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.

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