Tag Archives: Westeros

Season Finale: Game of Thrones – “The Children”

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“The Children”

June 15, 2014

“You remember where the heart is?”

Each season of Game of Thrones has been an exercise in selective adaptation, but its fourth season has been a feat of adaptive engineering. Working primarily with material from the third book but leaning heavily on the fourth and fifth in certain storylines, it is the season that has emphatically taken the “book-to-season” adaptation comparison off the table.

At the same time, though, the season has been organized around key climaxes taken directly from the third book in the series. Moreso than in other seasons, you could tell the writers were having to stretch storylines to maintain the timing they had established, creating material to flesh out the scenes on The Wall to justify the Battle of Castle Black taking place in episode nine or finding things for Arya and the Hound to do so that their scenes in “The Children” wouldn’t take place until the end of the season.

By and large, I would argue the show was successful in making the season work despite the delaying tactics. This is in part because the storyline in King’s Landing, arguably the most consistently substantial, was built for this timeline, clearly marked by two major events—the Purple Wedding and the Mountain vs. the Viper—with plenty of political intrigue in between. The other reason is that even if the material at the Wall was a bit thin in ways that even last week’s epic showdown couldn’t make up for, the season as a whole maintained a sense of forward momentum. Did this momentum extend to Bran, forgotten for multiple episodes, or to Stannis and Davos’ trip to Braavos? No. But it extended to pretty much every other storyline, and makes “The Children” the most climactic finale the series has managed yet. The inconclusiveness of “The Watchers On The Wall” may have been frustrating, but it guaranteed that there was still lots to resolve even for those of us who aren’t sitting at home with checklists of what’s “supposed” to happen in the episode.

And “The Children” resolved some of it, left some of it untouched, and by and large served as one big—and mostly effective—teaser for what’s to come.

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Season Finale: Game of Thrones – “Mhysa”

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“Mhysa”

June 9th, 2013

“Here only the family name matters.”

As Varys explains this fact to Shae, he’s being pragmatic: he’s trying to help someone whose very existence at King’s Landing threatens her own life and the life of the man she loves. Varys acknowledges that she has made Tyrion better. Varys acknowledges that hers is a true love. And yet Varys also gives her a collection of diamonds, telling her to sail to Pentos and start a new life for herself so that her love can do something good for Westeros without the threat of a single-named woman hanging over him.

It’s dark advice, advice that Shae refuses to take. Despite the fact that we just saw both Robb Stark and Talisa die for following true love over pragmatism, and despite the fact that Jon Snow just took three arrows from the woman he loves, Shae proves what many other characters have learned as well: there is still power in love even when all signs would suggest that trusting in such power will be your undoing.

“Mhysa” is about this love, which may seem strange in light of the fact that last week ended on such a foreboding sendoff for Robb and Catelyn Stark. And yet Game of Thrones needed a new motivation beyond ascending to the throne, a sense of purpose that could evolve beyond the War of the Five Kings and the deaths of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark which set it off. What “Mhysa” seeks to accomplish is reframe the actions of its characters not as part of a larger power struggle, but rather as actions designed to protect their families or to protect the realm. This is not to say that we are to support the Lannisters’ cruelty or to endorse Melisandre’s sorcery, but rather that we can shift our understanding of their actions away from a part in a larger plot and instead toward what motivated them to take those steps in the first place.

It’s an enriching move that works to build a strong foundation for future seasons, although one that has some issues retroactively making some of the season’s storylines resonate in the way intended. “Mhysa” concludes a third season that was only retroactively revealed—for non-readers, at least—to be the season where Game of Thrones could no longer be simplified to a battle between the Starks of Winterfell and the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, one that did its job without necessarily connecting in the process.

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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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Season Finale: Game of Thrones – “Fire and Blood”

“Fire and Blood”

June 19th, 2011

“There you will see what life is worth when all the rest is gone.”

Earlier this week, I rewatched last week’s penultimate episode, “Baelor,” with my brother who was seeing it for the first time. Generally, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones alone, and any interaction with other viewers has been done online (or, if done in person, was done with people who I had previously interacted with online). For the first time, I was sitting in the same room as another viewer as we watched the show, and the experience made clear what I had known from the beginning but had never seen quite so clearly visible: Game of Thrones is a show that every single viewer likely considers differently.

It is not just that we can separate between readers and non-readers, although that is certainly the most obvious distinction to be made. Rather, we need to also consider questions of genre, gender, sexual content, race, and other qualities which have been called into question over the course of the season: regardless of whether I individually had concerns with the show’s use of fantasy, or its sexposition, or the Othering of the Dothraki, the fact is that those concerns existed, and have created a divisive response even among those who generally like the show.

In a piece earlier this week, friend of the blog Cory Barker wrote about his ambivalence towards the series, and kept trying to find reasons for it within the text. While his process was enlightening, he couldn’t find the silver bullet: there was no one part of the show that was creating a lack of an emotional connection. How we view the series can be defined by issues like genre which are inherent to the text itself, or issues like viewing patterns which are entirely extratextual but can define one’s experience with the text. My brother, for example, watched the season on a staggered schedule of short marathons, while my parents watched it on a weekly basis; as a result, they remembered different things, retaining different parts of the show that were highlighted by their personal experience with the text.

I raise all of these points because after a season of open interpretation, at least for those who hadn’t read the books, there is something almost prescriptive about “Fire and Blood.” While “Baelor” delivered a fatal twist, and suggested a certain degree of carnage to come in the weeks ahead, “Fire and Blood” steps back to serve as a more traditional denouement, laying out the various threads which will be followed into a second season. Rightly treating the fate of Ned Stark as the season’s climax, it seeks to explore the scenario that Mirri Maz Duur lays out to Dany early in the episode: what is the worth of each of these characters and these storylines in light of recent events? It’s a moment where the show actually has to step forward and proclaim its identity in order to convince the skeptics that this is a show worth watching, and to convince the believers that their faith has not been misplaced as the show transitions into the next stage of its narrative.

“Fire and Blood” doesn’t beat around the bush: it shows its hand from its bloody opening to its fiery conclusion, laying out a pretty detailed framework for what the second season of the show will look like. However, it never feels like an artificial framework, and that sense of interpretation never disappears even as the storyline becomes less open-ended. Serving as a fitting bookend to what I personally feel was a very strong first season, “Fire and Blood” reinforces central themes and delivers on what matters most: reminding us why these characters are following the path they’re on, and informing us why we want to follow that path next season.

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Game of Thrones – “The Pointy End”

“The Pointy End”

June 5th, 2011

“Written by George R.R. Martin”

The credits for Game of Thrones has always read “Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss,” but the question of authorship has always been considerably more complicated. The fact is that this is very clearly George R.R. Martin’s world, and George R.R. Martin’s characters, and even George R.R. Martin’s story – while we can certainly argue that Benioff and Weiss have taken certain liberties, adding scenes and shifting character allegiances, it has not utterly transformed Martin’s vision. And yet, at the same time, we can’t say that this is Martin’s show, as he was ancillary to the myriad of decisions which move beyond the initial creation to the execution and design. A Song of Ice and Fire may be his story, but Game of Thrones is not his television show, and there’s an odd shared ownership of Westeros that has been evident throughout the season.

I say evident, mind you, and not problematic. The scenes that have been added have been strong, and the decisions made have been mostly logical if not necessarily ideal in every instance (or for every fan). However, here you have an instance where the person doing the adaptation is Martin himself, given a chance to return to key moments and characters and tell the same story all over again. And yet, he’s now working within someone else’s show even when he’s working within his own story, an intriguing scenario that I thought going in might make for an intriguing case study.

However, there’s honestly nothing to really see here: while this is a very strong outing, and maintains the momentum from last week’s episode quite brilliantly even as it hits the fast forward button on the narrative action (and thus risks missing key pieces of the puzzle), I don’t think we see some sort of crisis of authorship. Martin’s return coincides with the period where exposition goes out the window, and where major story events are starting to take shape. It is a period where characters are making decisions instead of pondering them, and where key themes are beginning to filter throughout the storylines at a rapid pace, and so any authorship is swallowed up by the sheer presence of the realm and those outside its borders who threaten it.

In other words, it’s just as Martin intended it, and thus as Benioff and Weiss intended it as well.

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Game of Thrones – “A Golden Crown”

“A Golden Crown”

May 22nd, 2011

“That was not Kingly.”

Considering the title of the series, and the number of people who appear to be playing the eponymous game, the notion of what makes a true ruler is growing increasingly important as Game of Thrones continues its run. We’ve seen numerous conversations about what it takes to lead Westeros, as Viserys fights to reclaim his throne, Robert fights to keep it, and others on the margins consider whether it is a job they would ever truly desire (Renly, Joffrey, etc.).

We get some definitive action on this accord in “A Golden Crown,” which reveals a more deep-seated question of identity within these kingly questions. Throughout the various stories, notions of power and leadership are merged with questions of gender and sexuality while the duplicity of numerous figures is highlighted in order to further expand the series’ complexity, and further break down any single image of what it means to be the leader of Westeros.

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A Televisual Love Letter: Reveling in HBO’s Game of Thrones

A Televisual Love Letter: HBO’s Game of Thrones

April 3rd, 2011

When I sat down to watch the first six episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones - which HBO subscribers can preview tonight at 9/8c when the first fifteen minutes of the pilot air before the third part of Mildred Pierce (and arrive streaming online shortly after) – I knew that I would be viewing them from a particular perspective.

As someone who has read the first four books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – the fifth comes out in July – on multiple occasions, I knew my way around this story. I would not count myself among those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of Westeros, and I’ll readily admit that the density of the books means I often misplace particular story events within my memory, but the fact remains that I am very familiar with the world Martin created and the characters that inhabit it.

Accordingly, I expected my view of the series to be influenced by this perspective: I would know more about these characters than the show would expect me to know, able to fill in details and see foreshadowing that some viewers would not even know was foreshadowing. I would be more excited about seeing things come to life than I would be about seeing things happen, surprised not so much by the events transpiring but by the decisions made in giving those events physical form. However, I also presumed that I would ultimately remain the stoic critic figure, my familiarity with the series presenting less as a “fandom” and more as an extra layer that would contribute to my experience.

So imagine my surprise when my experience became defined by this familiarity, my fairly casual “fandom” transformed into a giddy reverie by the time the credits rolled on the show’s pilot. Game of Thrones is not precisely Martin’s books come to life fully formed, but I would argue that this is a love letter to A Song of Ice and Fire and those who hold it most dear. It does not just stumble its way into bits of foreshadowing: it fully embraces the scale of this narrative from the word go and begins to craft a tale worthy of the source material. It does so not just through strong performances and evocative production design, but also through tapping into the very qualities that made the source material so compelling on a structural level: this is not just an instance of plot and character being spun into a new medium, but rather David Benioff and D.B. Weiss drawing inspiration from a man who knew how to build something.

The result is a rare adaptation which compounds, rather than challenges, our appreciation for the franchise in question. Game of Thrones may not yet be the finest show on television, but it is well on its way to being one of the most rewarding television experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly shows the potential to be found in continuing to explore Martin’s – and now Benioff and Weiss’ – Westeros for many seasons to come.

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15 Minutes in Westeros: Previewing HBO’s Game of Thrones

15 Minutes in Westeros: Previewing HBO’s Game of Thrones

January 12th, 2011

There were two things which struck me as particularly strange while watching the fifteen minutes of footage from Game of Thrones which HBO has made available to critics (and which debuted at the TCA Press Tour last week).

The first was that it seems almost unfair that I’m seeing this footage while the majority of the show’s fans must deal with only detailed rundowns. I understand why it isn’t being made publicly available (it is unfinished, with temporary music and effects), but even as someone familiar with the books I know that there is a much larger audience out there who are much more anxious about this footage. Accordingly, I take on a sort of additional responsibility, knowing that the audience for my impressions (which are, of course, provisional based on the temporary nature of the footage) has an insatiable desire for information makes watching it a unique experience.

The other bit of strangeness is that it’s weird to see bits and pieces of a narrative, even when you know the rest of the story. Alan Sepinwall, who is going in without knowledge of the books by his choice, chose not to watch the footage simply because he didn’t want to see brief glimpses of a story that will, in the future, be a complete whole. And so while I might be in a position to fill in the gaps, knowing the meaning of each of these scenes and how they place within the larger narrative, there’s still the sense that we’re missing key pieces of the puzzle that would allow us to put to rest all of our curiosities surrounding the adaptation.

However, let’s not bury the lede here – it might seem weird to be sitting there watching this particular collection of scenes from Game of Thrones, but the more we see the less “weird” this adaptation seems. While the fandom has largely avoided snap judgments, resisting the urge to outright reject casting choices and waiting to see the final product, I still didn’t think that it would seem quite this natural. There are little hiccups here or there, but the world that’s been built is showing that a bit of faith, and plenty of talent and financial support, can go a long way in making a story work.

And, even in fragmented form, this story’s working.

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“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Going Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones

“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Game of Thrones

December 5th, 2010

Tonight is the night that most people will be writing about Boardwalk Empire, which ends its first season on HBO, and The Walking Dead, which ends its first season on AMC.

In the former case, I’m actually incapable of writing about it: after watching the premiere, I have fallen entirely behind – my Mondays have been busy from the time the school year started, and as a result my Sunday evenings have been spent with an easy-going hour of The Amazing Race and work for the following morning. This also meant skipping Dexter, for what it’s worth – Sundays just haven’t been a space where I was able to focus on television.

And yet I find myself with some time this evening, which presents a choice: I could catch up on last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, since I am only an episode behind on the zombie series, but to be honest with you I don’t particularly care. This is not to say that I won’t watch tonight’s finale eventually, but with the show not returning for ten months, and with only six episodes, the accumulated interest is just woefully unsubstantial.

However, the night’s real event television took place before Boardwalk Empire, when HBO revealed a 10-minute glimpse into the production of Game of Thrones, their new fantasy series which is now officially debuting in April. Perhaps it is just that I’ve spent my weekend researching and writing about the HBO brand, or that I’ve been tempering my expectations for the series amidst the seemingly endless wait for an official date for the series’ arrival, but I think I’m officially excited about the show for the first time. I’ve always anticipated seeing what Weiss/Benioff would be doing with this story, and hearing the various casting announcements (most notably through the fantastic Winter is Coming) made the series a constant presence in my online existence, but something about a concrete date and our first substantial look at the world of Game of Thrones has turned anticipation…well, into hype.

And so, some thoughts on what we’ve seen to date, the way in which we’re seeing it, how HBO intends to sell the series, and how I expect to cover it.

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