Sunday, June 15, 2014

And yet another closing

So, yeah. Lot of things to talk about. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it's obvious that the end of Storm of Swords was intended to be a bit of a breaking point in the series. Martin's original intent was that he would put in a gap of five years or so to allow the political situation to settle and also allow the child characters (Bran, Arya, etc.) to grow so that their roles weren't restricted by physical issues. Of course, when he was several hundred pages into the next book, he realized that he had spent the majority of those pages re-capping what had happened in that five-year period, so he scrapped it all and started over (thus creating part of the extraordinary wait for Feast for Crows.) In that respect, the show is no different in that they've spent a great deal of time over the past couple episodes not only bringing stories to their logical conclusion but also killing off a large portion of the cast. (Don't worry. They'll be replaced in number by next season. Off to Dorne! Woo hoo!) But there were still plenty of segues to the continuing epic with a couple high points and a couple that were just off.

For as important as the events at the Wall were for character, resolution, and plot, I thought they spent a bit too much time there. While Ciaran Hinds continues to play it stately, I'm not sure we needed his perspective on Jon and Ygritte's relationship when we were already going to have the burning scene and Tormund's perspective (who spent much more time with the two of them.) Also, once again, the budget limitations kind of killed this scene, since there was probably no money left to show Stannis' armies crashing into and scattering the Wildling army rather than simply surrounding Mance's camp. It would certainly leave a first time watcher wondering where the hell the other 100K are, although Stannis accomplished what Jon's goal was in the first place: cutting the head off the beast. There was a great moment there while Stannis and Jon came to grips with who each other happens to be and the expected roles they'll follow in the future.

The collection of Cersei scenes that followed was fairly skillfully written, in that it reestablished her influence over her own choices (ordering Qyburn to proceed on the Mountain, refusing Tywin, getting Jaime to screw her in ceremonial places, etc.) but also tied up things that need to be tied up in order to lay the groundwork for next season. Furthermore, it clearly arced the story toward its conclusion as far as Tywin is concerned, since everything began to slip beyond his determined grasp. I think it's interesting how they've played his knowledge of his twins' relationship, in that he seemed willing to tip his hand to Jaime during Tyrion's trial but just as willing to play stupid while Cersei confronted him with it here. In the books, he's somewhat less concerned about all of that and it certainly raises one of the central cultural questions that I've always had about the story: why do the other houses care so much about incest?

Certainly, the Targaryens were 'other' in that they were Valyrian while the rest of the population are Andals (except the Dornish), so it was natural to look on the practices of the ruling house as something that would never happen with proper folk except that they, you know, had the dragons. The practice had also become less common as the dynasty had proceeded. Even so, many of the houses still had a deep attachment to their Targaryen overlords and custom has deep roots in Westerosi society. If you're willing to accept overlords who had long since passed their prime simply because tradition says so... Of course, one of the pillars of the story rests upon the fact that Robert had essentially said that that much adherence to tradition, in the face of the Mad King and his depravities, was no longer acceptable. Furthermore, one could argue that Aerys was one of the clearest examples of why not to continue with the practice of incest. I suppose the fact that Robert's wife was pursuing the Targaryen tradition even as he overthrew them is one of the little faux ironies of the story.

Meanwhile, one of the other social constructions begins to have even wider repercussions: How do you cripple an economy overnight and still make it work? (Well, one way is to be Goldman Sachs, but then it only works for a few...) The fact that many slaves in the Bay had become accustomed to their lives or even favored them because of the station that they brought was something that was clearly not considered by the clarion song of freedom and, if played to its fullest extent, is rife with story possibilities...

HOWEVAH, a lot of those story possibilities are interesting to people like me who enjoy social transformation (some people refer to it as 'revolution' (still hoping)) but they tend to lack drama unless said drama is packed together at a very rapid pace which then makes that transformation somewhat illogical and trivial. Thus, the famed Meereenese Knot of Martin's dismay. Even worse, a lot of those situations don't play as well visually as they do in prose. You can go off on extended descriptions of issues of the day in prose and make it work. On TV, it can come off like C-Span, dragons or no dragons. I'm certain they included the Missandei/Grey Worm relationship to add a bit more character meat to Meereen and they're going to have to do more with it if they want to keep people interested in Dany's story at all. Of course, now that we're arcing full force into Dance of Dragons, there are a lot of ways to go. One note here is that we did finally get some screen time with Viserion and Rhaegon... only to see them chained up in a dungeon. Remove the chains from the slaves and add them to your real children. That'll solve everything.

One reason I say that we are full on into Dance because Bran and Co. are firmly there. I wasn't even certain that they were going to do the wight fight outside the tree (which I keep wanting to call a 'world tree' because of World of Warcraft; read/play/see enough of these damn things and they all start blending together) but I'm glad they did because Ray Harryhausen FTW, dammit! I'm enough of an old-timer at SF/fantasy films to basically always think of Jason and the Argonauts whenever anyone shows me animated skeletons. They were a lot smoother than his, of course, since CGI is often leaps and bounds better than stop-motion from the 60s, but there is a certain intelligence that seems to be conveyed to the automatons by the hesitation inherent to the older technique. Anyway, decent scene, although I was a little disappointed by the look of both Leaf and the interior of the cave, especially given that Mr. Three-Eyed Raven was depicted far differently than in the books. I'm, again, hoping that this was a money issue and not a step down from the immortal Gemma Jackson. It also has me wondering how they're going to get around to explaining who Mr. T-ER is, since the relevance of his identity is basically absent in the TV show to date and is really only prominent for careful readers and those who've followed the Hedge Knight stories.

And now we finally get to the one major departure from canon: the showdown between Brienne and the Hound. Here's where I offer all of D&D's excuses about how they're doing an adaptation, not a note-for-note simulacrum. They are, of course, correct. They have to do an adaptation. But I thought they were going to end Brienne and Pod's travels this season with a far more powerful scene, so I was a little disappointed on that front. In the process, they also managed to seed character problems into the rest of the story and spoil the subtlety of one of my favorite moments from the book.

The seed: Brienne knows that Arya is alive. That means that she can carry that information to other people and make it part of their worldview. One can suggest that this was already done by Arya and Sandor naming her at the Bloody Gate, but how hard would it be to write in disbelief on the part of the Arryn guardsmen that some dirty little girl was claiming to be Arya? Not very. Brienne, OTOH, is a person of some respect and stood in Arya's presence. That has little ripples across a lot of ponds, given that most people assume Arya to be long dead. It doesn't mean it's blown the lid off of anything, but it can significantly alter the perceptions of a number of characters.

The spoilage: In the book, the Hound's infection is what brings him to the point of death. Arya abandons him in the same way she does here, but it's because he can't walk any farther, not just because she wants to let him suffer and die. In that way, his ending is kind of the ultimate denouement to a life completely driven by violence. There was no violence to his end in the books. He just finally exhausted his ability to keep moving and keep killing. That plays to me in a way that him being mortally wounded in yet another fight simply doesn't and I think the possibilities for both actors would have been far greater with her simply watching him sit down and die, rather than all of the slam-bang action that took place in this sequence. It was worthwhile for a few quotes and for hearing the unbridled rage in the scream of Brienne as she slammed away with the rock, but I think the idea of 'less is more' is what has always made that scene memorable for me in the books, above and beyond the fact that it was my all-time favorite character from ASoIaF meeting what was probably the most appropriate end of any of them.

Finally, the escape. I know some people will complain about the lack of interaction between Jaime and Tyrion in this sequence, but I think a lot of that interplay in the books really kind of detracts from what's happening around them. The whole sequence is already anguish enough for Tyrion without piling on and I think the relationship that's been built up in the show between the brothers is even stronger than what Martin wrote, so leaving them on a good note with a heartfelt embrace felt right to me.

As for the rest of it, they got it all spot-on. I was so concerned that they wouldn't follow through with the strangulation bit, but they got it and Peter Dinklage was brilliant in the performance. We miss a little on the details (in the books, he strangles her with the chain of office for the Hand), but since those were absent earlier, it didn't make that much difference. Charles Dance also played Twyin's last actions somewhat differently but, in many ways, I think he played them better. Tywin is a manipulator and being spiteful while sitting in the privy is just no way to make things move better for you (more fiber!) Trying to convince those that you are sure must be weaker than you is usually the way out. Of course, when confronted with someone who has just murdered the woman he loved with his bare hands, your options become few, if not non-existent. That, of course, becomes the road down to the docks in a ventilated crate and a further destination unknown.

Lines of the week:

"Of all the ways I'd kill you, poison would be the last." - And then he offers him the Wildling equivalent of rotgut...

"We're not in the Seven Kingdoms and you're not dressed for this weather." - This is what Michigan people say when any Southern state gets a little snow.

"You should know: the process will change him. Somewhat."
"Will it weaken him?"
"Oh, no!"
"Very well, then." - Cersei and Qyburn, still the molders of men(?)

"I'm not interested in hearing another one of your smug stories about a time you won." - This line was so true about Tywin that I was cracking up.

"They're so small I can't even see them. I only see what matters." - Cersei, taking control.

"They young may rejoice in the new world you have made for them. For those of us too old to change, there is only fear and squalor." - Truth, especially iPhone squalor.

"She loved you."
"She told you?"
"No. All she ever talked about was killing you. That's how I know." - Tormund talks about marriage.

"You can shit later! There's people coming!" - Arya should have told Tywin...

"Go on, Brienne of fucking Tarth! Tell me that's not Lannister gold." - Still my favorite.

"Going it alone... You won't last a day out here."
"I'll last longer than you." - The student finally leaves the master.

And the winner, for Dinklage's masterful performance:

"I am your son. I have always been your son."- In more ways than he ever knew.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

All Wall, all the time

The 9th episode of each season has become notorious for including THE moment of the season. In season 1, it was Ned's execution, letting all the viewers know that no one was immune to Martin's pen. In season 2, it was the Battle of the Blackwater, in what I thought was at least some desire by D&D to make up for the fact that season 1 had been completely bereft of large-scale combat in the midst of a war. In season 3, it was the Red Wedding (Seriously. No one is safe. Fer reals.) The difference in season 4, which was asserted by D&D prior to its beginning, is that we've already had multiple huge moments over the course of the season. It wasn't a case of build up to climax... except in one storyline: the Wall. In that respect, they kind of overdid it in that almost every scene of the North so far was Jon and Co. saying: "The Wildlings are coming!" to the point of fatigue. You can only cry (dire) wolf so much before people start ignoring you and that was what I had largely begun to do, in addition to the fact that the scenes in the North had often been the most standard-fantasy-heroic-adventure stuff, which I can probably live without for the rest of my days.

However, in those prior seasons, that big event, even the Blackwater, has not dominated the entire episode. Tonight was a miniature version of Feast for Crows: We're going to give you these characters and only these. We'll get back to the rest of them some other time. On the one hand, that's irritating, as there's a lot more going on (obviously.) OTOH, I think this battle lived up to the majority of its hype as, for the most part, you could really imagine the magnitude of what was going on but were still given opportunity to focus in on the heroic set pieces, like Alliser Thorne throwing down with Tormund Giantsbane. Furthermore, unlike the Blackwater, this fight saw named characters die left and right in true, GRRM fashion ('cuz, you know, that's what happens in war, strangely enough.)

Of course, GoT being GoT, they stopped in the middle of fire and blood to watch the effects those kind of circumstances have on the human condition. Even though it's half-expected, I really enjoyed John Bradley's depiction of Samwell almost literally growing up before our eyes as he explained to Pyp how to try to live through the night (oops...) and still live up to the vows that they'd taken. Furthermore, I appreciated Owen Teale's acknowledgment of his error as Alliser Thorne while staying within the contemptuous and venomous nature of the character. Being willing to admit one's errors is, in fact, a sign of genuine leadership, as opposed to the tale of woe that he spins about "loudmouthed twats."

But the really impressive part of the episode was how they managed to keep so many moving parts operating at once. This kind of action is a logistical nightmare (as it often is in reality) and when D&D mentioned post-production that doing this season "almost killed us", I'm betting that this was the episode they were thinking of. I was genuinely impressed with the CGI transition from the battle beginning at Castle Black, over the Wall, and to the assembled ranks of Mance's army. But even more spectacular was the terrific crane shot late in the battle, moving from named character to named character enmeshed in their own aspect of the fight. It makes me cringe to think about how many takes they might have needed to get that one right while everyone goes through their battle paces. Kudos to director Neil Marshall (also director for the Blackwater) for pulling that off. I want that guy on every historical war movie I see for the rest of my life.

Sam wasn't the only one coming into his own at a moment of crisis, of course. Edd's command of the Wall late in the battle showed his positive side (kill or be killed, yo) and Grenn's encouraging his brothers to bellow their vows at the oncoming giant was awesome. That kind of unification of spirit is a further reflection of Thorne's actions, as well, so I think the screenplay really found its footing in this extended battle scene, as all of those perspectives were part of what kept the fight interesting (not to mention the excellent solo fights, such as the one between Jon and Styr, which may be the best mano-a-mano fight in the series to date.) But it also calls up an interesting perspective about human nature in these kind of crises.

The conflict at the Wall is one of the cruces of the story. This is the Ice side of the Song because of the Others, but it's also the most pointed question about the societal system in Westeros in the first place: are we people or property? The Wildlings follow the typical hidebound traditions of claim to the land for x number of generations and so on. But their main focus is the desire to live free; to not be obligated to a lord simply because that person is recognized by society as having a higher social station. So although the fight at the Wall is often presented from the perspective of Good/Night's Watch vs. Evil/Wildlings, it can be argued that the Wildlings have the purest motives of all of the various factions of the story: the desire not to rule, but simply to live on their own terms. They can't live as well in the utter North, so it's not as if their motives are (ahem) as white as the driven snow. But more of them would be willing to do so if they weren't being pushed forward by the Others. In that way, they're no different than any of a hundred different migrations in Eurasia. You can see the tribes as evil if you're living on the land they're coming to, but if they're running ahead of an even greater threat, it becomes hard to blame them for doing so. Then, of course, you bring in the Thenns and that bit gets to be a bit harder to argue...

I also don't want to make this into a Cliven Bundy screed, where everything is caused by the evils of government, but it's pretty clear that Martin's intent is to show a certain degree of enlightenment to the aged and corrupt systems that dominate both Essos and Westeros. Whether that enlightenment will take root is one of the driving questions of the story.

Lines of the week:

"We're all gonna die a lot sooner than I planned. You're the closest I'm going to get to knowing." - At this point, Sam does at least get the vows right in that they don't require the Watch to be celibate. They just require them to not get married and/or father children. Of course, if you're of the Puritan disposition, one immaculately follows the other, but that's what happens when people try to deny basic biology in the name of presumed higher callings (see: Catholic church.)

"Right now, I don't wanna think about the bear you never fooked." - Ygritte ruining what was going to be a great story.

"Serve him up a nice thick slice of ginger minge." - Hearing this from Styr expands the meaning into a fairly uncomfortable place...

"Thousands of books and no eyes to read them. Old age is a wonderful source of ironies, if nothing else." Who else thought of this episode of the Twilight Zone?
"Nothing makes the past as sweet a thing to visit as the prospect of imminent death." - Peter Vaughan's performance as Maester Aemon tonight was fantastic.

"Promise me you won't die." - The world's most broken promise by every soldier who's never come home.

"When you're nothing at all, there's no more reason to be afraid." - A somewhat more nihilist approach by Sam.

"You know nothing... Jon... Snow." - Once again, they got the quote right. I think the outrage if they hadn't would have been far in excess of that over Littlefinger's misquote.

And the winner:

"I should have thrown you from the top of the Wall, boy!"
"Aye. You should've." - Jon Snow with the most realistic response to the vows and promises that war has made him break to everyone around him.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

(Computer) Science fiction

I'm already watching too much TV on Sundays (and probably watching too much, generally) so I didn't bother to tune in to HBO's Silicon Valley for its initial season. By the same token, I may not bother with AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, even though the premise is far more interesting. Having watched the first two episodes of the former and the first episode of the latter in the last 24 hours (See? Too much TV), it was interesting to contrast the two, since they're approaching the topic from very different perspectives and eras.

Silicon Valley is done in the style of Veep, in that it's a half hour comedy of absurd people in absurd situations about the modern software industry and its race to be the "next big thing." It's a creation of Mike Judge and, admittedly, I am a Judge fan. I think Office Space is still one of the best comedies ever made and I appreciated his work on both Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill, although I was not a hardcore fan (i.e. have seen every episode) of either. While I did have a couple laugh-out-loud moments while watching SV, there were only a couple. The rest of the time I was actively conscious of myself sitting there not laughing and occasionally wondering why I was bothering.

Drawing a direct comparison with Office Space, if your main character (Richard) is a simp instead of an everyman and his immediate supporting cast is a collection of people who are various shades of annoying/space-filling/repellent, it's going to be hard to sell your story, since people won't identify with the characters as easily. Furthermore, if the cast is some combination of those shades and you can only draw a couple real laughs an episode, it's going to be very hard. It doesn't help that almost all of the characters are stock "computer geeks" from central casting: Richard looks like he's going to go into conniptions everytime someone acknowledges his presence; Erlich is bombastic guy who pretends to know it all when he really just got lucky; Dinesh is token Indian guy who's probably smarter than all the rest of them combined, and so on.

There's a certain vein of humor there that has a lot to do with personal experience. Office Space was broadly appealing because it was both smartly written and many people could relate to its soul-deadening experience. Veep is not in everyone's wheelhouse because it's a particular style of humor (generally, the kind that often makes you uncomfortable for one or more characters) and it will have more resonance for those that actually have experience in the workings of American politics. I have that so I find it hysterically funny (especially because I've known people who worked on the Hill who are more like the characters from the show than they'd be willing to admit.) By the same token, Silicon Valley is trying to mine the "super-rich programmers completely out of touch with humanity" angle, which most of us recognize, but may not have personal experience with. The problem I'm having is that, unlike Veep (or Office Space), none of the characters are distinctive enough nor the actors talented enough to get past that "needed to be there" shell.

Halt and Catch Fire, OTOH, has more hooks to it if you're actually interested in story. It's set in the days when PCs and the computer revolution were just taking off, so there's more energy to the premise than the intentionally dreary SV, where everyone is just trying to tweak something that someone has already done... which is the central complaint of HaCF whose characters strive to be "different" than the omnipresent IBM (this is sounding like Steve Jobs' wet dream from that era.) The problem is that few people of that era (yes, I remember it) were concerned so much with being 'different' or 'new' or 'innovative' as they were with just being competitive. It seems like HaCF is just transposing today's modern sensibility about software development to yesterday's concerns about hardware development. Yes, that will sell your story as your primary audience will identify with it, but it's also a bit trite.

Thankfully, the cast seems to be a bit more skilled than SV, but their characters are similarly stereotypical: Joe is Ambitious Salesman who talks to everyone as if he's quoting the Pauline epistles while showing them the REAL way to do things; Gordon is Unappreciated Genius with wife, Donna, who is least appreciative because genius detracts from family somehow; Cameron is Gender-Neutrally Named Woman Who Does 'It' Better Than Any Of The Men ('It' being the central conceit of the drama.) I mean, sure, I found it more interesting to watch, even if my initial thought about seeing Joe and Gordon playing their roles was: "How did they manage to split Walter White into two different people?" But it's really hard to get past the initial bombast of the writing coming from such stock characters. I have a certain greater level of appreciation for it at the moment because I was there when this was going on (albeit too young to be anything other than an interested user/observer) and because there's an enormous level of detail in it (BYTE magazine, Cameron listening to The Vandals, etc.) But I have my doubts that those things will be enough to get away from what seems to be a very conventional story (in direct contrast to the premise of the show); so conventional, in fact, that they felt the need to include a stick-in-the-mud character like Donna and then immediately 'solve' her issue to avoid the so-called "Skyler White problem." Even with that bit of forethought, that whole scenario was so boilerplate that I was recoiling from the screen.

And then I turned off the DVR and the TV was showing a better computer show/movie than either of them... So, I don't know. Given some encouragement, I might go back and watch another couple episodes of Silicon Valley to see if I "get it" and I'll probably watch the 2nd episode of Halt to see if it goes somewhere (my entry level for AMC dramas these days remains a guy in a gas mask and his tighty-whities driving an RV at high speed with two corpses in the back), but I don't have a lot of faith at the moment.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Close the deal

There comes a time in every story, every encounter, almost every point of life where you have to close the deal. When it's lying there in front of you, finish it. When the goal is within reach, finish it. When the focus of your life for however many years is there, finish it. As we all now know, Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, didn't close the deal. Hesitation will get you nowhere.

But, of course, in many stories, the deal was never meant to be closed. This was one of them. Martin has stated many times that certain characters were slated for death: Ned Stark and Robb Stark are just the two most notable examples for most fans of the Song of Ice and Fire. But Oberyn Martell was one of those, too. There's an old expression: "If you seek vengeance, you had best dig two graves." It was evident from the moment he was introduced that Martell was a singly-focused character, both in personality and in the writer's intent. Here was a person meant to take the story to a precipice... and then fall over it. Nothing about him would change, because changing would defeat the purpose of his existence, both in the mechanical and existential senses.

On the other hand, the rest of the episode was filled with examples of characters who did close the deal, to one degree or another, and in doing so changed in a variety of ways. That's what made up the genuine fascination for me in what was otherwise a very slow pace (in addition to the fact that I know what's happening.) You get to see the wonder of Ramsay as his father transforms his life; the anguish and fury of Daenerys as the ground leaves her feet; and the brilliant awakening of Sansa as she finally begins to take control of her own destiny.

That trend begins in the smallest of ways, with Grey Worm and Missandei bathing in the river. D&D are spending a lot of time on this relationship that doesn't exist in the books. At one point, I felt like it was too much, as there's still so much occurring in other corners that could use the screen time. However, as they progressed through their two moments, one clothed and one non-, it occurred to me that this was another example of the showrunners extending their own writing chops into Martin's story but in the same vein as him. Here were two people thrown together by circumstances beyond their control who'd had essentially no control over their own lives almost from birth and still mostly didn't, as they breathed at the behest of a queen (fortunately, one who cares for them on a personal level.) But when given the opportunity to create something between themselves that can't be controlled by others, they took it. All of that complexity (the handmaiden of a queen communing with the eunuch chief of her devoted warrior corps) was summed up in the simplest expression of honesty: "I'm glad you saw me." "So am I." Honesty being a rare bird in this world makes that all the more endearing and worth the screen time expended. (And, as a straight male aside here, I have to say that when Nathalie Emmanuel stood out of the water... uh... wow. I mean... yeah... Wow! Not surprised to see even a eunuch gawk there...)

Continuing in the East, the showdown between Jorah and Daenerys, while long in coming, was extremely well-played. Jorah is an interesting character in that, while suffering the continued frustration and humiliation of the woman he loves shacking up with a mercenary captain, he feels that his expression of devotion, above and beyond his earlier betrayal, should place him in a favored spot. That is, of course, not how it works, as betrayal is never forgotten and devotion and affection frequently are. Jorah, if he'd been wise to the nature of the deal, should have taken his pardon back in the day and fled Essos back to the Mormont lands. Instead, he fell in love with his target and tried to close another deal that was forever denied him. He just didn't know it at the time. There's a certain level of pathos to the Jorah character that Iain Glen continues to excel with, even under the guise of his usual restraint. Speaking of which, Emilia Clarke was excellent in this scene, as her mask of barely controlled rage could have tipped over the edge into scenery chewing (think Al Pacino at any point in the last 20 years), but she held it perfectly.

Ramsay, on the other hand, knows what's good for him and makes sure that all the loose pieces of flesh are cut away in proper order. This whole sequence was interesting, not least because, in the books, we never get to see Moat Cailin. It's constantly referred to but no point of view ever travels there. So, seeing it in the opening sequence was cool, but getting to see the fortress itself and the bogs it caps as the gateway to the North was even better. Ramsay knows how to play the game for solely his own benefit. That benefit extends from the good graces of his father, Roose, who proceeds to transform Ramsay's life by making him no longer a bastard. He is now the heir to the Dreadfort and the Warden of the North, which means that his schemes are no longer dismissed as the errant ways of a baseborn sociopath, but now proper noble conduct. It has to be said that Alfie Allen continues to do brilliant work as the sorely conflicted Reek/Theon. Just the moment where he was about to break down in front of the challenge of the garrison commander spelled out exactly how real his identity as Reek has become. On the one hand, he could have broken the chains and taken command of the garrison to resist the Bolton army, which likely wouldn't have been able to take the fortress. On the other hand, seeing how badly it was going for the Ironborn in the midst of a swamp, he knew that Ramsay would have him eventually, so he made sure to finish his mission as Reek.

But the best moment in that respect, by far, was done not once, but twice, by Sansa. Again, Sansa is one of those characters that people seem to either love or hate. I detested her for the first couple books and I continue to think that was Martin's intention. But I think it may have been a bit of a mistake on my part, too, since Sansa's reactions to everything have always been quite human. People quail in the face of danger and often have outside expectations about what their world should be like. They often learn otherwise about those expectations and become defeated and cynical, but few of them are able to pivot and begin to not only draw strength from those experiences, but also take control of their circumstances and begin to use them to their advantage. Sansa has become one of them. This is not Arya, who has learned to coast above trouble and seize opportunity where she can. This is Sansa, who has now learned the game at the feet of a master and is about to begin playing as her own piece on the board, rather than simply a pawn. Her gaze over the shoulder of Anya Waynwood at Petyr was transfixing, as she knew that she had surprised him with her invented story (have to say that Aidan Gillen was masterful here, keeping the straight face, but with his eyes showing just a bit of wonder at the skill with which she was playing it.) The fact that this scene played out differently from the books actually made it better, as there Littlefinger escapes on a technicality of protocol. Later, Sansa's clipped responses to his threatening questions lead us to begin questioning just who was in charge of whom here. And, of course, the descent of the stair as Catelyn the Second was great. Right now, the first among equals as far as acting goes this season is Sophie Turner, without question. She's been magnificent.

Oh, yes. The fight. Well, knowing a bit about how to wield a staff/spear, I have to commend the fight choreographers. They showed Oberyn wielding it properly: using the danger of the spearhead to keep distance with your opponent, stepping inside their strikes and then turning to trap the sword with the staff, keeping the shaft moving to not try to take a direct hit from the sword which would destroy it, etc. I enjoyed it, even if screen Oberyn seemed somewhat more vulnerable than book Oberyn did. And they got the lines right! There was much dismay last episode that Petyr had used the line "Your sister." when pushing batshit-crazy Lysa through the Moon Door instead of the line from the book "Only Cat." I had forgotten about that line (it's been a while), but I will never forget the exchange between Ellaria and Oberyn upon her first sight of the Mountain: "You're going to fight that?!" "I am going to kill that." It was delivered just as it should have been, as has been every line that Pedro Pascal has uttered as Oberyn. I'm really going to miss his presence, even though I knew it was temporary. He was excellent. Deal closed.

Side notes:

I liked the depiction of the assault on Mole's Town, not only for its demonstration of Ygritte hellbent on revenge, but also her continuing humanity when she notices Gilly. That's a complex character. I was a little disappointed for the first time in the music for that scene. I guess I expected something a bit more urgent than the heavy bass line.

It's still interesting to see the little details that D&D maintain to demonstrate Dany's departure from the typical noble/royal attitudes. Here's the queen of the biggest city-state on Slavers' Bay taking time out to fix the hair of her handmaiden. It's a role reversal intended to convey humanity and I think it continues to work well with the very emotive Emilia Clarke.

I was confused by the long shot of the Bolton army returning to the Dreadfort. Obviously, Ramsay had returned some distance from the Moat to meet Roose in the field, but why bother showing us the grand return? A couple seconds would have sufficed, if it was necessary at all.

We only got a couple minutes with the Odd Couple, but it was still worth some good lines and Arya's almost-hysterical laughter had me cracking up as soon as she started. There was no better depiction of the frustration and cynicism that has already overtaken this young girl. To come as far as she has and find that Death has beaten her there (today...) once again was a really good moment.

And even though it seemed to be a departure from the overall theme of the episode, the extended conversation of the Kingslayer Brothers was, once again, one of the best scenes. Tyrion's long discursion into the meaning of life seen in the activities of a mentally-handicapped cousin and the obvious resonance with Jaime, as he recognized how all of them were the beetles in most of the events surrounding them, was really well done.

The only thing I really missed about the whole fight sequence was seeing the dismay of Cersei and Tywin when Oberyn declared his intent (in the book, it happens in the throne room.) Their frustration at Tyrion having gotten the better of them and the realization that the next-in-line to the throne of Dorne may die while they're trying to bring House Martell back into the fold (Tywin because obviously and Cersei because they have Myrcella) was a powerful moment in the book.

This week's band name: The Pillar and the Stones.

Lines of the week:

"She surived Caster and he was the worst shit I've ever met." and "Whoever dies last, be a good lad and burn the rest of us." - Dolorous Edd, pragmatist.

"Traditions are important!" says the man carrying the banner of the Flayed Man.

"You betrayed me! From the first!" - Daenerys with the second tagline of the series.

"I wanted to see the look in his eyes when he knew it was over." "Yeah. Nothing beats that look." - Two killers, talking shop.

"Family. Honor. All that horseshit." - The Hound never changes.

The Kingslayer Brothers:

"Oberyn believes in himself."
"That's putting it mildly."

"There's no kind of killing that doesn't have its own word."
"Cousins! You're right. Well done."

"On the contrary, laughing at another person's misery is the only thing that made me feel like everyone else."

But still the best:
"You're going to fight that?!"
"I am going to kill that."