Sunday, May 11, 2014

Trials and tribulations

So this is the point where you could feel like they're stretching it a bit if you're a reader. The Red Wedding takes place roughly halfway through the book and it continues to be compelling reading the rest of the way through. The show is still compelling television, but the Red Wedding's impact is now a year old and any imaginative impetus generated is long gone. The first three or four episodes this season had their own driving forces but the last two haven't been as gripping. That happens every season (see: bridge episodes) but not normally for two in a row. The downside is that there's a bit less to be geeked about on Monday morning. The upside is that it's an indication of a big setup for moments to come, none of which I will spoil here, per usual. On the other hand, this episode presented any number of moments to think about, which is often what makes the best stories. You walk away not necessarily in awe, but in considering just what was done and by whom and how others reacted.There's a lot going on that doesn't necessarily involve blood or moments that draw it but still involve dense plotting and very real characters and emotions.

It was a treat to finally see Braavos in the opening credits, complete with clockwork Titan, in addition to getting another look at it in the episode itself. It's unfortunate that a lot of the detail about Braavos can't make it into the show yet, because it's definitely one of the more interesting locales that Martin created for the world. What's even more interesting in the scene at the Iron Bank is (just like last week) how similar it is to our own reality, where the banks own everything and king and commoner alike will sit upon the plain stone benches and become supplicants to the power of money; all in the Bank's good time, of course. Liam Cunningham has a great moment pleading Stannis' case to the money gods, but it struck me as kind of odd that in the series they show him missing the first two segments of his fingers on his left hand, whereas in the books Stannis only removed the first knuckle. Better visual impact, I suppose. And, of course, who better to have as the chief of the Iron Bank than overbearing but still refined Mycroft Holmes? Braavos also reintroduces us to Lucian Msamati, playing Salladhor Saan, and despite the skin on display, there was none of the fabled sexposition. Instead, just an old pirate joke.

Continuing the seeming directorial theme of the past couple episodes, we come to this week's Great Departure from Canon. Asha Greyjoy (yes, Asha; I refuse to continue with the "Yara" nonsense because it's silly) advances on the Dreadfort to free Reek/Theon. This, of course, never happens in the books because the Dreadfort is on the other side of the North from the Iron Islands, which means they'd have to sail all the way around the south and Dorne, past Kings' Landing and White Harbor and up the narrow river to the Dreadfort. This kind of sea traffic does happen in the world and it's really no different from running through the Strait of Magellan to do Pacific trade with Europe before the Panama Canal was built. However, my book bias says it's mildly crazy except to keep Gemma Whelan employed. Again, gotta do what ya gotta, etc. The difference between this GDC and previous ones is that this scene actually turns out to be really good. Alfie Allen does brilliant work presenting the desperate and terrified Reek and seeing Ramsay take down three or four Ironborn reavers gives some indication of just how capable he is. In the end, they wrote their way out of the GDC pretty easily and appear to be setting up another one, but there are a lot of ways to go with the events in the North during Feast and Dance, so it won't be hard to get to the same place, even if by a different path. Coming back to the bath scene and watching Ramsay indulge in his mindgames on top of mindgames allows the audience to enjoy his constantly churning mind, even if Reek still looks pretty put together after months upon months of torture.

It will be interesting to see how the series-only audience reacts to Dany's ongoing stay in Meereen. Many book readers decry it as stagnant. I wasn't as put off as most, as I could sympathize with the struggles that Martin was having in staying true to his characters and the route the story had taken to that point (boy, have I been there...) This scene was a great example of that. Runnin' things ain't easy, especially if you're trying to be conscientious about it (which, like, no one normally is.) This was a good opportunity to once again observe just how big Drogon and Co. are becoming and was also a good moment to introduce Hizdahr zo Loraq who is the first character that only appeared as of Dance with Dragons, so we're firmly stepping past the expected timeline here (again, keeping in mind for those of you who aren't readers, that Feast and Dance were intended to be two halves of one book, so perhaps not quite as far a leap forward as you'd think.)

But the best scene outside of the trial has to go to the Small Council meeting and the subsequent fencing match between Oberyn and Varys. All the little clues of rank and expectation are on display at the meeting (Tywin sending Mace, the Lord of House Tyrell, to fetch paper; Oberyn being the most interested in Varys' description of Daenerys and her doings; etc.) There are clues and hints here of future events and revelations, so it's always a good idea to pay attention to those nuances but I can't say much more. I wonder, though, why D&D and Cogman (the writers) felt like Varys wouldn't have known of Oberyn's widespread reputation as a warrior with sellsword companies in Essos, unless the Spider was just playing him to get something else...?

And, then, of course, the trial. This is a really interesting scene from a dramatic standpoint. You know where this is going. Everyone knows where this is going. The question is simply: how difficult will it be to get there? Do you have a give-and-take before one side wins on the strength of surprise evidence and/or a witness or do you have the farce where one side is basically Franz Kafka? We got the latter and it's interesting to watch because of how frustrated the audience becomes at having seen the whole picture that Tyrion has seen while the show audience gets led by the nose by those truly in control. The crowning moment is, of course, when Shae appears and lays Tyrion's heart on the table to be stabbed repeatedly. It's a somewhat different dynamic than in the books because of what happened in the second episode, but it's still just as heart-rending for him. It's not so much the lies about he and Sansa plotting. He would know that they've gotten to her and threatened her if she doesn't. It's when she gets back at him for sending her away and reveals the extent of their relationship that you realize how things have changed irrevocably for both Tyrion and Tywin.

The latter, of course, had all of his plans falling into place like clockwork up to that point. He knows his kids. He knows what they'll likely do, so this was the perfect opportunity to bring his "proper heir" back into the fold and continue the Lannister line. But he doesn't know the extent of the emotion between Shae and Tyrion or how that betrayal will make the latter react, as he still partially sees Tyrion as this beastly little man with an appetite for whores and one who will try to save his own skin if given the opportunity, which Jaime has given him. Emotion ruins even the best-laid plans but it also drives drama and so here we are. While I respect the fact that this trial was, in many ways, the Lannister family problems being laid out and finally brought to a head, I can say that I really wouldn't mind going a long time without ever hearing "The Rains of Castamere" again.

Lines of the week:

"Here our books are filled with numbers. We prefer the stories they tell. More plain. Less... open to interpretation." and "You can see why these numbers seem unlikely to add up to a happy ending." - Mycroft, givin' it to'em short and sweet. Having been in bookkeeping for a number of years, I've actually had the opportunity to have a conversation like that a time or two. Stannis' reaction is pretty true to form.

"Does this mean I'm the Master of something now? Coins...? Ships...?" and "I have seen the Unsullied. They are very impressive on the battlefield. Less so in the bedroom." - Watching the foolish Mace become petulant about being Master of Ships to his rival from the south is more telling than anything else about Lord Tyrell's character. And Oberyn is, of course, Oberyn. Always in the bedroom.

"I wish I was the monster you think I am." - Tyrion hasn't had a ton of material this season but this strikes closer to home for both him and the people around him than almost anything else.

"You've got bigger balls than he ever did. But with those big balls of yours, how fast can you run?" - Ramsay always seems to have a (ahem) grasp of things.

But the best line came from that same scene, as Alfie Allen gave us an example of pure terror and a completely broken identity:

"I don't believe her! I know who I am!" - only to be told that he had to pretend to be his old self by Ramsay a while later. Watching him be nice to Reek is far creepier than when he's savage and that's good acting and good television.

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