Monday, May 30, 2016

Sometimes it's just out of your (cold)hands.


There comes a time when you realize that things are just going to be different, no matter what you try to do. Circumstances, people, the weather; sometimes they all conspire against you and you just have to either go with the flow or stand there like an idiot and try to keep the tide from coming in. Good luck with that. That was the prevailing theme of this bridge episode that is setting up the remainder of the season and, indeed, the remainder of the story: the world is going to change and you'd better be ready for it. Resistance is futile. This was highlighted in the earliest moments by Bran flashing back to the Mad King Aerys and his command to "Burn them all!" as the Lannisters entered the city in the last stages of Robert's Rebellion and Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, the Oathbreaker, ended the reign of the Targaryens. The world was changing and Aerys wasn't keeping up. Of course, some of us have been waiting for said changes since the story began 20 years ago, so I continue to have the feeling about this season that so much of it has been predicted for so long that it often feels anti-climactic.

For example, although they didn't name him as such, it's obvious that Benjen Stark was actually Coldhands, the being that guided Bran and the Jojens north to the greenseer in the books and then couldn't enter because of his nature. That nature is now confirmed as something halfway between a wight and a human. His true identity and his nature have been speculated upon by book readers since he first appeared in a Storm of Swords (16 years ago, if you're counting.) I understand them leaving the character out of the show to this point because of the constraints of budget and time and because Coldhands in the books is kinda more fantastical than most others, since he rides a giant elk and has a flock of ravens under his command. But I can't help but feel that not only was his appearance and explanation obvious to book readers (yes, even if GRRM refuted said speculation when his editor asked), but it probably feels like a "Who?" moment to show watchers, since he hasn't been seen since season 1 and was a bit player then.


On the other hand, when we consider events that haven't occurred in the books, the fact that the common people were asserting control throughout the Seven Kingdoms has become more and more evident as time passed. With the Faith Militant now backing them up and most of them realizing that "they got the guns, but we got the numbers", this episode just highlighted that fact as the full force of the Tyrells was faced down in the streets by the Faith and the surrounding crowd, who were clearly on the side of the church (and, probably, the side about to put one of the most attractive women in the land on a nude stroll through the streets. Priorities, yo.) This turn of events wasn't as predictable as Benjen's reappearance/confession, but it's clearly been building since the Brotherhood Without Banners first appeared and was solidifying by the end of Dance of Dragons when the Faith had taken control of the city from Cersei and Kevan Lannister. This was evident on a very personal level, as well, when Tommen speaks to the High Sparrow and it's very clear who is granting favor to whom. A few minutes later, Tommen finally reunites with his queen and, again, the one in control of the situation is very clearly Margaery. Welcome to the dichotomy of the absolute dictator that is led around by the nose by whoever can speak most convincingly. It's tough to be the (boy) king.

Now that King Tommen has joined Crown with Faith (something probably not even approachable in the books, where Tommen is only nine years old), it makes the eventual dispersal of control of the kingdoms to a more widespread hand almost inevitable. At the very least, it confirms the bloody war between nobility and commoners at the behest of the church... which creates a very interesting question for when another noble presence, one Daenerys Targaryen, a noble but still champion of the little people, returns to Westeros. Do the people regard her as yet another highborn tyrant come to put them under her thumb or accept that her idea is to throw down the great houses... so that they all serve her? Wait, wut? Yeah. That's going to be an interesting writers' quandary (as have been so many other things about Dany.) Throw in the church that never liked the Targaryens and their incestuous and sorcerous ways in the first place and it will be hard to find allies for the incoming queen.


Meanwhile, in matters of slightly less broad import, we finally meet Sam's father, Randyll Tarly, who's every bit as grim and ferocious as I'd hoped for. James Faulkner was excellent in this role. His Wikipedia entry says he's best known for playing Randyll Tarly, but because I'm a geek, I remember him as Herod Agrippa in the I, Claudius TV series from the 70s. He spends his time similarly to his brethren in the Lannister and Tyrell families, railing against the events that have landed his unloved eldest son and his Wildling common law wife and bastard son on the noble Tarly doorstep. That dinner scene was the best of the episode, because you can see Sam bearing up under the weight of his father's scorn and you can even expect that one of those scowls is going to finally trigger the eruptive response. But, as always, Gilly arrives to speak the truth and try to lay the smackdown on the lord of the manor. In the end, we see those events pass by Horn Hill, anyway, when Sam survives the barrage of criticism and leaves with his wife and son. Oh, and the family sword.


Similarly, Arya's version of pushing against the tide has finally come to rest. She will never be a Faceless Man. She lives by her emotions. They're what drive her and make her. The realization that there are consequences on the other end of the assassin's blade (or poison) is one of those things that does indeed take some time to digest for someone that young, even as driven by rage and hatred as she is. She will always be Arya Stark and the hiding (and now retrieval) of Needle is the confirmation of that. I guess we could have hoped for a slightly more visceral event to have pushed her over the edge, such as actually committing the murder of an innocent actress, but that may have been just more time and money spent on another scene that wasn't necessary. It does add a bit of a "redemption" aura to Arya's whole storyline, which I don't think is quite the right angle to take with the character. No one should think of Arya as a "hero", per se, as she's mostly just been trying to survive and adapting nicely to whichever conditions have come along. For a long time, I've been looking forward to the idea of how the writers (both Martin and D&D) were going to work out her status as a Faceless Man with her obvious inclination to both help and rejoin the remainder of her family. That option is now closed to the show, but perhaps it's something that GRRM is still interested in tackling.

And no review of this episode would be complete without mentioning the ultimate complainer of how the whole world is against him (often with good reason):  Walder Frey. For those of you that understand college football, Walder Frey is the Michigan State of Westeros. It was great to see David Bradley in the role again, even if solely as a setup (Disrespekt!) for next week's events in Riverrun. I know that most fans are just waiting for the Late Lord Frey to get what's coming to him from the Red Wedding (Disrespekt!), but I really enjoy seeing him ranting about how everyone around him is an idiot who doesn't listen (Disrespekt!) and I hope we get something more substantial (Disrespekt!) before the hammer finally drops.


Finally, the one character genuinely making the tide as opposed to having to swim against it was, as usual, Daenerys and it was appropriate to have that kind of counterbalance occur at the end of the episode. On the other hand, the whole scene was kind of superfluous. We already know that the Dothraki are completely devoted to her service, since they saw her walk unscathed from an inferno where she'd just slaughtered all the other khals a couple episodes ago. Did we really need another oath of service because she was asking for one from Drogon's back? This seemed like more of an excuse to end the episode with a pseudo-uplifting moment and spend a little of the CGI budget at the same time. This has been one of the lurking problems with Dany's storyline for years now: it involves a lot of waiting while more pertinent stuff happens elsewhere. But just like everyone else mentioned here, the fans will have no more luck trying to change things than Jaime, Arya, or Randyll Tarly. The only person with that power may be Bran.

Side notes:

I mean, really, how many Dany-standing-before-a-crowd-and-proclaiming-herself-the-promised-one moments can we have? We get it. Also, the most important question of that whole scene was: Did she feed the horse to Drogon before she mounted him?

It's mildly interesting to note that the show is now swerving back to the books in terms of Jaime's story, since he's apparently going to be leading the siege at Riverrun as he did in Dance with Dragons. The whole Dorne misadventure never happened in the books, just as it shouldn't have in the show. Someday, perhaps, we'll learn the point of that whole production.


The strange weapon that Benjen is wielding when he saves Bran and Meera resembles a kusari-gama but, like, with fire, man. I can't say that I was thrilled with the direction of that scene, since it was kind of heavy on the modern trend toward doing everything in real speed so that you're not quite sure what's happening until it's over and/or someone has to stop to deliver a cool piece of dialogue. Considering the number of undead that were chasing the two of them through the no-longer-held door, my first impression was there was no way one guy with a flaming flail was going to make a difference. Also, using fire in the furthest wilderness of Westeros is kind of like a signal flare to everything within 20 miles, right? I know. I'm being picky. That scene just didn't sit well with me.

Despite all the complaints, all credit is due to D&D for exploiting the fanatics "who yearn for death in the service of the gods" angle without coming down so hard that comparison to modern parallels like ISIS is irresistible.

Richard E. Grant, the lead actor of the troupe in Braavos who complains about how he's a master of his art and doesn't get noticed for it (Disrespekt!), looks remarkably like Christopher Walken. When I saw him again this week, I was totally hoping for the bigger cameo.

Lines of the week:

"You're nervous. You're a nervous talker."
" ... "
"Well, that's not any better, being a nervous mute!"
Gilly with the truth, as always.

"Told me to leave. Promised to kill me if I didn't. Well, a person starts to not feel welcome at that point."
And Sam, likewise.

"The Faith Militant are very stern with those who overstep their bounds."
Subtle.

"You lost it? It's a castle, not a sheep!"
Seriously. More Walder Frey, please.

"It will be a trial by combat. I have the Mountain."
Read: I won already. Unless the Church has a really big fanatic.

And the winner:

"My final speech is shit. But to be fair to myself, which I always like to be, the writing's no good."
Ego is a necessary thing for an actor. And writers, too.


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