Category Archives: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones – “Dark Wings, Dark Words”

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“Dark Wings, Dark Words”

April 6th, 2013

“I try to know as many people as I can. You never know which one you’ll need.”

When HBO’s decision to order Game of Thrones to pilot was first announced, I went back and began rereading the books in preparation. At the time, I wrote a piece thinking about how the structure of the books—specifically the chapters told from specific characters’ points-of-view—would prove a challenge, but how there remained thematic through-lines that could be capitalized upon.

More recently, Benioff and Weiss have said that they aren’t structuring the show around themes, suggesting they’re for grade school book reports. It’s a silly comment, and I will continue to remark upon clear themes that run through both the series and the novels on which that series is based, but I do think that they’re right on one point: this is not, primarily, structured as a thematic story. And yet, given the fact that the narrative has become dispersed from a clearly outlined conflict—the War of the Five Kings—into a scattered collection of individual narratives, a question is raised: how exactly is the show being structured?

To suggest that Game of Thrones is a character-driven show is not exactly groundbreaking, but I was struck during “Dark Wings, Dark Words” how the show is actually organized by character. In thinking about some of my pre-air thoughts regarding how audiences might respond to some characters better than others, I watched the episode thinking through one primary question: who is this scene about? While the fragmentation of the narrative means that no single episode will be about one single person, the focus of a given scene nonetheless often falls to a single character, and not always the character we might presume it to be. And while there is a collection of new characters introduced in this week’s episode, none of them feel like their scenes were about them so much as the existing characters they were meeting. At the same time, meanwhile, some characters whose existence was once defined by their support of other characters have become subjects of their own storylines, even if their role within the larger narrative hasn’t necessarily changed.

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Season Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Valar Dohaeris”

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“Valar Dohaeris”

March 31st, 2013

“You’ve got to invent a story about where the ship is going and why.”

As Sansa and Shae look out on Blackwater Bay imagining where the ships are going, it’s hard not to think about the last time we as an audience watched the ships on Blackwater Bay. “Blackwater” brought a striking amount of clarity to the show, its tight focus clearly defining where the ships were going: Stannis Baratheon intended to take King’s Landing, because he believes himself to be the one true king of Westeros.

As Game of Thrones returns for its third season, such clarity seems long gone. As Robb notes, his men haven’t had a real battle in weeks, their “war” more of a glacial march in search of Lannister men more likely to “raze and run” than fight in the open battlefield. Stannis has retreated to Dragonstone to burn men alive in sacrifice to Melisandre’s lord of light, in hopes they will provide a path forward. Westeros is still at war, that much is certain, but the terms of that warfare are as muddled as they’ve ever been: much as the Narrow Sea separates Daenerys from her place on the Iron Throne, the other would-be Kings are equally unable to directly and openly lay claim to the title.

And yet they keep moving. Indeed, outside of those who remain at King’s Landing, nearly every character or group of characters are on the move, although it’s not always clear where they’re moving to precisely. “Valar Dohaeris” might reintroduce us to a collection of the show’s characters, but it’s an introduction that mostly finds characters exactly where they were before. The result is a premiere that lacks excitement not because things don’t happen, but rather because there’s little new information to hint toward what will happen next, relying on more general anticipation—often, to Sansa’s game above, of the viewer’s invention—as the narrative moves at its own pace.

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Review: Slivers of Satisfaction – Game of Thrones Season Three

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Review: Game of Thrones Season Three

March 25th, 2013

At the conclusion of watching the third season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I realized something: despite the fact that I had enjoyed the premiere a great deal, it hadn’t featured a single scene with one of my favorite characters.

Of course, this is not a new problem for the series, what with its intense narrative fragmentation: Jason Mittell’s analysis of the series’ “scenic rhythms” spoke to this at the end of last season, wondering whether this helped explain his different responses to the first season (which he binged on) and the second season (which he watched weekly).

I’ll leave it to Jason to actually break down the number of scenes/foci in the second season premiere, but it’s safe to say the show remains committed to telling a sprawling collection of stories in season three. What’s different, though, is that there is no longer—or rather not yet—a central conflict that anchors the narrative in the way that Ned Stark’s plight in King’s Landing or the War of the Five Kings offered in previous seasons (even though the latter is still ongoing, albeit with fewer kings). While the kingdom ostensibly remains at war, the events that open the season place everyone in a sort of holding pattern, leaving each story to create its own purpose and momentum.

These two challenges—an increasingly fragmented narrative and a lack of a clear overarching story arc—are not insurmountable; in fact, I found neither to be particularly concerning, and found the first four episodes of the season to be a most welcome return to Westeros. However, the circumstances under which I viewed these episodes mitigated these factors in ways that not all viewers will have access to. As someone who has read the books, I know where these narratives are heading, and can therefore read purpose and momentum in ways that those ignorant to those futures may not. And as someone who is lucky enough to receive advance screeners for the series, I had the luxury of popping in the second episode when I discovered one of my favorite characters doesn’t appear in the first one, something that those watching weekly won’t have.

What I’m suggesting, I suppose, is that Game of Thrones has evolved in such a way that I’m unsure if my experience with the show’s third season can be successfully mapped into a more generalized “review.” I thought every storyline was well executed, I enjoyed every episode, and I was left wanting more, but I also left wondering how much those responses were shaped by the context in which the episodes were viewed, and if we’re reaching the point where reaction to the series will be divided more starkly among devoted viewers and more casual audiences.

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A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones, Social Media, and the Uncertain Quest for Cultural Capital

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A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital

March 22nd, 2013

Two years ago, HBO shipped a collection of critics, celebrities, and cultural observers a box designed to introduce them to the world of Westeros. The box, which I wrote about in detail here, served as a sensory journey into what was at that point a new televisual universe, one HBO hoped would become a centerpiece of their brand identity. By sending the box out to “opinion leaders,” the hope was that they would share their experiences with the intricately crafted artifact with their readers or followers, setting the tone for a series sold in part on its lavish production design and attention to detail.

KendrickBoxThis month, HBO shipped a collection of celebrities a box designed to initiate them into the world of Westeros. However, the Westeros of 2013 is different than the Westeros of 2011. If the “Scent Box” of 2011 was designed as an artifact of the fictional Westeros, the various personalized “Influencer” boxes being sent to people like Mindy Kaling, Anna Kendrick, Bruno Mars, Jaime King, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien are artifacts of the pop cultural Westeros. If the 2011 campaign was designed to establish the authenticity of Game of Thrones’ fictional world, the 2013 campaign seeks to reaffirm Game of Thrones’ status as a cultural phenomenon as its third season premiere beckons.

While the first campaign was largely heralded as a sign of HBO’s commitment to the series’ mythology and helped associate the show with quality discourses valuable to a premium cable channel, the latter campaign has been met with some criticism (although not by the celebrities themselves, most of whom have not been shy about performing their fannish [and NSFW] response to the delivery). To paraphrase sections of my Twitter feed in the past few weeks, HBO is effectively spending thousands of dollars to send rich celebrities personalized gifts to promote a show that is already wildly successful and likely to run for many seasons, all while smaller shows like Enlightened are canceled due to a lack of viewers (and, tied to this concern, a lack of promotional support). In addition, picking up on a discourse that was not uncommon during the initial campaign, some fans simply wonder why “celebrity” fandom is more valued than their own: one fan at WinterIsComing.net wrote “This is really unfair. Why do celebs get this sent to them? We’re the fans. The real fans.”

InfluencerInsideHowever, the “Influencer Box” reflects broader shifts in how television success is measured: even since 2011, the perceived value of Twitter and other forms of social media has dramatically increased, even if the industry as a whole remains uncertain as to how to monetize that value. HBO’s decision to turn Game of Thrones loose into the world of celebrity self-disclosure reflects their belief that the best strategy to draw new subscribers is not just to promote the show itself (which they continue to do), but rather the idea of the show as a social media event. While the Influencer Box features the first two seasons on Blu-Ray, ostensibly encouraging those who receive or read about the box to watch the series, it also includes “exclusive extras which the owner can use on their social media sites to show off their fandom,” which HBO is now extending out to the “real fans” through a collection of site-specific giveaways on sites like WinterIsComing.net or Slashfilm. While reminding viewers about the third season premiere is the stated goal of the box— as demonstrated by the “scroll” that accompanies the box urging celebrities to promote the March 31st return date—the larger goal is informing the world that Game of Thrones is bigger than just a television show.

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Season Finale: Game of Thrones – “Valar Morghulis”

“Valar Morghulis”

June 3rd, 2012

“You’re not the man you’re pretending to be. Not yet.”

Last season, Game of Thrones ended its penultimate episode with a shocking moment. With the swing of a sword, Eddard Stark was dead, and the ecosystem of the series had changed forever. The finale, “Fire and Blood” was largely left to pick up the narrative pieces that were left behind, selling viewers on a show without its lead. As a result, last season’s finale became about journeys forward: Tyrion’s journey as the King’s Hand, Robb’s journey as King in the North, Dany’s journey as the Mother of Dragons, Arya’s journey back north with Yoren, Bran’s journey as the Lord of Winterfell, and Jon Snow’s journey beyond the Wall with the Night’s Watch.

By comparison, “Valar Morghulis” has a greater burden to resolve ongoing storylines, with more of the season’s climax left to be explored given the contained explosiveness of last week’s “Blackwater.” While any simplistic analysis of the season’s narrative would identify the battle in Blackwater Bay as the season’s climax, the disjointed nature of the various journeys means that each character has been headed towards their own climaxes which were promptly delayed by last week’s events. Dany is still looking for her dragons, Jon is still a captive of the Wildlings, Arya is on the run from Harrenhal, and Bran remains hidden in his own home as Theon reigns over Winterfell. And these are only the storylines that we could identify most cleanly, as we could also consider Jaime and Brienne’s journey, or Robb’s relationship with Talisa, or any number of other threads that “Valar Morghulis” is expected to contend with.

For the most part, however, “Valar Morghulis” follows the example of last year’s finale, largely focusing on pivoting towards future storylines. This is not to say that it is anti-climactic, with Dany’s storyline in particular reaching a strong conclusion and the final moments of the episode delivering the equivalent thrill to last season’s reveal of Dany walking out of the fire with her dragons around her. Indeed, both episodes also spent a lot of time with characters taking stock of what has happened, settling on a course for the future, and then largely disappearing as other storylines took over.

The difference, though, is that there is something more substantial to take stock of. These characters are all older, mostly wiser, and each more clearly placed on a particular path. If last season’s finale was designed to solidify that these characters are not simply meant to live normal lives, consigned to a life at the heart of this conflict whether or not they choose that life, “Valar Morghulis” was about how that experience has changed them, and how the beginnings of their journey will prepare them for what’s to come.

It may be the same structure, in other words, but the result is a stronger finale, and a good burst of momentum into a third season.

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Game of Thrones – “Blackwater”

“Blackwater”

May 27th, 2012

“The worst ones always live.”

The discourse around this week’s episode of Game of Thrones has been fascinating to watch. For fans of the series, particularly those with familiarity with George R. R. Martin’s novels, “Blackwater” was always going to be the season’s high point: scripted by Martin himself, and focusing on a large-scale battle central to A Clash of Kings (and A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole), no fan of the series needed to be convinced to tune into this particular hour.

And yet HBO has very much promoted the episode as though people needed convincing. Press were alerted to an extended promo in advance of last week’s episode, an interview with producers Benioff and Weiss hit Entertainment Weekly as soon as “The Prince of Winterfell” concluded, and the Game of Thrones twitter account has been pushing the “#Blackwater” hashtag throughout the week, retweeting responses from those anticipating the episode.

I’ve found all of this fascinating because this feels strange when promoting the ninth episode of the second season of a television show. While this promotion serves the show’s fanbase, building further anticipation and increasing engagement and attachment to the series among those fans (as the Twitter account aims to do every week), it seems hard to imagine that the expanded discourse around this episode would convince anyone who hasn’t seen the previous eighteen episodes to tune into this one. HBO’s promotions have positioned “Blackwater” as “Event Television”—or perhaps “Event NOT Television” if we want to get take their slogan at its word—rather than simply an eventful episode of Game of Thrones, placing further expectation on an episode that was already burdened with both fan anticipation and the narrative pressure of serving as the season’s penultimate hour.

“Blackwater” answers these expectations by steering away from most of them. Isolating Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing and the storylines found within the city, the series tells a contained story about a war and the people who fight it. It would be a dangerous move if the episode had disappointed on that front, abandoning the other half-dozen narrative threads left hanging at the end of last week’s hour, but “Blackwater” is a tense, thrilling hour of television that lives up to its event billing and delays—rather than interrupting—the narrative climaxes which will now carry into next week’s finale.

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Game of Thrones – “The Prince of Winterfell”

“The Prince of Winterfell”

May 20th, 2012

“One game at a time, my friend.”

Tyrion speaks true, in this instance: for the last two weeks, I’ve prioritized my professional responsibilities over what are ultimately my personal ones, meaning that writing about Game of Thrones became infeasible. Accordingly, one might expect that I’d have a lot to say about “The Prince of Winterfell,” the eighth episode of the show’s second season, given that I haven’t had a chance to say anything about the two episodes that came before.

However, in all honesty, we are reaching the point in the season where I don’t have a whole lot to say. With very little being introduced, and with so many storylines fully in motion, evaluating the show at this point is difficult: we have not yet reached the climax, the moment where everything is meant to coalesce, but we are also past the point where new ideas are being introduced. “The Prince of Winterfell” falls pretty much in line with what we’ve seen in the past few episodes, taking us mostly down a logical path toward what previews for next week position as the “Clash of Kings” that the season’s literary origins refer to.

Until we reach that point, though, the show is continuing to ignore Tyrion’s advice and tackle as many games as it possibly can. It’s a strategy that makes “The Prince of Winterfell” a wide-ranging episode which has to do a little work in a lot of places to get the show into position for the next moves in a whole new set of directions.

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Game of Thrones – “The Old Gods and the New” [Podcast]

“The Old Gods and the New”

May 8th, 2012

As I had noted on Twitter, and as many of you seem to have discovered after visiting the site yesterday, this weekend didn’t provide enough time to do a full review of “The Old Gods and the New” justice. However, David Chen at /Film and his podcasting partner Joanna Robinson were kind enough to have me on “A Cast of Kings,” their Game of Thrones podcast, for a discussion about the episode.

A Cast of Kings S2E06: The Old Gods and the New – /Film

A Cast of Kings is a podcast featuring recaps and reviews of each week’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. This week, Joanna and Dave discuss the second season’s sixth episode, The Old Gods and the New. Special guest Myles McNutt joins us from Cultural Learnings.

It’s a lengthy and diverse discussion, ranging from more serious considerations of how the show has changed from the books to equally serious conversations about Ygritte’s strategic body movements. It’s quite a fun show, I thought, so if you want to know more of my thoughts on the episode it’s a fine way to spend roughly an hour of your time.

If there are any other issues you’d like to discuss about the episode, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll hope to chime in. In the meantime, you could also head back to listen to past “A Cast of Kings” episodes.

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Game of Thrones – “The Ghosts of Harrenhal”

“The Ghosts of Harrenhal”

April 29th, 2012

“I still can’t believe that you’re real.”

Perhaps it’s my relatively unromantic disposition, but I’ve never really considered love in the context of Game of Thrones. It’s obviously part of Martin’s books, but it’s so often quashed, or forbidden, or broken, that it’s hard to identify it as one of the key themes (or even as a theme in some instances). However, as I noted in last week’s review, the introduction of Robb’s love interest reminded us that romance and desire are not entirely foreign concepts within the framework of this story.

However, as “The Ghosts of Harrenhal” observes (and as we’ll see continue into next week’s episode as well), that love is rarely consummated. Sam speaks of Gilly in hypotheticals, in love with a memory more than a real person, while Jorah’s love for Dany (captured in the quote above) makes both of them uncomfortable, an unspoken reality they dare not bring to the surface lest it shatter their existing relationship. In other words, their love remains unromantic out of fear of what romantic love would look like, relying instead on the love you have for a brother or a sister or for your King. It’s this love that ultimately threads through “The Ghosts of Harrenhal,” and the season at large, and it’s a love that may be equally tenuous depending on its object.

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Game of Thrones – “Garden of Bones”

“Garden of Bones”

April 22nd, 2012

“Too much pain will spoil the pleasure.”

One of my general criticisms for “Garden of Bones,” which is Vanessa Taylor’s first script credit on Game of Thrones after joining as a co-executive producer this season, it’s that choosing a pull quote was a bit too difficult. It was an episode filled with lines that felt like they were aiming too much towards broader thematic ideas, pulling me out of the moment and placing me into the head of the writer.

It doesn’t mean that the episode isn’t filled with a lot of great sequences, or that those lines aren’t evocative of key themes that are valuable to the series’ future. However, there’s something about the episode’s exposition that calls attention to itself: a rarely seen character emerges with new confidence early on so that his comeuppance later has relevance, a single character out of a larger group is awkwardly signaled out by his full name for no reason other than informing the viewer who he is, and another name is conveniently used in a conversation just as another character needs to learn it.

It’s not enough, as noted, to entirely derail the larger function of “Garden of Bones,” but there does come a point where an episode that begins with a Westerossi Meet Cute begins to flow less naturally, a point that this episode reached as the exposition burden of the early parts of the season seems to come to a head.

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