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.

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