Tag Archives: Ygritte

Game of Thrones – “The Watchers On The Wall”

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“The Watchers On The Wall”

June 8, 2014

“Blackwater” was about convergence. It was the inevitable collision between Stannis’ claim to the throne and the Lannister powers controlling it. In truth, Stannis’ side of the battle was pretty thin, sketched in without a whole lot of detail beyond Davos and his son. It was really about how Stannis’ attack changed the power dynamics at King’s Landing, whether through Cersei’s steely resolve, Tyrion’s ingenuity and intelligence, or Joffrey’s cowardice. At a stage when this was still ostensibly a show with the Stark family as its protagonist, it was an early example of the richness of stories in King’s Landing, capable of carrying an entire episode on its own.

“The Watchers On The Wall” wants to be “Blackwater.” Neil Marshall has returned as director. Mance Rayder’s not dissimilar to Stannis, in terms of development at this stage in their respective narratives, an idea more than a person. We know characters on both sides. And like that episode, “The Watchers On The Wall” is exclusively focused on the attack on The Wall, eschewing other ongoing narratives in favor of the battle at hand.

The problem with this comparison is that I don’t know why I care about The Wall. Actually, that’s a lie: I know why I care about The Wall, which is the fact that I’ve known where this story is going from the beginning, and have been anticipating it playing out. But for those who aren’t book readers, this season has often struggled to make The Wall an integral part of this narrative. The season went through a lot of effort to flesh out the characterization. There was Jon’s attack on Craster’s Keep to keep the action quotient high and to build more content into the storyline to help delay the battle until the season’s climax. There was moving Gilly to Mole’s Town so she could offer perspective on the early phases of the attack. There was sticking with Ygritte and Tormund to preface the viciousness of the Thenns. And there was Ser Alliser and Janos Slynt conspiring to keep Jon Snow from preparing for the imminent attack in the proper fashion.

The problem is that none of this built momentum. It established the various players that are central to the battle, but it didn’t make it feel important, even though this is undoubtedly an important battle. It just paled in comparison to the immediacy of Tyrion’s plight, or the looseness of Arya and the Hound, or a range of other stories that were undoubtedly more dynamic. This doesn’t feel like the culmination of a season-long storyline. It feels like something that just got delayed, a logical climax to the season (and the book most of the season is based on) that required padding to land in this position.

The result is an episode that has to prove itself without the benefit of strong connections to the characters, or season-long storylines waiting for a climax. “The Watchers On The Wall” needs to be a self-starter, building anticipation for and delivering action that the episode’s pedigree has promised. And while a visceral piece of action filmmaking and a spectacle worthy of “Blackwater,” it proves less a climax so much as long-delayed rising action to finally bring The Wall into play in the season’s narrative.

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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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Game of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere”

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“The Rains of Castamere”

June 2nd, 2013

“The closer you get, the worse the fear gets.”

Every season of Game of Thrones has built to a big event in the season’s ninth episode. As a result, the end of each season has continually created a conflict between those who have read the books and those who haven’t: the pattern means that both parties know the season is building to something major, but only those who have read the books know what that is. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if those people didn’t really, really want to talk about it.

In the first season, I would say fans mostly tried to keep quiet about Ned Stark’s death. The first season hinged on Ned’s story, and the initial shock of his beheading gave the show its big hook that could make casual viewers into fans and help sustain the show moving forward. In the second season, the Battle of Blackwater Bay was a fairly spoiler-free form of anticipation, as there’s nothing to really spoil: no one major dies, Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing is never kept a secret, and the episode was more about execution than surprise (and well-executed it was).

The third season was always going to be the problem. The “Red Wedding” has been on the tips of readers’ tongues since they read the books, considered by most to be the definitive moment in the series. It’s the moment that makes Ned’s death look like just a drop in the bucket, and the clearest evidence of George R.R. Martin’s wanton disregard for his own characters and their happiness. From the time the show first sprung into existence, this has been the moment that book readers were waiting for, and by the time it arrived in the third season there was no longer any concern about letting viewers engage with the series on their own terms out of fear for its future. This season has all been a buildup to this moment, to the point where the phrase “Red Wedding” was something that even those who tried to avoid spoilers were probably familiar with because readers could not contain themselves.

“The Rains of Castamere” arrives with intense expectation, and like many other book readers I sat through the episode with a slightly higher heart rate. As much as I think the fans went too far in proliferating the use of “Red Wedding” and hyping this particular episode as noteworthy, thus providing non-readers enough information to potentially spoil the episode’s conclusion, I can understand why they were excited, and felt that excitement in the moments leading up to the episode and throughout. This is as intense an hour of television that Game of Thrones will produce over the course of its run, and I’d argue it’s a particularly well-executed adaptation that makes some smart choices to salt the wounds left behind by this most storied of literary–and now televisual—weddings.

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Game of Thrones – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

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“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

May 12th, 2013

“How do the men holding the banners fight?”

I’m always interested by what online conversation refers to as “Filler” episodes. By all accounts, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” fits the bill as far as I understand it: no major events take place, a lot of storylines are merely ways of reminding us of what’s about to happen and the stakes for those involved, and there’s not that big triumphant moment that takes the story in a new direction.

As a result, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” never evolves into a particularly exciting hour of television, content mostly to sketch out the boundaries of the season’s storylines in preparation for the oncoming climax. In the hands of A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, the hour functions not unlike the dominant narratives of his books: a lot of people talking about doing something or going somewhere or being someone. At times cheeky in its references to future book material, the episode mostly settles for a sort of muddled clarity, a promise that there is a future even while acknowledging it to be a dark and complicated one.

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Game of Thrones – “The Climb”

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“The Climb”

May 5th, 2013

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

“The Climb” begins with three groups of characters who share a common goal: reaching The Wall. While Jon and Ygritte are with the wildlings as they prepare to scale it, Bran and Sam are moving toward the Wall from opposite directions.

For viewers, The Wall has been a prominent object for the series, one of the first images we saw to introduce a sense of the scale of Westeros. It’s a prominent part of the credits, sure, but it was also key to the series’ prologue. When Jon Snow saw the Wall for the first time, it was a formative moment for the character, just as it’s foretold as a prominent moment for Gilly, who can’t even imagine the stories Sam tells her about the structure. It’s something so large that it persists even for those who have never laid eyes on it, something that holds power even when the vast majority of its expanse lies unguarded. The Night’s Watch may be in charge of protecting the Wall, but the Wall does most of the protecting itself, a single crack in the ice capable of nearly killing the entirety of the Wildling party.

The “Game of Thrones” would be difficult enough if its only threat were static obstacles like The Wall (or the threat of the White Walkers beyond it, which is ostensibly still the most prominent threat to the entirety of Westeros). But “The Climb” isn’t a solitary activity, something that you can survive on your own: there’s always someone there to cut your rope, or stand in your way, or give your life new—often less—meaning at the drop of a hat. With its central metaphor, “The Climb” reminds us that no climb is without the threat of not simply missing a foothold but someone doing everything in their power to make sure that no foothold even exists, a dark and often foreboding episode that despite closing on a hopeful moment offers little evidence of hopefulness overall.

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Game of Thrones – “Kissed by Fire”

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“Kissed By Fire”

April 28th, 2013

“You swore some vows. I want you to break them.”

As Ygritte seduces Jon Snow in a conveniently located hot springs, I found myself at odds with the story unfolding onscreen. Although I have long known—unlike Jon Snow, of course, who knows nothing—this scene would take place, there was something oddly romantic about the moment that struck me as off. In the books, I always remembered the scene as more complicated, a sort of alternate passage into manhood as contrasted with the vows Jon swore in front of the heart tree. It was still effectively Jon and Ygritte having sex in a cave, mind you, but I always found the moment less romantic and more adolescent.

This is, of course, because it was more adolescent given that Jon was only a teenager. The same goes for Robb Stark, whose decision to chop off the head of Richard Karstark was less an act of determination and more an act of formation, a moment when he stopped being a boy and became a leader. The show’s decision to age up the younger characters made sense, and it has resulted in a number of positive story developments, but Robb and Jon are two characters whose stories have been transformed by nature of their relative maturity.

In the case of Jon’s encounter with Ygritte, there’s no adolescent fumbling to be found here: instead, he’s a masterful lover, his desire to kiss her “there” proving quite well received. And yet whereas I once saw that scene as this brief moment of solitude, of innocence—and the removal of that innocence—in the midst of a coming war, here it just felt like Jon and Ygritte getting it on, following by some pillow talk without the pillows. It all felt too romantic, which is not to say that romance has no place in this show but rather to say that the storyline came at a point in Jon’s storyline where I did not feel it earned that romance, at least not in the way I had understood it previously.

As “Kissed by Fire” unfolded, however, it became clear that Jon and Ygritte’s encounter had been somewhat shifted in meaning. It wasn’t about breaking up Jon and Ygritte’s journey so much as it was giving us a fleeting moment of romance before destroying every other idealistic notion you could imagine. Their encounter gives the episode a brief moment of solitude, but it’s not for the characters so much as it’s for the audience. It is a moment of lust and freedom in a world where lust is punished, freedom is overwritten by family, and “romance” exists only as the enemy of common sense and good strategy.

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