Tag Archives: Season 3

Game of Thrones – “And Now His Watch Is Ended”

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“And Now His Watch Is Ended”

April 21st, 2013

“Influence is largely a matter of patience.”

As Olenna Tyrell sits in her garden at King’s Landing, she schools one of her young charges on the silliness of the House Tyrell words. “Growing strong,” she argues, lacks any of the strength associated with “Winter is coming” or “We do not sow”; the golden rose, meanwhile, certainly doesn’t strike fear in the way the direwolf or the kraken might.

And while Olenna is willfully eliding the thorns of which she is queen, and the way we could see Margaery’s growing power in King’s Landing as evidence of the sigil’s representativeness, I also think there’s something about Game of Thrones’ approach to storytelling here. This is a show where stories don’t always progress like direwolves or krakens, often growing incrementally on a week-by-week basis. Watching the show, you sort of have to take the Tyrell words as your motto: if you give stories time to grow, you may well be rewarded.

“And Now His Watch Is Ended” concludes on one of the series’ best sequences, Daenerys’ overthrow of the slavers of Astapor and her triumphant freeing of the Unsullied. It’s incredibly satisfying, perhaps impressively so given that it is told through a grand total of four scenes over the first three episodes. It’s a unique story structure for the series, as it really lacks any relationship to other ongoing storylines: while Joffrey’s talk of Targaryens certainly reminds us of Dany’s claim to Westeros, her actual storyline has to serve as its own engine. This isn’t a new phenomenon for Dany, but this is the most effectively her storyline has been managed, in part because the four scenes we get are paced extraordinarily well.

It’s a model the show would do well to follow, and one the show will have to navigate at least once more this season.

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Game of Thrones – “Walk of Punishment”

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“Walk of Punishment”

April 14th, 2013

“A person could almost be forgiven for forgetting we’re at war.”

“Walk of Punishment” opens with something of a comedy routine. Edmure Tully is attempting to send his father off to the afterlife with a flaming arrow, but the arrow misses. And then misses again. And then misses again. It’s only then that his uncle, the Blackfish, steps in to fire the arrow necessary. Edmure is made to look the fool, the Blackfish is made to look like a man who suffers no such characters, and our first glimpse of Riverrun has served its function, in part, through comedy.

Of course, it’s also a funeral, which makes its comedy somewhat dark. It helps that we don’t actually know much about Hoster Tully, a character in the books and more of a symbol in the series. It also helps that the scene works the joke perfectly: I resisted laughter on the first miss, found it on the second, and felt the tragedy sneak back in on the third. The scene never feels at odds with the moment or the episode around it except when it’s supposed to feel like it’s at odds with the moment because, well, it is. A world of war and tragedy is not a world without comedy, but rather a world where comedy is rarely allowed to continue unabated for very long.

Catelyn’s quote above, spoken to the Blackfish, captures Benioff and Weiss’ approach to lightening the mood in Westeros. At any given point, there are characters in situations where they could forget about the gravity at hand, where the inherent humor of human interaction overwhelms the threat of widespread conflict. Sometimes it’s Talisa tending to two young captives, wanting to keep them from thinking about the world around them; sometimes its Tyrion wanting to give Podrick a gift for his loyal service. And in a previous time it was Jaime and Brienne, alone on the road, bantering their way toward King’s Landing.

But banter, like all men, must die.

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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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Season Finale: Homeland – “The Choice”

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“The Choice”

December 16th, 2012

When Homeland’s first season ended, it offered what some viewed as a clean slate: Carrie’s memory was wiped, Brody’s secret was safe, and it seemed to set the table for everything to go back to normal as though nothing had ever happened. And when the second season began, there was certainly some semblance of stability, every character going on with the new version of their lives.

“The Choice” draws a similar picture of the post-Nazir era for Brody and Carrie, in that they believe they have a clean slate, that this is the second chance Carrie referred to earlier this season in the motel room. And yet just as the early part of this season exploded any sense of stability more quickly than we would have imagined heading into the season, so too does any post-Nazir calm disappear with great efficiency.

It’s a thematic parallel that fell into place for me as I was watching the finale, one which did little to assuage my frustrations with a central principle of the season but did much to piece together how and why certain storylines were constructed leading up to this point. The season makes more sense as a result of the events in “The Choice,” but it didn’t necessarily become any more successful than the mixed bad heading into the finale, capping off a season of television that I admire for its commitment and question for its choices.

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Why Netflix and DirecTV Probably Don’t Actually Want The Killing

Last week, TV Line’s Michael Ausiello reported that DirecTV and Netflix were in talks to pick up a third season of The Killing, and boy did the Internet take it seriously.

Willa Paskin wrote at Salon that “metaphorically speaking, the news that both DirecTV and Netflix are considering reviving “The Killing” for a third season is like hearing that the Coca Cola Co. is plotting to relaunch New Coke or that a fringe group of Democrats are drafting Michael Dukakis to run in this next election— a confounding plan to resurrect a total failure.”

Andy Greenwald wrote at Grantland that “As insane as it may sound to those of us who have had our fill of the grief-wracked Larsens and the Batman-voiced Richmond, the reports aren’t entirely surprising. An established show like The Killing is attractive to up-and-coming content farms like Netflix and DirecTV for precisely the same Rumsfeldian reasons it was nearly rescued yet again by Collier: It’s a known known.”

While Paskin and Greenwald both mount compelling takes on the implications of a scenario in which either of these outlets were to resurrect The Killing, I can’t help but feel that they suffer from the same flaw: believing that Ausiello’s report actually indicates Netflix or DirecTV have any serious intentions of picking up The Killing.

Earlier today, I published a piece at Antenna indicating that I believe the real story here is less about Netflix, DirecTV and The Killing, and more about the active campaigning on the part of Fox TV Studios to get the show picked up by leaking reports of early negotiations to Ausiello in order to gain leverage:

Save “Their” Show”: Public Appeals of Studio Campaigning [Antenna]

It is possible to view these stories as a reflection of the expanding influence of streaming services and other emerging distribution models, with new options for shows that were already canceled (Arrested Development’s return on Netflix) or compromises that may allow a show to stay on the air longer (like DirecTV’s adoption of Friday Night Lights). However, while the existence of these networks and these precedents provide the conditions necessary for these stories to emerge, the stories instead reflect the increased agency and the increased activity of production studios within this new television economy: as opposed to fans seeking legitimation through news coverage, it is now studios working to gain visibility through their relationship with journalists.

I will admit this is predicated on speculation, but it’s part of a larger trend this season in which vague reports of negotiations are seemingly floated to journalists who then report the news in an effort to draw in the theoretical fan audiences who could flock to the site to show their support for such a move. The fact that none of the show’s suggested for resurrection—Pan Am, Terra Nova, The River—have been picked up doesn’t mean that no negotiations ever existed, but it does indicate that whatever negotiations were reported on were perhaps less serious than reports may have indicated. “The Killing May Be Renewed For Season 3—Netflix and DirecTV in Talks” sounds really exciting until you realize that “talks” could amount to a brief phone conversation, and the show may be no closer to being picked up than it was when Fox was looking for theoretical suitors immediately after AMC canceled the series.

I go into more detail on the larger implications of this trend within the piece, pushing us to consider the role of production studios more carefully, but I also wanted to expand on something I tweeted about last week, which is whether or not Netflix and DirecTV actually wants to be part of these stories, or whether their involvement is a case of wish fulfillment on the part of TV Studios. Hint: it’s the latter.

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Season Finale: Justified – “Slaughterhouse”

“Slaughterhouse”

April 10th, 2012

While I haven’t exactly had the chance to write about Justified this season, I haven’t exactly been silent on the subject: my good friend David Chen at /Film has been hosting the JustifiedCast all season, and I had the pleasure of joining him a few times over the course of the season, including in a mid-season interview with Graham Yost.

However, those conversations tended to be fairly episodic, and my general line in terms of broader thematic work was a “Wait and see” attitude that there isn’t enough time to expand on within a podcast setting. Now that we’ve reached the end of the season, however, I want to return to those larger questions I put off in earlier editions of the JustifiedCast, in part because I feel like “Slaughterhouse” rewarded my patience by embracing the tensions that had been creating some degree of dissonance throughout the season itself. This was not a cohesive season, but that did not keep it from coming to a meaningful conclusion, a fact that says something quite profound about the value of narrative play in the face of audience expectation and anticipation.

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Glee – “The First Time”

“The First Time”

November 8th, 2011

There is something very effective about “The First Time,” a poignant piece which uses the backdrop of the performance of West Side Story to tell three parallel stories of romantic love moving to another level.

There is also something very contrived about “The First Time,” an episode that still feels the need to force the issue of sexual intercourse in a blunt fashion, lest we be unclear what the episode was about.

I’ll admit that the tension between these two elements never quite disappeared throughout the episode, one which I can admire for its simplicity even as I cringe at the way it creates that simplicity through exclusion and a narrowing of perspective. That I ultimately consider the hour a success says something about “The First Time” as an episode, but I’m not convinced that we can suggest this as a key turning point for the series so long as its structure is so exclusively tied to the episodic structure of the hour.

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Glee – “Asian F”

“Asian F”

October 4th, 2011

You’re going to read a lot of reviews of “Asian F” which reference its problematic elements, and they are all correct. Will and Emma’s storyline, in particular, is one of those instances where a serious subject is treated as dramatic without being treated seriously, with bizarre caricatures (Emma’s parents) mixing with some problematic characterization (with Will offering to fix Emma, basically). While I’m glad the show isn’t created obstacles for the couple on a macro scale, regressing Emma is not particularly productive, and the entire storyline felt like it was happening in a different show entirely.

Of course, this isn’t uncommon for Glee. In fact, “Asian F” as a whole sort of exists in these different shows, simultaneously indulging in introspective looks at particular characters (Mike and Mercedes), large-scale numbers (Brittany’s “Run the World (Girls)” and the group sing of “Fix You”), and even some storyline continuity with the casting of West Side Story. In truth, there is little to no cohesion in these storylines, and their effectiveness is decidedly mixed, and yet I still think “Asian F” is a strong step forward for the show.

At the very least, it indicates that Glee is willing to try things, which is a good thing even if they don’t particularly work.

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