“You Win or You Die”
May 29th, 2011
“It’s the family name that lives on. It’s all that lives on.”
[You can also hear additional thoughts on this episode in a special edition of the Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast that I participated in.]
[Also, for more on “Sexposition,” check out my review of Season 2, Episode 2, “The Night Lands”]
There has been a lot of conversation surrounding the question of exposition with Game of Thrones, understandable given the high volume of material that has been revealed through conversations in an effort to capture the complexity of George R.R. Martin’s world.
“You Win or You Die” is not particularly exposition heavy, although there is one example that I will break down in greater detail, but the function of exposition is to provide a sense of history and context and I would argue that this episode is very interested in this idea. Some have argued that flashbacks might be considered another way to provide insight into history, and that it would beat the somewhat sloppy exposition that has to this point been deployed, but I would ask this: is the point of exposition to inform or remind the audience of particular information, or is it designed to inform the audience that the particular information in question is, in fact, important enough to be discussed in this context?
The answer, as always, is that it is meant to function as both, but I think those decrying the very existence of exposition in its current form should consider the latter more carefully. The role of history within this world is an important theme that is highlighted in “You Win or You Die,” as various threads comes to a point where the past is either given new meaning or forgotten entirely.
Or, rather, forgotten in some circles and remembered in others.
“The Wolf and the Lion”
May 15th, 2011
“How long can hate hold a thing together?”
One could argue that Game of Thrones tells the story of two houses – this would be categorically untrue, especially given the ways in which the series expands in subsequent volumes (or seasons, considering its renewal), but the battle between the Lannisters and the Starks is obviously at the heart of this particular narrative. Even those who were fundamentally confused by the pilot, and perhaps even by subsequent episodes, were likely able to draw out that these two families are what one might term “a big deal.”
“The Wolf and the Lion” obviously makes this distinction clear, to the point that the story follows the two families almost exclusively – ignoring The Wall in its entirety, and foregoing a trip across the narrow sea, the episode narrows in on the mutual hatred which fuels these two families as they each try to go on with their lives as members of the other families attempt to either kill them or bring them to justice. And yet, at the same time, this narrowing is misleading on at least a few levels, given that this episode also delves a bit further into a few other houses which will become more important as a the series goes on.
In other words, despite technically being narrower in its focus, “The Wolf and the Lion” actually does some important work in broadening the scope of the series within these two particular areas. It’s a necessary step forward for the series, a strong statement for its commitment to the depth of this story.
“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
May 8th, 2011
The timing of the next few episodes of Game of Thrones couldn’t be worse on a personal level – it’s a busy time of year for me, what with the end of the semester, and it’s coming just as the series is entering some more distinctly complex episodes. While I had hoped to get these reviews done in advance, the truth is that things just became busy too quickly, meaning that I won’t have time to dive as far into “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” as I might like.
However, because of this, I do want to focus in on one part of the episode in particular, comparing and contrasting it with the episode surrounding it. Jon Snow’s time at the Wall is maybe my favorite central location of those introduced early in the series, and it is in large part due to the work done in this episode. Part of this has to do with my affection for the new arrival introduced here, but it also has to do with some key decisions which give the storyline a sense of camaraderie and humor which is more or less absent from the rest of the storyline.
It’s also a part of the story which disappears for two weeks, which means focusing my analysis on it makes even more sense given that I’ll have plenty of time to discuss Ned’s investigation into Jon Arryn’s death, the viciousness of the tournament, and the slippery nature of the metaphorical dragon in the weeks ahead.
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.
January 20th, 2009
When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.
But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.
What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.
But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.