covers Dany's hand to move it across the map. The realization is there, but he quickly tries to dismiss it in the name of duty as he reaffirms his and Ser Barristan's role in this whole escapade. Later, when he and Grey Worm narrowly escape with their lives and Dany asks after only Daario, his world caves in and those attempts at dismissal are long gone.

Arya feels it when she realizes that everything the Hound is telling her is true. She is afraid and it is altering her behavior, protest notwithstanding. But those fears don't come to fruition until she has to watch her brother's wolf get slaughtered and then suddenly discover that the man she hates, the murderer of her friend, is the only one who can protect her from the madhouse that the Twins has become.

Again and again: Gilly discovering that the man who rescued her knows about an entirely different world... The Hound realizing just how grim and dedicated this tiny woman is when she clocks the farmer to keep him alive... Osha's resigned disgust at hearing her little charges spit back the old wives' (Nans'?) tales about the evil Wildlings... Edmure discovering that at least one daughter of Walder Frey is pretty hot... Ygritte's anguished dismay as she watches her lover leave her behind, a traitor to her people... The creepy discomfort on Talisa's face as she watches tradition take Edmure and his new bride up the stairs and violate the intimacy of their first physical moments. This episode was a study of faces, a study of expression, and most of it, at its root, was about fear.

Fear is everything here. Jon fears what the Wildlings will do and how he'll feel responsible for letting them do it. Ygritte fears that her suspicions about Jon are real and how she'll still want to let him fulfill them. Arya fears missing out on finally reuniting with her family, even though she knows that she's forever changed and may never feel the same about them while she's driven by vengeance. Jorah fears Daario's betrayal inside Yunkai as that's what Jorah, an opportunist of the first order, would probably do. But even moreso, he fears having to confront his own realization that Dany is lost to him as a lover and Daario is the walking proof. And nothing was more obvious than the trepidation that Robb and everyone in his party were swimming in from the moment they set foot in the Twins. The first bars of the Rains of Castamere only served to bring that home to Catelyn before the knives started falling.

On the technical side, I think most of it came off pretty well. The fight in Yunkai was a pretty basdass scene, even if the editing and choreography were a little clunky. It's difficult to coordinate that many people in a dance of death that's supposed to look natural, but there were one too many "And... action!" moments to really feel like any of them actually had a knowledge of their weapons and how to use them.

As for the famed Red Wedding, I was kind of up and down through the whole thing. I liked that they included the bread and salt bit, but I thought they could have taken a few seconds to clarify just what it was. Seeing them all eating in the Frey hall probably wasn't enough for show watchers to realize just how big a violation Frey's betrayal was, not just in the political sense, but in the cultural and spiritual senses, as well. I thought it was excellent direction, however, to incorporate that incredibly tender scene between Talisa and Robb, discussing the naming of their future child, only to have everything literally torn apart a few moments later. The stabbing of Talisa's womb was a bit of a shock to me and something I didn't expect. On the other hand, the slaying of Grey Wind was much tamer than I expected and certainly less so than presented in the book. Acknowledging that it was still a pretty heart-wrenching scene watching a defenseless animal get cut down leads to the common sense understanding that, even on nights like this, HBO is only willing to go so far (and it's probably a good thing.)

Also, for as much as I've already seen people raving about Michelle Fairley's performance, I thought she kind of let the air out of the room in her final confrontation with Lord Frey. It's certainly very tough to convey that kind of anguish and desperation and rage, but I just wasn't sold, unfortunately. Of course, the logistics once again let them down, in that Catelyn's moment is supposed to be surrounded by the chaos still taking place in the feast hall, with combat and slaughter and screams and turmoil encircling her as she attempts to bargain with the lives of others. When you have a constrained budget, you can't do the kind of scene that the original depicts and which the event deserves. In the same way that the Hand's tournament was a letdown for lack of an audience, the wedding scene was a bit underwhelming for lack of victims (quantity, if not quality.) But them's the breaks.

Have to say that the credits without music was a very nice touch.

Lines of the night:

Honestly not that many, since most of the delivery tonight was written on the faces of the actors and not needing the script writers to help them perform it.

"Show them how it feels to lose what they love." - Check.

"Your king says he betrayed me for love. I say he betrayed me for firm tits and a nice fit. And I can understand that. At his age, I would have broken fifty vows to get into that without a second thought." - Blunt man, Walder Frey...

"The wine will flow red." - ...but not without his fair measure of subtlety.

"A man cannot make love to property." - Here's a segue right into a dom/sub discussion and... Nevermind.

"You know all that from staring at marks on paper. You're like... a wizard." The greatest moment of Sam's young life.

"I know a real killer. He'd kill you with his little finger."
"That him?"
"Good." - No one is more pragmatic than the Hound. Forever my favorite character.

"You're very kind. It'll get you killed." - I say again...

"We can drink some blood while we wait. I don't need much." - Osha getting a jab in.

"Someday, I'm gonna put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull." - But that might leave him faceless.

"The gods love to reward a fool." - The Blackfish, wiser than he knows, because the fool wasn't Edmure.

And, finally, a short note about Bran. This was, interestingly enough, the best Bran scene in quite a while and it was completely overshadowed by the wedding. But finally demonstrating the expansion of his abilities and the heartfelt departure of Osha and Rickon was some excellent material for a storyline that's basically been running in place all season. There is, of course, only one more episode to go so I'll be interested to see how they wrap it up for the year.

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