Tag Archives: Season 5

Game of Thrones – “The Gift”

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“The Gift”

May 24, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “The Gift” [The A.V. Club]

Game Of Thrones’ investment in gender roles is crucial to its storytelling, but it also tends to struggle at times through lack of context. If I were to describe Sansa as a sexual prisoner depending on men to help save her, that sounds some alarm bells—but when you consider it’s a woman waiting outside the gates to save her, and when you see how she works over Ramsay psychologically in their walk on the battlements, you see the show wants to separate Sansa’s larger arc from her situation. It wants us to see the forest for the trees, and to know that there is a future for this character, and that her future will not be as Ramsay Bolton’s abused wife. But it can be tough to depict this without having access to Sansa’s inner monologue, something the books could use to show resolve where the show must use dialogue or subtle acting that can often be lost in editing and the need to cram six or seven narratives into a given episode.

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Game of Thrones – “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

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“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

May 17, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” [The A.V. Club]

The nature of episodic television reviews means that we don’t know if it will be the same this time. I want to believe that this rape is not simply being used as an escalation of Ramsay’s evil, given that it would be highly unnecessary. I want to believe that Sansa’s redemption arc will not simply view her rape as a generic narrative turning point. I want to believe that this rape will be treated like a rape, and justly punished (perhaps by someone who was nearly raped herself earlier in the series). I want to believe all of this because I want to think the show has learned a lesson from the previous instances, and chosen to echo Dany’s marriage to Kahl Drogo by giving Sansa more agency and allowing this rape to remain a rape even after Sansa fights back against Ramsay. I want to believe that if the show is in uncharted territory in terms of source material and chooses to use rape as a narrative tool, they have a good reason, and didn’t just fall back on this as a problem-solving tool.

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Game of Thrones – “Kill The Boy”

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“Kill The Boy”

May 10, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “Kill The Boy” [The A.V. Club]

“Kill The Boy’ spends most of its time in the North, with King’s Landing taking a break along with Jaime and Bronn’s trip through Dorne. In doing so, the episode focuses its attention on where the show started, and where it has built its own history. The “previously on” sequence dug out a few choice moments from the past, where it’s Jon discovering Aemon’s identity (which sets up the scene where Sam reads a message from Slaver’s Bay about Dany’s goings-on), or Theon intimidating the people of Winterfell with the bodies of two young boys burnt beyond recognition. It’s the latter case that ends up playing a larger role, as the show pays the piper as it comes to the increased convergence compared to the book: if Sansa and Theon are going to meet again, then their history in the North must be dealt with.

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Game of Thrones – “Sons of the Harpy”

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“Sons of the Harpy”

May 3, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “Sons of the Harpy” [The A.V. Club]

This exposition is fairly unnecessary to book readers—although the reduced number of Sand Snakes means that it’s good to know which ones the writers chose to keep, ultimately any fan who watched the video revealing the new cast members this season understood who was who. However, there is another significant thread of exposition in “Sons Of The Harpy” that is one of the rare cases where its presence is just as valuable to readers as it is to non-readers. At three very conscious moments in the episode, viewers are given pieces of history that flesh out characters the show has largely elided to this point, but which are crucial to a prominent fan theory. For non-readers, it’s exposition that one can presume will become relevant as the season and series progress; for readers, it’s potentially confirmation of…

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Game of Thrones – “High Sparrow”

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“High Sparrow”

April 26, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “High Sparrow” [The A.V. Club]

And yet at the same time, it’s also just so much easier when you have multiple characters occupying the same space. The show could have started the season with Sansa at the Eyrie, but what function would that serve if they can map similar self-discovery onto Sansa’s journey back to Winterfell? While there is a version of this show where practical changes like this one read purely as logistical, “High Sparrow” avoids this fate by tapping into the show’s history and creating an arc that uses that history more poetically than the books the show is based on.

That may be a bold claim, but Martin’s story is so sprawling that it often feels like the story could never truly come full circle, especially given we’re still waiting for major convergences that Martin has been teasing for multiple books at this point. The show, by comparison, is pacing itself differently, and uses Sansa’s return to Winterfell to tighten its storytelling and pay tribute to where the show began. Whereas Martin’s return to Winterfell felt like following a war, Game Of Thrones’ return to Winterfell is about character, and creates a stable foundation for whatever comes next.

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Game of Thrones – “The House of Black and White”

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“The House of Black and White”

April 19, 2015

As noted last week, my reviews of Game of Thrones have shifted to The A.V. Club, but I will continue to link them here for regular readers. Warning: These are reviews intended for book readers, so if you want to know absolutely no small details about the story as told in the books, you may want to steer clear.

Game of Thrones – “The House of Black and White” [The A.V. Club]

Game of Thrones has always been interested in identity, being as character-focused as it is, but “The House Of Black And White” is particularly invested in the crisis of identity at this point in the story. The changes in Brienne’s storyline emphasize a theme common across most of the show’s characters at this point in Martin’s books, and which plays out in nearly all storylines investigated here. As Tyrion and Varys travel to Meereen—by way of Volantis—the conversation turns to Tyrion’s leadership as the Hand of the King, and Tyrion’s complicated relationship with power; when Selyse interrupts Shireen and Gilly’s conversation about the former’s greyscale, it’s a conversation between a girl defined by her disease and a girl defined by being a “wildling,” regardless of how they might self-identify. Given how much of the show is—for better or worse—characters talking, identity conflict is a key way for the show to draw meaning from those conversations.

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Season Premiere: Game of Thrones – “The Wars To Come”

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“The Wars To Come”

April 12, 2015

Over the past four seasons, I’ve very much enjoyed writing about Game of Thrones here at Cultural Learnings, and have been privileged to have a wide audience for those reviews. The subsequent conversations have been among my most rewarding, and I want to thank everyone who has read, commented, or otherwise engaged with my reviews during that period.

However, I was given the opportunity to take over from my friend and former colleague Todd VanDerWerff writing the “Experts” reviews for The A.V. Club, and therefore there will be no more reviews here at Cultural Learnings. It also means that if you are someone who has not read the books, these reviews may potentially be something you do not want to read—while they will not explicitly spoil future events, they are written for those who know what’s coming, and may occasionally make references to foreshadowing and other forward-looking developments. I apologize for this, but it’s a byproduct of the opportunity.

However, given that the comments can be a bit more fast and furious over there, I will be posting a link to the review each week, and I encourage anyone with any specific questions or comments to leave them here, and I’m happy to create a side dialogue if anyone desires it. Thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ll still find something of value in the new reviews in the new location.

Game of Thrones (experts): “The Wars To Come”

“We have reached a stage where reader and non-reader are closer than ever before. Each group comes to the text with similar levels of expectation, shaped by their respective understandings of this world and its characters. Readers, admittedly, still come with expectations that are based on what unfolds in the novels past this point, but those expectations have been destabilized such that some of them hold no clear authority over the expectations that non-readers have developed on their own. Where once readers had lengthy emotional connections to the text that outstripped those only recently encountering the story, non-readers may now have been diehard fans for four years, growing in number as the show evolved into a mainstream phenomenon. And while there are more readers than ever before (I certainly didn’t use to see people reading the books on public transit before it premiered), they’re a different kind of reader, one for whom the show was likely the entry point.”

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