Sunday, April 24, 2016

Blind leading the blind?

I think we're going to have to get used to a couple abbreviations around here, since Game of Thrones is now the first TV show based on another property that has exceeded the bounds of said property while the latter is still running. Since fans of both books and show are familiar with ASoIaF (A Song of Ice and Fire), new phrases reduced to acronyms should be easy to digest.The first one is uWoWid. (unless Winds of Winter is different.) I'll be tossing that in there when it comes to talking about where the story is going, since we have a pretty good idea of its direction, but not the path that each medium is going to take to get there. Some things that seem bad or good in the show may be different in the book (and some we already know are quite different.) The other is "nits", as in picking them because they're "not in the show." We'd like to think that, finally, book and show fans are united and essentially as blind as Arya up there, but that's not entirely true. Benioff and Weiss are leading everyone into the wilderness as they attempt to finish George's story long before he ever will but many of the book fans will have a better handle on what's to come because we've been living with this story for 20 years and so much grondwork has been laid that it's hard to miss. That's part of what made this first episode utterly predictable, with one exception. Most of the trails have been blazed and the major players are just following them as they hurtle toward the inevitable confrontation between Fire (big lizards) and Ice (the Others.)

From Dany's condemnation to being one of the crones of Vaes Dothrak to Davos finally taking the reins of a situation to Arya's blindness being just one more step in her training to Brienne finally saving the day on behalf of Sansa, every event has been eminently predictable if people were paying attention. That's not to say that I'm able to lay out every detail of where the story will proceed from here, but I guess I did expect a bit more from the first episode without George's presumed guiding hand. Then again, since it is the first episode, there is a lot for much of the audience to re-familiarize themselves with yet again, so there's a limit to how much story progress can be made. Even so, I was a bit disappointed that the reunion of the World's Greatest Odd Couple, Tyrion and Varys, was so mundane as to be little more than them spelling out exactly how difficult things are going to be for them in Meereen, as if anyone needed to be reminded of that.

The lone exception to this general state of affairs were the events in Sunspear (Yes, Sunspear. The city. It has a name as the capital of Dorne.) I definitely didn't expect to see Doran assassinated by Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. This is certainly not something I'd expect in the books, uWoWid. Doran has a much larger role in the most recent books, but that's like saying the sun has a larger role in warming the earth. Given his five minutes of screen time in season 5 and 2 minutes in season 6, I think it's safe to say that the talents of Alexander Siddiq were completely wasted on the show. (Some book spoilers in the next few words. Highlight if you want to read them.) Given that Doran and Varys were behind the sheltering of Aegon Targaryen, Daenerys' nephew, who is making a claim to the throne at the end of Dance of Dragons and that Doran is attempting to make good on his promise to wed his daughter Arianne (nits) to Viserys by having his son, Quentyn, attempt to marry Daenerys. So, there's a lot more going on that the show has definitively closed the door on with the deaths of Doran, Trystane, and Areo Hotah. Of course, that also means that the eminently hostile Ellaria and the Snakes are now ruling Dorne, which has its own interesting angles, regardless of whether uWoWid or not.

There were definitely a few character-oriented highlights, such as Pod putting up a substantial fight against the Bolton outriders, and Dany's confrontation with Khal Moro, who initiated what has to be an homage to the modern era's foundational fantasy epic, Conan the Barbarian:

Khal Moro trying to get an answer from his lieutenants about what could be better than seeing a woman naked for the first time (Killing another khal, breaking a horse, etc.) is so redolent of the famous Conan question about life that I was laughing as soon as he started asking the rhetorical question. And there were good moments, such as Arya slowly infecting her anguish over being beaten/trained while blind with the frustration and determination that it won't stop her. That shot of her face with the Titan of Braavos in the background was well done. She's as constant as the statue and about as implacable.

OTOH, there were also some questionable bits of Jeremy Podeswa's direction. Jorah and Daario finding Drogon's landing site where Dany was picked up by Moro's khal, followed by the discovery of the ring in the grass, was about 30 seconds of melodrama that could have been shortened to five of exchanged glances. "They have her!", ominous drums and the crescendo of the orchestra... No, thanks. We knew this would happen as soon as she dropped the ring at the end of last year's episode 10. Hamming it up is not necessary. But, again, is that the difference between a book reader and a show watcher? It's hard to tell, but my girlfriend hasn't read the books and she was kind of rolling her eyes at that moment, too. One assumes that the longtime divide between fans is going to end once we get into the meat of season 6, but it will be a hard bridge to cross if the heretofore excellent writing is going to revert to bog standard TV drama. Shows that sit at the pinnacle of what television has to offer, like The Wire and Breaking Bad, didn't engage in this much handholding of the audience. Granted, neither of those had a story that was quite as complicated as Game of Thrones. But, to date, the show has treated its audience with a certain degree of respect. I'm hoping that's maintained even as D&D are charting their own course.

Interestingly enough, a similar question of faith is still being presented in the show, as well, since Melisandre's visions are again proved wrong and she finally reveals one of the main illusions that she's been presenting to everyone else since she entered the story. Is she a crone because of the Red God or has he been maintaining her as a favored servant? Is the show able to stand on its own legs from here on out or will we start to see the cracks in the story that even some readers are questioning after this long?

Lines of the week:

Hypothermia is a far better way to die than what's waiting back at Winterfell.
"He thrust a terrible choice upon us. And we made it." Alliser Thorne, late of Nuremburg.

"It was a good victory. Do you feel like a victor?" Roose Bolton with the constant reminders that Ramsay will never truly be the accepted son.

"She's not suffering. She's gone. No one can hurt her anymore." Is it a comforting thought that the safest place in Westeros might be in a crypt?

"Fuck prophecy. Fuck fate. Fuck everyone who isn't us." That was, uh, kinda the High Sparrow's complaint about Cersei, man.

"Sinners don't make demands. They make confessions." Jonathan Pryce continues to be a revelation as the High Sparrow, even when he's trying to play the good cop with Margaery.

"You're a greedy bitch, you know that?" There's sibling rivalry for you: arguing over who gets to be the one to kill their cousin.

"I like to talk when I'm finished. Otherwise, we might as well be dogs." Dothraki perspectives on sex, even if the one being talked to might have been mounted like a dog?

"What's one redhead going to do against 40 armed men?"
"You haven't seen her do what I've seen her do." Sounds like my girlfriend. Don't underestimate, man.

And the winner:

"Buried? Burned? She's good meat. Feed her to the hounds." The tenderness of Ramsay Bolton and the fitting end to the houndmaster's daughter.

Some technical notes:

You're seriously telling me that they couldn't alter the opening just a tiny bit and call it "Sunspear"?

They're going to have the same problem with Ollie that they did with Bran, as the former looks massively older after just one year since last season. Similarly, Theon looks much more together than he did even at the end of last season. Is that intentional on the part of D&D, demonstrating how he can't look as decrepit as he has been as Reek and still be Sansa's semi-savior?

The presentation of Melisandre seeing the warped vision in the metal before finally revealing her true form was well done, similar to the shot of Arya with the Titan. Podeswa has a good sense of visual storytelling and it served him well here.

The continued presence of Podrick isn't just a matter of providing comic relief or a contrast to the eternally stiff and socially awkward Brienne. Given the massive amount of lore contained in the story, it's nice to have someone who's had reason to be a walking encyclopedia, since a squire knowing the heraldry and customs of the people his lord (or lady) might encounter is eminently understandable. Pod stepping right in and helping Sansa finish the oath of fealty ritual with Brienne was perfectly natural and an easy way to both help exposition without seeming obvious and add to the cultural density of the world.

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