Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's the little things

Despite the title of the episode ("Oathkeeper") and the numerous interesting events that took place, the final scene was by far the most interesting to those of us who've read the books since it is such a radical departure. There are only a couple direct interactions with the Others in the five published books and the most notable doesn't occur for some time. The fact that Craster was feeding his male children to the creatures is entirely a show creation, D&D (and Bryan Cogman, the episode's writer) apparently decided to detail what exactly the Others are doing with those children, perhaps in an effort to explain why we only ever see male White Walkers? Clearly, there was no oath involved between showrunners and GRRM to hew to material as written and it's common knowledge that they've been given an outline by Martin as to how the story is going to proceed and wrap up in case the show begins to pass his published work. That leaves a large question: Is this something that he has in mind that he hasn't revealed or is it something the show developed in order to give some identity to the Others?

I'm of two minds on that topic. One is that knowing that there's a driving force for the Walkers other than simple slaughter of living humans does give them a bit more depth. The other side of it is that giving them that depth robs them somewhat of their ominous threat. If the Others are so alien as to simply be called "the Others" (as they are in the books, if not the show), then the fear sown is enhanced by the fact that their motives are unknown and they seem to be implacable and motivated solely by killing based on some ancient war between them and the First Men with the Children of the Forest. The counter-argument is that they go beyond being simple two-dimensional boogeymen by having some detail about what and whom they are, however minor. However, given the hideously complicated political motivations and factional infighting already present in the story, I think their limited status is actually appropriate. If you can't unite against things that are only present to destroy you, you won't unite at all. Granted, the fact that they seem to be creating more of themselves which inherently still destroys the human side is reaching the same goal, so this may all just be debating storytelling angles, anyway.

Of course, much of the episode is mostly discussion about the angles that make the story and, in fact, make most of the characters actually human (to one degree or another...) from Missandei teaching Grey Worm how to read and speak Common to Sansa and Littlefinger discussing details of the regicide plot to Margaery following Olenna's advice on how to manipulate Tommen to Jaime and Brienne's departure scene where she names her new sword and titles the episode. There's a certain humanity to Cogman's writing (he was Benioff's assistant when production began and later advanced to being "lorekeeper" and regular writer of at least one episode per season) in that he clearly sympathizes with certain characters and tends to play up their more sensitive sides or simply chooses to move the plot along by their basic interactions with others. I find it a little less dramatic than D&D's stuff (which often gets worked into episodes, anyway, as the move scenes around) and it tends to have less memorable lines, but there's certainly a time for simply watching these people live their lives (or not) amidst the plots and chaos that surround them. I've noticed that it trends away from the more Machiavellian characters like Tywin and the more brutal characters like the Boltons and spends more time with people like Samwell, Bran, and Sansa.

OTOH, you can't get much more brutal than the Dragon Queen in this episode ("Crucifixion? Good. Out of the door. Line on the left. One cross each."), which kind of dovetails nicely with a point I was trying to make in my most recent non-episode post about the so-called "moral principles" of various characters. Daenerys is often seen as the only real "hero" of the story and one of the most likeable female characters, as well (although I have to say that I loved Olenna Redwyne in the books and appreciate her even more now with Diana Rigg layin' it down about both her past and the plot.) Yet in this episode, she ignores Barristan Selmy's relatively wise advice (and he should know about royal excesses, having served both Aerys Targaryan and Robert Baratheon) and exacts vengeance against Meereen's noble class. I have to say that the scene of her viewing the city from the top of the pyramid while the shrieks of the crucified echo below and the Targaryen banner flutters in the wind was (ahem) killer. But it's also a reminder of the constant level of gray. Becoming-honorable Jaime may be keeping his oath to the now-dead Catelyn Stark but he can still be a rapist. Dany may be freeing people from brutal slavery by the tens of thousands, but she can also be a ferocious killer. It's about putting your characters in positions to make decisions that have real impact and that's what makes the story what it is. Bronn cornering Jaime over his love for Tyrion was a perfect example of that theme.

Little things that carry that decision-making theme:

Is Margaery manipulating a young boy king for his own benefit or only for hers? Admittedly, I thought they might go so far as to show him getting the real benefit of being married to Margaery which most boys his age would be ecstatic about... And they worked in Ser Pounce, which is nice for completists. This becomes a question of whether Margaery is solely politically motivated and plays the gentle soul to further that agenda or whether she's actually interested in making things a bit more positive around the Iron Throne, if only for her own sake.

Is Littlefinger showing a sign of weakness by indoctrinating Sansa or setting her up to further his own ends? They're making it very clear that he looks on her as something desirable because she is Catelyn's and perhaps slightly moreso than in the books. This is the point where Sansa really began to become interesting for me, as she was mostly a foil in the earlier part of the story. In contrast, I think I've developed more interest in her from watching Sophie Turner play the role on the show and have argued at least once that she may be the strongest character in the story, if only because she is so human. It also begs the question about whether Petyr Baelish has any weakness other than Catelyn which is something that has been danced around in the books, as well.

Is Cersei treating Jaime the way she is because she's so angry at him for "taking too long" or because she's given up hope on their relationship, making her that much more bitter? Probably both and more. Of all the good exchanges in this episode, this was the best. Lena Headey continues to excel with the simplest glances and grimaces at the world around her. At this point, where does duty win out over blood? Does being the commander of the Kingsguard mean that they're only queen and commander and no longer brother and sister and, of course, lovers? Or, again, is it just a useful device for continuing her hold on power now that the far more manipulable Tommen is on the throne. Remember, the only thing Cersei truly loves are her children...

And, finally, the little differences. The elimination of the wolves from the storyline, barring Summer, is getting greater as time goes by. Why keep Ghost imprisoned at Craster's when he has a greater connection with Jon than most of the other wolves had with their masters? If the story was already going to have Jon arrive there as a tactical decision, did they think that having Ghost there was the only way to have Bran and Co. stop to check it out? Wouldn't them seeing Night's Watch members have been sufficient? Of course, that also begs the question as to why they would bring Bran and Co. to Craster's in the first place. Admittedly, there are long stretches where Bran's story is: "We're out in the wilderness. Moving north." but this just seems like an odd juxtaposition of plot lines in which Sam bemoans the fact that he couldn't get Bran to turn around and then Jon shows up to rescue him. I think maintaining the separation of the Stark children is part-and-parcel of the overall tragedy and would hate to see that changed if they run into each other. Furthermore, on that final scene with the Walkers, I hate to think that we're again missing Gemma Jackson, since the Stonehenge-like site for the transformation of the baby was a little chintzy. I was really reminded of, um, classics like Conan the Destroyer, from the movie hell that was the 80s.

Lines of the week:

"Unsullied. Always Unsullied. Before Unsullied, nothing." - The dedication of the eunuch.

"Her son?" "Don't." and "The Kingslayer Brothers. You like it? I like it." and "Sansa's not a killer. Not yet, anyway." - As usual, the Lannister brothers' scenes are close to priceless. I think Tyrion was thinking of Arya with that last line, though.

"A man with no motive is a man no one suspects." and "I don't want friends like me." - No one wants friends like Littlefinger.

"Figured I wouldn't have to suck up to any highborn cunts here... Guess I was wrong." - One wonders if Locke was telling a bit of the truth here about his own fealty to the Dreadfort?

"I'll find her. For Lady Catelyn. And for you." - Continuing this season's trend, a line that isn't witty or memorable except for the sincerity with which it's delivered and the unspoken communication that accompanies it. Brienne's attachment to Jaime in the show is far more prominent than in the books and that's a change that I really think is for the better.

And the winner:

"You want to fight pretty or you want to win?" - This should be the tagline of the show. When Bronn got him with the hand, all I could think about was Nelson Muntz ("Stop hitting yourself!")

Oh, and Drink from the Skull is the new band name.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fantastic misogyny?

As expected, last week's Cersei and Jaime scene generated quite a bit of discussion around the Interwebs, most of it fueled by some degree of outrage and/or disgust... which one would hope for in a scene that was pretty clearly rape. However, I think some people are losing sight of a) what the story is; b) whom the characters involved are; and, c) what the scene was obviously trying to do. Sarah Kolb's piece at is an example of that.

Now, like usual, this is treading dangerous ground because here I am, a man, talking about a topic that's, uh, not from my perspective. Although the sexual assault of men does occur in our society, there's no question that it's far more prevalent against women. Therefore, it's very easy to slide back into the commonly patriarchal view of such activity, which often leads to blaming the victim for displays of initial desire ("She wanted it!") or a failure to act sternly enough ("I would have stopped if she really didn't want it!") Even more importantly here, this is a work of fiction, so there's no interview to be done afterward to get the reaction from the characters or determine whose intent was whose, etc. However, this being fiction, one would like to assume that we can go ahead and analyze this from a relatively secure foundation of complete and total speculation and assumption, which is what we'll try here.

First off you can't (ahem) lionize Cersei as one of Martin's most interesting characters (which she is) and then complain about how the show has trivialized her into a victim because the show, if anything, has made her more interesting. Cersei doesn't become a POV (point-of-view) character until well after this event took place in the books (she begins in Feast for Crows, not Storm of Swords as Kolb stated) so we're not privy to her thoughts when this happens, just as we're not privy to said thoughts from either the character or Lena Headey on the HBO series. That said, you get a different level of detail from watching a performance than you do from reading a book. Cersei is little more than vengeful manipulator through the first few thousand pages of the books. Only later do we learn her vulnerabilities. We've already seen those multiple times from Headey in the show's four seasons. We can already sympathize with and even love her, in Kolb's words. She's already complex and she's still a victim, simply on the basis of her sex. But suggesting that the latter condition is somehow indicative of an overall attitude of the show and its creators is a bit too far of a leap, IMO.

Secondly, saying that the scene in the books is "completely consensual" is pretty poor memory on Kolb's part. The circumstances are markedly different (it's the first time Jaime has seen her in months, rather than being home for weeks; Joffrey has been dead for some time; etc.), but she says "No." quite a bit during that scene, as well, before giving in. It's easy to read her "No" in the books into the idea that she's just worried about someone coming in and seeing them and the uproar that would result. But how do we know that? In the same way that we shouldn't make a determination about anyone's intent leading up to a rape, we shouldn't here, right? "No means no", right? Is it safe to say that she "wanted it" because at some point she seems to have mentally said "I don't care if someone comes in. Do me, Jaime!"? Likewise, in the same way that it's possible to view that scene as "without question consensual", it's also possible to note that Graves' scene also shows Cersei giving in, returning Jaime's kisses, and then clutching the altar dressing in a pretty clear display of passion. At what point do we determine that her desire does or does not make it rape?

In the end, was it rape? Yeah, I think so. That's what I thought from the moment it started to the moment we transitioned to somewhere else, even after she began returning Jaime's passion. That's what it was and I was certainly a bit put off by it, too, not just because of what was happening but also because it was a radical departure from the route that Jaime's character has taken in the show and the books. However, that's what happens in good dramatic works and it usually turns into something more interesting than otherwise. Furthermore, to extrapolate from that shock into discarding the entire show as an exercise in misogyny is a good way to get me to discard said opinion as an exercise in hyperbole. For that matter, how exactly are rape scenes to be shown in fiction if not as a moment of shock and, presumably, horror? How exactly should they be shown or told "correctly"? What better reaction for the audience to have than the one that the vast majority had precisely to this one?

Women are property in Westeros, just as they were in many societies in earlier times (and still are in many today, unfortunately.) That's precisely the focus of Cersei's character in that she has been one of the most powerful people in the Seven Kingdoms for quite some time and, in an instant, she's reduced to being a bargaining chip again. Consistency in storytelling is actually a strong point, so deviating from what has been firmly established is as much a fool's errand as rewriting history because it's too dark for today's tender sensibilities and more enlightened viewpoints. To be honest, Kolb's is the only opinion I've seen so far that's even speculated on the idea that part of the audience would react in a "bitch got what she deserved" manner. On the contrary, the reaction has been one of almost universal shock and confusion... which is exactly the reaction you would expect to get for a rape scene! Art works. Wonders never cease. Because, yeah, it is a lot like real life. Maybe that's the point?

Later, Kolb's argument turns to the fact that what seems to be really eating at her is that Jaime's upward return from the vile person that he was before has now been put on hold. In other words, he's still a self-centered guy who feels entitled to take what he wants, even from the person he loves most in the world. She's upset that the show "butchered the moral principles of one of [her] favorite male characters." Exactly how many "moral principles" does a child-killer and nobleman who regards most commoners as footstools to be used mounting his horse actually have? While it's a surprise to everyone (at least in some way because it is such a deviation from his path in the books), it's also no reason to dismiss the show and, to some extent, Martin's work as misogynistic (even aside from the seeming hypocrisy.)

That's almost the funny part, because there was an opinion for quite some time after 2000 and prior to the publication of Feast for Crows that A Song of Ice and Fire was a work of misogyny, primarily because even though Martin had multiple strong and interesting female characters, the vast majority of them were regarded as either despicable, weak to the point of contempt, or harridans (Cersei, Sansa, and Catelyn, respectively.) The only real exception was Daenerys, who is still widely regarded as the story's only genuinely heroic figure, and who is still one of those whom modern society would term "morally questionable" because of the casual way in which she's willing to execute thousands of Astapori, Yunkaii, and Meereenese. So, whose high horse is really being ridden here?

The scene wasn't funny. It wasn't titillating. It didn't even show any of the famed nudity that people seem to think is so overdone (oh, but not the brutal violence... no, there can never be enough of that for American audiences because that's OK for the children...) It was exactly what it was supposed to be: dark, and not just because the lighting was low. While many people, like Kolb, have had a visceral reaction to it, I think that was honestly intentional. Whether it was a good idea or not remains to be seen. I think it works within the scope of what the show has already portrayed and will continue to do.

(And, incidentally, Asha Greyjoy is Yara Greyjoy in the show because they thought people would be dumb enough to confuse 'Asha' and 'Osha', the Wildling. Asha, again, doesn't really come into her own until A Feast for Crows begins, so while I'd like to see more of her, that story is still being played out. Again, not because the producers hate women.)

Short post-mortem

In years past, I've always made some effort to fit in as many of the year's Oscar-mentioned films because I liked to have experienced what people were lauding as worthy of mention. Of course, there are always films (like Blue is the Warmest Color) that don't end up getting attention from the Academy that I think are simply better than many things that do, but most of what ends up on the Best Picture list or are the vehicles for the 'Best X' category tend to have some merit and end up being worth watching. I caught one before the awards were given out and two in the last couple days.

The first was Dallas Buyers' Club. While I've read a fair amount of criticism about the distortions to the story of Ron Woodroof (who is portrayed, brilliantly, by Matthew McConaughey), the fact remains that the essential story, that of a group of people fighting to extend their lives in the face of a modern plague, is displayed wonderfully in this film. I thought the structure was a bit off, in that we never really see the emotional impact of the changes on Woodroof because he's so driven to keep fighting in every arena that civil society allows. He's a fighter and he remains one, right to the end, and there's never really a different side. That said, it was such a departure from the usual fluff that McConaughey is attached to that I think I was won over by his performance in the same way that I was convinced ever after that Brad Pitt could act after seeing 12 Monkeys (and I was right!/breaks arm patting back.) Of course, soon after I'd seen DBC, True Detective began and I may never have a bad word to say about McConaughey again...

And you can't really say anything about the film without mentioning Jared Leto, who stole every scene that he was in. Again, the standard story about someone transitioning from bigot to at least grudgingly respectful is all well and good. But in the case of both actors, I was far more interested in the zeal that they obviously carried for their roles and how willing they were to embody them (quite literally, given that they both had to starve themselves to portray very sick individuals.) In that respect, just watching the performance was more important than getting something thrilling in the form of a plot.

The same was essentially true of 12 Years a Slave. I enjoyed it for what it was, even though it veered away from drama and closer to documentary at some points. I thought the performances, top to bottom, were excellent with the lone exception of the aforementioned Pitt, whose role was so artificial that it fairly screamed "deus ex machina" and he played it that way. That may underscore my real problem with the film in that, while it certainly may be true that there was a Canadian contractor who is the person that eventually opens the door to Solomon Northrup's freedom (I have not read the original text), the development of that relationship isn't given the space that it needs to make Pitt's role feel like anything other than a device. Indeed, the film's title presents an agonizing length of time for the specific kind of injustice that Northrup endured (saying nothing about the broad-based injustice of slavery in the first place), but the film really fails to portray that time.

There are a couple instances where it seemed like director Steve McQueen (not that Steve McQueen) attempted to show the passage of time by cutting away to moments of scenery that I found quite entrancing visually and useful in and of themselves to give the audience time to consider Solomon's circumstances or even to contrast his situation in a brick-walled prison in slave country Virginia as the Capitol sits serenely on the other side of the river in nominally free Maryland. That's moody atmospheric stuff and if McQueen was using it to build that mood and show the passage of time, that's great. He just didn't do it often enough. One of the essential keys of the story is the dolorous, repetitive labor that was slavery (and especially cotton harvesting) and how this man was separated from his family with no recourse for Twelve. Long. Years.... except that it never felt like that. Solomon's circumstances changed so rapidly that I never got the sense that he was stuck in this situation for anything longer than a few months, so that by the time the film ended I watched the credits roll thinking that I had seen a good film, but not one for the ages.

All of that said, just like DBC, the performances were worthy of watching regardless of the mild flaws of the story. Chiwetel Ejiofor's anguish in the final scene where he's reunited with his family (spoiler!), as a man who has clearly lived his entire life under tight self-control; indeed, a man who has survived as a slave for a dozen years because of that self-control, is now faced with a situation where the emotion is simply resonating off of him but he is still unable to break down and release it. That was magnificent.

And then there's some crazy people in backwoods (backplains?) Oklahoma. While August: Osage County seemed to get the fewest raves of the three, I actually thought it was the best film. Once again, performances carried the day. I can't say enough about the cast and I guess I don't need to, as there was certainly more than enough talent packed in there, but aside from the excellent and glowingly-reviewed and nominated turns by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, I found myself equally as intrigued by Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. Juliette, as Karen, wasn't stepping too far outside her sphere by playing the ditzy sister trying to score big with a playboy husband, but she had the best line of the film at one point, cutting straight to the heart of the story as she rants at Barbara (Roberts):

Because I doubt that Jean’s blameless in all of this. I’m not saying that I blame her. Just because I said that she’s not blameless. I’m not saying she’s to blame. It’s just that she might share in the responsibility. It’s not cut and dried. It lives where everything lives. Somewhere in the middle. Where the rest of us live! Everyone but you!...
And I may have to do some things I’m not proud of again because life just puts you in a corner that way. And then, come January, we’ll be in Belize. Doesn’t that sound nice?
That final line made me crack up because you can't try harder to escape from your situation without telling everyone that that's exactly what you're doing. Likewise, Ivy (Nicholson) has the most emotional moments of the story that have the most to do with a positive outlook. Surrounded by the chaos, outrage, and despair, she's actually trying to move forward and responds with as much restraint as she can muster to try to be the stalwart of the three daughters that she's always been.

What should be evident from those two is that Osage County had the best story. In many ways, it's the smallest and most personal, taking place in one house over a few days, rather than spanning nations and years, but those are often the ones that live with you the longest. I know that I'll remember moments from Osage County longer than any from the other two films because it presented a situation that I could relate to while still being interesting enough to keep me watching simply because it was so different from my own. These were real people and we could have been voyeurs watching them go about their lives. The film is based on a play of the same name and, as so often happens, those films present the most memorable characters that have already been put through their paces to reach an audience. Add a camera and some remarkable talent and you're going to make memories for a much wider swathe of people.

There's one more film that I considered seeing but eventually didn't and which also received a shower of accolades in award season and that's The Wolf of Wall Street. I'm a fan of both DiCaprio and Scorcese, but the reason I didn't see it is still with me: I'm not particularly interested in further lionizing a pattern of behavior that should have landed many, many people in jail and which resulted in almost no one seeing the inside of a cell. Make me a film about Jamie Dimon on trial for his life and I'll be camped outside the theater.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bridges to cross, women to trade.

As the map spun into view, my first thought was: "Hey, I think they're saying that things are happening in Kings' Landing." Since we'd gone from the Red Wedding to the Purple Wedding, we must be arcing into a little bit of the old ultra-violet? Nevermind... Of course, then I noticed that the map had gone west to get to Meereen this time. Weird. Does that mean Euron's showing up soon?

While I was certainly excited to see the whole Dontos rescue/Littlefinger surprise scene, I couldn't help but wonder if they had Petyr Baelish being a little too glib about the whole sequence. Perhaps it's because my perception of him is deeply colored by the books and, as always, there are wheels within wheels of his plots. But it struck me that he was trusting Sansa with a lot more at this point in the story than he would readily admit to others. Shades of his transposed affection for her from Catelyn?

After that, there was a significant amount of this episode that was taken up less by action and more by people reacting to said action. Certainly, the death of Joffrey was a momentous event and the repercussions have to be acknowledged. Furthermore, many of those reaction scenes were excellent in and of themselves. But some were simply functional, such as Margarey and Olenna musing about what the future holds while Olenna as much as admits that she removed her granddaughter's road to self-empowerment, as women are still mostly a resource or trading chip in Westeros. Of course, we need that reaction in order to move the story, which is why it's often referred to as a bridge scene, but I can't help but be a little underwhelmed by moments that would more easily be woven into prose. That's media transition for you.

Speaking of excellent scenes, the extended moment in the Sept of Baelor with Cersei, Tommen (who is shockingly old to me, given his age in the books; is this boy going to want a kitten?), Tywin, and later Jaime was one of them. Tywin, wearing his grandfatherly mien for the sake of the tender Tommen, was still as callous as ever. His daughter is there agonizing over her slain child and he proceeds to disparage him even as she grimaces and twists under the criticism (Lena Headey, again performing subtle wonders.) Following that up with her rape by her twin virtually on top of the corpse of their son will be fodder for social scientists (and, doubtlessly, outrage by the Helen Lovejoys of the world) for the next decade or so. Cersei responds to the man she still wants in a way that people often do when faced by death: wanting to feel alive. But then she recoils when she touches his neo-prosthesis. So, Jaime engages in the so-called "crime of passion." But which passion? Anguish because it's his son lying there, too? Lust for this long-time lover that has denied herself to him? Anger because of just how hateful she is as he exclaims before forcing her to the floor? Or is this just one more example of how women are objects to be used in Westeros? I think it's all of that, which is what makes Jaime one of the better characters in the story, as he was just getting a fan following and then he does... this. Incidentally, the lighting in this scene was excellent. The moment after he tells the High Septon to leave and looks at Cersei from the shadow is stunning.

But then we're back to Dragonstone, where both scenes of Davos, first with Stannis and then with Shireen, are either just reactions to last episode or setup for future episodes involving the Iron Bank...

... which made it all the better when we return to the comedy duo of the Riverlands. To their credit, D&D threw me a bit here. I thought, in order to make their journey last through the season, they might really consider going really afield (ahem) from the books and sit down to be farmers for a bit. But then the reality of the Hound interrupted all that and they're on their way again. I should have known better. It's clear from their writing that they understand Sandor Clegane intimately (and clear from this interview that Rory McCann does, as well.) One wonders: at which point does writing for certain characters become influenced by how much the audience and the writers enjoy them? Martin has already mentioned that he was so tickled by Natalia Tena's performance as Osha in previous seasons that he plans to do more with her in Winds of Winter. I can't help but think that D&D are of similar opinion with Arya and the Hound, not just because it's crucial to show Arya's development along her personal road, but also because the material is so enjoyable to write. There are serviceable moments, like this episode's bridge scenes, and there are the moments where you're saying to yourself: "This is gonna be cool!" and that makes it all worth leading up to it. Alex Graves' direction in this scene was great, too. The shots of the idols and the stewpot during the prayer scene and the daughter's fascination with the Hound were highlights.

Some of that writers' enthusiasm doubtlessly occurred with Sam and Gilly as they continued to explore their relationship. Watching her attempt to tease him into acknowledging his own emotions is hilarious. By the same token, the rejection scene in Mole's Town was extremely similar to Shae's rejection by Tyrion last episode and Pod's rejection by Tyrion in this one. In both of the former cases, it's yet another example of women as objects ("I'm doing this for your own good!"), to which Gilly pointedly objects. Pod, of course, isn't confined by that sexual status but he's also something to be traded, since he's a lower class than the people trying to manipulate him. Honestly, I thought the scene with Pod was much more heartrending than last episode's with Shae, if only because Pod's devotion has been without question or conflict.

This doesn't match the scene from his episode. I just love his look.
But the best of all the bridge scenes and, indeed, the best scene of the episode was Tywin's visit to Oberyn in the brothel. They not only react to the past and setup the future, but they also get a great performance from both actors as they spar with each other over the greater goals that both of them are pursuing. Most of the scenes that involve Oberyn hearken back to Robert's Rebellion, which precedes even the ongoing story of the books, so they're always going to be heavy on references to stuff that hasn't existed in the show. But the fact that they carry that lengthy timeline and events of consequence is what makes them so interesting (above and beyond Pablo Pascal's and Charles Dance's masterful embodiment of their roles) and gives the performers so much to mine. These are people pursuing grudges or enacting plans that are two decades old. That carries weight, especially when the audience can sit back and appreciate the magnitude of the entire story (and several more of those moments will be coming up.)

But the final setup scene was the concluding one. While it was great to finally see Meereen and set off the greatest struggle that Dany is going to face in Slavers' Bay, it was also a bit slow, exposition-heavy, and ended in a very odd manner. I'm all about driving home the philosophical point you're trying to make, but it's usually better done in a less obvious manner that doesn't leave your audience feeling like you just handed them the world's mildest cliffhanger. So, we get slave collars and the slaves don't like it and... credits. Wait. What? I mean, we all get it by now. We know her intent. Watching another sequence of Daario showing what a badass he is with that khopesh is cool and all but they're treading pretty carefully to the Meereenese knot that George suffered through in that it was a lengthy scene that really didn't do a whole lot. In speaking about this season, both of D&D said that they felt like all 10 episodes had moments of impact. I'm sorry to say that this one ended with more of a whimper. That said, Dany's speech was fantastic and Emilia Clarke's delivery of it was likewise. But why the jousting lance for a fight to the death?

Lines of the week:

"He was a drunk and a fool and I don't trust drunk fools." Trusting an emotional one won't do you much better.

"You did wonderful work on Joffrey. The next one should be easier." - Olenna, always ready for the next deal.

Martin and Lewis: "If I'm standing on it, it's my land."
"Our cottage burned down and my mother with it. He's never been the same." (This made me bust out laughing.)
"You going to do all seven of the fuckers?"
"And we ask the Stranger not to kill us in our beds tonight for no damn reason at all."

"I will not become a page in someone else's history book." - All these years later and Stephen Dillane still delivers lines that Jefferson would have said.

"If you're a famous smuggler, you're not doin' it right." "Your father lacks an appreciation for the finer points of bad behavior." - Davos, speakin' it.

"So you deny ordering Elia's murder?"
"Categorically." - Just like last episode, these lines aren't great but the stares that accompanied them were excellent.

"Give it to my father. He never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy." - Tyrion knows the score, even in a cell.

"I come from nothing. Before long, I will return to nothing. Let me kill this man for you." - Daario, killin' it.

And the winner:
"There's plenty worse than me. I just understand the way things are. How many Starks they got to behead before you figure things out?" - This is the Hound in three sentences. If he could have added a "Don't call me 'ser'.", it would have been perfect.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Music

There's a habit on the board (it's not really consistent or old enough to refer to it as a "tradition") for a couple years now in which people post Youtube videos of bands they're currently listening to or have recently discovered or just think that the majority of the regulars won't know and might enjoy. There's a fairly diverse set of tastes and interests there, so it's usually a decent introduction to new and generally good stuff. The few times that I've participated (where I'm working now makes Youtube a bit of a challenge), I've usually posted 4 or 5 items largely because I tend to be listening to multiple new things (just today I dropped another $40 in new mp3s over at the commerce overlords (aka Amazon)) or have enough varied things on my mind that people might be interested in that it's easier to just do an information dump. Since I was home today (hooray for pointless religious observances that have nothing to do with the religion (or lack thereof) of the majority of the population!), I was ready to spam my usual output, but in thinking about what to post, decided to bring it here instead.

I've been listening to a lot of North Mississippi All-Stars lately. I'm fond of Delta Blues and these guys are the genuine item; plus they put on a helluva show because they're very enthusiastic about their music and their fans and that's always fun to see. Two overriding themes in many of the bands/performers that I regularly listen to is: a) Fearlessness. They try different stuff on a regular basis and aren't afraid to grow, even if they know that will piss off a segment of their audience that doesn't want to change; and, b) They're audiophiles. Part of that willingness to try new stuff is because they like taking sounds and making music with them, regardless of source or connection to their own assigned genre. NMAS are definitely in that vein, even if they stick to their Delta roots. The multiple layers of percussion in Goin' Down South makes it stand out from its more conventional blues guitar work. There are several rhythms going on here and you can bob and weave with any or all of them.

Speaking of awesome shows, my friend, Nathan, traveled down to the Majestic in Detroit with me a few weeks ago to see one Les Claypool and his current project, Duo de Twang:

I've enjoyed stuff by Claypool ever since Primus because, again, he's one of those aural experimenters. His song are bass-focused, as you might expect, but he's all over the spectrum in terms of rhythm, melody, and style. The problem is that, unlike more electronically-focused performers like The Orb or The Crystal Method, his music doesn't really jump off the disc to me when it's prerecorded. There are some performers that just do better on stage than in the studio and, based on what I saw at the Majestic, he's one of them, as his show completely blew me away. He and Bryan Kehoe just sat on stage with nothing but a blue light on them the whole time and just tore it up. I kept trying to follow his hands on the bass and kept losing him because he was doing more with it than most other players that I've ever seen (the only person I can remember who struck me as similarly talented is Melvin Gibbs, who I saw a couple times with Rollins Band.) It didn't hurt that they had a hilarious opening act ("Hello. We are reformed whores... and, uh, that is the name of our band, too.") and I happened to be the crossing point for two different groups of people passing some really good stuff back and forth (since I was helping, I was duty-bound to take a hit; Duty. Bound.) I pulled up some regular tracks on Youtube the next day and it just didn't have the same energy, so I'll wait 'til he rolls into town again but I will definitely be going. EDIT: Of course someone recorded the Majestic show, the first part (of six) of which I've now included.

Speaking of electronic bands, I've been a long-time fan of the Dutch techno producer, Speedy J, who originally engaged in the more flowing style that emerged from Detroit in the 90s and became prominent with groups like the aforementioned Orb and Aphex Twin, but later switched into much heavier rhythms and more complex sonic arrangements that often leave a tonal memory in your head precisely because of their lack of melody. He's using sounds to create an image in the same way that musical scores do for film, TV, and stage. What I really like about this approach is that it hearkens back to the industrial sounds of the early 90s that bands like The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Atari Teenage Riot were using (albeit in drastically different ways) and, again, keeps with that thought of using new and interesting sounds to make music that a wider audience can still appreciate.

Soundtracks aren't confined to just performed art anymore, either, as there's a great amount of really good music turning up in games.

This is the background music for an area of the World of Warcraft called Booty Bay. As you might expect from the name and should be able to tell from the sound, it's where a lot of pirates tend to hang out. It's clearly soundtrack music designed to generate a certain image and atmosphere and does so in a rather phenomenal way, IMO. Even though the location is some distance from the regular cities where the majority of players tend to stay because certain services are easily available, I've left a couple characters here upon signing off just so that when I logged on, I could hear the background theme because it was so inspiring and exciting. Having a full orchestra to make game music certainly helps with that endeavor and, as any viewer of shows like Game of Thrones will tell you, having an innovative thinker like a Ramin Djawadi can go a long way toward making your show/game/play a compelling draw for years to come and leave your viewers/players/audience humming your theme songs as they go about their day.

On the orchestral note, I figured I'd end with a favorite composer, George Philipp Telemann. Telemann was a German baroque composer of the late 17th to mid-18th centuries and a contemporary of JS Bach and his sons, as well as Georg Friedrich Handel, among others. He was one of the most prolific composers of history and tended to stay at the cutting edge of musical development and led a lot of that change himself by his willingness to experiment with underused instruments (like the viola) and new arrangements. I have a collection of his trumpet concertos that's a favorite because of the compelling sound of the horns breaking free from the supporting music around them. This piece, the Concerto for 3 trumpets, 2 oboes, and timpani in D, is probably my favorite from that collection. Unfortunately, the arrangement in the above performance is a bit shaded toward the strings and less toward the horns, which are much clearer in the one that I have listened to most often (and which occasionally compels me to abuse Shakespeare's sonnet style, to the chagrin of everyone around me.) But the music still embodies the phrase "clarion call" and is one of the more compelling that I own. I gave a copy to my friend, Juscha, a few years back and she emailed me the next day, saying that she "woke up today to the sound of beauty."

Bonus extra!:

In the course of the last 45 minutes of writing this I've actually been listening to none of these performers but instead to Trixie Whitley. She's the daughter of semi-known blues guitarist Chris Whitley, whose one significant charting hit from the 90s was a track called "Big Sky Country":

Sadly, Chris died about a decade ago but his daughter has been carrying on with her own career after performing on several of his albums. She did some work with a group called Black Dub, which is kind of a blues/dub/rock fusion with some supporting sounds, but recently released her first full-length offering, Fourth Corner. This is one of the gems from that:

In short, she has dad's voice which kinda makes my knees go weak every time I hear it (but I'm odd like that; I've been talking a lot recently with a friend from the political past who speaks Dutch and my knees wobble just at the thought of hearing that...) Plus, it was a good excuse to bring this back to its blues beginning. Now on to some Lydia Loveless...

Monday, April 14, 2014

The eyes have it

Without doubt, this was one of the longest awaited moments in the show's 4 years, as the reign of Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, finally comes to an end and Jack Gleeson (likely not first of his name) is now free to retire from acting and the culture of celebrity that he disdains and continue on the road to being a scholar of philosophy. Good show and all that. It also opens one of the story's real mysteries: who poisoned the king? I think the clues are there but it remains to be seen. Fittingly, then, that this episode was GRRM's contribution to this season and, again, fitting that it saw the exit of yet another major character. Martin's reputation for bringing the sword to his books (just like Joffrey) will last forever.

But we open with Ramsay and Reek on the hunt. It's going to be a delicate situation for D&D this season, as it's where a lot of threads truly branch off from one another given the momentous events in the latter half of Storm of Swords (which this season largely covers) and the need to keep actors employed. The appearance of Roose Bolton in the Dreadfort, despite it being his seat, was kind of a surprise to me. His subsequent order of Ramsay to Moat Cailin was even moreso. How does one keep Michael McElhatton employed when the Flayed Man show is on the road to the Moat? That said, that scene was also the one where the episode really opened up with the theme of glances telling thousands of words. Roose's penetrating eyes on his bastard, Reek processing the news of Robb with a razor in his hand, and Ramsay clearly struggling under the bonds of social order were all played very well and set the tone for what followed.

One side note is that the Dreadfort set was the first one where it really stuck out to me that it was Castle Black redressed... and really not so redressed. Granted, you can only have so many sets and architecture in the North does tend to blend together, out of need for function, if nothing else. But the Dreadfort is thousands of years old, as the Boltons are one of the oldest (and oddest) families in Westeros and you'd really kind of expect their home to have its own very obvious character. I really hope that wasn't an effect of the wonderful Gemma Jackson having been replaced.

Meanwhile, the lunchtime meeting of two of the last genuinely noble men in Kings' Landing and the first Tyrion/Jaime scene since Winterfell in season 1 was excellent. Following it up with the first ever Jaime and Bronn scene (with expectation for more) was even better. Not only do we get to see the only real swordplay of the episode (a couple friends have dubbed this kind of GoT action 'Sexy Murder Time' and declared that it should be a new band name; I offered the first album title: As the Clock Stabs Twelve...) but it's an even better excuse for more Jerome Flynn screen time, especially since it was right about here that Bronn is written out of the books (no, it's not really a spoiler since he doesn't die; he just wanders off with a title and a rich wife; would that we could all do that.) This was the only real carryover from the first episode's trend of setup scenes.

The brief scene of Varys and Tyrion bickering over Shae was really kind of forgettable except inasmuch as it seemed to show Conleth Hill sweating through his robe as he walked away. Kings' Landing does get pretty warm and the actors have all commented on how Dubrovnik does, as well, especially since they're all loaded down in brocade and leather and often plate armor, too. It was just an elaborate pattern, but it's not the first thing that came to mind. That was the intro to Tyrion and Shae's subsequent flashpoint. Like the Dreadfort this, too, was a departure from canon, so it seems that they're going to be coming a bit more frequently than before (again, understandably.) It was also a scene upon which I'm kind of conflicted. While it's obvious that Tyrion was forcing the issue and they both knew it was a kind of bullshit even as the words had their horrible impact, it really left me feeling like Dinklage was forcing the issue and outside of his normal deft handling of his role. In every season there's a scene or two that leaves me feeling kind of non-plussed for various reasons but this was, by far, the worst of them. The performances felt off and, if the thread remains as it does in the books, this moment kind of let the air out of the sails of a really powerful event later in the story. There's opportunity to repair it, certainly, but I have to say that, for the first time, I was kind of put off.

The return to Dragonstone was pretty pro forma, although Melisandre's brief smile during the death screams of the Florents was both chilling and in keeping with the 'glances' theme of the episode. I'm left intrigued as to what they're setting up with her interaction with Shiree and waiting to see who can be the first on the Interwebs to create a real recipe for Book Binding Soup.

Likewise, speaking of returns and interesting meals, the appearance of Bran and Co. was a welcome one. Bran's vision is rife with opportunity to drop spoilers, which I'll avoid for non-readers, but it lays the groundwork for much of the season in the far North. I thought Isaac Hempstead-Wright's performance, staring into his food and furs, was brilliant. He was every bit the caged animal, his human and warg sides fighting with each other as Meera tried to keep him grounded. His eyes told everything that was happening, just as the raven's almost does...

But the real parade of glances came, of course, at the wedding, which took up almost the entire second half of the episode. Royal weddings are always rife with symbolism and politics and, as one would expect in the game of thrones, this one was suffused with them. Even before the actual scene, there were all kinds of little hints about what had happened and what was to come. Fantasy geek that I am, I was tickled to hear that Martin had dropped in a nod to one of the legendary writers of that genre in the gift-giving scene preceding the wedding. Just as in season one, when he had Viserys listing off dragon names and mentioning Vermithrax from the 80s film, Dragonslayer, in this moment he had Joffrey asking for names for his new blade to which someone helpfully offered "Stormbringer!", the soul-devouring broadsword of Michael Moorcock's anti-hero, Elric of Melniboné.

Martin has mentioned before that he feels slightly chagrined that, of all the sets, they couldn't make the Great Sept even larger, since it's supposed to be the size of Westminster Abbey. I think they've done a good enough job in the scenes leading up to the wedding (since it's basically half built and they just shoot it from different angles), but I could feel a bit of that disappointment in that the royal wedding could only fit a crowd that was perhaps a few dozen more than appeared at Tyrion and Sansa's intentionally sparsely-attended affair. You do what you can do.

Thankfully, the reception offered all the character action you could hope for: Olenna treating Mace Tyrell like a child while sparring again with Tywin; Jaime and Loras verbally fencing over Cersei; Oberyn falling just short of an outright challenge to the Lannisters; and, of course, the struggle between Joffrey and Tyrion. All of these encounters were sprinkled with those powerful looks and silent messages that spoke volumes about what was actually happening and speaks again to the excellent performance of the cast as whole. Even brief moments like Oberyn and Loras sharing a sly nod were great (especially since no such relationship is ever referred to in the books, as the Martells and Tyrells, and especially Loras and the Red Viper, are not fond of each other) or hilarious, like Pod noticing Kayla, the whore who can do a Meereenese Knot from last season.

Perhaps no moment more exemplifies that trend than when Cersei buttonholes Brienne as she leaves the head table and accosts her about having spent so much time with Jaime. The conflicting emotions that both of them are trying to express and hide at the same time were fantastic. Had circumstances and culture been different, you could easily see the two of them grabbing swords and begin hacking each other to bits (Sexy Murder Time!) But there were many others: Tywin's look of restraint during Joffrey's antics and his look of controlled confusion when the latter keeled over; Varys obviously dismayed at the idea of what Margaery was trying to accomplish by directing the leftovers to the poor, perhaps knowing what Cersei's response would be, and on and on.

But, as so many times before, the people who completely crush it during the reception scene are brother and sister, Tyrion and Cersei. The former's sparring with Joffrey while choosing both words and actions carefully was fantastic. The latter's simmering frustration and then shock and dismay at the death of her son almost instantly transforming into rage and the urge for vengeance against Tyrion may be Lena Headey's best performance in 4 years of great ones. Fitting that it should come just as her station in life transforms irrevocably.

Quotes of the week:

"Try the boar. Cersei can't get enough of it since one killed Robert for her." and "A toast! To the proud Lannister children: the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness." - Tyrion, killin' it.

"He tells me you shit gold, just like your father." and "Right here's where I fucked his wife. She's a screamer, that one. If they don't hear her, they won't hear us." - Bronn, keeping pace.

"I hate a good many things, but I suffer them all the same." - No one suffers like Stannis. One wonders what will happen if he ever succeeds.

"You ought to try enjoying something before you die. You might find it suits you." - Maybe Olenna should offer Tywin some cheese?

"Now, go drink until it feels like you did the right thing." - More wisdom from Bronn.

"Luckily, none of this will ever happen, because you'll never marry her." "And neither will you." - Nikolai Coster-Waldau is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors.

"In truth, he rescued me, your Grace. More than once." "Did he?" - Those lines aren't particularly great but the looks and performances that accompanied them were amazing. I'm surprised that the frost on that second line from Lena didn't cloud the camera lens.

And the winner:
"People everywhere have their differences. In some places, the highborn frown on children of low birth. In others, the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful. How fortunate for you, former queen regent, that your daughter, Myrcella, has been sent to live in one of the latter places." - the Red Viper, two weeks in a row.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The paths are laid

As with most first episodes for a season of a continuing series, you have to skip around a bit and this one did quite a lot of that, even though it was lacking Bran and Theon and Stannis entirely (Shades of book 4?) That said, I thought the pace remained pretty consistent and it was interesting to see that DB (and Dan, since they do everything together) decided to direct the first episode of the season rather than one with more momentous events. One wonders if their overall attitude toward the series has changed, given that they've reached and surpassed the one scene that compelled them to not only make the series (the Red Wedding), but the one that they assured GRRM would mean that the series was here to stay if they could pull it off. Are they feeling more like overall managers than the ones driving it forward? Does it have a life of its own now, such that they can direct the episodes that lay the groundwork, rather than the big splashes? While openers always mean a lot of setups for future episodes, and this one was no different, it still had some real meat and a couple moments that I'd been really waiting for, as well.

It was a nice touch to see the last image we've had of Ice (executing Ned) when they did the season 3 recap since, after all, the episode opened with its reforging and the most prominent man in Westeros, one Tywin Lannister. And, of course, with the Rains of Castamere as the continuing Lannister score. The scene was a good reminder that he is essentially still reshaping the realm as he wants it and now has the Valyrian steel to prove it. Also, while I expected the opening sequence to introduce Meereen (For how many seasons...?), I was a bit surprised to see not only the Dreadfort (although that's where Reek and the Bastard will be appearing, of course) but also the continued focus on Winterfell when there is no action there and hasn't been for some time. Again, it could just be a concession to the audience's overall image of the story and the distress of the Starks, in general, but we get plenty of that. Perhaps just a reluctance to break form?

One thing I had been waiting for was a Jaime and Tywin scene, since we haven't had one of those since episode 7 of the first season and that one was classic (Tywin skinning the stag.) This one is almost as good, with Jaime demonstrating just how different he has become. However, like many of the characters, he has a certain resonance with Brienne, just as Tyrion has the best exchanges with Tywin. Jaime and Tywin just don't match that energy, unfortunately.

The other thing I'd been waiting for was the arrival of the Red Viper and that extended scene, from Tyrion's embarrassment outside the city to Oberyn Martell's display at the brothel, had plenty of energy. They pulled no punches at all, showing both Oberyn and Ellaria's diverse appetites, as well as the former's deep-seated thirst for vengeance. Pedro Pascal did a fantastic job and I'm expecting that he'll be a fan favorite, even of the people who didn't read the books.

The Daenerys scenes were also good, demonstrating the growing (literally) threat of the kids, the simmering frustration of Jorah Mormont, and introducing the new actor playing Daario Naharis (Michael Huisman.)They're clearly stressing Dany's transition into her more commanding role as queen with her dismissal of both Daario and Grey Worm for their show of machismo (yes, one can question the motivation of Grey Worm in that respect, being a eunuch) and, consequently, I'm not sure the flower scene worked so well. It was an object lesson in understanding the people she's now leading, but I thought her chemistry with the previous actor (Ed Skrein) was superior, even though Huisman is a better physical match for the character from the books (still lacking the blue hair and beard, though.) Missandei's glance at them after they dropped the sword game was excellent, though. Also, I understand that Drogon always gets the close-ups, as he's the dragon that Dany is closest to, but it wouldn't hurt to occasionally see Viserion or Rhaegal get some attention.

The dual scene with Shae insisting that Sansa eat to teasing Tyrion in bed was also really well done. Sophie Turner continues to impress as an actress with her emotional delivery, which outshines the later appearance of Ser Dontos. Tony Way really didn't deliver and I was hoping that that scene would be a bit more tender as he appoints himself her watchdog (as one really can't say "champion" and I'm glad that they avoided that implication) while handing over the necklace that is his only remnant of his former life, paralleling the transformation of the sword at the beginning of the episode. Tyrion and Shae's interaction is, of course, emblematic of the setups that comprise much of this offering.

Another interaction I was really wanting to see is that of Cersei and Jaime. Their scenes in the books are fairly dynamic and I'm expecting no less here as things continue. The first go-round was excellent and I'm wondering what some of the feedback from the audience will be. Since most people are interested in seeing relationships move forward, will there be glee at the clear breakdown in this one? Has Jaime developed enough of a fan following for them to feel dismay at the fact that he's not getting what he so obviously wants or will there be satisfaction that he's becoming separated from his still fairly despicable sister? The whole exchange and the reaction highlights what makes this story so compelling: the everpresent and constantly shifting shades of gray (a lot more than 50 and more interesting, from what I've heard.) What's even better in this episode is the clear contrast between the halting and finally halted interaction between the twins, the lovers, the people that Cersei once claimed to be one person and that of the ultimate odd couple, Brienne and Jaime, who are clearly more comfortable and closer with each other than the brother and sister. Life's little turns and all that. After all, who hasn't had to confront losing one's incestuous relationship for a woman who used to despise you? Just watching Lena Headey explore Cersei's newfound disdain for her now-incomplete lover will be a treat.

I was a bit concerned that, with the loss of Gemma Jackson, the production designer who's been with them since the beginning, who left because her life had been consumed by the show for too long, some of the little details might be left out. But my concern was misplaced, as those details, like the hilarious statue of Joffrey and his crossbow over the dead direwolf were all still present. The actor's performances were all still there, too (Pascal waving his hand over the candle flame as he approaches the two Lannister guardsmen and Jaime waving at the departing Qyburn with his new golden hand were two of the best.) And, as before, some of the added details and scenes often turn out to be the best.

Martin makes brief mention of the Thenns and their tendencies in the books, but D&D decide to explore a bit more of that while showing what Tormund and Ygritte are up to without Jon and while waiting for Mance to arrive. There are a lot of themes explored here that have little to do with the cannibalism: the polyglot army that Mance has assembled, how it will stay together, IF it will stay together, and how the shifting alliances and opposing tendencies among the savage horde of the north are just like those of the noble houses of the south. Humans are humans wherever you go (and they probably taste the same, too.)

That dynamic is evident in Jon's brief moment on trial in front of Alliser Thorne (played by the returning Owen Teale) and, of all people, Janos Slynt. Here are these contemptible fools, condemned to the Night's Watch, but still finding themselves the judges of others because of their highborn status (even if Slynt only has it by dint of being the lord of Harrenhal for a few days before he was shipped off.) But one of the overall themes of the story is the struggle by the common folk under the yoke of their so-called 'betters' and it continues to play out here, even after Sam and Jon's brief exchange about their mixed feelings for people who actually are better than them at many things. That's what helps make these characters into real people that the viewers relate to and understand and, again, delivers the show its power and its longevity.

Thankfully, they saved the best scene for last. Arya's adventures with Sandor Clegane are the point in the books when I truly began to appreciate her character. My interest had been piqued by her interaction with Syrio Forel and her experience with Jaqen H'ghar, but both of them seemed more interesting and she was there simply to bring her chapter-heading perspective. But combining her with the character whom, as I've mentioned before, is far and away my favorite of the story is what also showed me the depth and genuine fascination that Arya presents. This scene brought that out in almost every way possible. Their comedy routine while watching from the trees cracked me up from start to finish and Arya's expression of mild glee as she finished off Polliver spoke volumes both about what she already is and where she's so obviously going; again, a brilliant setup for an episode filled with them.

Quotes of the week:

"A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get." - Judgment has been handed down from the greatest judge in Westeros.

"No need for cynicism. I happen to be an accomplished diplomat." - Tyrion speaks truth, if only others would listen.

"You're famous for fucking half of Westeros. You've just arrived at the capital after two weeks of bad roadway. Where would you go?"
"I'd probably go to sleep. But, then, I'm gettin' old." - speaking of comedy routines, Tyrion and Bronn remain priceless. It was interesting to see how Daniel Portman, playing Podrick Payne, had grown, too.

"Everyone who works for Littlefinger is on offer."

"Which way do you like it?"
"My way." - Speaking of truths...

"Now I'm a knight."
"How did that come to pass?"
"Killed the right people, I suppose." - The law of Westeros.

"I'd rather have no brains. And two balls." - Pros and cons.

"Of course. Prayer can be helpful, I hear." - Tyrion again.

"Thenns. I fucking hate Thenns." - Tormund, OTOH, is great.

"You always know when a man is telling a lie? How did you acquire this magical power?"
"I grew up in Kings Landing." - Egg, bringin' it, especially in an episode where his boon companion, Duncan the Tall, is finally mentioned.

"Look me in the eye and tell me she'll be safe in Kings Landing." - Brienne and Jaime's rapport continues to grow.

"You're fine with murdering little boys but stealing is beneath you?"
"Man's gotta have a code." - Arya Martin and Sandor Lewis, ladies and gentlemen.

"I understand that if any more words come pouring out your cunt mouth, I'm gonna have to eat every chicken in this room." - I really appreciated some lengthy discourse by the Hound, but the best quote and moment, by far, goes to the Red Viper:

"When I pull my blade your friend starts bleeding quite a bit, I'm afraid. So many veins in the wrist... He'll live if you get him help straightaway. So... Decisions."